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: Living and Dying in 3/4 Time

Aw hell yes.

Okay, so we have an established formula for Jimmy Buffett albums at this point; he basically has three dials of ‘nostalgia,’ ‘chill,’ and ‘alcoholism,’ and there’s an occasional dash of whatever it is he’s thinking of exactly right now. After Pink Sports Coat we get Living and Dying in 3/4 Time, which was where I learned what a time signature was.

Fifteen years after I first heard the album.

First up, this album had some mainstream pop success with Pencil Thin Mustache and Come Monday, songs that served up the nostalgia and schmoop in pretty solid measures. Pencil Thin Mustache is especially funny to listen to when you remember it’s a dude in his mid-twenties talking about feeling old, making the whole affair feel artificial now in hindsight even if my whole life, Jimmy Buffett’s been the same age as my dad, and therefore, never younger than me.

Get off my lawn, Jimmy.

Anyway, sure, whatever, Come Monday is a – actually no, wait, let’s not skip over this one. This one taught me something, a message that’s served me well in relationships. He refers to himself as being in a proud, ugly haze. Later on I learned the song Foolish Pride by Hatsune Miku. That song includes the lyric Chalk another love lost up to foolish pride, and it’s kind of the whole point of the song. She’s not subtle, that Miku. Anyway, the thing is, I realise there were a lot of times I was doing things because I didn’t want to feel like I was weak or stupid for being mad or hurt in the first place, and I know for a fact there’s a lot of times my long-term relationships have been helped dramatically by a willingness to recognise that I’m being proud and setting that aside.

It’s surprisingly hard. It’s fucked up enough that my ability to recognise these moments in myself, stop, and immediately apologise for being a stupid asshole that it sometimes upsets the person I was arguing with because they can’t believe I actually mean it. That’s weird!

Anyway, Come Monday is a very generic song but it taught me that my pride could hurt the people around me for no good reason.

Anyway, you know what, let’s just skip to the B-side on this album because it fucking rules. Uh, Brahma Fear and Livingstone’s Gone To Texas are attempts to capture the country market again, and Brand New Country Star is making fun of that same market that doesn’t like him (and we’ll get to that). Ringling Ringling is one of those ‘loser town’ songs that touring musicians wind up writing. Anyway, whatever.

The B-side of this album starts with The Wino and I Know, a song that scored on my brain the phrase I am trying to get by, being quiet and shy, in a world full of pushing and shoving and fuck me if that isn’t a phrase that perfectly encapsulates some of my beautifully soft friends. I may not be a quiet and shy person, jagged and bloodstained as I am, but I 100% here to get hot donuts and coffee for my friends who just want to be the metaphorical flannel pajamas of life.

Saxophones is a blatant callout of the way country music (the dominant music of his home state of Alabama) treats him, despite his growing success and mainstream success and it suggests that he’d be better off doing ‘rock’ music with saxophones to try and get their attention. It did not work. It didn’t work for this album or the next, but it’s still a fun track and it sounds good.

Gods Own Drunk is a funny bit of stand-up, barely a song, but whatever. The Ballad of Spider John is a really good, strong closer song for the album, a real classic kind of riverboat story song that you might imagine Kenny Rogers would record if most of what he did didn’t suck ass. But the real gem of this album, the thing that I will always hold up and share with people, the song that may be his best song ever is the song which got this album banned in Canada.

West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gowns is a short song. Two forty. It’s a story song. It’s about picking up a hitch-hiker who shares maybe fifty words in the song. It’s not a big song. But it jam packs those words with the tension of a ruined relationship with an abusive mother and delivers the most satisfying final refrain of any Jimmy Buffett song. Period. This song ends with a raised middle finger fit to split a soul and I love it.

This is probably also the first place I ever heard the word ‘fuck.’

And this is 1973! This is a country album! This is before KISS!

Ugh, I love this song so much. I love it because I had a childhood of women in songs and stories who really didn’t matter, really didn’t make choices and sure didn’t get to cuss their bad moms out.

If you listen to the albums on these articles, you can absolutely skip everything except West Nashville. It’s that good. When talking about this album with Fox and my dad, the funny thing is you can knock out the two best songs on the album and you’d still have a pretty good Jimmy Buffett album.

There’s another album that’s more jam packed, that has more amazing songs I love on it, but this one, this one has the song that I think more and more may just be my single favourite Jimmy Bufffett song.

Decemberween: Resplendent in the Sky!

I have a complex relationship with long form fiction.

Undeniably, I have read some long book series, and they were very important to me. I spent a lot of time working on my theories about them, composing diagrams and fanart and all the things we normally associate with fandom these days. I read the entire story arc of the Animorphs books, one seven dollar purchase at a time. I read Robotech and the Mallorean and the Belgariad  and I mean, I read Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering novels.

I have read a lot of fiction books.

For the most part, though, I have not read many good books. Not books I hold up and tell my friends hey this rules or hey this is great genre fiction. I do it with Animorphs, but let’s not kid ourselves, those are a bunch of great ideas swaddled in many layers of Dicking Around because the author was on a monthly schedule.

When I talk about long form fiction in TV I often make all sorts of forgiving statements about how they work or don’t work or what’s going wrong in them because of things they couldn’t control like maybe some of the people involved died or there was an incident or they had to find their feet or whatever, and that’s all a byproduct of those works not really knowing what they’re about or what they’re going to be about. Imagine that, imagine eight years and millions of dollars spent on wages and sets and productivity and promotion and advertising and it all falls apart like wet biscuits because when it comes down to it, you don’t know what your story is about and it means you don’t know what the story is doing. JK Rowling didn’t know what Harry Potter was doing aside from making her rich and that’s why the conclusion of that story is a wet fart.

