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.

Ego Makes You Worse At Magic

I do magic tricks.

My particular preferred form of magic trick are execution based, sleight-light card tricks with minimal prep. I like being able to take a random deck of cards and make it do something, like I can show you a puzzle that was hiding inside the box in a way that you didn’t know.

Part of the reason I like these tricks is because it doesn’t require anyone to question whether or not I can do sleight of hand. I can, but when you tell people that you can do sleight of hand, it makes all sorts of things you can do harder to trust. Suddenly you’re not doing a feat of memory, ‘maybe you just swapped a deck’ or ‘maybe there’s a card up your sleeve.’ It’s kind of interesting the way people react to that kind of trick, which is frustrating, because I do these tricks for reactions.

The biggest source of failure then, in my tricks, in my experience, is not failures of execution, but failures of ego. If a magician shows you the same trick a second time, and if they’re any good, they are not going to show you the same trick the same way. They’re going to be using a different technique to get the same effect. And that way, you’re going to be looking for ‘the’ trick, and never find what it is, because you’re seeing three tricks that look the same.

And if you don’t do this, if you just show someone the trick a second time because you want them to be more impressed the second time, if you need the reactions to be better, because you deserve a better reaction, you’re going to lose control over their attention. That’s what magic is – it’s a way of controlling the audience’s attention. They focus on one thing so they don’t focus on the other.

What has been an absolute beating for me has been showing magic tricks to little kids. Because nothing will do damage to your ego quite like showing a trick to people who are both rude enough to reach out and grab the cards out of your hand, and easily distracted enough that you can’t even show them two or three misdirections without them just losing it entirely.

I have twice shown my niblings a trick a second time because ‘they missed it.’ Because I didn’t think the reaction I got was good enough I mean, c’mon, they clearly didn’t get it.

And in doing it, I wasted a trick.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that trick again, or even all sorts of things built on that trick, at least for them. Which is a shame, because I was trying to make it a special trick just for them. What happened to me, what I lost, was the reaction I got, tainted because I couldn’t have the patience to accept it, in the name of getting a reaction I wanted. A reaction I deserved.

Confabulation

Are you conscious right now?

That’s not a nice thing to do, I know. Some of you read that sentence and went hang on, fuck you, and I just want to reassure you that as far as I know, yes, you are, you’re reading words I wrote on a blog. But when you read that question, there’s a very good statistical likelihood that your brain did something. Your brain threw up some sort of weird routine where you could tell it checked, even if it then went on to dismiss the question.

There’s a whole wing of studying the way our brains work – not brain surgery, not that kind of stuff or neurochemistry, but studying the behaviour of brains, the way that minds operate. There’s definitely related stuff – you can think of it as the difference between researching hardware versus operating systems versus applications.

Confabulation is an old idea in the study of human mind and memory, and it’s largely been given a hard definition when examining medically divergent brain behaviour. Specifically, it’s most commonly examined in people who have memory disorders, and even more specifically, those memory disorders were often the kind induced by lobotomies or corpus collosotomy, where the hemispheres of the brain are surgically sliced apart. Rough!

Confabulation, as first developed for this was the way that the subject (a person) would make up meaningful explanations for courses of actions that they may not have had a reason to actually do. An example is that people with split brains can be fed information that one ‘half’ of the brain receives and acts on, such as picking up an object, but then the other half of the brain will claim to have a completely coherent explanation for why they did what they did. This is obviously weird and there’s all sorts of implications and then those implications run into neuroatypicalities that got a lot harder to study when we approached medical science with biases like ‘women be whacky’ and ‘easier to stick a needle in your eye to cut up your brain than treat autism and epilepsy like actual things.’

I know there are some DID friends of mine who are reading this going ‘well duhhh,’ about confabulation.

Thing is, your brain is really, really good at sense-making. It’s one of the reasons why being confused or deprived of sensory information is so fundamentally scary: Your brain is used to filling in where you have gaps, and it will start coming up with some nonsense to make sense out of the nothing. It’s also why being plunged into the dark is scary as hell for sighted folk, but unsighted folk are already pretty good at handling that, so their brains are less likely to conjure up fanciful stuff. If you find something in your hand, that you don’t remember putting there, you immediately have to conjure reasons for it.

