The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More Sex

On the subject of sex in film, I noticed something interesting. In our discussion of "Best movies of all time" Christian (who says he doesn't like sexual content in film, and doesn't understand why people do) mentions "The Godfather" and "The Incredibles" as two favorite films.

There are, if I'm not mistaken, three sexual sequences in "Godfather"--Sonny banging his mistress up against the wall, Micheal's wedding night, and a scene with Diane Keaton. And "The Incredibles"? About the sexiest family-oriented cartoon I've ever seen, with Elastigirl yanking Mr. Incredible back in the house for nookie. He also mentioned Hitchcock saying he didn't like sex in movies--but at the time, Hitchcock was criticized for having too much sex! I'm watching a collection of Hitchcock classics right now, and the last three were "Psycho", "Frenzy" and "Torn Curtain." Good grief. All three have sexual content. Torn Curtain starts with a famous bed scene between Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, where Hitch famously blew cold air up under the covers to force Andrews to get closer to Newman!

Christian...I don't think you're really paying attention.


Sex is such an interesting subject. I studied it formally for years, specifically a Native American approach to spiritual sexuality. Cross-referencing their attitudes with teachings in Taoist sexuality and Tantrism, it seems that those cultures that talk about sex in a non-smarmy way say something to the effect of "the intensity of an orgasm is in direct proportion to the amount of your ego you release at that moment." In other words, if you can remember your name, you haven't come very hard.

Now...on one level orgasm is just a physical reflex--mucous membranes are notoriously undiscriminating, and you can have explosive sex with a very wide range of people. We almost all "fit" each other. Love is trickier. When you can have explosive sex with someone you love, that is insanely wonderful. And when that person is also a friend, and you trust their business sense...WOW! NOW you have the potential for an actual working relationship.

It is interesting that there have been several versions of "Think and Grow Rich", Napoleon Hill's classic self-improvement book. The later editions and re-workings delete some of the more controversial material. The one I've seen dropped the most was an observation that many of the most successful men in the world (who he interviewed for the book) would, when they had to make a serious business decision, wait until after they had made love with their wives to decide!

This touches the edge of the whole "sexual magic" issue. Clearly, sexual energy is fantastically powerful, and can be used to elevate us or tear us to pieces. Cultures place a toll-gate on the road to sex: fantastic guilt and the fires of hell unless you get married. And in most cultures you can't get married unless you have financial security and can meet the approval of the parents. When this breaks down, you get sex separated from love or family-building (which can still be pretty terrific!) but often devolves into "how many" "how long" "how many positions" "what odd locations" and other expressions of an underlying sense that sex is somehow demeaning, "nasty", "bad", "wrong", and so forth.

Sex is probably the most tangible aspect of the core creative energy that manifests on all seven levels. When we look in the eyes of a loved one as we engage, the doors open and we can see our futures...all our futures, and sometimes the past as well. When such unions create children, and for the first time we hold our newborns, the secrets of the universe open to us.

At the very least, those we engage with should be people we care about, whose phone calls we would take at three in the morning, who are more than disposable carnal Handi-wipes. Until we can line up our hearts and minds with our sexuality, we are playing dangerous games with genital dynamite.

And this is why I find sex so fascinating in film. It reveals FAR more of human nature than car chases, fights, or even most conversations. There is no other human interaction in which more information is exchanged more rapidly. It is the ultimate comfort, and can be the ultimate betrayal. Sex and death are arguably the most interesting things about life...and extraordinarily valuable fodder for fiction.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Why no one can remake "Night of the Living Dead"

Lots of Democrats upset that Bill Clinton is traveling the talk show circuits saying pleasant things about John McCain. I'm not certain...and I would like anyone out there with a longer political memory than mine to comment...but don't ex-Presidents try to stay above the fray in these things? I don't have a clear memory of an ex-President trashing a candidate, or campaigning for one, really. If I'm having a brain-fart here, please help.


