Celebrating Five Years of Cat Flag!

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The year was 2011. I was a journalism student in college taking a class on social media that required each of us to set up a blog so that we could publish the articles we wrote for class assignments online. The teacher would look at our blogs and give us our grade.

I had been wanting to start a blog of my own for a while at that point, and decided to use the lessons I had learned in class to run a private blog on the side. On March 31, 2011, Cat Flag was introduced to the world. At the time, I considered Cat Flag an experiment. I didn’t know how long I would keep the blog going, nor did I know what sort of character it would have. In fact, many of my early posts from that first year were actually class assignments from my various journalism classes, since it was just easier for me with my busy schedule to copy-paste articles I had already written or upload videos I had already made.

Going back over those first few months, the experimental, “I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing” nature of those blog posts really shows. At one point, I even posted a poll to ask my tiny circle of readers what they wanted me to blog about. I learned an important lesson that day: when you throw in a joke answer to an online poll, people will always vote for the joke answer. Still, that poll led to Cat Flag’s longest-running in-joke, so I’m pretty happy with that.

The Quesadilla that will never be forgotten.

The Quesadilla that will never be forgotten.

The longest-running series of serious posts on this blog, though, is Awesome People in History. This series was introduced with my fifth post, and it’s become one of my favorite things to write. I love being able to share the biographies of historical figures whose lives are impressive to read about, especially those that are not as well-known.

I don’t think Cat Flag really started to hit its stride, though, until 2012. This was a time when my life was going through some major changes – I had received my journalism degree, and I was torn between going back to college for a master’s degree or hunting for a journalism job to get my career started. I ultimately decided I would be better off with a master’s degree than without one. While all of this was going on, I really focused on trying to make my blog look polished and professional instead of just a bunch of random, experimental posts.

That was the year I introduced my first movie review, and I also introduced the Strange Politics series to investigate the bizarre, contradictory world that politicians, lawmakers, and diplomats live in. That was also the year I introduced Behind the Headline, my series that looks at the events that are unfolding in the news and asks, “why?” All three have now come to be staples of this blog.

Over the years, I have noticed a few gradual changes to Cat Flag. When I started out, I was putting up two posts a week. Later, I cut it back to one post a week. Now, my posts are uploaded on a “whenever I feel like it” basis, which normally translates to once every two weeks. This was because I was having a hard time keeping up with the much tighter and more rigid schedule. I was basically having to force myself to write when I had other obligations, and that took the fun out of it. What point is there to blogging if I’m not enjoying it?

I have also gradually changed the direction and theme of this blog. Originally, many of the posts I put up on Cat Flag were news-related, including some local news stories I had actually gone out and reported on myself. Indeed, I gave this blog the motto “All the news-ish (sort of) stuff that’s fit to blog!” Over time, though, I have tended to upload fewer and fewer posts about the news and more and more blog posts about my various other interests, especially history. Boy, I sure do blog about history all the time, don’t I? This shift away from news was never a conscious decision, but it is a reflection of changes in my own life. I now have an MBA and have pursued a completely different career path. Five years ago, who would have guessed I would end up working at a bank? I sure wouldn’t have. Just goes to show you how you never know what life has in store for you.

The blog posts I am most proud of:

  • Who Owns Betty Boop? – Such a simple question with such a complex and strange answer. I spent months researching the history of the character and her various owners in my spare time, and as far as I can tell, the post I wrote revealing what I had learned is the only comprehensive article on the subject published online.
  • The Lives and Times of Morro Bay’s Oldest Couple – This video I made for my next-door neighbors is, in my opinion, one of the best videos I have ever made. Stitching together my interviews with each of them, a tour of their home, some family photos they let me borrow, and a whole collection of public domain video clips to illustrate what they were saying, I created a biography of two seemingly ordinary people who have actually lived quite extraordinary lives.
  • The Second Worst Exotic Movie About Awkward Misunderstandings – This was the first time I had reviewed a truly horrible film, and while it was a struggle to make it through the picture while sitting in the theater, actually writing the review afterwards was really fun. I had wanted to rant about the Hollywood habit of making unnecessary sequels for a while, and it was cathartic to finally have an excuse to do so.

The blog posts I would do differently if I had to do them over again:

  • The Dark Knight Impresses – Yes, I was initially very impressed with The Dark Knight Returns. However, I have since changed my mind on the film. Some of the flaws and problems with the movie that either didn’t bother me or I didn’t notice on my first viewing have since become impossible to ignore. I now realize that the movie’s story was slapped together carelessly and failed at some basic levels. Maybe I’ll have to revisit this film sometime.
  • Strange Politics: Congress Begins Debate on Syria Intervention – While nothing is wrong with this post per se, in retrospect it might have been better for me to focus less on the headlines that led into my discussion on the relationship between the President and Congress in military matters and more on, well, that discussion. Time-sensitive blog posts about breaking news stories don’t lend themselves well to repeat readings, while posts about history, how political systems work, and fun trivia can be read over and over again. Trying to do both in one post just makes the whole thing feel awkward.

The most surprising facts I have learned about this blog:

  • People really like posts about flags. I have always loved and been fascinated by flags, but I had no idea there were so many others who feel the same way I do about them. I even learned a new word: vexillology, the study of flags.
  • Movie reviews are really easy to write, while articles on history, even if I know the history very well, are much harder. A large part of the reason for this is that I always try to cite my sources with links to the places I found the information, and that can take quite a while to track down if it’s something I learned a long time ago.

