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: Mahou Tsukai Tai

“Hey, Talen,” I tell myself.

“Yeah?”

“We’re going to do Pride month, right?”

“Yep!”

“And that means you’re going to prioritise the queer articles you mean to write, but they’re kinda hard or need research, or you feel that the nature of the work means it’s best to put them all together, so while you’re doing a lot of related research, it can all kinda reference together, and you don’t wind up switching gears from a mindset of, say, magic tricks and knife crime to trying to talk thoughtfully about gender and our relationship to our bodies, resulting in some horrifying wording problem?”

“Yeah, that, that, and-”

Story Pile then, what are we going to do? Watch some Netflix queer movies that show up when you mash the LGBTQ button? Bust out some old classic texts? Revisit Dragon Prince and go in on the Claudia issue?”

“Well um, I figured I’d,”

“Yeees?”

“Why are you trying to spin the anticipation here, you are me,”

“Rhetorically, I’m not.”

“You know what, forget it. Point is, I’m going to start by talking about the first anime I remembered watching because there was a hot boy in it.”

“Whut.”

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May Shirt: Splat the Rich!

A thing I should know better than to do is make something because someone on Twitter says ‘oh, I need this on a shirt.’ I did it this time and did they buy a shirt? Did they flipptertegibbets. But that’s life.

This was an exercise in playing with masks and layers with a nice set of new paintbrushes that look like spatters, rotation and randomisation, as well as lookaliking fonts and styles! Aslo there’s nothing wrong with using childish axes of engagement to solidify meaningful ideas like ‘gender is chosen’ and ‘the uber-wealthy will kill the planet if they are not removed from their unearned position of privilege.’

Here’s the design:


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. Particularly, strangely right now, Redbubble are offering it on two-inch badges and on masks.

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

Deep Space 9, In Images

If you were paying attention to me on twitter, you’ll know I was making memes of Deep Space 9 as I watched it. Well, with those ten thousand words vomited out of my soul and put on the page, I want those pictures where you can search and put them in some context. They also serve as a first draft of my thoughts and feelings as I watched the show – which is helpful for reconstructing my thoughts later for some project so big.

Season 1

This one was short, I hadn’t gotten in the groove of it yet. Also, three of these are just dril tweets overlaid on the image.

Season 2

I thought this season was largely pretty good, thought the Maquis and Bajoran storylines were handled pretty well, Jake and Nog weren’t inexcrable, I even tolerated some Ferengi shit.

Season 3

The series had found its voice, characters were pretty set, O’Brien kept getting stomped on. No special notes here.

Season 4

This season introduced Worf and I’m afraid it’s where I started running out of second chances.

Season 5

Oh yeah, this season had Eddington eps, it had the Garak Gets High And Kills People ep (which I like, even though the actor didn’t), a bunch of good Odo stuff, Julian’s… revelation and the amazing Troubles and Tribble-lations. Good stuff, really.

Season 6

I think this is the point where I got really fed up with the weakest parts of this series. There’s a lot of episodes that are just there, or built around something I hate, like Vic or Quark or Worf. The Pah’wraiths are really explored here but knowing there’s no payoff for all the buildup makes all of their scenes feel like a drudge.

When I watched it, I said the shrinking episode was probably going to be one of the best of the season. In the Pale Moonlight lives here, and turns out that, if that wasn’t here, the shrinking episode might be the best episode of this season.

Season 7

And that’s that, the last of our Deep Space 9 Jokey Notesies. Hope it’s convenient having them all in one place!

Story Pile: Deep Space Nine, Part III

Content warning! I dig into the Cardassians a little bit later on in this, and that means there’s going to be a mention of Nazis and stuff Nazis like in media. Tap out at the end of Take Me Out To The Holosuite if you wanna skip it!

Like I said last time, I actually like Deep Space 9. It may be a bit of a surprise that someone can have four thousand words (good god) of non-stop complaining about a show they liked, but I was trying to avoid being toxic about it. It’s one thing to criticise a show’s direction and story structure and its narrative priorities, and another thing to talk about how people are idiots for liking something. And hell, since I like it, I get to be one of those idiots.

We’ve talked about the death of the author in the past, and we’ve talked about wrestling as live theatre, and I’ve talked about the idea of the Ghost of the Author, an occluded identity of someone who ‘made’ the story and ‘made’ the choices that went into it. In the case of Deep Space 9, though, there’s a clear, fracticious and well-documented explanation for why things were weird.

Rick Berman sucks.

