Thursday, May 28, 2009

In Which I Go Camping Whilst Wearing Funny Clothes

"Come to mass!" said the scantily-clad man with a drum, "stripping nuns!" He left it at that, running away to spread the word to other campsites. I was sitting below a fair amount of archaic ship's rigging when I heard this, wearing a frilly shirt and a sash about my waist. A friend of mine, also dressed as a pirate, said "sounds interesting." We decided that stripping nuns could make for an amusing evening.

For years in Eugene, I knew several people involved with the Society for Creative Anachronism, the historical reenactment group wherein people go camping whilst dressed as people from the late Middle Ages or Renaissance. Because of my work schedule I never went to an event, and it was only until this past Memorial Day weekend, years later, that I finally was able to join some of my Eugene friends in their camp that was set up, rather impressively, to look like an old ship.

"It's basically camping," said most people, "but with funny clothes." That much was true. For much of the event, we did normal camping-type activities, but dressed in historical costumes. After a bit, my self-consciousness about my appearance left, and I just took in the experience of it all- the experience of being surrounded by people in sashes, tunics, bustiers, boots, and an assortment of impressive hats. Tents were set up with flags and banners announcing the names of the households and such, and a the guy who went around collecting the trash bags in a wagon shouted "bring out your dead!" as he made his rounds.

In the center of the campground was a merchant's pavilion with a variety of vendors selling mostly clothing. There was the normal kind of silvery jewelry that you would expect to find from street vendors, a very large tent selling historical garb, a guy selling swords and other implements of destruction, belly dancing supplies, pirate-themed flags, pottery, and stickers that you could put on your car that said things like "I believe in dragons" and such. Celtic knots and pirate flags were everywhere, and in the center of it all, several people were fencing.

Having fenced in college, this was really the most impressive bit for me. I spent most of my time as a sword groupie, watching lots of rather impressively armed dudes stabbing each other. It's been a while since I did any kind of martial art or sparred with anyone, so watching the simulated violence very much made me want to pile on a bunch of gear and stab someone. If I go to one of these things again, I'm hoping to con someone into loaning me a spare set of stuff so that I can I fence.

This fencing, though, was very different from what I was used to. At the U of O, my instructor was very much a classical foil fencer, and we spent most of our time with the standard French foil. This stuff, though, was much less formalized. For one thing, it was in the round rather than on a line, and most of the fencers held something in their off hand, be it a dagger, additional sword, or buckler. About the only person I saw who didn't have a parrying tool was my friend, the self-styled "Captain" of our ship camp. He just had a foil, which is probably how I'd fight.

Anyway, I want do something combative again in the near future. On a totally unrelated note, an acquaintance of mine who was a former amateur wrestler showed me a rather amusing throw the other day, and that was fun.

Oh yeah! Stripping nuns! See, I opened with that bit because it was catchy and such, what with the "stripping" and all.

Quite some time after dark me and few friends made our way to campsite set up by a "religious" group. When we got there, a guy dressed up as a cardinal was exhorting the crowd from a pulpit, while several dudes in miters looked on. Someone had a rather dramatic ram's skull on a staff, and it loomed over the crowd in nicely spooky/ironic way.

"I think there's a fifty/fifty chance," said one of my friends, "that the stripping nun is a dude in drag."

"I think it's greater than that," I said, "an ordinary strip show wouldn't be weird enough."

The cardinal got the crowd good and worked up with a comedy routine, and soon enough he announced the coming of the stripping nun. Sure enough, it was a rather sizable (but spry) dude removing bits of a nun costume to reveal rather un-nunlike lingerie beneath. Of course the crowd went wild. It's a simple formula, really. It goes like this:

Sex + The Catholic Church + Homoeroticism = Pure Comedy Gold

After the stripping nun, a guy dressed up as cardinal/pimp did a comedic sermon, and later on there were songs with filthy lyrics. All in all, a good, bawdy time at the expense of one of the world's most prominent religions.

