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.

Making Fun, Episode 7 – Getting Started

Hey holy heck I made another one of these!

This time the challenge was learning the tool. I feel a lot more confident with Vegas studio and learned how to overcome a couple of really embarassing early problems.

If there’s anything you want to see me explore as a topic, please, lemme know!

My Two Pennies, Part III

Marshal McLuahn as any Canadian will tell you, codified the idea that the medium is the message; that modes of communication are greater than the ideas that we communicate with them, changing infrastructure around them. Consider this:

One of these is edited in some fairly inconsequential ways. One of them is the original. Any serious scrutiny will tell which is which. But could you, without the comparison, tell easily what was ‘wrong’ with the strip?

The comic panel is a visual medium that allows us to convey a wealth of information through single slices of momentary time, instances where we do not see animation but its cessation. A panel invites scrutiny and we construct time through the transition of panels.

A man opens a door, a wide panel showing much of the street; a narrow panel, showing little, focusing our attention. The second space becomes smaller, threatening, and the man becomes less distinct. We observe him then we become the observor he approaches.

Narrower still. A frame within a frame. We are observing the man moving away from us, within the building now (look at the stairs), a neighbour peeking out. He is not unnoticed. He is not unfeared – even as we know nothing about him from this. I am not, I want to underscore, saying that Penny Arcade needs to be Watchmen. But Watchmen has in it valuable lessons about how comics work, what comic panels do and how you can use them. Moore famously wrote entire pages of description about world, setting, tone and the space of each panel so that Gibson had the tools to actualise the right visual atmosphere.

Here now is literally every single thing that needs to be provided to convey to an artist the information in the PA strip:

here is that exact same idea:

Now here’s the funny thing. Penny Arcade know that this is a bad way to do comics. compare and contrast, 2000 to 2012

The first one is just the same joke held for three panels; effort was done to re-draw them but they only show a degree of animation, the enthusiasm for the Hat Of Money that, y’know, we’re all learning, I’m not going to complain and the line was pretty funny at the time.

The second one is, like the first, basically a monologue, but they use the cinematic space of the comic panel to do something. You get an implementation of the art: Setting, diner, public space.

Tycho’s haunted expression, closing in on the face.

That near-reverential moment where he closes his eyes

and struggles to vocalise what he has learned,

what he has experienced.

What this has made of him,

what he has become.

It’s a poop joke.

Now here’s a similar application of the idea: The camera conveys that this conversation is slow and peaceful, that there is a pastoral gentleness to this comic. It’s not funny but it is warm and nice and I don’t hate it.

Maybe this was just a lazy day. Maybe this was just one day where they decided they wanted to spend 68 words (not even nice) to make a 10 word joke. A 10 word joke they’d made before! It’s like the most basic of gamer jokes, following only after That Person Didn’t Understand Our Jargon, Therefore We Must Overreact Massively. This strip is just Genesis Does What Nintendon’t for arseholes who don’t like Polygon.

I don’t know what comparisons YOU want to make about Penny Arcade, but here’s mine:

They’re Garfield.

The comic as a medium is visual. You can do talking-head dialogue if you want, and lords knows a couple of millionaires are entitled to phone it in on a day to day basis. It’s only poor people who get graded on the quality of their work.

The strange thing is, that as a projection of its author, of the things that I feel this comic is trying to do, I feel this comic very deeply. I feel it because I know I want to do the same thing. I know that I love the feeling of a rolling avalanche of Oh BURN! of mocking someone over and over, with multiple hilarious off-the-cuff comparisons. You start with something small and dismissive, then you double down and then you double down again and again when the sheer depth and quantity of your endless riffing becomes, itself, a source of comedy. It’s an amazing moment!

Then imagine going home, sitting down, working all day on that rolling avalanche of burn, coming up with your list, then getting an artist to make a visual for it for which you had NO ACTUAL NEED, and put it before your audience

And it’s this.

L’esprit de l’escalier mécanique.

