My Thoughts on the Upcoming NBA (2014-15) Season

            The 2014-15 National Basketball Association season will be a very interesting one. Between several scandals and several trades, even former players and sports analyses might not be able to predict who could win the NBA Championship as easily as they had in previous years. Some of the trades I have witnessed along with other fans make me wonder if some of the coaches and the owners are desperate for a title, and whether or not some of the players are in touch with reality.

            LeBron James is going back to Cleveland…whatever. First of all, the 24-hour coverage on that announcement was annoying, because it cut off the feedback on other world and sports news. The conflict in the Middle East and on the Russia/Ukraine border had started again, and coverage on the World Cup Final was suddenly ignored in the United States. Ironically, this announcement and coverage on all of the ESPN and NBA channels reflected on how seriously the rest of the world takes the World Cup and the sport of football in general. Don’t the citizens in Cleveland have anything better to do than cheer and/or jeer over one player? Yes, he is one of the best players in the league and of all time, but now those fans are eager to purchase another LeBron James jersey because they all burnt their last ones.

            This brings up my next point about “King James.” I don’t know what is going on inside his head, but someone needs to tell him that he cannot please everyone. Look at what the Miami fans did to the murals! Seriously, he is returning to Cleveland for only two seasons, and—on top of that—he decides to reclaim the #23 jersey that he used to wear while playing there. These teams do NOT freeze in place when players go elsewhere; and yet, he goes back and forth like it is not big a deal. I have nothing against the city of Cleveland, or LeBron James but—think about it—if the Miami Heat had won this year’s Championship Title, then would he have decided “to return home”?! Think about it. I don’t know what will happen next season, but Cleveland fans better keep in mind that the Cavaliers is NOT a one man team! Yell at the entire team for losing a game and not just LeBron James!

            Time to state the obvious: The Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty has ended. Unless the next generation of superstars make it onto that team’s roster, there won’t be any more Championships for the Lakers. Kobe Bryant—for all of his accomplishments as a NBA player—is a whiny little brat who cannot grasp the concept that one, he is getting old; and two, he cannot assume that hiring a coach of his choosing (and one that will listen to his instructions) will guarantee a winning season. The Lakers are no longer the “go to team” it once was, Dwight Howard left after one season. And, let’s face it, Jeremy Lin is not going to help the Lakers win a championship title. He did not help the Knicks nor the Rockets. Sorry Kobe, but at least you have your 5 Championship Rings.

            The Knicks have been one erratic team. First of all, does Carmelo Anthony realize that he was the “backup plan” for New York, and he was signed there after negotiations for LeBron James fell through?! Sorry, but he is NOT the player the Knicks need in order to win a championship title. Next, if he keeps hogging the ball and refusing to acknowledge the rest of the team, then the team cannot win the games. Last, all games count! Carmelo Anthony cannot play at his best when the Knicks play against Miami, Chicago, San Antonio, and Indiana. Is he really acting that bratty believing that he’ll be praised for only beating the “better teams”?! If he keeps this up and if the rest of the team does not do anything about it, then the Brooklyn Nets will win a championship before the Knicks.

            The only team—as of right now—that I might feel any pity for is the Oklahoma City Thunder. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins and the rest of the 2011-12 roster surpassed the expectations placed on them by making it to the NBA Finals. However, they say: “winning while early in the career is not good in the long run.” The team has been able to advance to the Conference Finals this season, but they will not go beyond that round unless the players check their egos and learn to work together as a team once again, they will never win a Championship Title. I believe they still have a chance to win at least one.

            The only thing I will say about the Los Angeles Clippers is that a new owner should not affect the way the players play during the season. However, in the long run the decisions this owner makes will either benefit the team or harm the team. Let us hope that Steve Ballmer (if he does “purchase” the Clippers) has more common sense than Donald Sterling.  

            Those are my current thoughts on the NBA and what may or may not happen next season. On the one hand, these are not related to anything that could happen next season. I won’t be making any predictions of my own until the start of the season. On the other hand, I could be wrong about everything I have stated and the opposite could occur during the upcoming season. The only thing that will most likely happen next year is that the San Antonio Spurs will repeat their previous year. Only time will tell.

How William Faulkner Influenced George R.R. Martin

(Please Note: Spoilers from A Song of Ice and Fire series are found within this essay.)

Remember those boring classics you had to read in your English classes in high school and in college? Well, have you ever considered that some of what you had to read might be hidden within the pages of what you choose to read? Then there is what you had to learn in your history class—both of your country and of other ones—do you recall anything beyond Abraham Lincoln and/or Archduke Ferdinand? Even the smallest details and events can grow into something more intense or…more entertaining.

Some influences of this series are more obvious than others. The A Song of Ice and Fire series is based on some of the following: Greek and Roman mythologies, the history of the United Kingdom, and some American literature, most notably the works of William Faulkner. Much of fantasy literature also is influenced by classical literature, other mythologies, languages, and superstitions. In addition, the belief system is based on the time period of the fictional world. George R.R. Martin’s Westeros and Essos reflects the social behaviors of the Medieval Period.

With regards to the myths, it is safe to say that some of the female characters are based on the stories we have heard over and over again. Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey are the most notable texts which we see where the characters Cersei Lannister and Lyanna Stark are based on. It is safe to assume that Lyanna Stark is based on Helen of Troy, the woman whose “face launched a thousand ships.” Helen of Sparta was married to King Menelaus when Prince Paris of Troy “abducted” her, causing the Trojan War. The war lasted seven years, many from both sides died including Paris and Achilles, Troy was burnt to the ground, and Helen returned to her husband. From what fans know—based on the books and the T.V. show—Lyanna Stark was “stolen” from her family and her betrothed, Robert Baratheon, by Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. As we all know, the Starks and the Baratheons went to war against the Targaryens in order to return Lyanna to her family. She would never return there alive. Lyanna, like Helen of Troy, must have been very beautiful if she was able to catch the eye of a prince and start a civil war because of it.

