Whiskey, Wellness, and Wisdom

with Matthew Bachman

John Wayne Bachman on wing of P-51 Mustang.

My more loyal followers may have noticed that I’ve been MIA for the better part of a year. For those of you just joining: welcome to the shit show.

I’d love to say that I was too busy signing my autograph at book signings to attend to my blog. Hell, I’d even settle for signing someone else’s name at book signings.

“Who the fuck is Dick King?”

It was, unfortunately, something much more ordinary than that. And I don’t mean ordinary as in the mundane. Rather, I mean it in the sense that it is something that happens to all of us sooner or later. We’re not all going to be signing autographs that will be worth tens of thousands of dollars 100 years down the road, but we all do have that one truth hovering around us everywhere we go.

I’m of course talking about death. We’re all going to die someday and we all know somebody that is going to die. Sorry for being a wet blanket.

I have a bed wetting problem.

A full year ago today, my father had passed away and to put it quite simply, I haven’t really been the same since.

It was my goal write an entire piece about him shortly after the funeral, but as it turned out, writing his eulogy was already taxing on me and I didn’t really know where to begin as it was. So a hiatus I decided to take, whilst awaiting for inspiration to strike.

The problem was that it never struck.

Days turned into weeks, weeks into months and so on with the poetic redundancy of word salads. As the one year mark approached, I felt this rush of anxious energy overtake me. It had been a full year since I’d written anything. Was I broken? Was this how inspiration dies? Like a skydiver that had forgotten his parachute, I was reaching out and grabbing whatever I could to stable myself, screaming all the while.

I did everything I could think of to come back out of the shadows. Everything, except sitting down and closing the chapter on this moment in my life. So, I finally decided to sit down and write.

My next dilemma was: what exactly was there to tell the general audience about a man most of them had never met? I could keep it short and simple like an obituary, or I could tell you what he meant to me. If you’re still reading this, I’d venture a guess that you’d like to read the latter.

My father had me at a late age and retired early, so I don’t really have any memories of him as a professional working man. But his age didn’t stop him from doing stuff with me. I have so many memories of playing catch with him out in the backyard or on the baseball diamond. To the best of my recollection, he never missed a single baseball or football game I was in. He was there at every practice, too. He always said that he loved seeing me play ball.

When he wasn’t watching me play, we were usually watching the Atlanta Braves play their games on TV. I always looked forward to watching those games with him – especially staying up late for the night games. We watched them play so much, that I still remember most of their star players and their positions. You had Jeff Blauser in the infield. Javier Lopez as catcher. Andrew Jones in centerfield. John Smoltz, Greg Maddox, and Tom Glavin were on the pitching team. My father’s favorite player, Chipper Jones, was in the infield. He always said that Chipper Jones reminded him of a small town all American boy from a simpler time. A time that my father had grown up in.

He was a member of Mensa, putting him in the 98th percentile for IQ. He was easily the most intelligent and interesting man I ever had the pleasure of knowing. Somebody whom I am constantly measuring my own intellect against and finding myself to come up short every time.

As long as I knew him, he always did the work on his own car whenever possible. He fixed whatever he could around the house, even if that involved rubber bands and duct tape he had lying around the house. He had an abundance of tools in his house. He’d always say, “I’ve got tools I haven’t even used yet.” That was a statement that had more basis in fact than one might assume.

Anyone that knew my father would attest to the fact that he loved his stuff. Whether it be tools, records, clocks, he collected it all and loved them each equally and gave them each the same amount of care. His house was filled fascinated antiques and trinkets, each with a little story of how he ended up with them.

But no matter how much he loved his stuff, none of that paled in comparison to his grandchildren. I never met anyone that was so happy just being a grandfather. I still remember the day I told him that I was going to make him a grandfather. Being young, unmarried and still in college, I was a bit nervous and braced for impact. The reception I got more than exceeded my expectations. His big blue eyes just lit up with excitement and disbelief. I think he thought that I was pulling his leg at first. In that moment, I knew that no matter how scared I was to be a father, things were going to be all right.

As the years progressed and his health regressed, my father ended up living in a nursing home. He went from having a house packed full of stuff, to a tiny a room full of stuff. But he didn’t need his stuff as long as he had his children and grandchildren. Playing cards with him and my daughter are memories I will hold onto all my life. Everyday I came by and he saw us walk into the room, his eyes lit up like that day I told him he was going to be a grandfather. That little twinkle in his bright blue eyes never went away.

The last time I ever got to talk to my father was on video, because of the COVID-19 restrictions. He passed away May 4th, 2020 peacefully in his sleep.

Ever since his death, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about a quote by the street artist Banksy: “[T]hey say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” This blog article is a Hail Mary pass in his name and memory, thrown into the vastness of cyberspace with the hope that it resonates with some of you and keeps his soul alive that much longer. Say his name with me, John Wayne Bachman.

Man sitting down depressed.

“Every step of my career was hard work.”

Virgil van Dijk

After being laid off at my job due to COVID-19 lock down in my home state of Pennsylvania, I once again found myself at a new job. Believe it or not, being a writer is not necessarily a lucrative business to be in – especially when your blog is only a few months old. This job was in a warehouse setting which was in stark contrast to the careers in business I was heading towards, but I needed the work and the pay was good.