So, I quite liked my first experience dressing in historical garb. It seems to be the sort of thing that attracts the sort of quirky, odd, creative people that I like to associate with. It may very well also attract socially dysfunctional mouth-breathers as per stereotype, but on the whole I enjoyed myself. Most of it seems to have a "Hey guys, look what I did!" sort of feel, with people showing off their garb/artwork/martial prowess/crafts/performance skills/general oddness.

Quite nifty, all of it. Ridiculous, yes, but also awesome, which is no contradiction, as far as I'm concerned.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Minor Setback

Very few people who apply for the U.S. Foreign Service get job offers. About 2% of all applicants get offered jobs. I knew this going into the process, so I was not surprised earlier today when I got a letter informing me that, because of my experience, I will not be offered an interview in Washington, D.C.

Given that 80% of the people who take the Foreign Service Exam fail, I can't exactly call this a blow to the ego. I passed the intellectual part of the application just fine. After that, came the biographical vetting. I knew that I was competing with people who law and master's degrees and people who have lived abroad more than me, so I'm not exactly surprised. Still, I would be lying if I said I wasn't upset at least a little. I am still proud that I passed the initial test, though, and will probably reapply after I have more experience under my belt.

At present, my Peace Corps application is doing fine. I don't doubt that they will take me, given my experience abroad and as a teacher. I was offered a Peace Corps interview very quickly after my initial application, and it went well. I'm still going abroad long-term again, but I on a fallback plan.

Not that I have any room to bitch. I applied for a very, very privileged and elite position, and I'm still on track to accomplish my long-term goals. I have no regrets whatsoever about applying. Passing the Foreign Service Exam was a tremendous affirmation, and I'm not going to waste energy on regret. Peace Corps, here I come.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Back To School!

I'm a teacher again. Specifically, I'm teaching ESL in Portland for Kaplan, the test prep company. After quite some time casting about for jobs, temping, and in general looming about and hoping that I'd win the Employment Lottery in the midst of a recession, I'm doing the same sort of thing that I used to do one ocean away. I'm quite pleased with this, really. Not only is it nice being employed, but I'll cop to the fact that I'm really happy that I have an ego-affirming brain-based job that caters to very smart people. I don't consider myself too good to wait tables, but it's very nice to get paid because I have a big, squishy brain.

So far, the job is quite different from what I did at GEOS, which is nice, because towards the end of my stay in Japan GEOS was getting under my skin in lots of really irritating ways. As much as I liked (most of) my students, the company itself was less than inspiring. Kaplan itself is a subsidiary of the Washington Post, and so far my distant corporate masters seem pretty benign. It's the arrangement of the school itself, though, that I'm quite liking.

For one thing, my students now come from a variety of backgrounds. Most of them are from Saudi Arabia or Korea, and if they want to talk to each other, they have to use English. I quite like this built-in incentive in the class, though clumps of like nationalities do tend to sit together, something I've tried to break up when I have them do group work.

That's something else I like. There are a lot of them, and I can run large-scale class activities. Previously, I had between three to five students in a class most of the time, and while that setup has its advantages, the change is nice.

So far, though, the thing that I'm most pleased with the fact that I have the same students every single day, for three hours at a time. I did like the variety at GEOS, teaching different students throughout the week, but I often wondered what I could do as teacher if I had the same students more often. Now I have an opportunity to find out. Running a large class for three hours a day is quite different than running weekly hour-long sessions. The students themselves seem like a good lot, mostly university aged students. They're all quite bright and creative, which makes things easier on my end. A few of them have rather fiendish imaginations that show up in their creative writing assignments.

This is all very nice for me, really. I had an interview with the Peace Corps (Plan B) a few weeks ago, and was told that if they take me (which they probably will) I'd most likely get put in a teaching position, barring some sort of unforseen torrent of English teachers into the program. I'm angling to get the Peace Corps to send me to China, and given that that's where most of the English Teaching jobs are, that's not an impossibility.

