Culture Journalism Politics

Social War: A ‘Like’ and a Prayer

Social media mingles with war in the 21st century, and social media and war are just beginning to realize just how bizarre that is. This is an account of the 8-day conflict between Israel and Palestine in November 2012 that saw more than 150 casualties. It is the first Social War, a war centered on followers and flashy pics.

Story and illustration by Tim Worden.


A ‘Like’ and a Prayer

“We will destroy our enemies.” Like. “Our missile has assassinated their general.” Retweet. “Mission accomplished.” Share.

“Sirens in Jerusalem #IsraelUnderAttack” demands attention. “Scared. Bomb blasts shaking my windows #GazaUnderFire” gets 300 retweets.

Eyewitness Instagram pics spread like wildfire, death counts are updated to the minute and two opposing military forces chatted with each other via Twitter.

On Nov. 14, 2012, for the first time in world history, a war was declared via Twitter. The eight-day conflict between the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and Hamas involved drone and missile strikes. Dubbed Operation Pillar of Cloud by Israel, the IDF began by targeting Hamas’ military commander.

Churchill had his “Get ‘em in the trenches!” speech, FDR had his fireside chats and now the Israeli and Hamas armies have their retweets. This is war, broadcast in real-time through tweets and grainy drone cams.

This is Social War.

And in Social War, armies don’t just fight with assault rifles and rockets; they launch viral hashtags and drop in flashy infographics. The IDF armors up with a YouTube, Facebook and blog. But Twitter, which lets a nation, from Haifa to Tel Aviv, collectively watch a war unfold, is the secret weapon.

“We were able to stay ahead of the game, allowing us to counter the onslaught of misinformation and rumors that are generally part of the arsenal of terrorist organizations we face,” said Eytan Buchman, head of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit North American Desk, the IDF’s communications arm dealing with North American press.

Twitter helps the IDF rapidly share accurate and reliable information through an ad-hoc movement, says Buchman, who has 3,500 followers.

“Twitter can create a dialogue, giving us a feel for what information is getting out there and how we can take steps to correct it,” Buchman says.

Social War comes from the top, too. On a Facebook post a few days into the war, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country is engaged on four fronts. The first three—the military, home and diplomatic fronts—are all obvious. But the fourth front, now that’s interesting: “the information front,” where citizens combat misinformation.

“What you are doing provides us with serious reinforcement on the information front, we have to battle for the truth,” Netanyahu stated in the 19,000-like post.

The IDF publicly began the war with a tweet. A press conference came later.

“The IDF has begun a widespread campaign on terror sites & operatives in the #Gaza Strip, chief among them #Hamas & Islamic Jihad targets,” the IDF Spokeperson’s Unit (@IDFspokesperson) declared at 6:29 a.m. on Nov. 14, getting 418 retweets.

Hours later, the IDF tweeted: “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.”

Twitter sees some bizarre stuff, but nothing like what came next.

Alqassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing in Gaza, replied to the tweet, the first time warring enemies have conversed in a public fashion online.

“@idfspokesperson Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves),” Hamas responded.

Professor Fania Oz-Salzberger, on the ground in northern Israel, was among the first to publicly note this as the first declared war on Twitter.

As a history professor at the University of Haifa who studies Israeli-German relations and political thought, she knows a thing or two about the development of war. She was amused at this, really.

“My first thought was: ‘Those young geeks in uniform at @IDFspokesperson are a step ahead of their slow, snail-paced commanders,’” she said.

Social media allows things to spread easily, from uninformed tweets to incorrect propaganda that is fact-checked in real time, she said.

“Governments and military spokespeople will have to become far more cautious and savvy when making any public statement,” Oz-Salzberger said.

Jon Mitchell, a writer for tech blog ReadWrite, sees social media fusing with war as inevitable thing, no more surprising than the use of any other propaganda channel historically. But that didn’t stop his initial reaction at watching the IDF tweet the war: “Wow. It’s a new world.”