There is one thing about Cat Flag that has never changed. From day one, Cat Flag has been about my sharing interesting, unusual, and fun things with all of you. I have never earned a single penny from this blog, and I never intend to. My goal has always been to have fun sharing these posts with everyone, and that will always be my goal with Cat Flag. So here’s to five years of Cat Flag, and who know how many more!

Thank you, Cat Flaggers, for sticking with me all these years!

Thank you, Cat Flaggers, for sticking with me all these years!

BvS: The Worst Kind of Bad… Almost Good

Batman V Superman image from Tech Insider

How do you mess this up?

Comic book fans have been waiting for more than a decade to see Batman and Superman together on the big screen, to the point where it became a Hollywood inside joke. These are characters that have appeared side-by-side on TV since the 1970s and in comic books since 1952. We know these characters. We know their relationship to each other. We have seen many, many different writers and creative teams examine these guys from every different angle possible.

How do you mess this up?

We all knew the plot of this movie from the moment it was announced: Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) was going to come up with some evil plan to trick Superman (Henry Cavill) and Batman (Ben Affleck) to fight each other. It may be a predictable plot, but it’s a compelling one, and one that could be great if they get the details right.

How do you mess this up? By getting the details wrong.

When Warner Bros. announced this film at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con, a passage from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns was read aloud to the audience, in order to give fans an idea of where they were going in terms of tone and themes. On paper, that’s not a bad idea. Other adaptations of Miler’s work, such as 300 and Sin City, have been very successful. However, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice is not an adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns. Quite frankly, I almost wish it was. 

When watching this film, it became quite clear to me that the filmmakers took all of the superficial elements of Miller’s style – the film noir feel, the emphasis on masculinity and machismo, the violence, and the willingness to explore the dark sides of the heroes – without actually understanding why these elements worked. Namely, that there was something far deeper going on beyond those superficial characteristics. The Dark Knight Returns was a deconstruction. It pitted Superman’s optimism, hope, and belief in the inherent goodness of humanity against Batman’s pessimism, nihilism, and belief that people are inherently selfish and order is something that has to be imposed by force. It was also a subversive parody of the happy, goofy, smiling Adam West-style Batman that most people of the time were familiar with.

Miller's Batman would never ride in a hot air balloon.

Miller’s Batman would never ride in a hot air balloon.

Dawn of Justice doesn’t seem to have any deeper message, other than “If Superman were real, he’d, like, be totally controversial, yo.” It doesn’t come across like it’s dark for a reason, it comes across like it’s dark because “Dark stuff is cool!”

This movie is just so frustrating, since all the pieces are there for a great movie: A great cast, a director (Zack Snyder) who still knows how to make movies look great, and excellent action scenes. Not only that, but even though she doesn’t appear in the title, Wonder Woman makes an appearance in this film, and Gal Gadot absolutely knocks it out of the park with her portrayal of the world’s most iconic heroine. She really is the highlight of this movie for me, and if Warner Bros. tries to use this as the jumping-off point for their own Marvel-style superhero universe, I hope they keep this Wonder Woman.

Yet, as the saying goes, the devil’s in the details. This movie may have all the pieces of a great film, but it puts them together all wrong. It has absolutely bizarre pacing, moving far too slowly for about two-thirds of the runtime, then far too quickly when the climax hits. It has weird continuity errors; for example, some scenes and dialogue imply Batman has just appeared in Gotham and started his crime-fighting campaign, while others explicitly state that he has been at this job for 20 years. Huh?

By the way, is Snyder hanging out with Alejandro Iñárritu (Birdman, The Revenant) lately? I ask because the film includes multiple long, strange dream and/or hallucination sequences that add nothing and seem to only be there to be artsy. I mean, yeah, Avengers: Age of Ultron also included several such sequences, but in that film it actually made sense because they were rather important to the plot.

Then there’s the small matter of Lex Luthor. Eisenberg’s performance as the infamous comic book maniac is actually pretty solid, but the script he’s reading from makes no sense. As I said in the beginning, we all are going into this movie already knowing what his plan is – make Batman and Superman fight – but he seemingly has no motivation behind this desire. The most important part of a good villain is a good “why”. We have to understand the villain, but there is no understanding this version of Luthor.

The ironic part is that in practically everything else, this movie goes too far in the opposite direction. Does Warner Bros. think we’re stupid? They must, since time and time again the film doesn’t trust the audience to piece together what is going on through context, dialogue, body language, mood, and tone as most movies do, and instead spells everything out through clunky exposition, forced dialogue, and graffiti that couldn’t be more blunt. It’s like the filmmakers are shouting to the audience “You are supposed to be feeling sorry for character X now! Feel sorry for him! Do it!”

Heck, the movie even opens with the million-and-twelfth depiction of the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents. Really, guys? We had to see that again? We’ve seen it so many times, we could practically recite the scene in our sleep. Get to the story, already!

Ugh. That this movie had so much going for it only to fail to put it together correctly is frustrating. That we have now had years of Marvel films showing us how these sorts of movies are done makes Dawn of Justice inexcusable. If all you want is to see who would win if Batman fought Superman, this movie will answer that question just fine, but beyond that, I wouldn’t recommend it. A 5 out of 10.