You never get to read the Kathleen Pike series in “Lucifer.” All you get to know is that it was a high school drama based on the real-life high school that the writer went to. There were teens, who while not engaged in explicit activities, were engaged in swapping boyfriends or girlfriends and petty jealousy. And there were robots, apparently. The last book in the series was finally finished, but the author was dead after completing the last novel with a robot uprising. At least that’s what the manager says, and it took five years to complete.
As the mystery unravels, it comes to light that the last
novel in the teen drama sci-fi didn’t include a robot uprising. Instead, the
author finished a novel that ended with peace and everyone brought together by
the social outcast. The manager was furious, the author was going to kill the
series with her ending, but the robot uprising existed, too, written by a fan
who had shown it to the author. That was the ending the manager wanted, the one
that would sell the most books and keep the franchise viable.
As in real life, violence and dystopia sell. They, along
with sex, sell the “Lucifer” show. They sell “Game of Thrones.” They sell every
police procedural on television, and almost everything is a police procedural.
How many NCIS divisions do we really need? How many good cop, bad cops? How
many ways are there to represent people dying? Those are rhetorical questions.
The real answer is that we need to bring balance to our
shows. Charlie Brown, “Family Ties,” Mickey Mouse, “I Love Lucy,” “The Facts of
Life…” We need more shows that focus on the good in life. Even though “M*A*S*H”
was set in the Korean War, it focused on the relationships and the people
trying to survive the horrors of war. What entertainment do we have now that’s helping
us examine our best ourselves, rather than trying to solve the puzzles of our worst
selves with violence and detail or skewering us with sarcasm, satire and rude
The official merger of Disney and Fox has sounded the death
knell for creativity. While scooping up Fox’s assets is the right business
decision for Disney, it is one that writers, movie makers, ad executives and
other creatives should fear.
With Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Fox, and its own studio, Disney will own an estimated 40% of the box office. The merger allows Disney to exercise economies of scale and negotiating power not seen this side of Wal-Mart.
Writers already face enormous competition to get their
stories read. Every indie writer out there who wants to see their stories on
the big screen has just had their chances reduced by one major player. Making a
living as a writer is difficult enough without having Fox’s ability to seek out
new storylines withdrawn from the market.
Looking at Disney’s upcoming movie slate, Dumbo, Aladdin, and The Lion King are remakes of animated films. Dumbo will have to lose the crows. Will Smith will have to do his own genie thing because it would be ridiculous to copy Robin Williams. Other than that, these three films look to be Xerox photo copies of their animated counterparts. We’ve already seen them and we’re going to see them again.
The sequels list is longer. With Avengers: Endgame, Toy Story 4, Spider-Man: Far from Home (though not as far as you might think), Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Frozen II and Star Wars Episode IX on the slate, there is hardly any room for an original idea. While sequels can bring something new to franchise, they don’t require as much risk taking or creativity to make.
Which leaves Disney with Artemis Fowl and with DisneyNature’s Penguins as its only non-sequel, non-remake movies coming out in 2019. With 11 films left on the slate, Disney has one new story that will probably flop and a documentary to offer. Take a moment to ponder that.
Even if Disney remains true to form and let’s Fox operate
the way Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm have, Fox was depending on its Avatar
sequels and X-Men films to keep it in the black. Films Disney was already on
Creativity will have to come from film makers with smaller
budgets who, despite lacking marketing savvy and budgets for said marketing,
have a film hit big. Like writers, these smaller film makers will have to find
a way to cut through the noise of modern media and its giants to harness the
power of going viral, and they’re going to need you to help. It’s going to be
an uphill battle for creative people to get out there, but it always has been.
(Full disclosure: I own Disney Stock ad will go see all the Disney/Marvel/Pixar
branded movies they make.)
In a story about Ignaz Semmelweis, the survival rate of children and their mothers, and handwashing included in his book “How to Fly a Horse,” Kevin Ashton points out that even in a “field as empirical and scientific as medicine… Creation is seldom welcome” (74 – 76). People need creativity and change, and they resist it at the same time. It’s part of the dichotomy of being human.
When Walt Disney wanted his imagineers to envision and
create a haunted house for his theme park, they all came up with the same idea:
a decrepit, run-down building that had ghosts. Walt didn’t like it. He didn’t
want a run-down building ruining his pristine park.