I bring this up because I want to make it exceptionally clear that Resplendent In The Sky is work I am 100% convinced knows what it’s about and knows where it’s going.

Am I saying Resplendent In The Sky, a book of gaslamp fantasy available for free, now, by someone I know and like, is better than Game of Thrones?

Honestly, yeah pretty much. Go check it out!

Story Pile: Rise of the Guardians

My first encounter with this movie, which I understand to be based off a series of children’s books which are wildly different in their overall scope and tone than this, was not in its advertising or reviews (which is weird, I watch a lot more movie reviews than I watch movies these days) but instead as a work of fan remix where people took short gifs from this movie, resubtitled them with different dialogue and intercut them with short gifs from another movie to imply a connected continuity between this story and that one as one of the most interesting and time-intensive forms of fanfiction I’d ever seen when you considered the time investment to make versus the time investment to process and this has all been one sentence, dear god.

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Sneeze Fetishists

Time to time I’ll talk about a sex thing in some degree of a public space. This is because a lot of my time growing up on the internet, curious about sex but afraid of engaging with the things I knew I was ‘not allowed’ meant that I was pushed out to examine a lot of extremely niche internet spaces that were nonetheless intriguing and had people talking about intimacy and sexuality, without being what you’d call porn.

This meant that I got to be very familiar with the mechanisms of how people related to fetishes they had that I didn’t, and how to listen to people talking about them. Some people have big communities that let them swap information and have a cultural exchange, where there are rules and tropes. Some people don’t, and have nearly unique interests, or interests that are sensitive enough that other people’s interests in the same space are abhorrent to them.

I am particularly resistant, then, to the idea that people with fetishes or kinks are fundamentally ‘wrong’ or ‘bad,’ or that you need to have a fetish or kink to understand it. Mostly all you need to do is be willing to listen to someone and empathise with them.

One example that comes up in my mind a lot to this is the controversy around the 2011 movie, Contagion.

I can tell you nothing about this movie, not at all. I can’t tell you the plot or its cast or its themes. All I can tell you is that in this movie, Gwyneth Paltrow, in glorious high-quality movie framing, sneezes on screen a number of times.

This movie was unremarkable in almost every way. But it was the source of some interesting cultural fractures in the sneeze fetish community. Particularly was the discovery for some fans that they couldn’t enjoy the kink if the character was not sneezing harmlessly. She sneezed in this movie, and then got sick and died.

This movie upset some people so much they had to avoid their sneeze fetish forums. There were people who were very insensitive about sharing gifs of this movie and movie clips or references to it, because to them, it was a beautiful actress doing the thing they had a fetish for seeing beautiful people do. It was like customised, niche pornography made with the highest of production values in a media space often hurting for that kind of attention.

I think about this movie, from time to time. I think about it when I talk to friends who feel sick or wrong or twisted because of their relationship to their own kinks.

At the root of almost all kink is a hope that the other person, responding to it, will be okay with the kink-haver. It’s more complicated than that, but at the root of it, that’s mostly what ‘weird’ kinks and their communities connect to.

But within that space there’s a lot of different ways of reacting to the media, there’s a lot of different vectors for how it works, and it always strikes me when people say ‘this niche interest thing is always about this other thing.’

It’s basic and it’s silly and it throws out a lot of people who are working themselves out.

November Shirt: Do Not @ Me

Look, sometimes the most important thing you can offer, with your clothes, is clear messaging about what you feel and what you think about people messaging you. I made this shirt inspired by Dr Laevantine’s seminal pinned tweet of philosophy:

Welcome to my book of philosophy, “Maybe Don’t;” it has one doctrine, where you fucking don’t (Laevantine, Twitter, 2017)

Here’s the design: 

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Story Pile: El Camino

I try not to make too big a deal out of the fact I like Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. They’re pretty well made prestige TV, and they’re part of a modern ‘golden age of television’ that, thanks to the outing of the various people involved as abusers or the demonstration of whole waves of fans being awful or terrible endings has been revealed to be mostly coloured with piss. Breaking Bad is one of those shows where it seems that the people involved are broadly speaking pretty okay, and the worst thing about the work is the fandom.

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Academic Success

I usually share this when I’ve released my students’ marks at the end of each semester, captioned with okay here’s how the marks break down.

It’s a cheap gag but let me have it.

Anyway, I was thinking about this as it pertains around about now to getting your marks back. Now I am one of those people in the long slow treadmill of the PhD candidature, so it’s less of a thing for me but I am sibling to teachers and that means I’m always thinking about the marking process, to some extent. About the ways we grade and what we grade.

I have come to have the position for the most part that marks aren’t super important – the only people I’ve dealt with who cared about how well I did at university for my subjects are the uni itself (in determining my use for Honours and the PhD).

There’s an old cynical joke ‘Cs get degrees,’ which is meant to refer to C grades. Except we use C to mean Credit, so we move on to ‘Ps get degrees,’ which refers to passes. More cynically we say ‘Fees get degrees,’ where the fact is, if you pay to the uni your fees, odds are good you’ll pass, no matter the quality of your work if you hand in enough stuff to count as having done the degree.

I apparently did pretty good at university (hence the PhD thingy), but I also seem to project ‘person who has his shit together,’ in a way that I think is very unfair. My students are only dealing with me as someone who has done the course they’re doing and has authority and the means to grade them. And what’s more, me saying ‘I bombed out at the high school certificate’ doesn’t necessarily land.

