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.

Story Pile: Son of a Son of a Sailor

The followup to Margaritaville And Some Other Songs was, to me, one half of a two-disc set that my dad got and taped so we could listen to it in the car. It’s a very literal album – some very clear, explicit stories told in song form, not a lot of subtle metaphor. This album, while definitely Another Jimmy Buffett Album and having a song or two on it I really like, is relatively brainless.

It’s got a song about liking cheeseburgers, a song about liking parties, another song about liking parties, and two songs about people he’s met, with a restful, relaxing pace to them. These are to me, the better songs on the album – Cowboy in the Jungle and African Friend are both songs that talk about other, interesting people, and their stories as Jimmy’s narrator only momentarily intersected with them.

It’s interesting, and infamously, Cheeseburger in Paradise is a weird classic of his, a song about… liking a cheeseburger.

Anywayyyy, uh

Continue reading

5 Things That Actually Happen In Ranma 1/2

Ranma 1/2 was a weird anime, and its weirdness was magnified by its own stuttering success. I don’t know what the merchandising was like in the day, but the history of Ranma 1/2 is one of seemingly a sudden and yawning need to create more Ranma content. It’s an infamously filler-prone anime, which means that almost any story it did, it probably did twice. The anime invents characters and has a bunch of plot cul-de-sac stuff and the anime had lots of episodes and the fanfiction community created a lot of fanon that wound up becoming part of what people assumed was canon in the west.

For this reason it can be challenging to underscore just how weird the pre-existing Ranma 1/2 manga really is. It’s funny, because the fanon-framed, anime-infused vision of canon is actually less weird because everything that seems really weird gets filed as ‘filler stuff.’

Here then are five actual, no really, things that happened in the Ranma 1/2 manga.

Continue reading

March Shirt: Big Mood

What do we have this month? Well, it wasn’t made to be any kind of trend chasing, I just felt like playing with a classic videogame logo, and now we have:

Here it is on a different supposedly unisex model over on Redbubble:

And here it is on the Teepublic ghost.

Like the shirt? Well, you would, wouldn’t you. You can go get it on Redbubble or Teepublic.

Story Pile: Le Mans 1955

I was recommended to watch this short film on Youtube by my father, who is and has almost always been, an avid motorsports fan. Unlike many other Story Pile entries, this one, you can just press a button and watch it. You can watch the whole thing.

Le Mans 1955 is a 2018 short animated feature, made by a guy called Quentin Baillieux, along with no doubt, dozens of other people’s hard work. I’m not a French speaker, nor am I versed in the French animation scene so I can’t really get involved and say ‘oh, here’s the context for that,’ but I want you to be aware of the limits I have. I don’t know Baillieux, I don’t know the studio, this is very much just an area of my ignorance.

Hell, my ignorance runs deep on this one; I knew, vaguely, there were a bunch of crashes in motorsports history, but I didn’t know about this one. I can remember hearing of Ayrton Senna being killed in a crash when I was a young child, I can remember the horror of seeing my dad and uncle react to the news of Alex Zanardi being cut in half from a crash in 2000. Motorsports has been around me and never engaged me my entire life. What I mostly knew were these tragic, terrible incidents of someone just

being gone.

I was also growing up in the 90s, so the idea of the motorsports crash was heavily influenced by that – a period when safety standards had already been clamped down pretty hard and were going to clamp down further. I hadn’t looked into the grim history of the worst crashes, the worst audience fatalities, the worst this sport could be, and what could happen.

In 1955, one of the greatest motorsports disasters took place, where a track that wasn’t meant for cars to do this, where three bodies moving at high speed made reasonable but imperfect judgements and the result was a car moving at two hundred miles per hour flying through the air at such speed and with such force that it burst into flames and disintegrated, into a stadium full of spectators. Eighty people died. A hundred and eighty or so were injured.

This is a strange gem of culture. This is one of those periods of time when men were successfully carving out spaces for themselves. This is a point where a man retiring almost but not quite on top was a heavy weight, and it took eighty deaths and a hundred and eighty injuries for him to consider hey hang on maybe. This is a deeply relatable, painful moment, if you can connect with these men from a time when, in a space they had made for themselves and driven out all alternatives, they had to deal with the anguish that they normally relied on other people to handle.

It’s also about games.

The lead didn’t matter. Oh there were incentives, financial and reputation wise, there were some levels of stocks or investment or confidence or whatever that you could make out of winning the race, but winning the race versus placing second or fifth in the race was relatively meaningless. These were specialised subdivisions of companies that were showing they could push the idea of vehicle design to its absolute limit, but they were all systems of things. The nature of privilege for men, even in this period, was one where there were layers upon layers of protection and guarantee to keep you from being seriously hurt for failures. Nobody went to jail over Le Mans. Nobody got blamed.

The reason to care about your performance at Le Mans was because you cared about your performance at Le Mans.

In this movie, you see the emotions of men who cared about their performance at Le Mans so much that there was a struggle… a real tense struggle to be able to say no.

I have to stop the game.

People have died.


Thanks, Dad, this was a really good little movie, and I really appreciate being told about it!

The Gambler

Kenny Rogers just died.

For anyone not aware, Kenny Rogers was a Country Western singer whose career started before you think and was still going up until just a few years ago. In a way he was one of your pop-crossover one-hit wonders, thanks to a duet with Dolly-mother-freaking-Parton called Islands in the Stream, a song that gives her every opportunity to show off how awesome she is and how he can manage to Be Next To Her, which you know, when you’re dealing with the incandescent strange sun that is Dolly Parton, a woman who at that time in history was somehow managing to be a gator-wrangling country firecracker in the visual aesthetic of what can only be called Escaping The 80s Big Hair Bimbo Chic, it’s not so bad.

It’s not that he was a great man or a good man and I don’t say that because I’m thinking that there’s some well known fact about his life or how he stiffed the KFC Colonel out of reparations money or something weird like that but it’s just that these days I don’t feel comfortable sticking my neck out for any famous person I primarily know for having committed the act of being rich in their lifetimes. It’s entirely possible the dude was really great in his private life, but I don’t know that and I don’t feel like looking it up and picking over his moral character in his life through the pinhole of wikipedia now the dude’s died and I need to make that call in order for my Death Take to be apprporiately woke. What I can tell you based on observing the guy is that he had some fucked up boomer-ass opinions about women and relationships and the way he spent his later years pumping out Christmas albums and getting plastic surgery to stave off the Being In His Seventies suggested that he wasn’t particularly super happy with the enormously comfortable life of someone who owned multiple restaurants and was married for twenty-three years.

And despite all that, what’s super weird is that Kenny Rogers dying means a lot to me for no good reason. The internet has conditioned me to see every single thing in terms of a listicle and so with that, here are Three Things About Kenny Rogers I’ve Been Thinking About All Day as I Process the Death of a Fascinatingly Mediocre Successful Person.

3. The Gambler

This song is one of Kenny Rogers’ most famous, and I mostly see it invoked as a punchline. It’s a song about using a game to look at your own life, as a metaphor, and consider the lessons from a poker table that you can bring to bear on problems in life in general, and you know what startles me relistening to it again, after all this time, all over again?

This song gets poker right.

It’s so utterly baffling to me that this cheesy little song of a riverboat ridin’ ramblin’ man who generally never reached higher levels than an emotional sentment of I heart you and sometimes love, but hard? managed to convey in a song an actual meaningful metaphor based off a game that doesn’t break if you know how the game is played.

2. Coward of the County

Oh and content warning here! Sexual assault, misogyny, toxic masculinity!

