Category: Media

I’m a media studies graduate and with that comes a raftload of tools that I’m repeatedly told aren’t actually useful for anything, to which I counter that I like using them and enjoy the experience of applying those tools to all the media around me I partake in and therefore my life is enriched and overflowing with wonderful experiences of interconnectivity. By this point the other person has usually wandered off. Anyway, this is the category for anything that I think of as being connected to ‘media’, whether it’s a type (like TV, music, movies or so on), a brand (like Disney! Hi Disney!). This category also covers my weekly critical engagement column-type-thing currently called Story Pile.

Kamen Rider W Week 2: Hardboiled

In Kamen Rider W, they use the term hardboiled a lot, and they directly, by name, invoke the idea of hardboiled detective fiction. The books are shown in shots, around the home and office that Sokichi made, and Hidari later inherited. Sokichi names Phillip after after Phillip Marlowe, the character central to Raymond Chandler’s series of novels. It’s repeatedly invoked in the case of secret catboy Hidari Shotaro, where he explains why he does something as being the essence of hardboiled. The series’ theme –

which is awesome

is called WBX for DOUBLE-BOILED EXTREME.

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The Vegans Of Youtube

When you hang out on youtube looking at short-form recipes as a way to stave off your anxiety, you notice something. You notice trends and patterns in the comments, because oh god, you started to read the comments.

It’s not uncommon for channels to do some vegan videos. Especially Buzzfeed’s Tasty brand, which is basically Listicle Recipes (and honestly, a really, really good format for it). Vegan recipes get hits, they get comments, they get likes. There’s even a channel that makes a point of collecting ‘accidentally vegan’ meals, where someone makes a vegan recipe video and doesn’t realise they’re recommending vegan food.

Here’s the thing.

On vegan videos, I mostly notice vegans talking about how nice it is, suggesting extra things to do for the video’s recipe, suggesting solutions for particular food allergies, and loudly non-vegan people making fun of it, or complaining about it. Like, you get that very clean split of ‘well wouldn’t this be better with tons of bacon‘ or ‘ugh, why you making these vegan videos?’

On non-vegan videos, I mostly notice vegans showing up in the comments to suggest to one another, ways they can make these dishes they’re watching vegan. They aren’t saying this recipe should be different.

Now I know part of this is moderation! Moderators are more likely, I suspect, to let go a huffing and puffing non-vegan comment than their equivalent, which might be a vegan talking pointedly about how you’re ruining this food with all that meat.

Whatever the reason, it’s pretty weird.

Lovecraft’s Failure

Not the racism.

Lovecraft, if you’re not aware, died poor. He died of cancer in his 40s, mostly destitute, and his work was forgotten until a significant period after he died. Even then he was sort of an academic interest that fed into the interests of other writers rather than the force of cultural nature he is now that he’s part of the public domain. One of the things he attributed this to, in his later days, was that he didn’t have the confidence or courage to promote his own work, and when he did, he didn’t do enough. His obscurity, he felt, was not tied to the quality of his work, but his ability to advertise it.

More things change, eh, Howard.

 Lovecraft was born in 1890. Three years before he was born there was the first performance of Ruddigore. Ruddigore is an operetta I like a lot, and one of the two best songs in it is this one:

The lyrics, in case you aren’t versed, as I, feature this chorus:

If you wish in the world to advance,
Your merits you’re bound to enhance,
You must stir it and stump it,
And blow your own trumpet,
Or, trust me, you haven’t a chance!

These words echo to me a lot, in my more horrified moments. One of the problems is that I already feel like I promote myself too much. I feel like I never shut up about my stuff, that I presume I can reference my games to people, and when I’m put on the spot and shown that I can’t, it reminds me that for all I feel I talk about this, I either don’t talk about them enough, or, more damningly…

I do, and nobody cares.

Is it that I’m bad at self promoting, or is it that my promotion isn’t going to endure because what I do isn’t good enough? I worry about this a lot. I wonder about it when I learn that there’s something I have in common with Lovecraft… staring down the barrel of an irrelevant life because I wasn’t able to make myself memorable in the minds of the people around me.

Shame about the racism, though.