If I get invited to an Oral Assesment with the Foreign Service (Plan A) it definitely wouldn't hurt to be able to say, "Well, yes, I just so happen to spend quite a lot of time talking to foreigners on a regular basis. It's kind of my thing." I'm hoping that a State Department functionary will perhaps raise their eyebrow in approval at this, or at least give a "hmm" of mild interest.

So, things are great for the time being. I have a nice place, a job, plans for the future, and have been satisfied with my recent creative pursuits. I could get used to this.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Dear Various Ex-Students of Mine: You Were Totally Right About Tipping

Back in Japan, I often tried to explain the idea of tipping to my students. They didn't seem to get it. They thought it was weird to pay for a product/service twice, essentially, and wondered why the process wasn't streamlined into a single payment. Tipping, they said, seemed stupid.

I've come to agree with them.

I initially defended the practice, trying to find justifications for it, but after comparing three months here versus over two years in Japan, I've come to realize that the Japanese (and several Europeans) are right: tipping is stupid. Everything should just be at a set rate and servers should be provided a living wage for what they do. Abolishing tipping might drive up the prices of goods and services, but if we're all paying the same relative amount to a given sector as we are already, it really shouldn't matter. It'll just make things easier. I can't really formulate a defensible argument for tips anymore. After living with such comparative efficiency, they seem clunky and archaic.

My Japanese students were right all along, and the U.S. should really abandon tipping. And, while we're reformatting the culture in general, we really ought to implement the metric system as well. Also, I want a pony.

Addendum: This is not to say that I myself will not tip. I will. Service personnel are exempted from minimum wage laws, and when they are taxed tips are included as income. For that reason, I will continue to do so. I would rather, though, that prices were a bit higher, and service people were paid sufficiently.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Seriously Geeky Post About Star Trek

I saw the new Star Trek movie this week, and I thought that it was quite good. I'm not really going to write much about it, though. I'd rather talk a bit about Trek in general.

I have no idea when I started watching Star Trek. Sometime in middle school, maybe. Perhaps earlier. I don't know if I saw the original series or The Next Generation first, but regardless, it had a big influence on me when I was young. I don't just mean in terms of aesthetics or taste- I'm talking about my actual worldview with regards to politics and philosophy and such. Star Trek, in part, made helped make me the liberal humanist that I style myself as today. Yes, I really mean that.

Back before the horrible prequels, I remember constant debates among young nerds about which was better- Star Trek or Star Wars. I occasionally went back and forth in these debates, but I most consistently said that Star Trek was better. I didn't think it was necessarily better because of the acting or writing, but because of its ideas. At the end of Star Wars, Luke turns off his computer and just "uses the Force." He lets himself go and only uses his instincts. I can't really see a Star Trek character doing the same thing.

As intuitive and gut-trusting as characters like Kirk and Riker were, they didn't rely on pure emotions or suppositions. They thought about things, and characters like Spock and Data were often chimed in as the voice of reason. As good as Kirk's instincts were, he was still reasonable and unimpulsive. He wouldn't have turned off his computer while fighting the Death Star, and that's why I always sort of preferred Star Trek- it was, as Spock would say, logical. The things that saved the day were always things like expertise, clever applications of technology, or diplomacy. There was no room for Star Wars' woo-woo mysticism. The very presence of Spock sums it up nicely- the character that served as the sage and voice or morality was also the most logical.

It's easy to accuse Gene Roddenberry of being optimistic about all of this. His future is bright, shiny, and almost utopian. However, I have to give Roddenberry credit for this in a way. Not only did he believe that technology would advance, but that ideas and social norms would as well. So much SF simply maps on the values of the present to an imagined future. In Roddenberry's view of the future, though, humans have gotten over racism given up smoking, to name two examples.