As I stood with my new group of co-workers listening with great intent to my trainer, someone asked, “What’s the turnover rate in this place like?”

“High,” the trainer said matter-of-factly. “You know, it comes with jobs like this.”

I’d worked in warehouses before; places where they worked you to death in a stuffy high temperature environment at minimum wage or slightly above. Sometimes they’d give us ice pops to cool down, but those instances were few and far between. This certainly did not seem to be one of those gigs.

I looked my co-workers over and tried playing a little game with myself called, “Who will last and who won’t.” My money was on the two college age kids cracking jokes and not paying attention to the training as being the first to go – places like this ate those types alive as soon as they found out they actually would have to work for a living.

There’s this overwhelming belief that we should be enveloped in a constant stream of fun at our jobs. Many people seem to expect the 2,500 year old Confucius quote, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life” to apply to the rapid expansions of modern society. I’m sorry, but that just does not reflect reality.

It is true, that happy employees are going to be more productive. According to a study at the University of Warwick, a business will see a 12 percent spike in productivity among their happy employees. In contrast, there is a 10 percent drop in productivity with unhappy employees. So that’s it, right? Open and shut case, it is in the business’ best interest to promote employee happiness. More productivity equals more dollars, after all.

Not so fast.

It is an employers responsibility to make you happy as much as it is for them you make you you miserable. We are living in times where employers are taking on the costly and time consuming burden of promoting employee mental well being. You see employers like Verizon or Facebook who have amenities such as fitness centers at their corporate headquarters. Even the factory I work at has a ping pong table, although it barely gets used considering we’re too exhausted from the manual labor to enjoy some recreation during break-time.

I don’t completely discourage employers from having such awesome amenities. If they’re willing to take on the added burden of making the workplace a fun experience, then more power to them. I know I would love to work at a place that had a gym and an arcade. Who wouldn’t? A bar would be pretty awesome, too.

Man laughing on park bench drinking whiskey.
They didn’t believe me when I told them I work best with copious amounts of whiskey in my system.
Photo by Gregory Hayes on Unsplash

But let’s go back to what most employers offer. They offer pay and they offer work for that pay. Sometimes the work is stressful and physically exerting and sometimes the work is tedious and boring. The pay, of course, varies depending on the skill sets you poses and what is required of the job. The hours, again, can vary, but the national average is somewhere around 44 hours a week, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Is any of that unreasonable? I certainly don’t think so, which is why I constantly find myself asking why it is that so many people hate or even despise their jobs. The answer is simple really: people are always looking for somebody else to make them happy. I mean, how dare an employee expect you to do your the job that you agreed to when you signed on for the role you applied for after carefully reading the work outlined in the job description.

I completely understand hating the places that are just a mere step or two above sweatshops paying minimum wage. I couldn’t imagine anybody liking a place like that, I know I didn’t. But let’s take a look at my most recent employer that pays good, the work expected is reasonable for the pay and explained during the interview process and yet the turnover is incredibly high. Whatsmore, I’ve even heard people complain about lifting weight of 40 pounds or more on a continual basis (which is in the job description) and suggest that a machine should do all the heavy lifting for us – you know, so we can all be out of a job.

Statue of hard worker John Henry.
John Henry would be so disappointed.

It seems that, somewhere along the way, people have forgotten what it means to work for a living. They’re looking for handouts and perks that just don’t make any sense. A a gym or rec room in the workplace is definitely a great perk, but it’s not necessary to be happy with your job. Everybody likes to push the concept of happiness being a state of mind anecdotally, but refuse to apply those same principals to work. Again, I’m not talking about toxic work environments here.

Those college kids I talked about earlier only lasted 2 weeks before quitting. I don’t hold it against them, they were young and don’t have a full understanding of the world yet. I hope and have faith that one day they will develop a strong work ethic in the near future. I know that I was miserable at my first job at Wal-Mart, not because I thought the company was terrible, but because I hated dealing with people, which was a me problem. I now try to live by a very simple principal, “Be passionate about any opportunity that comes your way.” You may never be the best at something, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be passionate about it.

Stop looking for your employer to make you happy and instead start looking deep inside for what you can change about yourself. It’s true that employers love happy employees, but they also hate miserable ones and if they’re making you miserable, then they should be held accountable. However, more often than not, I have found that they’re just expecting you to do the job that you signed on for.

Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams. James Sunderland looking in the mirror.

In my restless dreams, I see that town . . . Silent Hill.

Mary Sunderland (Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams)

Silent Hill 2: Restless dreams is a fan favorite of the series and for good reasons. It introduced an entirely different version of Silent Hill that the player was unfamiliar with. While the previous game explored the evils of man and the dangers of cults, this version of Silent Hill explored themes that were more personal to the character such as guilt and our perception of reality. Let’s take a little deeper peek in the philosophy of Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams.

The Premise

The story begins with James Sunderland parked at a rest stop just outside Silent Hill. Through his opening narration, it is revealed that he received a letter from his wife, who had died three years earlier due to a terminal illness, beckoning for him to come back to that town and meet her in their “special place.”