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The Art Of Your Normal

Confederate monuments are not monuments to history.

Well, they are, but that’s not what they are.

Every single work of art chooses what not to depict. Like every single map chooses to leave out details in order to represent the information it cares about, every single artwork has to choose a point to stop telling you what surrounds it. And Confederate monuments aren’t about the history that is.

They’re about the history that some people wishes there was.

Look at them. Look at how they present the people and events. Heroic struggles against a foe, a very unspecified foe, for an equally unspecified reason. As the Lions of British public works fail to remind you that the Lion is not native to England, and in fact, the people of England did a lot of harm to the places that have Lions, the image and the icon were taken for their own expression, for what they could make people feel about what they wanted to be true.

Now, I want to show you an example of this kind of art, but presenting this art without context inherently allows the art to speak for itself. So I’ve made some subtle annotations to the artwork so you can focus instead on the art as an object of intention, that it was something someone constructed and why they did it. You know, rudimentary postmodernism, questioning the base assumptions of our art.

The soldier is presented with a raised foot, holding a weapon, looking nobly at the future; the figure is shown as powerful, whole, is constructed and crafted in a single colour but with shapes that suggest the blowing of wind, the vivacity of life cast in metal and stone. There is an inscription full of importance and vigor, in the language of our culture’s view of Value.

This is propoganda.

The Public Art of the Confederacy, which presents soldiers alone, in positions of glory, and valour, and success, are presented as skilled and noble. They are in uniform, they are standing at attention, they are glamorised. You don’t get statues showing them throwing black infants into a river; you don’t get the statues that show these people as part of long-term and constant genocide. The history that you’re seeing, then, is not the history of what happened, but rather a tiny, tiny window into something that did happen, and by ignoring everything else, a dsesperate aim to keep the rest of that information hidden and lost. Let these people look noble, and do not think of every single round they shot, every wound they took, every personal deprivation was in the name of continuing the generational torture of Black Americans.

There is a generation of Southern Americans, growing as the conservative movement carries this vile meme with it, who are convinced that The Confederacy Wasn’t That Bad Actually and this art is part of why. These statues, these statues to men and women who hate America, who stand proudly and nobly against the American ideal of No Slavery, they are art that wants to make their evil normal, and acceptable, and calmly casual.

Your art shapes your world.

And this art glorifies evil.

If you want to keep it around, if you’re against the idea of the destruction of art, which usually is used as a way of examining art as inherently intransient, which is its own problem, but if you want to keep this art around, then you owe it to your culture to put it in context. Surround these statues with monuments of the lynched and slain. Add plaques commemorating the invisibly dead who did not get to be valorised in death because their crime was being born into a black skin under someone else’s ownership.

Or tear them down, and put them in museums, the Ways We Try To Forgive Ourselves For Genocide Museum.

The Traits Of Objects

You may have heard about the idea of ‘objectification.’ When I wrote about Daredevil, I trotted out a list – Instrumentality, Agency, Ownership, Fungibility, Violability, and Subjectivity. Where’d that list come from? Is it a tool you can use for your own writing?

One of the things I like with critical tools is that you can turn them on work that exists, and illuminate traits of the work you wouldn’t otherwise notice, but also, like an inverted puzzle piece, you can turn the tool on a work you’re developing yourself, and in the process, see spaces you can use to fill things out to achieve what you want. In this case, the tool is useful for avoiding the objectification of a character, which is to say, you can use this checklist to imbue a character with character.

As for the list’s origin, it’s from the work of Martha Nussbaum, and her writing was about people, not about media. It was also expanded by Rae Langton – whose work primarily focuses on sex and pornography. I don’t have a strong grounding in either of these creators, and I have the nagging feeling that digging into the views of a pair of 50+ year old Feminist Philosophers will find something nasty and TERFy. So don’t take my appreciation of this tool as an endorsement of them.