Cersei sounds a lot like the name ‘Circe,’ the powerful sorceress mentioned in The Odyssey, and whom turned Odysseus’ companions into swine. Circe was also known to attract men with her charm and her beauty. Cersei Lannister, as we all know, has used her beauty and her (limited) charm to get whatever she wanted. She even seduced her twin brother, Jamie, into doing what she told him to do. The most infamous was telling Jamie to join the Kingsguard so they could be together in King’s Landing (and we all know what happens next). It should be mentioned that both Circe and Cersei are eventually seen for what they really are; however, Cersei Lannister’s exposure was more extreme than Circe’s.

We have seen numerous religions and common superstitions within Martin’s novels and we have seen how devote many of the characters are to them as well as other beliefs and practices of other cultures. Many of the religious beliefs and the superstitions found within this series mirrors what was taking place in England between the Dark Ages and the Renaissance. Some of the behaviors surrounding the treatment of guests go back to the practices of Ancient Greece (i.e. no harm can come to your guest while they are under you hospitality) and were still practiced as well. We know that Christianity—particularly Catholicism—was the main religion of Europe. And yet, Judaism, Islam, and Paganism still existed and was practiced by other denizens in the same continent. Many of the superstitions we believe in today emerged during the Middle Ages: walking under a ladder was bad luck, a black (or in England a white) cat crossing your path was bad luck, etc. Also, many believed that the skies told what was to come. Even Queen Elizabeth I had diviners and astrologers visit her in court on a weekly basis. She was often curious as to what her future would be, and it is unclear to most of us if she liked what was foretold.

George R.R. Martin used history as a premise for A Song of Ice and Fire. His chosen event was England’s War of the Roses. For those of you who do not recall this war, noble families fought over control of the English Throne. Between 1455 and 1487, the nobility chose their allegiance between either House of York (The White Rose) or House of Lancaster (The Red Rose). Both Houses were able to trace their ancestry back to notable kings and these cousins believed they had a better claim to the throne over everyone else. This war started when Henry of Bolingbroke deposed his cousin Richard II in 1399, thus establishing House Lancaster. In 1422, after the death of Henry V, Richard, Duke of York, challenged the right to the crown against Henry VI. Thus, House York was established. Throughout the war, several royal cousins were killed or assassinated. The war was resolved when Henry Tudor of House Lancaster defeated Richard III and then married Elizabeth of York. House Tudor was established through the reunion of both houses. I will not go into the details any further than that. If anyone else is curious about the War of the Roses and how some of those events found their way into Westeros, then either read Philippa Gregory’s novels (great historical fiction) or watch the Monarchy documentaries that aired on PBS.

Those are the familiar influences of A Song of Ice and Fire. There is also a more modern influence on the series and it is from the United States. William Faulkner was an early 20th century writer who wrote most of his novels about the Southern United States. He was grouped with other American Southern literary writers, and is placed in the subgenre of the Southern Renaissance. This subgenre focused on both the “Lost Cause” of the Confederate States of America and the imaginary “pleasant culture” that existed in the Southern states before the American Civil War (think about Scarlett O’Hara’s experiences in Gone with the Wind). The plots were also centered around the burden of where many people remembered life before a devastating war, a family name and where an individual came from were more highly valued than one’s personal and social life, and the South’s troubled history in regards to racial issues. Now, the third one is not seen much within Martin’s novels, but physical appearances do make a difference when it comes to certain characters (i.e. Tyrion Lannister).

William Faulkner was one of the writers who used the technique of “stream of consciousness” in his writing. This style allows the “depiction of the multitudinous thoughts and feelings which pass through the mind,” also known as “interior monologue.” You see this more in his novel, The Sound and the Fury (1929); however, in his novel As I Lay Dying (1930), he identifies which characters are providing their ‘interior monologue’ by simply putting the name of the character at the beginning of each chapter. For that chapter’s duration that character becomes the protagonist. We still see this style done in contemporary fiction and children’s literature (i.e. Jodi Picoult, Rick Riordan). It is an interesting way to gain the point of view of each character at the same time when one event is taking place.

Now, that was the obvious influence William Faulkner has had on George R.R. Martin. I will get into one of my theories surrounding one of the noble families in A Song of Ice and Fire and how that is related to one of Faulkner’s most notable novels. Thus, this will show both the correlation and my predictions for this family. Faulkner’s novel, Absalom, Absalom! (1936), is an allusion to a wayward son who goes against his father’s wishes of upholding the family empire which the latter worked hard to build. The father wanted a son who would become part of society’s elite and make the family stronger. However, the son decides to forge his own destiny and while he commits some heinous acts, it turns out it was done for the better of both society and his family. Yes, I will be talking about the Lannisters.