Yes, smoking. Back in the sixties, NBC thought it was odd that no one on the Enterprise smoked, like normal sixties people. There was a bit of pressure on Roddenberry to include weird space cigarettes in the show, but he refused, maintaining that by the 23rd century, us humans would know better. Not only would people of different ethnicities work side-by-side, they would do so in a healthy environment. Looking around now, we have a black president and smoke-free bars, only forty years later. Roddenberry's optimism wasn't entirely baseless, it seems.

Many of Star Trek's episodes (both in the original series and the Next Generation) were basically geeky problem-solving sessions. The Enterprise would encounter something like an alien being, a machine, a new society, etc., that was hitherto unknown. The crew would scratch their heads about it and theorize about how it worked, usually while sitting around a table. After a bit of action and a few dead redshirts, there would be some kind of deunoument usually brought about by the ingenuity of one of the crew members. Kirk would would use his wits, Picard would flourish out some clever diplomacy, Geordie or Scottie would spout technobabble and make the ship do something impressive, McCoy or Crusher would make a startling biological discover. In any case, the crew would use their newly found revelation to get out of the jam, and then there would be a nice little meditation on the interesting scientific, social, or philosophical consequences of what just happened.

I loved this stuff. I still do, in fact. (Thinking about it right now, I'm struck by how much Trek resembles Isaac Asimov's short stories. It all has this "Hey, guys! Isn't this interesting!" quality to it.) It makes for fun episodic television and appeals to a certain kind of person who thinks way, way too much. It is not, however, "rollicking" or "fun." The sort of speculation and head-scratching that happened on Star Trek certainly invited parody, and if it wasn't done well it just came off as heavy-handed. More than heavy-handed. Leaden. William Shatner expounding on the significance of things in general can be just as easily tedious as it can be charming.

As the franchise regressed, I eventually get really, really bored of Trek. I didn't really like Deep Space 9 or Voyager, and I actively loathed Enterprise. Insurrection and Nemesis were both sort of tepid movies, and I didn't come to expect anything new or fresh from the franchise. When the new movie was announced, I just sort of said "meh." I was very surprised to see that not only did it not suck, it was actually good.

The new movie succeeds because it seems to have the same kind of ideological underpinnings of the original Trek- Enlightenment values in space- but keeps them as just the underpinnings. The characters who save the day are still a diverse scientists, geniuses, and all-out supernerds, and the bad guys are a bunch of militaristic, tribe-like nationalists. The movie, though, doesn't get preachy about it. The original principals are there, but it has none of the heavy feeling that seems to descend when William Shatner puts his hand on his chin and broods behind his eyebrows. Instead, it was really zippy. Zippy! It was a movie that went "Zoom!" in the best way possible. Watching a fun, zippy Star Trek movie is kind of like seeing a really geeky guy getting over his own awkwardness and start dancing. I like Star Trek again. This feels sort of weird, being all suffused with nostalgia. Zoom!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In Which I Find Myself Overqualified For a Good Cause, and Subsequently Return to Teaching

Until recently, this was my routine: Get up, check Craigslist and other listings, and respond to job postings. All sorts. Nearly anything I was qualified for. I thought of it as a numbers game- eventually something would come up, and eventually something did. I recently did a stint working for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the nonprofit made famous by Jerry Lewis.

I've never actually seen any of Jerry Lewis' movies, and the most prominent detail I knew about him was that he once let the word "faggot" slip while doing one of his telethons on live TV. The only thing I knew about muscular dystrophy was that Stephen Hawking has one version of it, albeit a rather rare one. Nevertheless, it was for a good cause. I certainly believed in funding medical research more than I believed in the child sponsorship model of private aid, which is what I was pitching in my brief stint as a street canvasser. Inviting people to fundraising events was definitely something I could do.

That was the job- calling up local business owners and professionals and asking them to come to fundraising events. Many of the contacts were warm leads or referals, but there were just as many people there who had never heard of us. "I don't want anyone to say 'I work in a call center,'" said one of the coordinators at the group interview, "you don't. You're not selling anything. You're trying to get people to participate in a good cause." This was true, but the job seemed very telemarketer-like, calling a long list of people and hitting them up for their time, money, and participation.