The full list, including both Nussbaum and Langton’s categories, and the questions they ask, is as follows:

  • Instrumentality: Does this character exist to only enact the purpose of another? Are they a tool? Could you replace them with a vending machine?
  • Agency: Is the character ever demonstrated as having their own purpose, their own ability to make decisions for themselves?
  • Ownership: Is the character ever depicted as being literally the property of another? And if they are, is that depiction ever showing that as being reasonable? Parents, for example, are often depicted as owning their children. How do you think of that relationship?
  • Fungibility: Can the character be swapped for another character of a similar type? Is the character replaceable? How would the actions of the character differ if another character was called upon to do the same thing?
  • Violability: Can people act on the character without consequence? Can you punch them with no followup?
  • Subjectivity: Does the character’s individual experience and personal opinion ever matter? When they disagree with someone is it because of a personal interpretation of events? What fuels that thought?
  • Reduction To Body: Can the character be thought of as just a particular component of their body? Are they a fist to attack someone with, a foot to step on someone? This is very common in pornography – is a character, for lack of a less crude term ‘Tits The Girl?’
  • Reduction To Appearance: Does a character matter primarily in terms of how appealing they are to the senses? A good test of this again, is to check how these characters could be organised in terms of being ‘the hottest’ or ranked for appearance.
  • Silencing: Is the character voiceless? Are they treated as if they are voiceless? Does it ever matter if they say anything? Do other people react to what they have to say?

Sometimes there are some really weird things you can get by applying this toolset. For example, lots of the characters in Joss Whedon’s work are fungible – they almost all can say the same lines of dialogue. Zack Snyder’s Perry White in Batman V Superman hasn’t really got Subjectivity – he exists to oppose Lois Lane’s efforts, without a justifiable rationale for doing so. But you wouldn’t necessarily assume that Perry White is objectified as much, in this case, as he is just an object.

Not every character in a story needs to be a non-object. There will always be room for goons and audiences and randoms. Stories thrive on having objects in them. The thing to look out for in your own work is if all the objects you’re using have common traits – if all the black people in your story, for example, are fungible, you probably have a problem. If when you need a random character to dismiss as being meaningless, you reach to make it a woman, you’ve got to wonder why you keep doing that.

And also knock that off.

This list also makes a valuable way to examine your characters and see if there are new ways you can add dimensions to them. Make them more real. Just recognise that sometimes, a messenger can just be a messenger, they don’t need a backstory and a family and seven layers of motivation if they’re going to turn up and tell you that Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are dead.

My Two Pennies, Part II

Last time, I took this Penny Arcade strip and explored how it conveyed its message, and what it was trying to say.  We wound up at this:  

Here’s that panel with like, the miscellaneous random crap and a bunch of weirdly unnecessary face lines cleaned up just because I find that strikingly different.

Penny Arcade as a brand is estimated at being worth $37,900,000. They do not, I am absolutely sure, care a whit about what I have to say about their work, unless I somehow catch one of them on a randomly spiteful day, which I am pretty confident I won’t. Plus they have the raftload of excuses – this is how they do things, this is their art style, this isn’t made for critics, they don’t care, they’re extremely not mad – that anyone can use when their webcomic is mocked.

The amazing thing about this clearly great, great comic, is that there’s so many ways it can be used to tell the exact same story, the ways it reinforces and multiples upon its own intricate, endlessly deep thesis.  Such a confidence and absoluteness in its message, so coherent and deliberate in its overwhelming reassessment of its meaning, it is the only work that knows itself, that knows what it is for, what it means to say. As art, it proves to us that it is real – and we, ephemeral.

When I am gone, this art will remain, perfect, unchanging, a message unto eternity, perfect in its affirmation of what it, more than anything else, knows to be true:

it’s like you get three individual comics at once! Then, wrapping it up, you’re presented with one big comic that is itself, made up of three individual comics each saying exactly the same thing of its own opinion. It is postmodern in that it challenges the assumption that a comic need have a structure, that comedy need be funny, that there needs to be anything else in life but spite and disdain for the other, and that you can use a position of media prominence to do nothing but snipe needlessly at things you assert that don’t really care about.