Then there’s the thing magicians already know:

This isn’t a thing limited to neuroatypical people.

This is something everyone’s brains do all the time.

When you move an object in palm, your viewer will imagine they know where it’s going because their brain is really good at constructing meaningful paths; that you can make a ball dance up your sleeve, across your shoulders and down into your other palm is a more meaningfully likely course of action than that the ball never left your other hand. People will believe they shuffled decks that you never let them shuffle, they will believe that you didn’t say something you did, they will construct a narrative of the experience in front of them that you know doesn’t gel with reality, because you know what actually happened because you did it. Who you gunna believe, me, or your lying eyes?

Hell, this runs deep. Studies of this thing the eye does, called saccades indicate that human sensory input is being fed in a great big slurry of stuff and the brain sorts it out, then tells the brain – itself – that it all makes sense.  See, your eye is not still: your eye is jiggling around in its socket and then feeding the you that ‘sees’ the image a still version composed out of all the wobbly bits. That’s also why you don’t see your nose, even though if you think about it, it’s right there in the middle of your field of view.

Magic at its root is the science of controlling audience attention. It’s about recognising the world not just as a thing you see but as a thing that your brain is interpreting for you, and your brain has a vested interest in ensuring that your brain is considered a reliable narrator on this front.

Incidentally, most of my friends are deeply apathetic about stage magic. I have a pet theory that people who live in a world that already tells them their expectations and brain operations are weird and wrong aren’t likely to be impressed by finding me do the same thing with a bloody playing card.

The Force I’m Makin’

Hey, here’s a thing from card tricks that you should know because of how it can be used to cheat and because it’s useful for understanding the way a lot of elaborate card tricks work.

The term is forcing. In card tricks, a force is when you, the magician, present the subject of the trick with an opportunity to make a choice, but you have made the choice instead. There’s lots of different things you can force, but the most common thing is to force a card when doing a card trick.

Now, whenever you see a trick where a card teleports somewhere, or a card does something unlikely or a card is destroyed and remade, you can rely on the fact that that card was almost always the result of a force. This is something about magic that kind of transforms the way most tricks work; when you realise how many ‘impossible’ feats are the work of finessing two different props into a space so it looks like there’s only one of them, you are suddenly keenly aware of where the skill in a magic trick often lies. Sometimes a force is sleight of hand, sometimes it’s through an elaborate choice method, sometimes it’s through making a cut look nonchalant. Forces are preposterously hard to do naturally and to be good at them you need to be capable of doing a lot of them.

When you have one particular way to set up a trick, that’s it, people will see that setup is part of the trick. When you can do four or five different forces for the same outcome of a trick, though, each force invisibly hides itself in the other forces. If the first time it’s pick a card any card, fine. If the second time it’s pulling a random card out of the centre of the deck, fine. The third time you do a waterfall force, the fourth time a clock force, a control-to-the-top, a fake stack shuffle, all of these different methods, and the ‘trick’ at the end is all just following up on that earlier deceit.

This is one of the lessons of magic in general: The art of magic is the art of controlling viewer attention. The force is not there to set up the trick: The trick is there to hide the force.

The alternative to a force is a free choice. Free choice tricks are often doing something different entirely, and these are the tricks that are less likely to have elaborate displays, but may more often have elaborate props. Props can hide things like alternating components, things that can set up a trick on the fly. In general, when it comes to magic tricks, someone is doing work, and the work is usually being invested in terms of setting up a skill, a practice, an angle or just brute forcing time. Big props let you get around that.

There are a couple of common forces, so much so that you’re probably best off just going to youtube and looking up ‘types of force.’ Sometimes it’s hard to represent a force because it can be just a matter of physically practicing with your cards in your hands, sometimes it’s about doing math in your head, sometimes it’s about on-the-fly reading a person’s behaviour. It can be hard to practice forces!

As for what forces I favour? I don’t actually have a lot of good forces; I tend to favour tricks that don’t rely on them. That’s the other thing about good magic tricks. You don’t have to do everything. Do the things you can practice and in time, the ability to recognise how you’re focusing attention comes from it.