By tightly controlling the message through tweets and live images, the Israeli army framed the military campaign just the way it wanted. As the first military social media use, it certainly set the bar high, he said.

“It’s brilliant in its way,” he blogged on ReadWrite.

Social War likes it fast and dirty.

A simple look at the IDF’s Twitter followers over time shows this. The account went from 52,000 to 61,000 followers from mid-August to Nov. 13, the day before the war began. This number more than tripled in only 10 days. They nabbed 20,000 new followers several days during the war and had 205,000 by Nov. 23, two days after the cease fire.

Hamas fared even better. The group’s account, @AlQassamBrigades, started the war with a measly 9,000 followers. By war’s end, it had 41,000—a full quadruple.

Social War grants the outside world access to the inner workings of a war-torn country.

In Israel’s last military operation in Gaza in 2008-2009, communications and Internet line were cut and journalists were barred from entering Gaza. This time, Palestinians maintained Internet access and journalists were allowed entry, resulting in an unprecedented amount of first hand accounts from citizens living in Gaza, according to Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, which tracks human rights issues and civilian and journalist casualties in Gaza.

“The spreading of eyewitness accounts of ordinary citizens of the Gaza Strip has been especially valuable in countering the mainstream narrative of the conflict, which lacks a rights based approach and factual reporting,” said Sourani.

He sees this openness as a step in the right direction. The world watched as Anderson Cooper, reporting live in Gaza City, flinched and staggered as a rocket blast erupted behind him one night. “That was a rather large explosion,” he said.

Palestinian citizens and bloggers took the world stage, too. Some photographed the destruction of office buildings and others wrote poems seeking peace.

Shahd Abusalama, a Palestinian student and blogger in Gaza City, was exhausted after six days of continuous bombings on the city. She rested under her blankets, but at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 19, a missile zoomed into her neighborhood, she wrote on her blog.

“I remember exactly how I heard the missile falling, like a whistle,” she wrote.

The rocket hit meters away from her house and the neighborhood gathered together to investigate. A loudspeaker from the mosque advised the crowd to spread apart in case of another missile. The victim was torn to pieces, spread across the street. His blood stained the street, she wrote.

In addition to posting the news to Facebook and Twitter, she keeps an updated list of every Palestinian killed in the conflict on her blog.

Social media shares the good news, too.

In 2010, three former Israeli soldiers created a website to combat negative misconceptions of Israel and the army. Called Friend a Soldier, the program pairs users with an Israeli soldier. It promotes hasbara, the Hebrew word for public relations, since users see the soldier behind the uniform.

Hasbara has a bad rap, akin to propaganda in English. While some, like Oz-Salzberger and Mitchell, see Social War as incorporating propaganda, Lirut Nave, a Friend a Soldier member, said said hasbara informs the public and explains reasons behind actions taken.

“We reached a time where presence in social media is a must, and there is no better and more efficient way to inform the public of your actions and motives,” said Lirut, a retired IDF soldier who served in an operational command center in the Jordan Valley.

There is much incentive for militaries and governments to enlist social media. You tell the story, you frame it as you like and bam! the story bombards Twitter.

A popular Vietnam anti-war slogan was: “What if they gave a war and nobody came.” In Social War, they not only come; they “like” it.


comic books Culture Politics

Captain America for President

Illustration by Peter Pham for the Daily Titan

Published in Tuesday’s Daily Titan.

It’s October and the presidential election is in full swing.

We watch as President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney debate, cheering our respective candidate while blotting out the other. And soon, perhaps during last night’s presidential debate, undecided voters must make their final decision with the election only 16 days away.

Not me. I’ve already made my choice. I was undecided until early October, but while watching the first presidential debate, it came to me in a spark of inspiration.

I’m voting for Captain America. Yes, the Marvel Comics superhero who wields an American flag shield.

Don’t get me wrong: I think both candidates are OK. I’ll even concede that Obama has a trustworthy face. I just have a complete lack of faith in the political system, that’s all.