What happened to me is too unique, I feel, to really ‘matter’ to most. I was raised in a cult, schooled in a small wooden box, broken and abused, then did badly in an exam questions that were designed for people who’d had twelve years to prepare. To give you an idea of how badly I did at it, my grandmother phoned me up – something she only did for birthdays – and spent a few hours degrading me for not applying myself and failing at the test. This is not relatable. This is weird.

That it took me ten more years to get into uni because I thought I was too stupid to do well at it, and now I’m here I love it, is a byproduct of the complete lack of support.

Here’s my advice if you’re going into uni: You will probably not have to worry much about marks. Marks happen when you’re engaged. Passes are fine. Doing the minimum is fine. What you have is a period of a few years to work on creating and exploring projects, and if you can, make something that you can make into classwork. Convince teachers to let you work on your own stuff as it relates to their stuff. Then you have that as you walk out the door.

And also, my grandma was a dick and you shouldn’t listen to the dicks around you when they want to talk about what you should be doing, in uni or in life.

Ready Player One And The Hyperconsumer

I had considered going in on Ready Player One last year in response to the trailer. Then I figured I’d wait, see if the movie came out. I think part of it was that I figured if the movie wound up being good, it might be seen as a bit meanspirited to take shots at just the trailer. Maybe the movie was smarter than the trailer had painted it as being.

Then it came out and it was in no way interesting, it had all the same problems everyone expected it to have, and the ways it varied from the source material only served to make it into a generic bad movie, rather than a uniquely flawed one. There is a good point, which I want to say MovieBob made, where by presenting these brands in a visual medium, it’s a lot less clunky to draw attention to the nested references. Sonic the Hedgehog riding atop the Delorean as it cruises down Rainbow Road takes a lot to vividly describe in text, but it’s a fraction of a second in a movie.

Still, there’s something that festers in my mind about the world constructed by Ready Player One. It’s not something diegetic or something the story chooses to be about, but it’s more an examination of the basic assumptions of the movie itself. Particularly, Ready Player One positions our hero, Readiest Player Onetts as someone whose status quo sucks (because he’s poor), and that’s used to demonstrate how important it is for him to change it. It then gets contrasted with the collected, corporate group of ‘baddies,’ who are basically the ‘rich team’ with matching uniforms from movies like The Mighty Ducks (remember that movie, Ready Player One?). There’s your contrast; the guy with no support versus the people with all the support.

The way this shows his lack of support is by making him a poor kid who escapes his shitty life in a virtual reality. His drive to escape his life helps explain his interest in science fiction from one tiny window of time, which is why he’s not like everyone else because in this, the distant space future time of Who Gives A Shit, is extremely into the things the author of the book is into.

It’s not just to say he’s a massive dork to capture the needs of a massive dork to recapture some feeling of being underground in a world where 80s and 90s nerd culture is the dominant moving force in mass media. In universe, he actually consumes this stuff, which is to say this dude is a vintage collector of media that has the long-term archival durability of edible underwear. It’s not just that he’s into freely available, public domain culturally available versions of these things, it’s that he’s a literal authority on these canons, widely and expansively. That means he can construct a whole, real, clean and uncorrupted image of all these things, not just their source material in its entirety, but their meaningful context.

But he’s poor.

The story reassures you he’s poor and downtrodden and has it so rough. His home is beaten up, his hardware is unreliable. His world is one of poorness. Which is to say, he has the behaviour of a wealthy hyperconsumer gamer shithead but the all-purpose moral purity of Being A Poor. The story knows enough to recognise that if this shithead was a rich shithead he’d be a shithead too far but if he’s a poor shithead his shitheadery is acceptable shitheadery even if doesn’t actually inform his shitheadedness

Now it makes sense. Rich gamer idiots like to tell themselves they’re not rich because they clearly recognise that richness is connected to assholeness. People who buy multiple guns that cost thousands of dollars or every new game and every new console as soon as they come out thinking they’re part of ‘the gamer’ oppressed class are just telling themselves the same story. They’re not the rich kids, they only have two of the most recent consoles.

Anyway, eat the rich, even if they like nerd shit.

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Story Pile: A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

When A Wrinkle In Time’s trailer dropped it did so with the immense thud of someone on the other side of a backyard fence raising their voice and now suddenly, the whole neighbourhood gets to be part of this conversation that has been going on for years and is not going to end tonight no matter how much you wish it would. It was like a Discourse Bomb, a sudden and dramatic arrival of a conversation that was both in progress and extremely sophisticated, and it absolutely did not need me.

There was talk about the trailers, about the importance of Oprah as a goddess figure, about the race casting in the books and the movies, about the importance of the work as autistic art, about the intense significance with which people could dismantle scene by scene in the book and how a movie could never manage to express the quantum and fractal nature of the narrative, how Oprah didn’t deserve a role, comparisons to Black Panther for girls and hang on is that meant to say that girls can’t enjoy Black Panther and about how being mean to a billionaire never hurt them, and so on and so on and this was, again

when the trailer dropped.

Now imagine this trailer was literally the first time you ever heard anything at all about this book series or why it was important.

Unpacking what I thought about this movie has taken some time and part of the problem with that unpacking is that largely, I feel like I must have either a very surface reading of it, or I must not understand the contentious issues, because I thought it was really good and I hope other people get a chance to enjoy it without being slurped into that conversation like some kind of eldritch transport system.

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Reviewing My Own Loss Shirts

This year, as with last year, I got to teach a class at my Uni about making media, a class we define in part by being a class where part of your week to week homework is about making memes. It is a class about being Extremely Online, and I resolved, after last year’s completion, to make a plan out of managing my presence in this class this year.