It is a russian nesting doll made of Pickle Ricks.

Which is a thing that exists.

Thankfully, we will always have the branding we can wear, with which we will adorn ourselves and show that we, more than anyone else, care about this art. Oh, how we care.

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Notes: The Insane Jurassic Park Theory that Might Be True


There’s a bit of a thing about ‘fan theories’ being extremely annoying and stupid (looking at you, Game Theorists), and there being a bit of a … backlash? Sidelash? from other fan commentators dismissing them as fanfiction, and therefore, not worth paying attention to. Me, I think that fanfiction needs to be taken seriously, and this video is a great example of ways it can enrich media.

In this work, we have advanced, forward knowledge of how things work since the original story came out, and some meaningless plotholes and a few character details, extra media from other movies – basically, this theory explains something that was never really intended to be there. On the other hand, this creates an interesting version of the reality presented in the story, and what you wind up with is a richer story with a little shift of characters, a little difference in how we perceive the movie from 20 years ago and now.

This is also a practice I learned in Bible Study: It’s called a harmonisation, when two things contradict one another. You construct a new diegesis with fictive information that justifies the conflict.

My Two Pennies, Part I

I see some people are having a hard time interpreting this Penny Arcade comic, and so I figured I’d try and help you out here. I am, after all, an academic, exactly the kind of person that Penny Arcade love to bash for our difficulty understanding their intricate, street-level Derridan medium, so I figured it was best to conduct some study and provide a clear, explored version of their original text for other people to consume.

I hope this deciphers this intricate political statement and is worth the years of study. It’s a difficult puzzle to solve, and you can see here how they’ve cleverly used the rhetorical device of repeating themselves three times to ensure that we clearly understand their joke. Now, conventionally, comedy would dictate that you don’t belabour your joke – that you make your point, deliver the joke sharp and smart (like a ‘punch’ line, as it were), but the Penny Arcade magnates are proud and above such things. They instead opt for this very advanced form of comedy where they restate their joke repeatedly.

Some people have argued the original third panel was actually mocking the idea of people caring about politics, which is kind of true, but only in that it’s meant to be mocking Polygon for its daring to care about this as it relates to clearly ridiculous things. That is, they believe that the source, Polygon, is wasting its effort and energy on things it shouldn’t be doing. Like this.

Now, when I see things like this, I think we all recognise that the true greatest genius of 90s comics, and genesis of most webcomic as a genre was the work of Gary Larson in the newspaper single-panel comic The Far Side.

Of course, Larson was a believer in, and advocate for active minimalism in comedy.

It stands to reason when you’re working for an editor and need to turn around your comics quickly for quick redraws and re-works, you might favour a style that’s very clean, and avoids excessive extra lines or notes, and makes the small space you have maximally expressive.

As you refine the process, you realise how little of what you need is useful. You start to appreciate how much you can express with a small number of narrative and visual tools. The chaff you thought was essential melts away and you’re left looking at what you’ve chosen to present, and how, in its purest form.

Anyway, I think we’ve all learned something today.

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Minna No Boku No Hero Academia

Curious what you think of the permeability of shonen anime into the general consciousness, as seen in Everyone Making BNHA OCs. – Casey

First things first shonen anime is and has been part of the general consciousness for about thirty years now. My dad knows who Tobor the 8 Man was even if he didn’t, at the time know it was Anime, and Astro Boy is an institution world-wide. What’s more Goku, from Dragonball Z has the cultural cachet of Superman, which puts their general awareness in public attention around about the same level of, literally, Jesus Christ.

That said, there is something interesting about Boku No Hero Academia, a name that I feel it’d be a bit tired to make fun of at this point, and how it relates to Everyone Making BNHA OCs. Specifically, the thing that’s interesting isn’t that Everyone Is Making BNHA OCs…

… its that people feel okay talking abouti making BNHA OCs.