There were a little over a dozen people in the group interview, all of whom seemed to have been unemployed for some time. Many of them were young people of a certain demographic (mine) who had recently moved to Portland. Everyone seemed happy just to be in an interview. The whole process lasted for about two hours, and afterwards I got on the bus with a bunch of my fellow interviewees, each of us talking about our prospects for getting the job. In mid conversation, my phone rang and I answered it. I'd gotten the job. I suddenly felt a bit awkward- no one else's phone rang. My fellow interviewees told me "congratulations" and I got off the bus awkwardly.

There were five of us the next day in training, in addition to five other volunteer coordinators. Cubicles of phones dominated the office. There was a script which we were expected to follow, and we were given a stock set of answers to deal with people who did not want to come to the fundraiser. There was also an MDA FAQ if anyone had any questions about where money was going, and we went through some telephone roleplays. The next day, we were good to go and on the phones.

Reaching for my list of numbers, I was nervous. The very first call seemed like an alien thing to do- calling up a law office and inviting the lawyers to a fundraising luncheon. I dialed with uncasual slowness, and asked for the names of one of the partners. The receptionist told me that he wasn't there, anyway. I went to the next number on my list.

And that was it. That was my whole job. Most of the time when I was asking for a lawyer, business owner, doctor, or other such person, they were busy or away. This seemed logical, as we were targeting professional people who had fairly active lives. But, on the occasion that I got through to someone, I was surprised how easy the conversation was.

I tossed out the script, for one thing. We weren't supposed to, but I found it poorly written and insincere, so I made my own rap. I wasn't reading anything and didn't sound canned at all. "We're putting together a community event," I said, "it's a fundraiser and business luncheon to benefit families in Portland Metro Area who are affected by muscular dystrophy," and so on. I got several people, maily lawyers, to say yes. A few said that they couldn't come, but would be happy to write a check. None of the professionals told me to fuck off. They were really polite, even when saying no. That's all part of being professional, I suppose. The secretaries, though, frequently took on snide and bitchy tones. I thought of the "bitchy secretary" as a hackneyed streotype, but apparently there are plenty of them. I imagined them filing their nails while they contemptuously talked into the reciever, like they were in an 80s movie.

I was pretty good, though, consistently getting yeses. It wasn't particularly rewarding work, or stimulating, but it was a job and I could get results at it. However, I rather unexpectedly got an email from Kaplan, the tutoring company, while I was doing this. I'd applied to Kaplan some time ago, and had gone into their offices to do a teaching demonstration, which I thought had gone rather well. They hadn't contacted me for some time, so I just assumed that they didn't want to hire me. Out of nowhere they contacted me and said that they wanted to interview me as a potential ESL teacher.

This was great, of course. A teaching job with them was better in all possible ways- it was more money, a shorter commute, and loads more interesting. The interview went very well. I talked all about my time with GEOS, about my ideas regarding teaching, and about my general work habits. The interviewer, as it turned out, had spent a year in Osaka, which was a nice bit of rapport. A few hours later, he emailed me to tell me that I had the job.

Which meant I had to quit the MDA, of course.

When I went in yesterday, I knew it was my last day. I almost quit a day ahead of time, but decided to be responsible and get myself a day's paycheck. Three of my coworkers had been let go for not getting enough yeses, and the office as a bit emptier. I was sort of proud of myself, knowing that of my hire group I was one of the two best people. The coordinators were a bit friendlier with me, after I'd proved myself. I didn't really want to talk to them, though, since I knew I was ditching them. I felt bad. There would only be one person from my hire group left when I quit, and they would have to start all over, getting new people to call local businesses for them. Had I been bad at the job I wouldn't have felt all that terrible about quitting. I would have thought, "well, I'm sure my replacement will be much better than me," but I don't think that's the case.