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Kamen Rider W Week 1: Patterns

Kamen Rider W is my first Kamen Rider Series and it owns bones. It is a high-energy series about loving a place, about wanting to live up to your potential, about found family, about the stories we tell one another, about legacies and respect and love and fear and about kicking baddies in the face and refusing to give up and there’s a motorbike which changes parts and there’s a truck that drives the motorbike around and –

I really like this show.

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Lovecraft, Exploration, and Motivation

The classical Lovecraftian story is set around the time of Lovecraft’s life. Very few of them occur in the deep history, even as they are about the deep history, told through the voice of a person in Lovecraft’s now.

Lovecraft wasn’t a man who saw politics too clearly. I mean, he was a racist, and an anglophile, and he thought World War I was really important because America owed it to England, America’s homeland, but when he looked to the future and around him he was not horrified by the closing entanglements of European politics and the industrialisation of war, nor was he particularly horrified at the coming nuclear age. I mean, from the perspective of a dude born in the 1890s, nuclear power seems pretty out-of-context.

If you look through Lovecraft’s work there’s a strong view towards discovery. There’s the deep sea, there’s the stars, there’s ancient archaeology and there’s the organised cataloguing of unread tomes in old libraries. The protagonists are explorers – they are people who, without needing further motivation, want to learn and discover.

Interestingly, most Lovecraftian stories are kind of one-and-done affairs; someone discovers the edge of the darkness, and then is either consumed and destroyed by it, or they run and escape it, forever scarred by the experience. They are people who start out exploring for the sake of information. Their motivation is intrinsic.

Thing is, that’s not – usually – how Lovecraft stuff works in games. One of the challenges in these play spaces is motivation. Most Lovecraft games want to have multiple encounters, multiple excursions dealing with the unnatural. It’s hard to build a game – especially one about change over time – around singular experiences and that leaves you with a problem of representing a character who has some reason to want to repeatedly expose themselves to this problem.

I think this is a cool idea to work with in character creation. I know Delta Green requires you to build a set of connections that will get worse and fail over the course of the game.  I think that’s a good start because it shows you a think worth losing – but I wonder if there’s also room to build into character building a space for a fatal, consuming drive. A reason to go back.

Repeatedly.

Story Pile: Cul De Sac

We’re going to do something a little bit different this time.

This Story Pile is going to be about the newspaper comic Cul De Sac, a comic I really like, but which is also, unlike other media I cover, actually kind of already represented online in its entirety as it is. Like, if you want to go read Cul De Sac, you can… just… do that. The other thing we’re going to talk about is Calvin and Hobbes, which Bill Watterson, the creator, has been similarly archived online, but also crucially, not by me.

Normally I break up these essays on media with pictures from the media in question, or youtube embeds or whatever, but GoComics lacks that functionality and while I could always take the strips, upload and offer them in the context of my own work and you know, review and educational purposes (which it is), I’d still feel just a bit of a dick about it. This is much as with the work of Gary Larson, who has asked that people not circulate Far Side strips online, and, well, they do anyway.

With that in mind, I’m making the conscious decision to not put any of the comic strips here in this blog post. Instead, I’m going to try and keep it short.

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Cracks in Diegesis

Okay, so, fancyword there, Diegesis. The diegesis is the reality of the story you’re perceiving. It’s not ‘the text’ because there’s more to the text than the diegesis, like music and credits and – well, the term we use for elements that don’t belong in the diegesis is ‘nondiegetic elements,’ and I recognise that that isn’t the most helpful dang thing in the world.

The diegesis of a text is the narrative. Basically. It’s the little bubble of a universe where the things exist, the objects and places and people and the events they’re all reacting to. When a movie pops up a location text or a timer in it, that’s non-diegetic.

Diegesis is something we’re often kinda precious about. The whole idea of ludonarrative dissonance is – and I am ignoring all the times people use the term stupidly – usually about someone perceiving gameplay and fiction as having different values and that creates a jarring feeling. I’ve made fun of characters for espousing media they clearly didn’t read or understand. Basically, the diegesis, the illusion that this is a story and not a crafted work by a person, is said to ‘break’ when we notice something wrong with it. This is why it’s important to have verisimilitude – not realism, but the believable illusion of realism. That believable illusion is why it’s more important to play into people’s expectations than into realism.