Both candidates are, simply put, good alternative choices. They are more of the same bland crop of American politicians who are unwilling to think outside the box and are eager to spend America’s money. The debates have shown that Obama and Romney lack backbone, sticking in the shallow end with a “war of words.”

That’s boring.

If Captain America has a problem with you, he will tell you outright why you are lying. Some shield throwing and punching may be involved.

For example, in the mid-2000s Civil War storyline, the American government forces all superheroes to register to the government with the “Superhero Registration Act.” Seeing this as a tremendous overstepping of government authority, Captain America vehemently rejects this unjust law.

Since he is breaking a federal law, a group of U.S. special forces agents surround him with guns drawn. His response?

“Weapons down or I will not be responsible for what comes next,” he says.

Romney couldn’t even summon that amount of backbone in his dreams.

Captain America stays away from politics, but he knows when his country has its priorities in reverse. In s #128 (1970), he comes across a Vietnam-era university protest with students rioting against police officers and an “aloof” college dean.

“Here’s where I oughtta step in and make like a swingin’ hero! But how do I know whose side to take? What the heck—the cops don’t need any help—but these kids do!!” he says.

In 1974, months after the conclusion of Watergate, Captain America discovers that a high-ranking government official (assumed to be President Richard Nixon) is working for an evil terrorist group.

He promptly rejects the U.S. and calls himself the Nomad.

Captain America’s fans have always been attracted to his courage. Beyond his suit he is, after all, Steve Rogers, a scrawny young man who was not able to get drafted into the army during World War II. But his determination makes him the perfect candidate for the “Super-Serum.” He’s the target of bullies, the underdog, and he brings this into his role as Captain America, where he now has the strength to fight for the underdogs.

His selflessness and defensive nature are perfect presidential qualities. “Captain America is not here to lead this country. I’m here to serve it. If I’m a captain, then I’m a soldier,” he says in a 2003 issue, adding:

“I am not a ‘superhero’… I am a man of the people. Together, you and I will identify and confront America’s problems. Together, we will figure out what we are and what we can be. Together, we will define the American Dream and make it an American reality,” he said.

He’s an idealist who is not bogged down by a political party. He doesn’t campaign in swing states, he goes out and fights evil.

But these issues are all chump change compared to the real reason why Captain America deserves the leader of the free world honors.

On the cover of his first-ever comic book appearance, in March 1941, only months before  the attack on Pearl Harbor, Captain America is shown doing something extraordinary. He is decking Adolf Hitler in the jaw.

That’s bad-ass.

Anthropology Culture

Finding gold in these hills

While hiking in Chino Hills State Park this weekend, I spotted a piece of buried treasure. Well, sure, it was not exactly buried treasure, but when I saw this rusting a rotting ammo box splattered with crusty white paint nestled deep in the hills, an ancient World War II ammo cache came to mind.

What I really found was a Geocache, a time capsule type thing. Geocaching, a relatively new adventure game, features hidden caches where people can broadcast hints or GPS coordinates to help other people find their booty. When you find the Geocache, you add your own flair into the cache and log a note.

My group was on a hike to San Juan Hill in Chino Hills, a nearly 6-mile round-trip hike. We took a break on the top of a steep crest halfway in. I spotted a trampled makeshift path to the left of the trail, veering toward a hill overlooking the valley and told my three friends to wait as I explored. I just thought I would be getting a good view into the valley down below.

Near the edge, there was a lone wooden pole, its remnants of barbed wire still jutting in several directions. I walked to this pole, at least a hundred yards off the trailhead, and at its base sat an upturned metal box.

I could not open the latch at first. It had a complex two-part clasp on the side like a tackle box or a bear locker at Yosemite. Finally I opened it and glanced some papers. But I quickly closed it and ran to show my friends the treasure.

We went through the papers and toys before one of my friends realized this was a Geocache. Sure enough, etched onto the side of the box was “GEOCACH” (the “e” was faded). There was a golf computer game CD, dinosaur erasers, a penny and some type of coin. My brother added his guitar pick.

