Category: Story Pile

Here’s where you’ll find the blog entries that are about examining – specifically – TV, movies, and other forms of participatory media that interest me. This is the space you’re going to find talk of characters in TV shows, or specific moments in greater narratives, or why you might want to watch a particular show or why I love – or hate! – a particular movie.

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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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.

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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Story Pile: The Good Place, Season 1

Let’s not talk about spoilers.

The premise of The Good Place is a pretty good one, a robust hook they serve at you in the first episode. We’re introduced to the character of Eleanor Shellstrop, as she comes to consciousness in an afterlife, which the story then underscores is not ‘Heaven.’ It is, to simplify, ‘The Good Place.’ The drama of the narrative comes then from her revealing, in private, to her first potential friend, that she isn’t the person they think she is, and that she doesn’t belong there.

That’s our basic premise, and it’s a strong hook. Rather than a whacky situation comedy, where there’s this good scenario and the story repeatedly dumps into this status quo a new strange setup, and the story refreshes around it, you get a really interesting story that’s also very funny that builds on the premise of the story established in this opening. It’s strongly continuity-driven, and that means that you aren’t really tuning in for an episode as much as you are tuning in for a few at a time.

It’s a good show to watch all of over the course of a weekend, that kinda thing. Good quality Netflix Content.

And I don’t want to talk about what happens in it. I want to talk about a joke. Continue reading

Story Pile: Sonic Boom

What right did this series, this series of all things, did this series, have to kick ass?

Sonic Boom is a tv series made up of ten minute shorts based around the adventures of a hedgehog named Sonic, his enemy Dr Eggman and his friends, Knuckles, Tails, Amy, and Sticks, and a host of other characters. And from there… what is it?

Let’s talk, real quick, and by that I mean the bulk of this article is going to be about it, about intertextuality.

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Story Pile: Shadow The Hedgehog is Queerness

In music theory there’s this understood idea that brasses sound heroic and powerful, and strings sound gentle and feminine, a theory reinforced by years of musicology in theatre. What happened is when movies were new, and attaching music to characters in a particular way moved out of the Musical and into just telling stories, a sort of language of music got started.

We already had it that brass music sounded powerful and forceful and heroic – something that John Phillip Sousa sort of ran into the ground as a theme. By comparison, strings sounded delicate and Not Like Brass, so the formed an obvious counterpart for the fragile and the frail. Then over several thousand movies and repeated use of these two ideas in movies where boys were strong and girls were objects, we wound up where we are now, where despite never actually being true, horns ‘sound masculine’ and strings ‘sound feminine.’

I mean, think about this: What’s the Superman theme sound like?

Anyway, this means that when we reach back into earlier, pre-movie theatrics, though, we still now see that same coding. The association with the music extends beyond the media it’s in. Now, marches that predate movies are seen as ‘masculine’ because the movie comes with them. This is the power of the archetype, where when you’re seen as relating to a thing, it doesn’t really matter what you are doing, because it’ll all be seen in relationship to the archetype.

What does this have to do with Sonic The Hedgehog?

Shut up I’m getting there.

The point is, movies wound up this way because they were being slowly but steadily built for bigger and bigger markets. The more people you want to get involved, the more you lean on those archetypes, on a frame of reference. Brassy heroic music is, archetypally, masculine, and so, when you want to signal a masculine dude, you use brassy heroic music. This means that lots of this media is full of signals that are more about telling you A Thing Is A Way It Is Because It Is The Way It Is. An archetype is, basically, lots of reinforcing, circular story stuff. It doesn’t have meaning of itself – it’s just a way of signalling a thing should be sort of like these other things.

And now we get to Sonic The Hedgehog, the media franchise. We’re not talking about the game character – Sonic doesn’t really belong to games any more. When you’re talking about cultural impact, Sonic’s been in twenty five years of comics, three manga series, six books, and five television series, with a live-action CGI movie in the works being financed by a man who’s also repsonsible for the XXX and Fast and the Furious franchise. Sonic is a transmedia property, and matters more as being Sonic than he matters as a game entity. And despite all of this, this enormous spread of media representation, when you go looking for an answer to the question who is Sonic the Hedgehog you don’t find anything, really.

You get an archetype.

But that archetype gives us structure – and that gives us a place to look at the Sonic the Hedgeverse.

