Spirituality and religion (and morality): everlastingly sectarian

Religions

Here I go. So contentious, even the mere mention of those words trigger the delicate snowflakes out of most people. Obviously, I should boost the triggering by defining what spiritual and religion are.

Spirituality has a myriad of definitions. Some see it as the synonym for religiosity. Others see it as a process of fathoming either the universe, the self or both. Others also see it as a guide to find meanings in one’s lives, intrinsic and acquired. Some even believe it is the state of being irreligious. Predictably, they are all personal and abstract. Different case with religion.

Yes, some people do have equally personal and abstract definitions for it. In multiple occasions, Reza Aslan described religion as a language to describe the ‘indescribable’ and the divine. I used to define religion as the literal bridge between the earthly and the spiritual; some people I know still believe that. But, it’s also possible to shape more clear-cut characterisation.

Religion can be understood as a set of ideas and rituals to achieve what the worshippers deem as ‘spirituality’. It can also be seen as a tool for social control, consciously and subconsciously coaxing every reachable feature of a society. Such characterisation is observable in real life. It’s very apparent how universally-accepted definitions are unrealistic. But, instead of reducing our sectarianism, we are increasing it.

Fanaticism. One of mankind’s greatest and most harmful sins. We are extremely in love with our own convictions. Anything that negate them even in the slightest will be dealt with staggeringly-fierce hostility. Seeing the title, you know what kind of fanaticism I’m referring to here. I’ll begin with the one that I used to be guilty of as well: thinking religiosity and spirituality are literally the same thing.

I had that mindset because I was so in love with restrictions. I believed not religiously restraining ourselves in every single aspect of life was a sign of serious moral decay. Of course, I was a hypocrite as my lifestyle was very self-indulging. I also willingly ignored what the other sides had to say.

We often reject the existence of the unendurably suffocating nature of strict religiosity. Even religiosity as a whole can appear so for many people. Like it or not, religiosity has harmed countless individuals, physically and emotionally; the injuries are difficult or even impossible to heal. It’s easy to hate on the so-called ‘infidels’ when you’re not the one being harmed.

We cannot simply dismiss those traumatised people as ‘haters who don’t want believers enjoy profound spirituality’. Our positive experiences are unique to us and not to be used to ‘evaluate’ fellow human beings. Before you accuse me of atheism (as if that was a bad thing in the first place), I’m not completely siding myself with non-believers.

In fact, I still consider myself religious. I also loathe the idea that true spirituality is inherently irreligious. Some unbelieving individuals miserably fail to realise how their positive experiences with irreligiosity are unique to them. I believe them when they say religions repress them. But, I can’t listen to them when they say believers love being repressed.

Some of us genuinely feel religiosity is liberating, not suppressing. Often times, we feel empty and go astray in the world. Religion can be an emotionally-benevolent counsellor, bestowing us the liberty from the worldly abyss and sense of lost. It has nothing to do with loving oppression which, believe it or not, we also loathe as ungodly immoral.

It also has nothing to do with our loathe of reason and science. Some of us still love both. We still use them to understand our earthly surroundings and to intellectually challenge ourselves. Their duties are different from the ones of our beliefs. For us, they cannot be fused together. But, they can make great allies that enrich our innermost lives.

The segments above show my attempt to articulate the contention of spirituality and religion, as objective as I possibly can. Just kidding! I’m neither a journalist nor an academic. I barely made efforts to filter my own biases. So, that being said, I should continue by recounting my personal experiences and pretend they are universally relatable. Let’s start with the ignorance and hypocrisy of my fellow believers.

‘You are not spiritually enlightened!’

‘You are an atheist!’

‘You are immoral!’

There you go. Three of the most common sentences my fellow believers have said to me. If you are open-minded enough, you would immediately notice the problematic nature.

Once again, they’re unable to acknowledge their experiences’ lack of universality. The annoyance become harmful when they start ‘evangelising’. When I said ‘evangelising’, I meant harassing and guilt tripping their victims who have no time for narrow-mindedness.

Also, they use the word ‘atheist’ as an insult. The notion that disbelieve is related to lacking enlightenment and morality is ill-founded. In fact, many atheists have proven themselves to be more enlightened and more moral than those self-righteous believers. Many great thinkers, scientists and artists of the contemporary world are atheists. I’ve never heard of atheists who kill in the name of atheism. Never.

I should be more detailed with this farcicality. I always disclose my Islamic identity and agnostic theism (yes, that’s a thing). Even then, I only do so when it’s relevant to the topic of conversations. I’m muted about my spiritual life. I did try to explain in full details. But, I ended up babbling incoherent assortment of words and feeling extremely naked for exhibiting an intimate aspect of my life. This shows how my spirituality is both inexpressible and private.