This year, I wore a different shirt every day, and each shirt was a reference to the meme ‘Loss.’

Now, the class is only eleven tutorials, over thirteen weeks. I overdid it a little bit, so there are more than just eleven shirts, and let’s go over them.

Content Warning: If you haven’t worked it out yet, I am absolutely going to show you lots of variants on the meme Loss. Like you have to know that’s what this is.

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“It was as wide as it was long,”

Fanfiction is weird, and I don’t just mean fanfiction as the actual stories. Beating down on fanfiction is one of the easiest things in the world to do, because as a wide-open platform with lots of communal reference points means you’re going to get a lot of people creating fanfiction who aren’t familiar with what we consider to be the standard tools for storytelling. It’s fine, we’ve all been there, churning out two hundred word stories that don’t have a plot or a resolution but which are designed to let the character we like say or do a thing we think we’d like to see.

That’s not what about it is weird that I want to talk about for now.

What I want to talk about is the way that fanfiction is weird as cultural practice. Specifically, that fanfiction is a place where people are aware (or hopeful) that they are being read by other people. I have memories of extremely lengthy author’s notes, things that sought to put the story in a greater context, not by showing things in the story, but in the way the author wanted the story approached. It’s interesting, it’s the kind of thing that these days I’d see serious authors, authors writing books as saying, instead that the text should present for itself –

Hey, did you know in one of my first books my first idea for framing the monsters was to just use the Weird Al song your horoscope for today? Sure did.

– but there’s an enduring practice, often connected to tagging culture and content warning culture that suggests that fanfiction spaces are overwhelmingly full of people who don’t just want to create, but want you to know how they create, and want to make sure you approach their creation ‘the right way.’ That’s really interesting, and it also brings with it a sort of interesting exercise in brand building, of identity presentation.  It’s not just that fanfiction authors want to present their work to an audience, it’s that they also want to present themselves to the audience, and that means even if their fanfiction presents a narrative abotu X, they still feel some reasonable respect for the culture they’re part of. Much of the time this is because these authors came up in the same space, were affected by the presentations of other authors, and it helped to shape them and they’re aware of it.

Okay okay okay, but what brought this on?

Well, people whining about fanfiction authors including sex ed information at the end or middle of their stories about characters fuckin’. It’s pretty popular if you’re, say, a person who has comparatively got their shit together, to dunk on this, and by all means, whatever you want to do, but something I always want to remember is that there’s a lot of things about just the way sex worked that I learned from dirty fanfiction. Like basic mechanisms. It got me thinking about how many ideas I got that were really silly at that time, and how incredibly lucky I am that I never had a reason to act on them until after I had used that grounding to build outwards and overcome my ignorance.

It’s interesting, because in a lot of ways, it’s people while creating fanfiction about anime boys doin’ a butt-fuck still trying to be responsible community members. Which is pretty interesting and I don’t really have it in me to make fun of them for trying.

The title quote by the way, was a line I read in a gay fanfic when I was much younger, which made me realise I was reading fanfiction about dudes doing it that had been written by someone who probably didn’t have a penis to check on periodically for reference.

Breath of the Wild Recipes And Assumptions

Okay, so, let’s face it, everything I put on the internet is just a vast extelligence of the various different ways I can manage of my thought process, my extrusive thoughts if you will and if you hear me opine about something in person you might see me tweet about it kinda in an adjacent way and then maybe you’ll see me blog about it. It’s a process. It’s a process that’s largely reflective of thinking a bit too much about media that don’t want to be thought too much about at all, of taking the frictionless experience of interfacing with reality and deliberately grinding away at it like a sandblaster until there is nothing to examine but the friction, and with that I want to mouth off about something in Breath of the Wild while simultaneously presenting you, my viewer, with what amounts to a youtube comment because I can’t just throw my words into that trashcan like a normal person would.

Plus, Brian David Gilbert is pretty much getting paid to do the kind of thing I do for free as a wheelie pop and he’s also annoyingly attractive and he’s talked about having love and support from his family since he was very young so it’s clearly only an academic opinion and not deep abiding jealousy that drives me to take this forty minute festival of comically missing the point to task for missing the wrong point, dad.

First, the context.

For those of you who don’t want to watch forty minutes of a wispy millenial beaurocratic wunderkind show you that he can compile a list and fail at cookery (even though the video is extremely funny), I’d like to take an issue with the premise of this video in a way that I think would be way more interesting but also feature less of Anime Gomez Addams choking down milky carrots.

BDG premises this article on the question is Link a good cook, a question that seeks to extrapolate that by having Brian – a bad cook – attempt to replicate the food Link makes – badly – and then present Brian’s findings as to what those foods should restore based on how good a job he, a person I want to remind you is very bad at this, can do at it. There’s some winnowing of the expansive recipe list done for this, and he allows himself a small handful of concessions, including the addition of a neutral oil. Attempts at accuracy fly out the window at the first post, because, as he points out, Link doesn’t have to deal with potential salmonella. While making these recipes, he presents that a number of the recipes Links makes are impossible to make the way they’re presented in the game.

The rationalisation is thus: If a recipe has ingredients involved, that is all you can use as its ingredients. That means only the recipes that call for rock salt can have any salt; only those recipes that call for Goron spices can have spices. The bread cannot have a yeasting agent, the fruit cake cannot have icing or cream and the pie cannot have a crust.

Here’s the thing, though: Those game objects, as much as we see them, do have those things.