          Absalom, Absalom! follows the history and the legacy of the Sutpen Family. The patriarch of the family is Thomas Sutpen who moves to Yoknapatawpha County in Mississippi in the 1830s and builds a plantation on 100 square acres of land, which he names ‘Sutpen’s Hundred.’ He is attempting to create his own personal dynasty by becoming a member of elite society in the Southern States. Thomas Sutpen knows that besides owning a plantation and a number of slaves, he would need sons to continue the legacy he is building up. Plus, he wants his future sons and their sons to take the responsibility seriously because he does not want his family to become a laughing stock the way it was when he was growing up in West Virginia with his own father and other family members. In addition, since he is doing this in the South before the American Civil War, his “design” cannot include anyone who can physically tarnish the family legacy. In other words, no Negro blood. In A Song of Ice and Fire series, Tywin Lannister has spent his entire life as the Lord of the Westerlands rebuilding his family’s reputation as being a strong and a fearsome House. His father, Tytos, was a weak lord who allowed both his bannermen and his servants to take advantage of him constantly. By the time Tywin became the (High) Lord of Casterly Rock, he had to spend the first few years of his rule ‘fixing’ the mistakes his father had made. As he was re-establishing his family’s reputation, Tywin was working on his family’s legacy. His beautiful wife, Joanna, gave birth to beautiful twins—Cersei and Jamie—whom he already made plans for their future. Cersei would become the next Queen of Westeros and Jamie would follow in his footsteps as the Lord of Casterly Rock.

According to the novel, Thomas Sutpen originally went to Haiti to start his family empire (http://www.mcsr.olemiss.edu/~egjbp/faulkner/gen-sutpen.html). He marries Eulalia Bon and they have a son they name Charles. However, Thomas Sutpen discovered that his wife was part black and he abandons his family and returns to the United States where he starts over again. He did this because he knew that he would never be part of a society that still had slavery and looked down at those who did not have a ” ‘pure’ white bloodline.” Thus, after he establishes himself in Mississippi, he marries Ellen Coldfield, the daughter of a prominent plantation owner in the county. They have two children, Henry and Judith, who now stand to carry on the Sutpen family legacy. Plus, Thomas Sutpen has a fourth child, Clytemnestra (named after the ‘lesser’ sister of Helen of Troy), with one of his Negro slaves (this was very common in American Slavery) and her role is to keep an eye out on her siblings for the better of the family. As of right now, everything seems to be going well…until Henry goes to college and befriends a classmate by the name of Charles Bon. Charles meets Judith and the two of them get engaged. This is when Thomas Sutpen realizes that Charles Bon is the son he abandoned several years ago, and he tells Henry that the marriage cannot happen because Charles is really his and Judith’s older half-brother. Henry reacts angrily believing that Charles knew about his parentage the entire time and he renounces his birthright. He goes to New Orleans and then enlists with the Confederate Army when the Civil War begins. When the war ends and Charles returns to Sutpen’s Hundred to marry Judith, Henry kills him at the gates to the plantation. Therefore, Henry ends up protecting his family by killing his own brother.

Tywin Lannister becomes the Hand of the King during the reign of Mad King Aerys. While he was respected by the other lords and the peasants throughout the kingdom, the two men began to have tension between them. Aerys II was in love with Tywin’s wife, Joanna, and everyone at court knew about it. And, Tywin was still hoping for an engagement between his daughter and Prince Rhaegar. During all of this, Cersei and Jamie were already experimenting sexually with each other, and Joanna was about to give birth to her third child. After the birth of son Tyrion, and the death of Joanna, Tywin was grief stricken and debating with himself whether or not Tyrion was actually his son because Tyrion is a deformed dwarf (which is another theory for another time). Tywin believes that since both he and his late wife were good looking and their two elder children are good looking, then Tyrion should have been as pretty as his other family members, which leads him to ask who else could have fathered Tyrion. Meanwhile, Tywin goes on with his plan to offer a betrothal between Cersei and Prince Rhaegar, which King Aerys refuses harshly. At the same time, the Lannister twins schemed a way to stay together so they can continue their incestuous relationship. Cersei convinces Jamie to join the Kingsguard, which meant that he would renounce his position as the heir of Casterly Rock. Jamie does so, Tywin finds himself twice spurned by the King and returns to his Seat with his daughter, thus leaving Jamie behind.

Now, both patriarchs reacted to their sons leaving them and their inheritance very differently. Thomas Sutpen, who has lost one son to death and the other one to exile, becomes a broken man and starts drinking. He is so desperate for a male heir, that he seduces and impregnates Milly Jones, the fifteen-year old granddaughter of another prominent plantation owner. Even though Charles fathered a son, Charles Etienne de Saint Velery, with his octoroon mistress, Thomas’ grandson was not ideal for his ‘family design.’ Milly gives birth to a daughter, and before mother and child die from complications from the birth, Thomas Sutpen rejects the child because of the gender. Upon hearing this, Milly’s grandfather, Wash Jones, kills Thomas for what he did to his family. Tywin Lannister leaves the capital after being spurned twice by the King. Afterwards, he finds out that his other son married a common girl, Tysha, and forced Tyrion to ‘divorce’ her because he feared that the marriage might make the family a laughing stock within the kingdom again. This happened, after Tywin’s entire guard raped her in front of Tyrion. When Robert’s Rebellion started, Tywin kept himself neutral until the end so that he could put himself with the winning side. After Robert Baratheon kills Prince Rhaegar, and Jamie kills King Aerys, Tywin sends his army into the castle where he has “The Mountain” murder the remaining members of the Targaryen family: Elia Martell—Rhaegar’s wife—and their young children, Rhaenys and Aegon. Playing his role in disposing the royal family, Tywin has the newly crowned King Robert marry Cersei, thus making her a queen and his family legacy a part of the royal bloodline. However, it never occurred to him that his twin children had and continued their incestuous relationship. Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen are the children of Cersei and Jamie, and there is neither Baratheon nor Targaryen blood in them. When Joffrey is killed and Tyrion is accused of his murder, Tywin has no problem in convicting him in order to rid himself of his ‘son.’ As we know, Tyrion loses the ‘trial by combat’ and is later freed by Jamie. And then, Tyrion goes on to murder Tywin for his cruelty to him and to his first wife, and after learning that Tywin has been sleeping with Shae, his prostitute. These powerful men are killed due to their own actions and both indirectly and directly by their sons. Thomas Sutpen and Tywin Lannister put their legacy before their children and it cost them heavily.