The notepad had messages from at least 2009. In one, a guy claimed he put his iPhone 4 into the box. “Let’s see how long this will last lol,” he said. The most recent message was only three days before us, on Oct. 9. The writer sketched a tree, wrote about God’s glory in nature, added a Bible verse from John and said, “God bless.”

Knowing that a man found this spot just three days before us got me thinking: We are a group of people who are connected by finding a hidden spot 45 minutes into an intermediate hike in the hills in the northern most part of Orange County’s sprawl.

Finding this Geocache has rekindled my sense of adventure. As a child, I always have longed for adventure. I would dig, play in the dirt and search for coins. I still collect letters and notes I find nudged into books or left on tables at my library job. But I am bogged down with responsibilities and do not have a chance to go out exploring much.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” Henry David Thoreau said in Walden. I prefer earnestness. I want to find gold in these hills.

Writing our legacy into the geocache.
Art Culture Fullerton Photography

Downtown Fullerton street photography

After touring downtown Los Angeles a few weeks ago, I was curious to try out street photography. Street photography is a National Geographic-type candid photography of people  in public places like concerts and downtown areas.

I went to downtown Fullerton in Southern California on a hot late-afternoon (around Chapman and Harbor). It has a pretty vibrant night life but it was not that busy when I was there. Here is a few of my shots. I realized it’s a lot harder than it looks! You also need a fast camera to snap pictures quickly without people thinking your’e a stalker (one guy noticed he was on camera and waved).

I can’t figure out why the guy on the left has his face painted gray and red.
Riding a bike down Harbor Blvd

Also, walking around downtown I saw the memorial to Kelly Thomas, the homeless man who was allegedly killed by Fullerton police officers a year ago. Two of the Fullerton city councilmen were just recalled last month in response to the incident. The memorial is at the Fullerton Transportation Center. The sidewalk has chalk paintings and quotes that include, “Homelessness is not a crime.”

Kelly Thomas memorial with a bus in the background.

I do want to try out more street photography, it would be better in Los Angeles where there are a variety of different people. Any suggestions to take better street photography pictures?

Books comic books Culture

Confession: Why I Love to Read

It’s official: I have an addiction to reading.

But hey, nothin’ wrong with that, right Doc? I’ve already read more than 20 books this summer, and I’m aiming for another 10 to 15 more before I go back to college.

So, why do I read?

Well, there’s the obvious answers:

  1. To get lost in a different world (Very true, as I have a fairly active imagination and, if anything, a long attention span and need to occupy something to keep me from getting bored).
  2. I’m bored and it beats Xbox (True, but I still play my fair share of Call of Duty).
  3. To read the book before the movie comes out (Ahem, Hunger Games, Perks of Being a Wallflower and World War Z).

But I have another answer, something I was always semi-conscious of but never fully realized until around a month ago:

I read to get ideas for my novel that I am writing. Well since I’ve only written a few scattered pages I should say the novel that I plan to write.

Here are some things I’ve read about and plan to blend together into my novel:

1. Religion/spirituality/philosophy

I just finished reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, the allegory about a Spanish shepherd who travels to Egypt to find  treasure and his meaning of life. And it gave me an idea to make my story slightly allegorical and have parables and moral lessons in much the same way as The Alchemist and The Odyssey are simple tales that show our humanity and hopes. And I’ll throw in a little philosophy, too.

2. Beginning and ending the novel

I have deliberately read a diverse collection of books this summer (I went from the grueling Homicide to the upbeat X-Men to cool James Bond in a week). I read graphic novels, thrillers and young adult dystopians- to get a well-rounded look at literature.

And I have a habit at noticing the beginning and endings of novels- how do writers catch their reader’s attention?

One great beginning I saw was in Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, the witty take on a teenage breakup:

Dear Ed,

In a sec you’ll hear a thunk.

3. Thinking outside the box/ satire

Deadpool’s gun says, “One free one-liner with every kill.”

