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Blueprint to a Mogul: Reaching Goals Like Shonda Rhimes

 

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Shonda Rhimes is one of the most powerful people in television. As the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to get Away with Murder, she is the backbone of ABC. And ABC lets her do whatever she wants. When Rhimes was criticized for refusing to read notes from the executives on Scandal, she simply replied, “What were they going to do, fire me?”

Rhimes wasn’t always a powerhouse. In college, Shonda wanted to write world-changing novels like her hero Toni Morrison. However, she found that there was no point in aspiring to be like Morrison. As she put it, “I couldn’t be Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, because Toni Morrison already had that job and she wasn’t interested in giving it up.”

In 2002, she was a B-list screenwriter who had just adopted a child. While looking after the baby, she found herself watching a lot of network TV, including 24, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Angel.

Rhimes got where she is by writing what she wanted to see on TV. This makes her style, and even her genre, hard to pin down. Is Grey’s Anatomy a medical drama or a romantic soap? Is Scandal a romance, a political drama, or a conspiracy thriller? No one knows what to say about her work, other than that it’s something that no one has seen before.

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In that spirit, this lesson isn’t about how to become TV mogul Shonda Rhimes, she already has that job. What you can do is put in the kind of work that Rhimes put in, to become a creative mogul on your own terms. This lesson will help you assess what you can offer to the world and figure out what you need in order to build a new creative empire.

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Marvel Civil War: Whose Side Are You On?

The first promo art of Captain America 3: Civil War was just released. With the latest chapter Avengers: Age of Ultron upon us, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) will carefully start to shift the story towards one of the greatest conflicts in comic book history, Marvel’s Civil War. In a sure sign that comics were getting awesome again, Marvel built in a story arc where the Avengers fought each other. This has happened before in comics, usually because one superhero gets mind-controlled by a villain. In the Marvel Civil War, though, the Avengers were instead fighting because they had different interpretations of rights. Both sides’ views were supportable by some interpretations of the Constitution. But would either have stood up in court? If the Avengers had taken their differences to court, instead of to the streets, which way would it have gone?

Which side are you on? Try the quiz below to find out!

The Plot of the War The Marvel Civil War was told in seven comics, released from 2006-2007. It takes place after most mutants have been killed, or have fled in secret to Xavier’s school. Having dealt with mutants, the United States government turned their attention to superheroes. The government wasn’t a big fan of superpowers. Untrained superheroes kept stepping up to villains in crowded areas, getting themselves and others killed. In one case, a couple of new superheroes tried to fight Nitro in a mall, leading to the deaths of over 600 people. In addition, superheroes, especially the Avengers, were also interfering in politics. Nick Fury was fired because he led a coup against one of the United States’ allies (in fairness, that ally was an evil cyborg). Finally, the government decided to act. Congress passed the Superhero Registration Act, forcing all superheroes to take off the masks, register their abilities, and work for federal law enforcement. They hired Tony Stark (Iron Man) to help enforce  the law. Captain America violently resisted. Both sides escalated in force.

The Arguments
The pro-registration arguments, supported by Tony Stark and Mr. Fantastic, include:

Superheroes cannot veto a Congressional decision
Regulation of use of powers will be required by law
The government may restrict the rights of some to protect the rights of many

The anti-registration arguments, supported by Captain America, include:

Privacy protects superheroes and superheroes have a right to it
The majority should not legislate against minority rights
The government should not restrict rights in the present because of possible events in the future.

Do either of these arguments carry legal weight? This lesson below explores the legal precedents at play.

Late Night With Jimmy Fallon - Season 5

Networking with the Many Faces of Jimmy Fallon

 

Lights, Camera, Action!

Networking is a type of performance. Professional relationships are different from friendships in that the fundamental purpose is mutually benefitting each other’s careers. This means that networking conversations are not exactly about getting to know the other person. Instead, a networking conversation consists of several people performing to each other as more valuable versions of themselves.

This sounds dishonest, but it isn’t. Every job requires some form of performance, from pretending to be more excited about your company’s products, to performing friendliness to coworkers and bosses, to even performing as accessible and fun on social media. Acting as a better version of yourself is part of every job.

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You Catch More Flies With Honey

When networking, professionals perform as their most trustworthy, most likeable, and most important selves. It’s no surprise that Jimmy Fallon, who performs as likeable characters, is a master at networking.

Fallon’s roles and personas are all based on likeability and accessibility. Even his Southie teen Sully is based on an open, good-hearted style of humor. His celebrity impressions, from Adam Sandler to Neil Young, are friendlier, more honest versions of the real celebrities.

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What Would Jimmy Do?

All his characters, in real life, would be excellent at building professional relationships.  In this lesson, students will use these characters as foils for developing networking strategies. They will decide how to approach the Weekend Update guy, how to impress Jarret of the slacker webcast, and even think about what they could offer Tonight Show Jimmy Fallon himself. Finally, students will act out a networking event with their classmates.

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Marvel Civil War: Whose Side Are You On?

