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: Touhou

Oh, yes really.

We’re doing this.

Touhou Project, Touhou, or Project Shrine Maiden, or whatever you want to call it, is a set of characters coexisting in a somewhat loosely aligned storytelling space first originated from the work of Team Shanghai Alice, which is to say, the entire staff of Team Shanghai Alice, which is to say, one person, ZUN, who has made (at least) 27 Touhou games since 1996. While the conventional vision of these games is bullet hells, and ZUN’s work definitely features that, there are Touhou games that ZUN didn’t make, and these include puzzle platformers, dungeon crawlers, RPGs, even a one-on-one fighting game.

The Guinness Book of Records, as of 2010, has instituted Touhou Project as “the most prolific fan-made shooter series,” which I think is a really stupid description because it suggests that ZUN is somehow a fan and not a creator in their own right, but it’s not wrong because a large body of the work that ‘is Touhou’ is not made by ZUN, and that collected third party stuff includes professional products.

This is extremely weird: It’s weird because conventionally, the vision of how work like this gets made has a certain degree of ownership and permission.

You can’t just make a Touhou game, I assume, you have to ask if you can.

At least, that’s how it works in the places I’m used to working.

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Making Fun: Years Later

Starting in November 2017, I decided that, with enough attempts made to explore methods of how, that I would start uploading videos to Youtube. I decided to build on my then-recently-finished Honours thesis as an experiment in seeing what I could create that could suit a rapid-fire fast-talking Youtube content form, and as a direct result, my first video series, Making Fun was made.

It’s been a bit over a full year now, and I thought I’d spend some time to look at these videos and see what I thought of them, what lessons I had learned, and what lessons I would recommend.

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Story Pile: Bleach (The Movie)

Conventionally, I open discussion of media for the Story Pile in a pattern. It’s literally a template – I have it laid out in front of me right now. Here, the segment is titled introduction and that’s where I put something that snappily sets the tone for the whole thing, but,

but

how.

Just how do you introduce this? There’s the technical – Bleach (2018) is a live-action movie based on the anime Bleach, based on the manga Bleach. Great, that’s a start. It’s also really useless.

There are, right now, five basic ways to know of Bleach, a sort of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Weebs. You have the absolute bottom tier, where you have no idea what Bleach is. You are the majority of the world, blissfully safe and ignorant of this strange story. This is the outer realms.

Then there are those who know Bleach primarily as a punchline. Then there are those who know it, and who wish to tell themselves – falsley – that Bleach is good, has always been good, and any complaints from people disliking it is a sign of an inadequate anime fan. Then, there are those who know Bleach, who were there for Bleach, who were part of Bleach and when Bleach failed them, they were angry. They speak of Bleach as if it was never good, and they are mad.

Finally, there is the top tier. Those of us who know Bleach, and know how Bleach is bad. We know that Bleach failed, but know that at the same time, Bleach was failed.

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Story Pile: Castlevania

If you’d told me that Netflix were putting together a Castlevania series by Warren Ellis and it was an Anime I’d have to have assumed you were working through some sort of nerdy fanboy madlibs, like the output of a twitter robot designed to generate quote-tweets from people inclined to go ‘omg that’d be great.’

It’s such a confluence of edginess; the game is not obscure, but it’s sub-mainstream enough to seem a little edgy. Netflix are by no means a small production house, but Netflix original animation is certainly not on the level of houses like Disney. Making an anime as a specific, separate genre of thing, is also, again, not actually not-mainstream, but seems non-mainstream. And then you throw in Warren Ellis, a man who’s produced tons of comic books and the licenses for tons of movies, and even a TV series, a man who has been kind of all about being the not-the-mainstream version of mainstream comics for large chunks of his career.

Warren Ellis is almost perfectly positioned as everyone’s second favourite comic book author; excellent and creative, but also so aggressively Very Online that you could be forgiven for thinking he’d sprung from the fever dreams of the internet itself. Ridiculous and posturing, energetic and digital, he’s also somehow managed a career as long as his without actually massively embarassing himself on issues that comic book authors didn’t seem to realise mastter that much. There’s no lingering false vision of his work like Mark Waid has, no uncomfortable sensuality of magic that Grant Morrison has, and unlike Akira Yoshida, Ellis exists.

He is the Patrick Swayze of comic book authors; great but so often overshadowed by excellence. You need to know comics to know Ellis and you need to know why Ellis hates comics to love them like he does. Ellis is a great big pink sparkly mullet of an author in an industry peopled by people trying to get themselves taken Very Seriously when they write about the spangly man in the cape with the funny knickers.

This set of factors, coupled with people talking about how brief the first season of Castlevania was pushed me away from it – it seemed that three episodes of NES-era narrative via Ellis might be the perfectly sized dose to completely blow the minds of people who had no real familiarity with any of these factors, that the sheer surprise of the series would set people off, have them curious for more, without it actually being in any way a necessarily good or enjoyable experience for those of us who knows what it’s like to wait six months for a comic issue that’s been A Bit Delayed.

Then I watched it, and…

Oh boy, is this the Good Shit.

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Why Does Christian Media Suck Ass?

One of the most dangerous things to fundamentalism is a desire to be good.

This post was in part spurred by relistening to the absolutely dreadful Camp Kookawacka Woods by Patch the Pirate, a subject so dreadful I feel a bit like I should do a rewatch podcast just so I can impress upon people just how utterly yikesy the whole franchise is at its core. Listening to it, though, with Fox, I had to let her know that some of the songs (that were performed pretty well) were hymns, and some of the songs were based on old campfire songs, and some of the songs were rip-offs of pop songs, and how the whole thing was just so cheap and hacky.