Another piece of inspiration for writing came from reading Deadpool & Cable from none other than Deadpool, the Merc with a Mouth, who breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the reader. How awesome is that! It gave me the idea of writing a book where the character knows he is in the book. Maybe it could be a satire on the entire novel culture and the character does something just to create a cliffhanger at the chapter break and says, “Find out what happens next chapter!”

4. Humor

Something I learned both from Deadpool and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is how to use humor. That’s something I need to learn! I have been told before -the person choosing his words carefully- that my writing is “Dry.” And no, he didn’t mean dry as in “Dry wit like in the British Office TV show,” he meant dry as in “Boring, dull.”

So I will try to make my writing more interesting and funny! That requires good dialogue and bizarre situations.

5. Science fiction/ fantasy

This is very important because my novel will be science fiction and fantasy. I have looked at how different sci-fi books have been written and how the future is presented. I obviously don’t want to copy a future technology or plot line so it is important to be knowledgeable about the genre.

My novel will have some components of space travel so I need to get at least a basic understanding about space travel as presented in sci-fi.

And I need to vividly describe the world I am imagining to give my readers the same world I envision.


There is a reason I read so much. Yes, probably the biggest reason I read is to get lost in a new world, a world where magic or time travel is possible. But I also read for the (somewhat selfish) reason to improve my writing to see what other writers have done, evaluating what works and what does not.

Know any books worth checking out for their creative brilliance?

The Alchemist has a great encouragement for anyone trying to achieve their dreams. We just have to believe. As the King told the shepherd:

“When you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it.”

First picture (books) and text by Tim Worden

Cal State Fullerton Culture technology

College student texting habits (Study)

It is no secret that college students text.

That is evident to anyone who has wandering around the Cal State Fullerton campus and witnessed a herd of zombies- er, students walking slowly with their eyes glued on their, like, new iPhone- between classes. Paired with the newly-discovered Nomophobia, the fear of being without our cell phones, it got me thinking:

Just how many students text or check their phones walking around campus?

A staggering 37.2 percent of female and 21.2 percent of male students, I found, were texting or using their phones.

I spent 80 minutes (two 40-minute sessions) at CSUF’s Titan Walk, one of the most frequented spots on campus, located north of the quad and west of the library, to check. My perch gave me views to see every student walking in both directions.

In total, 29.9 percent of the 756 students I watched were texting or using their phones.

While this is in no way scientific, it does show just how many students text. 76 of the 358 males and 148 of the 398 females I saw were using their phones. I define “using their phones” as either: 1) Texting, 2) Checking their phones, 3) Talking on the phone, and 4) Holding their phone in their hand.

Keep in mind that the average time I spent stalking looking at each student was 15 seconds.

These numbers are alarming. While I am all for technology (I love my iPad), I recognize its dangers. Technology has drastically hard-wired our brains: We have short attention spans and think in terms in Google. (Proof: Quick, where was the first battle of the Civil War? I imagine your first instinct -as was mine- is to open up another tab and look it up on Wikipedia. (The answer is the battle of Fort Sumter, in April 1861, by the way.)

METHODOLOGY: Why I counted “having a cell phone in their hand” as using a cell phone: It means the student had either 1) Just texted, 2) Was about to text, or 3) Wanted to have their phone out because they are so used to being with their phone. I did not count students who were listening to or holding their iPods, although I realized that I should have because there were so many. My first session was a Wednesday afternoon (which was not too busy) and the second was the following Tuesday morning.

STATS: Male (Texting/Using phone): 76; Male (No): 279; Female (Texting/Using phone): 148; Female (No): 250.

NOTE: I doubt “texting” is AP Journalism style but this is my blog and it’s fine with me.

Photo and text by Tim Worden

Anthropology Books comic books Culture Movies Science technology

Of Aliens and Men: Science Fiction, a Genre Code (Anthropology essay)

Wohoo, got to write an essay about science fiction! It was fun being able to write about The Hunger Games and X-Men!

This is my final paper for my Language and Culture Anthropology class. We have to evaluate a code, which is a genre (like punk rock music, or fashion, or mystery novels).