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Liking Things

Well, this is an interesting one.

I was asked to blog about this, and that means that this is going to be approached as a blog post and not as specific advice to the person who asked.

Hey, I like a bunch of stuff other people don’t like. But sometimes they don’t like those things, out loud, and it can make me feel bad about liking it! What do?

This can be one of two problems: One, people do not like the thing I like, and I want them to enjoy the thing I like. The solution to this is to share with your friends, talk about what you’re engaging with, and see if that interests them, and if it doesn’t, you can either discard them as friends because of their opinion of a piece of media (which is a weirdo thing to do) or accept that your friends and you don’t have to all like the same thing.

Or two, people actively dislike the thing I like, and talk about disliking it, and I do not feel okay about liking the thing. This is a little trickier because the solution to this is to respect people. Specifically, respect that they have tastes and wants and opinions and you can recognise those tastes and wants and opinions without them having to align with or change yours.

That is, however, hard.

Instead, let’s look at some strategies for this.

Establish Boundaries

Other people don’t like the thing you like! That’s a real bummer. Of course, there are spaces where you can like your thing and and they can dislike their thing, provided neither you nor they are forcing one another to engage with one another’s opinions, you should be absolutely fine.

But that’s not what’s happening, is it.

What’s happening is that you’re probably in some general space, like facebook or twitter, and there, you find that the people who are important to your life, shit on something you like, and maybe do it in a way that’s hard for you to avoid. The most important skill here is to take control over your space: You get to choose what you see in your social media space. If people are being rude, refusing your requests, avoiding your mutes or blocks, to talk to you about the thing, then that’s not an opinions-on-media thing, that’s people-being-an-asshole thing.

Reject False Dichotomies

Odds are really good this is about something that has ‘problematic elements’ in it, where you’re upset by people pointing out problems the thing has. The notion is that if this media is ‘bad’ and I like it, am I ‘bad?’

This is an incorrect way to view it, and most people, even media critics, aren’t framing it this way. This is you making analysis of a media object – criticism of a thing – into criticism of you. If they’re framing it as criticism of you because you like the thing, then again: that’s people being assholes. That has nothing to do with criticism.

Still, the other thing here is that your opinions on media aren’t you, they’re things you relate to. I don’t know how many ways to restate the idea that other people not liking things doesn’t affect you liking things. The idea that these things are both that simple and binary – liking ‘bad things’ makes you ‘bad’ – is a simplified view of reality that turns everyone who ever ate bread into Hitler.

Accepting The Infinite

Nothing is perfect. For anything you like, there’s a better version of it that doesn’t exist yet. You can point to almost every piece of media and talk about ways in which it, as a product of a flawed, corrupt, capitalist society, fails to completely decouple itself from it. This isn’t even an attempt at a joke, this isn’t hyperbole: There is always going to be a potentially better version of the best thing.

What this means is that even for criticisms of work that are completely valid, are much more about how to remake the thing if it were to be made again. They’re not useful arguments about the thing that exists before you. It’s okay to know that a thing could be better while still respecting what it is. There’s almost no alternative.

Tracer’s Bum

There’s this story about Tracer, from Overwatch.

The story runs that once upon atime, Tracer had a butt pose, and there was a huge outcry, and then Blizzard, the SJW cucktopians that they are, bowed to massive public pressure, and got rid of the Butt Pose, because people were offended. If you go looking for Tracer pictures for research purposes, literally this time, you’ll find people drawing her, showing off her butt, with a catch cry ‘sorry luv, you offended?’ like the problem was Tracer having a butt.

This dialogue about what happened is one of those stories I see being vaguely mentioned as if it was true and it’s interesting to me because it’s not only not true, but the story as framed puts the oppressed people in the wrong box and gives Blizzard a kind of credit it doesn’t deserve while focusing on something else, entirely, which is almost weirder.

No pictures for butt poses here, c’mon, what do you think this blog is.

Anyway, the butt pose was criticised not for being offensive at first; a small number of players noticed the butt pose victory pose, and focused on how out of character it seemed to be for Tracer. Not that Tracer doesn’t have a butt, or indeed, like having a butt. I don’t imagine she’d wear leggings like that if she wasn’t at least okay with having a butt. The issue was that the pose wasn’t really ‘her,’ and this was during the beta development phase of the game where players’ input on expressions of the characters was being taken on board pretty well.