This song was on a Kenny Rogers ‘best of’ compilation I listened to when I was a kid in the 90s. The album had a lot of songs I remember more for a crooning part of the chorus than anything of their content, and Kenny’s music is extremely samey at the best of times.

Anyway, uh, so, hey, this country song with a lilting tone and a back-and-forth beat is uhm, it’s about a gang rape? It’s about a woman who’s gang-raped by three men and how massively it traumatised her.

I mean, that’s not what the song is about. That’s just a detail in the song, a song that is otherwise about the classic story of a seemingly humble young man who refuses to fight people thanks to a promise his father asked him to make (and maybe he made it) finally being pushed too far because the worst thing that could happen to him was his girlfriend being gangraped. God, I try to repeat phrases like that to numb them of all their sense but you know this time I think I’m not going to do that. I didn’t realise at the time that that’s what ‘they took turns’ would mean. It was never explained to me, so that detail just… hung around until some twenty years later I thought back and went: Hang on, holy shit.

Anyway, this song is really fucked up and it fucked me up directly, because of a whole laundry list of personal traumas. Not the least of which was that my father made me promise that no matter how angry I’d get, I’d walk away from trouble and let people hurt me because that was the Christian way. I mean, it’s not like fighting would have fixed anything (because I tried that too) but the song kept hanging around in my mind with the idea that at some point, something bad would happen to me, and then that would be the point where God would make me a just and noble avatar of his anger and maybe it’d all be a good story, then, rather than a story about thirty years of crawling.

There’s also the fact that Tommy’s dad died in prison, something about which I had complex feelings. After all, Tommy’s dad wasn’t… around. He asked his son to meet a moral standard, and then… he left.

That was oddly comforting, a fantasy to have.

The whole of this story really impressed itself on me, as an idea of something I thought that should happen in my life. That’s pretty messed up.

1. Six Pack

Hey that was a bit dark, what about this? How about something unrelated? Well, Kenny Rogers was one of a number of country music ‘stars’ who moved into making movies that we can lightly refer to as ‘mid day TV fare.’ Six Pack was an attempt to make a kind of dad movie about a wannabe Stock Car racer with a broken heart bringing back his career from the brink and collecting a bunch of kids on the way.

This movie is definitely in that calibre of ‘good enough to be pirated on Youtube.’ It’s the kind of movie where even the people who own the copyright for it aren’t going to bother pulling it down because it’s not like they’re making profit off it some other way.

This movie was one of the first non-Christian non-kid-targeted movies I can remember watching. It wasn’t good, it wasn’t great… but it was there. It was a post on my personal timeline.

None of these works really matter to me now. None of them are good, I don’t recommend them to anyone. The place I was in, the person I was, the person who listened to these stories and who loved them and who thought that they were meaningful is gone, and I’d like to think I’m a much better person than I was then. I’m out of a space that was bad for me, and I would not recommend any of these works of stunning mediocrity to anyone.

But I still know all the words by heart.

Story Pile: Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

Now, look, odds are good listening to this music – if you have been – you may have found you like a few Jimmy songs. You might think that one or two of them are good, maybe the best songs on an album are worth sitting through. That’s fine. I don’t know why I respond to these songs the way I do. If you listen to this album and think ‘eh,’ that’s fine, but you should know that I play a game with this album with people where you take an album and ask how many songs you have to remove before the album’s not worth picking up.

On this ten song album, I think that you have to ditch nine of the songs for me to think it’s not worth getting, and the tenth song that remains is literally his most successful song.

This is the album that catapulted Jimmy briefly into the position of being an FM radio indie kinda guy that had fans but no presence to being what some people would later refer to as a one hit wonder in the country scene. And it’s kind of understandable – Margaritaville is an absolutely titanic hit compared to his normal songs. The song had cross-board appeal, getting to #8 on Billboard, and #13 on Country, which while not unheard of was certainly impressive. This song is not just a classic of the genre but it’s one that kind of became a cultural touchstone for people who went on to become country stars themselves – lots of people reference Margaritaville either by name or by using key phrases, and it’s a song that’s been covered a lot.

There are a few ‘canon’ versions of Margaritaville too, a radio play that’s slightly faster and structured differently, live versions that add different specific references, a kids version Jimmy recorded so his kid could sing along (she’s forty now, mind you). It’s also parodied a lot, with the most well known probably being ‘Marijuanaville,’ a song that is about as clever or subtle as you may think based on the name.

The song’s remarkable to the Jimmy Buffett fandom in that the song is actually a really sad, miserable reflection on how this guy is sad over a breakup and is just drinking himself unconscious repeatedly, whiling away empty days, and at the very end of the song, comes face to face with the fact his situation is his to own and he’s why it sucks. It is sung upbeat and happy and people sing along with it at concerts, and it gives the name to Jimmy’s restaurant chain, suggesting that he’s advertising a great place to go when you’ve destroyed your relationship and end the night being mopped into a bucket.

It also kinda sucks?

I don’t know if this is the Jimmy Buffett hipster equivalent of complaining about overplay, but Margaritaville is to my mind the worst song on this whole album!

This album definitely has more of your 1970s Gulf-And-Western style; songs about being in Mexico or coastal towns, songs about reflection in these spaces where nothing is making demands of you. Where Margaritaville is about a dude wasting his life, Biloxi is a haunting, sunsoaked meditation on a beautiful place, of innocent actions, of the swelling feeling of being in a place that does not hurt. Where Margaritaville is the gentle easygoing rhythm of getting hammered on endless sunsoaked afternoons that don’t matter, Lovely Cruise sings about that with an actual admission of joy, not sadness.

Then there’s In the Shelter, which is already excellent and I kinda covered already, and Landfall.

Now, look, Landfall is a stompy, piano-and-harmonica dance-hall country song that wants to be shouted as much as it wants to be song. It’s got some weird, time-lost joke references (Lucille Ball? Really? Okay, Jimmy), but what sticks with me, the phrase that I realise has been informing my mind for a long time, is where he talks about how being cooped up in a truck doesn’t bother him, being in confined spaces doesn’t bother him, but having to deal with people for prolonged periods bothers him. Running away to the ocean and ignoring people isn’t by any means a thing that scares him, it’s release.

And yeah, I like how singable it is.

I love this album. I’m not sure it’s ‘the best’ Jimmy Album – I put lots of value on West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown, and Landfall doesn’t have the same potency.

And Margaritaville isn’t that good.

 

What’s Fanagement?

There’s this term I’ve been using a lot since I learned about it because I feel like people should know it exists. It’s a term that you won’t use and you don’t need to use but it’s absolutely a term you should know exists, because it intersects with your life in a way that you may not even realise, certainly if you’re the kind of person who reads this blog.

That term is fanagement.

Fanagement is a term that was used first by the BBC, describing a strategy they had in mind for what was at the time their upcoming companion series to the Dr Who relaunch, Torchwood. This was around 2005, and yes, Torchwood was fifteen years ago, I’m really sorry to be the one to tell you this timey wimey thing.

Point is that when Torchwood was in development, the BBC were noticing the way that the fans and community surrounding their products behaved, and were already grappling with an established idea called fantagonism – where narratives about the way the shows were made or the way people engaged with a show could result in pushback or even protracted campaigns against their work. The notional argument was that fans had expectations and opinions, and discursive hubs where they behaved and operated, and rather than ignore them or treat them as ‘the outside’ (sometimes called the rat cage!), to take on board what they’re talking about, or anticipating, and implement ideas from fans to strengthen their relationship to the work.

The idea was that while this practice could have results, they didn’t want to just do it with Dr Who – a famously volatile property mostly renowned for being able to spin attention out of budgets comparable to a packet of crisps – and instead, the plan was to use Torchwood as a test for it.