Later today I'm going into Kaplan's offices to fill out paperwork, do some training, and other such things. Apparently most of their ESL students are from Japan and Korea, which I think is sort of funny and sort of awesome. I'm imagining it as the inside-out of my GEOS experience. What I'm most looking forward to, (besides a paycheck and steady work), is being around people who are out of their element. Here in Portland, I've found it both fun and odd that the landscape seems to reflect my values and biases (or vice versa), and I'm looking forward to meeting students who've come from abroad and find this place foreign. I was in their shoes for so long, it'll be nice to see it from the other side.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Someday, Egon Will Be Right

At one point in Ghostbusters Dr. Egon Spengler remarks that "print is dead." I the 1980s it was a funny line because it looked like premature futurism. Recently, though, Warren Buffet made a statement that could have come from Dr. Spengler, if Egon were a business bigwig. Buffet said the same thing that lots of other people have been going on about recently, that newspapers are a dying form of business, and that he would not advise investing in them.

With the ascendancy of the web, the folding of so many newspapers, and the advent of the Kindle, we are seeing a process that is steadily taking us away from the printed word and into an age of digital media. As much as people might complain about the new formats and lament the death of newsprint, I think that there are a few very real upsides to this.

The demise of print will be great for the environment.

I'm sort of surprised that no one's talking about this. Think of newspapers: Every day, sheets and sheets of paper printed and consumed to produce something that is only useful for one day. Many of them go unsold and unread, and all of them have to be disposed of at the end of a 24 hour period. Even if they are recycled, that still expends a fair amount of energy. They still have to be gathered, transported, and rendered into raw materials, all of which takes time and money. Hopefully, future generations will find these one day use news sources to be laughably extravagant, and produce less in the way of waste than we do now.

With print dead, information will be more accessible.

Before the printing press, books were hugely expensive. Better technology made information cheaper, and therefore more people could access it. Now, the challenge is getting things such as out-of-print books and high-demand items into people's hands. When I worked in a bookstore, I had no shortage of requests for out-of-print books. People paid stupidly huge amounts of money for things that weren't being printed anymore. Likewise, there were tons of requests for recently popular books, and we couldn't accommodate everyone's demand.

Ebooks could fix that. Nothing has to go out of print, and nothing is inaccessible due to shortness of supply. There will be little reason for anything like a rare volume to exist, and as much as that might disappoint rare book collectors, it will greatly democratize information. Likewise, if news archives are all available on the web, any curious person can become their own investigative reporter or historian.

The death of print will reduce clutter.

As much as I like books, the fact remains that they can be rather troublesome as objects. You have to store them and sometimes move them from house to house. I've recently hauled around a few boxes of books, and as nice as they are as objects, I have to admit that I'd rather own a single, portable electronic tablet that I could read them on comfortably, rather than tons of boxes of paper. Likewise, I'm all for not having to budget old newspapers into my living space. I don't keep phonebooks in my personal space at all, because they are bulky and troublesome objects, made redundant by electronic means. Future generations may feel the same way about print.

I'm looking forward to all of those, and, unless you have a chemical addiction to newsprint, you should as well.

We should not ask the question, then, "How can we save newspapers?" The question we should be asking is "How can we insure that reporters get paid for the services they provide?" As nice as bloggers and the like are, we still need people who dedicate their time to covering current events, and who can afford to do things like ship off to foreign countries. What is more, we need media organizations that politicians can't afford to ignore. I'm sure that politicians would be happy to hang up on me if I called them. They cannot afford to hang up on the New York Times, though. They need to be held accountable. If information is as common as air, though, then how do these people, doing an essential job, get paid?

My conclusion right now is that reportage will become a public good. Like roads, law enforcement, and a clean environment, an active information society is something that benefits everyone, that is essential to our civilization, and that no one wants to pay for. Like most public goods, the answer might be that government will have to pick up the tab. I'm not too opitimistic about this, given that PBS is plagued by pledge drives and that the News Hour with Jim Lehrer is not exactly gripping material. However, I'm not able to come up with a better alternative at the present time. We need something like an American version of the BBC.

