OP-ED: Why I Think Streaming Has Made a Mistake

Max here with an Op-Ed, people. Shouldn’t be a long one, but hey, it’ll give you some content while waiting for the cover reveal for Starforge! More on that later (it deserves its own post). For now, today’s Op-Ed.

So, if you haven’t heard, Disney has joined the ranks of streaming services announcing price hikes. In this case, it’s Disney+’s first while for others such as Hulu or ESPN it could just be written away as “yet another price hike.” In addition, Disney unveiled that Disney+ will now have advertising! Just like everyone wanted!

Of course, no one wanted this. But one thing has become clear over the last year or two of the so-called streaming wars: For many of the companies involved, the goal is merely to return to the most profitable section of entertainment they can think of, AKA cable.

Don’t believe it? Look at how they’re rolling out advertisements. Did you know that cable television was advertisement free originally? That’s right! Originally, you were paying to not have ads like broadcast television did. But once the audience was captured, the ads rolled in, until cable television became an advertising service more than an entertainment venue. After all, why collect money from one side of the equation when you can collect it from two sides of the equation? Double-dipping! American business ingenuity at its finest!

Disney very clearly has its sights set on the old ways, with how they excitedly push “bundling” Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN in one package for a “reduced” rate. Nevermind that there are advertisements now, look how good a deal you’re getting! Similar is happening with Netflix and other streaming services as CEOs seek to return to the golden age of captive television piggy banks.

The problem as I see it, however, is that it just won’t work. Because the market that let that golden piggy bank exist no longer does.

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An Illustrative Lesson on the Importance of Stories

I didn’t plan on making this post today, but then I saw the news and some social media from friends and family, hit a quick Google search because I was reminded of something … and well … Here we are. It’s definitely political in its own way, so far warning, but there’s a moral of its own by the end.

One of the Calvin and Hobbes story arcs that I remember very vividly from my youth is the story of Calvin and the Traffic Safety Slogan Contest (which starts at this link, and ran for several weeks in newspapers at the time). The story itself is amusing as any of Calvin’s adventures, the school opening up a contest with a $10 prize ($20 in today’s money) for coming up with the best traffic safety slogan on a poster, and Calvin sabotaging himself while being utterly convinced, as his six year-old mind often is, that everything about the contest is a forgone conclusion, especially his victory. The moral explored by the end—which utterly baffles and bounces off of Calvin, something Watterson himself noted in the anniversary collection—is that you may try your best, but victory is never assured, so gain confidence and satisfaction from having tried and put your best foot forward, not from winning and being declared better than everyone else.

Naturally, Calvin doesn’t win, his slogan of “Be Careful or Be Roadkill,” on a poster splattered with chunky spaghetti sauce for a “patent-pending 3D Gore-o-rama,” isn’t exactly a hit with classmates or the judges. However, when his poster doesn’t win, Calvin refuses to accept that he has lost, instead declaring the contest a “miscarriage of justice” and stating that the judges were “biased against us from the start.” He then goes to his father and tells him it was rigged and that “I want you to call the school board, have them declare fraud, and make them take the prize away from [the winner] and give it to me!”

Calvin, of course, refuses to accept or understand his father’s attempts to talk sense into him, mocking his father’s answer that winning and losing is part of life, to which his father dryly observes that Calvin’s been learning too many morals from ads for athletic shoes.

It’s a fun story, but it was also interesting to me decades later how absolutely directly—and here come the politics, which many of you probably already saw—it paralleled the 2020 election results, Calvin’s mocking words and dismissive attitude perfectly reflected by nearly an entire party who refused to believe that it was possible THEY could lose. Ever. “Take the prize away from [the winner] and give it to me! indeed.

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The Lessons Hollywood Won’t Learn From the Halo TV Show

Well, we’ve reached that point, now. The Halo TV show has run its course of a full season, the last episodes being in May, the public has had time to digest and deliberate, and now we see the trickle-down effect of how people refer to it in casual conversation.

Oh, my mistake. Did I say “refer to it?” I meant shred it without an ounce of remorse.