The first promo art of Captain America 3: Civil War was just released. With the latest chapter Avengers: Age of Ultron upon us, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) will carefully start to shift the story towards one of the greatest conflicts in comic book history, Marvel’s Civil War. In a sure sign that comics were getting awesome again, Marvel built in a story arc where the Avengers fought each other. This has happened before in comics, usually because one superhero gets mind-controlled by a villain. In the Marvel Civil War, though, the Avengers were instead fighting because they had different interpretations of rights. Both sides’ views were supportable by some interpretations of the Constitution. But would either have stood up in court? If the Avengers had taken their differences to court, instead of to the streets, which way would it have gone?

Which side are you on? Try the quiz below to find out!

The Plot of the War The Marvel Civil War was told in seven comics, released from 2006-2007. It takes place after most mutants have been killed, or have fled in secret to Xavier’s school. Having dealt with mutants, the United States government turned their attention to superheroes. The government wasn’t a big fan of superpowers. Untrained superheroes kept stepping up to villains in crowded areas, getting themselves and others killed. In one case, a couple of new superheroes tried to fight Nitro in a mall, leading to the deaths of over 600 people. In addition, superheroes, especially the Avengers, were also interfering in politics. Nick Fury was fired because he led a coup against one of the United States’ allies (in fairness, that ally was an evil cyborg). Finally, the government decided to act. Congress passed the Superhero Registration Act, forcing all superheroes to take off the masks, register their abilities, and work for federal law enforcement. They hired Tony Stark (Iron Man) to help enforce  the law. Captain America violently resisted. Both sides escalated in force.

The Arguments
The pro-registration arguments, supported by Tony Stark and Mr. Fantastic, include:

Superheroes cannot veto a Congressional decision
Regulation of use of powers will be required by law
The government may restrict the rights of some to protect the rights of many

The anti-registration arguments, supported by Captain America, include:

Privacy protects superheroes and superheroes have a right to it
The majority should not legislate against minority rights
The government should not restrict rights in the present because of possible events in the future.

Do either of these arguments carry legal weight? This lesson below explores the legal precedents at play.

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Cartoons Show Their True Colors: Fact Checking Animated Characters in History

 

There’s nothing wrong with historical fantasies, but it’s worth considering how they differ from the reality.

When we watch a movie like Selma or The Imitation Game that is based on historical events, we often wonder how closely they resemble what really happened. It can be a lot of fun to compare the events of the movies to the historical record and point out when the two don’t match up.

At Buzzfeed, Eugene Yang has applied that same logic to Disney Princesses, digging deep into Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, Pocahontas, Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to determine when and where the films’ heroines lived. Unsurprisingly, their lives would’ve been pretty different in reality than they were in the movies: no harem pants for Jasmine, for one thing.

 

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Yang’s project serves as a reminder of how many animated movies employ historical settings while ignoring actual historical fact. Yet as obviously fictional as most animated films are, they can still influence our perceptions of history—half my elementary school was convinced that Pocahontas and John Smith were romantically involved, when in fact she was just twelve years old when they met.

There’s nothing wrong with historical fantasies, but it’s worth considering how they differ from the reality. The addition of dancing candlesticks and talking parrots is one thing; idealizing the extremely constrained life of a fourteenth century noblewoman is another.

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The Theories Behind Time Travel

Great Scott! How many gigawatts does it take to write a story with time travel and parallel universes? It doesn’t take that much electricity, but it does take a lot of planning, researching and creativity.

H.G. Wells, Isaac Asminov, Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler, Kurt Vonnegut — they’ve all written famous science fiction books that focus on time travel. Wells’ Time Machine dates back to 1895, before Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and before the ideas behind black holes and wormholes existed.

Traveling in time to alter our destinies has been a pop culture fascination for a long time. Many superheroes have experienced time travel in different ways. Superman could go back in time by flying around the world quickly enough to reverse Earth’s rotation. Similarly, The Flash could travel fast enough to go back in time. Even the mutant, Wolverine, traveled back in time in X-Men: Days of Future Past to change the fate the world.

The plot lines involved in time travel and jumping through alternate realities are not easy to follow and are even more difficult to write. This lesson takes a look back in time at how some science-fiction stories have rules and a structure to the way time and alternate universes function within their fictional world and how you can create your own narrative structure to write your own tight story involving parallel universes and time travel.

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The Anti-Hero: Why We Love a Good Bad Guy

 

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The anti-hero. No longer does America want to watch the good guy (or girl) on TV. Over the last decade or so, we have seen a trend in American TV culture, in which we root for a character that is a combination of hero and villain. This evolution has shown us men who are real family men, but also have less than honorable jobs and commit terrible acts: a ruthless mob boos (The Sopranos), a serial killer (Dexter) and a drug lord (Breaking Bad), as examples.

This is not a new concept. Some of our most loved classic novels depict these types of characters, which may account for their long-lasting popularity. This list includes a criminal turned mayor (Les Miserables), an egotistical charismatic party-thrower (The Great Gatsby), and a troubled loner teenager (Catcher in the Rye). Hey, even the Cat in the Hat is an anti-hero, who knowingly causes all sorts of mischief when the mother is out.