The thing is, we don’t have to break diegesis when we’re confronted with the oddness. It’s something of a canard. What does the diegesis do if you don’t acknowledge the break?

This came to my mind thinking about Kamen Rider W, recently, with its focus on Hardboiled narratives which were clearly made by people who hadn’t really read or ‘gotten’ Hardboiled narratives. You know, what happens if you ignore the obvious and easy – that this ‘mistake’ is because someone making the media made a mistake – and instead accept it within the diegesis? Do we have to lean on the cracks in diegesis?

What if the chainsawing racists in the face and the both-sidesing racism of Bioshock Infinite is something that exists in its story, rather than signs of a ninny messing up?

I haven’t got an answer for these examples – but it’s very easy to leap back from any part of a media space and say ‘well, someone chose this, for a reason,’ and that’s almost too easy. Explore the things that happen in a movie, consider why they might be the way the are within the universe itself.

Story Pile: The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai is a 2003 American history-drama movie where Tom Cruise The Space Pope reprises his basic conceptual role in Dances With Wolves* and goes to Japan to learn of these strange, exotic natives and their wildly different ways. It is a story regularly lambasted for a variety of reasons such as its grotesquely understated depiction of Tom Cruise’s alcoholic soldier going completely teetotal without any seeming ill effects (which is very fair) to its claiming that Tom Cruise becomes ‘the best Samurai’ in the narrative (which is not) to the marketing which literally puts TOM CRUISE THE LAST SAMURAI directly adjacent one another suggesting that no actually, yes, Tom Cruise does become The Last Samurai in this story (which is extremely fair).

BUT WE’RE NOT GOING TO TALK ABOUT THIS MOVIE, HA HA

We’re going to talk about Samurai.

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Story Pile: Arrested Development, Part II

After the first series of Arrested Development, seasons 1-3, they revived it. Who’s they? The wizards, I dunno. The point is, thanks to the neverending zombie franchiseland that is Netflix and the endless well of relaunch fever for people who were noticing we were approaching or in middle age desperately tried to head back to the mid eighties, Arrested Development was brought back to life in 2013.

It’s not very good.

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Boundaries of Autoethnography

Hey, here’s some more study reading – specifically, reading a chapter of Doing Autoethnography. It’s a collection of Autoethnographic essays, critically examining works the creators have made that are, themselves, Autoethnography, which is to say it’s kind of an oroborous of moebius or something like that.

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Story Pile: Why Cap Ain’t Supe

The comparison between Superman and Captain America is very much like the comparison between tractors and trucks. They’re not an unreasonable comparison to make, especially when you only know of either thanks to movies, but the more you know about either the less the comparison works. The two have some very broad similarities, but when you start to talk about the kind of stories they can tell, things start to break down.

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The Pop Of Porn and ASMRtifacts

Media does weird things.

First things first you’re going to need to know what ASMR is before I keep going. It’s a hard-to-explain thing, so let’s go with an arch, academic-sounding definition then get fuzzier. ASMR, standing for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is an experience characterised by tingly feelings across the skin, alike to static electricity, often running down from the top of the scalp down to the back of the neck, which seems to be experienced by a non-majority population of the world.

It is hard to study because it’s a thing people may not even realise they do experience, it’s an individualised experience, and there aren’t clear, hard predictive triggers. Some people get it from a few things, some get it from a lot, and some people may never discover that they’re affected by it. It is not necessarily sexual – despite the title of this post – but for some people it is.

ASMR culture on youtube is therefore a grouping of channels, often with odd titles which seek to promote to you different and sometimes blisteringly specific scenarios, containing things like ‘tapping’ ‘squish sounds’ ‘no talking’ ‘personal attention’ and the like.

I’ve been thinking about this XKCD strip:

Panel 1.

And I’ve been thinking about it in light of ASMR.

The idea of the comic is pretty funny but it’s also pretty easily grasped. Things we experience in our developing lives impress upon us in odd ways. Rather than being overly invested in the pornography itself, the narrator is impressed upon by the medium of the comic. There’s always, with XKCD, a sort of boring futurism where the audience tend to make every comic self-fulfilling. You’ll find people holding [Citation Needed] signs at rallies, for example, and there were people saying they were sure that this person really existed and reflected a real experience.