I'm still troubled by McCain not looking Obama in the eye during the debate. Fear? Rage? Rudeness? Whatever it was, that was hardly the behavior of a statesman. I've never seen anything like it, and find it disturbing as hell.


If you are using a "Triangle Meditation" technique, and have been successful so far, try separating it out into three separate triangles, one at the "Belly Brain" (2nd-3rd Chakra) one at the heart, one at the forehead. In turn, visualize the body you want (and see it performing beautifully. See it cascading with pure white or golden light), the relationships you want to nurture (every morning, I visualize my sister Joyce, Jason, Nicki, and Tananarive), and the worldly success you want (find a visualization that works: a possession, an accomplishment, a flow of money, whatever). Then, if you have been successful with this, line up the three triangles in your mind, and see if you can get light flowing through all three at the same time: in other words, does your subconscious mind believe that you can have all three at the same time, that they don't conflict with each other, or your values and beliefs.

Sometimes, concentration will help them line up. Other times, you have to relax more, and more deeply. You will have to find this for yourself, and it is in discovering your own process through such "Complex Equivilencies" that your own individual Inner World is revealed.


Anyone who wants to know what I mean by "sex scene" or "love scene" in movies in relation to racial imagery, watch James Bond movies. Every one of them has what I would call a love scene, even the PG movies. Bond and a woman are in privacy. They kiss or embrace, and sink to a bed or otherwise engage. Fade out. Fade in, and they are lounging about with their clothing in disarray. Or they are in bed together, draped with a towel or a blanket, kissing or cuddling. That's PG or PG-13 lovemaking conventions in film. R-rated scenes are more intense: more nudity, buttocks thrusts, oral sex simulations, and so forth. Black or Asian men don't get ANY of this.


A recent conversation with a black director indicates the way that sex is removed from films. The executives, during development, will make promises, and glad-hand the director. Slowly, during filming or writing, sexual content is subtly disapproved of (in contrast, during development of white projects, sexual content is subtly encouraged). Unless the director has the "final cut" executives and producers will actually remove the "offending" material, citing a wide range of bullshit reasons. What's the real reason? That 33-47% percent negative perception among white Americans. That 10% disconnect I keep talking about. Even black people want to believe that it's "just Hollywood." But when we talk about it, and that protective curtain falls, I've seen the fear and depression in their eyes: the idea that they might actually be surrounded by people who think them slightly sub-human (on average) is beyond depressing. Better to think it's just a few executives.


Democrats keep wanting Obama to "hit back harder." Please. He has to be Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby. He cannot show anger or fear or any sharp emotion, and is walking a tight-rope unlike any other national politician in the history of this country, and is doing it better than I've ever seen it done. Those who are oblivious to the realities of the racial parochialism in the human psyche spout this nonsense. And people who use the "how could racism be so bad if he's doing so well" need to get together with the people who ask "why, with the administration so unpopular and the economy crashing, isn't he up by 20 points??" and split the difference.

This is our species, people. We are magnificent, and ignorant. Courageous, and fearful. And one of the things we do is create the concept of "exceptionalism"--that is, if we are forced to accept the positive qualities of a member of a group we dislike, instead of that raising the average assessment of that group, we do the "well, this guy/gal is just different from the others." It's a version of the thing I heard from Conservatives so often: "if they were all like you, Steve, there wouldn't be a problem!" "You're more like us than you are like them..." and so forth.

That's what we do. So people can be bigoted against blacks, or whites, and still vote for black or white people, either on the "lesser of two evils" basis, or the "this one is different" basis. I love the number of times I've heard the "why is he black? He's half-white!" if they are totally oblivious to the "One Drop" rule that white people rammed down our throats for hundreds of years. I've heard that more in the last two years than in the entire rest of my life, combined.