Story Pile: Ocean’s 8

I feel like this movie doesn’t even merit a review. I should just kick open the door and shout HOLY SHIT THIS RULES, all fuck you, fuck you, you’re cool, I’m out energy as I storm out into the night. But this is a dignified place, I tell myself, and so instead let’s try and put some energy into explaining why this movie.

Your vital statistics! Ocean’s 8 is the fifth movie in the Ocean’s franchise and its second cast shift, all operating around the ‘premise’ if that counts, of a group of incredibly cool celebrities doing a heist of some variety with the overall air that it’s really neat to see these cool actors having fun making a fun movie. There’s a drop of tension, sure, and there’s a puzzle about how the thing that got done got done, but at the heart of it, an Ocean’s movie is about watching actors you’re kind of fond of for some reason be really cool, usually to a soundtrack that rules.

In this case, the flip of the script is that we’re dealing with Debbie Ocean, Danny Ocean’s sister, played in this case by Sandra Bullock, and her gang of ne’er-do-wells is in fact crime ladies. Isn’t that a shocking twist?

It’s so wild, because the last time they did this, the gang was entirely men and nobody thought that was weird, but for some reason, this time around? People were? mad? for some reason?

Weird.

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Story Pile: Fullmetal Alchemist The Live Action Movie

Once the media juggernaut that was the Fullmetal Alchemist story had smashed in place a bestselling manga then created not one, but two best-selling internationally successful anime, not to mention a bunch of tie-in videogames, merchandising out the wazoo, it resolved that it was time to release a live action movie. The movie was originally developed for 2013, but was held up, citing reasons of technology and budget, not made and released until 2017.

And the movie, my friends, is bad.

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Story Pile: Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood

And then like the krispy kreme, we’re back at it again.

It’s very hard to deal with contrary impulses and present a fair position without being coloured by the arguments you had on the way to get somewhere, or by the arguments you’re anticipating. For example, while I may say straight up that Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is probably the best anime of its type that exists (mage-punk, long-running action-adventure character driven stories with themes of war and loss), there’s still the hanging asterisk that I was also pretty positive about Fullmetal Alchemist, and how much can someone trust my opinion on this one? And what’s more, how can I praise that anime and yet have qualified praise for this one, because that was a Bad Anime and this is a Good Anime?

Anime fandom is a mistake.

Anyway, the coda: I think that Brotherhood is one of the best anime of its type, and yet, I think that has flaws that merit critical attention; I think that it’s worse because of the 2003 anime, and I think that anime is treated worse for not being this.

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The Seacons, or, Fish Got Feet!

I like the Transformers, but they are absolutely a universe where a lot of give and take had be done between what the toys could make happen and what the character designers could make work, and boy is that obvious when you talk about the Seacons.

For those of you not already familiar, the Seacons are from that twilight-of-G1-not-quite-G2 era when dayglo purple and cyan were the thing, where gold plastic that turned to dust got produced in high volume, and where all the good, easy concepts and moulds from Takara’s stockpile had been used up. The transformers had run through their first wave of designs that could be cobbled together and it was time to start expanding into the less obvious, less easy model kit things to turn into transformers. The toy with a gimmick of transforming robot aliens already had the idea of transforming robot aliens that could slot together to form bigger robot aliens, and that meant new designs had to make new groups that could combine.

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Reaper Space

don’t go there

it’s reaper space.

Everyone warns you when you move through the ports and bases and outposts. It’s the big zone where ships don’t travel; trade routes route around it; no corporate rig will travel into Reaper space at all. Not any of the big ones, at least, not one of the superheavies. Reaper space is uninsured space. Nobody’s dragging you back out of that.

You haven’t seen a Reaper, of course. Nobdoy has, or if they have, they don’t know it. Nobody’s that sure about the way the Reapers look, though there are a few of their artifacts. You’ve seen one – hanging once in the foyer of a citadel, dangled from the roof, this immense machine that looked like a tank, with an entire assortment of blades on the front and an enormous engine out the back, seemingly made to do nothing but plow forwards; the blades were attached to a wheel, which was itself screwthreaded – so each blade flicked and clacked and dug into the air when they ran the machine –

Which they did, for a little bit.

For demonstration purposes.