According to Sam Gennawey’s “The Disneyland Story,” Ken Anderson, the original lead on the Haunted Mansion as we now know it, wanted to hide the run-down mansion behind trees native to Louisiana. Walt didn’t go for it.
Harriet Burns built three models for Walt to choose from.
The imagineers put the pristine building behind the other two decrepit versions.
Walt chose the beautiful building every time. He wanted guests to feel welcome
in his park; that meant everything had to be clean and in good repair, even the
Walt was working with some of the most creative people in the planet. Imagineers knew Walt, had experienced his success and demeanor first hand. Even when he told them, “We’ll take care of the outside and let the ghosts take care of the inside” (Surrell, Jason, “The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic,” p. 13), they insisted on trying to convince him that a haunted house needed to look a certain way.
“Everyone expects a residence for ghosts to be run-down. But
Walt was always looking for the unexpected,” (Genneway, p. 180) said Claude
When those who consider themselves creative and create for a
living have trouble accepting new ideas and ways of doing things, everyone else
has even greater problems to accept the changes that come with innovations. It’s
okay. We just need to realize that creativity is just as necessary for the
advancement of humanity as being wary of the change that it brings is. As soon
as we can embrace our seemingly opposed sides, we can see they are working
together to make us more successful, as long as we don’t let one win over the
other all the time.
In “Happy Feet,” every penguin has a heart song that he or she uses to find a mate. If the songs work together, the penguins marry and have eggs. The heart song is so important that a penguin isn’t a penguin without it. When Mumble is hatched with feet that compel him to dance, his father is worried and upset. He admonishes his son to keep his feet still; he knows other penguins wouldn’t understand.
Time proves his father right. His dancing is seen as an
afront to the Great ‘Guin, and Mumble gets blamed for the lack of fish. Mumble
doesn’t think that the accusation makes any sense. Mumble is ultimately
banished from the penguin community. He goes to find the real culprit responsible
for the missing fish – people. In the end, it’s Mumble’s happy feet that save
the penguin community from starving as humans take an interest in the him, and
after he teaches his penguin community to dance, the penguin colony on the ice.
Singing and dancing are creative acts, but if a person or
penguin keep singing the same song, the act loses its creativity. Creativity
must be something new. In the case of “Happy Feet,” it’s the dancing that is
creative, and because it’s new, it threatens the status quo. Mumble, its initiator,
gets punished for his creativity. When he returns to the community, his new
creative act saves the penguins.
People rely on creativity to continue to adapt and grow, as
a species and as individuals; people are also threatened by anything that’s
new. It’s the paradox of creativity: human beings need it to survive and
embrace it in words, but fear the change that comes with it and reject it out
of hand. Creativity can be great and terrible. It’s up to us to embrace the innovations
that will solve current problems and to encourage those creative acts that
bring more beauty and true enjoyment, like dancing and singing, to life.
How long does it take for me to realize that the show “Lucifer” is about identity? Lucifer spends all of his time trying to convince his partner that he is, in fact, the devil. He does this without actually showing her is true face because somewhere inside of him, he’s afraid she won’t accept him. He wants her to see his identity, and it’s important for him to be identified as THE Lucifer. But he holds back from the detective for some reason unknown to him.
He reveals himself to the therapist. He reveals himself to
countless bad guys. Maze, his two brothers, his mom and, for a time, God
Johnson, know who he is. When someone punishes another person, he broods about
how it’s his job to do the punishing. He gets his wings back and shouts that he
decides who he is not his Father.
In season three, episode two, he confronts a comedian and
says “the joke’s your identity.” She denies it telling him that everyone has an
itchy butt, it’s what you do with it that counts. So, when Sinnerman shows up
in the third season, Lucifer has found someone who has stolen his schtick.
Sinnerman gives out favors for a price to be revealed at some unnamed time in
the future. Sinnerman stole Lucifer’s identity, and he goes off about it until
he realizes that everyone has an itchy butt.
Lucifer’s identity isn’t any less important to him than another person’s identity is to that person. People place value on who they think they are. It’s why some poor people won’t take government handouts. It’s why some religious people deny science. It’s why some people make choices that are seemingly set up to be bad for themselves. We cling to who we think we are rather than give up what we want to believe about ourselves, even when presented with incontrovertible truth that contradicts our beliefs. People will die to protect their identity, and if for some reason they survive the trauma of having their true identity revealed to themselves, they break. “Lucifer” makes it clear that identity is a powerful force. What identity are you protecting?