And ultimately, it's a good thing. We're changing. Some of my emotional parts are stuck in the 50's and 60's. Some of it still believes that the real horror of "Night of the Living Dead" wasn't the walking corpses, but the fact that a black man was calling the shots, at the same time that a civil rights upheaval was happening in America. Note that, in the end, the black man also got all the white people killed (he was wrong...they SHOULD have gone down to the basement!). The movie has been re-made about four times, and no one can come close to that original horror, because, I think the sub-text isn't understood.

How would you do it? Maybe have a gay woman take charge. Or a Muslim.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

10% off the top

There were a number of oddnesses about the debate (which, somewhat to my surprise, Obama seems to have roundly won. I thought it was a draw--when McCain needed a game-changing win. But the 60-30% difference in opinion among undecideds was unexpected.)

1) Anyone else notice that McCain blinked about twice a second? That the left side of his mouth drooped, and his left eye was...odd? I have a nasty fear that there may have been a minor cerebral incident.

2) Man, he lost his temper. Anyone watch/hear him saying "horseshit" on national live TV when Obama talked about McCain's supposed dissing of the Spanish president? You can find the clip on UTube. Yikes!

3) His refusal to look Obama in the eye may have been a tactic to help himself keep from losing control. On the other hand...

4) Look. Everyone made a lot out of the fact that 33% of Democrats say they have negative impressions of black people. And about 40% of the general population. I'm no math expert, but doesn't that imply that 45-50% of Republicans have those negative feelings (right in line with my own guess, actually.) Now...hmmm. I'm sure people would like to say that it's only the ones at the bottom, surely those at the top are more enlightened...

Yeah, right. No, I say that this human problem goes bottom to top, regardless of intelligence or social class. And differs between political parties based partially on that "nature-nurture" perceptual lens I've talked about. And that if you grew up in a time when such attitudes were taken for granted, it's even worse.

So...McCain. 72 years old...that's the right generation. Arizona was the last state in the union to ratify MLK day. And McCain voted against it for years. And he never went to see the NAACP until he was running for President. 40% of the general population, and maybe 45-50% of Republicans.

See where I'm heading? So which 33-50% of our presidents and presidential candidates had bigoted attitudes? What possible motivation would I have to think McCain isn't among that 33-50%? The fact that he adopted a brown-skinned baby? Kid's an East Indian. Has NOTHING to do with anti-black sentiments. Hell, OBAMA doesn't trigger as much racism as a native-born black. All my life I've known that American blacks who pretend (for instance) to be African could stay in segregated hotels. The prejudice, in my mind, is exacerbated by the guilt and fear of knowing that terrible, terrible things were done to slaves and their descendants, and no compensation or revenge ever taken. Where there is action, there will be reaction. This isn't just about skin color. McCain could adopt all the little brown-skinned babies he wants, and while that proves he's not a Klansman, it doesn't prove he doesn't have a problem with black people.

Couldn't look Obama in the eye. There seemed a smouldering anger there, a resentment...almost as if he felt entitled. The visual metaphor of the old white man and the young black man is so stark that Central Casting of a Hallmark movie of the week wouldn't have put these two up against each other.

For close to two hundred years in America, white people, especially white heterosexual Christian males were able to baste in the illusion that they were the toughest, smartest, sexiest, most powerful, best and most God-beloved people on the face of the earth. This is the core of the "10% disconnect" that I point to in film, naked and undeniable and you can't put a social band-aid over it. It's right there in public, folks, and you can't blame it on Hollywood and act like the rest of America, or the human race, is just fine, thanks, except for those racist Hollywood executives. That's just absurd.

Give anyone privilege for generations or years, and then begin to take it away, begin to point out that some of that privilege was at the expense of innocent people...start to take it away and you will trigger anger. Rage. Fear.

And there are ways that McCain's behavior fits right in there. McCain's behavior reminded me of a white Southern coach forced to shake hands with a black coach after his team loses the Big Game in a Disney Kum-Bah-Yah epic. It's the "I'd like to kill you, but I'm too civilized" act.

