A Piece of Utopia—Family Day

Stay tuned this Friday when I make a major announcement regarding the direction of JackFlacco.com.

I have to admit something. I’ve been thinking a lot about Utopia. I don’t find it a difficult thought to think about. All I have to do is to think of what would make me happy and I’m there. Given today is a holiday here in my province, I thought instead of writing a dark Monday Mayhem post filled with zombies, the undead and creatures from the abyss, I would concentrate on something light—Family Day.

A game of Apples to Apples
A game of Apples to Apples

Every year, the third Monday in February is when we Ontarians dedicate time toward the family.

Our household celebrates the day off big with board games, a special meal and perhaps some other things that we’ve wanted to do but never seem to have the time to accomplish—like tobogganing.

Casa Flacco loves board games. Over the holidays, we played a fierce battle of Monopoly while gorging on snacks. This year’s version of Monopoly featured characters from cartoons. Have I told you how much I love animated movies? The game went well and we negotiated Park Place, something my younger child was adamant to not bargain away. In the end, I lost to said younger child and it reminded me of when I was young to decline deals from my relatives ultimately winning the game.

I’m not sure what we’ll be playing today, but I’m sure whatever it is we’ll have a lot of fun doing it.

As of the time of this writing, a week ago, I had yet to decide what I wanted to make for our special meal today. In reality, I’ve been preparing the same meal every year. What meal is it? you might ask. Sushi, of course. Would you expect anything less?

I learned how to make sushi a long time ago when a friend introduced me to the delicacy during a long trip from home. I eventually loved it so much that when I returned, I scoured Google to find recipes to satisfy my palate.

If you’re interested in how I make sushi, you can find it in this Freedom Friday post I had published several years ago. The entire process does take time, but it is well worth the effort.

Okay, we spend the day playing games, eating food—basically, having fun. This year is different in that I planned to take the entire weekend off. To me it means not doing any writing whatsoever. You have to understand what that means. I take pride writing every day except Saturdays. Therefore, taking yesterday and today off to spend time with the family is a huge bonus. It means no committed deadlines. Nothing looming to review. But more importantly, it means…

Sleeping in!

There was a time I never used to be able to sleep in. Having suffered from severe bouts of insomnia, it prevented me from functioning like a normal human being. That was then. Nowadays, I live for my bed. It’s cozy. It’s comfy. It’s quiet. Gosh, I love weekends.

All right, I had better stop. I think I’ve deviated from the Family Day theme, but somehow you might not think that.

Anyway, to all those who have today off here in Ontario, Happy Family Day!

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Does your state or province have today as a day dedicated to the family?

No More Dystopia

Last week I wrote about Utopia. I made a correlation with Star Trek, its technologies and moral code with that of the present era. Not only is the world currently absent from a Utopian paradise, but it also lacks the motivation to change what is broken. It will take some time before anything changes.

Mussolini at Palazzo Venezia
Mussolini at Palazzo Venezia

With that out of the way, I’d like to talk a bit about the other side of the equation. Naturally, if there is a Utopia, by all arguments, there should also be a dystopia.

For those new to the concept, dystopia is what happens when a warped sense of reality begins to rule a society. For instance, a world leader proclaims that funny hats make people happy, and the only way people will ever be happy is if they wear a funny hat. Of course, a segment of the population will grasp the concept and make it their own, but like all fads, it will fade away. However, if that leader decides people are better off dead than not wear a funny hat, and he or she makes it a national law to wear said funny hat, all of a sudden that nation becomes a dystopian society. Simple, right?

Imagine if the concept wasn’t all about a funny hat but about something bigger.

How much genocide has taken place due to a Utopian idea that took a wrong turn somewhere? I once read that humanity’s worst moments happen because of good intentions. A Utopia gone bad is not what this world needs now.

Am I sounding an alarm? I sure am. This world needs solid leadership that will not follow centuries of corruption and scandal. The direction needed to clear the waterways, plow the garbage from the streets and never turn a blind eye to those in need, especially the homeless, is lacking. That direction can only come from a change in mindset.

I hope you don’t think I’ve gone insane. Actually, I hope you do think that. If I can be an example for others, then so be it. I’m exhausted hearing the same old story repeatedly that new leadership will bring positive change, new leadership will provide for the masses.

My take on it? Don’t just say it. Do it.

We the citizens of the world don’t need politicians meeting together, enjoying $2,000-a-plate meals, driving around in fancy limos ad nauseam. We the citizens of the world demand action. We’re sick of hearing excuses. No more lies. No more stories. We want to see you with rolled up sleeves ready to work. Not just before election day.