This is a pattern.

If you’ve ever gone looking for what I call Christian Replacement Media, you might have noticed that it’s kind of bad? Not necessarily remarkably bad, no glorious-trainwreck The Room style hubristic excess, it’s just that the best of these movies tends to crest a Pretty Alright level. Probably the best Christian Media Escapee band is Five Iron Frenzy, which is to say that the entire right-wing music machine was able to produce a single good ska band of leftists, which considering the number of times they’re rolling that dice is not a great average. The movies, the branding, the graphic design, almost everything you see in the Christian Replacement Sphere is a slightly shit version of whatever it’s replicating.

Oh, they’re often expensive. Yet even the things that are expensive in this space tend to be gaudy, or overpaid for. When it comes to art and media these stories are almost always just slightly inferior, confusingly weak versions of things that aren’t actually that hard to get right. There are bestselling Christian authors whose work crests the quality of maybe a decent fanfiction.

This is weird though! It’s not like being in the Christian cultural space asks you to be bad. Assuming a random selection of the Christian media space is an equally random selection of the culture of the world, you have to assume that a certain percentage of them are just going to pick up decent artists.

What gives?

I have a theory.

No, wait, I have a hypothesis.

The hypothesis is built out of my experience, and the experience of a few ex-fundie friends. We’ve talked about it, about the things that pulled us away from the faith, and how those things that pulled us off the path were not the fun, excellent temptations we were warned against, but inevitably, a drive to be good at something. I didn’t learn my eschatology and biblical foundational theory because I wanted to prove it wrong. I learned it, because I wanted to be able to prove it right. Nonbelievers would come at me with arguments, I was told, and so I wanted to understand those arguments so I could show how they were wrong. One of my friends wanted to do excellent work rendering graphics for their church, and so they wanted to study how graphics worked and how to convince people with the icon rendered in front of them. Another was driven by a desire to Make Computers Work.

None of us set out to fall.

The basic idea is this: To be good at something requires context and practice. Gaining either of these things inevitably exposes you to the ways in which fundamentalist church spaces fail.

It’s not that church seeks out awful artists. It’s that the modern American church is a sorting algorithm that wants to throw out the good artists in the name of keeping the people who are content to be average at things. Oh, they may want the numinous and the excellent, but if you ask a preacher to choose between a ‘faithful’ artist vs a ‘troubled’ one, they’re going to plomp for the pious one every time.

Plus, the faithful don’t tend to charge what they’re worth.

Vancian Magic Is For Posh People

In most editions of D&D, there’s this system for magic that treats all magic as a sequence of ‘spells.’ In 3rd edition, the idea was that a wizard would have a certain number of spell ‘slots’ available, and each day they would choose the spells to put in those slots. This is known as Vancian Magic. Contrary to what some folk think, this magic system was not made to be a game system, but it just happens to work really effectively as a game system.

Originally devised by Hugo Award winner and joyous sailboy Jack Vance for his Dying Earth series, this system tends to be tied to spellbooks. The wizard encodes most of a magical spell at the start of the day, using a spellbook to handle all the complex work and memorisation, and completes the magic spell at a later point. It’s an interesting idea, and it sort of feels like electrical engineering played a part in its conception.

Vancian magic tends to be entwined with books. If you look for the phrase ‘fantasy art wizard’ on google, you’ll find that almost all your most prominent hits are going to feature some kind of bookshelf, library, or spellbook. There’s a historical trend for this, of course; in our stories about power, power tends to be about the things we regard as powerful. In the days of history that fantasy wants to use as its framing, books have a power to them, because the people with power were also the people who had books. Often for no related reason.

I’ve talked about this, but it still carries out – these days, intellectuals want to be framed in front of books. People arrange their bookshelves to bear in mind not convenience or access but rather the image of what that bookshelf says about who they are. The gamer of youtube puts himself in front of a bookshelf (a place of power) and fills it with the signs of his gamer power (usually consumable merchandise or purchases that show his good taste).

There’s something else about how Vancian magic travels, though. See, if the wizard does the spell in the spellbook, in the morning, why can they do things later that complete that spell, in a different location? Why does that power move from place to place?

The idea is that power can travel, which may seem weird to bring to attention, but it kind of is because it’s not travelling in anything. The wizard isn’t making potions that have the power and then using them (though they can – and that wizard tends to get called an alchemist). The wizard isn’t putting the magic in something. Is the power in the wizard? That doesn’t seem right either, does it – if the power was in the wizard, why wouldn’t they just call it up on the spot (like sorcerers do).

I think that the magic being able to travel, as the wizard moves, is kind of an unconscious representation of ideas like ether, which you could consider as a kind of pre-internet idea of wifi. It’s not just the idea of a universal binding force, or an energy that flows through everything – I mean, that’s an idea that sounds almost like eastern mysticism when you say it like that, isn’t it? Monks do that! Druids kind of do that. The wizard interacts with it in a way that’s about a triumph of knowledge, of being smart.

Look at the base assumptions of work. Think about why things are chosen to be the way they are. There are often interesting ideas waiting to be considered there.