OCs are a really interestingly contentious part of culture. For a start, all creative characters both have them and don’t – the nature of all creative culture as a gigantic remix machine where things we experience become part of the things we create and how it’s all part of this greater framework generation and what we see as originality is really a shift in perspectives or a paradigmatic repositioning and oh god you’re falling asleep – but the other thing is, OCs are seen almost inextricably as embarassing. We use the joke ‘OC, do not steal’ as an inherent joke to describe something people shouldn’t care about, where the speaker is meant to care very much. The Sonic OC is a whole psychosexual bazaar at this point, something most people observe from the outside and awkwardly step around.

Fanart is an interesting mill of media where people often have very one-sided relationships with the work; they do not care about the artist and their opinions or input as much as they care about the other media work the artist invokes. Artists can use fanart as a stepping stone but there is a lot more fanart that goes nowhere than anything else, and the nature of the decontextualising internet means it’s often appreciated by people who have basically no connection to the artist, because they have connection to the media it flows from. Typically speaking, fanart is not a space to get creative – if there’s a character in a lineup from a show that didn’t come from the show, people will almost always see them as not appropriate.

Yet, BNHA has this strange phenomenon where people aren’t just making OCs for it, they’re also comfortable labelling them as such, sharing them, and then, within the framework of the series, using those characters to make fanart of the series. Here, check out this character, who I’m using to show off the way that powers in this really weird and interesting and cool universe could work out!

I don’t think BNHA is uniquely suited for this; you could have seen the same thing back in Ranma 1/2’s heyday, where characters all had ridiculous martial arts and possibly their own ridiculous magical spring. Heck, there was a ten year long roleplay thread on a newsgroup called GRIT that was just about people’s Ranma 1/2 OCs (at first – it spiralled off, as anything would).

What I find more interesting – what I find exciting – is that we’re at a point now where showing off your BNHA OC isn’t seen as inherently ridiculous. We’re reaching a place where when people say I care about this thing, and here is my inclusion in it, nobody says get that out of here. There is a welcoming in this concept space, and…

well, I find that exciting. I wonder how much stuff I’d love better, how much better I’d be at some things if I didn’t feel I was constantly being told I wasn’t good enough.

Yes Minister

I feel old.

I’ve taken in my efforts to stave off this feeling, but it’s undeniable. I feel old, even though I know full well that ‘millenial’ talk is targeted at me. Part of why is because the things of my youth are not the things of other people’s youth. I was raised on The Goon Show and I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again and obscure Christian media. My media background was ultimately not for me – it was for my father.

Lots of it went over my head. The Goon Show had overtones of sex farce and tons of racy humour that I completely missed. I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again built on a host of tropey fantasy and panto skit comedy that I totally missed, and I only now realise what a slide whistle means.

One series of my father’s loves, which was contemporary to my birth, and therefore, completely beyond me until, well, now, is Yes Minister.

It’s fascinating actually in that it has a lot in common with Seinfeld. While the point of Seinfeld was that it was a show about nothing1., with stories that showed people spending huge amounts of effort on tiny nothings, the thrust of Yes Minister was inverted. Episodes of Yes Minister are spent ranging across spaces of days at a time, with enormous outcomes on the line, in which almost nothing ever gets to happen. But while Seinfeld’s narrative structure is bent to the frantic expenditure of energy achieving nothing, the narrative of Yes Minister is the frantic expenditure of energy achieving nothing.

It’s that kind of word play is throughout the series.

It’s also a show where instantaneous communication as we have it now would totally desolate some plots.

One of the challenges of making a sit-com is that it’s meant to be a situation comedy, a comedy that exists, as it were, in situ, in its own place. The dialogue therefore is trying to serve both comedy, with timing and wordplay, and also be some form of naturalistic. You can look at the comedy of say, Everybody Loves Raymond or Big Bang Theory with gigantic, stratified pauses between people talking to allow for reactions, which well, we’ll pretend that’s actually about the jokes being funny rather than signalling that they are meant to be. Anyway, the point is that it’s very difficult to make dialogue serve both funny and natural.