I challenge you, politicians, to prove me wrong. Show me where you’ve stepped in to eliminate hunger for kids living in poverty around the globe. Show me where you’ve proven yourselves worthy for intervening when families have not died for defending their homes in times of war. Show me how you’ve eradicated pestilence and disease for the weak and unfortunate.

Because it is only when the heart changes that the world will become a better place. Politicians have to recognize goodness comes from the top down. Without that—there isn’t much hope other than maintaining the status quo that has been around since time immemorial.

I challenge you, leaders of the world; make a change for the better. Not just in words. But in action.

No more dystopia.

What Is Utopia?

Has the thought of a better world ever entered your mind? Lately, that’s all I’ve been thinking about. Believe me when I say thinking about a world gone crazy over the course of four years has yielded more than its fair share of interesting thoughts. A case in point? Zombies. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say I’ve learned quite a bit about the undead, how they are born, live and die. It’s no secret that I’ve talked about the zombie culture, and to a point, lived it in my writings.

Is this Utopia?
Is this Utopia?

That’s why for today’s Monday Mayhem article I would like to focus attention on the other side of the pendulum—Utopia. What is it? Is it possible? How soon can it happen?

On many occasions, I’ve touched on the TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation. If there ever were a true representation of Utopia, I would say the era of the crew of the Starship Enterprise is it. How could I think any less of the perfect amalgamation of technology, society and morals than that of the United Federation of Planets?

The original show introduced audiences to the transporter, a machine that dematerializes the molecular structure of objects and reassembles them in another location. Imagine beaming to Florence in the morning for an espresso, then beaming back home to get ready for work in the span of a few minutes. Are you worried about costs of the trip? No need. Apparently, the need for material wealth no longer exists, replaced by the desire to better oneself with the arts and sciences instead.

What Is Utopia?The show also gave viewers the replicator, a device possessing the ability to create foods and recipes from a technical schematic fed to it in binary instructions. In other words, no dish is too difficult to cook in a matter of seconds as long as the computer has it programmed in its database. The replicator is a dream for those wanting food fast without it being fast food. I smell a turkey dinner, mashed potatoes, vegetables and a bucket of gravy slated for tonight’s dinner. It is that quick. You think it, the computer makes it.

And the biggest of all creations Star Trek brought to the table is the enigma called the holodeck, a device that can recreate a time and place in history. The device can also create an environment specially designed to conform to one of the biggest game centers ever. The practical application for such a device is with the recreation, say, of a crime scene. The holodeck can also add all the suspects involved, and a court can determine the guilty party based on the evidence and the holodeck’s presentation. Yet, the holodeck gives me the biggest thrill when members of the crew use it to recreate historical events as an educational device. Imagine living through the era of the first settlers in North America. Or, what would it have been like had we lived during mediaeval times when damsels in distress were a norm. Wouldn’t that be something?

Through it all, Star Trek’s gadgets and devices can’t replace one of the greatest messages the show depicts. In the Star Trek universe, all people, regardless of race, religion or nationality live in harmony, respecting one another and each one’s ideals. As much as I would enjoy saying this is true today, the whole world has yet to follow this futuristic Utopian model.

Wouldn’t it be something if it did?

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What do you think of the Star Trek Utopia? Do you think it possible?

The Star Wars Universe

There was a time I didn’t like Star Wars. I was in my teens. All my friends, who were nerds, by the way, were into the whole Star Wars universe thing. I didn’t care for it. In fact, I went one step further. I used to tell my friends Battlestar Galactica was better. Boy, did that go over well.

Star Wars characters
Star Wars characters

Thankfully, as I’ve grown older, I had kids of my own. My first introduction to the entire Star Wars universe wasn’t until I hit my mid-thirties. Yes, you can call me deprived. Coincidentally, it was also when my kids experienced their first introduction to the sci-fi saga.

For those of you wondering what it was like watching it on TV, and all we had back then were thirty-two inch CRT TVs and a VHS tape that rendered the film in a pan-and-scan format—life couldn’t have been better. You may think this is crazy, but if you didn’t have today’s standards to compare the picture quality, you would have thought the presentation was phenomenal. And back then, it was. The kids loved it.

Once the Star Wars prequel trilogy hit the theaters, I couldn’t help but take my kids to watch it. Somehow, the films were so amazing that other films in the sci-fi genre had trouble keeping up with the visuals, creative motifs and gorgeous backdrops.

Darth Vader
Darth Vader

And this brings me to the reason why I’m writing this Monday Mayhem post with Star Wars on my mind.

I have found that other than Star Trek, the Star Wars universe is where I would enjoy living. With so much talk about how bad or how wrong this world is right now, isn’t it refreshing to know hope exists in the movies we watch? I don’t know about you, but when I die, I’d like to think the world I’m leaving to my kids would be a world filled with hope. I don’t think I’ve ever thought that until I began watching Star Wars.