Star Wars envisions a planet with a binary sun system, somewhere far, far away…


            Since its beginnings in the mid-1800s, science fiction has crept up to become a dominant genre in the United States. It hit the radar in the 1890s with H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and War of the Worlds, but did not reach mainstream status until the latter part of the century with Star Wars and Star Trek spawning thousands of sci-fi die-hards.

While I am focusing on science fiction literature, its popularity in television and film cannot be ignored: Roughly 44 of the top 100 highest-grossing films of all time incorporate some form of science fiction (Box Office Mojo 2012).

But what exactly is science-fiction, apart from alien invasions and cheesy graphics?

Science fiction is a genre textual code (Chandler 2011). A code is an interpretive framework of symbols that is dependent on many related characteristics. As a result, “Codes help to simplify phenomena in order to make it easier to communicate experiences” (Chandler 2011).

As a genre, science fiction allows readers to experience the mysteries of the universe. It seems like a cliché, but it is true: Are we alone? What if dinosaurs roamed the Earth today? What if I traveled 800,000 years in the future? What if reality is simply a projection from a game? All of these have been the subject of science-fiction plots. If Sigmund Freud were to peer deep into science fiction, he would determine that it represents an unconscious plea for pure escapism.

According to science fiction critic Gary Westfahl, science fiction as a “distinct and self-conscious genre” was founded by Hugo Gernsback in 1926 (McLeod 2010:170). The Gernsbackian definition of science fiction has three elements (McLeod 2010:170):

1. Charming romance/thrilling adventure (for mass appeal)

2. Scientific fact (intends to be scientifically plausible)

3. Prophetic vision (social consequences of an idea)


            As a genre, science fiction sets itself apart not with its superb characterizations or sensual love scenes, but by its ideas (Davis 2010:19). “Science fiction (delves) more actively into philosophical questions” (Davis 2010:19).

For example, what makes H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1898) iconic is its fanciful vision of aliens in tripod machines wreaking havoc on the Earth. The novel ends with the aliens being, ironically, conquered by bacteria and the reader realizes without some Deus ex machina, humanity would have been easily wiped out. And the novel’s protagonist? “Whatzizname, who narrates all this to us, is no more interesting than the cellulose he is printed on” (Davis 2010:19).

Science fiction serves as an unfiltered realm for delving into the deep things of the universe. Fans of ABC’s sci-fi drama Lost realized this, and latched onto the show as hardcore fans intent on discovering the mythology of a mysterious island. Another hit sci-fi show, Fox’s The X-Files, achieved a cult following with fans and had –in 1998- more than 500 fan websites devoted to discussing the show’s conspiracies and mythology (McLean 1998:3).

Science-fiction allows the audience to experience alterity, or otherness, by imagining things outside the normal human experience.

“The media-driven milieu of The X-Files suggests that the whole world is now the same place, all of it accessible, all of it at once safe, dangerous, restricting, liberating. The North Pole is no more or less threatening than the New Jersey woods or a cheap motel room” (McLean 1998:8).

Science-fiction, then, mirrors Anthropology by exposing readers to alien cultures to better evaluate their own culture. Anthropology has ethnographers experience different cultures from places such as Papa New Guinea or Brazil. Science fiction has this alterity by exploring: cities of the future, alien planets, the wider universe, inner landscapes and places outside the traditional mappings of the world (Westfahl 2011:73).

The time-travel sub-genre of science fiction is able to comment on the current society by exploring what will happen in the future. Prominent examples are H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and BBC’s long-running Doctor Who, which follows an alien time traveler protecting Earth.

When The Time Machine was published in 1898, Victorian readers got an etic understanding of their own society’s class struggles. The reader is introduced to the working-class Morlocks and the aristocratic Eloi who inhabit Earth in 802,701 A.D. In fact, the novel can be interpreted as Wells imparting his Socialist idea of class struggle as he witnessed the growing gap between the working class and bourgeoisie during the Industrial Revolution (Mankus 2006:11).

Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island (1874) and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) take an optimistic view that technology helps colonialism (Reider 2010:203). The technology allows the inventor to reach the frontiers of human existence.  “The spatial frontier tends to coalesce with a technological one, because… the effect of the scientific discovery or invention is precisely to give its possessors a form of mobility and access to territories that no one else has” (Reider 2010:203).

Science-fiction also deals with the downsides of progress. Common in science fiction stories is a “Central Brain” which, due to its superior technology, decides to destroy humanity. In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), the increased connectivity of the world is not used for Facebook and texting, but to allow the government to monitor its citizen’s every move. And in Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men (2007), the Danger Room, a high-tech computer room the X-Men use for training, gains self-awareness and seeks to kill the X-Men (Whedon 2007). The Danger Room’s computer had been receiving upgrades to make it more intelligent until it finally realized it could overtake its creators. In the science fiction genre, characters often must defeat the technological threat by curing the corrupt technology, or, alternatively, unleashing a virus to destroy it (Westfahl 2011:48).

Further, technology allows those with the high-tech inventions to conquer the “primitive” people. In Avatar (2009), humans colonize another planet to mine a rare energy source while enslaving the peaceful natives.

“As an extended meditation on the potentials of technology, science fiction uses these end-of-time symbols to envision technology’s ultimate potentials, both good and evil” (Westfahl 2011:43).

But science fiction is not only just about deep philosophical and eschatological questions. Science fiction allows its audience to get lost in another world.

Viewers did not flock to Avatar to watch a 2-hour-40-minute flick about man abusing technology. They came to experience the fantastical, verdant world of Pandora. The planet was the decade-long brainchild of James Cameron, who invested an enormous amount of economic and creative resources into creating a fun new world (Westfahl 2011:73). From the ferns to the floating mountains to the mysterious world, viewers of the film were able to suspend their disbelief and peer into their own imaginations.

“Pandora produced a fictional place which is, for many viewers, by far the single most memorable thing about the film. Much of this impact clearly rests on the alterity of this extraterrestrial landscape.” (Westfahl 2011:73).

The visual power of science fiction cannot be ignored. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote A Princess of Mars (1917) to imagine a love story set on Mars, an exotic, fantastical planet with flying ships. It was done in much the same way that romantic comedies are set in New York or Paris today to emphasize the love story.

But these portrayals of the future are not always positive. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) has the Eastern United States under continual ash after a nuclear war destroyed most of civilization, and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games (2008) presents a future in which cities are feudal slaves to a decadent capital.

Unlike space, the science fiction genre is not a vacuum. Science fiction has shifted over time as scientific advances and beliefs changed. The genre is a code defined by its writers, editors, readers and critics (Reider 2010:212).

Genres such as fantasy, action, drama and romance often cross into the realm of science fiction. The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003) by Audrey Niffeneger is more drama/romance than science fiction even though it centers on a time traveler. Niffeneger does not use the time travel to comment on future societies (the time traveler can only go a few years into the future, anyway), but to show the effects of time displacement on a young couple. And fantasy shares an appreciation to visually displaying an alternate world full of new laws, language and possibilities.


            Science fiction is fundamentally similar to most other fiction genres. It has a setting, plot, characters, dialogue and a climax. What differs is science fiction incorporates science and technology to have a story that is other-worldly. Sherlock Holmes and the Doctor from Doctor Who are both brilliant British detectives who solve cases. What differs between them is that Holmes tends to solve petty political disputes in London, whereas the Doctor has: Traveled to World War II London; witnessed the creation of the universe; and saved the Earth from Gothic statues, robots and aliens. Science fiction, as any literature genre, gets readers to peer into the human condition. It might do it with shiny new toys, but it checks the current society’s ethics, morality and path it is heading on into the future.

From spaceships to superpowers, science fiction is a textual genre code that lets man’s creative genius and imagination shine.

Books comic books Culture News

Happy Book Day! (And other thoughts on World Book and Copyright Day)

Tonight marks World Book Night, where volunteers will hand out free books in the U.S. and UK.