I Like: The Technical Difficulties’ Citation Needed

I’ve spoken about these lads before. Haven’t I? Surely I have. Anyway,

The technical difficulties are, kind of technically, a podcast, who’ve tried a bunch of formats but all rely on the central game of someone knowing things and the others trying to learn about it. It’s a really interesting, good game, and one I recommend you try with your friends, especially after watching this, because Tom Scott, the host, does an amazing job of keeping everyone on point.

There’s a lot of Citation Needed, it’s very funny, and it’s very approachable, you-can-do-it kind of fun making stuff.

Story Pile: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego

This show rules.

It used to be when I wrote these articles I felt the need to build up to the verdict as if the purpose of this kind of article is to tell you whether or not you should try it, and that kind of review treats my opinion like a magical trick. There’s a structure to these kinds of things, a meter, there’s position and flow and there’s all this stuff about the science of listener attention, like the way this sentence is starting to sound breathless in your head, and making reviews like that is a kind of game.

It’s a kind of game where the prize is only imagined – I sit back and think to myself boy I bet that person reading this is having a great time and now they’re surprised. It’s a type of structure that I learned from playing games with good arcs, where it was obvious that things started out easy, got harder, and then there was that sharp moment of relief where your expectations and the facts lined up, boom and there we are. Crafting such a review is a puzzle.

These days, I’m not interested in doing that because I’d rather talk about what a series does than whether or not you should check it out. Let’s not, then, spend time talking about whether or not this show is good, and instead make it nice and clear up front.

Where In The World is Carmen Sandiego is a really good adventure story, which uses the format of an educational heist program to tell stories about a cool thief who opposes bad thieves. The main cast features an international conspiracy of criminals, a troublesome anti-criminal organisation that operates outside of Interpol’s laws and a lot of reasons to every episode describe the culture of an area while presenting a villainous plot that is worth thwarting.

Some of these villainous plots, by the way, are just breathtakingly petty. It’s really good Bond-villain stuff, and the whole setting is kind of built around this silly question of where do Bond Villains come from, and what stops them from just being caught?

Then in between these forces of ACME and VILE, you have Carmen Sandiego, who is doing her best to keep a step ahead of the criminals, with her unique knowledge, but who knows she can’t just go to the police with the solution to the problem, because what she opposes, VILE, doesn’t really properly exist.

I think this show is great.

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March Shirt: GEN 8 STARTERS!

Woop woop let’s back this up!

If you’ve been following the schedule I’m trying to keep to (and why, why would you do that), you’ll notice I’ve been putting out one shirt design, every month, and I post that shirt late in the month. No real reason to post it late, I just thought ‘eh, sure,’ and put it there arbitarily. That’s why I showcased my Lovin’ Smoochin’ Journey Referencin’ shirt about a week ago.

But last night (for me as I write this), Pokemon Direct showed off the next generation of Pokemon, and showed us three starters and look at that, I did fanart reasonably quickly, and – well, dangit, here we go, three shirt designs. Plus, since they reference Pokemon, there’s a non-zero chance they’ll be gone in a few days, so heck it, here, check them out.

Here are the designs:

And here the design is on our friendly gormless supposedly unisex Redbubble model:

And here’s the design being modelled by the Teepublic ghost:

This design is available on a host of shirts and styles, go check them out! You can get these designs on Redbubble or on Teepublic (Grooky, Scorbunny, Sobble)!

Should go back to the normal schedule next month!

I Like: Now Kiss

This February we’ve spent a lot of time looking at Visual Novels. You might have wondered why I didn’t, given how easy the kind of content is, do a let’s play of one of them. Well, the short answer is that I can’t get Renpy games and my recording software OBS to look at each other, but the longer answer is why would I do something so unnecessary when there’s the excellent Now Kiss! to follow instead!

Now Kiss! is a streaming show over on the mighty Loading Ready Run streaming network, in which Kathleen DeVere, renowned goth and misanthrope plays her way through visual-novel style games and dating sims, looking for waifus and husbandos and whatever she can.

This is very long form stuff – we’re talking about reading out each line at a time, and giving characters voice, and commentating on the games as they play. I don’t normally like this format, but this format’s length makes it good passive material while you’re doing other things, like household chores. It’s also good, though, because these people in this stream love this genre, but are not uncritical of it.

It’s good stuff, check it out.

Smoochin’ Algorithm Blues

This isn’t the kind of thing I wanted to do for Smooch Month, but I figure it’d be just a kind of lie if I wasn’t willing to admit it. Finding stuff to Story Pile for Smooch Month has been really hard.

Normally when I approach a topic it’s easy enough to start because I want to talk about things I find interesting. That means I have things already in mind for interest. If I wanted to talk about overrated RPGs, for example, I’d think ‘are there any games I think are bad but are critically acclaimed, oh, TWEWY, FFT and Undertale and that’s most of a month’s content done right there, no problem.’ When it comes to Smooch month though, I explicitly wanted to get out of my comfort zone.

Part of why is because I don’t watch a lot of smoochy media, because it mostly makes me unhappy, or reminds me of being unhappy. There was a time in my life, I, no joke, seriously sat on the verge of tears because of an anime opening theme subtitle, and the series it was from was DearS, which, if you don’t know it, good. It’s bad. Don’t watch it. It’s real real bad. Avoid it. Anyway, the point is, the times in my life when ‘romantic’ media hit me the hardest were some supremely messed up times, and that meant I responded to some dreadful garbage, movies that today I think of as actively bad, things that spoke to a person I’m not any more, and am supremely grateful that I’m not.