ASMR videos are often made with sensitive audio equipment that capture a lot of noise and create the impression of existing in a space, and do their best to create a blanket of white noise. I have some very nice headphones (a gift from a friend) and this means that when I’m listening to an ASMR video, I can often hear things that the track isn’t really meant to have – the sound of birds far away, or the sound of a siren many blocks away. Things you have to really strain to hear.

In addition, I have some experience editing audio. One thing you want to avoid in audio is around the English letter sound p and to a lesser extent, b. These sounds carry a burst of air, which means that they for a tiny moment increase the volume of spoken audio, known as a pop. There’s a whole host of equipment designed to help you minimise these effects, and radio voice – the practice of speaking to recording devices – tends to have non-severe P sounds. They are, when you hear them in professional audio recording, basically an error. Software can get them out, hardware can prevent them happening, you should probably never hear pops on audio tracks.

ASMR videos are full of pops.

ASMR videos are often built out of experiences of intimacy and comfort from points in our youth. Things like being the focus of attention for a non-failable test, hairdresser visits, hearing exams, having your makeup done – lots of different scenarios. The super-sensitive audio devices pick up the pops and the pops seem to be things the audience respond to. It might be because it reminds people of old audio software, but it also might be because feeling someone draw a breath, or hearing someone pop when they say a word creates the same illusion of experience as you get when someone is whispering in your ear. Even moreso, starter videos tend to have fewer pops, but as people get more familiar, they pop more, because audiences respond well to the sound.

The overlap of an error in audio recording (in most situations) with an intended affect (in a highly specific situation) comes back to the XKCD strip. The idea at its root, that we can fall in love with things that are themselves limits of technology.

May Shirts!

Hey, here are a the shirts I made this month!

First of all, here’s the Play Rough shirt, which I first conceived as part of a series. If you want a particular move name, let me know and I’ll see about whipping one up for you!

(You won’t)

That design gave way to this one, with a big chunk retro TM disc – and I concocted this moveset as an example of a perfectly good, cool moveset for a person to have.

Story Pile: Deadthor

One of the reasons I shifted this particular blog feature from ‘series or movie’ to ‘media’ to ‘story’ is that some things don’t neatly fit into a constrained form like that, and I still want to talk about them.

Comics are a good example. If you want to talk about a comic story, you really have to go with this is a good place to start, because even the most contained comic is still part of and reflects a greater historical context. Things that are old enough to proceed no other comics like them still have to explain where they got some of their base ideas, like why Superman wears his underpants on the outside. If you want to talk about a comic story in like, 1990 well, good grief, you need to explain why then is different to now, what characters have moved on, all that stuff. Really, if you want to give a comprehensive rundown of comics you have to start a few thousand years before comics began and just kick it off with Enkudu and Gilgamesh.

Nonetheless, we are in a time where interconnected media interests allow us to see and partake of media that spreads far and wide into a deep and weird comics history and with that in mind, now we are finally in a place where, through staggering coincidence, people are generally aware of Deadpool and Thor’s Loki.

And to that, I want to tell you about my favourite page in all of Deadpool.

Here’s your basic starter point. Deadpool has found himself stranded on the moon, with Loki, who tells him that he, Deadpool, is his son, and that he knows the secrets that Deadpool knows. Continue reading

Story Pile: The Blues Brothers

Okay, hold up.

I watched this movie kind of. Back in the fundamentalist church, there was this thing some families with VCRs would do, where they’d record a movie from TV, pause at points they knew the movie would get bad, then unpause afterwards. Think of it like cutting the ads (which they did as well), but for swearing and sex and music.

Yeah, music.

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Story Pile: There are Crocodiles

Okay, it’s like this.

Press Gang was a short British TV show from the late 80s and early 90s that centered around the running of a school-then-more Newspaper connected to a comprehensive school, a sort of state public school that doesn’t get choosy about who they take. It was the debut show for a guy called Steven Moffat, and if I’m being honest, the work of his I have the least contempt for.

Content warning; Suicide.