Before the movie everyone is waiting for, fans of the
Avengers films have to, get to, or whatever your verb choice is, sit through “Captain
Marvel.” The movie in and of itself, without its connection to the larger
franchise, has nothing really wrong with it.
Clark Gregg is amazing and fun. Brie Larson is a badass, and
Samuel Jackson delivers as Agent Fury. There’s plenty of action, one lame
reveal, and an amazing cat made for the Internet. The lame reveal is lame, but
it’s surprising in its lameness, which makes it less lame by a smidge. At any
rate, Marvel makes a good movie.
The problem is that “Captain Marvel” is a prequel, so there
aren’t any stakes to speak of. You know what’s coming next “Avengers: Endgame.”
If you’ve seen the other Marvel films, you know the Earth isn’t in danger, at
least during this film. Captain Marvel is coming to fight Thanos and save the
current half of the Marvel universe. That meta-knowledge renders the stakes in
this film pointless. Captain Marvel, Agents Coulson and Fury, and Korath are
all safe. Flashbacks have the same problem as prequels, but they’re shorter.
(Let’s not talk about a flashback in a prequel; it gets too difficult to
process.) How do you raise the stakes if the audience knows the outcome?
“Captain Marvel” doesn’t answer the question well. Instead,
it settles for a cliché shot at an ancillary character Still, it’s a nice film,
with a beautiful tribute to Stan Lee and his cameo. “Captain Marvel” is just
enough to whet the appetite for Marvel’s “Endgame.”
Isolation is one of those themes that pops up quite a bit in science fiction. From “The Twilight Zone’s” first episode ‘Where Is Everybody’ to Will Smith’s “I Am Legend,” people are fascinated by the effects that being alone for an extended period can have on a person. It’s probably in part due to the dual nature of humanity. We want to be alone, and we need companionship; every person is somewhere on the spectrum between these demands, and it changes depending on the day and inner requirements.
This theme should have been clearer from the start of “The
Umbrella Academy.” There were so many other things to adjust to, however, that
it got lost until episode five. Number Five is the most isolated. He spends
decades in the future with a manikin, who is as real to him as any person.
Luther spends four years on the moon, which for him was enough.
Allison has been psychologically isolated from people for
most of her life. She couldn’t discern what was real and what was the result of
her power. She is now isolated from her daughter ad is attempting to build a
new relationship with Vanya.
Pogo, and this is important, was left alone in the house
after all the children moved on with their lives. Diego constantly talks about
how mom was treated, but he doesn’t pay any attention to the talking chimpanzee
who also had to put up with the abuse (as Diego sees it) that father dished
out. Pogo says that he owes everything he is to Mr. Hargreeves, but it’s clear
he’s hiding something.
Klaus used drugs to keep the spirits at bay. These are the
spirits he should have been connecting with his whole life in a “Ghost
Whisperer” sort of way. Unfortunately, his father’s ill-conceived training
regime did nothing but frighten a young child into a life of escapism and dulling
fear through chemistry. He continues to refuse to embrace who he his and what
his power represents, even if there’s nothing scary about his brother Ben, who
hangs out with him.
Diego lives in the backroom of a gym and goes out nights to
fight crime. He has spent his life pushing people away and doing things his way
without compromise. The death of his not-girlfriend sends him further down the
road to isolation. He doesn’t recognize that he needs companionship, but his
actions suggest otherwise as he takes Klaus with him to stake out the donut
Surprisingly, it’s the relationship between Hazel and Agnes
that hammers the theme home. Hazel feels acutely alone, and it’s affecting his
work. Perhaps his isolation is worse because he spends all of his time with a
partner as they travel 52 weeks a year. When he opens up to Agnes, he reveals
that his job is fulfilling anymore.