No. I can't think of any reason not to believe McCain may be one of the 33-50% who look down on black people. And if he is, then he must be furious, to find his ambitions blocked by Barack Obama. Dear God, he would be angry. And during the debate he displayed no respect or regard in words, vocal tones, or body language. He displayed far more respect for the white Republicans he debated against. None of that here.

Frankly, it really bothers me to think this.


If the election continues along its current path, Obama will be our next President. I will be very, very happy. Sarah Palin seems totally out of her depth, and it raises serious questions about McCain's judgement. And the recent polls seem to suggest that more and more people are leaning toward B.O.

If that happens, may I respectfully request no inordinate crowing on this blog? There will be plenty of web sites where people can dance and stick out their tongues. This country has serious issues, and anyone who wants to believe that Republicans are less loyal, intelligent or moral will not find a sympathetic ear on MY head. We need to pull together, every one of us, and I sincerely ask that we only jump up and shout maybe a dozen times. No Bronx cheers.

French-kissing for joy will be encouraged, however.


Some time ago I said that a core aspect of turning your finances around is saving 10% of your income. Not for "big purchases" or "vacations" or "buying a house" or whatever. Save it as if this is your grandchildren's inheritance. MAYBE it is a retirement account. But the best attitude is that it is not to be touched in your lifetime, short of the direst emergency. Before you pay taxes. Before you pay debts or bills. 10% off the top is YOURS. This is the fiscal version of the "Golden Hour" concept--the idea that 10% of your waking hours belong to YOU. Not your boss, your kids, your spouse...YOU.

My contention is that anyone who has the discipline to do this will get frickin' rich. The reason isn't that 10% of your current income will take you to being a millionaire. The reason is that the person who can save 10% off the top is an extraordinary person--they simply think about their finances and life differently. The person who can do this prioritizes purchases, develops iron discipline. sees ways to make more money (after all, the easiest way to ease the bite is to INCREASE your overall income.) You will find that as you resist the urge to dip into that growing nest egg, you develop strength and focus that you have never had before. You develop a sense of security you've never had. And the nest egg gives you a "screw you" cushion that allows you to walk away from bad deals and bad jobs, to think long-term, to think of ways to make a living that is in alignment with your values.

It is a life-changing, game-changing exercise. 10% off the top. Don't you deserve it?

Friday, September 26, 2008

No, thanks

McCain blinked. He'll be at the debate. Now it will depend on who controls the narrative of what happened. McCain might perform brilliantly, and Obama might stumble--that's about John's only chance. Otherwise...well, you read my prediction yesterday.


Sorry that the 101 project isn't off the planning boards yet. Mushtaq is having eye surgery, and it's slowed things down considerably.


Spike Lee's new movie "Miracle at St. Anna" is getting bad reviews. It may or may not deserve them...I'll see it this weekend. But considering that it has a black man having sex (according to the previews) we can predict that it will bomb at the box office, and that white reviewers and audiences will tend to have problems. But it's stranger than that. It also seems that even black directors, if they are dealing with such material, simply cannot bring their "A-game." In other words, the reviews might be justified. I suspect that there is SERIOUS cognitive dissonance, even in black people, around this issue.

On the other hand, "Lakeview Terrace" with Samuel Jackson as a racist cop harassing a mixed-race couple (do we have to guess whether it's the husband or wife who is white?) was #1 at the box office last weekend.

No, I haven't seen it. No, I have no plans to. Unless I see a movie with a black man being sexual (and surviving. And with a woman) I will not watch another film with a black woman screwing a white guy. I am simply filled-up sick to death with it. The fact that Will Smith's production company created it just says that he knows exactly what the game is, and is printing money. Since I suspect Smith will be the one to carry the baton across the finish line (and probably some time in the next year) I'll give him a pass on this. But no, no "Lakeview Terrace" for me, thanks.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Big Whoops