Watching it turn an entire shuttlecraft into pieces with all that sound, the shredding and breaking.

Brr.

It’s not like you need to worry about Reaper space. Reaper space has barely any planets in it, and there’s only one outpost out near the dead zone that serves as a border to Reaper space. Maybe a few planets, sure, probably with some cultures on them that are probably not spacefaring, or if they spacefare it’s to do minor, small trades – the trades of a culture that doesn’t have an empire or corp yet – and when the talk of reapers happens they just shut down their satellites and pretend nobody’s home.

There are pirates, of course.

After all, uninsured space is unpatrolled space.

Gotta be careful out there. It’s Reaper space, but it’s full of scum and villains too.

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Story Pile: Fullmetal Alchemist – The Anime

In 2003, the then-ongoing Fullmetal Alchemist manga launched a new anime, which took the series’ adventure story and complicated scientific-based material magical power system reinforced through firm, rigidly defined character interaction, and made it into an affair of visual spectacle. This was a good decision because all the pieces were in place to make a great action adventure anime, with a dash of horror, with the promise of riding the popularity of the manga readers that were following eagerly along with the manga.

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The Cultural Cringe and Brolonialism

There is a term used in Australia, which is known enough to have a wikipedia page but not known quite so much that I can assert it in a classroom and have people react with ‘ah, yes, that,’ which describes our relationship to the art, media, and creations of our own culture. The term is cultural cringe. Coined in the 1950s by A A Phillips, Cultural Cringe was seen as an Australian problem based on our relationship to ‘real’ culture in England and now, more recently, America.

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Giant Green Angry Baby

In The Transformers, the very serious advertising campaign about alien robots that transform into cars, planes, dinosaurs, two boomboxes (ask your parents), a vending machine and an enormous twelve-meter tall microscope, there are collections of toy robots that can be stuck together into single bigger toy robots. We’ve talked about them in the past, when I talked about the Protectobots and the Stunticons, where you could collect a set that was a squad which had its own internal dynamic, leaders and friends and followers. It was a really neat marketing gimmick, where you could Consume Products in a way with both a targeted list, and a reward for achieving all parts of that list.

These squads also tended to be written to have a bit of personality, based on the cards that they had on the back of the boxes, or the guidebooks you could buy and the maybe-sometimes-eventually-expressed-in-a-comic way that the show did to express character. The fact is in the TV Show, most Transformers were as much an accent and a hand to hold one of a number of blue-or-red lasers, with very few of them having a chance to really put forwards their characterisation compared to just filling space in battle scenes. Oh, there were single episodes that focused on single transformers from time to time, but they rarely got to build a large amount of context. I don’t remember any episode where Trailbreaker’s fear of being overconsumptive of Energon paralysed him, nor any instance of Windcharger magnetically tearing things apart.

But that doesn’t matter because Transformers is a canon made up of a shotgun blast of ideas, and what sticks tends to be what any given writer could put together. When dealing with our girls the Stunticons, it was picking any given list of personal neuroses and jamming them onto the toys they had to work with.

And that same policy got to be used on the beta model gestalt, the first step mistake that was Devastator.

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Story Pile: Fullmetal Alchemist – The Manga

There are a certain number of pieces of media that I don’t tend to want to talk about.

Sometimes, I don’t want to talk about a piece of media because I’ve never seen it, and in order to comment on it, I’d have to seek it out, and I don’t imagine I’ll be bringing anything new or interesting to the table. I’m a white cis guy, and lots of white cis guys who are straighter than me have worked very, very hard to make sure that if you get a ‘standard take’ on anything, you’re getting it from some variety of white cis guy. Watching The Room so I can say ‘yes, this sure is just as bad as I expected’ is not, to me, a valuable use of your time or mine. If I’m going to hatewatch something it’s because I know there’s something in there, some perspective I can bring to bear that’s interesting.

There’s also stuff I don’t talk about because I’ve been specifically asked not to talk about it. That is, stuff that I am known as being negative or critical about, and where sensitive people have asked, fairly nicely, for me to leave them alone as topics.