People need companionship. They need to be part of something
bigger than themselves. They need to be loved. Religions, cults and sports
teams flourish because they can provide a semblance of these things. Humans define
themselves in terms of the other; we don’t know who we are without someone else
to base ourselves on. It’s part of our strongest desire – that of establishing
and maintaining our identity. Sometimes, that means embracing the love of
family, both biological and chosen. Sometimes, it means choosing something more
When a man finally shows interest in Vanya, she falls for
him. She doesn’t care if he’s nefarious. On the outside he presents a nice-guy façade,
and he does things to support and help her, including, unbeknownst to her, murder.
Vanya won’t take the warnings of Allison because she has been isolated for so
long. She hasn’t felt worthy and no one has expressed to her that she is worthy.
Her father always told her she was ordinary. Her siblings ignored her to the
point that when Allison watches tapes from their childhood, she says she wouldn’t
let anyone treat her daughter that way. Vanya wrote a book that further estranged
her from the family. She lives alone and pushes people away. So, when she
finally decides to open up and take a chance, she falls hook, line and sinker
for the manipulations of Leonard.
Vanya gives Leonard her love, literally and her power,
figuratively. Leonard, a creep, stalker and killer, dumps her pills and
unleashes Vanya’s creative power. Not all creative power is good. Some people use
their creativity to destroy. The atomic bomb, hypersonic ICBMs, new forms of
torture… the list of terrible creativity is long and horrific. Vanya’s power
isn’t just to build but to destroy, and when she finds out about Leonard’s
manipulations, it could be apocalyptic. Allison still provides hope that
someone can reach her.
The only child, Number Seven, or Vanya as she likes to be
called, without powers is perhaps slated to be the most powerful of all the
superhero children gathered at the Umbrella Academy. In the first episode we’ve
already seen Vanya, played by Ellen Page, practicing violin on a stage. She’s
written a book, and her dream patterns were beeping off the chart and compared
to the relatively normal brain patterns of the other children. She is clearly
the most creative of the group, and that’s what makes her dangerous.
Diego and Luther are the tanks. Time and space travel boy is
a freak! His fight scene against what appears to be an elite military group was
incredible. Suggestive woman is dangerous, but says she has stopped using her
power. And Klaus, a drug addict and cliché, speaks with the dead – that’s a
different kind of freaky. That leaves Vanya, who is undervalued and
Creativity and the resulting innovations are what set the humans
of today, homo sapiens sapiens, apart from other humans and animals. Being able
to make something and then turn that to other uses is how people became the
dominant species on Earth. People aren’t the fastest or strongest. They aren’t
even the smartest necessarily, but people adapt the situation to their needs.
Too cold? Build a fireplace and house. To hot create an air conditioner. To
wet? Open an umbrella.
Vanya also trained with her father though she may not see it
that way. She knows what the people in the group can do and how to use their
powers, and as soon as she adapts her thinking to solving the problems at hand,
she will be the one to guide the members of the Umbrella Academy to greatness
with better chances for success.
Spoiler Alert: CBS’ “Salvation” illustrates the problem of a countdown. When a show has a significant, world-ending event on the calendar, it can only end poorly. The asteroid is coming and for two seasons of “Salvation” the main thrust of action comes from the reaction of people to the asteroid and the ineffectual efforts of the government, a rogue hacker organization and a genius billionaire to divert the asteroid from its course. There are plenty of amazing, thought-provoking episodes, especially in the first season. And then there are the dumb actions, mostly in the second season.
By the penultimate episode, none of that matters. Humans are
doomed by the incoming asteroid. Old rich and evil people have made off with
the show’s namesake spaceship/lifeboat for humanity and there’s nothing left to
do but tie up loose ends, except “Salvation” is a TV show and needed a way to
continue if it were picked up for a third season. (It wasn’t.) That’s when the
writers decided it wasn’t an asteroid.
If you’re writing a series with an asteroid and you’ve built
it up to the point of impact, you either need to end it with a bang or with the
success of people over nature. In this case, “Salvation” decided to offer a
vote of no winner and scuttle everything it had built up to the last episode,
which was unfortunate because they could’ve gone out with a bang.
I was lucky enough to be invited as a journalist to Malta Comic Con 2015, where I met the man who built R2D2 for the Star Wars films of the 1970s and 1980s. Tony Dyson was a personable, friendly man who invited me outside to interview him about creativity. For a Star Wars fan writing a dissertation on creativity, this is about as good as it gets. Dyson summed up his advice for people who want to be more creative in two words – “Play more.”