That meant that I’m both starting pretty fresh and, since ‘boy grouses about genre he doesn’t like’ is supremely dull, I wanted to take the chance to watch some Smooch Media that I could both talk about and maybe connect people to their new favourite thing but also broaden my tastes and horizons.

First I asked friends. I got some good suggestions, but not things I could use – Australian Netflix and Stan, after all. I wanted to avoid anything that needed shipping to make it good – so the Tangled series was right out, even though I like it a lot. I wanted to avoid movies that treated their audience like they were stupid, which meant a lot of rom-coms I knew were gone (Sarah Michelle Gellar has starred in some bunk). I also didn’t want to just watch action movies that had a romance in them, because it felt like cheating. No. This was about Smooch Media! That’s when I started looking at lists online, google searching ‘good romantic movies,’ and, well, that’s when I ran into the maw of the algorithm.

Did you know Kristen Stewart’s done a Tragic Lesbians Movie About Theatre? I did. It’s called Clouds of Sils Maria. Not going to talk about it here, it’s depressing as hell and is really more about the transient nature of fame and the disposable vision of women. How about Snow White And the Huntsman? Well, that’s an action film, and it’s really bad too, which is maddening because how hard can it be to make Snow White not garbage? Also didn’t write about Blue is the Warmest Colour because it’s really steamy and gay and that makes me really uncomfortable and exploitative. I read all of My Dragon Girlfriend, too which is also super steamy and gay, and that made me feel even more intrusive because it wasn’t a multimillion dollar international production. Mixed in amongst all these movies and series, though, there were all these things that the Algorithm thought I’d like, things like thrillers and horror movies and suspense movies which were all masquerading as Smooch movies, with the general message of Maybe Don’t.

This subject has been really hard to cover! And part of that is that when you ask the internet about ‘romantic media’ you get ten thousand answers that aren’t very helpful.

Story Pile: My Dragon Girlfriend

First up, a link! This is a bit of a different Story Pile than normal, because the work in question is available free on the web. Normally, I break up my writing on a series or movie with screencaps, which I happily do under the idea of fair use (for commentary purpose). In this case, though it feels a little more close to the wire; that work is Patreon sponsored, after all, and it’s – it’s just there. It’s there, you can go read it, it’s free.

I could just approach Fawnduu to ask her permission to use her pictures for this blog review, but that would necessarily draw her attention to it, which is bad, and brings with it the hypothetical conception that she should care about what I have to say about her comic, which is also bad.

With that in mind, I’m not going to use pictures from the work to break up this review, beyond this one isolated screencap of Danni’s doofy dragon grin. This work is extremely low stakes (so far?) and therefore I might spoil some stuff in order to talk about it, but don’t worry. This isn’t a series about dramatic twists, so far.

This is a series about lesbians, and dragons, and lesbian dragons.

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February Shirt: Shippin Lovin Smoochin

This month I wanted to celebrate smooching. I didn’t talk much about fandom and shipping, though, and that’s kind of a bummer. I did some other designs about specific ships, a bit of snarky references to things that weren’t very smoochy, and generally got meanspirited. I instead decided to rededicate my design to something that was very pure, very sweet, and very nice looking, and what resulted is a festival of pink and pastel.

And here the design is on our friendly gormless supposedly unisex Redbubble model:

And here’s the design being modelled by the Teepublic ghost:

This design is available on a host of shirts and styles. If you like the look, I can see about making the individual badges into stickers.

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

Accent Bullshit

I’m a bit sore about accents.

One of the problems is that my accent is one of those ones that’s kind of definitively seen as a joke. You don’t hear an Australian accent, and when you do hear it, it is almost never done by an actual Australian. The most famous Australian actor in the world right now puts on an Olde English accent most of the time.

In part this conversation was spurred by Olly of PhilosophyTube, who is a perfectly fine chap and I don’t mean any disrepect by, but he recently did a video that was presented as a riff on ‘How I’d Fix [Franchise]’ videos, during which he did the whole thing in a very artificial American accent.

The purpose behind it was that this voice was both meant to be playing a character, and to help hook people into a way of viewing ‘the housing market’ as a thing that doesn’t actually do what it’s presented as doing. Plus it played within an existing Youtube genre of extremely tired, annoying fanfiction that’s just jam-packed full of extremely ordinary white guys. It was affect, right? That was the point. It wasn’t meant to sound good, so what’s the point?

The point is that the overwhelming thought I had, through the whole video, was not ‘Oh hey, clever use of the genre’ or ‘good point there, Olly me old chum, maybe we should eat the rich,’ but rather the much more constant ‘jesus christ this accent sucks.’

Which isn’t new, he’s done this before. He’s impersonated an Australian accent, For Hilarious Effect, which touches on one of my raw nerves.

I have some sympathy for voice actors on this front. After all, in the United States, the most common form of voice acting is the way that almost all news presenters adopt an identical locational affect – it’s really specific in fact. Numerous voice actors take on roles that aren’t true to their own backgrounds, and voice acting can be much more about projecting an affect that can communicate a lot through a very small amount of experience.

Plus, I don’t want to stand here and talk about this like it’s a form of cultural intrusion. That’s a much more chancy sphere, and the last thing the world needs is a white guy standing here telling other people how they should communicate. That’s super obnoxious (and part of why it angers me when Americans do it to me).