Sermons, inspirational stories, joint rituals. Inspiring to me, they are not. Why would they be so? As an individual, I’m free-spirited enough to not fall for superficiality, gooey sentimentality, cliches and guilt-tripping. Free-spirited enough to know what’s spiritually good by myself, without getting dictated by humans who have skin-deep judgment of the true me. Of course, that makes an outcast out of me.

Some people I know believe spirituality is all about bragging and getting easily awed. Don’t do either one and they will accuse you heresy or, in my case, atheism. They think they are shaming me for being a bad person. But, in reality, they are shaming me simply for being different. As always in the case of religious people, there’s hypocrisy.

Those believers are the same ones who condemn extremists for their intolerance of human differences, for their supposedly ‘heretical’ and ‘ungodly’ treatment of fellow human beings. Yet, they shame people like me for having the gut to call ourselves believers. What can I expect living in a country where religiosity is almost inborn?

I have never met openly anti-religious individuals offline. Only met them online. Because of that, my negative experiences with them are lesser in quantity. But, the annoyance and nastiness still disturb my psyche. Yes, like religious people, they can also be hypocrites and zealots.

The hypocrisy arises every time they label religiosity as irrational. Admittedly, there’s a truth in the accusation. But, it’s very hard to take them seriously when they themselves suffer from scientism. They believe science is an authority figure who has all of the absolute truths on its hands. That’s not what science is.

Science is a set of instruments and theories used to methodically study the observable and measurable universe through experimentation; if repeatable, its results may end up as new scientific theories. My definition is unabashedly schematic. But, that’s the best I can do. Besides, if you compare mine with the ones you find on google, you can tell I make out the nitty-gritty.

In principal, science does not manifest and believe in absolute truths. Science is indeed the best medium out there to grasp our material world. But, it is not perfect. The instruments and theories which shape its foundation are – and need to be – upgradeable. If the new ones are more orderly and more sound, why stick with the old ones? Perpetual self-enhancement. That what makes science beautiful.

In case you forgot, what is now pseudo-science wasn’t so long time ago. Geocentrism, astrology, numerology, phrenology, alchemy. At one point in human history, they were all regarded as scientifically valid. Science started as philosophy. But, thanks to all the refinement brought by dedicated and inquisitive scientists, they were all replaced by more solid disciplines. It’s a history rejected by those so-called ‘rational’ disbelievers.

For them, science is an entity whose essence is fixed from the very beginning and will remain so. Those individuals accuse believers of zealotry towards their own beliefs, not realising they are guilty of the same thing. They refuse to acknowledge the existence of critical-minded believers. Yes, we do exist. Believe it or not, some of us are not fanatics. Irrational and hypocritical. Add self-righteousness to the disbelievers and the set is complete!

I will dedicate the next segment on anti-religious atheists. Judging from my personal experiences (emphasise on the word ‘personal‘), they are the non-religious individuals who are guilty of this sin the most.

Again, like believers, some of them love to claim higher moral standing. As stated before, I’ve never heard of atheists killing in the name of atheism. But, if you want to claim something that loaded, make sure that it is an actual reality.

Just give me one evidence that supports such assertion. No, the atrocities committed by believers is not it. The sins of your enemies do not warrant your supposed morality. How you treat your fellow human beings does. Oh and I can prove that immoral atheists exist. Just take a look at communist countries. You know, those officially atheistic countries.

They were good in discriminating, imprisoning and killing anyone not in line with government-approved ideals. As religiosity was not one of them, religious people were among the victims. At certain periods, they were treated like atheists in Muslim countries. Surely, you cannot deny this part of human history.

Yes, I know it’s history. I know we should move on instead. But, history isn’t meant to be forgotten; it’s meant to be a testimony of the true human nature, a testimony in which we can learn a lot from. If you’ve learned from it, you would not quantify a person’s morality from the identity he/she associates with. If you equate atheism with morality, you are on the same league with those religious zealots. No, I won’t stop making that comparison.

Even though I’ve interacted with many anti-religious pricks online, I’ve received only encountered one attack targeted personally to me. One person premised how people have used religions to justify their acts of inhumanity. Therefore, he concluded that every person who still observe a religion willingly tolerate or even partake in inhumanity itself. Yes, he actually said that.

That’s what we call Guilty By Association, which is an actual fallacy and that invalidates his argument. No, I’m not committing fallacy fallacy which refers to invalidating true conclusions based on false premises. In this person’s case, his true premise was followed by a false conclusion. But, this is not what agitates me the most.

He also carried out a nasty ad hominem against me. What he said seemed impersonal. But, he blurted that out while we were having a one-on-one conversation and he specifically said the word ‘you’, insinuated that I also tolerated and partook in religiously-motivated inhumanity. Well……..

People who actually know me will immediately scream ‘bullshit’. I’ve condemned so many forms of religious bigotry and violence. Often times, I’m very vulgar with my condemnation to the point of aggravating religious apologists, who declare non-existing perfection of their religions and religious communities.

