Archive for the ‘Threat Quality’ Category

Threat Quality Retrospective

Posted: August 3, 2015 in Threat Quality


Inspired by that one nerd who keeps turning up in the comments to call me a taste fascist and imply that I’m insufficiently respectful of the opinions of Jonathon Chait and Joss Whedon, I have been looking back at and doing some thinking about Threat Quality and about the writing that I’ve done here and that other people have done here, and what the future of this “blog” is, et cetera and so forth.

Let us consider.


david brooks

(I’ve decided to continue with this series, “David Brooks: Threat or Menace?” which was previously called “David Brooks: Hero or Menace?” because I had misremembered a joke about Spider-Man.)

This week isn’t quite as exciting as last week’s; we’re probably never going to get quite the staggering constellation of “white-guy cluelessness” and “fantasy worlds in which Jefferson Davis is Abraham Lincoln’s evil anti-matter duplicate” in our lifetimes. Or maybe we will, it is David Brooks, and there doesn’t seem to be a bottom of the barrel when it comes to this guy’s cluelessness.

Like I said, though, this week isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen.  It’s David Brooks talking about the “minimum wage muddle”, in which he stakes out a position somewhere between “Abortions for Some and Tiny American Flags for Others” on the one hand and “helpless shrug emoji” on the other.  I’ve got some things that I want to say about just what is at the root of Brooks’ quivering “let’s-not-be-hasty” timidity masking as moderate patrician condescension, but first I want to at least address just what the “minimum wage muddle” is.


What an extraordinary creature is David Brooks.  Sometimes I read his columns, usually when an article about them appears with a subheading of “Can you believe this shit?” – Brooks is a …what is the word for a person whose job is to have opinions about things and then write them down?  An opinionist, I  guess – David Brooks is a professional opinionist for the New York Times which, much to the detriment of some and at least slightly to the detriment of all, remains the single most important journalistic outlet in America, and possibly (by dint of its influence and reach if nothing else) the world.  David Brooks is, in a way, powerful.

He is also terrible. His opinions are terrible, and I think his opinions are often expressed terribly, which means he’s violated two important requirements of being a professional opinionist – an occupation which, to my knowledge, has only got two requirements in the first place.  I have decided to take on his column this time as a challenge to myself; I may make a project of it if this proves suitably interesting.

So!  You may have heard that Ta-Nehisi Coates has written a book about his experience as a black man, particularly as a black man living in Baltimore, that takes the form of a series of letters to his son.  It is full of impassioned rage and exactly the sort of clear and incisive perspective that you read Ta-Nehisi Coates for.  Naturally, David Brooks read this book and, also naturally, had an opinion on it.  It is his job, after all.


The thing about a tumor is, it’s not just malign tissue.

(Well, the first thing is that it’s not “malign” at all; tumors aren’t evil, they’re just obstinately disinterested in the well-being of the organism that supports them. They’re more like Libertarians.)

A tumor isn’t just malign tissue, it’s a factory for malign tissue. It swells up somewhere, on your testicle, for instance, which you discover in the shower on Sunday night because your doctor told you when you were fourteen to start checking for tumors, because being fourteen wasn’t already an age replete with anxieties about uncontrollable forces destroying your life, you had to add in fucking tumors.

You find a mass on your testicle, and you know how tumors work, you know that it’s metastasizing even as you think about it, sending out fucking saboteurs to the rest of your organs.

I’ve had an ache in my thigh for a while now; is it a muscle pain, or is it a metastasized tumor that lodged in the muscle tissue of my leg? My back hurts, my spine is crawling with tumors. There are tumors in my intestines, in my prostate (prostate cancer is what killed my grandfather) and my colon (colon cancer is what killed his brother). There’s a pain in my groin roughly in the spot where my lymph nodes are (lymphatic cancer is an extremely common and dangerous variety).

If it hasn’t metastasized, maybe they’ll just cut off one or both of your testicles. If it’s spread to your muscles and your bones and your intestines, maybe they’ll just have to amputate my entire lower body. People can survive like that – you have colostomy bags for the rest of your life, and a wheelchair obviously, and you don’t fence or do kung fu or do a lot of things anymore, really.



I know that I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to build up my credibility when it comes to talking about movies, and I know that basically everyone (including some critics that I almost always agree with, like Walter Chaw and Genevieve Valentine) hated this movie, and so I’m going to burn that credibility by saying that I loved it.  I just saw Jupiter Ascending on Saturday and I cannot remember the last time I had so much fun at a movie.  (No, wait, I can, it was Wreck-it Ralph.  I really liked Big Hero Six, but if I’m being honest, I had more fun more consistently watching this crazy tower of excellence).


What follows is a partial list of things about Jupiter Ascending that are perfect and amazing.


I don’t know, now I got started, I figure I may as well get it all out of my system.  The idea, as I mentioned earlier, was to try to do one of these supernatural-adventure-mystery shows like Constantine or Detective Grimm, but with a feel that was more like CSI or Law and Order (or Bones, I guess), where you’re using these sort of forensic systems and legal procedures to deal with supernatural concepts, rather than every week having to have to hunt a new monster that you Look Up in the Book.

I guess, imagine it like the Deep Space Nine to Star Trek: The Next Generation.  A key difference between the shows, and one that a lot of people liked better, is that in DS9 there was no getting away from the problems that they ran into.  They were here in a place, dealing with communities over and over again, facing certain problems and then the consequences of those problems, and such like.  And imagine it even a little more concrete, where we start the show knowing what different tools we have at our disposal to create and solve mysteries, and if we’re going to create a new tool, we have to 1) know how it works, 2) know why it works, and 3) not introduce anything that we’re going to wish we could forget about three or four episodes down the line.  But THEN, imagine that it’s not just a question of formalizing our investigative processes, but a question of formalizing what the communities are like and how they relate to each other, so that if we are going to introduce a new monster we have to 1) know what it is, 2) know why it’s here, and 3) not introduce it unless we plan to use it again.



I was talking to Holland via THE INTERNET the other day, and complaining (I pretty much only ever complain when I talk to Holland about things) about things that bother me in these sorts of supernatural adventure mystery shows like Constantine and Detective Grimm.

This thing is, when they have to figure out what the monster is and what they have to do about it, the either 1) look it up in a book (some variations include Grimm: first ask that guy about it, THEN look it up in a book, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer: look it up in one of several books), or 2) use some kind of spell or charm that has the exact specific purpose of finding this particular demon/monster/orc and then is never mentioned again.

Both of these bother me, and as a sort of mental or creative exercise, what I would like to do now is brainstorm some ideas based on the following premise: what if you were a forensic scientist (i.e., a person whose job is to extract secrets from the dead, so: necromancer) in a world where the mundane and the supernatural mixed regularly? Like, there were just demons and faeries and trolls and such around, what systems would you use to figure out who committed the crime? What procedures would you put in place?

If you had this stuff in place, could you just basically make a CSI or Law and Order episode, but with monsters? (I am definitely aware that these shows ALSO resort to “one resource that solves all the problems” and “one resource that solves exactly this problem, exactly this one time”, they’re not immune to it, but they also have these multi-purpose but not omni-purpose procedures in place.)

Anyway, I think it’s interesting.