The butt pose was pretty simple; she turned around, then turned to look over her shoulder. With the way she stood and her default outfit structure, it did pretty much centre her butt in the middle of the pose. It wasn’t as dynamic or movement-driven as Tracer’s other poses. It felt, the audience said, out of character, which checks out, because character in these spaces is being defined as much by the limited way people feel out these characters as they learn about them. Overwatch doesn’t have much character, it’s just got a lot of character in potentia, characterisation that’s kind of hovering in an indefinite space, waiting for people to collapse it, but trying very hard to not say no to anyone.

The pose that replaced it was a nosecone pinup; for anyone not familiar, these are the poses you’d see of girly posters on the nosecones of planes during World War 2, and now sometimes done as a reference to World War 2. Mostly, people don’t get to paint big paintings on their planes any more, for some reason. This tracked, of course – Tracer’s a pilot, she likes planes, those poses are pretty common association between that kind of femme and planes, it tracks easily.

The thing about this narrative, and the reason I’m putting this down here is to underscore that Blizzard weren’t responding to a moral outrage, but to one of those things they actually care about: They were trying to express the character design better. If it was a moral outrage issue, we wouldn’t have been teased for a year to learn that Tracer was gay like ‘surprise, we included a lesbian’ was some kind of gacha prize event, or we wouldn’t be… what, how many years before a playable black woman?

The events happen, but how we remember the events really matters.

And hey, I got to title a post ‘Tracer’s bum.’

Story Pile: Deep Space Nine, Part II

I think if you ask me about my general impression of Deep Space 9, it’s going to come across as extremely negative. That’s pretty reasonable, I think because if you bring something up to me about the series, on pure statistics, it’s probably going to be one of the long, large threads that runs throughout the story that really fucking irritates me.

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Didja know I have a Youtube channel?

Yeah, apparently this was something of a mystery! A point that was made by Ettin when this came up is that to get to my Youtube channel is like, five not intuitive steps.

Based on this, I’m doing some minor updates to places around the site. My About page now mentions my Youtube channel, there’s a button on the sidebar – this button! – that takes you to my Youtube channel, and… and…

I’m kinda not sure what else to do?

See, one of the worst things to have in your brain is a negative feedback loop that interprets silence as disinterest from people who are too polite to say anything. I know for a fact a lot of my friends don’t read my blog, and that’s something I’ve kind of had to become okay with. That becoming okayness however has not actually fixed the brain problem, because it means that I kind of intuitively see everyone I know who doesn’t read the blog or listen to the podcast or follow the twitter as disinterested and actively not interested in stuff. The idea they might not have noticed or not checked it out right now or the presence of being advertised on a miserable hellsite full of sadness might be diverting their interest in me talking about videogames doesn’t seem to latch into my head.

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Five Bleach Songs That I Have Arranged In A Way That Looks Like A List Implying Coherence

I’ve talked on twitter about how the anime Bleach (a good?? anime?) wasn’t just culturally important the way that, say, wallet chains were back in the 90s, but how the series, even up to its waning edge, was capable of influencing charts throughout its entire eight year run. If your band made an Ending Theme for Bleach, you were probably going to be a top 50 hit (with only one or two falling lower than that), and if you made an Opening Theme, you were pretty much guaranteed a top ten spot for at least a few weeks.

Now, you can make the case that the Japanese charts are more mercurial, or novelty driven, or maybe made of cheese, I don’t know and I do not pretend to know. What I do know is that this is a charted statistic that someone has organised, and that means I can sort it and that means I can put things in contrast with one another and have opinions.

Here then, are five of those songs that I think you, an assumed non-Bleach-watcher, should check out, because I like them and this is an excuse to talk about them. Am I going to look at them in their relationship to cultural attention? Well, I could, but that sounds hard. Instead I’m just going to bring up five of them and see how my brain meat feels about that after I’m done.

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Two Lanes, All Waiting

Sometimes if you read older papers or articles about videogame storytelling, or if you spend time on Tvtropes, you might encounter the phrase gameplay and story segregation. With Final Fantsy 7 the current hotness, there’s a sort of ongoing riff that’s been used for twenty-five years about how a videogame with a mechanical device for reversing death is mostly known for how the story pivots around a death that you can’t undo, even if you have those items.

Now, setting aside for a time the interesting way in which you can chart stages of grief to players reacting to that moment in Final Fantasy 7, and how you can almost chart something about who they are as a person depending on whether they’re still bargaining (‘you should be able to save her with-‘) or at anger (‘it’s a stupid manipulative game’), the point is one of the enduring seeds at the root of basically all gamer webcomics. “Why is game not like real life?”

