Category: Rant

Rant: Dutch Wagenbach, Serial Killer?

Intro
Yes, this post is about four years too late. I only caught up with The Shield when the seventh season was released on DVD, and I finally have a nerdy forum to discuss my thoughts.

When I finished the final episode, I ran to my computer to look up the internet’s reactions to Dutch Wagenbach’s transformation from lonely detective to serial killer. To my surprise, I couldn’t find a single post discussing it, nor could I find any comments by the creators saying they intended Dutch to be a serial killer!

If this topic has been discussed at length somewhere else, I haven’t found it. I’ll do my best to fill this gap in pop culture… four years too late.

My Theory
I believe it was the writers’ intention to have the audience suspect Dutch Wagenbach as a serial killer. He wasn’t a murderer when the show began, but through the course of 88 episodes, he has a subtle but definite transformation.

Dutch’s Past

As the clip shows, the writers take time to provide insight into Dutch’s past, possibly more than any other character on the show. And the bits they reveal are all traits of a serial killer’s past.

What do we learn about serial killers during the course of the show?
-They’re so secretive, even their wives and coworkers don’t know about it.
-They can live fairly normal lives.
-They’re intelligent, observant (sometimes peeping toms), and introverted.
-They come from dysfunctional families.
-They were bullied as kids.
-They can be cruel toward animals.
-They spend a portion of their lives in Southern California.
-They’re narcissistic.
-They have a nickname.
-They’re inadequate with women.

Dutch Today
Already, we can see similarities between Dutch and a serial killer:

Narcissism – If you’ve seen the show, you don’t need clips to remember that Dutch is a narcissist. There are entire episodes that deal with this side of his character, and it’s part of the reason he’s good at his job.
Nickname – What do the people in the barn call each other? Steve, Vic, Shane, Ronny, Claudette, Danny, Julian, Lem… Only one major character has a nickname, and that’s Dutchboy.
Bullied – From the very first episode, Dutch is picked on by his coworkers. In one of his first scenes, Vic steals his cupcakes. In a later episode, Dutch is tricked into watching Tina have sex with his rival as a prank.
Dysfunctional Family – What is The Barn but a big, messed up family? Dutch is surrounded by corruption and drug abuse to the greatest extreme.
Cruelty to Animals – (More on this later.)
Anti-Social Behavior and Peeping – These two aren’t specific to Dutch, but to the Detective profession itself. Dutch never had a social life except one serious girlfriend who disappeared from the show without explanation. He got close to Vic’s wife, but his motivations for that were questionable. He’s consumed with his job… and the bulk of that job includes peeping, both literally and metaphorically.
Inadequate with Women – Dutch hits on women, but rarely succeeds.

The Evolution of Dutch

This is the first time we really see the comparison between Dutch and a serial killer. They even look similar! At the end of the episode, Dutch leaves The Barn as a confident hero, but when he’s alone in his car, we see the full effect of the interrogation. (Notice the lyrics on the radio: “I’m a liar.”)

When I discuss this topic with other TV lovers, they say the cat scene is the only time when they suspected Dutch as a serial killer. When you put the scene in context with all of his other weird, unexplained perversions, we start to see a bigger picture.

Dutch as a Serial Killer
Here is the first major indication that Dutch has murdered. His only serious girlfriend disappeared from the show without explanation… but now we find out that she left around the time he strangled the cat. Coincidence?

There’s more. During this same time period, we see that Dutch is still growing. In fact, we watch as he takes mental notes from a pimp, then uses the new technique on Tina in the same episode. We also see that he’s still being teased. Billings tricks him into going to Tina’s house for a “date.” Instead, Dutch sees her having sex with the new guy (peeping?)

The Series Finale
If there are still any doubts about Dutch’s transformation, re-watch the vital scenes from his final case.

The whole placement of the “serial-killer” boy story-line can’t be an accident on the writer’s part. They didn’t just happen to end the show on the story of developing serial killer unless it meant something vital to Dutch’s character.

The writers left the murder of the boy’s mother open. They did not let Claudette and Dutch get an actual confession out the kid… why? If the goal of the show was simply to entertain, then they could have ended with an explosive confession from the boy like all the other interrogation scenes we’ve seen. Instead, Dutch runs circles around the boy for a few minutes, then automatically convicts him without any proof or confession for the first time in the show. From a writing standpoint, why would Dutch’s very last case point to him as a suspect? The woman’s burnt clothes were found in Dutch’s trash can. Neighbors saw him walking around at night. These things are quickly dismissed because we think we know Dutch, but why bring that concept into the show so late, only for it to be completely irrelevant?