Also, I’ve done many bad things in my life, motivated by nouns that end with ‘-phobia’. But, not once I harmed my fellow human beings in the name of Islam. Not even when I was a backward-minded believer! Once again, my religiosity is personal and it never dictated how I treated others. So, what he said about me was false. Yet, his words affect me to this day.

I don’t know why I’m still hurt. I am indeed insecure about myself. But, when it comes to my morality, I am the complete opposite. I also welcome the possibility of me being the immoral one; if you hate self-righteousness, it’s hypocritical to announce yourself as entirely and absolutely moral. Once I detect a hint of immorality in me, I should thrive to eliminate it. Maybe the exasperation I’m having right now is the result of the insult itself.

Well, not really. I’ve been called with many things in my life. Being a loser means abundance of verbal abuse is expected in one’s life. But, admittedly, a handful of them are extremely hurtful. I haven’t found the ‘hurt’ factor yet. But, I often assume the insulters aren’t just trolls. They are genuinely mean-spirited individuals who have deep-rooted desire to make me see myself as a subhuman they think I am.

But, in the end, my own religiosity and spirituality are and will always be my personal matters. No one, not even powerful religious organisations, have the right to intervene. My morality does affect others. But, as long as I’m willing to clean mine every time it gets dirty, I don’t think I have anything to worry about at the moment.

Youtube fans, haters and their imaginary prerogative

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I wrote an article about how Pewdiepie’s fans are horrible. I am fan myself and I have horrid experiences with fellow bros. But, I don’t know why I only focused on that one specific fandom when the others are equally horrid.

Maybe because Pewdiepie was and is currently the Youtuber I watch the most. Maybe because Pewdiepie fandom is so infamous. But then, it’s frustrating how we quickly dismiss the existence of his militant haters.

Haters. Like the zealous fandoms, they are one of Youtube’s cancers. Both are the extreme ends of the spectrum. Both are waste excreted from different orifices of a same person. Both also suffer the same disease: a bulging sense of entitlement.

They believe the entire Youtube community must kneel down and pleasure their nether regions. When excited, their genitalia boast non-existing expertise about what’s good for a group of diverse and many ‘unseen’ individuals. They express their excitement in different yet equally infuriating ways.

One sin that fans always do is forcing their Youtubers to be their besties. Yes, our Youtubers are NOT our friends. Their impacts to our personal lives are indeed inspiring. But, ours do not intertwine with theirs and probably never will. It’s still a tough truth to sell.

Fans want their favourite Youtubers stark naked and touch every inch of the bare skins as they desire. Their idols are nothing but emotionless piles of flesh, blood and bones who are destined to please the lustful ego of complete strangers. If they aren’t treated like sex toys, they are treated like puppets.

Retar…I mean, fans believe they are ever-powerful Gods and Youtubers are their subjects. They believe they have the complete creative control to the channels. Heck, they even think they can impose draconian rulings on the Youtubers’ personal lives! You can get attacked simply for dating the ‘wrong’ person (e.g. Jacksepticeye) or for not coming out (Joey Graceffa). Then, the haters chime in.

They declare themselves as being more sophisticated and more moral than the fandoms. In fact, they use this as a justification to hate certain Youtubers. Of course, that does not hold ground for two reasons:

First, Youtubers aren’t always responsible for their fans’ actions; some behaviours are simply beyond the former’s control. Second, the haters are equally rabid bunch of degenerates.

The most obvious haters’ sin is…their hate. They waste their precious time searching for Youtubers they hate, clicking their videos and posting cancerous comments. They even express their hatred in comment section of videos…created by different and sometimes unrelated Youtubers! What is their ‘rationale’ for this?

Well, they believe the expression of hatred will lead to the Youtubers’ downfall. Hatred will bring negative energy to their channels. In the end, destruction is inevitable. It does make sense…for the most simplistic of all minds. Instead of weakening them, the Youtubers end up getting stronger.

Clicking their videos literally means giving them more views. More views means more money. More money means more power. One can use money to obtain higher status and more fame! That’s the truth about life! Wait, that’s not all.

Haters also forget that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. I am a Pewdiepie fan because of the haters. They are the ones who introduce me to him! They keep spamming comment sections with his name. Curiosity made me check his channel and a bro I am now. I am genuinely grateful for the haters.

In fact, many of my fellow bros are! Giving lots of attention to Youtubers is almost akin to nourishing them with free ads. More subscribers also means more power. With many strangers adoring you, it is relatively easy to defend yourself. But, what if the attention does not give them more followers?

They may or may not get more. If they don’t, it still doesn’t matter. We often forget that Youtubers are media and communication people. They are savvy in both fields. They can use their fame their advantage. Their skill is their power. If they want to, they can topple world governments. Again, thank you hater, whose stupidity doesn’t stop there.