There are still works I don’t talk about, though, because they’re so good and them being good is so well known, I’m not going to tell you anything new by doing it. I don’t think, really, there’s a single thing I can tell you about Avatar: The Last Airbender that isn’t already done better by someone else, I don’t think that I’m going to provide a single extra angle on Inception, and even if I did have something to say (‘it’s fine,’ at best), I don’t find my opinion interesting.

The idea that my opinions are inherently interesting is the plague of privilege that I absolutely do not want to be comfortable.

Why then, would I talk about Fullmetal Alchemist?

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Hey, Kid, Wanna Do A Podcast?

Do you wanna make a pod-caaaast?
Do you wanna notice ums

The ways you hold your breath
And silence like death

And making reference to bums?

We’ve had a lot of time on mics lately, haven’t we? Maybe you’ve learned a little bit about crosstalk, maybe you’ve even lashed out and got yourself a nice new mic, for work purposes? And you might have been binging content because everyone is doing that right now?

Well, you should try and make a podcast!

About what? Well, that’s going to be up to you. What this post is about is giving you tools and techniques and resources.

First up, tools!

Zencastr is a recording program that runs in your browser window and runs a call that it then records. This is really useful if you’re doing a podcast with your girlfriend who lives a thousand miles away in Canada (and that’s not a joke), because you can just hand her the URL to the page, press the record button and Zencaster will record all the audio for both of you. It’ll be synced up, you can bring in up to three people on one call in the free version. It’s a solid resource! What’s more, it can put all those files automatically into your…

Dropbox! This is a good way to keep large, shared audio in a controlled space when you’re collaborating over distance. You may not need this if you’re just recording yourself (though we’ll talk to this). OneDrive can do something similar, but I don’t have direct experience with that, so I wouldn’t say.

Audacity! This is the bread and butter of audio recording. This is a very rudimentary audio editing program, and if what you want to do is cut audio up, delete some passages, clean up background noise and maybe filter out mouse clicking, this is going to do the task just fine. You will need an encoder to record mp3s, which you can learn about here, on this Lifewire page.

If you want to distribute your podcast, I’d recommend you set up a WordPress blog and use the Podlove add-on. These will step-by-step you through the process that lets you make an RSS feed that people can search up using their existing podcast recording software.

That’s it! That’s all you need, really!

I recommend for your first podcast, you either talk to a friend for about half an hour, or you recite or explain something you care about for about five minutes. The former you have room to react to one another and come to understand how hard it can be to use the time you have, and the latter shows you how much effort goes in to making those five minutes meaningful and clear. If you have plans for fiction and storytelling, try reading someone else’s story for a little bit – not releasing the episodes, just reading them – to get an idea for how quickly you can go through a story.

Finally, Freesound and Kevin Macleod’s Incomptech are excellent resources for sound effects and music.

Hope this is helpful!

Story Pile: Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas

I really liked Nanette. I thought it was really good and I wanted to share it around with my friends, because at its best, the Story Pile is an opportunity to just grab all my friends and talk excitedly about something you haven’t seen, or, if you have seen it, to jump up and down with you and show you how clever we both are for liking this thing. I liked Nanette so much I did a very rare video examining it where I trotted out Steve Geyer of all people.

Not to go over my love of Nanette, though, because it was a prickly recommendation at the best of times. Basically a ninety minute long Content Warning with its own absolutely brutal conclusion that nonetheless brought with it some truly body-blowing comedy that oh no here I’m going and praising Nanette again, but the point is, fuck that, Nanette is great, and Douglas is great too, phew, got the subject back into the cradle oh wait now we’re talking about A Knight’s Tale oh well that was great.

Now, Douglas is a show that helpfully starts out with a table of contents. Seriously, Gadsby goes over the themes and subject matter in the show and just tells you what’s going to be going into it, which means my normal concern about spoiling in a show that’s so built on timing and surprise is a little diminished. Particularly, then if I tell you this show is about autism, well, that’s something that she mentions in the opening, and she does so without making the phrase itself shocking or startling.

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The Mysterious Fogs Of Amerimanga

There’s this term that you see sometimes used by digital archivists, called bit rot. It’s this phenomenon where electromagnetically stored media, despite being ostensibly ‘permanent’slowly accumulates non-critical errors in the storage media, meaning that you get these special kinds of errors, which can often result in this eerie kind of work where the structure of what how computers save and store information is different enough to ours that we see things that look really wrong but in a really interestingly recognisable way. Bit rot doesn’t tend to show you media that’s completely alien, just that what it prioritises looks really weird. Sometimes it’s a simple as half a picture being A Bit Green. Sometimes it’s all the colours becoming neon and bright while still keeping as much of the shadows that preserve the image.