Print is dying, but information is more vibrant than every. Newspapers, and books as well, will go the way of the illuminated manuscript. The essence of those things, though, will remain. Romanticizing old technology, I think, can be something of a trap. As many problems as modernization may bring, we all too often forget that we live in an extraordinary age.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Re: Superheros. More Being, Less Becoming.

There's a Wolverine movie out. I'm not going to see it.

Normally I would be all about this sort of thing. I'm a shameless fan of things geeky, and I quite like superhero movies. I loved the first two X Men movies, Christopher Nolan's Batman films have been excellent, and the first two Spiderman films were great. I even liked Ang Lee's Hulk, which I know puts me in the minority, but I found it a nice take on the genre, and, say what you will, the Hulk-dogs were pretty nifty.

However, I have no desire whatsoever to see the Wolverine film. It's not just because it's gotten terrible reviews, though that's a big part of it. The thing that really puts me off is the fact that it's an origin story. I'm sick of origin stories in superhero movies. I know, I know, the director has to get the characters' backgrounds and motivations out of the way and such, but, really, I would like to see something other than a variant on the whole "journey of self-discovery" thing. The origin story is something of a cop-out for writers and directors. Really, it has a simple formula: 1: Oh shit! I have superpowers! 2: Oh my god! Having superpowers means that my life is different from and in many ways more difficult than the average person's! 3: Wow! I must use my powers to get out of a nasty situation, resulting in a certain equanimity about my newfound sense of self! Woo!

It pretty much writes itself. Telling a story about people who already are different though, and talking about what they do about it after they've come to terms with it is a far more difficult task. One of the best things about The Dark Knight was that Nolan didn't bother with giving the Joker an origin story. He recognized that the Joker is an iconic character, a force sadism and clownophobia. Giving him an origin story would have robbed him of some of his power- it would have turned him into something of a person, rather than the frightening icon he is. I don't care where the Joker came from. What I want to see is him embody fear, anarcy, and cunning. His origins are utterly and completely irrelevant.

Wolverine is much the same way. He doesn't work because he has a compelling backstory- he works because of what he represents. When Logan says "I'm the best there is at what I do," we know exactly what he means. He's a pissed-off tough guy, a cigar-chomper, a guy who can feel pain but doesn't give a shit. He's not a prettyboy priss like Cyclops or a cartoonish muscle man like Colossus. Wolverine is a certain kind of sideburned masculinity that's not pretty, not admirable, and not even all that functional. He feels pain and doesn't care, doens't bother to really make connections with anybody, and snarls dismissively at just about everyone. Yet he somehow works. Like Dirty Harry, he's a nasty asshole, but he's a nasty asshole in a way that inspires you for some ineffable reason.

And I really don't care how he got that way.

I'd rather see Wolverine being "the best he is at what he does" than becoming that. It would be like a whole movie of seeing the Joker go crazy, but only seeing him put on a purple suit at the end. Really, it's the representation and the iconicness that's important. Unless the origin story is particularly unique, I'm fine with it being hand-waved away.

What's more, origin stories are utterly perfunctory. One of the nice things about Hellboy was that even though it had a lot of origin stuff in it, it was mainly concerned with an actual plot. We got to see Hellboy and his associates doing what they did on a regular basis, rather than being subjected to a grueling sequence in which they all awaken to their powers in an awkward metaphor for puberty. Instead of that, we got an actual story. Yes, it was a little silly, but I appreciated it for what it was.

That's what I want. I want to see superheroes be superheroes. I want to see people who emobody ideas of awesomeness, not another movie where the protagonist goes "Holy shit! I can suddenly shoot fire out of my eyes! Zowie, my life is forever changed!" As much as I like Wolverine, I'm giving his movie a pass. I would be happy to see his whole origin hand-waved into vagueness, not trotted out in front of me.