Along the way, James meets various other people that seemed to be lost in the town. Among these people are:

  • Angela Orosoco, a tortured soul who suffered abuse at the hands of her father and brother. She is in search of her mother.
  • Eddie Dombrowski, a man on the run after killing a dog and injuring the owner.
  • Laura, a little girl who who had befriend James’ wife while in the hospital. She, too, is looking for Mary Sunderland.

James also meets a woman named Maria at Rosewater Park. She is the spitting image of his late wife, although her hair, fashion style, and personality are much more seductive than that of Mary Sunderland. Maria is arguably the most important character in the game besides James Sunderland himself.

Perception is Reality

As opposed to the first Silent Hill which had the town itself trapped in the supernatural grasp of a child with special abilities, this version of Silent Hill introduced the concept that the town itself possesses a power, drawing people in and forcing them to confront their inner demons. The town’s appearance looks different based on the individual’s inner struggles. This is exemplified in a brilliant scene on a fiery staircase, where James comes across Angela, who is still looking for her mother. Angela’s world is in flames, symbolic of the hell she constantly lived through being abused by her father and brother.

Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams - Staircase of Fire

The character of Eddie, who grew up bullied and alone all of his life is tormented by the town amplifying this insecurity and self-loathing by making it a reality for him. He sees people everywhere constantly making fun of him and is ultimately pushed over the edge into homicidal madness.

The character of James Sunderland sees the nightmare as a dead and decaying hellscape, symbolizing the illness that slowly ate away at his wife Mary and the decay of his life after her death.

Perception is an individuals understanding of the tangible world, based on past experiences. For example, a person that has had a bad experience with a dentist may view all dentists to be bad or even evil. Our perception of the world is based in emotion and Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams uses striking imagery through visual metaphors to build on this theme. Reality is rarely ever black and white.

We are Prisoners of our Own Guilt

As the game progress, James encounters multiple monsters, each representing something deep in his own psyche. The most notable of these monsters is the Red Pyramid. Throughout the game, the Red Pyramid stalks James and can even be seen sexually assaulting the other monsters.

Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams - Pyramid Head
The Red Pyramid (Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams)

As the game progresses, James partners with Maria who sees die on three different occasions, making him question even more what exactly is going on in this town. This ultimately builds to the revelation that Maria was conjured up by the town out of James’ memories of his dead wife. Maria dying so many times is symbolic of the fact that James cannot escape the truth behind his wife’s death, forcing him to relive it over and over again through Maria.

It is eventually revealed via a startling videotape that James himself killed his wife out of mercy from the illness that she was suffering from. The Red Pyramid represented James’ guilt and desire to be punished for what he had done. In the end, James overcomes his guilt and decides that he no longer needs the Red Pyramid to punish him.

This type of philosophy borders on spiritualism. The concept of forgiveness is a topic I’ve discussed more than once. As human beings, it seems to be in our nature to want to punish ourselves for our past wrongdoings. Hate and holding onto grudges is much easier to do than forgiveness, because it gives us a sense of power. However, much like James in the game, we end up becoming prisoners of our own emotions.

Conclusion

Silent Hill doesn’t just function well as a horror game, it is a brilliant character study, too. It doesn’t rely on jump scares or gore rather it goes for that slow and subtle psychological horror that will linger with the gamer for years to come. By the end of the game, the gamer may even start questioning what it is that they perceive to be reality.

Roll of film with the words: Philosophy through Film - Classism

There are 3 kinds of people; the ones above, the ones below, and the ones who fall.

– Goreng (The Platform)

With everybody staying at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people seem to be turning to Netflix and discovering obscure films that perhaps would have flown under radar before. One the films that the internet community is talking about is the 2019 Spanish film The Platform. I watched this film mainly because I was looking for a mindless low budget thriller and have a love for single set films. Little did I know that it would be the first entry in my new series Philosophy Through Film.

There is much more to the story outside of classism. The film explores themes such as the human condition and even Christianity, but the core message here is about classism, which is what what the focus of this article will be.

The Premise

Directed by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, the film follows Goreng, a man who voluntarily admits himself into a high-tech vertical prison for 6 months with the plan to quit smoking. At the end of his 6 month sentence, he will be awarded with a degree. The concept behind the award of a degree upon release is never fully developed and seems to only exist as an external motivator for the main character, since the mere act of wanting to quit smoking would not be enough of a drive for the majority of the audience to accept (obviously).

Man smoking a cigarette.
“Hmmm, keep smoking or die of gangrene, what choice should I make?”

The prison (or pit) is made up of levels, each consisting of two prisoners. In the middle of each level is a rectangular hole allowing the prisoners to see down into the other levels. Once a day, a platform full of food is lowered to each level, stopping for exactly 2 minutes before moving on to the next. During this 2 minutes, the prisoners are free to eat whatever is on that platform. The twist is that there is only enough food on the platform to feed each prisoner a small portion and because people are greedy motherfuckers and only looking out for their own interests, the people at the much lower levels are left with no food. In another twist of events, once a month the entire prison is gassed, putting the inmates to sleep and waking up on a different level at random. One month you could be on level 3 eating as much as you desire and the next month you could be on level 200 left to starve.