If you want to look at the way this sphere of media is fraught, in Downsizing there’s Hong Chau’s character Ngoc Lan Tran. Tran spoke in that movie with a really heavy Vietnamese accent and broken English – an accent she said she derived from her own family.It was something of a hot topic for people to complain about this accent and even flat-out call it racist, for her to have it. I’m not here to defend the movie or how the movie depicted it, but people were saying that the accent Hong Chau chose that evoked her own Vietnamese heritage was ‘wrong,’ and made her sound like a joke. People criticised the accent, and then they asked her about where she got it from.

That’s part of the problem with this sort of cultural imperialism: You’re made to feel your own voice is inherently non-serious. That you’re not a person, you’re a comedy prop.

You know we were going to get to this.

I hate Junkrat. I hate that Junkrat is meant to be Australian. I hate that he’s voiced by a Californian. I hate that other Australians love him. I hate how Overwatch treats Australia, because, boy howdy, is that some extremely racist stuff. But even if I didn’t hate all that, even if I didn’t hate who Junkrat is meant to be and what Junkrat is meant to be about, his accent would still suck.

And that means whenever I hear Junkrat talk, I don’t hear an Australian accent or a New Zealand accent. I hear an American, projecting to other Americans, an accent that’s meant to be about my part of the world. And all that time means every time I hear Junkrat talk, I’m pulled out of whatever fiction he’s meant to represent and just reminded that, oh yeah, this voice.

I personally feel that an accent is one of those things where we forgive you if you’re good enough. If I can’t tell your accent is fake, then it doesn’t matter that it’s fake. It’s basically diegetic, and that’s pretty interesting and weird.

Also, Olly’s like, on Patreon and Blizzard are one of the highest-paid gaming companies in the world. That’s a factor too.

 

Smooching Boys In Moon Light Moon Knight

There really is no better time than now, here in Smooch Month, to talk about something I made that is meant to be Smooch Media. If I’m going to stand here and talk about smooching and media about smooching, and characters I want to see smooching it seems a bit hypocritical of me to act like I’m outside this space and can make big, sweeping impartial statements.

Because I, dear reader, have made smooch media. Most of it, you don’t know about. But for now, let’s talk about a specific piece of smooch media I co-wrote, and let’s talk about the smoochy part of it I have the most opinion on: the boy.

In 2018, as part of Light Novelber, I wrote, with Caelyn Sandel, a short (50~ pages) light-novel style story called Moon Light, Moon Knight. This short story is about a trans magical girl who heals monsters made up of broken sadness with a shotgun of silver, and her werewolf boyfriend.

We wrote this novel in a very direct way; we blocked out a few story ideas, then just put together a really rudimentary story structure (meet, develop, resolve), and filled in scenes with characters talking to each other. Sometimes we back-and-forthed individual scenes, sometimes we did longer form passages of worldbuilding solo. There were revisions and there were notes. We’re both very experienced storytellers, so none of what we did was, to us, hard. Maybe I’ll tell more about the process of how bits of the book got made some other time.

But.

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TvTropes Critique

As my month-long meditation on Voltron: Legendary Defenders slowly unspools, I’m reflecting on the kind of criticism that spurred me to write about it in the first place. It was all of a particular genre, a check-list and key-word driven style of critical engagement that I have long since had a beef with. I’ve taken to referring to it as TVtropes Critique.

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Medium Gender Left Content

Gender is a medium. Your gender is content.

There’s this book, Understanding Media, by this guy, Marshall McLuhan. This book is Media Studies 101, and I mean, literally. In almost all first-year media studies you’re going to see McLuhan get busted out and there’s a lot of stuff in this book that’s really good for understanding media, what it’s for, how it interfaces with us as people. There’s this phrase in the book, a phrase you’ll hear a lot in media studies, and if you’re Canadian, you’ve probably heard it here:

Now, this thankfully links easily to Dan Olson doing a very solid explainer. If you don’t understand the phrase, this is a good one. McLuhan’s theory is that mediums shape our world, more than the ideas presented than those mediums. In the 20th century, we had an explosion of mediums – mediums in this case being things like television, radio, cinema, cellphones and the internet, to name a small number of big examples. And examples like that are big and easy and obvious to look at because the 20th century was really explosive for this kind of thing.

There are however, older mediums, mediums that have deformed our world. And lots of mediums include those other mediums. Like, television is built on the structures of modern theatre, and modern theatre is built on the structures of pre-modern theatre and here at least, we use English as our language to talk on television, and English is a medium and that medium is built on the previous mediums of other languages and all the way back until people are poking things into cuneiform.

And one very old medium is gender. The modern gender system we have is built on an older one, probably one from the Victorian empire. That medium was spread in part because it gave those people in that empire a cohesive vision for their own selves, which in turn facilitated their dehumanisation of the other, and that made it easier for them to justify things like massacres and genocides.

Yeah, Victorian Gender Roles are dead set part of the mindset that enabled mass extermination. Not kidding. Racism was part of it, as was exploitative capitalism, all that stuff!

The thing is, gender does a lot to deform our society, but it does it in the same way television or mobile phones do. We have two separate bathrooms in public spaces (usually), but we have it that way because we have gender, not because genders mandate different bathrooms. Pockets in clothing are the way they are because we want to enforce gender, not because genders change the way pockets work.

Thing is, gender is a medium. Not maleness and femaleness. Genders. All genders – the entire idea of there being a thing called gender, which brings with it certain inherent, inalienable traits, that’s the medium. The genders of male and female, they’re much more like genres within that medium.

That means that you’re free to view your own relationship to that medium, and choose how it belongs there.