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Story Pile: Batman V Superman

I don’t need to talk to you about this movie. General wisdom is that this movie is bad and you have a bunch of different sources giving you different reasons for it to be bad, and there’s even a comprehensive, thoroughly done, four hour long video essay breaking down a whole host of the problems I had with it.

Honestly, if you’re into movie criticism it’s a very engaging, thoughtful and thorough examination of the movie’s failings, complete with a very reasonable perspective on Zack Snyder’s work, and a recognition of some of the movie’s virtues.

That’s if you want to go look into the movie. It seems pretty unnecessary though.

What’s interesting to me, though is the people who love this movie.

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Story Pile: Rounders

I normally try to set April aside to talk indulgently about stuff I really like, because it’s the month with my birthday in it. You know, a theme is as good as any other theme. I haven’t really done that this month, like I didn’t dig down to make an ostensible show of picking out five of my absolute favourites I wanted to babble about self-indulgently. Still, this is the last Story Pile for April, so why not.

Let’s talk about a movie that I freaking love.

It’s also kinda bad. Continue reading

Story Pile: Altered Carbon

When you get down to it, Altered Carbon is a series that doesn’t so much need recommendations as much as it needs content warnings. Up front, the series features gender, race, and general body dysphoria (being in a body that’s ‘very wrong’), graphic torture, death, murder for pleasure, torture for pleasure, sex workers, sex worker abuse, sex worker marginalisation, realistic and sympathetic AI death, sensory overload, sensory deprivation, descriptions of nightmares, depictions of trauma, hetero bonking, consent-comprimised hetero bonking, nudity, violent nudity, cutting and –

Good grief, what isn’t in this series.

I feel a bit bad about this because the avalanche of things to warn people about in this show are all reasonable things. It paints the picture of this series as gaudily, grindingly nasty and full of vile indulgence. It’s not like that, I promise – it’s more that the series has such a breadth of nasty things it deals with that to have one leap out of you in the story as a surprise is like finding a razor blade in your ice cream. It’s not only unexpected it’s also extremely bad if you weren’t expecting it. The emotional punch is all there, I just don’t want people going into this series blind, especially since, for all of its content warnings, I really liked Altered Carbon.

I’m not going to talk about the greater universe of the story, though, I’m not going to run down the plot or its themes or its meanings. The story is a neon noir cyberpunk dystopia that uses income inequality as its most intense theme, its central character is a jerk, and it weaves together his history and his present. That’s all good and I might talk about them another time, but instead, we’re going to talk about one thing.

We’re going to talk about Poe.

Don’t worry, we’re also not going to spoil the plot!

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Shirt Highlight: House Logos!

Ever have a day where you had some things you needed to get done, but you were so sick with anxiety and rage you couldn’t, so instead you threw yourself into something in the hopes of making one person maybe crack a smile?

No?

Hey, good, good for you, I am so glad you’ve never had to be here.

Anyway, today I fancied up these shirt designs I’d sketched out:

If you want to get these shirts representing your favourite Houses for the School Cup based on whether you feel you’re Basic, Extra, Boring or Evil, you can check them out on my Redbubble. There’s even one shirt that holds all four designs to show people all at once!

If, by the way, you like these designs but don’t want to buy a shirt, don’t forget you can always get stickers of what I make, and stickers are often very cheap, especially if you buy in lots of 10 or more!

The Rural Purge 2: Fleeing New York

Hey, remember when I did that thing on The Rural Purge?

Well, following on from that, and from my habit of recycling things I hear on other media criticism outlets (criticism in this case being ‘to regard carefully and thoughtfully’ not, ‘this sucks!’), it was brought to my attention that there was kind of a more recent, more inverse Urban purge, or more specifically, a New York purge.

During the 90s there was an odd, interconnected web of sitcoms set in New York. It’s a bit of a funny coincidence fest mostly born out of the nature of sitcom actors. Actors in the same core of shows tended to show up in one anothers’s shows, and with a single unifying broadcaster, they even did continuity gags and interconnected nods to one another’s shows. You know, Kramer shows up in Mad About You (probably saying something deeply misogynistic off-set), and Helen Hunt’s … Mrs… Paul Rieser… shows up in FRIENDS, and you know, whatever. So it was just one funny thing that there were all these series, interconnected, in New York, that were all part of one big continuity.