Now, I’m not a Torchwood fan or a Dr Who fan, so I can’t say how well these things worked from the fan perspective, but I can tell you that according to the internal documents boy howdy it went well, so much so that they distributed the paper on Fanagement and started trying to implement the practice widely.

The results of what they wanted fanagement to do was keep a hard core of engaged audiences in ways that metrics could track – so reddit posts, twitter activity, trending on social media platforms. Interestingly, when this discussion comes up, there’s mention of creation of fan works, but not what platforms they tracked – but given the nature of the internet, I have to assume that this means the BBC had someone whose job was to read all the Torchwood porn to see if there was some kind of consistent fan trend to follow in all of it.

Oh yes.

They’re reading our fanfics.

This got a lot of utility too – fan creators that showed promise and ability in the context of the work could be recruited to the BBC’s writing crew, ideas they made that were shared and communal (so not just ripping off someone’s idea, but something lots of people came up with in a deniable way) were harvested, all that stuff. A new Dr Who theme gets implemented, composed by a fan, and they get to meet Peter Capaldi, it’s all a neat symbiosis.

I don’t have it in me to be too mad about the BBC doing this, by the way, in no small part because they’re a publically owned media group. Sure, they’re making profit selling Dr Who stuff, but that’s part of public funds, and so an integration with a public community makes complete sense to me. They wanted to do their best with a beloved fan project, and they were studying the way things got made, and the result was this idea, this term: Fanagement.

Let me be clear, that even as this idea goes places, someone was going to write this down. This idea is not unique alchemy or some poisonous notion. This is something written about by experts in fandom studies! But now that utility, that idea, is being used by people who aren’t using it to guide the production of a beloved franchise of a half-century’s life that has been sustained from time to time by the sheer will of fans wanting to never forget it.

The ideas though have since become accepted as general practice, and the result we’re getting is creating weird things. Weird things like Overwatch, an entire fanagement project that wants to create a non-canon, a sort of big narrative space where you can kinda assume things happen, sorta, or the things they know you like aren’t going to be contradicted, and where most of what’s going on is pure marketing air. Everything is deniable, nothing is written down for good, and it’s all just in motion enough to keep the fans spinning and making all that lovely engagement.

This is something that has struck at Westworld – where a story beat was guessed by a Redditor ahead of time, and they rewrote a chunk of the early show to avoid that, because the idea they should surprise everyone was more important than the idea that they’d clearly laid groundwork that someone could deduce from. Game of Thrones was driven in its last season heavily by trying to implement fanagement strategies, wanting to ensure that everyone got happy by everything they did, and surprise everyone and land the few plot points they knew for sure would happen and in the process created an enormous, long, loud, wet fart of a story beat that, I want to remind everyone again: was bad.

Wrestling, by the way, has had this phenomenon for a while, and there’s a whole book’s worth of content on how wrestling is changed by an attempt to ‘include’ the fans who think they know better (often known as ‘smarks’). Oh, and right now there’s a wrestling fan composing a tweet about how that’s an oversimplification and I know it is, but that’s generally what happened. And the results were kinda WCW.

What I guess I’m saying is if you think that lately, companies have been doing a lot of ‘hey, we get you, fans’ stuff, they are. They get us. They are paying someone to get us.

And those people don’t get us, but gosh, they can fake it well.

Story Pile: Odds & Ends

Header image source: pixiv, by @maguro8989

Today, in Australia, as this article goes up, it is March 9. In Japanese, you can pronounce three ‘mi’ and you can pronounce nine ‘ku’ – meaning that the name ‘Miku’ can be seen as 3-9 – or the 9th of March. Inasmuch as Hatsune Miku, the cybernetic girl, the meme, the idea, the artistic influence and movement of artwork unto herself could be said to have a day, this is the one that people have chosen and so, it is the day we’re doing this.

Now, one might point out, somewhat accurately, that as someone who does not listen to Vocaloid music or play Vocaloid games, it’s a bit odd for me to talk about Hatsune Miku, and you would be right, but after my Touhou project article last year, it seems that that y’all don’t need me to be on the inside.

Miku is a busy lady. She’s a creative tour de force, having authored the Harry Potter books in the 1990s but not the last one, having created the game Minecraft before selling it to Microsoft. She’s also responsible for the hit manga Rurouni Kenshin, and her influence on classic rock from the 70s through the 80s is absolutely unparalleled. When you look back at the groundbreaking work of literature throughout the early 20th century and a number of philosophy texts, Miku is there, and so on and so forth all the way down until you reach the earliest texts showing Miku saying 光よあれ。” It seems that almost anywhere you look, Hatsune Miku is there, just a few steps away, being the person responsible for something you love.

There’s two very big things expressed in this very tight little meme, though. The first is that the question of authorship of a lot of these things involves a sort of painful maneuvering around part of our culture. These are important works, and once you participate in culture, questions of ‘where did this come from’ tend to follow along quickly. Miku’s work is important because it lets us talk about the origin of these things without needing to engage with the worst elements of related people. It signals to the person who asked how the topic is fraught, a sort of all-purpose social guardian. We’re not going to talk about where this came from, it says, because you don’t need to know about why Hatsune Miku made this.

The second is that crediting Miku with the creation of some work is a deliberate effort to decouple an artist from their work in a way that deprives them of the work’s glory. It’s actually really interesting because we live in a society of ownerships, with ideas and expressions being seen as ‘belonging’ to people even if they don’t necessarily have any way to represent that ownership. It’s a system of prioritised ownerships too – Emma Watson is not seen as owning Hermione, despite the fact that she had to actualise and formalise the mannerisms and tone of voice of the character, had to be capable of not only saying her lines but of occupying her identity for ten years. The words coming out her mouth were the result of Emma’s work and a director’s work and a acting coach’s work and a voice coach’s work and a room full of scriptwriters’ work and a story editor’s work and a language editor’s work and eventually, Hatsune Miku’s work, which itself was incarnating the work of other stories, of other conversations, of other people’s stories and affect. Yet despite all the work those people do on the project, it’s seen as inappropriate for any one of them to claim any ownership of the work, as if those who do the work are vessels for the work.

This vision of the conception as ownership and the creation as meaningless is really interesting when you remember just how many assistants even ‘lone’ creatives tend to have. When you look at how we prioritise ideas of singular creative vision to render an artwork as legitimate (which is kind of the root of auteur theory, in which a bunch of privileged narrow dorks believe that the product of privileged narrow dorks is better than anyone else).

It’s kind of like a big lever, wedging away creative media in a mass production culture away from the idea of sole arbiters, the ownership of Disney and the control of individuals.

What makes this all suitably ironic and weird then is that Miku is a corporate-designed character made by a company to sell a product that is at its heart about letting you make mass-produced media through their lens of what she should be able to do. That’s weird, and what makes it extra weird is the way that this blatant example of extremely cynical corporate product engineering has become a symbol for rejecting bad people’s right to be forgiven their badness by their involvement in an important work. The question sort of follows upon that didn’t Hatsune Miku start pre-cancelled? Isn’t she, by dint of being a corporate product for control and ownership of art, already a milkshake duck?

I mean sure.

I don’t care though.

Hatsune Miku is a character and a brand; she’s an image and she’s trademarked. Hatsune Miku is a character owned by a company, and they can license her appearance and use it in advertisements and she’s really popular, and she has a devoted fanbase that love her for reasons that aren’t necessarily related to that brand. That can make all the things that Miku does feel a bit… weirdly… bootlickery, where she’s this AI Girl that The Company is letting you fall in love with. It would be completely legitimate to point out that Crypton Future Studios made and sell the image of a cute anime girl that they know you like, and that’s why she hocks pizza and pocky and bowling and whatever else. She’s an icon, a marketing image.