The Philosophy

The platform is unapologetically a commentary on classism as it pertains to modern society. As the movie progresses, we see the inmates on the upper levels having this entitled attitude that because the month before they were starving at a lower level, that they deserve gorge themselves on food when the opportunity comes around. In an anything but subtle scene, the audience is explained that even if you try your hardest to escalate yourself to the top, there will always be someone above you, ready to shit in your face.

Man frustrated as he's working on his laptop.
“If my boss poops in my face one more time, I’m going to HR.”

There is a fundamental problem with the film’s commentary on classism, however, and that problem is randomness. As I mentioned, once a month the prisoners are gassed and when they wake up, they are placed on different platforms in a random order. The entire commentary on classism is that your position in life is completely random.

I certainly will not argue that the family and country you were born into and the amount of money you start off at in life don’t play into a person’s success, because they obviously do. There are those entitled snobs that never worked a day in their life and are only successful because their parents built an empire that they inherited. One need only look at the Trump’s, Kennedy’s, or Walton’s examples of this.

Picture of Trump Tower.
It was just a small loan of one million dollars…

With all that said, however, this random process with the inmate placements on the levels undermines the successes of the Howard Schultz’s and Ralph Lauren’s of the world who came from nothing and became huge success stories. Of course those examples are few and fare between. What about your everyday person that isn’t educated or intelligent enough to become a successful billionaire? Don’t worry, that concept is explored, too.

The movie makes the implication that the lowest level is the lowest a person can get in life (obviously). For the purpose of this example, we’ll say this level is the equivalent to being jobless and homeless. Now let’s say a level above that is jobless, but having shelter, and the next level above that is having a minimum wage job and shelter. The movie pushes this idea that the mere success of having a thankless minimum wage job is not only random, but you could go from minimum wage to rich and entitled at the snap of a finger. Not only does it minimize the successes of people of all different classes, but it makes the unsubstantiated claim that if you’re slightly better off than somebody, that you view yourself to be superior to them.

What the movie should have done was make the platform you’re on be based on your character and work ethic. Chores are a normal part of prison life and it would have been rather simple to fit that into the narrative. It would have made the the successes and failures of the characters mean more. They could have also included the twist that every so often, some of the prisoners are selected at random to either rapidly ascend or descend the levels of the pit. A plot structure like this would have have grounded the social commentary in the film more with reality, instead of the overly simplified propaganda that crumbles apart when the slightest bit of logic is thrown at it.

Conclusion, Obviously

At it’s heart, The Platform means well and exaggerates the actions of the people within the story to tell a message, which makes it no different from 99% of the films out there. Despite the simplistic logic behind the message, the story is quite engaging and the concept is rather interesting. I suggest giving it a watch if you think you can handle seeing the absolute worst in society; just take the core message with a grain of salt (obviously).

woman sitting on bad in front of laptop with a cup of coffee.

For many of us, we’re stuck at home watching as COVID-19 rips through our country, putting our healthcare system and infrastructure to the test. Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, the county in which I live, was the latest in the list of counties added to Governor Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order. The likelihood that this is going to end soon is looking bleak. Life is getting more complicated every day, which is why it is going to be important to have a good game plan for when we get out of this and return to our jobs. For some that could mean catching up on their reading, while others may choose to take advantage of this time off to learn a new skill or two.

There are a multitude of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) out there offering a plethora of courses in various subjects. Some of these courses are free, some cheap, and others will drain your bank account; each one having their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage they all have is that they are not accredited courses, even if they are taught from an accredited college or university.

Considering that if you’re reading this, odds are you’ve been laid off or have had your hours severely cut, I will be leaving the more expensive platforms out such as edX and Coursera, which are easily two of the best websites for career development and if you have the cash, I highly suggest you check them out. However, for the purpose of this article I will be focusing on the two of the free alternatives: Alison and The Open Learning University.

Alison

Alison is a Massive Open Learning Community that was founded in 2007 in Ireland. It spans across 195 different countries with over 14 million users. Its core values are: Empowerment, Knowledge, Inclusivity, and Innovation.

Though, like many MOOC’s, it is not an accredited school, that does not mean the courses aren’t the real deal. As someone who has gone to college (twice) and taken career development courses at Pennsylvania College of Technology, I can confirm that the courses offered are the real deal. There isn’t homework or essays to be written that will reinforce the key concepts taught, like in a traditional college course, but rest assured that the information taught follows a traditional curriculum (more or less).

Each course is broken down into modules and there are tests that you must pass to be eligible for a certificate. There are two types of courses offered by Alison: certificate and diploma. A certificate course is an introduction to a field you may find yourself interested in. The courses can usually be completed 3 hours.

Their diploma courses are much more thorough, usually consisting of 3 or 4 certificate courses lumped together. These courses take about 8-10 hours to complete. This will give you the opportunity to learn more about a subject of interest, leading you down a path of discovering more diploma courses linked to your subject. For example, I am currently enrolled in their Diploma in Journalism course, which led me to also enrolling in their Diploma in Media Studies, and Diploma in Social Media Strategy courses.