I mean it’s a bit. I get it. It’s a really, really tired bit. It’s the videogame culture version of ‘what’s the deal with airline food,’ which is itself a trope because comedians of the time were the ones most likely to be doing a lot of air travel, and therefore, the people most likely to be bothered by what airlines are doing. People who play lots and lots of videogames and look at them critically are going to be the ones who most often see the ways the stories of videogames and the gameplay of videogames don’t line up. It’s kinda that infamous thing of ludonarrative dissonance, which is… a sort of more specific idea, with a more over-arcing, academic kind of consideration.

Setting aside the ‘games are good when they stand out from my slurry of similar games’ problem, though, the idea runs that there are a lot of videogames that keep the narrative and the mechanical storytelling pretty much isolated. The idea runs that gameplay actualises the story, you while the story drives the narrative, and in a number of games these two elements are not driving into one another like an engine, but are instead driving two separate vehicles, often in unrelated directions.

This is typically seen as a videogame problem, but I’ve been recently considering something said by Erik The Bearik over on twitter. Erik’s take was about how Dungeons & Dragons is two systems that don’t quite relate to each other. The notion was that a barbarian can get angrier and angrier out of combat, but in the context of combat all they can do is turn rage ‘on’ or ‘off.’ The consequences of rage as a combat ability has a meaningful, mechanical impact, which responds to particular rules structures. Players are conditioned to see their combat abilities in the simplest terms of working and with enemies only being able to make a check to resist the effect, or having to make a check to determine if they make the check well enough.

On the other hand, there is this space of not combat, and that not combat space is a place of ambiguities and possibilities and maybes and sortas, which has long been a complex knot to unweave for people discussing the idea of the story and mechanics folding together. See, if these two things existed independently, with a game having this layer of – let’s say hacking? – where the physical real world combat and ramifications thereof wasn’t present? You could have these two systems be so isolated that they didn’t relate. But they do relate in Dungeons & Dragons because combat isn’t a separated system like you see in a Final Fantasy game where the interface transforms when combat happens.

It’s an interesting quandrary, and one of those ways in which games of all stripes share a lot of common details. The problem of ‘why do the rules apply here and not there’ is interesting particularly to me, because it feels like the break in immersion isn’t the actual problem: the problem is that the players are not being carried along by the enjoyment of the game enough that these concerns don’t bother them.

The Kids Don’t Meme

Or rather they don’t meme the way we do.

It’s been wild to me how much, recently, I’ve been dealing with kids. I didn’t intend to be a person who interacted with kids and largely, I’m actually very okay with letting kids go off and do their own kid stuff over there. I like to swear a lot and I don’t like having to deal with kids learning from me that the right way to use swears is all the fuckin’ time.

But my students are now at the point where I think I have to very sincerely consider that they are, to me, ‘kids,’ not because I want to infantalise them but because the age gap between us is equal to… well, their entire age in some cases. I taught a seventeen year old last year. That’s messed up.

Also, in order to better accommodate my young niblings’ internet behaviour, I’ve been doing my best to be a kind of internet sleuth. Their mother’s a teacher, and she hasn’t got the time to vet everything they want to watch in screen time, and what’s more they’re also going to be looking at new types of stuff all the time. Back in the day, we used to channel surf, now they can get a lot of concentrated stuff, and thanks to websites like ohhh say Youtube, there’s a potential firehose of Bad Stuff these kids can see.

From there I got in the habit of checking out some kids’ content on Youtube to make sure nobody was going to tell my niblings they needed to invest in the gold standard or something dumb like that. This is why I got into Hermitcraft, which is also why I’m on the /hermitcraft subreddit on reddit.

Now, I am not a snobby memer. I’m really not. But I am pretty seasoned at it. I study the form. In fact, I teach the form. Believe it or not.

Something that stuns me about it, though, is how often the formats of memes escape the attention of the people using them. There are numerous memes that are wielded not to convey the information of the meme form (an argument or a dismissal) but because the people in question genuinely want the meme to serve as a serious platform for their opinion. Petitions as memes, simple observations of two related things as memes, and so very often, ‘I am glad this thing happened,’ as a meme.

Students I teach, who are older and more sophisticated than this are still not particularly memey! They don’t necessarily get that the meme template informs the meme meaning, and that templates create meaning by being templates. There’s a lot of reaction-gifs-are-memes moments, where they have to be told that the image they’re using actually contextualises what they say.