They love to denounce content creators of certain flaws. Obviously, valid criticism is important; everyone needs it to be a better individual, personally and professionally. But, the validity kills itself when the criticism is laced with hypocrisy.

They condemn the Youtubers they hate certain flaws…while openly praising their favourite Youtubers who clearly ALSO have those flaws! If you have a proudly blind sense of judgement, don’t get pissed when others dismiss your words; it’s their moral right. I am still not done, yet.

Those haters, no matter how annoying they are, are very harmless. Deal with them like one deals with overly-pampered toddlers. But, some are worryingly more dangerous as they bring their hatred to an atrocious level: slander.

They are so tightly cocooned by their hatred, their heads will come up with horrible lies, camouflaged them as truths and post them online. Unsurprisingly, they cannot present a single evidence to support their claims. Well, they think they can; for them, ‘hatred’ is literally the best evidence a person can have. Unfortunately, gullibility is a widespread social disease.

Present a handful of shit and a swarm of flies will gobble it up. They will do so either because it satisfies their repulsive, ingrained taste buds or they are simply starving and will devour anything they stumble on. Both are convinced of its supposedly refined taste. Then, they proceed to throw the shit to other people’s faces, including the slander victims.

One may say that slander is mere words; we should just ‘man up’ and not let ourselves hurt by it. Slander is literally harmless, they say. Well, that’s easy to say if you are not the victim.

Before Wall Street Journal falsely accusing him of anti-Semitism (and still haven’t apologised for it), Pewdiepie had been accused of stealing charity money and beating his own girlfriend. Even John Green of the Vlogbrothers was accused of being a sexual pervert who ‘loved’ teens. Those accusations are so horrible, they can potentially ruin lives. Haters who do this should be taken seriously.

So, what cause haters to do all of these? Well, as I said earlier, just like those rabid fans, haters have a bulging sense of entitlement. Like those fans, haters think everyone in the Youtube community are destined to be their personal slaves who indulge every single one of their desires. They literally cannot accept that they aren’t the only people who matter.

No, I am not saying that we should keep our mouths shut. We can, and should, give creative suggestions to our favourite Youtubers. Heck, I even believe we can give advices for their personal lives. Yes, it is true that Youtubers can’t live without us fans. But, we should also remember that we were attracted to them in the first place because of the uniqueness of their individuality.

We can, and should, also give stern criticism to the Youtubers we hate. Heck, I even believe we can give ‘harsh’ comments (mind the air quotes). But, our criticism should be bound by reasons and facts, not our feelings. The rule still applies even when they spit out shameless prejudice. Don’t be a hater. Don’t be an SJW. Be a critic.

Yes, I know that ‘traditional’ celebrities have also been harassed by rabid fans. But, digital media platforms like Youtube give wider access for us to interact with our idols; the wall between us and them is a a lot thinner. This digital metaphysics worries me. I fear that it makes us even more prone to suffer from delusions, believing that we have actual intimacy with our idols.

Speaking about the personal nature of Youtube, the website gives us freedom that ‘traditional’ media lacks: we can choose to watch any videos we want. Don’t like a Youtuber? All you have to do is to NOT clicking his/her videos! It’s that simple! You’re not forced to watch videos you hate.

Youtube does suggest you videos; even then, those videos are very likely related to the ones you frequently watch. Maybe they have similar styles or content. Maybe the creators are acquainted to the ones you are subscribing to. So, don’t get angry when you’re suggested videos of your hated Youtubers. In fact, you have so much freedom there, you literally have no reasons to be a hater.

I don’t know how end this article.

So, the end?

Two simple steps to raise ideal children

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*puts on a mask*

  1. Obtains a monstrous ego

As a parent, you should root it in your mind that everything is about you and you only. Your children must be the personal projections of yourself. Your thoughts and feelings must also be theirs. If they end up different from you, you’re a failure.

They should listen to literally every single one of your words. Whatever the messages you are trying to make, yours are and will always be worthier than God’s. Your children must be morally held responsible for their verbal retaliation. Their words are and will always be more ungodly than the Devil’s.

     2. Abuse them

It only makes sense to utilise sadism on our own flesh and blood. Spanking and caning are among the most popular methods of disciplines. But, I find them too mild, too humane. We should aim higher and boy, do I have suggestions.

If they talk back to you, cut up their tongues and feed them to the dogs! If they make even the slightest menacing body languages, mutilate their limbs and throw acid to their faces! If they dare to think differently from you, do anything to cause them brain damage; cerebral hypoxia is the best method. If they dare to be non-heterosexual or to even have the most unassuming of erotic thoughts, rape them; mutilate their genitalia if you have to!

Wait, I am not done yet! Physical abuse is best served with emotional one. Manipulate them to believe they cause their own sufferings. Make them believe that you, the parent, are the only victim here; you are the only one who suffers! If they have the audacity to complain, call them out as ungrateful children as they really are!