And they all kinda just died around the same time.

The source I got this idea from claimed 9/11 did it, but I don’t think so. I think it’s just the natural ending of a lot of series, the ending of an era, and a lot of fad-based series development collapsing at the same time. But what happened around this same time was the sudden absence of series set in and around New York. There was this weird split in continuity, where American TV went from, during the most aimless and empty genre, being about New York City to suddenly being about absolutely anywhere else.

What made this especially weird, as far as trend-chasing goes, is that when you look at those shows, that little New York sliver of time… barely any of them are about New York?

I haven’t gone and rewatched a dozen sitcoms for research (aside from Caroline in the City, because hey, that one’s for me), but mostly none of these sitcoms are about living in New York City. Real estate woes that should be present and aren’t are a point of almost hackish comedy in the Friendsverse – you know, all these people with huge living quarters in the middle of the most expensive city in the world (probably), whose salaries could not afford it at all.

There’s also the way these shows somehow featured a tiny number of nonwhite people, despite the racial diversity of New York. And there is no point where a dude in hotpants with a snake wrapped around his shoulders walked across the street to take a shit on a cop’s shoes. It’s a New York where a pair of gay dudes with a baby was seen as a ridiculous assumption for Joey and Chandler.

So it wasn’t anything like New York as it exists. It’s just about a certain, oddly insular New Yorkness, and as an effect of the insular, contained nature of a small group of talent making television sitcoms.

Story Pile: The Zombie Apocalypse Of The Author

I’ve written about the idea of ‘the death of the author,’ but to crash course it: The concept of death of the author is the idea that the interpretation of a story is about the person doing the interpretation, not about the person who made it. That is, there is no ‘author’ who can be said to truly represent what the story means in any and all circumstances. There’s a lot more to it, but it’s mostly cigarettes and sadness. That’s your basics:

The Death of the Author is the idea that the Author does not have exclusive rights to define interpretations of their work

This is a great idea and its most obvious modern application is fanfic and fan media. The story says Snape is an ugly snooty jerk, but that doesn’t matter, because you read the book and your interpretation involves no such thing, and the image of these characters interacting in your mind is perfectly valid. You don’t get marks for how the story works in your head, nobody’s grading you. If other people can grasp what you’re expressing when you share it, then that’s all that matters.

The thing is, thanks to Twitter and the Web 2.0 era of produsage, one of the groups of people getting involved in further creating fanfiction for these works and they are most annoyingly, the original authors.

Thanks to the unprecedented access we have to authors these days, we have a whole host of authors who are actively and aggressively attempting to insert into their own texts things they didn’t bother to try and put there the first time around. I’ll always kick at the Harry Potter franchises for any reason, but specific way that Rowling has claimed that Dumbledore is gay will always bother me. This has recently come to a head – again – with the upcoming Fantastic Beasts 2 movie that wants to have Young Dumbledore but also is ensuring to absolutely not show any of that icky gayness that the story isn’t about at all.

What this means is that any given reading of the text, these days, is not taken as a reading, with people willing to examine it, but as with all things in nerd cultures, we bury it under the toxic intention to prove it. Work must be tested or verified to be acceptable, interpretations must be justified to our satisfaction, and thanks to the availablility of certain authors, and their willingness to pontificate on what their work really means, we are now facing Zombie Authorship.

The author lies not still in their grave but shifts and moves, ever tumultuous in their position, expanding the work a tweet at a time – Werewolves are AIDS, the nudity is justified, you will e’re love the story for its manifold purpose. Tarantino, Martin, Rowling, Kojima, they each inflate their work not for its art but to remain alive a word more, to continue, to consume.And so the zombie slough flows over us all, and we do not engage with or interpret or study art, but we see it all as grey slurry that washes over us. The nerd cries out, be canonised, be purified, be true, and our eyes grow dull and dull and dull.

As for the Death of the Author, the sad thing is it contains within its own explanation; we bring out experiences to bear interpreting work.

The act of creating the work is one of those experiences.

Thanos Is Racist Now,

That got your attention.