Nothing Dutch tells Claudette about the boy would hold up in court. He had an “expert” read the kid’s facial expressions from a video. He says the boy is “learning” to show sympathy for his crimes. He has absolutely no evidence on the kid for either the murder of the guy who broke into the kid’s house, or the murder of the kid’s mother. In fact, as far as we know, the kid had no motive to kill his mother at all… but Dutch did.

Claudette was duped. So were we.

The writers have been pointing to the same thing for the whole series, and the final scenes with this boy and his mother are a brilliant conclusion of Dutch’s descent.

My theory, and what I think the writers were trying to suggest, was that Dutch was getting close to this woman (the boy’s mother) for very wrong reasons. He romances her out of desperation… out of obsession. He needs to prove himself. He leads her on. Finally, he recognizes that his tendencies are wrong and he ends it after the kiss. She goes to see him at work and insults him. She threatens his masculinity in front of his friends and coworkers. She tells him to stay away from her son. Then Dutch gets those phone calls from her number, one at a time, and shows up at her house to see her again. He discovers it wasn’t her calling. It was her son, and now Dutch is not only embarrassed, but threatened. That night he uses his extensive knowledge about serial-killers to murder the woman and to pin it on her son.

Conclusion
Here’s the best part: Dutch’s storyline mirrors the themes of the show! He’s a crooked cop, just like Vic, the Strike Team, Cavenaugh, and Billings. Like his co-workers, Dutch is willing to hurt others to do what he believes is right.

The writers of The Shield had seven seasons to prove, again and again, that they know what they’re doing. They’re not idiots, in fact, they’re some of the best writers on TV.

Dutch’s last case is one of two endings: a mediocre “arrest” that lacks the explosive energy of previous interrogation scenes, OR a spectacular conclusion that sums up Dutch’s story with one of the biggest themes from the show: look too long into the abyss, and the abyss also looks into you.

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Am I crazy? Were these things discussed four years ago and I missed it? Are there other moments in the show that point to my conclusion? Are there moments that contradict my conclusion?

Rant: Yes… I’m Mad At Kindle Formatting Again

So I was thinking this morning… have I complained about Kindle formatting enough?

Last week I read this blog post about how companies like Smashwords, Apple, Lulu, and Amazon actually read forum/blog feedback from users, so authors should never badmouth these companies if they want to be featured on their sites. Well… Smashwords, Lulu, and Apple… I love you! Formatting my epub was a painless experience that took me 30 minutes, and uploading to your sites was just as easy!

Amazon? You. SUCK. It’s been three months of trial and error with this .mobi file, and I’m about to bash my head into my computer screen. Am I worried about not being featured on your site? No. Do you know why? Because even if a billion people saw my ebooks, they wouldn’t buy them BECAUSE THEY LOOK LIKE CRAP.

It took me 10 minutes to make my table of contents (TOC) for every other eReader on the market. Three months later, I’m still trying to figure it out for Kindle. I asked Amazon customer service about it and they sent me this:

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

3.3 Table of Contents Guidelines

Amazon strongly recommends the use of an HTML TOC for all books that would benefit from this navigation feature. This applies to most books, with the exception of fixed-layout children’s books (see section 4) and fixed-layout graphic novels/manga/comics (see section 5).

3.3.1 TOC Guideline #1: Logical TOC (NCX) Is Mandatory

The logical table of contents is very important for a good reading experience, because it allows a reader to navigate between chapters easily. All Kindle books should have both logical and HTML TOCs. Users expect to see an HTML TOC when paging through a book from the beginning, while the logical table of contents is an additional way for users to navigate books.

Logical tables of contents are generated using a navigational control file for XML application (NCX). Creating an NCX exposes the hierarchical structure of a Kindle book and allows the user to navigate through it.

In NCX-enabled books, users can see where they are in the book because the part, chapter, or section is exposed. This progress indicator also shows relative progress through the book.

Logical tables of contents are part of the IDPF 2.0 specification and are described at

http://www.niso.org/workrooms/daisy/Z39-86-2005.html#NCX.