Don’t worry. Societies are on your side. Just look at the internet. Dare some people to publicly denounce their parents, they will always be replied with honourable comments, rightly accusing them of their shameless lack of gratitude.

*takes off the mask*

Rogue One: (un)appreciation of heroism (a very late review)

*spoiler alert*

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This is literally my first Star Wars film. I wasn’t interested in the franchise. If I want to try new art and entertainment, I focus on the premise rather than its celebrity or cult status. Honestly, Star Wars’ premise doesn’t interest me.

Basically, it’s another case of good vs. evil. The marginalised vs. the powerful ones. Battle scenes. I know I sound ignorant. But, that’s the impression I get from the film. Correct me if I am wrong. Of course, I still have other reasons to try the franchise.

First of all, Harry Potter’s not a completely original franchise either. It has traits shared by many other stories. But, I’ve been a pothead for years and I can see myself as one in the future. If I can love derivative HP, why not Star Wars?

Also, Star Wars is sci-fi. I have a soft spot for speculative genres. From my lenses, they can get deep easily and unpretentiously. I like that. I can’t stand self-righteous entertainment. Another reason to try Star Wars.

So, when I had the chance to watch it, I took it. Not disappointed at all.

Quality wise, it’s unexceptional. K-2SO is the only character that I like. The human ones don’t attract me. I’m neither annoyed nor compelled by them. That hinders the immersion. But, the most important aspect of the film is its ending….which makes me conflicted.

It is supposed to be sad. But, the emotions existed briefly before immediately swept under the rug. Like, why? Our heroes are dead. They die before they reach the happy ending. I should not have feelings about that? Seriously? What are they? Chopped liver? Why don’t the filmmakers celebrate the deaths as well? Oh, look! Dead heroes! Woohoooo!! Pop the champagne!!

*takes a deep breath*
As much as frustrating it is, the film’s a good reminder that every revolution demands sacrifice. The living heroes have it nicer. They live to enjoy seeing their causes becoming reality, unlike their dead predecessors.

Okay, I know how it sounds like. In reality, I am genuinely grateful of their heroic efforts. I really do. But, I also credit their predecessors for starting the movements. Without them, our living heroes probably wouldn’t have a colossal cause to fight for.

I believe franchises like Star Wars need prequels. They unveil the origin stories, show how everything started. If not prequels, at least insert fictional history lessons in the original stories. Don’t dwell too much on the present. Explore the past well.

If I dare to say this to some people, they would roll their eyes (and I hope they got stuck) and say profoundly pragmatic things like “why does it matter?”, “it’s just entertainment!” and “why can’t you just be dumbed down like us?” My respond would be this:

Why doesn’t it matter?

I have said this countless times before and I will said it again: I love lowbrow entertainment. I really do. I believe it’s morally and intellectually acceptable to unwind with pure escapism. But, indulging in escapism in your every waking second is self-destructive.

Sooner or later, you have to dwell on the inescapable reality. You are in it, whether you like it or not. This can be encouraged by inserting depth to popular entertainment, no matter how subtle it is.

In the case of Rogue One, it’s about knowing the Jedis’ earliest efforts (God, I hope I got the info right). You will never fully appreciate their movement (is that the right word?) unless you learn about the history.

You would learn how and why it started, about everything the movement went through and its evolution from then to now. The movement in its present form doesn’t tell you the full story and that can lead to ignorance.

The people. Don’t forget about them. You would also learn about the sacrifices they made. Be grateful that you don’t have to endure what they went through, that you can enjoy the privilege which weren’t available then.

I know, I know. Star Wars isn’t real. But, one has to acknowledge that it resembles real life phenomenons. Notice the parallel, immerse in it and we’ll be more insightful about our reality. Try harder and we can make our world a better place.

It seems my teenage idealism still lingers…

Oh and one more thing. My statement about esteeming heroes sounds patriotic. It can be applied to the context of fighting for national independence. But, that was not what I had in mind.

I was thinking about something more internal. The fight for more rights for the marginalised ones, honourable governance and even better living conditions. They may seem trivial. But, they also involve heroic individuals. In some cases, they do suffer from violence. Not all heroes are soldiers.

Admittedly, those internal issues can intertwine with patriotism as well.

Inferno: an intellectual fail (a very late review)

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Murders. Lives at stake. Art history puzzles. Ask Robert Langdon for help. Accompanied by a pretty lady. Lots of actions. People die anyway. Unexpected bad guys. Problem’s solved in less than 24 hours. Just another Robert Langdon story.

I haven’t read the novel. Is it a disappointing film adaptation? Can’t say. A disappointing stand-alone film? It is. I was initially intrigued. Our hero suffers concussion, memory loss and visions of hell, inspired by Dante’s Inferno. The film sucked me in. Now, I regret the immersion.