Story Pile: Ouran High School Host Club

Ouran High School Host Club is a self-aware, postmodern romantic comedy shoujou anime series. It follows a gormless poor protagonist, Haruhi, interacting with the ridiculous wealth of the prestigious Ouran academy. In the first episode, Haruhi incurs an enormous debt that has to be repaid, and the only path presented for that is to work in the needlessly ostenstatious and 100% ridiculous Extremely G-Rated Host Club.

A Host Club in this case, for anyone unfamiliar with the real-world thing, is basically a bar with hot boys, and those hot boys are paid a significant percentage of the bar’s proceeds selling expensive drinks. This means these boys are incentivised to convince you to buy a lot of really expensive drinks and spend a lot of time there. It’s not actually sex work, but it is not uncommon for hosts to have sex with clients they like off-the-clock. It’s actually kind of a point in its favour that as sex work goes, the Host often has a lot of freedom to refuse clients because sex isn’t actually part of the deal.

In Ouran, perhaps because everyone involved is just ridiculously wealthy and alienated from the very idea of paying for things, these hosts operate on a much more sincere idea that they’re literally just there to make the guests feel happy, like, for its own sake. There’s a good article’s worth of content there about the idea of the wealthy being so alienated from labor they make labor into performative play, but not here.

This vision of a Host club is sweet, and extremely ridiculous and it plays into one of the themes of the series: Rich people are flipping nitwits.

Smooch content wise: This series lacks for many actual smooches but is full of teasing towards smooches. If you want to see if Haruhi winds up with one of the boys (or even the occasional girl), the series is full of testing and teasing on that front. If you like these characters, if you find the style of it fun, this is a good romantic comedy because the question of Haruhi and smooching is just always there, always ready to leap out and raise the stakes on any given situation. I like this series, and you might like it too.

I don’t intend to get spoilery, but there will be a content warning for stuff in the series, later.

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To Own With Your Eyes

One of the things patriarchy teaches men is that they own, in a way, what they look at. It also teaches non-men that that they are, in part, owned by being looked at.

Simple little lesson. Simple little idea. Advertising to men often just shows them things and the natural intuition is that they’re entitled to it. Women are shown things with an explanation for what’s wrong with them and why they need to get them.

This idea is part of why there’s not really a structural comparison between the male gaze and female gaze. The thing is, The Male Gaze is the default structure, an observable trend that comes about not because a bunch of dudes looked at a textbook for Male Gaziness, but because men, given control and means to, did things, and afterwards, people observing that work were able to find a really clear, consistant pattern.

It was a byproduct of giving guiding control of a medium to mostly a single gender for generations. And it grew in part out of that same starting mindset: The idea that you were entitled to the things you looked at.

In the Bible there’s this passage:

27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

This passage has been used heavily to talk about the dangers of lust as an action. It’s one of the times the Bible weighs in about whether sins are things you do to people or objects, or if they can happen in your mind. Which, well, the Bible is pretty clear, yes, they can. If you think it, you did it, and adultery isn’t just about bodies and grinding, it’s also about the mere capacity to want it.

Which makes a kind of sense, if looking at something is an action of power.

It makes sense if you own the things you look at.

Pokemon Badges

Hey, did you see my On My Way To Victory Road shirt design? That was built around little window views of my renditions of the Indigo league badges. In order to make that design, rather than use anyone else’s art, I remade all those badges myself – these are digital drawings of the original art.

Anyway, you might want bigger versions of those artworks for some reason, and hey, here, you can have them. These badges might make fun designs you can use on forum signatures or whatever.

Story Pile: 10 Things I Hate About You

Okay.

Okay.

Before we get started, this movie is basically a book report for my generation. Like, this is a movie that a lot of English teachers (not mine, mine weren’t cool) let the students watch so they could do a comparison between the texts and maybe just once, just once get the students to give a damn about Shakespeare. That means that to me, I feel like 10 Things I Hate About You is probably almost boringly well-known.

Right?

I’m not about to tell you anything about this movie you don’t already know, except that I like it and also the soundtrack is really good. Still, let’s hit the basic beats:

  • It’s a teen romance movie from the 90s
  • It’s almost the most teen romance movie from the 90s
  • The story is a re-framing of The Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare
    • The Taming of the Shrew is super gross
      • But 10 Things fixes a lot of things?
        • And includes a passage about updating Shakespeare?
  • 10 Things I Hate About You was a breakout movie that introduced the world to:
    • Heath Ledger, aka the Joker, tragically gone
    • Julia Stiles, aka … Julia Stiles in this
    • Joseph Gordon Levitt, aka everything
    • Larisa Oleynik, who every Alex Mack fan already knew
  • It’s super dated!
    • Like, painfully so!
  • The Shakespearean behaviour of the Dad is really weird in a modern concept
  • There’s a dance number, for no good reason!
  • The soundtrack is really good

Okay, I think that’s everything Lindsay Ellis covered when she talked about it, and that’s the critical background I have to work with, after all. We good? Okay, let’s go.

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January Shirt: On My Way to Victory Road!

Here’s this month’s t-shirt design!

Remember that feeling, when you were playing Pokemon Red or Pokemon Blue, when you realised you were collecting a lot of those badges, when you looped back around through Pallet town, when you realised that you had on you symbols, these signs of what you’d done, and now you were someone people could recognise as being achieved?

Here’s the design, on its own:

And here the design is on our friendly gormless supposedly unisex Redbubble model:

And here’s the design being modelled by the Teepublic ghost:

This design is available on a host of shirts and styles. If you like the look, I can see about making the individual badges into stickers.