Today is World Book and Copyright Day, as celebrated by UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

You can check out its history here, but the day “seeks to promote reading, publishing and the protection of intellectual property through copyright,” according to UNESCO.

Tonight is also World Book Night (unrelated to UNESCO), where volunteers will hand out free paperback books in the United States and United Kingdom. The 30 books include The Hunger Games, The Kite Runner and The Book Thief.

As an avid reader and a public library employee, I have one thing to say: Sounds good to me.

UNESCO has chosen the theme of Book Day to be on translation, as it’s the 80th anniversary of the the Index Translatonium, the U.N.’s translation database. But this is a boring theme for children. Why not science-fiction or graphic novels?

So I’m just going to skip this theme altogether and use this as my soapbox to talk about books and reading!

Some thoughts:

1.) Graphic novels have caught my eye recently. I use Marvel’s iPad app to check out free Marvel comics (like The Avengers and X-Men).

X-Men: Age of X is awesome.

2.) I just read House of M: The Avengers, about an alternate reality where evil mutants have taken over the Earth and regular humans are being enslaved. A small group of New York humans team up to protect their ‘hood.

3.) So now I am reading X-Men: Age of X, which I guess is another alternate reality where humans are fighting off the mutants, so the mutants (with Magneto at the helm) build a fortress.

Best part of the comic: Magneto hurling Chicago skyscrapers at his enemies as if they’re footballs.

So where am I going with this?

Oh yeah, you should read a book! Why? To exercise your imagination.

So here’s a list of easy books to read:

Clancy is known for his military expertise. I haven’t read this yet but I’ll get to it soon.

1. A young adult book– The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, The Giver

2. A comic book– The Avengers, X-Men or Spider Man

3. A fantasy book– The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Giver

4. A myster/thriller– by Tom Clancy or James Patterson

5. A history book– World War II, Civil War, Civil Rights Movement

6. A classic book– by Charles Dickens or Jane Austen

comic books Culture Movies

Prepping for The Avengers


To celebrate The Avengers’ release May 4, I am currently writing a “Top 10 Superhero Movies” list for my school newspaper.

My superhero journey took me to Iron Man 2 today. I don’t plan on getting into review mode, but the film is decent (better than I remember). And the Avengers and Thor references make more sense now (back when I saw it in 2010 I was comic book-challenged).

For example, S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Colson gets reassigned to New Mexico to check out the Thor developments.

I started watching Kick-Ass as well but so far it is not promising and I might watch the Spider Man or X-Men 2 and 3 during the weekend.

It’s pretty awesome to relax and watch Iron Man and X-Men as “homework.”

So, what’s your favorite superhero movie?

UPDATE: Kick-Ass was actually decent. Good spin on the superhero genre.

Christianity Culture

What Christmas Means

The Nativity scene, by Renassiance painter Giorgione, 1500 A.D.

No, the meaning of Christmas is not to buy presents or sip egg nog at festive holiday parties. Christmas is (or is meant to be) a time set out each year to honor one thing: the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, which took place more than 2,000 years ago in Israel.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem by Mary and Joseph, who traveled to the city for a census and could not even get a room at the inn because it was full, so Jesus had to be born in a manger (Luke 2:7).

Jesus’ birth was not just any special birth. No, he was God himself sent to earth.

Luke 2:8-14 recounts how an angel proclaims Jesus’ birth to a group of Jewish shepherds:

In the same region (Bethlehem) there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, good will toward men.”

This bears repeating. A multitude of angels appeared in the sky, as if stars coming alive into glorious, illuminated beings. And they sang and praised God for His gift of Jesus:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

That is what Christmas is all about. Thanking God for His gift of salvation. For His love.

So when you attend your holiday parties, exchange gifts, or relax during your week off, try to do something to thank God. For you see, Jesus was not just some religious guru, a “don’t-do-this” leader, a man trying to get money or fame- he was a man who continually did all he could to help others, never once with a selfish thought.