Right?

But that’s not what Vocaloid is, not really – it was made by a Barcelonan research program in association with Yamaha back in 2004. What Miku is, in a sort of general legal sense, is an instrument. It isn’t that you’re using Vocaloid programs to make her music, it’s that the Vocaloid itself is an invention and the programs are ways of accessing that invention. The technology was originally developed to sell to professional musicians as a way to compose consistent vocals, demonstrate performances and generally streamline production for music. It wasn’t meant, in development, to be the thing it became.

What has ensued is phenomenal, in the literal way. The release of this tool into the wider world has resulted in people who may have a song to sing, an idea for words to have some way to say it that they didn’t before. Maybe they’re shy. Maybe they hate their voice. Maybe they’re unvoiced. Maybe the voice they have isn’t the voice they want. Maybe they’re too afraid to say what they need to say themselves. Whatever the reason, Miku’s voice is there, willing to hold your words, and to bear the criticism for them.

With that in mind, then, I just want you to listen to this song, Odds and Ends, about how Miku knows that people don’t have to like her voice, but she is willing to sing the words you give her.

So please let me sing
With your own,
your very own words

I love this song, I think it is beautiful, and I like the way it makes me feel. I like the way it sings about growing courage through making things, and I like the way the performers hide themselves, to focus the story of the clip around Miku and the little robot friend. I like the notion of the helpful voice that’s willing to help you create art by shielding you from one of those powerful barriers of embarrassment.

Yes, she’s a thing you can buy. Yes, she sells pizza. But Hatsune Miku made Hatsune Miku and everyone who lends their words to Hatsune Miku makes Hatsune Miku. That it’s 3-9, or Miku day, you can pronounce three ‘san’ and nine ‘kyuu’, which means that this is both Miku day, and a day for Sankyuu (‘thank you’).

And thanks, Hatsune Miku.

I really like all those books on Magic tricks you wrote.


Incidentally, all the references for this come in part from research inspired by RedBard’s The Advertising Of Hatsune Miku. Whenever she mentioned something I didn’t understand, I googled it, and that’s how I have this motley collection of what the fuckery.

 

Just How Bad Is The US State Flag Problem?

I time to time do flag threads on twitter, which are great for the format of twitter, which is fantastic for the framing of ‘here is a picture, now I will be mean to that picture, and as you scroll, I will do it again.’ Blog posts about flags tend to be a bit more laborious, because I feel the need to provide contextual explanation, which, you know, that’s not a bad thing, but it does change the tone.

If you’ve paid attention to me talk about flags, yeah, a bunch of this is going to sound familiar, but I feel the need to make a primer.

When you start to talk about a problem in a group, it’s very easy to start making concessions for that group. In the context of the US State Flags, there are fifty of these suckers, and fifty of anything means it’s just naturally, intuitively easy to think ‘oh hey, surely this isn’t better or worse than that.’ The problem that arises is that when it comes to flag design principles, there are three very simple rules that you can follow.

  1. No text
  2. No fine detail
  3. Limited colour palette – three to five colours

And for Americans, we can add a new extra rule:

  1. No confederate flag stuff

Now, is South Carolina’s floppy mop better than Washington’s woodcut? yeah, probably, but it’s still a fine detailed flag. Having fewer mistakes than the other doesn’t mean it doesn’t have mistakes. And these mistakes are the kind of mistakes that simply gets a design a failure. Go back, start again.

A lot of these flags weren’t designed with these things in mind – in fact if you dig into the history of a lot of them they weren’t designed by people who make flags at all, mostly being the result of state lawmakers who wanted to try and leave a mark on the state, or graduate some existing element of the state’s iconography into the big leagues. Very few of them have been seriously reviewed and a number of them are influenced more by Chamber of Commerce members in the state than anything else, which if you don’t know them, they’re kind of like social clubs for local corporations. Not great.

If you take this list of sins, and remove every single flag that breaks one of the rules, this is what you get:

Out of 50 state flags, there are seven that don’t break one of those major rules, by featuring either confederate imagery, text, fine detail or a too-deep colour palette.

This is a problem that gets worse. When I did my flag thread by city flags in America, I had to invent a new category for flags that weren’t just bad because they broke one of those rules, but because in addition to the rule breaking, they broke those rules to create something awful. There were a whole category of flags in the US like Belen’s old flag:

This thing looks like it was made in Corel Draw. It’s not just fine detail but it’s fine detail you need a clipart library to replicate.

This is what I mean when I talk about American state and city flags being bad: So many of them are so bad they need multiple categorical levels of types of failure to make sure I can convey that I’m not just being randomly mean to things that don’t meet my personal aesthetics, but that they are doing things that push them into the realm of inventing new mistakes.

Meanwhile if you’re curious, hey, Belen updated their flag, to this:

This flag is better, but it still breaks the rules.

Bonus: It’s being protested because it’s promoting religious iconography.

cool flag work, Belen.

Recognising Your Limits Of Knowing

This one’s going to feature some chatter from me as someone in a privileged position talking about people who lack that privilege. Just a heads up.

Recently I did a video article, where I mentioned that the idea that the main character of Fire Emblem 3 Houses could be read as autistic. At the time, I mentioned this was something I’d absorbed off other autistic friends and even mentioned one of them by name.

In the same week I recorded that audio, I introduced a early-transition trans girl friend to the idea of doortitting, where early on in transition, many trans girls misjudge the weight of doors and whack themselves in their extremely sensitive chests in a way that can be super painful and rough.

In neither case are these my experiences; all I’m doing is giving voice to things I’ve learned and heard from multiple other sources, and I try to make sure when I do these things I’m making it clear that I’m speaking of things I learned. There’s a gap between knowing and learning, after all.

Dara O’Briain in one of his comedy sets once related a story where an incensed Christian got mad at him for making jokes about Catholics, but that he didn’t have the courage to make jokes about Muslims. Dara’s response was that he wouldn’t tell jokes about Muslims because he didn’t know anything about them, and neither did his audience – there was literally no way to make a meaningful or funny joke from that position of complete ignorance, and admitting that ignorance was important and powerful, and it highlighted to me at the time the idea of how people are sure they know things when they don’t really. He then related a string of nonsense that may or may not be related to actual, obscure Muslim traditions and the point of the bit is I don’t know what he’s talking about.

There’s stuff I don’t talk about because I don’t know about it. I don’t talk to a lot of black women, for example. I can read black women’s work and I have indeed done so, learning amazing things about what Robin Boylorn calls blackgirlness, but that’s reading from an academic source. That’s not ‘my friend talks to me and I absorb culture through them.’ This means I’m typically resistant to commenting on black women’s issues except in the broadest way that hey, we treat black women real bad, that sucks, let’s stop doing that. When it comes to trans dudes, I talk to fewer of them than I do to trans women. Ace and autistic people are more common in my sphere, and that means I often think about the concerns they raise.

I think it’s important, and very healthy, to work out what it is you don’t know much about, even if not to fix that because you don’t want to approach friendships with an air of ‘You are my research assignment who will make me less ignorant of say, Southeast Asians,’ but just so you can be comfortable and confident admitting two crucial and important things:

I learned this from…

And

I don’t know.

These are invaluable tools for keeping your mind working well. Connect what you know to the people who did the work, and admit when your knowledge fails you.