It’s interesting because we made a big fuss linguistically about the millenial generation using memes as a Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra style language, but what’s really wild to me now is how a sublanguage is forming around the structure of the meme that is not attuned to its meaning. It’s a meta meme level, where memes are losing their associations and just becoming something simpler; there’s no need to layer ‘it’s a meme’ around something to explain it.

These are words I put on a page, but there is a picture of Spongebob, so I hope you will read them.

It’s wiiild.

Oh, and no pictures this time because I’m not about to put memes made by little kids or my students on blast.

Story Pile: Volcano

Volcano is from 1979, one year after Son of a Son, and while it still has that gulfy musical style Jimmy likes, and a real beachy theme and sound to it, it’s an album that’s showing perhaps some of the signs of touring. It has two of Jimmy’s ‘big 8’ songs – songs that get played at every concert – and one of them’s pretty good!

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HAS GUN

You may have seen me from time to time talk some shit about superheroes or characters in superpowered contexts whose superpower boils down to has a gun. The Punisher, for example, is a dude in a superhero universe who isn’t really a superhero – he’s just a homeless dude in a van with a lot of guns. A prepper with a mobile home. He’s the worst.

It’s not just the Punisher (who sucks), though. It’s also something I joked about when watching Kamen Rider W (which ruled), where one of the special abilities the hero could unlock was using the trigger Gaia Memory (it makes sense in context) to get a special superpower magical gun, which I would nonetheless jokingly refer to as has gun.

This particular affect, though, is something that derives from an old kids’ cartoon that I love, and have spoken about before. It’s a reference to the name Gunhaver, from the Homestar Runner cartoon (within a cartoon? The characters are shown playing with the toys and watching the show) Cheat Commandos, a parody of 80s toy-ad militarised cartoons like GI Joe

A thing I’ve loved about Homestar Runner is the way that their jokes, often their best jokes, involve gently pointing out details that normally go unstated (“goodbye, Baloneyman, and may we all forget you probably have a really sketchy past.”) When you watch these cartoons over and over again (and I did, because it was easy to download them and they worked on poor connections), their memetic quality was valuable and you spent time seeing the jokes from lots of angles.

There’s a lot of jokes I repeat from this cartoon, whether it’s tone or a structure of delivery, or when or what to imply about myself for comic effect, including even tangents, but okay, distracted. The point here is Gunhaver. Gunhaver is The Generic Leader of the Commandos. There’s nothing to his character, not really – he just is in charge, gives useful and boring orders, and in his appearances, just serves the basic plot of the story. When you talk about these squads of diverse characters with connected abilities, like GI Joe and MASK did, the point was to individualise characters, often with clear and visually striking gimmick.

Gunhaver’s gimmick was that he had a gun.

That’s it!

This is not to say every character with a gun is a Gunhaver. After all, lots of the science machine devices you see super-dorks use are ‘guns,’ but they’re ‘guns’ they made. They’re guns that are a thing they made, and needs special skills to make. There’s also weirdo sharpshooters like Hol Horse from Many Jojo Things I Don’t Care, where the gun is just a way to express the real powers they have, or Homura from I’m Not Allowed To Make Jokes About Madoka who is a time traveller who uses guns because guns are the most obvious thing you can do when you can also time travel and you’re a twelve year old who has no reason to respect the sanctity of life.

Not so for a Gunhaver. Gunhaver characters are notable because the thing they’re wielding is just a gun. It’s a gun, which is a commercially available product in their world. Maybe the quantity of guns suggests some kind of wealth, though that’s never really what gun communicates in media. Certainly, the absolute arsenal that the Punisher (for example, again, who sucks) drives around with represents a significant fraction of a million dollars, because guns are expensive, but that’s never the important thing.

The important thing is that in a world of the fantastic, in the landscape of the infinite ways we can make metaphors out of powers, in a place where your characterisation can be expressed by your powers, the power you have is bought something a real person can buy. And do! And some of those people are the most boring and awful people around, and they make having the gun the closest thing they have to a personality.

You can make interesting characters whose powers need to be enabled by a gun. Even Black Widow, a character I waver hither and thither on, is essentially a super-spy and gunhaver, but her gunhavery is at least an interesting part of a broader skillset. Heck, just by comparison, Black Widow and Bobbi Morse are both women who stand next to each other with nearly identical skillsets, but very different personalities, and the presence or absence of a gun in their skillsets doesn’t come up.

It’s not like bad characters Has Gun, it’s just if you’re going to Has Gun, have a reason that’s interesting. Be something other than a fucking holster.

It is the most boring bastard of a power.