What then, is Sonic? What archetypally remains around this character? Well, he’s a Cool Hero. He’s edgy, in a very generic, mid-90s kind of way, in that he thumbs his nose at authority, he likes speed and going fast and doens’t like rules, man, but at the same time you know he’ll never blow off something that matters because that plays against being a hero, so what you’re left with is this character who is simultaneously unreliable but also very reliable. This is reflected in Sonic’s writeup on Wikipedia, composed of multiple sources, saying that Sonic is

…”like the wind”: a drifter who lives as he wants, and makes life a series of events and adventures. Sonic hates oppression and staunchly defends freedom. Although he is mostly quick-witted and easygoing, he has a short temper and is often impatient with slower things. Sonic is a habitual daredevil hedgehog who is honest, loyal to friends, keeps his promises, and dislikes tears. In times of crisis, he focuses intensely on the challenge as if his personality had undergone an astonishing change.

If you sit down and cross out those sentences that mean nothing like ‘makes life a series of events,’ you’re left with a loose drifter without any fixed goal who is a staunch defender of freedom who always stands by his friends, easygoing until he doesn’t have to be, patient unless he’s not and is like the wind except he also always keeps his promises. In essence, there’s nothing there, but despite that you can still say you know something of who Sonic is. It’s even there in his visual coding – red, white and blue. Sonic is a Bold Hero Guy.

Once he’s the Bold Hero guy, everything else kinda falls around him. Tails becomes the Sidekick Boy, who has to be smaller and worse at everything than Protagonist Guy by default, so he can be rescued but also so he has some reason to aspire to being like Protagonist Guy. He can be sweet and kind (which aren’t edgy and cool), and he’s probably a tiny bit more femme than Protagonist Guy, in the vein of the nerdy friend. Tails fits this archetype pretty easily – he’s better than Sonic at machines, which builds in that ‘nerdy friend’ slot.

You can play this outwards; Knuckles is the voice of authority, with his stable position and opposition to Sonic because Sonic isn’t following the rules. There’s Amy Rose, the Good Girl who hangs around him and has an interest in him (which shows he’s desireable), but for some reason he never has to commit or dismiss this – Amy will want him regardless of what a doofus he is and she will usually be at fault for any discomfort he experiences. Rouge introduces a sexy other to Amy, again, a reflection of an image of Sonic, and then, finally… we get Shadow.

Note that up until now, none of the other major characters (Sorry, Big) introduced have been like Sonic. They’ve been explicitly unlike him – Shadow is the first opposite to Sonic (unless you count 1994’s Anti-Sonic The Hedgehog, which we don’t, and he didn’t come back as Scourge the hedgehog until 2011, well after Shadow’s appearance so don’t @ me). And when you’re dealing with archetypes, there is an identity that exists for the characters in movies and TV series like this. The place for a character who is the same type but not the same way. He is coded cool, but 00s edgy to 90s edgy, making him seem slicker, more fashionable, more aware, compared to Sonic’s suddenly oblivious-seeming 90s sort-of-surfer coolness. Shadow is angry, he is resentful, and that casts Sonic, for all of his quick temper, as almost a beach bum. What’s more, Sonic is surrounded by friends and is a celebrated hero – he’s the Protagonist Guy.

In a template where the Cool Guy is opposed by someone Equally Cool But More Distressed, we enter the cinematic tradition of The Other. He’s bad, but not that bad, he’s an opponent, but not a villain. That makes him a humanised Other, a character who stands to contrast with the hero (in a way that once, Knuckles did). The thing with The Other is, they take on a LOT of forms in different media, but if you’re queer, chances are your favourite character is a The Other. Camp LOVES them to bits.

In the greater narrative space of Sonic the Hedgehog, these characters are still mostly empty. They’re a description of a handful of traits in relationship to one another. In that space, Shadow the Hedgehog is a camp antagonist, an example of The Other, who can be – and sorta IS – All Queerness. What you see there is what you can pour into him.

Story Pile: Black Panther

There a lot of words being spilled about Black Panther. I do not believe that spoilers are particularly important to the enjoyment of a product, but I know that people dislike spoilers. So no talk of spoilers. I know that a specificity of information is part of spoilers – by avoiding spoilers I can sweep along without providing detailed examples, which has a nice side effect where I can talk about more stuff without having to bog down in reference points.

Still, everything else aside, everything else aside: Black Panther is a great hecking movie. It’s a fun ride, it’s kinda like a spy movie and a kung fu movie and it’s a really good hero movie, and really, you should just check the heck out of it, it’s great. Believe the hype. I am a nitpicky motherhubbard and I think that every complaint I’ve heard about this movie so far comes from a place of digging deep in an attempt to find something to complain about, or ‘I wish there was more of this movie.’

Oh, and racism.