The other thing is, and this is very important, even if in single direction relationships like where you’re reading a twitter feed of someone who doesn’t talk to you (like a big name activist or the like), is try to ensure you have a plurality of voices of types around you. When you listen to one black person, one gay person, when you’re not listening to marginalised voices but a marginalised individual, you’re making it harder for you to get interesting, meaningful, nuanced perspectives on these groups.

And when your media feed is one trans woman, you’re going to get that one trans woman’s take, and that, as we’re seeing, has led to some really rough stuff when people who listen to one trans women ignore all the other trans women who disagree.

Story Pile: In the Shadow of the Moon

Okay, so we have to establish up front, and this is important, that talking about what’s going on in this movie is going to involve spoilers. And just by telling you there are spoilery topics at work in this movie, you’re immediately going to have reason to go ‘oh what about X or Y’ and you may fear, in some way, that your enjoyment of this movie is spoiled, because there’s something really thoughtful, and clever, and cool in this story that you’re going to have to now feel is somewhat tainted, somewhat weaker and I may have, as it were, spoiled that for you.

Good news: You don’t have to worry about it, because this movie suuuucks.

Continue reading

Round Friends!

Mid February, I ran a set of polls attempting to consider exactly what Pokemon could be considered to be round. The premise was pretty simple: if you were limited to a gym leader whose theme was round pokemon, what were your options, really? And if you could do that, would what you got have a chance of being competitive? By what standard? Is there a power trend connected to roundness?

I had some hypothesis ahead of time. First, I thought that a round Pokemon team would have a lot of slow, tough pokemon, and probably would be biased towards water. But that’s not scientific, that’s not a science. That’s just umming and ahhing! That’s guessing!

The problem is that roundness is really subjective, and while I could make the judgment calls, it’s probably easier to have a lot of self-styled experts vote. That way, no roundness is my opinion, it’s all a collective take from a larger group. There are eight hundred Pokemon, though, so asking for all of them was just too much work and people would lose stamina quickly. That meant making a general selection, and letting votes sort out which things did or didn’t belong in the group.

I’d need to make sure to present as many options as I could, to make sure that I wasn’t excluding something I consider an edge case, and let the voting do the elimination for me. Also, this would eliminate things from the group that didn’t belong, but it couldn’t bring things into the group I hadn’t mentioned.

The original list and votes is available here, in this twitter thread, and once I had that done, I made an excel spreadsheet to put together that information in a usable form. Specifically, I wanted to make sure I dropped all the ‘neutral’ votes in case there were some votes that were swayed by that one way or another, and I wanted to know which Pokemon got the most yes votes, even if they didn’t necessarily have the largest percentage of yes votes.

Twitter polls degrade over the course of a thread; I expect that the earliest pokemon to vote on would get the most votes, and therefore probably the most contentious opinions. For comparison, in this thread, the Poke that got the most votes (Ditto) got 275 and the Poke that got the least (Phione) got 108, meaning more than half people didn’t reach the bottom of the thread.

Finally, I had to have some kind of a cutoff. My notion is that if a Pokemon got more than 50% ‘yes’ votes on its roundness, it was round. I didn’t want to define roundness, but would rather let roundness be extrapolated from the vote. This limit then presented a barrier between ’round’ and ‘not round,’ a roundary if you will.

What did we end up with?

Well, we got a graph.

In our list of 56 pokemon, 28 were considered below roundness, and mostly the Pokemon that are round are very much considered round. The grouping that hang around the middle are Pokemon with what looks like a reasonable degree of contention; after all, Donphan is considered round, and Magnezone isn’t. Corsola is comfortably Very Round (72%) while Cloyster is much more contentious (55%), but the two have very similar silhouettes. Aegislash’s primary defining visual element is a circle, while Donphan is an elephant, yet the former is ‘not round,’ and the latter is. Donphan does roll up in a ball, but neither Miltank nor Scolipede crossed the roundary, and Donphan did.

Similarly, Jumpluff is almost the roundest pokemon voted on (99.2%!) and Weezing is similarly heavily round (91%) despite the fact that neither of them are even vaguely spheres – they’re made up of spheres stuck together.

Some traits of roundness then, by observation:

  • Smiling! Pokemon with visible faces that smile seem to be Round
  • Face-as-body! If your whole body is occupied by your face (Corsola, Glalie, Cloyster style), you seem to be seen as round
  • Limbs are either/or. Primeape and Snorlax have limbs, and are round, but Miltank has limbs and it’s not.
  • A round feature isn’t enough. Wailord, Magnezone and Aegislash are all ‘not round’ despite having that absolutely being the dominant shape of their bodies

Now, you might wonder to yourself, where’d this idea even come from? Well, I went and did some personal archaeology wondering about where I got the question of ‘what would a team of roundybois look like,’ and it turns out it was this tweet from one Sav Wolfe, from back in 2018. Yes, I apparently keep thinking about tweets a long time after they pass.

Iron Angel

I tried, hard as I could, to not talk about this this month.

Media is very often, these days, replicable. If I liked Voltron I can tell you to go watch it and usually you’ll find the same show and be able to reference the same text even if you had wildly different responses to it. If I talk to you about D&D or tabletop games, I can talk to you about types of experiences the game makes possible. I’ll sometimes show you characters I built in those spaces, because I can provide you insight into how I did that and what that means.

Once, when writing about Saints Row 3, I remarked that whatever I thought of the game was hard to tease out when I’d had so much fun playing it with my friend Casey. I rated Casey five stars, and the game was just a way to connect there. You can’t download my friend Casey, though, though I’m sure she’d be happy to charge you $15 for the download code.

In this case, in smooch month, I kept circling around how fantastically hard it was to get good, interesting, engaging romantic media in games to talk about, because games do it badly. But if they do it so badly, why is my context seemingly aware of ‘good’ romance that these games aren’t hitting? What’s forming the foundation of my vision of good?

And well, that’s where we get to non-replicable media, and my friends. Specifically, the romance stories I’ve had in RP spaces, especiallythe stories in City of Heroes have been absolutely excellent, and one example of this I want to bring forward is the incredible character Zex, aka Iron Angel.

Zex is a character I’ve mentioned on the blog in the past; she was a neuroatypical character who told other characters she was a sociopath, which led to them assuming that was her neuroatypicality, including me. The last day the game was alive, the player stated that she wasn’t a sociopath – she was just neuroatypical in a different way, and impersonating sociopathy was a way to make other people respect her neuroatypicality rather than having to explain it every time.

Zex has been in a relationship with a character of mine, Cearmaid, pretty much since late 2011. They met, they flirted, they dated, they engaged, they had a breakup, they got back together again, they moved in together, they got married, and they took up careers as superheroes working together and apart to make the city they lived in a better place. Literally all those details are however, plot points worth explaining and expanding on their own, because for example, the breakup happened when a rogue AI created by Zex’s own paranoid internalised dissasociation turned into a global-threatening supervillain that used Cearmaid’s trust in Zex to launch him into space where he crashed into the moon, and that’s one of many plot points.

Zex is interesting. Zex is thoughtful. Zex is fantastically difficult to communicate with. Cearmaid carries around his phone so he can draw diagrams of his ideas. Zex, noticing that he responded to a pretty girl wearing a baseball cap just recently attempted to seduce her husband by wearing multiple hats, because hey, more is better, right? And all this is while she’s also doing her job as a former villain turned superhero in powered armour who flies around punching baddies, saving the day and rescuing people because she has deduced that doing good is the logical thing for her to want to do.

Zex is neuroatypical, has physical disabilities (she has no feet, amongst other problems), is full of anxiety, afraid of dogs and needs comfort, communication and reassurance on a regular basis and yet the relationship between her and Lock has always felt like a meeting of equals, engaging in different ways with a complicated world in which they live.