NCX Example:

<navMap> <navPoint id=”L1T” playOrder=”1″> <navLabel><text>AUTHOR’S NOTE</text></navLabel> <content src=”Sway_body.html#preface_1″ /> </navPoint> <navPoint id=”level1-book1″ playOrder=”2″> <navLabel><text>PART ONE</text></navLabel> <content src=”Sway_body.html#part_1″ /> <navPoint id=”level2-book1chap01″ playOrder=”3″> <navLabel><text>THE HOUSES, 1969</text></navLabel> <content src=”Sway_body.html#chapter_1″ /> </navPoint> <navPoint id=”level2-book1chap02″ playOrder=”4″> <navLabel><text>ROCK AND ROLL, 1962</text></navLabel> <content src=”Sway_body.html#chapter_2″ /> </navPoint> <navPoint id=”level2-book1chap03″ playOrder=”5″> <navLabel><text>THE EMPRESS, 1928–1947</text></navLabel> <content src=”Sway_body.html#chapter_3″ />

Kindle Publishing Guidelines Amazon.com 15Publishing on Kindle: Guidelines for Publishers

</navPoint> </navPoint> </navMap>

The NCX example above defines the following TOC hierarchy:

AUTHOR’S NOTE PART ONE

THE HOUSES, 1969 ROCK AND ROLL, 1962 THE EMPRESS, 1928–1947

This excerpt from the OPF (publication header file) shows how to add an NCX table of contents to a book. Declare the NCX in the “manifest”:

<manifest> <item id=”toc” media-type=”application/x-dtbncx+xml”

href=”toc.ncx”/>

And use it in the “spine”:

<spine toc=”toc”>

3.3.2 TOC Guideline #2: HTML TOC Must Be Linked

Place an HTML page with a table of contents at the beginning of the book, so that users can easily jump to locations within it (typically to a chapter). The entries in the TOC must be HTML links so that users can click to go to a specific location. A table of contents that is not made of links is not useful on Kindle.

3.3.3 TOC Guideline #3: HTML TOC Must Be Referenced as a Guide Item

To enable the customer to jump to the TOC from the Kindle menu, the OPF file must reference the TOC from a TOC guide item.

Every Kindle device or application has a user interface element that allows the user to jump to the TOC guide item from anywhere in the book. Here is an example of a guide item for a TOC (underlined elements are mandatory):

<guide> <reference type=”toc” title=”Table of Contents” href=”toc.html”/> </guide>

3.3.4 TOC Guideline #4: No Tables in TOC

Do not create a TOC using HTML <table> tags. When the TOC includes HTML <table> tags, the links of the TOC become not clickable/ non-functional. Tables are for tabular data only, not for layout.

3.3.5 TOC Guideline #5: No Page Numbers in TOC

Do not use page numbers in the TOC. Kindle books do not always map directly to page numbers in physical editions of the book.

If you are importing the document from Word, use the “Heading” styles and the “Table of Contents” feature of Microsoft Word. The TOC created by Word will be imported correctly and will convert to a TOC that follows these guidelines.

3.3.6 TOC Guideline #6: Place the TOC at the Front of the Book

Place the HTML TOC towards the beginning of the book and not at the end of the book. This ensures that a customer paging through the book from the beginning encounters the TOC naturally. Inaccurate placement of the TOC affects the accuracy of the “Last Page Read” feature. Correct usage ensures that the TOC appears in the book’s sample.

Kindle Publishing Guidelines Amazon.com 16

Publishing on Kindle: Guidelines for Publishers

3.3.7 TOC Guideline #7: Include a TOC for Bundled Editions

For bundled editions containing more than one individual book, include an overarching TOC at the beginning of the file.

3.4 Guide Item Guidelines

3.4.1 Guide Item Guideline #1: Recommended Guide Items

The Kindle platform supports guide items for defining the cover, the table of contents (TOC), and the start reading location (”Go to Beginning”).

Amazon does not recommend adding additional guide items to the OPF file, because they will be grayed out in the menu options and may cause customer confusion.

IMPORTANT: Guide items, especially the TOC guide item, do not replace the table of contents.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

If any of my readers knows what this means, email me at jake.vander.ark@gmail.com. You will have $50 in your Paypal account if you can fix my three Kindle files by Monday. Seriously.

Rant: Stupid, Stupid, STUPID Kindle!

Are you a first-time author? Do you have the modest dream of turning your novel into an ebook?

As you already know, there are two formats you need to consider: the .epub format (which works on virtually every device but the Kindle), and the .mobi format (which only works on the Kindle).

One of these formats is as simple to create as sending an email. The other is like playing the Whack-a-Mole game with your face instead of a mallet.

Here are the steps it takes to create an .epub document:

Step 1 – Export File To .epub Format
Ta-da! The finished product is beautiful and ready to sell!

To create a .mobi file for the Kindle, the process is a little more complicated:

Step 1 – Memorize the Formatting Guide
You could refer to Amazon’s guidelines every time you get stuck, but I recommend memorizing it to save time. Keep in mind, this document only provides about a tenth of what you need to know to successfully publish a Kindle ebook; the rest will come from forums on Google.

Step 2 – Set Tabs
Did you push the “tab” button at the start of every new paragraph? IDIOT. The Kindle doesn’t recognize tabs.

