6. Twilight Zone
Classic television from the 50s and 60s was a constant backdrop to my childhood. I Love Lucy, Gilliganâ€™s Island, Batman, The Munsters, and The Andy Griffith Show were always on, multiple times a day. And yet, while I still treasure all those shows, it is the one I had to hunt for that had the greatest impact of all.
The Twilight Zone was a rarer program to stumble upon in the 80s and 90s. I could sometimes find it on, late at night, but it wasnâ€™t as common as the exploits of Lucy and Ricky. But when I did find Rod Serlingâ€™s classic sci-fi anthology series, I was always transported to another dimension, one not of sight or sound but of mind.
The Twilight Zone taught me that not all genre stories had to be stupid. I grew up in the age of diminishing returns, when great franchises like Hellraiser or Nightmare on Elm Street were driven into the ground by producers demanding dumber and dumber sequels. Truly challenging genre pieces, like John Carpenterâ€™s The Thing or Ridley Scottâ€™s Blade RunnerÂ bombed and wouldnâ€™t come into their own for a decade or more after their release. The best example of truly compelling sci-fi and horror came from the imagination of Rod Serling.
And what an imagination! Serling used aliens, ghosts, and even Death himself (in the form of Robert Redford!) as a way to talk about the topics of the day. I learned about Cold War paranoia from watching the occupants of a diner argue over who might be a martian. Serling spoke on bigotry, war, and the inner workings of the mind, all while delivering a satisfying half hour sci-fi show. A truly remarkable feet that was insanely influential to the writer that I would one day become.
7. To Kill a Mockingbird
You know, sometimes the books youâ€™re forced to read in school ainâ€™t so bad. Thatâ€™s how I was exposed to John Steinbeck, author of two of my favorite books, Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. Thatâ€™s where I read Lord of the Flies. Thatâ€™s also where I first read my favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Many would describe Harper Leeâ€™s classic as a tale of prejudice in the South during the Depression. That is one aspect of it, and an important one, but more over the book is about childhood, and no book has ever covered that subject better.
Along with the phenomenal film version starring Gregory Peck, To Kill a Mockingbird introduced me to Atticus Finch, perhaps the greatest father ever written. He became both a fictional father to me during my formative years, teaching me lessons that my own father never bothered to, but he also became my model for how to parent my own children. His words of wisdom should be taken to heart by every man, woman, and child on planet earth.
Atticus does not believe that you do the right thing when itâ€™s easy or convenient. You do the right thing no matter what the obstacles. You do the right thing even when everyone else wants you to do the wrong thing. The right thing is not always popular, nor is it always rewarding, but you have to stick to your convictions regardless. What a wonderful lesson to be taught to a young man looking for guidance.
8. Action Movies
Every generation needs itâ€™s warriors, men and women who go out on adventures and save the day. This is a classic theme of mythology, whether itâ€™s Achilles or Hercules or John Wayne, the tough guy who does the right thing is always going to find itâ€™s way into our ever evolving world.
Well when I was growing up our version of the warrior was Arnold Schwarzenegger. That may seem silly now, but the 80s and early 90s were a time of men who reached the physical perfection of gods. Stallone, Van Damme, Willis, Gibson, Norris, and a never ending string of B, C, and D list knock offs set the big screen on fire with infinite bullets and enough C4 to blow a hole in the world.
Most of these action movies were pretty dumb, but not every shoot em up was of Seagal level silliness. First Blood challenged the way we viewed returning Vietnam Vets. Total Recall made us question reality. Lethal Weapon presented us with a suicidal, lost soul in search of family. When I was a kid these were the movies that thrilled me, but sometimes they also snuck in a lesson or two of issues real men have to deal with.
People question why I have such affection for the admittedly terrible Expendables movies. The answer: Despite their age and despite their character flaws, these men were the warriors I cheered on in my youth. From classics like Die Hard to schlock like Commando, nobody did it better.
9. The Angry Video Game Nerd
When I was 30, I encountered a real problem. In collecting the thirty four stories for Manic Expression: A Collection, I literally exhausted my imagination. You see, I had always used writing as a crutch, as a way to examine my world and make sense of it. But now, with the troubles of my youth behind me, I didnâ€™t need that any more. Suddenly writing stories just didnâ€™t mean what it once did to me. That was all I ever wanted to do though, and without my writing there was a huge hole in my life. What would I do with myself?
Well…James Rolfe seemed to be having fun.
I can site many inspirations when it comes to my venture into blogging / video producing / site managing: Doug Walker, Mike Stoklasa, Cenk Uygur. But before I was aware of any of those cyber mavericks, I was watching the Nerd do his thing. It was a revelation. I suddenly realized the unlimited capabilities of the Internet. I didnâ€™t have to sell my stories to Random House in order to get them read. I didnâ€™t have to sell my soul to Hollywood to work with actors. The audience was there for anyone with the guts to wave their hands in the air and say, â€œHere I am!â€
James Rolfe has continued to impress me throughout the years, pursuing his dreams without ever selling out his vision. He probably sees himself as a guy who does nothing more than curse at old games, but he changed the course of my life forever.
10. Clive Barker
Of course there is a whole list of great men who inspired me: Martin Luther King, President Kennedy, Gandhi, and a hundred others that would be on everyones list. But it was Clive Barker who saved my life.
I discovered my passion for writing when I was 5, but as I entered my teens I was without a voice. I was too old to write kiddie stories any more, and too young to know anything about the world. I didnâ€™t know who I was, let alone what I should write about.
Then, when I was 14, I saw a commercial on my rented VHS copy of Hellraiser 3 for a documentary called Clive Barker: The Art of Horror. I ordered it, eager to hear a writer speak on the subject of his craft. What arrived in the mail was more than inspiration, it was salvation.
That 30 minute documentary opened my eyes to possibilities in writing that I never dreamed of. Clive spoke with such eloquence on his art. I didnâ€™t understand half of what he was saying, but I knew I wanted to be him when I grew up.
The key to my salvation was five little words spoke by Clive: â€œMy fiction is my confession.â€ That was it. To a confused, frightened boy whoâ€™d already made two half hearted attempts at suicide, Cliveâ€™s words offered escape. I couldnâ€™t write with any authority about the world outside of me, so I would write about the world within me. I would write down my demons, exorcise them onto the page. It worked. My writing saved my life, and it was Clive Barker who saved my writing.
An artist, filmmaker, author, and dark philosopher, Clive Barker is, in my eyes, a remarkable man. Heâ€™s never been anything other than who he is, and his courage gave me courage to be who I am.