There are some negatives to Alison, however. One of these negatives is the fact that you do have to pay for the certificate. The classes are free and the tests are free, but if you want a certificate to add to your portfolio, then you will have to dish out $19 for a downloadable pdf or $60 dollars if you want one that comes in a frame. Another negative is the fact that Alison does not have the branding that comes with well esteemed colleges, such as Warton School of Business or MIT, which offer career development courses on edX. They are still good to have on your resume to show prospective employers that you are eager to learn and develop your career, but a course from Harvard would be much more impressive looking on a resume.

All in all, Alison is a great free alternative to edX or Coursera and worth looking into. Even if you aren’t planning on developing your skills in your career, they have other course offerings such as digital photography and virology. There’s always time to learn!

The Opening Learning University

The Open Learning University is very much like Alison. They have a wide selection of courses that, again, mirror that of a college class. Like Alison, there is no homework or essays to be written. Some of the courses offered have quizzes mixed in, but not all of them.

Unlike Alison, however, this website has more to offer in the way of arts and humanities. They offer a 12 hour introductory course to fiction writing and even an 8 hour course in philosophy. There are also a lot of courses offered in career development as well. One thing I like about The Open Learning University is their inclusion of what they call Badged Courses, which are thorough classes specialized in advancing your education in a specific subject pertaining to your career. All badged courses come with a free downloadable badge of completion that you can share with your employers and on social media.

With the exception of the courses having a free downloadable certificate of completion (badge) unlike Alison, the negatives will be about the same. The certificate of completion is only going to be as valuable as your prospective employer puts into it. However, with the changing demand for career training and a wider acceptance of online learning, websites like Alison and The Open Learning University are starting to get more respect.

Conclusion

Being stuck at home during one of the worst crises in recent world history doesn’t mean you have sit at home binge watching Netflix. Use this as an opportunity to expand your knowledge. The courses are free and you obviously have the time, there are literally no excuses at this point. Get learning!

Rocks stacked alongside an ociean.

“The only temple that matters can be found within yourself.”

-The Dalai Lama.”

I remember one day in my youth my father was watching Bill O’Reilly as he discussed the much heated debate of separation of church and state. O’Reilly had said that Christianity is not a religion, rather it was a way of life. I of course scoffed at that ridiculous statement. It was a popular fundamentalist Christian talking point that my own mother had told me word for word growing up as a child. Christianity is of course a monotheistic religion and to call it anything else is to be in denial of truth. However, looking back on this had me thinking about how spirituality and religion are two terms that tend to be used synonymously with each other, when in reality, the difference between the two is night and day.

Religion has been with us for what seems to be an eternity. The oldest organized religion is Hinduism which dates back to around 7,000 (BCE), predating Judiasm by about 5,000 years. It is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as being “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.” To put it into perspective, acts such of Communion or or praying for forgiveness are ritualistic practices based on your personal and institutionalized beliefs. People are taught to fear God, people are taught to love God, and people are taught specific ways to worship His glory. There is no right way of doing this for you, because it is all to be done for Him in accordance of the religious dogmas.

Buddy Christ from the film Dogma.
You knew this was coming.

None of this is to bash religion. I believe that most people need structure in their lives and religion is more than obliged to fulfill that need. Prayer and other religious practices can be very beneficial for the individual. People take comfort in knowing that they are part of a bigger plan and can celebrate that plan in fellowship. But is that really what it means to be spiritual?

Spirituality has evolved beyond its roots in religious dogma in recent history and has a much broader definition. As defined by the dictionary, Spirituality is “the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.” As opposed to religion, spirituality has a much more introspective definition. It varies depending on the individual and how the define spirituality as it pertains to their life. The sky is practically the limit, as long as what you are doing lifts your spirits.

Look at all those spirits lifted.

Going back to Bill O’Reilly’s statement that Christianity is a way of life and not a religion, is he right? Yes and no. Though the dictionary defines Christianity as being “the religion based on the person and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, or its beliefs and practices,” most pastors will tell you that to be Christian is to have a close and personal relationship with Jesus. In essence, a person who goes to church every Sunday and believes in God practices Christianity, but a person who lives his life by Jesus’ teachings and walks hand-in-hand with him, is a Christian.

Creativity lightbulb.

For the purpose of this article, I will be mainly focusing on film because that is the medium where it is most often seen, but these standards can be applied to any medium of art.

I’m going to come right out and say that I hate censorship. I believe that censorship in any form goes against our much valued freedom of expression. This goes for any form of expression, whether I agree with the message or not. We live in a world now where there is almost no limitations on the messages that we want express; the sky is practically the limit. However, with this freedom of expression comes the artist’s responsibility to use it appropriately. Believe it or not, censorship and limitations has a great track record for breeding creativity.

I am anything but a prude or pacifist; I enjoy seeing boobies on screen and heads being blown off as much as the next guy. It’s up to the filmmaker to paint a vivid picture of the what is happening and to create characters that are real living breathing human beings and with that comes all the animalistic instincts we all share: sex, violence, and lots of swearing (or basically Samuel L. Jackson’s entire career).

Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction.
“You better not be tryin’ to censor me, mothafucka.”