That was one part of the ‘family legacy,’ but what about the children and the remaining family members? In Absalom, Absalom!, forty years has gone by and the Sutpen Hundred plantation has fallen into ruin. Both Charles Etienne and Judith Sutpen died twenty years before and Clytemnestra has been taking care of both Jim Bond—the son of Charles Etienne and a free black woman, and the great grandson of Thomas Sutpen—and the plantation. When the sister of Ellen Coldfield goes to the plantation with the grandson of a family friend, they find Henry Sutpen—long believed to have left the region after murdering his brother—hiding inside the house all this time. On the day they return with an ambulance for Henry, Clytemnestra sets the entire manor on fire, killing both herself and Henry. Jim Bond, the last of the Sutpen family survives, but he is disabled both physically (skin color) and mentally. Thus, this is the end of the Sutpen Family Legacy as we know it.

Based on what has been foreshadowed within the series, we know that Cersei will die at the hands of a ‘younger brother’ and that all three of her children will die before she does. Also, with the brothers Tywin and Kevan dead, and Tyrion in exile, this means that Cersei is in charge of both her House and the Kingdom. To those of us who have come to know Cersei’s character know that this is not a good thing (a lot like Clytemnestra). Jamie, has finally decided to distance himself from his sister, but it is unknown what will happen to him now that he decided to stay with the Kingsguard. All of Tywin’s work to rebuild his House and to leave a strong family legacy has been destroyed by his own children. Just like with Thomas Sutpen, Tywin’s ‘design’ did not work out the way he wanted to, and tried to work with what was given to him. Instead, both patriarchs are not remembered for their kindness and the last of their family line are male heirs who are neither accepted by their family nor the rest of society. However, does this mean that the Lannister line will end with Tyrion? Yes, I am aware that there are other Lannisters, but as Tywin’s sister Genna said, “Tyrion is Tywin’s son.” Is Tyrion really Tywin’s son, or is it as Tywin always feared and could be the son of the Mad King? If this is the case, then like Thomas Sutpen, Tywin Lannister’s family legacy is about to come to an end.

This is my argument to how George R.R. Martin looked to William Faulkner to map out one family within his fantasy series. Literary influences on contemporary literature is not only limited—and it should not be limited—to classical works we had to read in school and in college. If we pay enough attention to what we have to read, then we can easily see what goes into what we like to read. All that is left now is to wait and to see whether or not the Lannisters will end up like the Sutpens. And, what will happen to Tyrion.

Factions in Popular Culture that Made a Difference: Gaming: Super Mario Bros.

            Like many gamers who are of my generation, there was a time when there was a limited choice in which home gaming console a player could get. Telstar and Atari came before my time, but I did play on the Nintendo Entertainment System. My parents bought it because it was to help improve a sibling’s hand-eye coordination, which it did; and, to provide a different form of entertainment because my siblings and I were watching too many cartoons, keep in mind there were no “gaming addicts” during the 1980s.

            This console, unlike many other ones, came with a game (and yes, you really had to blow  into it to get it to work). This game was the 2-in-1 Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. The latter made more sense than the former: you are a hunter and you are either hunting with that annoying dog, or shooting discs at a shooting range. In Super Mario Bros. you knew you had to save the princess, but plants that shoot fire, fish that literally jumped out of water, and mushrooms that make you grow…the game was both fun and strange.

            The popularity of these games were much bigger than everyone knew at the time. Anyone else who did not own a NES had played on the console at the homes of those who did have them. And, even though Duck Hunt fulfilled the fantasy of shooting at the T.V., it was not as challenging or as rewarding as completing a level in Super Mario Bros. Plus, there were secret rewards and warps hidden throughout the game remember the warp pipes? You wanted to continue playing Super Mario Bros. for the rush and to hear the music. This game eventually allowed the curious players and the gaming companies to try other games. That was when you began to see which genres of video games were gaining popularity: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Gotcha!, BattleToads, DuckTales, Paperboy, etc. The Super Mario Bros. game became known as the first platformer game.

            Super Mario 2 was an interesting game because you got to play as the princess for the first time. Personally, I had trouble with that game because of how one had to complete each level. I never made it to the final boss, but I enjoyed the various levels and the extra challenges within the game. When Super Mario 3 was announced, my parents already knew my siblings and I would want it for Christmas (it was announced during the summer and the advertisements were non-stop), which they made happen. The developers of Super Mario 3 invested equal time to both the story within the game with the gameplay. Each of Bowser’s seven children have overrun seven smaller Mushrooms Kingdoms. You had to defeat them on warships, and then deal with their father after you defeated all of them. The best part of the game was both players could play each world interchangeably, and play a versus mini game (POW!). The leaf and the frog costumes and power-ups were very cool and the angry sun added more to the memorable gameplay we were all familiar with by that point. I enjoyed “Water Land” and “Giant Land.” “Sky Land” was very annoying, half the world took place on land for crying out loud!