When you make a recipe, you don’t list the things you already have. Recipes always come with a degree of assumed availability. Salt, pepper, basic spices, oils and tools are generally left out. In fact, you can tell a lot about a chef about what they don’t assume they need to list on the recipe. I know a patissiere who didn’t think they needed to mention how much butter you’d need for a recipe, because you’d just add more until you had enough. I know a family who do not think they need to tell you to have onions and cilantro because they are givens for everything. Many recipes require water, and never mention water as ‘an ingredient,’ because it’s a staple.

And that’s what I find more interesting. Because Link can make a baked, crusty bread, with tools available to him in the form of a wok. And the thing is, you can turn a wok into an oven: Assuming you have a circular stone and lid for the wok. A number of the recipes require mixing in a variety of different ways, require combining components in separate containers, and they all are displayed in a variey of bowls and breadboards. The apple pie is flecked with cinnamon, the fruit cake is adorned with some variety of frosting and has fruit on it rather than through it, suggesting it is a sponge cake with fruit on top. There’s rice, which again, is pretty difficult to prepare in a wok without water.

Here’s the thing, then. Here’s what I’d rather, and which would have no doubt made a much less interesting kitchen-based video and instead been about visiting people who are good at cooking and talking to them about what they can do and their tools: I want to see a clear breakdown of all the various bits and pieces of cooking equipment Link is always carrying on his person, so much so that it isn’t even worth mentioning to him that he’s got it.

Story Pile: Hanna

Nothing quite kills your SEO like a movie getting a series, especially a series with a really similar name. Thanks, Amazon, thanks.

Anyway, Hanna is a 2011 action thriller movie with a deliberately European tone to its story of a runaway super-deadly badass hero who is trying to escape the threat of the  man who says they’re just coming to help but their form of help involves containment tanks and people with unhelpfully vague names like ‘Project Control.’ This one’s note of being interesting is that our badass one-person war machine isn’t just not a dude this time, but isn’t even an adult.

She’s a girl! She’s a little girl, or at least, a teenage girl! And you hit all those normal beats, all your action movie standby points. The first capture, the escape, the on the run, the escalation, the inevitable confrontation in something laced with imagery and all throughout lots and lots of murder, usually by or of assholes. It’s got an excellent couple of fight scenes where Saorise Ronan, who was at the time sixteen or seventeen sells the hell out of being a tiny little murder machine capable of fighting and leveraging her size against much larger opponents, and there’s one of those ‘look at what I can do’ action sequences in a shipping yard. If you like watching bad dudes getting just wrecked when they underestimate a little girl, then this movie is going to give you some good stuff.

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Story Pile: A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean

After High Cumberland Jubilee, Jimmy Buffett went on to try something different. If Jubilee was an album full of attempts to be a cool late 60s protest singer – not proper protest, just protesty, he moved on to try something different, and that something different kinda became everything the man’s career would be about.

The narrative of the fans goes that this is where Jimmy found his own identity; where he became Jimmy Buffett, and explored the space that we now sometimes call Gulf and Western. It’s where Jimmy took on a very easygoing island nature, talking about beaches and boats and distance – not so much focusing on hard work and guns and roots the way that country tended to, but instead more about a sort of disconnected drifting.

The thing is, this narrative – that here’s where Jimmy found the ocean – is kinda weird when you listen to the opening of the album. It starts with a song that feels like a different kind of experiment in hindsight. The Great Filling Station Holdup is a pretty classic country loser story, some outlaw country, but the outlaws in question are idiots who suck and get caught immediately. It’s a funny song, singable, and it’s also pleasantly brief. It matches with a later song on the album, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, which talks about how Jimmy used to shoplift when he was poor. It’s kind of fun when Jimmy talks about ‘crime’ that centers himself because even his fictional crimes aren’t cool. They’re just dorky.

The followup, Railroad Lady is a really old, classic style song, made by Jimmy and Jerry Jeff Walker, the writer of the song Mr Bojangles. It’s again, experimental; this isn’t a song about the ocean and easygoing life. It’s talking about the death of the railroad and how it was possible to literally live on them, about how there was this whole wandering lifestyle that worked in such a strange way. This song is like a little serving on the A side for what closes the B side: there are some introspective, sad-sounding songs about winding down.

Jimmy writes about being old and tired and settling down, but it’s pretty worth noting that this album came out when he was twenty seven, so, you know, pump the brakes there Jimbleson Buffettersville.

Then there’s He Went To Paris, a song told in hindsight. It’s a pretty typical kind of country song – the old man sitting and crying and talking about what’s gone. But it’s a song that reaches its arms so wide, talks of travel so far, and uses (for example) the steel drums as a sort of long, soft weeping of the story. It’s beautiful and it’s sad, and it winds its way around to the beach, and paints a sort of future that Jimmy seemingly has decided to grow into. It’s not at all a unique song, there are so many like it, but none of the ones like it feel the same, to me. You can find dozens of country songs about old men reflecting on their lives. You can’t find many that feel as perfect as this.

Grapefruit, Juicy Fruit is the hit from this album, which I don’t get at all. I mean I’m glad there was a hit so he kept making them, but it’s a song I find infinitely forgettable. It almost feels like a song that’s more about the Coral Reefer band getting to play around with sounds. It’s boopidy doopidy and it’s not bad, I just don’t care.

Cuban Crime of Passage is – okay. So brace here. There’s a yikes. There’s a yikes where the woman central to the story is described as ‘half woman, half child, she drove him half wild.’ That’s pretty yikes. I assume this means she was a grown woman but it’s not the kind of framing I like. Still, I like it, it’s singable, and it does have that little underscore that no matter what goes on in Cuba, the whole life of people is reduced to just footnotes, discarded and forgotten to America. It’s a weird twist in the chorus, honestly, because it’s not like Jimmy seems to be positioning himself as above that.