And although the Star Wars universe has meddling Sith Lords wanting to bring about the death of all humans, akin to a zombie apocalypse, the Force, which holds everything together, reigns supreme. Even with the Dark Side wanting to corrupt a good heart, the Force, living in every Jedi can overcome evil, and bring about real change to a heart.

Imagine the Force now, living in us, able to help us overcome the pulls to the Dark Side. Wouldn’t that be awesome? I sure wouldn’t think life would be all that bad after all.

Yet, as fictional as Star Wars is, some truth exists within its universe’s tales. Perhaps to see that truth we have to look closer. Or, perhaps, the Force is something real we have yet to experience.

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What do you think of Star Wars? What do you like about its universe?

The Enemy Within

There is a place for everything and everything has a place. Given today is Monday Mayhem, I can attest that if nothing is in its place, there will be mayhem.

Star Wars' Darth Sidious
Star Wars’ Darth Sidious

In the past, I’ve written extensively about zombies, The Walking Dead, aliens, the end of the world and other flavors of destruction you might consider chaos for the choosing. I think one of the most interesting subjects is what would happen to this world if all social boundaries no longer existed. What I’m thinking has to do with human interactions. Although I’ve written about the subject in my book Ranger Martin and the Search for Paradise, the matter keeps popping up. One can only cover so much in a book before the themes spill into other works, such as this post you’re now reading.

One of the themes I wanted to explore with the book, and related to this subject, pertains to the absolute corruption of the human soul. For example, when people turn into zombies, it is easy to see them as enemies—they see their food ahead, they smell it and they want to eat it.

However, when people are not zombies, and they try to kill the hero, that becomes a more fascinating story. I read somewhere that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. I don’t think that is too far from what I’ve learned when dealing with dark characters in my books. Again, I’ll bring up zombies. With zombies, you can see them coming. They are easy to spot. Humans, though, are tougher.

Edge of Tomorrow
Edge of Tomorrow

Of course, not everything is easy to understand. In the film, Edge of Tomorrow, the adversary is simple to find. They’re creatures bent on the destruction of humanity. They will not rest until every human is a grease spot.

The tougher challenger is the one you can’t see coming, or even worse, the one who at first is not an enemy at all. A great example of this is Darth Sidious of the Star Wars prequel trilogy. The term wolf in sheep’s clothing comes to mind when I’m thinking about this particular breed of maleficent.

All right, now you may be wondering what I’m talking about, since I’ve completely deviated from the subject matter. Or have I?

It is my opinion that the corruption of the human soul is the key to a good story. And as I said, it is one of the most fascinating aspects of writing. Not only does it provide a great deal of conflict for the reader, but the theme also provides a remarkable sense of accomplishment for the writer—if done right.

I’m wondering aloud. That’s all. I suppose I’m wondering about evil characters. Are they compelling enough to write a story centered only around them. Do we always need a hero?

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What do you think? Do we always need a hero in a story?

Being a Superhero

I’ve been thinking a lot about superheroes, what it would be like to be a superhero, what kind of problems superheroes face living in among us while the rest of us depend on them for our survival. I know it sounds silly to think about this stuff, especially during the winter when we’re all comfy and warm in our homes watching Jurassic World, or, for that matter, the first six episodes of Star Wars. The closest we can ever come with anyone saving us would be the cable going out, sparing us from previews of the latest reality show.

Chris Evans as Captain America
Chris Evans as Captain America

In all seriousness though, being a superhero must be a tough gig. Think about it. For instance, wouldn’t superheroes always have to wear their uniform under their normal clothes? What about capes? No one can tell me those fit under a shirt and unravel without a wrinkle. Who takes care of their dry cleaning? And in the case of Captain America, where does he put his shield when he’s not using it. A pocket isn’t large enough to stuff that thing.

Daisy Ridley as Rey
Daisy Ridley as Rey

Then there’s the family thing going on. Suppose you were a superhero and you also had a birthday to attend to but during the cake cutting ceremony, you have to scoot because you feel a great disturbance in the force. Wait a minute. I think I’m getting confused again with Star Wars. But, you know what I mean. What are you going to do? Do you change there at the party, or leave without mentioning it to anyone? What if you drove there with someone else? Does this mean you have to take the car, even though you can fly or run fast where you need to go. I’m sure you’ll get questions asking you about transportation. For me, it would be equally difficult since I live in a small town. How can I explain needing to go to the big city with our car?

Okay, let’s look at it from another angle. What if you live in the big city and you see a mugging. What will you do? Do you run to the victim’s aid, all the while revealing your identity to the perpetrators? What if you’re walking down the street with family and friends? Will you ignore them in order to fulfill your superhero duties? Again, you’ll have a lot of explaining to do if you were heading to see a movie.