You can get this design on Redbubble (assuming they don’t think I stole this artwork I drew) or on Teepublic.

Story Pile: Voltron Part III: Best Beeves

Before I get to discussing the final season of Voltron and why it made me happy, I think it’s worth addressing that I don’t think this series is perfect. No series is perfect. In this specific case, there’s a bunch of stuff that annoys me, or things I’d rather they have done differently, moments where in this thirty hour long story, I would rather they have not. These are disagreements, they’re irritations – not quite at the level of a pet peeve, but bigger, and more specific, like a beef. I have beeves.

I try to make sure that my complaints about a series aren’t about what a series isn’t. I’ve talked about extrinsic vs intrinsic factors in television before. An extrinsic factor is things like ‘the budget was changed,’ or ‘this actor had to leave.’ An intrinsic factor is something like ‘this show chooses to be about men’s pain over women’s,’ (for example). And things like ‘this series wasn’t about the things I wanted it to be about’ are pretty extrinsic to me.

We’re going to talk spoilers, after the fold.

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Story Pile: Voltron Part II: Faces Of Evil

Last week I talked about how Voltron: Legendary Defender is a series of archetypes. It’s a story made up of scaffolding, and what holds it together is a consistant moral and thematic outlook. One of the ways the story holds its form is through its villains, and how they, consistently, are alone.

We’re going to talk spoilers, after the fold.

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The Riddler Sucks

I like superheroes a lot but they sometimes hold onto some really weird things.

Last year, Adam West died. And his death brought with it a lot of nostalgia. The Lego Batman movie hit streaming services, so I got to watch it. Twitch advertised the living heck out of a game about Gotham Villains, and in it all I kept noticing people bringing up shots of some real classic heroes. Cesar Romero’s excellent Joker; Eartha Kitt, the most legitimately criminally threatening Catwoman; Burgess Meredith, who breathed new life into the Penguin.

But there’s the Riddler.

This isn’t my critique, not really; it’s an idea that was brought to my attention years ago in a stranger, brighter, more 90s internet, by the infamous Seanbaby. The Riddler, Seanbaby pointed out, was a criminal who was slightly easier to catch than normal.

I don’t really like The Riddler as he’s represented in a conventional Batman story. The purpose behind him back in the Adam West show and early comics was that he could change the kind of story into a puzzle that the audience could try and go along with. That’s why he posited his riddles as really conventional riddles, things that a kid might have read. Here are some from the old Adam West show, for context.


What does a turkey do when he flies upside down?

He gobbles up

What weighs six ounces, sits in a tree, and is very dangerous?

A sparrow with a machine gun

What has yellow skin and writes?

A ballpoint banana

What people are always in a hurry?

Russians

What goes up white and comes down yellow and white?

An egg

How do you divide seventeen apples among sixteen people?

Make applesauce

Why is an orange like a bell?

Because they both must be peeled

There are three men in a boat with four cigarettes but no matches. How do they manage to smoke?

They throw one cigarette overboard and made the boat a cigarette lighter


None of these riddles really are going to give you any insight into what the Riddler is doing. You’d need to be Adam West’s Batman with his level of moon logic intuition to be able to get from the answer to the riddle to the next step in the investigation.

But

But

When the comics or the show put that puzzle out there, and then usually take a break, or give you a moment to consider it, you’re left with the sudden moment when this comic book or tv show becomes a game.

Caillois Indifference

If you’ve been paying much attention to my talk lately, you’ll know I’ve been reading a book called Man, Play and Games by a 20th century sociology academic called Roger Cailliois, where none of that is pronounced the way I thought it was. There’s one thing about this book, though, that isn’t really academically profound but I find funny and interesting.

See, it’s a translation from French to English, and the translation is trying to make sure it uses both consistant wording and academic language. That means that there’s very little vernacular, and we get such wonderful phrases as:

… [Ilinx] inflicts a kind of voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind.

On the Game Study Study Buddies podcast, Michael Lutz pointed out that this kind of talk is a bit like a Metal Gear Solid villain. I tried that out:

Me, I thought about this. See, my feeling was that the takes read a lot more like something from Neon Genesis Evangelion:

But then, as I read onwards, I saw a phrase that stood out, a phrase that demanded its place in a different game.

It’s not a bad book, except in the ways it’s bad.

But it’s funny when it’s recontextualised.

Story Pile: Voltron Part I: A Series Half-Full

Voltron: Legendary Defender has ended. There is now as much of Voltron: Legendary Defender as there is ever likely to be. The story is done, its themes and story are all there; nothing can come in to change the text that is and we can consider what it means, or what it is about, or what it says to us.

If you’re wondering should I watch Voltron: Legendary Defenders, in the broadest possible way, with the minimum of spoilers, then to be up front: This series is great! It’s a cool adventure story with a bunch of interesting, diverse characters, and a regularly shifting status quo that keeps the story from becoming static. It’s very much an adventure story of big robots and fighting monsters in space, rather than your monster-of-the-week model you got in the original Voltron series, and there’s a lot of really cool different stories that make up the whole of the show.

I like Voltron: Legendary Defender.

And I want to talk about what it was about.

We’re going to talk spoilers, after the fold.

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Story Pile: 2018

It’s been a year, hasn’t it?