We’ve been told what the motivation is for Thanos in the upcoming Infinity War. Feel free to jump out here, because you want to avoid spoilers, or because round-the-backtalk about movies bothers you, or because comics are stupid. Whatever your reason, here’s an escape route: Here!
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The Bright Conspiracy Theory

Okay, hold up.

I don’t want you going to think this is true. This is a hunch. This is a notion.

I want you to understand I don’t like holding hypothesis that can’t be easily proven. I grew up around conspiracy theorists, and I feel like I can recognise the mental habits that make a conspiracy. Conspiracies rely on being nebulous, unfalsifiable and emotionally satisfying. That is, they want to attribute blame to an unknowable ‘them,’ they can’t be shown to be wrong somehow, and they feed into emotional responses we already have.

Furthermore, I haven’t seen the Netflix movie Bright. I’ve seen its advertising, and that convinced me that Bright sucks and I don’t want to watch it, which in a reasonable world would be a good sign that the advertisers were good at their job, but that’s not how advertising is advocated as working in this mixed up ole world of ours.

With those clauses in mind, the actual quality of Bright and if you liked it, is really moot.

Instead, I want to talk to you about how and why Bright gets talked about at all.

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Sharing

One of the weird things about growing up in fundamentalist church with a deliberately stifled education is that some concepts kinda just get thrown around and you never really learn what they are. This meant I had to teach myself a bunch of this stuff, and I realise, there are some people similarly uncertain as to where the heck the idea of Shares come from.

The basic idea of what a share is is that it’s a portion of something. The place it got its start – more or less, there are always earlier versions of things, but the place it sort of got its modern kick-off – was during the (absolutely god-awful) trading history of large fleets of vessels, things like the Dutch East India company.

The way these things worked was, buying a boat – like, a whole boat – and managing an expedition over to do trading was, as an up-front cost, totally ridiculous. Like, we talk about wealth disparity, but it’s kind of hard to translate wha that was like when you’re talking about a period of history when you might not even exchange money for food, because it simply wasn’t affordable. So there’s a striation of wealth between poor and wealthy people that’s like, mindboggling, and I tend to think about ships from the perspective of the poor people. Each one of them represented more than a lifetimes’ worth of wealth, so the idea of rich people owning multiples is kind of impossible.

Anyway, even so, the task of sending a boat to get goods for sale was still a gamble – every time it went out, you didn’t know if it was coming back, and if it didn’t come back, you were out a ton of money, enough to ruin someone. The solution, then, was for people to band together – wealthy people, mind you – and instead of buying one ship, buying one tenth of ten ships. When each ship came in, you got a tenth of its proceeds. If one sank, you were out a tenth of a price of a ship. Then they got really fiddly with the numbers, and bookkeeping got involved and you started to see people making more and more careful subdivisions of the shares, and things you could do to interact with the shares and eventually things got decoupled from ever needing to turn a profit at all, because everything about markets eventually sucks butts.

Still, the thing with this whole system that makes my ears twist is, no matter how I think about it, the more I think it’s kind of inevitable that people will come up with this idea if they have some way of representing it. And then the weirder thing is: We have this idea for buying and owning shares in objects and businesses, but it seems fundamentally inimical to the current mindset of the world to have shares in the government you’re part of. Like, taxes are seen a an imposition, rather than a percentage ownership of the country you’re investing in.

The Stormtrooper’s Lament

I work at a university. This means I see a lot of students, and students like t-shirts. They like t-shirts, and they like Star Wars. And because they like Star Wars, they like wearing shirts that show the words to Star Wars, you know, the lyrics, or whatever. Star Wars has lyrics, I’m sure of it. Anyway, the point is, I see a lot of Star Wars shirts, and since being a walking ad isn’t enough any more, people go for weird and offbeat and ironic riffs on Star Wars.

So I see a lot of jokes about Stormtroopers missing.

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Now, I am not an expert in Star Wars, which is surprisingly hard when you consider that my field of academia is kinda adjacent to Fandom Studies, which is basically the study of Star Wars, And Now Harry Potter and Dr Who I Guess, at this point, but somehow, I am not really all that in with Star Wars. The main thing I know about Star Wars is how much the people love it love to shit on it because that’s how they show they Star Wars the best, like, being the people who love the movies enough to point out all the ways it’s dumb is how they show they’re better Star Wars fans than other Star Warsers.