It’s just another mindless action film. Imaginary physical actions mean nothing to me. But, the film’s other aspects do. Mystery. Surrealism. The grotesque. I’m a sucker for them. They help me understanding the world and myself…and they disappear halfway. But, one thing disappoints me even more: unlike the previous films, Inferno isn’t thematic.

The Da Vinci Code condemns deceitful religious authorities; the film shares the condemnation. Angels & Demons discusses “religion vs. science”; the film doesn’t discuss it, even though it’s still there. Both deal with the (in)validity of religious truths. I love having such discussions, taboo or not. That’s why TDVC and A&D feel personal for me.

Inferno’s villain believes killing most of mankind is good for its own sake; less greed, better earth. The future of earth and humanity. It’s both compelling and personal. I condemn his method, but I share his cause. The film has the opportunity to push a discussion. But nooooo! Let’s demonise it and block any discussions! Breed like rabbits! Fuck the earth! Human lives matter! TRUMP 2016!

*takes a deep breath*

In the west, religion is no longer a taboo topic. Hollywood indulges the trend. But, the idea of population control is still sinful. Many feel it demonises procreation and even demands our extinction! So desperate to keep their views unchallenged. Again, Hollywood indulges.

Don’t get me wrong. I love low-brow entertainment; hate to be thoughtful all the time. But, if it can get deeper, do it! Yes, the deeps are dangerous, dark and have grotesque inhabitants…and that’s exactly why you must explore it! Confront the harsh environment and ‘twisted’ creatures. That’s how you grasp life. That’s how you learn. Life’s not all about the comfort of the shallows.

The film doesn’t even need a lengthy discussion. Just have a character that asks “What if the villain’s right? What if we’re wrong?”. Just bring up the questions. The audience would be exposed to a conversation starter, albeit subtle. It would also encourage them be less black-and-white. I seriously hope the novel is unlike the film.

Despite his poor writing skills, Dan Brown brings intellectual and emotional depth to TDVC and A&D. If Inferno is just like the film, it bertrays the entire Robert Langdon series. I hope it’s not true. It comforts me that profound low-brow entertainment exists.

You may ask why overpopulation is personal for me. Well, I’m interested in it; I see it as an actual problem. But, as I said, it’s still a taboo. I’ve been accused of misanthropy simply for bringing it up. Someone also said passing our genes is more valuable than environmental liveability. Hard to have reasoned and civilised discussions about it. But, it’s not all about overpopulation.

I’m also interested in other topics in which I have controversial stances on. Controversial as in mine can’t be put in any boxes. That’s enough for people to label me as an extremist. I know we can’t blame such dangerous mentality on one thing. But, I believe pop culture is a significant factor. Now, I’m ending it with a potentially controversial statement:

Pop culture must have a sense of social responsibility. Pop culture and everything that reaches the masses.

The Three NCISes

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NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles and NCIS: New Orleans. Currently my biggest guilty pleasures, among things like Bones, fried foods and human indecency.

They are escapist works. Formulaic plots, some archetypal characters and cheap laugh. They cheer me up every time I need it. No thinking needed.

Yeah, that’s not true. I believe that even the most lowbrow entertainment can have highbrow moments. The three NCISes aren’t even among the most lowbrow.

Each doesn’t have equal depth, though. Some have more of it than the others. NCIS is the deepest among the three. I can’t tell which one’s the most shallow: NCIS: LA or NCIS: NO.

I have love and hate relationship with NCIS: LA. It’s more fun and deeper than NO. It’s the most upbeat of all three…and also the most annoying.

There’s something off about the cheap laughs moments. I don’t know what. Maybe I feel they’re too frequent or too forced. I don’t always laugh at the jokes. The pretentiousness is even more unbearable.

Obviously, the three NCISes revolve mostly around the US navy. But, the NCIS: LA is the only one of the three that worships it.

US Navy is portrayed as the only moral institution and being its ‘haters’ instantly make you immoral or, at least, worthless to the society.

That’s not healthy devotion to an institution, that’s a harmful fetish. If you can’t see the flaws in your object of admiration, you’re proudly irrational or, worse, delusional. From that point, you need a shrink ASAP.

I said something about stereotypical characters. Well, they include Muslim ones. Most of them are portrayed as extremists. They define the overall image of Muslims in the show.

Yes, there are a handful of peaceful ones. But, their voices are always muffled. The extremists’ are more audible. Unsurprising with the megaphones they have. Just like their real-life counterparts….

Loudening their voices means you validate them. You are half-way to be their accomplishes and the enemy of peaceful Muslims for spitting on our faces.

Yes, I know I’m being too harsh on it. Sometimes, entertainment is just what it is: entertainment. But, at the same time, I also believe in media responsibility. So, I’m conflicted about this.

Despite everything, it still has moments of psychological depth, even among the goofy characters. They encourage contemplation.

Contemplation. It isn’t something you get from NCIS: NO. Don’t get me wrong. I love how the show is shot on-location.