Game Pile work is by definition slower and more difficult to do than Story Pile. I can watch videos or listen to audio dramas or digest movies while I’m doing other things. Cleaning the house and playing a videogame at the same time isn’t going to be a problem. Unless a series is remarkably long (looking at you, Star Trek), even if I don’t get it, I can get it more on a rewatch. I don’t tend to be drawn to media that needs multiple viewings, too. Not to sound like a snob but the kind of academic reading I have to do right now really has me filled up on ‘oo but what does that meaaaaan’ kind of fictive experiences.

What this means is that rather than rethinking the Story Pile in my head with hindsight, what I’ve mostly been thinking about has been the general texture of the quality of what I’ve been watching, listening to, and reading this year for my pleasure.

Some stuff this year has been great but the Story Pile has also, in the latter half of the year, taken its time to kick around some utter tosh.

Okay, first of all, good stuff, reviews that I think are good commentary on good media. Stuff where I liked what I saw or read or listened to and I think you’d like it too. I tried not to do too many of these – I didn’t want the whole year of talking media to be about things I already knew I thought were great. This list includes Arrested Development (the first series), Monster, Hello Rockview and Cul De Sac. A TV series, a manga, an album and a newspaper cartoon – pretty odd grouping, really.

Then there’s the stuff that I experienced for the first time this year that I thought was super great: Pacific Rim, Black Panther and Drive. I feel like Pacific Rim got a treatment that’s the closest I get to just boring gushing. Black Panther is a little different, because I mostly wanted to whack at some common public opinions without involving myself in the discussions of how it should be seen.

Some of my media intake isn’t just rewatching things I half-remember, it’s informing myself on the ‘classics’ I completely missed. This year, I watched The Blues Brothers, a movie that’d been cut out of my childhood. I enjoyed Blues Brothers 2000, a movie that was not very good, and going back and watching The Blues Brothers was like taking a hit of something much more crude, more raw, and much more potent.

Of course, there’s been a bunch of crap, almost all masquerading as something that hypothetically I’d like. Arrested Development went on to a second series that is just plain out bad, for example. All flabby and meanspirited and unnecessarily awkward, even though it had a framing device I like.

The superhero space got its fair share of garbage, too, and so you could see me being a giant pissbaby about my superhero stories not being good enough – I went in on Daredevil Season 3, The Punisher, Justice League, and Iron Fist Season 2 (Danny sucks), and even gave Aquaman a stomping, even though it just came out yesterday.

Also, special mention goes to Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning. My review of that book received an enormous amount of attention, and I think that, in part, it’s because I wrote it in a clever way. Nonetheless, I am glad, because Trigger Warning is a silly book of mediocre garbage that wants to cloak itself in knives.

Then there were the surprises. Stuff I didn’t know I’d like, stuff I was actually willing to ignore at first. The surprises, like Nanette, a truly blistering comedy show that presented the mind and pride of Hannah Gasbdy. Or Sonic Boom, a tie in show for a Sonic the Hedgehog game that has both nothing to do with the game and is really excellent on its own merits.

And who could forget how much I enjoyed Kamen Rider W, a series I’d been stupidly sleeping on for almost two years! These were all pleasant new things I got to experience this year, and I’m really glad I did. Nanette was excoriating and intense and amazing and heartful and wholesome while also brutal, and Kamen Rider W was a whole new genre of energetic love in form.

I liked Nanette enough to make a video about it, and I liked Kamen Rider W enough to make a whole month of essays about the ways it’s a Good Show. Basically I liked Kamen Rider W as much as I disliked Iron Fist. Is that a good metric?

There’s stuff I wish I’d written about – The Dragon Prince, and Voltron: Legendary Defenders, or the manga-and-anime Geobreeders. I wish I’d found the time to read Windblade and make my video about Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. But these things will come in time, and now they have time to percolate in my mind, to get better and better as I learn how to make better and better media. I know one thing I want to do is talk about why I dislike Hunk in Voltron so much, or talk about why media like Stephen Universe and She-Ra and the Princess Of Power lost me.

Oh, and go check out Dragon Prince, it’s really good. And Voltron. And watch Korra again!

Decemberween: abad1dea

Last year, I wrote about abad1dea, and this year I wrote about her perspective informing her books. I’d like to just go on about why my friend is really cool –

so I will.

abad1dea is one of those people with a huge wealth of expertise outside of mine. She’s not a card game or board game person, and her love of videogames is for a period and strata of games conspicuously different to mine. I learn a lot listening to her, about not just things that mattered to Americans, but about things that mattered to her.

She’s interested in very specific technical system problems of videogames – the way glitches work rather than just how to get glitches to happen. That’s stuff that can sometimes involve extremely complex computer science, and it’s not just that she understands it, but she understands how to talk about it in common language.

And boy, is that something that computer nerds are awful about.

It feels like every day or so whenever abad1dea talks about anything technical on twitter, someone is there to smarmily ‘correct’ her. It’s alway commafucking too – the kind of more-precise-than-thou unhelpful idiocy that assumes the speaker knows what she should have said, because they know what she should have meant, which inevitably, they don’t, because they’re not listening to her.

Being a woman on the internet, especially a visibly competent one, sucks.

It sucks especially because I’m not in that field of expertise and sometimes when she explains something, it’ll immediately click to me what she’s saying, and then I’ll watch her descend into ‘kindly rack off’ conversations with people who insist that it would be better if her statement had been more obtuse and less useful. That annoys me because it’s bad communication, but it’s definitely not my place to wade in.

abad1dea has focused on her music composing this year, and I’d like to share a link to her soundcloud here. Check it out!