If you go back and look at the movies and film that were made during the days of heavy censorship, you’ll see the amazing things that the filmmakers were capable of doing with the limitations of the time. Take Casablanca for example, where the most of the plot revolved around the affair between Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman). There is not a single sex scene in that movie. It is heavily implied that they’ve been intimate with each other through dialogue and creative editing, but the viewer doesn’t see this, nor do they need to. Instead, the story explores their relationship with each other and the tension built from being trapped in a love triangle within the confines in a German occupied Morocco.

The same goes for violence. Now, I will complain as much as the next guy whenever I watch an old movie and a guy is shot and there’s no blood. He just covers his heart and falls over. There are times when violence is not only realistic, but it supplements the message of the story. A good comparison here would be The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan, which both portrayed the D-Day Normandy Invasion, but with some stark differences.

Tom Hanks from Saving Private Ryan.
The most notable being the inclusion of Forest Gump.

When Spielberg made Saving Private Ryan, we wanted to portray the war for what it was. War is gruesome and scary. People don’t just fall over lifeless when they’re shot or filled with shrapnel; they cry in agony, screaming for help, trying to cling to life for as long as possible.

With us being in the digital age, there is an issue of pure laziness in film. There used to be a time where filmmakers had to spend weeks or months planning a shot based around the technological limitations at the time. John Carpenter’s The Thing and the 2011 remake/prequel by the same name exemplifies this perfectly. The Thing (1982) relied on practical effects to create the monsters. This required weeks of planning, whereas the 2011 film used CGI, because it allowed for more freedom to film the shots. The result was what can only be described as a slightly gorier version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Monster from The Thing 2011 remake.
“I’ve come to earth to build highways and shopping malls.”

This isn’t to say that CGI is bad, it can be used greatly to supplement practical effects, but its use as given filmmakers this false premise that there are no limitations. When Stephen Spielberg created Jurassic Park, CGI was still a new phenomenon. He realized that it wasn’t going to look as great as practical effects when looked at directly, so he made sure to plan his scenes in such away that your perception of the effects were limited. This was accomplished through various lighting techniques, fast movement, and wide shots. The end result was a film with CGI effects that still hold up to this day.

Conclusion

Whether you’re an painter, filmmaker, or writer it can be tempting to limit yourself. After all, we are always to told that our creativity is only has limited as we allow ourselves to be. However, as creative minds, we are naturally puzzle solvers and with no limitations, there is no puzzle to solve. If you’re struggling with your creativity, maybe try peaking one theme and pretend that, that theme is not allowed and you will find yourself astounded at how creative you can be at finding ways to express that theme subtly and indirectly

Silent Hill. Harry Mason waking up in cafe.

Konami’s legendary video game series Silent Hill is anything but mindless entertainment. Like any good story, the series has layers like an onion that the player slowly peels away at to reveal an ultimate truth. There are two important themes that are explored over the course of the the game. The first is of parental duty; what it means to truly be a parent and love your child. The second is a theme of humanity itself. There is certainly a lesson in philosophy to be learnt through Silent Hill.

Background

The year was 1999 when Silent Hill burst into the picture. The game was Konami’s answer to Resident Evil, but with a twist. Resident Evil kept the focus on action, whereas Silent Hill’s focus was on inducing fear. I’m not talking about jump scares or gore, either. Silent Hill introduced a fear that tapped deep into the psychology of the gamer and lingered. With this revolutionary approach, the game quickly achieved cult status.

Silent Hill was described as being a Japanese interpretation of Western horror and pulled its inspiration from various horror works. The sources for inspiration can be exemplified by the street names of the town on the map, each representing an author in horror.

Map of Silent Hill.
It’s an honor to know that at the young age of 11, I helped to inspire the game.

Perhaps the most notable inspiration for the game was the film Jacob’s Ladder, directed by Adrian Lyne. The film follows Jacob Singer (played by Tim Robins), a Vietnam vet that is plagued by visions of demons and hell as he struggles to cope with the war and the death of his son. The movie deals heavily with guilt and the internal struggle that goes on inside all of us as we cling to this precious gift called life. The entire concept that horror can be used to explore and exploit the nature of our humanity is the driving force of the Silent Hill series.

Parental Duty

The first game revolves around Harry Mason as he searches for his daughter Cheryl who ran off after he crashed his car in the town of Silent Hill.

“Damnit Cheryl, I don’t have time for your shit!”

Harry finds himself pushed to his absolute limitations as he searches her. It should be noted that Cheryl is his adopted daughter, making his love for her transcend the simplicity of a man doing what he does to ensure that his genes survive (coincidentally, a theme that was explored in Konami’s Metal Gear Solid). It makes his trials and tribulations have a deeper impact because he is doing it out of pure love for his daughter.

Love is one of those emotions that philosophers have struggled to explain for years. Emotions such as fear and love are usually attached to an object, causing us to act either rationally or irrationally. To put this simply: is it rational of Harry Mason to risk his own life to save the life of his adopted child? After all, the child is not his direct offspring, so it is rather irrational for him do such. Preserving our own genes is our evolutionary goal and this goes against our very nature as a species. His love for his daughter causes him to act irrationally – something that I think any parent would do.