            The 1990s brought an interesting change to the gaming industry: multiple gaming consoles that were good were being released. The most successful ones at the time were the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo (there were also the Sega Game Gear and the Game Boy both are handhelds); the first reasonable rivalry to be taken seriously involving video games. Also, this was the beginning of something else: did you own one or both consoles? My family had the Sega Genesis. We loved the Sonic the Hedgehog games, but my siblings and I were curious about Super Mario World (and Donkey Kong Country), and how the character ‘Yoshi’ performed in a platformer game, and not in a puzzle game named after the character (Yoshi is a great retro puzzle game to invest in, it was originally for the Game Boy). However, my parents had recently witnessed video game addiction thanks to my older brother, and refused to buy no more than one console per gaming generation. How do young children deal with this dilemma? They look to their friends to help them out! Our friends within our neighborhood had a Super N.E.S. So, when we wanted to play Mario, we all met at their house, and when we wanted to play Sonic, we gathered at my parents’ house. Super Mario World was, and still is, one of my favorite video games (and one of the greatest games of all time). And, everyone should play it at some point.

            Fast forward a few years and the Nintendo 64 came out, and everyone was curious about Super Mario 64 and the 3D gameplay we would get to experience (though more kids at my school had more interest in the upcoming Zelda game). That game gave us the chance to play with interchangeable caps—the red one (flying) was my favorite—and to witness Mario drowning in water and in sand, and die from poisonous gas. I collected all of the red coins and have yet to gain all 120 stars (it’s a long story). And yes, my siblings and I attempted the ‘Luigi gameplay,’ and all it is, is an urban legend. Mario Kart 64 had all of my siblings, my friends, and myself playing at the same time. The levels within the racing game and the multiplayer levels were fun and challenging. This activity did lead to more fighting amongst ourselves, but the gaming was (sometimes) worth it.

            Next, came the Nintendo GameCube with Luigi’s Mansion and Super Mario Sunshine (both games were terrible). By then, I had resorted to playing retro Mario on both my Game Boy (Super Mario Land) and Game Boy Advance. The spinoffs, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Mario Kart Double Dash, and other ‘party’ games such as GoldenEye 007 made up for those other Mario games. Once again, gamers would gather to play, but this time everyone played at the same time. The Mario Party games were fun too, but it did not compare to the fighting and the racing game under the same name. Besides, we were getting insight into ‘other’ Nintendo characters. For instance, Mario saved Princess Daisy, not Princess Peach in Super Mario Land, and both princesses were in the Mario Kart game as playable characters. Then, there was WaLuigi…who came up with that name?!

            The hype surrounding the Nintendo Wii (originally called the Nintendo Revolution) was similar to a Harry Potter release party. That’s how long the lines were in order to get one. Everyone wanted to experience the wireless controller. Even non-gamers were interested in this console. And, Super Mario Galaxy looked very promising. That game was everything we expected from a Mario game and more: the levels were on planets, you could fly whenever you were able to, and all of the bosses were of believable sizes and challenges. I have yet to play Mario Galaxy 2! The Mario Kart game was also a MMO and witnessing that sort of competitiveness was mind-blowing and engaging.

            I have not mentioned too much about the Mario games for the handhelds, but I will say that playing Super Mario Land  on the Game Boy was an experience all by itself. I thought at my young age that the game would be similar to the Mario console games, but it was not and I loved that the most. The Game Boy Advance allowed me to return to the original Mario games—Super Mario 3 and Super Mario World—and complete them. Now, upgrade those handhelds to match the Nintendo Wii. Both the Nintendo DS and the Nintendo 3DS came with a stylus and two screens in order to further enhance the gameplay. The Nintendo DS (and the 3DS) have provided three different genres of Mario games: the traditional action/adventure game: New Super Mario Bros. a great game with a reference to its predecessors, the reboot of a retro game: Super Mario 3D Land, and the RPG: Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story and Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. Please note, I have not played all of these games, but I have heard great things about them all. I am looking forward to playing these games. Also, I have not played anything on the Nintendo Wii U, so for now, I will not say anything about that console.

            The point of this is, there has never been any Nintendo console or handheld without one Mario game to be played on it. This is why Mario (and Luigi) is (are) a recognized mascot whether or not that person is a gamer. And, as I mentioned earlier, some Mario games and spinoffs were better than others. I believe with the Nintendo eShop, we might see more recent gamers interested in playing the retro Mario games on their 3DS and/or Wii U. When it comes to Mario, any game is worth playing. Has there ever been a Mario game that was not fun to play?!

            I am glad that part of my gaming experience included growing up with these Mario games. Watching Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Yoshi go from 2D side-scrolling to 3D open world was a worthwhile childhood experience. Admit it, you all had fun stepping on goombas and powering up using mushrooms, and still play those games. It is good to know that most of these Mario games have not strayed too far from what we gamers have come to expect from them. As long as the games are fun and familiar, I will always play the Mario Brothers games.

It All Started With…Lord of the Flies

           Before The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, many of us got exposure to dystopian fiction, which is a subgenre of science fiction, in high school. To those of us who actually read the book, Lord of the Flies provided many of us with a level of violence more extreme than in The Outsiders, which some of us read in middle/junior high school. We know what the story is about: a group of British schoolboys are evacuated to avoid a nuclear war when their airplane crashes onto an uninhabited island. With all the adults dead, these schoolboys—ages 4 to 12—must now work together to survive while they wait for help and rescue. We all remember what happens next, a war starts amongst them, a few of the boys get killed, and the island gets engulfed in flames. William Golding, the author, believed this to be a more realistic scenario as to when unfamiliar children end up deserted on an island with no adult supervision. The “human animal” emerges and life becomes a “fight or flight” situation.