I love this character, and I am kinda sad that I can’t help you, random strangers, enjoy or appreciate romances – yes, even a het romance! – where the characters involved are interesting, and good, and fun and learning about them is interesting and every day they interact, they get to enjoy one another and engage with one another a little more.

I am blessed to have some truly fantastic RP partners around me, and in this smooch month, I wanted to just share with you an example of how great romance in games can be, when the game lets players create in shared, respectful, engaged spaces.

Story Pile: Havana Daydreamin’

I haven’t tried to hammer these Jimmy Buffett albums around the themes of the months as they come up. They’re just going to happen as they happen and things can move and adjust around them, whatever.

Still, this is an album with a bit of a theme that fits the mangled, strange ways I wound up approaching romance, and thankfully, I like to think it did some good, following on the heels of Come Monday from earlier.

When I first found Havana Daydreamin’ it was a busted, tan coloured tape that had been living in dad’s car, a place I didn’t spend any time hanging around until later in my life when I wanted to hide from the evening of loneliness that was church. I was cleaning dad’s car for a dollar, and I found this, in his tape collection. For that reason it’s always felt older to me, like this is somehow primal Jimmy, that this is Jimmy Buffett from before all the other, ‘better’ songs I knew.

The elephant in the room of this album is The Captain and the Kid, a song Jimmy Buffett ostensibly wrote about his grandfather, a sea captain who talked to him and helped him grow up and taught him things and then, as people are want to do, died. Remember that at this point I’m a cultist, I think that people who die are going to hell if they’re not going to basically our church, and so the mourning sadness of this man missing his grandfather stabbed me.

The song is great. It’s sad and it’s serious and it’s that Jimmy Buffet nostalgia turned to a deeper kind of sadness than just ‘hey, things from when I was a kid are gone.’ It’s beautiful and it made me reflect on how my grandfathers both died before I was born. I remembered actually resenting my life for that – that maybe if there were other men in my life than my father maybe I could learn useful things, maybe I could feel less afraid all the time.

There’s some real tour music, too – Kick it in Second Wind is an absolute coke binge of a song, This Motel Room and Big Rig are all just life-on-the-road story songs, and they’re fine. I actually ran a motel for a while and I remember always hearing This Motel Room as I went about my job, that and Vacancy by Harry Chapin. Which, uh, that song is also great, in a different way.

There are a few more story songs here than I normally expect out of Jimmy Buffett albums. You have songs like Woman Goin’ Crazy on Caroline Street, Havana Daydreamin’, Cliches, and Something So Feminine About A Mandolin and they’re all pretty good, salted with varying degrees of the Jimmy Buffett template of lots of alcohol and or drugs. Of them, I do prefer Cliches, which tells the story of two people who are definitely a pair of kombi-van hippies and how they’re happy and having fun with their lives anyway. What I love about this song I think, these days, is how it’s so incredibly of its time. The couple in this song are now absolutely a pair of stoner grandparents who never officially got married and still live in that trailer.

That’s the thing that I think stuck with me the most about this. There are some people here who aren’t very original. They’re not very remarkable. But they’re together and they like one another and they didn’t need their love to be agonising or astounding. They’re just happy.

Is there anything on this album to compare to He Went to Paris or West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown? No. But it’s a fun album full of low-key crime and a lot more drugs and fun than A-1-A and it’s got a lot more energy when it bothers to wake up.

Poison Ivy

Recently I glibly stated on twitter that it’s interesting how DC Comics’ enviromentally-minded supervillain Poison Ivy has largely remained unchanged over time and yet in the process has become less and less of a villain. This is interesting in the same way that the Planeteers have remained exactly as embarrassing as they were but somehow the idea of getting kids to care about the environment seems a lot more worthwhile than my cynical parents regarded it.

Continue reading

AceMR

As a person who participates in and enjoys ASMR, I have one hobby that involves throwing my potential free time into Youtube’s algorithm. ASMR is an interconnected web of media space where Youtube has managed to put together an actual reasonably robust recommendation model. If I stumble into a Korean ASMRtist’s videos, and watch all the way through, I’ll wind up with three or four other Korean videos recommended to me. If I trend towards games or relaxing play video ASMR content, I will get more of that.

This can mean that like a cake, you can cut into ASMR and see a broad cross sections of types, and one type I find I really enjoy are ASMR with some degree of narrative or unreality to the fiction. I don’t know why exactly, maybe it’s just the sheer novelty of it, but I’ve watched a plague doctor mall cop compliment me in my taste on Slayer albums multiple times.

The nature of ASMR tends to be viewer focused; typically if you want to do ASMR narrative, given that part of the effect is personal and can be the result of particularly specific engagements, your best options for a narrative is to do something second person.

Oh and uh, yeah, second person narratives violate the NAP I guess.

Anyway, moving on from that, second person narratives being common in ASMR, and ASMR being usually comfort, intimacy, or care oriented means that there is a world of ASMR content that’s designed as boyfriend or girlfriend roleplay. I haven’t yet found any enby ASMRtists (and hey, if you are an enby ASMRtist, please, hit me up, I’d like to promote your work as best I can!), but I assume that kind of thing is out there too, built around the idea that the narrator/performer is your partner, and they’re helping you sleep, or helping you relax, or just chilling out with you on a rough day.

These videos, being on Youtube, don’t mention sexual content, want you to hang around for an hour or more of audio recording, want to build and maintain intimacy with a hypothetical you, and do so all while having the intimacy to touch you (stroking your hair, shoulders, hands are all very common) and even sometimes put you to bed or share bed with you.

This is not to say that all ASMR is sexless – there are absolutely a number of sex workers who are very good at their jobs who also make ASMR content, and share it, and that’s cool  and there’s a protracted campaign to treat those people badly. It sucks, and that’s difficult, especially because while ASMR is for some people sexual doesn’t mean ASMR is a sexual thing. There’s one of those divisions within the community that’s a challenge to even talk about, because it’s common that accuasations of inappropriate sexuality meet defensive denial, which is then used to foster more criticism, and so on, all while negatively impacting unrelated sex-havers and sex-enjoyers.

That conversation aside, though, this means that Youtube has this large, deep spread of extremely ace content; romantic relationships that dwell not on sexual interaction, but on intimacy and long, slow periods of comfort and sharing each other’s presence. I’ve often wondered what asexual pornography would look like; content made with minimal context to simply deliver as positive a desireable reaction as possible, without using sex as an axis of engagement, and I kind of think that ASMR as a community has kind of lucked into doing it.

Check this stuff out. Even if you don’t like it, if you’re looking to make Ace Smooch content, it might be your kind of thing, and it might give you ideas. If nothing else, it might show you the kinds of comforting content that people are already making and enjoying!

Of course, here’s a kicker for me. The most important ace person in my life hates ASMR, so this isn’t content they can enjoy.

Oh well!

Story Pile: Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians is a 2018 romantic comedy movie about an ordinary everygirl who finds that the boy she’s been dating has all along been one of the richest people in the world and part of a community of super rich people and what follows is a reasonably but not completely predictable story about finding acceptance and the struggles and demands of family pressure and all that stuff you expect to see in a rom-com about a fish out of water dealing with a class difference.

I guess one of the other details is to mention that this movie is about and involves almost entirely Asian people. I would have thought that was a detail that didn’t need mentioning, until this movie brought to my attention that, in fact, this might be the second prominent romantic comedy ever made primarily by, about, and starring Asians that came out of western movie studios. That is to say, in the history of cinema, this might be the second movie like this that western media’s made. That’s effed up!