I'll go out on a limb here, but I think McCain just lost the election. When he asked to suspend the debates, and a (I believe) Fox poll had 90% of Americans believing the debates should continue...that puts him on the defensive, seriously. If Obama has any game at all, he will keep McCain on his heels until he runs those polls up until they get ugly. McCain loves the unexpected move, the game-changer. One could take the position that he saw postponing the debates as a non-political act, but I doubt it. If so, he would have worked it out with Obama in private, rather than making a challenging public announcement--and if he doesn't understand the difference, he's a lousy judge of human psychology, and I don't believe that. Does he want to postpone the election? No? Then the American people need to get to know their prospective leaders. Hell--people have ALREADY VOTED, more and more of them every day. It feels like a desperate stall--that, and keeping Sarah Palin away from media at the very time we need to be drilling her, figuring her out, either being impressed or dismissing. My very strong sense is that they consider her of very limited use: photo ops and highly structured environments only. If that isn't true, then Name of God...why not let us see her brilliance? I smell flop sweat, and it isn't coming from Obama. Hell, I'm hearing CONSERVATIVE commentators saying that McCain isn't behaving in a Presidential fashion, and that Obama is being the adult here. That's not good.

So I add it up, and think that this is the turning point, the point where McCain shoots himself in the foot. The debate, supposedly, will go on. If McCain doesn't show up, it's a one-man Town Hall, and unless Obama blows it completely , McCain loses points. If he DOES show up, he looks like a "Flip Flopper" (an asinine term. want a leader who never changes his mind, even after evaluating new information?) and loses points. Methinks he has hoisted himself by his own petard.

But I could be wrong. I'm sure you guys will remind me if I am.


I'm experimenting with using Buzzword to communicate with my writers on Hannibal. Don't know if it will work yet, because I'm not certain of the subjective difficulty of working with this terrific piece of web-based software. And in the creative fields, you MUST feel completely comfortable with the basic tools before you can enter flow and create. So I have to wait and see if the guys feel comfortable. It would speed up communication if they could use it, but the most important thing is that they be able to relax and have fun. The best tool in the world is no good if it doesn't fit your hand.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Greatest Movie Ever?

I was recently presented with the outline for a television project. It consisted of a series of incidents organized in a non-linear structure. In other words, if a character remembered an incident from his past, even if he was currently under great stress and time pressure, the show had him remembering a fairly complex scenario. This was problematic on multiple levels. One, it was too scattershot: no time for development of a dramatic structure. Second, a flashback needs to be organic to the situation. In "Casablanca" it made sense for a heart-broken Rick to remember his Parisian love affair with Ilse. For him to remember it as he's dodging bullets or driving a car down a winding wet road being chased by Nazis would be quite another.

What is the difference between an incident and a story? Well, a story can be an incident, or a string of them. But the incidents must be selected and structured carefully to reflect the pattern of human life:

A steady-state situation, a character forced to change, a journey into the inner and outer worlds. The character must learn and grow and either align with his internal resources, or find new external ones. The character will face an opponent (internal or external) that will tax his resources and sense of self. Ultimately, if the character has don everything right (!) and has faith, he will win and move to the next level of his life.

Now, not every story will have every step of this process. But anything you write must be created with these steps in mind. Make a deliberate choice to minimalize one of these factors...but DON'T let it happen by accident.

Incidents do not a story make.


We should be able to guess the shape of this election by next Monday, after the debates. With this economy tanking the way it is, if Obama can't rake McCain over the coals, he doesn't deserve to win. Palin is, unfortunately, looking more and more like a stunt. My guess is that they're holding her back from the public to lowr expectations. Then she will perform decently at a couple of events, and they'll say: "see!"



Bought a collection of Alfred Hitchcock films that covers almost every major film. Yum. A cinema education in a box. Of course, if you want a cinema education in a single film, get "The Seven Samurai" by Kurosawa. A serious contender for greatest movie ever made.