Yes, the consensus of the real world is in, and it is cruel. Past the paid critics, past the hopefuls who insisted that the absolutely awful first two episodes were just the show finding its feet, we now have the reaction of ordinary people online, gamers and non-gamers both, who have sort of settled into a common pattern for how the show is remembered.

To give another example of what I’m talking about, let’s look at another show with real cultural zeitgeist: Community. Community is very well-favored, as people will often quote the show, talk about it fondly, share jokes from the show, and harp on Netflix’s idiotic decision to censor the DnD episodes.

Zeitgeist reactions to things when they come up in casual conversation can be a pretty solid indicator of a bit of entertainment’s real value, impact, or staying power. Especially in a situation like the one around the Halo TV show, where the production clearly spent a vast amount of its budget on “selecting” reviewers for maximum praise as well as a solid amount on a legal department that would go after anyone saying anything negative (one reviewer repeatedly found their reviews taken down and hit with copyright strikes for using promotional footage Paramount had sent out, all because they rightfully criticized a frankly awful show).

So, in a situation where the creator has abused legal powers to make it as difficult as possible to determine if something is actually good or not, what’s been the public impact of the long-awaited Halo TV show?

Well, from those who’ve watched it … it’s another steaming pile of junk television that once again serves to checkbox Hollywood’s biggest flaws.

That may seem harsh, but have you seen this show? Even those with no familiarity with the source material online have constantly noted that it did nothing to feel exemplary, the story, characters, and plot were trite and inconsistent, even the most positive defenders giving it responses of ‘At best, it’s poor Sci-Fi television’ or ‘It’s a decent time-waster, but lacks any redeeming qualities.’

That’s at best. Many reactions seem fit to compare it to the utterly iconic 1993 “so bad it’s kind of good” adaptation Super Mario Brothers: The Movie. With some of those comparisons arguing which movie was more accurate or had the better similarity to the original product (which, if you know anything about that 1993 blunder, is not an act of praise). A lot of comparisons are also touted that at least Super Mario Bros: The Movie can be watched in a fun capacity, what with the actors being infamously drunk during shooting and the movie being worthy of a watch if you’re looking to laugh at how bad it is, while most seem to agree that the Halo show does not earn this distinction. There’s no “It’s so bad it’s good” moment for the Halo show, according to the internet. It’s just … bad. Even if the viewers happen to be drunk.

Sands, the watch group I initially saw the first two episodes with even fell apart for this reason. The majority of them were not players of the Halo games and knew little about the series, but when confronted with the TV show, none of them felt that watching something so poor even for the “fun” of mocking it was worth the time.

Okay, you get it. Halo, the TV show, is a pile of steaming streaming garbage. The consuming public has spoken, and reacted with a nigh-universal retching.

How? How did one of the most successful video-game properties of the last twenty years, one that has grown into successful books, comics, and other forms of entertainment, covering a sprawling universe that sees constant audience engagement, something that should have been a cinch to create a well-regarded TV show for … create this steaming pile of drek that’s now so thorough lambasted that users on social media feel the need to note that the regular Halo universe and story is fine, just the show is a pile of poo?

Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about today. But in a slightly different manner. We’re going to look at this from a learning perspective. What are all the common mistakes that the Halo TV show made that the show’s creators will refuse to learn from?

See, there’s the catch. Halo’s mistakes aren’t new in the slightest. In fact, they’re the same mistakes that plagued Super Mario Brothers: The Movie, almost thirty years ago. Once again, this is a case of Hollywood refusing to grow up, of making the same mistakes over and over again, which sure as the sun will rise once again on another day, they’ll make again because they refuse to believe they’re wrong.

So, let’s talk about some of the lessons we should learn—but won’t—from the utterly awful Halo TV show. Hit the jump.

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The Halo TV Show Embraces Everything Wrong with Hollywood Adaptations

Or, how I got my site canceled by CBS (that, if you’ve not heard, is a jab at CBS issuing takedown demands at Youtube reviews for their new show that were, shall we say, less than glowing).