As you can see, the logistics to superherodom is a nightmare. Oh, sure, I suppose you can look at the lives you save versus the inconvenience. But what if you didn’t ask for it? Let’s say you are merrily walking along and BAM! all of a sudden you’re a superhero? How would you feel about that? Even more so, how would you feel if everything you thought regarding of being a superhero is all wrong? I’m sure you’d feel pretty darn silly knowing you’d have to run around for the rest of your life in tights.

Well, I guess being a superhero isn’t all that thrilling after all. Maybe I should shoot for simply being me. My family already considers me a superhero anyway.

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Have you ever wanted to be a superhero? Ever wonder what it’d be like?

Zombie Pranks Revisited

I tend to ask silly questions, questions people avoid asking because it either may prompt a negative reaction or actually provoke discussion. Now you’re wondering what the question is.

Zombie Experiment NYC - Boy (Photo credit: AMC)
Zombie Experiment NYC – Boy (Photo credit: AMC)

What will it take to horrify people?

In my Monday Mayhem series, I’ve always included something to stir an emotional response. Given I’m writing horror in the context of terror, I wonder many times what horrifies a person.

Alfred Hitchcock was a master of suspense. He once explained how a person simply sitting in a chair could turn into a scene filled with anxiety and breathless moments. Of course, it’s not very suspenseful when someone sits in a chair. It’s actually quite boring. But, as he once said, place a bomb under that chair, and all of a sudden the scene becomes interesting, suspenseful and replete with horror. Will the person remain calm? Will they run? Will they try to defuse the bomb? What will run through their mind during the last seconds of their life? How did it get there? Who put it there? Why did this person have to be the one sitting there?

Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock

Once again, I ask, what will it take to horrify people?

I’m an avid YouTube watcher. I have several set-top devices that can stream video directly to my TV or display device. Most of my viewing, though, happens on my computer. I enjoy searching for fascinating videos I feel no one else has seen before.

The other day, I came across a genre of videos I first found funny but under later analysis found equally shocking. They are zombie pranks. You can search for it yourself and you will see a multitude of content specifically geared toward humor.

The very first video I saw Zombie Experiment NYC deals with zombies roaming the streets of New York City. If you’re thinking actors in zombie suits and makeup, you must’ve seen it before. The video quality and presentation is top-notch. I later found AMC produced it as their answer to Dish Network’s removal of its network.

Zombie Experiment NYC - Mailman (Photo credit: AMC)
Zombie Experiment NYC – Mailman (Photo credit: AMC)
Zombie Experiment NYC - Girl 1 (Photo credit: AMC)
Zombie Experiment NYC – Girl 1 (Photo credit: AMC)
Zombie Experiment NYC - Girl 2 (Photo credit: AMC)
Zombie Experiment NYC – Girl 2 (Photo credit: AMC)
Zombie Experiment NYC - Girl 3 (Photo credit: AMC)
Zombie Experiment NYC – Girl 3 (Photo credit: AMC)
Zombie Experiment NYC - Bench 1 (Photo credit: AMC)
Zombie Experiment NYC – Bench 1 (Photo credit: AMC)
Zombie Experiment NYC - Bench 2 (Photo credit: AMC)
Zombie Experiment NYC – Bench 2 (Photo credit: AMC)
Zombie Experiment NYC - Walker (Photo credit: AMC)
Zombie Experiment NYC – Walker (Photo credit: AMC)

What I find utterly fascinating is the reaction of people on the streets to these zombies. Some are dressed in city worker clothes, much of their costumes authentic, dripping in blood, skin in pieces, yet some folk do not react at all to the zombie invasion. Seriously—I write about zombies, and if one of these actors approaches me with death in its eyes and hunger in its jaw, I’d run for the hills!

Another video I found is London Zombie Prank. It’s one guy in London dressed as one of the undead, blood and all, horrifying the British in their parks, streets and historical sites. Funny stuff. But, again, what if the guy was real? I saw folks laughing at the thing. One fellow ran after the zombie. No fear.

The last video, which I will not link to, had a guy in a zombie outfit crawling into the middle of dimly lit road from a cemetery. You read that right. Cars passed, yet no one hit him. He should be thankful.

I’m not sure what to make of the reactions of the people in the videos. Perhaps laughter is the body’s mechanism to cope with shock and disbelief. Perhaps standing around doing nothing in a horrifying situation is the mind’s way of shutting down to other gruesome acts. Not sure. Or is it we’ve become so desensitized that we recognize truth from fiction? Your guess is as good as mine.

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What will it take to horrify people? Have you ever played a prank on someone?