            That novel, I am not sure whether or not I would classify it as groundbreaking, was published in 1954. Fast forward to the 1990s in Japan where a man reads Lord of the Flies and found it to be outdated. This man, Koushun Takami, wrote his dystopian novel with a modern society in mind. Battle Royale was published in Japan in April 1999. This novel made Lord of the Flies look like a child’s game; there were more students and they were older (around 15 years-old), they were given actual weapons (ranging from a machine gun to an ice pick), and their government is making them participate. There are similarities: the students are left alone on an island and they eventually begin to attack and to kill each other. There are differences: more of these students get killed off and you get the point of views of several characters, which provides each of their back stories and motives. Yes, there are also girls who are characters in Battle Royale and they are just as violent as the boys.

            The interesting fact about Battle Royale was the ironic reception it originally (and still) receives. Publishers in Japan found the content to be too violent and too inappropriate, and even the United States distanced themselves (or tried to) from this particular novel (look up the date of the Columbine High School Shooting). However, the novel became a bestseller and a favorite among young readers (the U.S. eventually translated and published this novel in 2003). This led to the film adaptation directed by the late Kinji Fukasaku in 2000, which was also controversial and successful. Even Quentin Tarentino stated: “I wish I had made this movie.” I would also go as far to say that Battle Royale is similar to Mean Girls in which there is more taking place within a large group of students than what is seen by everyone else.

            Some people, including children and adolescents, are willing to submit to their ‘naturalistic’ behavior. This sound like something you learned in biology and in psychology. And yet, we still enjoyed them all the same. Battle Royale took the time to look into why most of the 42 students were willing to participate or to opt out of the “game.” This meant that each student’s home life, school life, and life-changing moment molded them into how they “played”: the good, the bad, and the ugly. In fact, I would not recommend this novel to anyone until after he or she has read Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games trilogy. This is because I think a complete understanding must be obtained in order to seek out the hidden subplots found in this novel.

            I believe it is safe to say that the success of The Hunger Games in the United States matched the same success Battle Royale had in Japan. And, both went on to become global bestsellers. It can be said that The Hunger Games trilogy is a recent retelling of both Lord of the Flies and Battle Royale. The main subplot is that the resistance had already taken place and these “gladiator games” became part of the treaty. Plus, like the gladiator games of Ancient Rome, the public looks forward to watching them to the point where the games have been hyped up and televised. Sound familiar? The difference in this series is that Katniss is the only point of view readers get, and her post traumatic stress from the games is not understood until the next two books. Katniss gets fame, which she can never get rid of. And, her actions lead to a second revolution that intensifies the already dystopian civilization.

             By the time The Hunger Games was published in 2008, and the film adaptation released in 2012, many fans and readers have at least heard of Battle Royale, and some people even went as far as to accusing author Suzanne Collins of “stealing” the plot. However, in Collins’ defense, any well read person could spot how Greek mythology and literature (the Minotaur) and the reality T.V. shows found their way into the story’s plot. Battle Royale stands alone because even if you have not read the book, you could not deny the amount of tragic deaths mixed with the various ways each of the characters die. Plus, the fact that you get into the minds of each of the characters before they die makes each of their deaths more gut-retching than the characters in the other two books (sorry Rue). That is when you realize that except for the subgenre and the main plot, both stories are not alike.

            Within more than 50 years, the world has seen the publication and the popularity of 3 dystopian novels written for adolescents. In them we experience just how influential the world is to the younger generation and how they plan on acquiring their roles as adults. This reality is grim and fearful as well as realistic. If the adults in such places are not willing to find a peaceful solution to the world’s problems (please note: I am not a pacifist), then why should the children? The children in Lord of the Flies, Battle Royale, and The Hunger Games are put into their situations because of what the adults have or had been doing. Hence, these kids literally must fend for themselves, and the results are disturbing and tragic.

            I am sure that within the next 10 years another dystopian novel will emerge and become as popular as its predecessors. Just like before, we will compare one book with the other and wonder whether or not the latest novel ripped off one of the previous ones. But remember, the popularity and the success of this subgenre all started with Lord of the Flies

Factions in Popular Culture that Made a Difference: Anime: Sailor Moon

            I remember the first imported Japanese cartoon, or anime, I saw and which forever became one of my favorite genres of television. I had just started middle school and there were times I woke up before my alarm clock went off. With an extra half hour to kill, I turned on the T.V. and flipped through the channels. One of the basic channels, yes not on a cable network, had a new “cartoon” on before the morning news. Sailor Moon had arrived in the United States.

            With nothing to lose—I had already finished my homework the night before—I watched not the ‘first episode’ (it never aired in the U.S.)—but the “introductory” episode. Serena (as she is called in the English dub) is in middle school and is trying to survive early adolescence, when her friend is attacked at her family’s jewelry store. Luna, a cat she met earlier that day, tells Serena of the danger and that she must ‘reawaken’ as ‘Sailor Moon.’ It was when Serena transforms that I realized that this show was about a girl superhero. I was hooked.

            I enjoyed the show because not since Spiderman had there been a good series about young heroes who must balance saving the world with school life. Also, more “Sailor Scouts” appeared and they were all girls. There was also a male hero called ‘Tuxedo Mask,’ but instead of leading the Sailor Scouts, he assisted them. And, at several occasions had to be saved by them. That was also a first I saw in my cartoons.