It may not greatly portray New Orleans. At least, culturally, it’s more authentic than most scripted Hollywood shows. It’s way less plastic…

…and that’s it. I can’t think of anything else to praise about the show. Other than a source of entertainment, it’s as good as an empty coconut shell.

I find that odd. It brings up more real life problems than NCIS: LA does. It has many emotionally-intense moments. Yet, the show means nothing to me. I believe immersion’s the problem.

There’s no invitation for immersion in its social consciousness and emotions. Instead, we are encouraged to be normal spectators. Normal. For me, that’s the other dirty N word.

That’s a shame. With better immersion, this show would be a marvelous experience. Social grittiness with emotional realism. Being entertaining isn’t a good excuse for snubbing them.

The original NCIS show stands taller than those two. For me, it’s always the best in the franchise. But still, quality show it is not.

I cringe at the poor visual aesthetics with its eyesoring cinematography and excessive camera movements. Call me patronising. But, it feels like they barely tried. The other two shows do way better.

Despite being a great annoyance, the horrid visuals is underwhelmed by the social and emotional immersion. I almost wanted to say “depth” instead of “immersion”.

Social issues are frequently shown in the show. But, they’re not thought-provokingly conveyed. No social grittiness as well. But, they do exist.

Exist. They aren’t just the writers’ sick imagination. The show convinces me that they exist in real life as well. It wants me to acknowledge their existence and the problems they bring.

Deep emotions also exist. But, again, they’re not intelligently conveyed. No Bergmanesque drama with emotionally potent scenes. Yet, I still can feel the emotions myself. Maybe the writers are good with emotions.

Or maybe, the writers know how to make lovable characters. No matter how annoyed by them at times, I still love them to bits! Well, everyone except Kate. I’m glad she’s dead.

I don’t know the secret of their lovableness. Maybe the writers know how to pander to the audience. They know how to make me happy. But, I have my own theory.

Each character is like an infinite magical onion. When we think we know them, they manifest another seemingly-fresh layer of their individuality. Even long-time characters still surprise me to this day…

…Including Leroy Jethro Gibbs himself, one of the show’s stars. He is a proud ex-marine who doesn’t believe ex-marines exist, sees the US Navy as honourable and still maintains military discipline. But, he is not a blind fanatic.

He’s always the first person in the show who lambast his fellow marines for their lack of honour. He believes being a marine isn’t a free pass for embracing human indecency. Gibbs’ attitude towards them shapes the show’s perspective.

The US Navy is seen as neither virtuous nor shameful. It’s both. We are shown marines who possess strength and sense of humanity bigger than anyone who brag about having them…

…and we’re also shown marines who possess cowardice, deceitfulness and self-interest so big, it’s a wonder that they become marines in the first place. Some soldiers are never heroic.

Their portrayal is too dualistic. But, it genuinely changes the way I view the military. I used to think it was a place for overtly-rigid people who tolerate violence.

I still think such people exist in the institution. But now, I also believe that sensitive and peace-loving ones also exist there and I had been ignoring them all my life.

I know, I know. It’s a pathetic way to be enlightened. I should’ve known better that stereotypes, more of than not, feast on our delusional biases. I often let my darker side taking over.

I said something about media’s social responsibility. From how much I’ve changed, I can say that NCIS embraces it. Someone or some people off-screen believe in such responsibility. Why can’t the NCIS: LA be the same?

Oh and one last thing I love about NCIS: the characters’ interpersonal relationship. It is positively dynamic with a combination of honesty, healthy competition, banters, respect and warm camaraderie. It warms up my dark, cold heart.

I always crave such relationship. Mine are often volatile. I have better ones with my online friends. Even then, there are a few but noticeable bumps on the road. Again, it’s sad how dependent I am on a TV show.

…..

Obviously, I’ve singled out who is the winner among the three. NCIS is the one that arms me up the most. But, it may be unfair of me.

It is the eldest of the siblings, at fourteen years of age. NCIS: LA and NCIS: NO are eight and three years old, respectively.

From eight seasons of the former, I’ve only watched one and a half of them. I barely give the show a chance. The latter is still a baby. I need to wait more.

This shows the possibility of me being wrong. If I watch more episodes, I would probably change my mind about them. Who knows? I may end up loving either one even more.

But then, I was immediately hooked by NCIS at my first episode. I watched the other two in the first place because they are parts of the franchise. Besides, 20 episodes should be more than enough for me to judge a show’s overall quality.

So, the chance of me changing my mind is minuscule.

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them: a wonderful gift (a very late review)

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I was initially reluctant to watch. For me, Harry Potter ended with The Deathly Hallows. Rowling’s milking on her own creation. But, I watched it anyway…and I’m not disappointed.

Not the greatest film ever made. But, it’s still good and fun. It also provides better grasp of the HP universe. As a pothead (uhm), that really excites me!