Yes Minister achieves this by having the comedy in dialogue mostly derive from the three voices in almost every given room be either deliberately obfuscating and smug, well-intentioned and prone to blurting, and wavering between the three the voice of Jim Hacker trying desperately to be funny and score a point of the others as a way to signify his own intelligence. This is a series of people being witty at one another, and in the context of the space they’re in, this is naturalistic dialogue. They want to show they’re smarter and funnier than one another.

The really interesting thing to me, now, about Yes Minister, watching it in hindsight isn’t so much that it’s funny – it is, it’s very funny, if you like a particular kind of playfully cynical word play and manipulation – or even that, it’s about how much of the narrative is things that we are dealing with now.

British Government is a fascinating warren of discretions and traditions and importantly deliberate vaguearies, and Yes Minister is set in a time when the EU is about to come into being and the Cold War was still quite cold. Countries in Africa were escaping colonial power. There’s a recognition that America is both powerful and blisteringly foolish as a global power, and there’s a reasonable expectation that the government is spending much of its time trying to move things around and that a lot of what’s going on is actually in service of nothing.

There is a fascinating intricacy to it all where largely, the sheer scope of British bureaucracy is presented as both a problem and a result. The size of government and the people involved in it, the story tells you, are related. You can’t ask for more work without asking for more people to do them. There’s talk about the UK’s role in the then-nascent EU, which was explicitly framed in terms of the very cultural reasons the UK saw the EU as an opportunity to join – or rather the EEC, at the time.

It’s all so interesting to me because it carries within it some very real but very cynical truths about the way things happened. Things that I like, things I believe in, could almost always be viewed in terms of short-term pettiness and spite. And it serves as a counterpoint to The West Wing, which was as much fanfiction of how America could have been in the late 90s as it shows an England of the early 80s.

What brought me to check this out again?

It was this quote:

Sir Humphrey: The only way to understand the Press is to remember that they pander to their readers’ prejudices.

Jim Hacker: Don’t tell me about the Press. I know *exactly* who reads the papers. The Daily Mirror is read by the people who think they run the country. The Guardian is read by people who think they *ought* to run the country. The Times is read by the people who actually *do* run the country. The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country. The Financial Times is read by people who *own* the country. The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by *another* country. The Daily Telegraph is read by the people who think it is.

Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?

Bernard Woolley: Sun readers don’t care *who* runs the country – as long as she’s got big tits.


1. I personally don’t buy this. Seinfeld seems to really be a show about how it’s totally okay to be a self-obssessed prick.

The Pisscourse

Sure, let’s do this. Why not. Why not. It’s just a Daily Mail article.

In mid September 2017 the Daily Mail copy-pasted an article – more or less – which was about little boys peeing on things, and science, and gender essentialism and making women researchers look silly, and they love that kind of thing. You can almost test whether or not a story will show up on the Daily Mail if you imagine whether or not the average Daily Mail reader could read it and either dismiss the ‘expert’ they laughingly frame as an idiot, or act as if ‘well of course, who doesn’t know that.’ This one got to add a bit of gender essentialism and Terfy Overtonse, so of course this was going to be a hit.

The article is being shared around as if the Daily Mail had shared quack science proving that men are better at physics because they pee on things, and then dismissed this science with the evidence that urinals are dirty. You probably saw this joke. A few times.

There are three problems with this article – which I’m not linking. Before we go on, this article is going to talk about dick-havers and refer to them as generally male. This is not the absolute case. This is not what all dick-havers are. Just wanted to get that out there. When we talk about structural power and things Men do, however, it is very common that most men have penises, and that’s part of the assumptions of this article. So if I sound like I’m being Not Actively Trans-Inclusive enough please recognise it is a shorthand when talking about existing Men-based power structures, which are notoriously unfriendly to trans women and also tend towards disqualify and exclude them from wielding privilege.

Anyway, with that in mind: Here’s a fold!

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