            Like most anime, there were more adult themes and more real life realities such as characters getting killed off and failing exams. The girls had to balance being heroes, being students, and being members of society. This cartoon was more realistic than anything else I had ever seen. I was able to take Sailor Moon more seriously over Disney and Nickelodeon cartoons. Maybe it was because I was ready for ‘big kid’ shows.

            I know I keep saying ‘cartoon,’ but try to understand that this was before Pokémon and Gundam Wing premiered in the United States, so the word “anime” was not in my vocabulary at the time. It was not until Cartoon Network and the Internet, which both imported and aired more anime that I fully grasped what I was observing. The anime movement of the 1990s made it okay to watch animation beyond elementary school, and The Simpsons. Also, they provided different expectations from what was expected before. For instance, Sailor Moon focuses on other worldly beings who would corrupt humans in order to get what they wanted, mostly powered energy. Plus, unlike in comic book cartoons, the villains would eventually get killed and never return for any reason. This method of storytelling was more realistic, thus more believable.

            As for the main reason I kept watching as a kid I enjoyed watching girls kicking ass. Before Sailor Moon I only knew of Batgirl, Storm, Wonder Woman—you see where this is going. These were a group of girls who were a team, and had to work together to protect the planet and to rescue the male counterpart more than once. I saw what female characters could be like and I saw how an ongoing series could evolve.

            By the time I graduated middle school, both “anime” and “dubbing” were now part of my vocabulary and I was getting into other anime shows. And yes, I knew they were all from Japan. My brother, my cousins, my friends, and I were watching Gundam Wing, Dragonball Z, and Pokémon. And, we wanted more, which we all got eventually. For me, it all started with Sailor Moon” and with the rebooted series airing to help mark the 20th anniversary, I’m as excited now as when I was a preteen. And, I am looking forward to see if the new series actually follows the manga (yes, I do own them) closely or not (I’m referring to both Fullmetal Alchemist and Inuyasha).

            Sailor Moon, like Harry Potter and video games, are part of my childhood and I will always recall how this series helped to broaden my horizons. When you discuss T.V. shows for older girls, Sailor Moon should be in the Top 5. Anime such as this one is more than just a simple cartoon, it is a well-developed story. 

American Soccer versus Global Football

          As of right now, this World Cup has had everything: hyped fans, teams that shocked everyone for good and bad reasons, players who performed bizarre acts, and bribed referees. This World Cup has once again proved that top countries fall and ‘low-performance’ countries can go far (Spain and Costa Rica); I am aware that many fans already know this, but I am talking to the “fans” who have been surprised by what they have seen so far. This event has also demonstrated why the United States still has a lot learn if they wish to advance beyond the knockout round.

          Football, or soccer as it is called in the U.S.A. and in some parts of Canada, is a global sport which requires all players to have skills in ball handling, knowledge of the game, endurance and speed, and all-around talent. The interesting issue about football in the U.S.A. is that the Men’s team is the struggling team as opposed to the U.S.A. Women’s team. Since its start in 1991, the U.S. Women’s team have won two World Championships (1991 and 1999) and have come in second or in third place in the other previous tournaments. Please explain to me why people do not take female athletes seriously! At least their soccer team has won championships which is more than I can say for the Men’s team.

I have played the sport enough to see both the obvious and the discreet amongst the Men’s team. First of all, until several years ago, the ‘goal kick’ was taken by the defenders instead of the goalkeeper. Next, the Men’s team (and also teams at colleges and universities) believe that having players from nationally ranked teams will provide a winning team. Where do these coaches and sponsors get such theories? Just because one player was on a championship team does not mean that the one player did it on his own! Haven’t we learn anything from the events surrounding LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony? Also, just because an individual displays talent at a young age does not mean the same talent will be there in adulthood. Look at Neymar! He couldn’t even score in the quarterfinal before he got injured! Yes, there have been plenty of footballers who have been able to develop such talent as they got older (i.e. Messi, Pelé, Rooney, Ronaldo—all 16 years-old when they got signed to play professional football). However, the United States of America have yet to distinguish such talent in this sport. In addition, any player who immigrated from another country in order to play for the U.S.A. should be looked at more closely…Julian Green. Choose players with the talent and you might get closer to winning a championship title! Observe and learn from the Women’s team! Last, I hope everyone worldwide learned from Qatar. Bribing works. Look how many referees have been bribed! This issue was spoofed on a recent episode of The Simpsons. I’m not saying it is the right thing to do, but no true football fan should be surprised that it happens. Just saying…F.I.F.A. (the Fedération Internationale de Football Association) had better give the next host slot to the U.S.A.

Another key aspect of the sport of football and the event of the World Cup are the fans. Also known as hooligans, these fans make fans of hockey, basketball, baseball, and American football look like drunken idiots. So far, in the World Cup (2014), we have seen betting on whether or not Luis Suarez would bite someone during the tournament (which he did), porn stars offering long orgy sessions after their country wins a match, and fans abandoning ship (literally) as a form of celebration. Fans riot when they win and they riot more they lose, but the referees remain unscathed. There is one essential thing to understand about all football fans: there is a ‘code’ in which all fans follow. Hence, this is why most of the fighting takes place at the stadiums, the clubs, and the bars. Plus, people in these communities know which colors and/or jerseys can or cannot be worn during certain days. This is similar to rivalries found amongst the fans of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia! You do NOT wear the markings of the opposing team in their region unless you are trying to start a fight, or you are a fan cheering for the ‘Away’ team at the ‘Home’ team’s stadium. Several fans have also died from this form of devotion. A Chinese man died after five days of sleep deprivation because he wanted to watch the World Cup live (China is 11-12 hours ahead of Brazil). All of these fans display true and bizarre enthusiasm.