The game expands on this concept through the antagonist of the story, Dahlia Gillespie. She was the leader of a cult called the Order that sacrificed her own daughter to give birth to the dark god, Samael. Her desire to bring about a paradise on earth through the birth of this god drove her to act irrationally, harming her own flesh and blood in the process. This goes hand-in-hand with parents that put their own religious belief over the welfare of their own child.

Harry Mason and Dahlia Gillespie are mirror images on one another, like any well written story should be. Harry does whatever he can to save his adopted daughter and Dahlia sacrifices her own. Love is considered to be the strongest force in the universe by this philosophy. It transcends genetics and in the end, good vanquishes evil and the gamer is taught a true lesson about what it truly means to be a parent.

Unless you get the bad ending, that is.

That’s a discussion for another day.

The Monsters

While Resident Evil with their mindless zombies, Team Silent was busy asking themselves, “What exactly is a monster?” Monsters really nothing new, they’ve been in literature dating back hundreds of years. They usually have the same qualities, which are the attributes of predators we would have encountered during our hunter gatherer days: sharp teeth, claws, night vision, etc. It’s encoded in our DNA to fear these things and naturally, when we come up with monsters to scare people, a lot of them will have these features.

For Silent Hill, Team Silent dove deep into the psyche of a child. The concept behind the story is that Dahlia Gillespie attempted a ritual on her daughter Alessa, by burning her. Alessa then unleashed a world of hell manifested out of her own fears. There are are numerous monsters in the game, but I only want to focus on the 3 that I believe to be the most important to the overall message of the story: The Puppet Nurse, The Grey Child, and The Romper.

Silent Hill. Harry Mason and Puppet Nurse.
The Puppet Nurse
Silent Hill. Harry Mason and Grey Child in Midwich Elementary School.
The Grey Child
Silent Hill. Harry Mason and The Romper.
The Romper

Each monster represents Alessa’s view of people. The Puppet Nurse is controlled by a large parasite on her back. She walks in slow staggered steps like a zombie, or more accurately, a marionette puppet. According to Silent Hill Fandom, this is because after being severely burned, Alessa was at the hospital and being kept alive by the nurses and doctors under the cults orders, thus acting as puppets.

The Grey Child is a deformed humanoid about the size child that laughs when it attacks you. So it’s basically a regular child.

Kindergarten cop.
Fun fact: Silent Hill was inspired by this movie. Look it up.

Though there is no official explanation for The Grey Child, it is widely accepted that they represent the twisted view of how Alessa viewed her classmates at school, who were always bullying her. This was further developed in the film adaptation of the game.

The Romper is basically a larger, stronger, and faster version of The Grey Child. This is because it is how Alessa viewed the adults that performed the ritual on her.

Like I said, there are numerous other monsters in the game, each of which stem from Alessa’s imagination from books she has read or pictures she saw, but these three have one thing in common: they were based on real people and real events. All of this pulls together for the underlying theme theme that humans are the real monsters.

Conclusion

Silent Hill is more than just a scary video game. Like any good piece of cinema, there is a lesson to be learnt and video games aren’t any different. Now days, video games have production values that rival that of a Hollywood movie. Join me next week when I discuss the philosophy of fan favorite Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams.

Sun rising over a field of grass wheat.

This Spiritual Sunday I want to talk about faith, a subject I’ve lightly touched on before in previous articles. A part of me doesn’t want to write this article. This is not because I think faith is unimportant; quite to the contrary, it’s so important that there are numerous articles out there dedicated. There’s so much that has been written about faith, I struggle to really think of what I can add to the discussion. I guess you could say that I have little faith in myself.

There are numerous theological and philosophical theories out there on faith. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy lists 7 different models, all with varying degrees of differences. It’s an interesting read and I suggest giving it a look when you get a chance. For the purpose of this article, however, I’m going to take a very rudimentary approach as to how our beliefs and faith (or lack thereof) in said beliefs affects people in their day-to-day lives.

The Basics

For the longest time, I conflated my belief in a higher power with faith. In fact, if you look in a thesaurus, you’ll find that belief comes up as a synonym, so they have to be the same, right? Wrong.

To expand on this point, let’s get the basics down first. Webster’s Dictionary defines belief being “a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing.” That’s pretty cut and dry. Conversely, they define faith as being “belief and trust in and loyalty to God.” As you can see, these are two words commonly used interchangeably with each other, yet have two different definitions. Now that we got the first grade lesson out of the way, we can move on to the main course.

The Metaphysical

As I said, belief and faith are two different animals. Faith is codependent on belief, but belief is an introverted independent little bugger that can sometimes trick us into believing that we don’t need anything else. You can believe in a higher power, but do you have faith in the grand plan? Many of us struggle with this on a daily basis and end up falling into the trap of simply believing in something without having any faith in said belief.

For instance, I had a pastor that once said that he’d just as well be up on stage with a beer in one hand and a cigar in the other than preach to those of us that are Christian in name only.

I only have snippets of memory from Communion that week.

At the time I didn’t really appreciate his comment for what it was. To me, it was just the type of edgy thing pastors said to try and appeal to the younger generation that thinks that being a Christian was nerdy. But his message did it’s job, here I am 7 years later and I still remember him saying it like it were only yesterday.