I think that’s how it works. It’s like, in the rules of Star Wars, like encoded in the Force.

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Now, again, I’m no expert, but this question about Stormtroopers missing in a universe where there’s literal actual destiny and an actual force that actually exists and actually intervenes in reality to the degree of letting people teleport their soul ghosts across vast distances and huck objects around and lightning and stuff, why people think that Stormtroopers miss rather than the people being shot at avoided the shots.

It’s really weird, like, the series is constantly hammering away on the Force guides, the Force determines, the Force makes the universe hold together, the Force is super important, but when people witness a faceless, nameless stormtrooper doing the best job they can do, they don’t think ‘maybe the Force this whole series is constantly all about is doing something,’ they think ‘hah, that guy sucks.’

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It isn’t just the troopers, though. There are all sorts of near misses in the story, all sorts of things that could have gone wrong but didn’t, all sorts of moments when they sort of had to lean on the concept of the story itself to keep the hero, Johnny Starwar, going through the narrative. There were coincidences that pulled people together, and people point at those coincidences and say ‘well isn’t that silly? It’s like there’s some sort of conventional plot point dragging everything together into one spot!’ And normally I’d be okay with making fun of that but that’s a thing that exists in the story, and the ability to control or channel it is part of how the story even works, as a story.

Yet it’s way easier to make fun of the things in the story for being… affected by the story? In a universe where the story itself has power over the story? Where being able to manipulate the nature of reality, where complying with what the story wants you to be doing is a way to survive and live on?

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I’d say I’d wonder if there were more ways the story could make the force obvious but it kinda can’t, because they never shut up about it.


The images for this post were obtained from TeePublic, but that doesn’t mean they’re presented by their original artists. Trying to find the original artists only built the suggestion that the original artists are not actually posting them on TeePublic.

Story Pile: Kakegurui

It’s not often people approach me and suggest anime to me. I’m pretty fidgety about anime these days, because I watch it subbed (for no reason I can adequately explain) and I don’t like watching TV shows I can’t watch while I work on other things. Still, it was in Netflix, it was easy to get, and what they hey, it looked kinda interesting so let’s check out this anime.

It opens with a character losing a poker hand based on an Amazing Hand, which is a huge red flag for me about people not knowing how poker works. This was not an auspicious beginning for a series that I later heard described as Death Note For Money.

Anyway, I quite liked Kakegurui.

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Stop Being An Asshole About Fidget Spinners

Last year was the year of the Fidget Spinner, which is to say, it was the year people noticed the existence of dedicated stim toys and started to make a thing about it. During this time, teachers began the eternal gripe about whether or not they’re entitled to the attention of students, something that philosophically, I’m sort of resistant to. It’s not so much a resistance to the idea as much as it is surrender to its impossibility. If you’re a teacher, and you’re dealing with students who aren’t paying attention to you, that’s on you. Your job is to communicate ideas to the student in a way that they can remember. If they’re not engaging – if they’re not even trying – and you can’t find a way to make them that works for you too, then the two of you aren’t compatible.

The thing that blows me out about it was that the whole regime was just assholery all the way down. It wasn’t some sort of brilliant incisive conversation, not even slightly. You’d see people ostensibly employed in the task of scientific research or pedagogy or parenting or anything, people who you’d think have some degree of appreciation for nuance and maybe a recognition of how kids behave, acting like fidget spinners were the ding-danging apocalypse.

I mean, consider that adults do a ton of annoying stuff that other people put up with but they never realise how much people are ignoring it, because it’s not normal to call out strangers for being weird. If I stand at the bus stop clicking a pen nobody at the bus stop is going to tell me off for it, not because it doesn’t bug them, but because you respect other people’s boundaries.

The main thing I took out of the whole lesson was that the people you saw complaining the most about trying to distract people from fidget spinners were that they were people obviously uncomfortable with being shown that they’re not good at holding an audience’s attention. If people are going to zone out during your class, the fidget spinner’s not going to help them do it faster.

Literally every reason to ban fidget spinners is a reason to ban pens and paper.