To fix the problem, perform a search for every tab in your document, then replace them with nothing. Next, set your tabs manually in your word-processor’s formatting menu. Easy!

Step 3 – Re-center Centered Objects
Do you have stanza breaks that you want centered? Pushing “center” doesn’t work.

Search your document for every centered object and highlight it. Then open your style drawer, and change them–one at a time–to a heading.

WARNING: the Kindle will not display this text the same way it appears on your computer! Trial and error may be required.

Step 4 – Play an Hour of Angry Birds
Pretend the pigs are Kindles.

Step 5 – Delete Every Italicized Sentence In Your Book, OR Download An HTML Editor and Trick the Kindle Into Accepting Your Important Formatting Decisions
If integrity isn’t important to you, this is an easy step. Search your document for any instance where the entire paragraph is italicized; this could be song lyrics that required different formatting, or a one word paragraph italicized for emphasis like:

Damn.

Then remove the formatting so the paragraph is plain text. Were the italics an important part of your story? To bad.

If you’re one of those stubborn authors with integrity, you can perform this workaround I found online:

After you have performed this action on every italicized paragraph in your book, you can move on to number six.

Step 6 – Ask Your Girlfriend For Help
ESPECIALLY if she’s not good with computers. (The logic behind Kindle formatting makes it so humans and monkeys have the same chance at creating a properly formatted ebook.) To put credit where it’s due, my fiancé figured out step 2 for me.

Step 7 – Re-do Your Table of Contents
Creating a special “chapter” style and linking the heading to the table of contents isn’t enough. So how do you fix it? I haven’t figured that out yet. Seriously.

From what I understand, you need to download an HTML editor to create a new table of contents.

Step 8 – Export File To .epub Format
Finally! We have reached the only step that was required to publish the .epub file!

…but we’re not done yet.

Step 9 – Convert the .epub To .mobi Format
I tried this with Calibre, but the program added hyphens to every word and destroyed my formatting in about twenty different ways. Instead, use the converter on the Kindle site. But be prepared… it has bugs of its own! I spent an hour trying to figure out why the tabs were deleted at the top of every page, only to find out the glitch is only present on the online preview, NOT in the final version.

Step 10 – Repeat Steps 1-9
When you finally view the finished product, it will look nothing like you expected. The only way to fix this is to pop a couple Adderall, beat your face against your computer screen, and start over from the beginning.

**********

Essentially, the Kindle format is EXTREMELY necessary. If your self-publishing experience is anything like mine, you’ll sell ten times as many Kindle versions as the others combined.

Just because Amazon has millions of subscribers does NOT make it okay for formatting to be a chore. Why would a company show this level of complacency? How hard would it be to drop a million bucks to develop an easier method of formatting?

Perhaps this wouldn’t be an issue if it wasn’t so simple to create an .epub document. It baffles me that I can look at the iBooks version that I created months ago, and it looks flawless. If this kind of technology exists, WHY CAN’T AMAZON IMPLEMENT IT?!

To be fair, Amazon is a great company. Their customer service is impeccable, and I appreciate their support of indie talent. But until they change their ebook formatting issues, this blogger is gonna be pissed.

Rant: Quirky Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson is a genius. I won’t argue with that… I can’t argue with that. I like to imagine he gets his ideas from a misanthropic unicorn with pink wings and lonely eyes. His style is both concrete and dreamlike; whimsical production design with a camera that traps his characters in its symmetrical frame. When it comes to auteur directors, nobody creates a world quite like Wes.

Unfortunately, style alone does not make a movie. Style must be supported by something more important… the glue that keeps the audience in their seats… the screenplay.

“Quirky” is a word that many use to describe Mr. Anderson’s characters and plots. I take it a step farther by suggesting it’s the only word that describes his work.

Margot Tenenbaum from The Royal Tenenbaums is the perfect example of “quirky.” Margot was adopted. As a child, she wrote and directed elaborate stage plays about dead animals. She seems perpetually sullen. She ran away from home, lived in a museum, then lost a finger to a misplaced ax. Now, she wears the exact same clothes and thick eyeliner, and sports a wooden finger on her right hand. She smokes. She once married a Jamaican recording artist. Now she’s married to a psychologist. She seems perpetually sullen.

Oh. And her brother is in love with her.

The question I would like to pose to Mr. Anderson is this: what do these quirks add up to? The answer is not “character.” Characters are created by THE DECISIONS WE WATCH THEM MAKE, not the weird things that happened in their past. Margot doesn’t become a real character until the end of the movie when the writers finally force her to chose between two bad things.

In order for quirks to work, they need to be loaded. But how exactly do you load a quirk?