The Goblet of Fire made us (and Harry Potter himself) realise that not all witches and wizards were Brits. But still, the series was almost completely set in the UK.

Was. Fantastic Beasts is the first HP-related story completely set abroad. The NYC, to be exact. The male lead is a Brit surrounded by Americans.

I also notice how the American witches and wizards blend among the no-majs (American muggles). Their British counterparts tend to stick out like sore thumbs.

Of course, the film’s set in NYC, world’s biggest city. The magical humans have to learn stay low-key all the time. The British ones tend to be rural settlers; they rarely interact with muggles.

That makes me think: why the Brits prefer the rurals? Maybe there’s something about their culture that the Americans lack.

Or maybe, some of the Brits do live in cities. Every time we visit a character’s home, it’s always rural. But then, we have never visited the house of every single character!

Wait, I just remember. There is indeed one urban magical home: the Grimmauld Place. The family home of Sirius Black. He was unlike the rest of the Blacks.

They were proud ‘pure-blooded’ witches and wizards, comparable to racial supremacists. They had no reason to mingle with the muggles. But, why they chose to live among them is a mystery.

Okay, it may seem boring to know about fictional settlement geography. But, it’s an extension of the world-building! It excites me more than the magical wildlife themselves!

If Rowling thinks UK cities have significant magical communities, I would love to know their stories. If she doesn’t think so, I would love to know why they prefer the rurals.

I love analysing the societal aspects HP world. I’m a social studies nerd! I always try to do this with every long-running series. Again, more exciting than the magical wildlife!

Another thing I love about the film is its social commentaries. The trademark of HP franchise. Government is obviously not untouchable.

The British magical government is openly sleazier. But, its American counterpart isn’t trustworthy either.

Both willingly ignore glaring warning signs and uphold shamelessly antiquated legislation. But, the Americans are scarier in how quick they are to execute someone. Government is the dirty G word.

Entertainment like HP are a reminder for us to not take authorities for granted. Unfortunately, many still naively and blindly trust them and expect others to do the same. Well, they can’t complain when authoritarianism come into being.

Prejudice is also a target of Rowling’s wrath. She believes it does nothing but harm to literally everyone, even the bigots themselves. And I agree wholeheartedly.

Besides harming their victims, bigots let themselves shrouded in dark clouds of immorality, as shown to some HP characters. They become lower than their objects of inhumane contempt. We must always treat ourselves better than that.

Compassion is applauded in the series. Share yours with every single creature. Literally every single one of them. No exception.

Frankly, I believe not everyone deserves compassion; we need to put hateful on their places. But, at the same time, I still admire Rowling’s championship of humanity. Cynicism has yet to devour her.

Unlike the previous stories, Fantastical Beasts emphasises on compassion for the magical wildlife. Rowling reminds us of their greater vulnerability…and our inhumane, supremacist selfishness. You know, the badge of honour for some of us.

HP is also known for how it treats characters. Most of them are more complex than they seem, especially the female ones. Again, Fantastic Beasts stays true to the series.

I was initially distressed by the blonde lady with high-pitched voice. God, not another ditzy blonde! What year is this, anyway?

Well, she turns out to be quick-witted, level-headed and reliable, more so than her dark magic-fighting, combat-trained but reckless sister. Trustworthy, she is.

The fat guy. God, not another fat guy as the comic relief? Seriously? Is fatness the only thing that can draw laughter?

Well, his personal problems make him a really sympathetic character. He also brings out most of the film’s emotional depth. He is the heart of the story.

One of the film’s villains is very grey. He did kill people. So threatening that killing him was the only option.

But, at the same time, his victims horribly mistreated him. Their deaths aren’t worth our tears and make the world a better place.

I admit that I have my own guilty pleasures. I can love stories with predictable and completely happy endings. They entertain me in bad days. But, I draw the line at stereotypes.

They put me off more really bad, more so than formulaic plots. The older I get, the more I associate them with close-mindedness.

A close mind sees us as mere stereotypes, not as who we really are: a cluster of complex collectives, each a myriad of distinctive and often unrelated individual humans.

Seems like a dramatic reason to despise stereotypical fictional characters. But, my mind cannot separate them from real-life bigotry. Not sure if it’s good or bad. Anyway…

Overall, I’m personally satisfied. It’s a whimsical extension of the limitless HP universe, encouraging us to be more imaginative.

Despite the fun, it still embraces social and political conscious, reminding us of our own reality.

It treats its characters like actual human beings, not like a bunch of dehumanising pigeonholes.

It cherishes its predecessors and has a special place in the franchise.

Is Rowling milking on her own works? That, I don’t know. But, I can confidently say this:

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is a wonderful gift to her fans.

A side note:

I am still skeptical about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. But, so was I with Fantastic Beasts. Now, I am seriously considering to buy the play script. Who knows? Perhaps, I will love it as well.