Belief in God or whatever your higher power is not enough, nor will it ever be. Belief without faith is just believing in something, it holds no value on its own. I’ve found myself for years simply believing and only recently have I been able to identify the missing component.

With COVID-19 spreading like a wild fire, I think that all of our faith is being tested. Whether it be faith in God or science, we’re all getting put to the test. Have faith that there is a grand plan and design to all of this. Despite how intellectual we may think we are, who are we to question an omnipotent being we supposedly believe in? If your faith is strictly in science, then take a good look at history and see that humankind is capable of nearly infinite potential; we always find a way to persevere.

An Introspective Examination

I’m going to leave the big man in the sky out of this and pull the scalpel out to examine the concept of our faith more thoroughly.

“Hold tight, I had Communion this morning and I’m completely obliterated.”

Faith does not have to be deeply rooted in our religious beliefs like many believe. For many of us, we simply exist from moment to moment. We believe in our own existence, after all, “I think, therefore I am,” but do we actually have faith in our own existence? For example, I can believe that one day I’ll become a bestselling author, but once again, that is useless without the faith qualifier. Many might argue that this belief constitutes as faith in yourself and to that I say you’re wrong.

There are so many variables that need to be examined. The belief in one day becoming a bestselling author is shallow on its own. Do I have faith in myself to come up with an original idea or to have the ability to translate that idea into a well written masterpiece? How about having faith that this idea will be well received by the general audience? Do I have faith in myself not binge watch re-runs of Monk for the third straight night? Faith takes a lot a of work.

Don’t be afraid to examine your life and try to separate the shallow beliefs from faith. This can be apart of your daily lives and you can flip your negative beliefs into positives. Do you believe that you’re going to be rejected for that promotion or do you have faith in your abilities to deserve it?

“About that promotion, we’re gonna fire you instead.”
“That seems like more of a lateral move. I’m afraid I’m going to have to decline the offer.”

Even if you don’t get the promotion at work, that doesn’t mean you have to lose the faith. It’s competitive world out there and some rejection here and there doesn’t mean you have to give up all hope. You can believe in yourself, but also have faith in your abilities.

Conclusion

We’re in trying times, but what else is knew? The testing of our faith is not limited to global pandemics or war, it is a daily struggle. Every minute of every hour is a new opportunity to strengthen our faith, but it’s also an opportunity to lose it. Just remember, be like Casey Ryback in Under Siege and keep the faith.

Under Siege (1992)
Plato and Aristotle walking and disputing.

Whether or not philosophy can help with depression a tricky question to answer, but I figure if I’m going to be stuck at home for a while, I might as well analyze the philosophical concepts of existentialism and nihilism and how they pertain to depression. In the past I’ve discussed the 5 best ways to overcome depression which outlined some pretty basic, but effective tricks to beat depression. One thing that is not on that list, however, is philosophy. One reason I left that out is the obvious: philosophy is a pretty hefty topic for such a brief and to the point roundup. The second: it’s really not as a black and white an answer as the question demands.

There is a plethora of topics in philosophy, many of which, contradict the other. Existentialism and nihilism are two of these contrary theories. Most people have heard of both but may only have an anecdotal understanding of each and are not familiar enough to figure out if they help with depression or not. For many, their introduction to nihilism was probably through the incredibly quotable movie The Big Lebowski.

According to Britannica, the term nihilism comes from the Latin word nihil, which means “nothing” and is defined as being the the rejection of morals and values and asserts that life and the universe is meaningless. To put it short: nihilists believe in nothing.

Nihilist from The Big Lebowski

In contrast, existentialism is the exploration of the human condition and what it means to be an individual. An existentialist sees that our own existence is the most important factor to take into account. We are independent and reasonable beings capable of making our own choices and not labels or stereotypes. Existentialism pushes for transcendence, which is to push forward toward something beyond one’s own existence.

How does any of this help with depression? If you’re a nihilist, you probably won’t find any help, after all, the philosophy believes in nothing. I’m reminded of the rather nihilist question when it comes to philosophy and depression, “What’s the point in living, if we all live to die?” To not believe in anything means to not believe in your own existence, and if that is the case, then how can one possibly be happy? It’s not a practical way of living your life.

Existentialism rejects nihilism. The existentialist believes that there is an intrinsic value to existence. We aren’t just another drone sitting in a cubicle, we are so much more than that. We are capable giving our life meaning. For some that means writing the great American novel and for others it means going for hikes in nature or raising our children. The meaning is all around us. By existing, we are in turn creating ourselves and becoming what it is that we want to be, which I’m sure everybody on this planet wants the same thing: to be happy.

Philosophy can certainly help with depression, but it has to be the right philosophy. It can sometimes be stressful, looking at up at the vast night sky and feeling alone in the universe and wondering what the point is to all of this. It’s this empty feeling that fuel depression and you may even find yourself pulled towards nihilism from time to time; after all, it is easier to believe in nothing than something. But remember that you are an individual with the freewill to take charge of your destiny. Existence precedes essence, and that is the essence of existentialism.

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