Hollywood has a long, and shall we say, storied reputation when it comes to adaptive works. Particularly when it comes to adapting properties from the medium of video games. While there have been success stories they’ve both been few and far between as well as confined to the last few years (and often outside of Hollywood’s clutching grasp), leading to … Well, let’s just say I’ve had theories on how Hollywood has managed to take again and again something that seems like a sure bet and screw it up in a way that seems too inept to be anything but deliberate.

Now, with Paramount+’s (already a real fount of originality there) new Halo series, I must once again note that my theory seems more accurate than ever.

I’ll be open up front: This show is a mess.


Actually, let me start with something before that, simply to stave off CBS’s most common current defense, which has been ‘people just don’t like it because they’re desperate fanboys who can’t handle something not being 100% faithful to the original.’

Yes, I grew up playing video games (parents attempts otherwise notwithstanding). Halo came out when I was in high school, and I thoroughly enjoyed it in college and to date still have the Master Chief Collection installed on my PC. I put a ton of time into Halo 5, put my thoughts on Halo Inifinite right here on the site, and so yes, I’ve been a fan of the series for a long time.

However, I am also an author, and no stranger to the rule that yes, you do need to make some concessions when adapting things from one medium to another. I have no “demand” that video game adaptations in film or shows be one-to-one with their counterparts. For example, one of my favorite video game movies to date is Sonic the Hedgehog, which admittedly did have to roll back their utterly horrifying design, but after they did so delivered a great, fun film that was full of heart and laughs while also still being true to the series elements that spawned it. Where there changes? Yes. But those changes worked and we designed in conjunction with the elements that were kept in order to make both come together to a harmonious whole.

Detective Pikachu is another movie that handled this well, staying very true to the elements of Pokemon that could be put on the big screen, while telling a slightly different—but no less fun—plot from most of the games.

Point being, I know sometimes you need to change things to make a story work in a new medium. I also know that there are plenty of time people get their hands on something and change it just to try and make it their own, without regard for whether or not those changes enhance or detract from the final product.

In other words, I’m more than willing to set aside devotion to a “core” setting and embrace changes for a new medium provided those changes are for the betterment of what the audience recieve.

And the Halo show? Hoo boy … This … This is not that. The Halo show is full of changes, and none of them are good. In fact, they’re more on par with “narrative disaster” than anything else. These wholly feel about “change for the sake of change” with no thought or regard to even the show’s own setting and the impact the changes have on it. The end result is a mess of show full of poor direction, plot holes, narrative inconsistency, and changes to the plot that are frankly boggling in their foolishness.

Buckle up and hit the jump, because this is going to be rough.

But at least it won’t be as rough as actually watching an episode of this show.

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OP-ED: Merit and Accountability in the American Workplace

This post has been a while in coming, and I mean that to a degree most of you likely won’t expect. This, right here, these words you see before you, account for the third time I have written out my thoughts on this subject, the prior postings either being too disorganized or too negative and downbeat to ultimately find their way to the site.

Yet the topic kept circling back. Whether it was because of the constant barrage of, to put it kindly, angry or entitled posts I would see on social media from a particular group, or because I was in the opposing group those type of posts regularly attacked while also knowing (and seeing) firsthand what things were actually like, the topic kept coming back in my head. Though arguably, it also likely has much to do with firsthand experience I’ve had working at various jobs, seeing directly for myself how abysmal things have gotten … as well as how doggedly those who benefit from the current status quo fight to defend it.

Which I think is perhaps where things went wrong. Both the prior attempts to write out this post contained example after example, all first-hand, of how working in the US has become, well … awful. The problem was is that the post didn’t do anything constructive. It aired a litany of sins, pointed fingers … and then that was it. Not exactly great content. So after the second post had been a dud (which was last night), I stepped back and analyzed this latest attempt, and decided to come at things from a very different angle. Yes, I could throw stones, and there’s more than enough ammo to go around. But that won’t fix anything, because those who understand already know what’s gone wrong, while those who should understand have already insulated themselves from the issue and are often living a lifestyle dependent on never admitting the issue in the first place.

Ultimately then, there’s little reason to writing yet another post that airs the problems that are already there, whether or not they’re acknowledged. But a post that’s about the constructive, a post that is to those who will, slowly but surely, taking those same positions encouraging them to not dive into the same self-serving behavior and discussing how the US economy is harmed by such self-centered mindsets? Well … maybe that can do something. Just maybe.