What would be your vote for Greatest Movie, especially from the perspective of studying film?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Big History

The Big History course has my attention. In the first lectures, Professor Christian lays down his central thesis: the universe can be viewed as movement toward increasing levels of organization and complexity, and that this has been happening since the Big Bang. I see what he's getting at: stars are more complex than "empty" space, planets more complex than stars, living matter more complex than non-living, etc. All the way to human civilization, which begins to create a whole different level of organization.

It's a good organizational structure for fantastically complex ideas, and pretty much aligns with the way I see things: that life is constantly trying to organize at higher levels of complexity. I never thought about applying that idea to reality itself. This is, by the way, one of the reasons that the concept of an over-arching world government strikes me as inevitable, even if it doesn't happen in our lifetimes...but that's another discussion.

He discusses eight "Thresholds" and their related disciplines:

1) The Creation of the Universe (Cosmology)

2) The first stars (Astronomy)

3) The Chemical elements (Chemistry)

4) The Earth and the Solar System (Geology)

5) Life (Biology)

6) The Paleolithic Era (Human History)

7) The Agrarian Era (Human History)

8) The Modern Era (Human History)

It seems rather obvious to me that once you've absorbed this structure and its basic information, you have one hell of an internal organization system. Branching out from this structure into philosophy, art, psychology, politics, etc. would be child's play.

Can't wait to get into the third lesson.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Oh Blah Dee...

I am having so much FUN. I'm in a pay-or-play position with a certain network, and the project looks like it could be terrific. There are strong, opinionated people who have to work some thing out, but the truth is that the issues that divide them (and yes, I'm being artfully vague here) are issues I could resolve with no sweat. Whatever they decide, it's just fine. Meanwhile, I sit back and watch the fireworks from the best seat in the house. Work life is good...


Every day, multiple times a day, I visualize a triangle and the "end points" of my three main goals: body/fitness, intelligence/career, and internal/external peace and love. I visualize the body I'm working for, and the way I want it to move. I see the amount of money I want to make per day, and then per year. And I see my family sitting around me in a circle, and make eye contact with them one after another, telling them I love them, and apologizing for any problems, resolving to do better.

While I'm doing this, I work my "Be Breathed" patterns, dropping my breathing to my One-Point (third chakra).

Now here's where it gets cool. During my daily yoga or other exercise (currently centering around the H2H circuit training and S.H.O.T.--all fitness components worked except max strength.) I work the breathing. Now...when I am under emotional stress, I just go back to the breathing I was doing in my workout, and am immediately centered and strong. The physical becomes a metaphor for my emotional and spiritual journey. This is valuable, but even more so is the stuff happening at an unconscious level.

What I'm up to is creating a Pavlovian Stimulus-Response loop between stress and re-integrative power breathing. That way, your system automatically upshifts when the pressure is on. Lovely.

No doubt about it: the major missing piece I was looking for was found in Scott Sonnon's Flow State Performance Spiral audiotape. I must have listened to it a hundred times. What a threshold experience: a simple explanation for phenomena that can usually only be addressed indirectly. Those pesky, brilliant Russians!


I'm going to spend the day working on the Dream Park project with Larry Niven. Look forward to that.


And speaking of that, I had lunch with my favorite Conservative, Jerry Pournelle, last Saturday. Some of you may know that he had some health challenges. Just wanted to say that at this point everything seems to be working well, and I am seriously relieved. He is one of my very favorite people, and one of the smartest guys I've ever met. And I wish him as many more years of healthy life as he wants to have.


I see some stuff on both sides of the aisle that is pissing me off. Conservative pundits claiming that the investigation of Sarah Palin by reporters is partisan or sexist. Why don't they dig into Obama..? Dear God, where have these idiots been the last two years? Every possible piece of Obama dirt has been pulled out. This is just lying.


On the other hand, some recent verbal flubs by McCain have triggered a flurry of frankly disgustingly joyous speculations that he is having more "Senior Moments" and may be losing his mind. The unconcealed pleasure in some of these comments is vile. What in the heck is it about Politics that brings out the worst in people?