Why Don’t We Get Drunk (And Screw) is a parody song. It’s meant to be a riff on the whole structure of ‘the love song’ on the radio, and it was part of Jimmy’s standard ongoing beef with the radio, which generally didn’t give him a lot of success. It’s also weird that people seem to now think of it unironically. It’s a song he’s revised a lot, including a kid’s version, Why Don’t We Drink Milk At School. I never heard this one growing up, seems dad was willing to hide this one specific song on a vinyl. It did come at the end of a side, making it easier to sneak away.

Still, it all ends up on the final song, a song that for the longest time I was absolutely convinced was some tragic, true story about Jimmy discovering his brother was a beautiful, amazing poet and wanting to honour him posthumously. It’s not a true story, but it’s a retelling of many true stories, all kind of cooked together. It’s one of my favourite Jimmy songs, and part of what I love about it is that it’s a very singable version of the kind of song it is. It’s sad and wistful, but that wist doesn’t mean the song breaks down as a song.

I love this album but I love it because it has He Went to Paris and Death of An Unpopular Poet. The janglier, louder, faster stuff I love from Jimmy isn’t on this, and I can honestly take or leave the majority of the remaining songs, but I have fun memories of sitting around with my cousin, uncle, and dad, and singing, together, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, so it’s always going to hit a soft spot for me.

Good album? Great album? It’s not like any song on it is bad, it’s just that this album has ‘merely’ two amazing songs on it, and those two songs kind of replicate one another, as reflective and mournful stories about unfulfilled goals.

Here’s the Spotify playlist if you’d like to listen to this album.

Halloween As an ASMR Fan

ASMR is a subculture that’s full of people who like to dress up for a camera. Well I assume they like to dress up, I don’t know if it’s actually a thing they enjoy but at least for now I’d like to imagine they’re doing something they enjoy.

Typically any given description of ASMR is going to involve a description of what the phenomenon is, so here we go: ASMR is an acronym you don’t need to remember for an ill defined ‘response’ some people can get from a range of subtle positive stimuli. Typically but not always, ASMR effects are described as ‘tingling’ along the line of the skull, and can be brought on by specific sounds or groups of sounds with slight variation in the stimuli. As an example, earlier this year, a channel I follow – and like, totally unironically – released a forty minute video of someone wordlessly filling a bucket with soda and ice and gently stirring so I could listen to the clinking of ice and the bubbles of the soda.

ASMR tends to also be connected to some awkward things. For example, ‘trigger’ is a very common word in ASMR communities, and there it’s used unironically and positively to describe something that causes the reaction, so you can get something described as ‘very triggery’ or ‘totally triggered’ which isn’t meant to be a jerkhole’s way of describing someone being upset or bothered by something.

I  do experience ASMR, and I use ASMR videos to listen to as background to study and to help me overcome the difficulty of wakefulness that I have. Sometimes I use it when I’m travelling on a bus to help fight carsickness. It’s a whole online cultural space.

ASMR has trends, too; what I listen to is largely on Youtube, which means it is largely driven by the algorithm. Some channels are large enough to have support and sponsors like the familiar podcast supporters, including beds and anime, and that means you get ASMR video trends that tie into sponsors trying out the space. That sometimes means a bunch of anime characters will whisper to you and help you build your costume or your arm or whatever the current in series is. The culture sways to the algorithms of our society.

Around Halloween there’s a pretty easy theme and lots of people play into it:

yes, if you’re curious, I was listening to one of these as I wrote this

One other weird thing is that Youtube specifically demonitises videos that are marked as ‘roleplay’ videos, which is kind of weird, and their algorithm is largely working on a very weird model of how advertisers work. This means that you often see people avoid ‘roleplay’ in their roleplay video titles, except when they have presences on sites like patreon and rely on those services other than Youtube advertising to make money.

I don’t actually Halloween much here. I don’t know much about the candy, we don’t have stores that specialise in selling the costumes. I get a bit eh about the way twitter goes a bit silly for a month and all my autosuggested names don’t fill in properly. That’s life, but I don’t want to deprive anyone of their fun.

ASMR is a weird field to look at as media. It’s weird because it’s something that kind of only exists the way it does right now because of the presence of internet subcommunities, and the ability of Youtube to allow for long-form niche production to happen. If I want a ghost pirate to kidnap me in Dutch and whisper about it, I can find that on Youtube, and it’ll inevitably be someone who’s more or less doing it as a full-time job.

leunig can go fuck himself

When I was a child, I went on a school excursion to a museum which was holding, amongst other things, a collection of the works of one Michael Leunig. At the time, he was a guy who did things in the newspaper that I could appreciate, being a child who didn’t like reading all the tight, bunched up text that was mostly about boring people shouting at one another.

In this collection, there was a tv screen set up to show a panel of a documentary about Michael on loop. I remember it, and I think it means this is advice, this is meaningful commentary he gave, that has stuck with me for decades.

See, he was saying in this that he made his whimsical, weird little cartoons, because he thought of himself as walking down a beach; making his way from his origin to his destination, and along the way he’d see a lovely shell he could pick up, and make the journey about that. But it was right there and it was obvious and it was easy.

He said he’d much rather go a little further, be a little stranger, and take something that took a lot more effort, rather than go for the easiest option, even if it was the most appealing. He said he’d rather be strange than boring.

I pray I never in my whole life ever betray my younger self the way that Michael Leunig, anti-vaxxer and miserable self-centered anti-phone anti-youth shithead boomer stereotype has betrayed the Michael Leunig in that video.