So let’s talk about the idea of merit, the concept of accountability, and how both are vital to the US economy … despite being something that’s been largely ejected from the modern job market.

And look, I know there will be plenty of those that have, as noted above, insulated themselves from the reality of what’s going on out there. They’ll come at this post with torches and pitchforks, ignore most of it or attempt to leave a comment that’s effectively a giant strawman, or something else.

To all those posters: Tough. You’re welcome to go shout at your personal echo chambers about why “merit doesn’t matter” or “merit matters, but everyone else is just inferior” or whatever other cockamamie excuse you feel works. Knock yourself out. But don’t expect to be taken seriously here, or given a soap box to shout. Fair warning.

For the rest of you, let’s talk about merit.

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OP-ED: Labor and Ownership

Hello there readers! I’m taking a bit of a momentary break from Starforge editing to write this post and give myself a bit of time to decompress (though don’t worry, I’ll be back at Starforge shortly). This is a topic that’s been on my mind, coalescing, for several months now as shortages, particularly of the “worker” variety, have continued to make the news day after day.

Today’s particular musing comes from an actual—if short—conversation I had the other day with an individual who was very angry about the “worker shortage.”

A little bit of background for you; basically what they offered to me: This individual owned a local small coffee shop/kiosk, and was very angry about their current inability to have someone staff/work it. Apparently it was small enough that it could be run by just one worker, but they currently couldn’t find that worker. No one wanted to work for them.

Wait, it gets better. See, their little rant volunteered the information that they considered the job “minimum wage.” After all, they explained, it’s ‘just a coffee shop. No one should be making a lot of money from that. But now,’ they continued, ‘thanks to the laziness of entitled workers who think they should earn more, I’m not making my money from the coffee shop!’

As this was a group discussion, several people quickly asked questions which led to more information being offered—though based on the reactions that occurred, I believe this individual thought things were going to go very differently. Among this information we were given the following:

  • The owner made quite a bit more per hour just owning the shop than the lone worker did. In fact, they seemed to consider it a large portion—based on their wording, I’d guess at least half—of their yearly income, which was again, from their words, at least six digits.
  • Despite this, they refused to work in the shop itself, to the point that they would rather have the shop closed and be losing all that income than go work the position themselves because ‘it’s a low-tier position, I can’t be expected to degrade myself with that.’ It was also suggested among their words that they didn’t know how to do the job either: They’d just bought the setup and expected someone else to do it.
  • The owner themselves had no interaction with the shop other than paying the bills, the paycheck, and collecting the majority of the money.
  • They used the phrase ‘unAmerican’ to describe the concept of having to work at their own shop, and used the specific phrase of ‘it’s my right‘ to describe their relationship with employees and not being required to labor with the business.

After volunteering this information, they were both shocked and a little offended when few took their side. Instead of pity—though a few like minds did offer that—they instead found themselves challenged. My own voice was one of them calling out to the contrary to their claims, and I made a very pointed statement: Was it not entitled to own a store that they believed should only pay minimum level wage, that they themselves refused to work at, yet demand more than a minimum level wage for in essence, doing nothing other than throwing money at the place to start existing? I compared this to the concept of “The world owes me a living,” as this business owner believed it “beneath them” to be the one working the store, and yet wanted the majority of the reward for someone else doing that work.

I never got a response. The owner just left, apparently realizing that the particular audience they’d found was not sympathetic to his desire to be, in effect, the lazy grasshopper from The Ant and the Grasshopper.

But something they’d declared did stay with me. Not because I think it’s correct, but because I think it does serve as a source of so many of the problems facing the United Stated (and, by cultural extension, a lot of other countries). This concept that simply having “ownership” of a thing means that one is “owed” everything that comes from it … even if they’re not at all willing to put in any of the work or requisite knowledge.

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You Might Want to Read … Bullshit Jobs

So this post isn’t quite a “Why You Should Read …” but at the same time, I did want to throw this book out for consideration.