Maybe the anti-hero better reflects real life than the traditional heroes and villains that have permeated our TV and movie screens for years. 

But what exactly is an anti-hero, and why do we find this type of character irresistible to watch? Are these characters essentially good people or are they bad? What are their motivations in choosing their surprising paths? Should these characters be rewarded or punished for their actions?

Maybe the anti-hero better reflects real life than the traditional heroes and villains that have permeated our TV and movie screens for years. Think about it, is that arrested criminal being broadcast on the news, pure evil? Is it more likely that he or she is also a loving husband or wife, with children he or she loves? And, that hero who just rescued that child from a burning building, do we know his full story or are we just judging him on his latest act of good?

 

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For some reason, we seem to love anti-heroes even though they commit evil acts, we sympathize with them. In the beginning, they have good intentions and motives: money, taking care of their family, finding confidence in themselves, feeling strong, feeling powerful. However, towards the end, we realize that their motives have changed: greed, revenge, self-righteousness, ego, etc. Still, these shows would not have lasted as long as they do, unless the audience was in some way on their side, cheering them on.

future

The Theories Behind Time Travel

Great Scott! How many gigawatts does it take to write a story with time travel and parallel universes? It doesn’t take that much electricity, but it does take a lot of planning, researching and creativity.

H.G. Wells, Isaac Asminov, Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler, Kurt Vonnegut — they’ve all written famous science fiction books that focus on time travel. Wells’ Time Machine dates back to 1895, before Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and before the ideas behind black holes and wormholes existed.

Traveling in time to alter our destinies has been a pop culture fascination for a long time. Many superheroes have experienced time travel in different ways. Superman could go back in time by flying around the world quickly enough to reverse Earth’s rotation. Similarly, The Flash could travel fast enough to go back in time. Even the mutant, Wolverine, traveled back in time in X-Men: Days of Future Past to change the fate the world.

The plot lines involved in time travel and jumping through alternate realities are not easy to follow and are even more difficult to write. This lesson takes a look back in time at how some science-fiction stories have rules and a structure to the way time and alternate universes function within their fictional world and how you can create your own narrative structure to write your own tight story involving parallel universes and time travel.

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Why Fairy Tale Reboots are a Necessary Part of Society

 

Fairy tale reboots are so in right now.  Cinderella’s in the theatres, Once Upon a Time had a strong last season, and Maleficent rocked the box office. Versions of all these stories have already been made. So why are we rebooting them? Is it a cynical cash grab by studios? Well, yes, partially. But it’s also something more.

Fairy tales are a way to communicate shared values. As our values change, so to must our touchstones that convey them.

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Magic Mirror by Greg Guillemin
The old versions of fairy tales just don’t work for people today. We don’t seem to find them entertaining, funny, inspiring, or relevant. Our culture has changed, and so our stories are changing as well.

This is not the first time that we have changed fairy tales. Disney itself became rich rebooting the dark German peasant tales of the Brothers Grimm into something light and fun for consumerist America, then rehashed them again with a spate of direct-to-video sequels in the 1990s. Now, Disney, and others, are again changing fairy tale characters to make them more relevant to society today. The changes to fairy tales show us many changes in how mainstream society views both the media and the world.

Why Do Fairy Tales Matter?

Fairy tales, or similar folklore, appear in most world cultures. Often, when they were written, they were not believed to be fiction. For example, the Brothers Grimm published “Hansel and Gretel in 1812, 66 years before the last real-life witchcraft trial in the United States was held in 1878. These fairy tales had real relevance to people who believed in witches, fairies, and other evil creatures. Now, few people believe, but fairy tales are still relevant. In fact, with the rise of fantasy literature, movies and TV shows, it’s clear that we are interested in magic almost as much as those ancestors who believed in it. Partially, this is because we still use fairy tales as what literary critics call “touchstones.” Touchstones are references that most people can understand, like the phrases “wicked stepmother” and “magic beans.” These touchstones carry a lot of meaning in a small package, and can be used for metaphors, morals, political speeches, and more. They are a way to communicate shared values and understandings. As our values change, how do we update our touchstones?

future

The Theories Behind Time Travel

Great Scott! How many gigawatts does it take to write a story with time travel and parallel universes? It doesn’t take that much electricity, but it does take a lot of planning, researching and creativity.

H.G. Wells, Isaac Asminov, Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler, Kurt Vonnegut — they’ve all written famous science fiction books that focus on time travel. Wells’ Time Machine dates back to 1895, before Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and before the ideas behind black holes and wormholes existed.

Traveling in time to alter our destinies has been a pop culture fascination for a long time. Many superheroes have experienced time travel in different ways. Superman could go back in time by flying around the world quickly enough to reverse Earth’s rotation. Similarly, The Flash could travel fast enough to go back in time. Even the mutant, Wolverine, traveled back in time in X-Men: Days of Future Past to change the fate the world.

The plot lines involved in time travel and jumping through alternate realities are not easy to follow and are even more difficult to write. This lesson takes a look back in time at how some science-fiction stories have rules and a structure to the way time and alternate universes function within their fictional world and how you can create your own narrative structure to write your own tight story involving parallel universes and time travel.