That’s your lot, that’s your movie, and now you get to watch as I, magic-trick like, pull another eight hundred words out of my hat.

I guess as a first point, I should admit that there’s a reason I watched this movie that has nothing to do with Smooch Month or the like. You may remember in a previous Decemberween, I mentioned Calvin and Dee, and how they were people in the board game space I listened to and liked. Well, Calvin’s in this movie, as the extremely awkward PT. Calvin suggested I watch this movie, and I did. There’s your disclosure.

Continue reading

Romance and the Smooch

I’ve been using the word Smooch a lot on this blog this month and part of why I do that is because I figure if I keep using it, you’ll at least be able to extrapolate what I mean by it. Conventionally, the category of stuff I file as ‘smooch media’ is ‘romantic’ media, at least if you pay attention to Netflix categories. I resist that description, though, and it’s partly because Romantic is a term that means something else, in my mind.

This is a problem when it comes to talking about it in general, because a word’s usage is determined not just by the person saying it but also by the people hearing it. If you say ‘romantic media’ I don’t tend to think you mean it the way I mean it, but I tend to use it to try and introduce this idea.

What I mean, typically, when I say romantic media is the idea of media where the logic of the universe is predominantly related to the feelings of people. I like this term, I need a term like this, because I want to be able to draw a circle around the kinds of stories that are often easier to write when you’re focusing on feelings. It’s not to say feelings-first writing needs to lack verisimillitude, but a lot of romantic storytelling is at its strongest when it can recognise what matters to its type of story.

It’s not uncommon to hear criticism of Hamlet and Romeo And Juliet where people are snared into stupid situations and the tragedy so unfolds where if they communicated better or more meaningfully, or if people took notes, or if the government behaved like a government might, you’d be left with a situation that, more realistically, would result in a story that doesn’t end with piles of bodies on the floor. This criticism is something that I myself levelled at these plays when I was a child (in part, because I was a child).

It’s kind of a categorical failure of examination. The reason these stories don’t take the most logical path, or a path that can be ‘proven’ in some way is because the important things in these stories are human feelings and the failings of those feelings. Hamlet doesn’t confide in his mother in a way that solves the problems tidily, because his inability to communicate with her is one of the things the story is about. Those feelings drive the way the story works, not vice versa.

It’s also useful for talking about media that isn’t just about people kissing – smooch media, as it were. My friend Caelyn Sandel writes regularly what I’d consider romantic urban fantasy, not necessarily because it’s always about characters kissing (though there’s plenty of that), but because the urban fantasy (and superhero and classic fantasy) she works on, the magic or superpowers or supertech or mutation or whatever is a way of examining feelings. Feelings about bodies, feelings about systems, feelings about power – but the feelings are there foremost, and feelings hold a lot of ideas together.

In a lot of ways, Caelyn is a sort of romantic radical, where she uses the model of romantic narrative (ie, stories about feelings) to drive other stories.

So, when I want to talk about stories where the important thing is the characters smooch, or don’t smooch… I’ll say it’s smooch media.

I hope it’s not too annoying. ♥

Story Pile: The Knight Before Christmas

I know over this past year I have definitely become something of a fan of not the Hallmark media itself, but rather the serious critical space that surrounds Hallmark media in the form of Dave & Jeb Aren’t Mean and their various commentators looking at Hallmark as a brand. Now, I don’t have Hallmark movies of my own to watch, but what I do have access to is Netflix, and Netflix are happy to make and present their own knock-off derivatives of Hallmark’s design space, and maybe even afford it something that could be seen as a ‘bigger budget’ version of same. Thus, for our next Smooch Month movie, we’re going to look at The Knight Before Christmas.

Notionally, you might want to know what happens in this movie, so to give you the most basic rundown of the plot, a knight in the 14th century England meets a witch, who hucks him forward in time with a cryptic message to 2019 Ohio, where he meets Vanessa Hudgens. They hang out and do no-impact Christmas stuff, he finishes a quest, goes back in time, then asks the witch to send him back, so he can kiss her again and become a cop. I’m not joking.

Continue reading

Cassunzel

This is a bit of a weird one. Normally I like to save talking about queer content for Pride Month, but I also like using Pride Month to talk about actual queer content, and this is very firmly in the space of ‘fanon.’ On the other hand, there’s a term I want to talk about in Pride Month which is germaine and then you don’t need to know what the Germans have got to do with anything!

And so here, in Smooch Month, a ship.

In case you weren’t aware, there’s a TV series of the Disney movie Tangled. The premise of the series is very much one of your Disney spinoffs; if you saw Aladdin or Hercules when you were much younger, or the more recent Big Hero 6 the basic idea is to use the marketable branding of an existing, successful movie, then use the world and setting to durdle around and do stuff that wouldn’t matter for the plot of the movie but still works fine in the genre. Big Hero 6 has a great series, and so, to my surprise, does Tangled.

These series however, often have to run in place with some continuity point, like how Hercules couldn’t exactly have Hercules come into his full power or confront Hades in too ultimate a fashion (given the movie happened after the series), and Aladdin had to keep Aladdin as a street rat rather than focus on the whole ‘prince’ thing, and kept the genie as a bit of a wuss, because otherwise, you know, ridiculous power. Tangled is set right after the movie ended but before the epilogue Eugene describes where eventually, he marries Rapunzel.

Now, it’s best not to think about how the series weaves its way back into the narrative, just accept that this is really well produced fanfiction using the generic adventure world of Tangled, building on the kind of ridiculous side characters we see in the movie. Then, into that mix, you throw Cass, Rapunzel’s handmaiden and daughter of the captain of the guard.

Now.

Tangled is a fine movie. I like it a lot. When I first saw it, I remarked that it was ‘the best Disney movie since Hunchback,’ and for me, that’ pretty high praise. I thought Flynn Rider/Eugene was a pretty great character. And that same character, when you have the time to hang around him in a comic TV series, where he’s anchored to Rapunzel’s section of the world and can’t just run from everything, that dashing charm slowly morphs into mawkish dorkitude.

Then, in Tangled, because they couldn’t make Eugene a different person, they throw Cass, who basically gets to be the other half to Raps’ story. They have a fun dynamic, their skills complement each other, and Eugene, being wallpaper for the first two seasons while they develop this friendship, as Rapunzel’s Designated Eventual Romance makes Cass and Raps look really gay for each other.

It’s a fun ship! Tough jock with a sword and her ethereal magic girlfriend? Hardworking defender and actual literal princess? Road trip adventures? Magic mirrors? Trying to sacrifice one another to save the other? Tying one another up sometimes? You get a lot of that stuff here!

Does it work out? Nah, but this series was always going to live in a cul-de-sac and it doesn’t end well. But watch the first two seasons, and the episode where they re-do the movie Tangled with Cass in the place of Eugene, and ask yourself what he’s even doing here.

Simple & Clean’s origin story weirdness

Hey, I’m going to talk about something in Kingdom Hearts, so like, brace yourself because I’m going to run the risk of being mean to a videogame and I know that can be super upsetting. If you’d like to go somewhere else, here’s a link. If you stick around, I promise that this one is, I think, extremely gentle and doesn’t do anything like talk about plots or characters. Promise.

Continue reading

Story Pile: Tall Girl

Smooch Month brings with it the challenge of li’l ole me, the boy who does not watch romantic media, trying to find a handful of movies, series, or even albums, to talk about that fall into the category of smooch media. I like the exercise! I like forcing myself out of the zone of watching just pure adventure stuff, and it means I can have fun asking Netflix to just show me something with a keyword like ‘romantic comedy.’

And this time, it gave me Tall Girl.