Consider the show Arrested Development. Similar to Margot in Tenenbaums, Buster Bluth loses a hand. This could easily become a one-time gag. But in the hands of skillful writers, this “quirk” plays a pivotal role in Buster’s life, the comedy of the show, and the plot as a whole. For one-and-a-half seasons, the missing hand is the source of numerous jokes. There’s wordplay (“Hand to God,” and “He’s all right”), slapstick, foreshadowing, metaphors, and more. The writers manage to squeeze every last drop of comedic and dramatic value out of this silly missing limb.

This makes me wonder… why was it important for Margot to lose a finger? It’s not that funny. The way she loses the finger isn’t relevant to the story. It doesn’t make her character grow or change. It doesn’t provide new insight into other characters or story lines. And if it works as a metaphor, it’s above my head.

Consider this change. Little Margot Tenenbaum is a spunky child who loves her life and her adoptive family. She writes happy stage plays about cute animals, and she performs them for her friends. But then it happens. Margot’s father slips with an axe and lops off her finger! Her world is turned upside down. She becomes detached. She runs away from home. Her depression pushes her closer and closer to her brother, who then begins to form unhealthy feelings for her.

Now, when we cut back to the present day, her wooden finger has meaning. It reminds us that Margot used to be a fun-loving girl. It builds tension between her and her father. And guess what? It’s still quirky!

I could rant for weeks about the problems with Wes Anderson’s screenplays, but today we stop at empty quirks. Despite the awesome design, original concepts, and hilarious dry humor, Wes Anderson movies lack the drama and depth needed to keep me interested.

(Want more of Buster’s hand?)

Rant: The So-So Spider-Man

Before I rant about the problems I had with this movie, I want to point out the things it got right. Andrew Garfield had all the wit, sarcasm, and intelligence that I expect from Spiderman, yet he still felt like a vulnerable teenager. The effects were great, the sense of discovery was engaging, and Spiderman’s use of his newfound abilities was exciting and innovative.

Having said that, this movie needs to learn a lesson about building a realistic foundation.

Gwen Stacy is in Peter Parker’s class? Cool!

Gwen Stacy is also an intern for Peter’s dead father’s partner who will eventually turn into Peter’s arch-nemesis? Okay… I guess I buy it.

Gwen Stacy also works at the facility where Peter gets bitten by the spider that turns him into Spiderman? Uhhh…

Gwen Stacy is also the daughter of the police chief who vows to bring Peter to justice?

I’m sorry… WHAT?!

An audience can buy one coincidence. In fact, it’s usually a coincidence that sets up the story. Two coincidences rarely work, and they risk losing the audience. Three coincidences is called “bad writing.”

Here’s another tip: if you want the audience to believe in Spiderman’s powers, make us believe in his world! This is the best way to keep us on board with the crazy things that are about to happen. If you establish a world that operates under the same rules as OUR world, then we’ll be even more excited when something other-worldly happens. For every fantastical element, there should be ten reminders that this story takes place in a real world.

If a group of kids sees Peter knock a football into a goal post so hard that it bends the post, there MUST be consequences. In a real world, the kids would freak out. They would jump on Peter and ask him how he did that. They’d tell their friends and their parents and post about it on Facebook. They’d say, “The only person strong enough to do that is Spiderman… therefore, Peter Parker must be Spiderman!”

If this was the only time I had to suspend my disbelief, I would accept it. But the writers ask me to do it again and again and again. Where did Peter learn how to sew? I made a quilt in college and it barely stayed together… yet this high-school junior managed to sew a Hollywood-quality costume overnight? How did this same kid order miles of experimental, military-grade cable?

I know what you’re thinking, so I’ll just say it: “But Jake, it’s a superhero movie! You just need to go along with it!”

This excuse worked in the 90s. Even better in the 60s. But today, it doesn’t fly. In 2012, audiences expect more than cartoon characters with unlimited power.

In 2012, audiences have Batman.

Why does Christopher Nolan’s vision of Batman work? Because we believe in it. Gotham City has rules that we understand. The characters behave and react like we would in the same situation. There’s a logical reason why Bruce Wayne can afford his gizmos. There doesn’t need to be a plot-hole to explain why he can sew.

People call me a buzz kill for ranting about these problems. But the fact is, I LOVE superhero movies when they’re done right! The Dark Knight is one of my favorite movies of all time. Heck… I even WROTE a superhero story!

So Mr. Spiderman, you gave me some cool sequences and some funny lines. I even kinda liked your character development! But if you want me to invest my emotions in your story… if you want me to care about your plight… if you want me to return to the theater to watch your inevitable sequel… I need to believe in you.