Story Pile: De RigeurMortis

Hey, it’s my birthday.

What’s something I can do that’s really worth it for this day? What self-aggrandising thing can I put out there that you’ll feel obligated to check out? What have I held off on sharing up until this moment…?

Imagine the sound of knuckles popping as lips draw up near a mic and a voice says, low, and slightly menacing, as Paul McDemortt prepping to launch the punchline of a truly vile joke in the livest of Doug Anthony Allstars shows, I guess that it’s time.

A content warning for this article is I’m going to use the word ‘cunt’ a few times, which I don’t normally do? Sorry!

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April Shirt: Timely FF7 Reference!

One piece of content I’ve been enjoying having on in the background while I work this month, inasmuch as I ever can, is Graeme Stark doing a long play of Final Fantasy 7 – the original one. It’s great, he loves the game so it helps to temper my disdain for it. Anyway, one thing that’s been echoing in my head ever since I mis-heard it over my shoulder while he plays is the phrase on this design.

Here’s the design:

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.

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

The Giant of Kandahar

When you talk about conspiracy theories, or false information, one of the unfortunate side effects, because of how our brain processes information, is that outlining the thing first creates the impression that it’s true, and then the disproving has to be satisfactory to that. Even if you do a perfect job debunking the introduced idea, our memories filter away in different order, and the thing more easily brought to mind seems more true. It means you have to be careful how you introduce the outlandish, for fear of leaving people with the impression of the wrong thing having a kernel of truth.

With that in mind, there’s a not insignificant number of people who believe the United States government found a giant in the invasion of Afghanistan and are covering it up.

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Story Pile: Durarara!!

One thing I promised myself when I started this document is that I’d write about this series. After all, I love Baccano so much, it shouldn’t be that hard to just continue that same thread of language, right? Those words are the ones I put down in 2018, after I finished putting the first draft of my Baccano document together, thinking it would be swift and simple to follow up with words about Durarara!!

Silly me.

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Binging Bad

Oh hey, Star Trek, a thing that two years ago I generally regarded as ‘just some nerd show I have no interest in’ that I’ve now realised I have enough of a familiarity with to be able to meaningfully research and have opinions on, that’s wild. It seems that every few months, usually when something leaves me to my own devices while work demands a lot of attention on grinding information like a research paper or marking, I will wind up using my second monitor to cannonball a television series, which has sometimes been an entire Star Trek and has sometimes been Longmire, and the show doesn’t have to be good as much as it has to be not intolerable. I suppose that sounds like an indictment of Star Trek but really it’s worth knowing that at its worst, it was never as bad as Longmire, so there’s something to be proud of, able to consistently stand above an absolutely shit series that leads with a Katie Sackhoff poledance.

The series of this season was Deep Space Nine, which I watched over the course of a few months, as my picture-in-picture soundscape filler, and I celebrated this watch by turning as many episodes as I could find one into a funny image macro that you could decipher with the context of me, as a person, informing the episode of Deep Space Nine assuming you’d already seen it, creating the impression of yourself and myself as an ingroup that shared that common experience, aka ‘memes.’

One thing that the binge generation has done for a lot of television programs is that there’s a surprising number of episodic TV shows where it was easy to lose track of the sequence of episodes unless you were a hardcore nerd with a DVD stacker, and therefore get weird impressions of how ‘close together’ some things were. There’s a sort of phantom memory that can crop up with long-running shows, like how in M*A*S*H some people may forget there ever was a character called Spearchucker.

When you view a large text with its own episodes as context, when performances that were normally week to week are instead side by side, you can get some really interesting, weird, phantom effects. If you watch all of The Simpsons in one string of episodes, the recurrent themes become obvious and the series stops being about a series going back, seven years or so later, to re-do stories with new information and instead becomes about showing an endless, toiling, unstopping cycle of awfulness, and strangely, becomes a series about how the author (in the Barthes sense) kind of hates Lisa. She’s always being shown told some hopeful story of ‘tomorrow will be better’ only for the status quo to reset hard and the next time she’s focal, it’s the same basic problem.

Deep Space 9 is not a series that benefits from being watched all in a rush, and it absolutely does not benefit from having its beloved multi-part sequences of episodes (a couple of 6 parters and one nine parter finale) treated as single, long, cannonballed experiences from someone with a notepad in hand.