On that note, I’m going to try and minimise whatever I have to say that’s basically about racism. This is  great movie and it’s very heavily anticolonial and it does a lot with African cultures and there’s language and clothing and worldview and a lot of stuff and straight up, I am neither qualified to talk about it nor do I have anything interesting to say. Colonialism is bad, slavery is bad, and anything I have to say on that topic is mostly only useful in light of how some white people talk to themselves about it. Don’t expect anything there.

Okay, enough preamble! Go!

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Story Pile: My Two Pennies, Part IV

The comic that spawned the thread that became this month-long bollocking of a single piece of mediocrity in comic form is one of two late-2017 Penny Arcade comics that were being dragged around to show that these two millionaires who couldn’t care less about anything I have to say were Bad Persons. The other is… this one:

Now, I spent time criticising the first beyond all reason because well because I found it funny, but also because it’s boring and lazy and it uses a ton of space to make no reasonable damn point at all; Polygon dislikes thing; I’ll probably like it.

To me, that’s not a point, it’s just journalism. Polygon provided a useful context for Tycho. Like, that’s literally what Polygon should be doing: They give a clear, consistant journalistic voice, provide summary and context, and consumers can use that information to make reasonable and informed choices. People acting like ‘I always disagree with that journalist’ is a sign of criticism of that journalist are weird. If you’re always disagreeing with them, they’re at least presenting something consistant you can use.

The latter one however, got treatments like this, from Prequel-Liker and Games Journalism Thousandaire Harris Bomberguy.

My problem with the first strip was that reading it, I found it made a very, very simple self-evident point and used excessive space to repeat that point for no actual increased value at all. It was Comic Loaf, spackle of the soul. It isn’t this. It isn’t an inarticulate, confused rant from someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. It even avoids the sins of the first comic by dint of actually using the camera of the frame to do something, it actually uses the visual elements of the medium.

Look at this without the text. There is a progress of expression; regardless of what’s being said, it is at its core just revival tent sermonics, a procession from Seeming Calm, High Dudgeon, Brooding Rage, but like, it is actually doing something. The transition between panels has some meaning to it. You can tell how he feels about what he’s saying as he says it.

There’s also the way the face grows in frame. You draw closer, as he leans on his pulpit, as he looms over you, the congregation, and you imagine him as the face of a vengeful angel looming in the demeanour of the unrighteous against whom he preaches.

For those of you who do not this genre of rhetoric, Tycho argues like a preacher. I don’t know for sure because actual hard prying into the man’s history seems to be deliberately tricky on an internet where a man has been a constant presence baring his soul for twenty years but I have a suspicion that at least at some point in his past, Tycho was subject to a revival tent, perhaps attendant to a church in some way. Either way this is the mode of his argument. He argues like a preacher: he argues one-sidedly, imbued with rightness, where the height and weight of his values will carry where rational proofing cannot.

I think that’s why I never feel lost when I watch him making points or rhapsodically lathering in his own rhetoric. I know the genre. It makes sense to me.

with that in mind, here’s the thing about the bomberguy edit.

It’s just wrong.

This is not a reasonable interpretation of what this comic is, or is saying, or is about. And this is in a moment that everyone I know hating on this strip was on the same side as Tycho.

Here’s that same strip, with the wording massively simplified. This is, as I read it, the message of this comic strip. I know nobody who would be against this position. I know nobody who wants to go into bat for EA putting hundreds of people out of work as ‘creativity.’

And yes, clearly a big part of this is on Tycho. The dude is a communicator, and communicating his point is his job. This strip is doing literally nothing but giving you a highlight reel of a sermon, a 2-minute hate at a worthy target.

But it’s not this:

He understands. He understands the rhetoric of an executive VP who is framing the destruction of a game studio as a ‘creative act’, and that upsets him. He made a comic strip about it, or at least wrote it.

I bring this example up not because I think Penny Arcade’s crew are poor misunderstood butterflies. I think they’re a pair of millionaires who don’t care what I think. I bring this up because what I’m afraid of, what I see people I care about indulging, is that the image of them is easy to hate.

This (not this one specifically, just my first hit) was my childhood. Comics that one-sidedly presented the ideologies and ideas of others so they could be wholeheartedly and absolutely destroyed as icons of utter evil.

And now here’s the kicker:

I know people who were sharing this, out of context, then explaining the context incorrectly, then explaining that they hadn’t read the comic.

This lying to ourselves.

This is an act of hyper-irrigation. We are encouraging ourselves to hate people we already hate for bad reasons, because it is easy to hate them. It is moral liberterianism and it is a bad habit to get into and a worse habit to enjoy.

No funny jokey jokes.

If we hate, let us at least raise to a higher standard of hate. Let us not lie about those we disagree with to justify lying to others about them.

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