October Shirt II: Inside Eyes

A thousand eyes
Open inside
To grant me sight to see the end
A thousand eyes
The curse of the wise
Into the madness I descend

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:

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

Story Pile: Jigsaw

Content Warning: Due to the nature of this movie, I’m not using pictures for this one. Not because it’s super horrifying, just because it’s not really very important. There’s some medical horror in this one, and a lot of gory fake dead bodies mangled up in messy ways. I’m also not really talking about spoilers beyond ‘there is a twist,’ which is sort of du jour for horror movies in the Saw franchise.

With that in mind, we now begin the presentation.

 

 

 

Just how good can this movie be?

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The Cult Of The Decapitated

This year, I had reason to go deep on the book Man, Play And Games by Roger Caillois, and I have made my notes about it very public including exasperation at the kind of person who’d write such things. Wanting to know more about Caillois however pulled me into reading about his circle of friends, including the philosopher Georges Bataille and strange woman-behind-the-culture Colette Peignot, aka Laure.

Time to time I’ve mentioned their ‘cult of skulldicks,’ which is funny, but I think it’s worth giving at least a briefest overview of this quietly chilling group of extremely serious people who at one point, were going to walk out into the woods and kill themselves.

Let’s talk about Acéphale.

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Story Pile: Expectable Dreads

I watched a bunch of different horror stuff this year, in part because I actually think I kind of like the genre, but also because it’s a place that does a bunch of interesting weird stuff. Horror Youtube is really bad, Horror Critical Youtube is pretty good (or maybe I just mean Nyxfears). Watching this media can be, at times, a guide, a sort of mental sabot, that encourages you to think and present your thoughts in a similar format, to make everything a five minute mention.

This impulse left me spending words on things I didn’t really care about enough to talk too long about. Particularly, though, what I found was a common thread of introducing the wrong horrors into these stories, a point at which I checked out, and knew that effectively, a content warning would just be the overwhelming character of whatever I had to say. It wasn’t that seeing worms implanted in someone’s body or the tearing of a man’s face off that bothered me, no, I was signed up for that.

Here then, four horror movies and series that I kind of wanted to talk about but which introduced something that made them suck.

Content warning for mentions of sexual assault, transphobia, incest, and pedophilia, and spoilers for American Horror Story, Don’t Breathe, Rings, and A Cure For Wellness.

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October Shirt I: Hunter’s Mark

This month, our shirt design is a little bloody

Dangling, upside-down rune etched in one’s mind. Symbol of a hunter. By focusing one’s thoughts on this rune, a hunter loses all Blood Echoes, but awakens afresh, as if it were all just a bad dream.

Here we are
in the dark
Knocking on the hunter’s mark

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:

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

Story Pile: Goosebumps

The existence of this movie is in a lot of ways a pre-built punchline. I mean, Goosebumps is one of those book series that people in their adult life seem to go back to to complain about them being dumb or basic or whatever, and this movie, which is aimed as being Big Spookums for the I’m Old Enough For M Movies scene of twelve year olds, is a Jack Black movie. Jack Black has made a lot of movies that are bad, he has made a lot of songs that are bad, he has almost made a varnished kind of badness his business, and he even specialises in representing himself as someone you really hope leaves soon.

Everything about this movie is lined up to tell you that this movie is going to suck ass

and it doesn’t.

Some mild spoilers for the movie as follows.

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Serial Killer Stories

This year I tried out watching Dexter, Hannibal and Mindhunters, different series focused on media about serial killers. I didn’t find anything that interesting to talk about in them. Maybe if I was a much better resource, more aware than I am, about the topic of autism, I might be able to draw something out of how all three series are built around characters that are either subtly or explicitly autistic, and then how both series completely fuck that upMindhunters was mostly just boring, contrasting interviews with tedious office humdrum and the academic difficulty of getting a real historical book written. Whatever.

The others, the more fictionalised serial killer stuff, and various other movies I’ve tried this year, those are different beasts. Why these kind of stories happen, like why are there series that last for years about these very short-fuse ideas. Why are they appealing, what they do to lure people in, what connects people to the diegesis. I wonder sometimes about it, if the reason I can sort of watch these series without really feeling anything about them. I think the main feeling these shows left me with, as I sat there with a fingertip on the fast forward button, is boredom.

Sometimes it’s a matter of scale. Like, Dexter is a series where literally a new serial killer’s activity kicks around basically every week, and the people involved are trying to avoid the involvement of federal authorities to try and deal with it, while simultaneously complaining that they don’t have the time or resources to take care of these problems which, again, include weekly serial killers. Sometimes it’s a matter of the conception of the things, the self-seriousness of them, the idea that the FBI employs ‘profilers,’ specialists who walk into a crime scene and it’s their job to draw together all the information in a sort of psychic trance. That that’s not everyone’s job, and there aren’t whiteboards of information where people put together whole slabs of possible provable things about motivation and agency.

I think my favourite ridiculous thing about Hannibal is that there are numerous cases where there’s nothing in the case that gets solved that is in any way helped by Will Graham’s supposed prowess. It’s just a dude who shows up at a scene, gets traumatised, and then the serial killers get themselves caught on their own. In Dexter it’s the same  deal, where the fact that the police station is basically an overworked office with four people in it. In each case, we’re meant to be watching these impressive interplays of the master inhuman, Lecter in one and Dexter in the other, but it’s just all stagecraft.