Continue reading

The Cyberbard

Ever feel deeply embarrassed because you misplaced your notes and wound up committing an act of self importance in a way that nobody but you is likely to care about? Yeah, me neither. Anyway, in 1997, Janet Murray wrote a book called Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative In Cyberspace, and that book is a wild ride.

Now this isn’t going to be an Academic Blog Post (I mean I should save those for my Academic blog, smash cut to a bleached white skeleton gathering dust), but the book (which received an update in 2016) is a long form examination of the way that computers and communication technology was going to change our capacity for storytelling, with whole new theatres of technology opened up to the audience who could simultaneously engage with the work presented to them and create feedback loops that meant that the audience could shape the story that they best wanted.

This is kind of how things worked out, and kind of not, and you can look at the way that the internet has deformed the production of shows like Game of Thrones and Westworld for examples. Mixed in this book (which again, I’m only glancing through here) is an idea of the cyberbard. See, Murray was interested not just in how future stories in an online space were going to be created, but interested in how the tools for making those future stories would be created. She conceived of some truly dizzying stories being made at the level of, well, theatrical productions, and largely, the things she predicted did not happen.

Except the things she predicted, then arranged to have made, those are cool.

The notion of the cyberbard roots itself under the bard; the idea that there is a storyteller who can gauge reactions and give proper responses, fed by and feeding the audience in the loop of the communal storyteller. The bard did not just tell you a story they knew, they told you the story you were asking for, and the cyberbard is that same idea, expanded out into the realm of technological constructions.

There are a lot of things to cover in this book (it’s a good book, I liked it), but the idea of the cyberbard as an extension of technology and as an expression of the tools made to make those technologies is one of those ways that sometimes in academia we use small words to look through a mirror at an enormous conceptual space. The cyberbard is a storyteller conceived of and managed by a computer and it’s the way we build the tools that allow a non-cyberbard to make these stories and it’s the way that the rules of a cyberspace create the opportunities for these stories to be made. It’s dizzying!

But, in amongst all of this there are two specific examples I want to bring people’s attention to, because Murray was not writing about videogames, but about communication technology. She talked as much about things we’d identify now as blogs and web serials as she talked about the control interface of Janeway playing in the holodeck.

The first idea is that she suggests that any system of play in which you engage with a narrative, layered upon it, that changes the way you interface with the story, could be seen as a cyberbard. In videogames, this isn’t just the game itself, but rather, a system that lays atop the game, and encourages you to engage with the story in a way you might not otherwise, for a piece of specific feedback.

In this case, the Let’s Play’s need for content is a cyberbard; the twitch streamer engaging their audience is a cyberbard; and so to is the achievement system, directing the player to do things they wouldn’t do simply to be marked as having done it.

The second, and perhaps larger idea is the notion of a transcendental, collective artwork, an example of theatre, where people could gather and discuss and express their wants for the story going forwards, and the author could, in the mean time of the making of the narrative, enact and express that multimedia story. The book seems to think this would be being made like a television series, a soap opera with shooting and actors (even virtualised ones). What she didn’t anticipate was a massively democratised production apparatus, which meant that these dramas were being made not by people with access to enormous budgets, but people who could harness the right kind of focused attention and engagement.

In 1997, I feel, Janet Murray predicted Homestuck, though she never would have said so.

I’ve had this in the drafts folders for two years, get out of here, you curse’d blog post.

Dubmissiveness

There’s a particular generation of Anime consumers for whom the sub vs dub argument was not a point of preference, it was a vision of quality. It is not just that dubs lost nuance or made mistakes, but that the voice acting of dub voice actors was sufficiently bad to make the entire prospect moot. Perfectly translation and nuanced writing aside, the argument goes, dub voices are just much, much worse.

It’s almost like a play or something:

SUB: You see, dub voice acting is simply much worse than sub voice acting.

DUB: Do you speak Japanese?

SUB: No

DUB: Then how do you know if the voice acting is better or worse? The sub voices could be dogshit

SUB: Ah, you see – the important thing is that I can’t tell.

I’m sympathetic to how facile this argument sounds but it’s also not completely impossible to grasp. See, even if you can’t appreciate the way language is structured, there’s an emotionality in the human voice that a good can convey just as easily through a language barrier. There are cultural wrinkles between them but broadly speaking, if someone shouts in Japanese you can tell that they’re shouting.

Now, I can’t speak globally for this, because ultimately my sample size for normal anime fans is to check in with Fox, who is an inhuman stack of extremely persnickety cartoon trolls in a bag with a face on it, but this impulse to see ‘Japanese voice acting’ as a superior version to the English version, language agnostic, seemed to be not entirely an isolated phenomenon. I spoke to a few people, then spoke to a few people more, and eventually, I saw someone I never asked volunteering this idea on the spot.

Now, I want to make it clear, I haven’t watched much recent dubbed anime. As an exercise, I watched all of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood dubbed, but that’s ten years old and change. I have not been listening to dubbed anime in the past few years at all, and therefore all this sentiment, all this idea comes from a historical position that may have no more bearing on it.

I’ve talked in the past, about how Haibane Renmei got to exist thanks to a culture of common shared creative media that shows respect and audience for fan work. And, look, this runs the risk of running into goofy orientalism of oh, the Japanese voice is a superior voice, even beyond language and no, that’s stupid. But consider this.

Japan generates about 60% of the animated media in the world.

In Japan, there are over 130 colleges that teach voice acting.

In Japan, voice actors are draws to the work they do.

In America, I could not find a single college with a dedicated voice acting course. And there was a lot of hits for voice training, but that’s all theatrical performances. Voice acting is seen as a subskill of existing media – and when we do high level professional voice acting in the west, it tends to be seen as something you teach existing actors to do. Oh there’s a cadre of excellent voice actors that we know (hi Frank Welker, Charlie Adler, Jennifer Hale) but knowing those names is inside baseball. Notice that Welker is in part in such demand because he can do so many different voices, where he can replace animal sound effects. That paints the fact that voice acting, in the west, is a work where you expect to maximise value out of a small number of workers!

Now, it was even worse back in the 1990s, where voice acting and dubbing was in some cases being done by literally whoever was on hand at the time, and that kind of thing (probably?) doesn’t happen any more. Last year, there was a big fuss about David Hayter doing a meme voice, reading a tweet aloud in the voice of Solid Snake, because people seemed to be blown away by the idea that someone might pay a voice actor to voice act. Like he’d have something better to do? Like it wasn’t his job?

It costs about $70 for you to get Solid Snake to send you a birthday wish!

And he’s one of the best known names in the business!

Time to time I’ll use the term media landscape. The notion is that you aren’t just looking at a single piece of media in isolation, but the place you live, the life you’ve lived, and the kinds of media that surround you form a context for the work you’re looking at. You can change your media landscape, but more than that, you can look at the media landscape of any particular work to put that in a context.

Are Japanese subs better than dubs? No. But the support and infrastructure for helping Japanese voice actors be the best they can be is so much better than the support and infrastructure helping western voice actors. But then, I’ve written about that before.

Story Pile: The Meg

There’s a game we play when we talk about movies. You watch a movie, then, you, trying to represent the movie reasonably, tell people the things that actually happen in that movie, and you see how long it takes for the audience to stop believing you. It’s great. We’ve all done it, surely.

Anyway, so in this movie, it opens by exploring the ocean that’s hiding under the ocean.

Now imagine me stopping and taking a drink.

Before we go on, some content warning points; this is a movie that does stuff with submarines and containment and holding your breath, so if you think you’re going to hate a movie about being sutck in submarines and small chambers, yeah, this is absolutely going to be upsetting as hell.

Onwards!

Continue reading