If the United States of America want to see their chances of winning in Men’s Soccer improve, then the denizens of the country have to get excited about it more than once every four years. Similar to how fans of Star Wars and video games always talk about them regardless of there being new movies or new games, there is always something to talk about. It is the same with football with news on players, leagues, and tournaments. Look at American football! There is an entire channel for the National Football League and the season is only five months long! The European and the Latino seasons are much longer!

For now, let us all enjoy the remainder of this enormous sporting event, and learn from all of the bizarre activities displayed on international television and the Internet. Keep the politicians out of the sport, form a team that consist of good, strong, and fast players, have a decent theme song, and be discreet about which countries and/or players the referees get to screw over, and make sure all of the citizens in the host country are willing to participate in the activities. Go Germany! Go Women’s U.S.A.!

Beyond the Books and Expectations of What is Not in Them in Media Adaptations

           Since 2001, the public has seen several book to media adaptations. I am not calling it a trend because between all of the movies based on The New York Times bestsellers, comic books, and award winners, such adaptations have always been around. As with any movie (or television show), some of the media translations have been more successful and/or appropriate for the screen. Then, there are cases where an individual, or everyone else, is better off reading the book.

            Do not get me wrong, I enjoy watching these movies and television shows as much as anyone else does, but what should we expect from them? As always, many details from the books get omitted and/or changed as part of the transition. This has caused the separation and the formation of book fans and film fans. We have seen this with Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire, and The Walking Dead. Small, but essential details have been left out from both the movie series and the television shows. Many readers had to clue in the viewers as to what was supposed to happen and/or what crucial facts should have been included. For example, how many non-readers know that one of the Hogwarts teachers was a ghost? Professor Binns was not in any of the movies. Then you have The Hobbit trilogy in which too much was added to the original story so that each film could be more than 2 hours long!

            In recent years, we have come to recognize that some adaptations make better T.V. shows than movies. We are realizing this with the D.C. Comics (i.e. Arrow, Smallville, Flash), and we have seen this with Game of Thrones. Based on the (low) fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, the show’s first two seasons are accurately based on the first two books of the series (A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings). Seasons 3 and 4 are based on the third book, A Storm of Swords. However, given the fact that the series is still incomplete, the writers of the show know how the series will end. It can be said that both readers and viewers will be shocked at what gets revealed as the series continues beyond the books. Is it safe to say that this will be the first time this happens regarding an adapted series?

            Everyone remembers when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone was released in 2001. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was published the year before. The fourth book in the series and the first movie were released a year apart and there were no concerns about the movies catching up to the books. And yet, in 2007 when both Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were released within 10 days of each other, it was known that more fans wanted to read the ending than relive a previous book through a movie. Thus, the movie was released before the book. And, there was more media coverage on the book than the movie.

            Now, even with the success of both the T.V. series and the books, Game of Thrones might be the first media adaptation which catches up to and surpasses the original books! And, this will not be like The Walking Dead and/or any anime series where ‘fillers’ are included to slow down the pace of the story. No, George R.R. Martin told T.V. writers, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the ‘important’ details regarding how the series will end. And, HBO announced that there will be four more seasons of Game of Thrones, which will reflect the remaining books in the series. Martin, who is still writing Winds of Winter and his other novels beyond A Song of Ice and Fire series, will most likely not complete A Dream of Spring until (way) after the final season of the show.

            What does this mean for the devote readers of this series? Most of them have been reading the books since 1996 when A Game of Thrones was published. I have read on a few websites (YouTube included) that some readers will stop watching the show once it catches up to the books. Others say that they enjoy both the show and the story too much to want to fall behind. Then, some are caught in the middle because they are unsure when (or if) Martin will finish the last book and they might not be able to wait that long to see which fan theories are correct or incorrect.

            My suggestion after watching and reading Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Angels and Demons, and Jurassic Park, is the movies and the T.V. series are always different from the books. You will always hear readers say: “They changed this…,” or “They did not include this…,” etc. Are we really going to stop watching a good T.V. show because it will surpass the books in terms of ‘what happens next’? I was just as surprised as everyone else when the show included “The Night King” in Season 4 of Game of Thrones when we were not supposed to get the rest of those details until Winds of Winter! And yet, it felt like a teaser on what to expect from both later on. Readers who also watch the show will be able to enjoy the twists and the shocks along with those who only watch the show. Then, when Books 6 and 7 are released, we can read everything all at once: what we know and what we don’t know. For example, many of the dream sequences were omitted from the show because: one, it would have taken up too much time; and two, it would have ruined the foreshadowing ‘hidden’ within the content of the story. Characters have been left out and/or names have been changed in order to avoid too many characters and/or an overlap of names (and too avoid higher costs). However, finding out what happened to those characters (with their actual names) will be worth the wait.

            In conclusion, Game of Thrones should continue to be a popular show, but not because the show will surpass the plot of the books. Some will stop watching the show because they are fans of the books and want to keep reading them rather than watching what might occur within the story. However, I believe the shows’ ratings will still be high because all the fans will want to know what happens next, and everyone will be curious as to which episode Martin will be writing. By the time Winds of Winter is released, more fans will be reading in order to have all of their questions answered. I think we can all agree that the next book will be available before or after season 6. Hopefully, by then, we will learn what happened to Benjen Stark.