You might have hear of it. Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber is the eventual path taken by an essay written in the early 2010s that you might have heard of. Specifically because it set the internet on fire for a time, prompting everyone from national news chains to CEOs and middle managers everywhere (unsurprisingly, given the context) to descend upon the small web-host that carried it, crashing it numerous times.

You can still read the original essay on that same site, in fact, and it’s reproduced in the opening chapter of the book. And it still argues the same thing: That many of the jobs embraced by modern America are, in fact (and understand I’m using the author’s terms here), bullshit. They’re pointless jobs that serve no real purpose, to the degree that if those “working” them were to secretly vanish, no one would notice.

Surprised? Well, the author actually posts several examples of people doing just that, including one “highly important” individual who, after the company attempted to give them an award for not missing a day in eight years of work, was discovered to have not even shown up at the building nor done any work in over six years, and in fact was out of the country on yet another vacation, collecting a paycheck for a pointless job with no other requirement than “make the people above you feel important.”

Which in short is the entire phenomenon the book examines. It doesn’t present a theory that these jobs exist: Rather it demonstrates that they do exist, are a staggeringly large part of the American working world, and then asks the question “Why?” Positing that a job might be pointless is fairly subjective. Proving that one is pointless is very doable. Bullshit Jobs points out that they do exist, and in large numbers, something acknowledged both by those working them and the companies employing those positions themselves. It then goes on to ask “Why?”

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OP-ED: The Limping Engines

If you’ve been in any stores lately, or tried to buy something, or even just listened to the news, you’ve probably heard the term “supply shortage” thrown around. The supply shortage has dominated much of the public sphere lately, much in a manner similar to the fictitious “worker shortage.” People on the news won’t shut up about it, fingers are pointing every which way, and the average person listening to those sources will probably have an opinion about what the true cause of the supply shortage is.

We have facts. We know that hundreds of container ships are backed up outside US ports. We know that there’s a complicated system (in hand changes) that this cargo must go through, from longshoreman, to truckers, to railway workers.

But it isn’t. And a lot of people are wondering “Why?” as every step of that chain does its best to point fingers at the other. The Port of LA says that the truckers, the railways, the laws, and the ships are at fault. The truckers say that the railway, the port, the ships, and the laws are at fault. The railways say … eh, you get the idea.

Increasingly, people are coming up with their own theories and ideas on “Why?” Just this week, in a conversation that inspired this post, someone told me that they believed the whole thing was a conspiracy. By who they weren’t sure (or they didn’t want to say), but their logic behind such a determination I found quite interesting. They stated the following: ‘Well, it worked before. Why isn’t it working now?’

The answer, which I wasn’t given the chance to give them, is complex. But it boils down to this simple summation: It didn’t work before. It hasn’t for years. What we were seeing was the result of momentum from when it did work, slowly grinding to a halt as each error accumulation built up. So that when a big error came along and finally brought the whole system to a start, we discovered that it was too broken to start again.

Hit the jump. We’re going in.

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OP-ED: I Have a Confession to Make – I Can’t Stand Dragon-Rider Books

So the other day I was on Amazon, doing the usual bit of browsing, when I spotted one of those little advertisement bars that Amazon uses to get eyeballs on products by advertising things “like” what you’ve purchased or are interested in. To what should be no one’s surprise, Amazon has figured out that I like the book Axtara – Banking and Finance. Which isn’t exactly true, since I love that little book and its characters. Like isn’t a strong enough word.

Anyway, naturally I browsed this little recommended section because hey, I love Axtara, and Amazon thought these books were similar. It’s not always right, but I’m always down for a good dragon book, so I gave it a look. Even clicked on one that from the title, looked a little promising. Lots of reviews, high rating, all about dragons—

Oh wait. Scratch that. It wasn’t about dragons, but about dragon riders. That’s right, yet another book where dragons, intelligent or not, are reduced to glorified flying horses for a surely-not-just-like-every-other-fantasy-protagonist human.

To borrow from River City Ransom: BARF!!!