There’s a sort of twee titillation about both of them, a sort of almost hum-drum tedious shockingness. Like there’s a really good special effects department pumping out bulk props and able to make fake blood by the gallon, and people are tunining in for these things that are long on mood built around the ‘complex’ idea of What If People Around You Were Bad? How do you build tension around these questions of being surrounded by people who do bad things, who might be quite bad, but are capable of functioning as normal people?

There’s this funny kind of alienation in the horror of it. This conception of ‘what if your every day reality had something horrifying and bad in it!’ which kind of hilariously…  banal. It’s a lot like the idea behind The Walking Dead, where these scenarios that are meant to be horrifying have to come at that horror from a frame of total safety. Like there needs to be a sort of middle class, mid-thirties yawning wannabe prepper-ness to it.

These stories want evil to be something that’s both incarnate and alien, human forms given to the fears for their safety. I mean I still watch this stupid shit, but it’s all a sort of suspense porn. It’s about feeling tense and then shocked, even when there’s just nothing surprising about ‘oh, then this other major character will die.’  They’re ghost trains for adults with really high production values, and the things they can say are spooky are things like people who struggle with dissociation and lost time. You tune in to see if someone you like is going to get out alive.

They’re also, almost uniformly, disappointing in the end.

I’m sure there’s some reason for that.

But First…

There is a joy in horror.

There’s a truth to it that horror is a space that draws the marginalised. There are a variety of reasons for it, many socioeconomic, many infrastructural, and almost none that actually have anything to do with demonic forces or actual witches, no matter what Alex Jones types want you to think. There’s a not-insubstantial body of people for whom horror in fiction and media directly relates to and catalogues horror in their own lives.

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Story Pile: The Dragon Prince

The Dragon Prince is a netflix television show about an elf, a prince, a dragon, and all the complex challenges they have thanks to some mishandled jam tarts. If you just wonder about my general perspective, or if I’d recommend it, this show is great, bursting with personality, with good comic timing for its comic relief, wonderful action sequences, excellent voice acting (it really grew on me), and a number of characters who don’t overcorrect away from their archetypes while not sliding into being banal or overfamiliar. It’s great. Check it out. Easily worth paying for a month of Netflix and binging it all over a few weeks.

Now, if you want more, that’s after the fold. What is going to follow is pretty spoiler-free, but I want you I will say mean things about the Voltron fandom and criticise the ending of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

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I Like: Mumbo Jumbo and Grian

Hey, I have niblings! And they love Minecraft! And the most well known Minecraft celebrity in the world keeps having to make excuses for why he keeps doing nazi things! Which is not behaviour you really want to see in content that is aimed at literal actual children and good god what a piece of human garbage.

Nonetheless, I have gone looking for Minecraft youtubers who make approachable, kid friendly content that isn’t full of occasional horrifying racism and othersuch garbage, and I’ve found a pair of exciteable British boys who, at least in the content I’ve found, aren’t likely to teach my niblings slurs.

First, there’s Mumbo:

And next there’s Grian:

Grian and Mumbo are two Youtubers with different channels; Grian is fussy about the aesthetics of buildings and architecture, and Mumbo is a redstone nerd. They make short videos on a regular basis, they work together from time to time, and they do a lot of Minecraft content that looks at the game as an aesthetic pursuit (making things that look good), and a technical one (making things that serve a purpose).

Now, that’s not to say these two are perfect, for all I know in the thousands of hours of content they’re making there’s some awful stuff and I’m going to learn about it and be sad about it, but at least at the moment they appear to know they’re basically making Art Attack with Pixels.

September Shirt: Byleth Ribbons

Well, a new Fire Emblem happened! I’m not into it, but all my friends are, and I like my friends. Also, I love looking at iconography in games, things that evoke things without actually being things.

I was originally conceiving of a set of silhouettes of characters with text evoking who they were or what mattered to them, which would be fun, but my attempt to gather suggestions for that resulted in pretty much nothing but jokes, because, well, aren’t you a sweet and helpful audience of friends?

Anyway, so I did some Byleth shirt designs. Here they are:

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ˢᵉˡˡᶦⁿᵍ ᵗᶦⁿʸ ᵇᵒᵒᵏˢ

One of the weirdest things about the kind of things I make is that at a convention it’s very hard (read: impossible) to get people to engage with the bulk of what I do. I write! I write a lot! But people don’t buy words unless they’re stuck to a bit of a tree, hammered flat, a system that seems dreadfully inefficient.

I’ve been experimenting then with ways that I can make small, printable, books, something I can pump a few out before a con and sell or give away as promotional devices for my games, or maybe some microfiction (do I do that?).  This first idea is one that I saw first on Twitter as a kind of suggestion for making tiny comic zines, and that idea is pretty cool.

I don’t make comics, though, I make game rules and words and I found this design really neat. However, it’s sometimes hard to find – I search for ‘gay robot kiss’ and dig through my retweets, for example – so I made a template and a place to show it where it can be easily accessed.

Another thing to bear in mind is you wind up with 6 faces the size of a card, more or less, and that means you want a font size around 9~ish. It depends on the individual font, of course, and how much text you’re putting in. So far I haven’t experimented much beyond finding limits – the amount of text I can jam in, which hovers around 550 words or so. That’s pretty sensible – it’s about what you can fit on a single page, too.

Some things I’m considering putting in this format

  • catalogue of card games I’ve made
  • popular blog posts
  • a single short prestige class or paragon path
  • a spellbook for a D&D character
  • a micro RPG
  • an RPG seed or scenario
  • a character background guide

We’ll see what comes of these ideas!

After the fold is just my template for this, to make it easy to find by searching for ‘small booklet’ or ‘personal zine’ or ‘a4 booklet.’

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