Similarly, I watched all of Breaking Bad in a few days once I had a service that offered it, and when you do that, the series becomes fascinatingly blatant. If you watch it this way it seems extremely hard to me to ever see the good in Walter – there’s no break or pause in his behaviour, no time to speculate, because you know it’s coming, you know it’s right there. Breaking Bad was a media event, and it was a big deal that each week, people would gather and talk about where they imagined the story was going, or what something about the story meant. This was a big enough deal that when Breaking Bad was airing, there was a channel package advertising itself as having the show on ‘at the same time as America’ meaning you could deal with the internet without worrying about spoilers. The shared cultural moment of suspending each episode for a week and then taking time to process it changes the character of the show.

Essentially, most of the people who watched Breaking Bad made some Breaking Bad fanfiction in their head, and we just don’t talk about it, because that’s something those other nerds get involved in. Not every single white person over the age of twenty two.

I feel like this is an important piece of context to give for later, when I decide to talk about Deep Space Nine in its actuality… because boy, that series has some weird stuff in it when you view it all at once.

The I in We

Iiii love symbiotic characters.

I don’t mean oh, I love how these two characters relate to one another, it’s like they’re in sync but not in a gay way or in a definitely gay way. I don’t mean characters like Sora and Riku where the individuals kinda have nothing going on but if you look at them as a pair you can use one to extrapolate that the other one, you know, exists.

Oh, but dunks on the character design of Kingdom Hearts aside, what I mean is that I have a fondness for characters who are in some way symbiotic between two identities. This isn’t just superhero stuff – though that absolutely lives in this real estate – but rather characters who can be seen as having either multiple identities in one body, or one identity across multiple bodies.

What prompted me to think about this was of all things a scene in Episode 8 of Picard, which, I am really hoping by the time this has come out, has resolved and we’re all going ‘what a jolly good Star Trek that was’ and the end of the narrative wasn’t something about, I dunno, how marshmallows are evil. In the scene in question, 7/Annika/Whatever you want to call her, in a desperate move, plugs herself back into the Borg cube, and consciously chooses to create a new collective for a few minutes.

Then when she’s done, she says Annika still has things to do.

When I was a kid, I was always fascinated by gestalt transformers, where there was one transformer that wasn’t five transformers hanging around, but was literally an individual, with its own personality, and it could break apart. Maybe it was because I was a lonely kid, always looking for people who had something in common with me, or maybe it was just because big toy cool, I always found something fascinating about nesting characters.

I wonder if maybe this is why I think that Venom is so tiresome. I find the idea of a character containing some kind of monstrous identity really interesting, and Venom just does it all in a very tiresome way, like it’s dumping plain pasta on a plate with a splat and going there. that. It’s not like my own experience writing this kind of character, where the way the two identities perceive one another and themselves plays into what they’re even for, in the story. It’s not like how I write the wolf of Rock City.

But it isn’t just a single direction, too. Swarm druids and vampiric discorporation are both really exciting, interesting ideas to me where you suddenly have one mind splitting out over a huge number of parts and still maintaining itself. How do you regard yourself when you’re a set of drones? How much of you can pull apart and still be you? What about a swarm-spawning character, a creature like the Swarm Hosts from Starcraft?

Back in Diablo 2 there were druids, druids that could summon clouds of vines and bugs and dogs and worse around them while they ran around hitting things (often with their very animal claws). That same feeling, that cloud of being who I was always appealed to me, and when I started playing around in RPG sourcebooks, it wasn’t long before I found all the interesting ways characters could extend their selves. In BESM you could make sentient weapons and tools, and then link them to your identity (so you didn’t have to track two sets of HP). Because BESM was broken as biscuits, this was also appealing to my power gamer elements, so that obviously pulled me along that route.

Part of it is internal dialogue. A character who is in conflict with themselves is common, but when you can metaphorise that, and show elements of who or what is in charge of the body at any given point in time, you get to show dimensions of where the personalities overlap or disagree. Part of it is I think that being a lonely kid makes you imagine weird friendships.

And I guess another part of it is that you can use it to show ways that people think about themselves… and ways they can be wrong.

Anyway, symbiotic characters! They’re cool! Toxin, Upgrade, Defensor, Kord and Fortress Maximus, the idea of the werewolf itself, the Trill, and 7 of 9 (not that I’ve seen Voyager yet)! These are cool and I like ’em!

Weird since one of my most hated villain groups of all time has been the Yeerks tho’.

Sabacc Sucks

I’ve been watching a lot of Deep Space 9 lately, and central to that is the location of Quark’s, a bar and gambling den, written by people who clearly haven’t the faintest fucking clue how to play any kind of gambling game. There are two games shown in this place, Tongo and Dabo, which are Stupid Poker and Stupid Roulette respectively.