Look, I’ve always enjoyed dragons, ever since I was a kid. But I never enjoyed books about dragon riders (with one exception) because, well, honestly they never go past the trope. Again, with that one exception. The dragons are just mounts. Spiny, scaled, flying mounts that may or may not breathe fire. Worse, often they’re intelligent, as in fully sapient, but just fine living in a stable, being treated like a beast of burden, and generally only talking so that the protagonist has someone to talk to to reassure them that they’re “doing the right thing” or whatever.

Does it not bother anyone that a massive swath of dragon books involve treating a sentient being like a piece of property? If the dragon were human, we’d call it “slavery” and YA Twitter would descend with torches and pitchforks to burn that author’s career to the ground … even if the book were about how wrong it was and how the cast overcame it or fought against it.

But hey, if they’re not human, that makes it “okay” I guess. Sure, buy and sell the sapient species. They’re made to be mounts anyway! It’s what the universe intended!

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OP-ED: A Matter of No Consequence

WARNING: This is not a happy post.

Wow. It’s been weeks since we’ve seen a post like this one on the site, hasn’t it? But hey, Starforge‘s draft is now complete, so we can see stuff like this again. My mind feels free.

So, what are we talking about today? Well, to start with, I bounced between quite a few titles when I was thinking on this one. “America: Land of No Free.” “Freedom from Responsibility.” “Land of Freedom from Accountability.”

Among others. I think you get the picture. And a few of you are probably wondering what this is going to be about. Well … if you’re making guesses, there’s a good chance you’re on the right track. So I’ll dive in.

When I was young and being raised, one of the things that was constantly taught and reinforced, everywhere from my parents to (some of) my education was the concept that “actions have consequences.” It’s a basic principle of life: You’re free to choose (or should be) but you cannot choose the consequences. This leads to a sense of accountability and responsibility, a sort of social construct along the longs of “for every action, there will be an equal and opposite reaction.” For example, if you work a job, working harder at said job—producing better quality work, spending more time at it, more effort—should come with the reaction of greater reward for the additional work. One plus one equals two, so one plus two should equal three.

Here’s the problem: Should. Because as those of us that have worked in the United States can attest, rare is the job where working harder sees any sort of reward for your efforts. More often than not, what happens instead is punishment via cutting. “Oh, you were able to do that job in three hours when it takes everyone else five? We’ve assigned you additional work to fill out that five hours. No, we’re still paying you the same as everyone else. Whine about it and you’ll lose your job.”

It’s a problem of consequence. Do your job well, and you’ll receive no reward for doing such. In fact, you’ll be punished. Do your job poorly, but not poorly enough to be punished? You’ll trundle along. Why risk working hard or even well when you’ll only suffer for it?

But this is just an appendage, a symptom really, of the greater problem at the root, of something that affects the entire United States. I would contend it’s the cause of the current sexual assaults problems in so many video-game companies (Activison-Blizzard is facing a lawsuit right now over, among other things, management sexually harassing and employee so badly she committed suicide, all of which was covered up), complete lack of ethics shown by food companies (Tyson Meats is currently appealing a lawsuit over their management forcing employees to work during Covid-19 lockdowns and then management making bets on how many employees would die in each department), and the source of the cruelty evidenced by shipping companies (such as one shipping warehouse forcing employees to work around the body of an employee who had suffered a heart-attack from heat exhaustion).

All of these? There’s a common root cause among them. It’s the same cause that allows CEOs, Board Members, and managers to be pulling down incomes that let them buy a new house a year while the employees right under them work 70 hours a week and yet have to be on state welfare because they’re paid so little. It’s the same cause that allows for forty employees to have twenty managers, most of which just sit in an empty office and talk with the “good old boys club” while two of those employees do all their work on top of their own because said manager doesn’t actually know how … he’s just good friends with the manager above him and that’s why he has the job. It’s the same cause that allows for a manager to run a division into the ground through manglement, ruining a company and destroying hundreds of jobs … only for that same manager to receive a bonus for their “hard work” and go on to do the same thing at another company.

No. Consequences. No accountability. No responsibility.

Why? Because these people have convinced others that they deserve to be above consequences, dangling in front of them the carrot of “If you let me do it, one day you might be able to do it too.”

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