Now, while I would love to tear into Deep Space 9 for its terrible depiction of game on the stage, we have one Edo Baraf to thank for getting my attention back onto one of the worst games designed by one of the largest and most successful multimedia empires in history:

Sabacc.

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Story Pile: NEXTWAVE!

April has been a difficult month to write for, not the least of which because, uh, global pandemic, but also because one of the details about April is it’s a time to write about things I want to write about, the subjects I’ve saved to talk about because they’re personal.

For the non-Pile articles, this has been decidedly easy, with lots of indulgent sniping at other people’s misinformed or inadequately excellent opinions, but for the media piles it has proven difficult because I feel I’ve already addressed some of my favourites and most culturally important experiences and at least right now, in this time of malaise, I find it hard to remember things I consider deep and personal favourites, favourites about which I can say fun or interesting things.

I’ve written about the Quest for Glory games, I’ve written about the Baldur’s Gate games, Doom and Baccano and other games that feel somewhat iconic to myself, and I find myself wondering what more I can even say, what has been worth holding up. John Wick? Tons of people have talked about how great that movie is, what more am I going to bring to bear on the conversation except as someone who has been in some creepily controlled situations with violence as the only out? Nothing useful. Nothing relatable.

Instead, then, I’m going to take an easy route. I’m going to talk about a comic book I love. I’m going to talk about Nextwave, a 2006-2007 limited run comic book that was written to live outside the main continuity of Marvel comics… and we’re going to start with a content warning.

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Worldbuilding Songs

Perhaps it’s because I love and appreciate implied storytelling following a childhood of reading probably the worst bestselling book in history that, while supposedly full of crucial information that’ll keep you from being infinitely tortured forever, is nonetheless so fantastically obscure that the vital tenent of the trinity that makes it a monotheistic text and not just another fantasy novel of fake bullshit isn’t even in there and you have to kind of guess around the edges and read the supplemental materials to get what the fuck it even means that means alternate history narratives are oftentimes wonderfully interesting to me. The problem with them, and we’re not going to talk about how long that sentence was, Dad, is that alternate histories are also extraordinarily boring works, usually penned by extremely thudding individuals and strangely, tend to attract audiences that are pretty, well, let’s just say it’s not that these communities are overwhelmingly racist, it’s just that they clearly haven’t done enough to make sure racists feel uncomfortable enough to fuck off.

But what if instead of churning through a civil war era novel that wanted to explain in detail how it went about handling the difference in Ironclad technology, there was some kind of short, fun, punchy way to get alt history, in increments of say, five minutes or less? Well, they’d have to be really good, because then you’re talking about worldbuilding for a real world history in a tiny amount of time. Maybe you’d need something to string it all together, like, you know, music and rhythm and wordplay and all that.

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Ewoks

It’s hard to be a Star Wars fan.

Star Wars is like any long-reaching cultural phenomenon of its ilk, mostly just like anything else that’s widely recognised, memetically important, ideologically contagious and loved by an enormous fanbase. It’s not – and I do not say this to make light – unlike a religion. It has shibboleths and practices, varying degrees of expression, rituals and totems, it has a sort of generalised spine of its own cultural values, and it has some fans who are into it who are just the woooorst.

At this point, I have watched nine of eleven Star War movies I’m aware of – I’m missing Rogue One and Rise of Skywalker. Of those nine movies, most are meaninglessly silly kid’s fare that we treat as more important than I feel they deserve, Solo is the worst kind of self-gladhanding we get too much of in fandom communitie, sabacc sucks so much, I actively liked The Last Jedi, and I loved about… half an hour of Return of the Jedi.

The half hour that’s all about Ewoks.

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Blades (The Transformer, not The Vampire Movies)

Talking about Transformers continuity is fraught because to say there’s a ‘canon’ or a ‘character’ is nonsense. Thanks to the neverending maw of capitalism and a loose vision of what matters to the people who engage with a brand that very much just started to sell toys thirty years ago, it’s not like there’s any kind of sensible core to anything. Talking about character and continuity of a story that isn’t just interrupted by commercial breaks but is basically constructed out of those commercial breaks is a fool’s errand. Anything I have to say about a Transformers character is going to be either contained within a specific bubble of continuity (like Animated), or sort of formed out of a general collusion of shadows shining on many similar objects, to see where they overlap.

With that in mind, have I told you about Blades?

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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

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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.

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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.