Bit rot is not just limited to the data stored on electronic media, though. The internet has its own form of bit rot. Any given site you visit on the internet isn’t necessarily talking to one computer hosting one website. It’s going through a vast network of interconnected components. Websites reference one another, in some cases hosting images on one another, and when you start digging into the old web, you start getting weird errors that, again, are about the way computers preserve things in a way that you wouldn’t expect, because computers aren’t people. The internet, originally conceived as, in part, an indestructible archive of the sum of human knowledge, therefore, has the eerie phenomenon of human archivists who do their best to try and manually ensure the internet is preserved in ways that won’t break over time.

Thus it is for someone who grew up knowing about Crosswinds and AngelFire and Geocities and the like, and came of age during that period where the webcomic boom coupled with the first arrival of the manga market in the west resulted in lots of stuff getting platforms with a lot of things that were normally gatekept away. There was a demand for people to make webcomics and manga and well, that meant lots of stuff got put out there, got a viewing and then… at some point, stopped. And then, with the internet moving on and various platforms taking over, that means those old sources have bit-rotted away.

I bring this up to explain how it is possible that I have this strangely resonant familiarity with the category of media I jokingly call ‘Amerimanga’ without being able to name a single real actual example. I went looking, I really did. I tried to find it – remembering character names like Colvin and Kyle, and transition that was enabled by such wild things as haunted videogame cartridges and the fact someone started reading fanfic about themselves or in one cases, a duck.

The genre is pretty simple: I describe it with an image, usually of some unrelated, or generic non-anime anime source, and then use the title of the thing to describe a very specific plot that has in some way gone off the rails from an existing, ‘legitimate’ framing to instead be about the main character being a girl, and being very in to that.

What happened then was that in this weird little space of webcomics-and-non-manga manga, where often comics weren’t really being overseen and all that could get you driving on to keep going was an audience response, was a lot of people were making the stories they could best throw out, week to week or issue to issue, in some sort of vague, semi-professional, almost-a-failure but-probably-not way. This isn’t to talk ill of this space: Odds are good, it’s just like any other existing community of creatives, where some fail and some succeed and that’s it.

But the most amazing thing about it, to me, is that going back to find this stuff, this little weird bubble of what amounts to ‘fanfiction through to published works that are all tapping the same basic vein of queer feelings, as a weird genre joke, ha ha’ is pretty much… nothing. I can’t find it again.

It’s gone.

It’s old shames or it’s lost histories or it’s pseudonyms that disappear or it’s fragmented onto livejournals. And all that remains is the stuff I can dredge from my memory and pin in place in my silly joking images.

Pride Shirt 4: Gay Wrath Month 2020

As with previous shirts in this, the month of Jesus Christ What Next 2020, these are decorative, fun items that are ways for you to spend your disposable income in ways that amuse you and I do not think that you should view them as making moral statements or supporting me for its own sake.

That said, I’ve been having some pretty complicated feelings about Pride Month of ltae, because Pride isn’t an emotion I ever really feel at the best of times. There are other feelings I’m a little more tuned to.

Here’s this week’s design:

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

The Complicated Explication of Danielle Bunton Berry

Hey, CW here, folks. This is about a trans woman, who did some cool things, and died, but it’s also about how bad and limited my means are to communicate about her. You won’t miss much if you skip it, and if you want to know a more traditional approach to Berry’s legacy, you can check it out here on this eight year old GamaSutra link that I am not going to vouch for, but which presents a number of the quotes I sourced before realising I was in trouble.

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Being The Thing On The Doorstep

Lovecraft is a super useful thing to use in classes about games and media. First, it’s a deeply thematic part of a lot of games culture. It’s also a way to introduce ideas of copyright and media ownership, there’s that. Then there’s conversations about accessibility and who the work excludes, because of how ornate and wrought the type of text is, and how you can overcome that with signalling and clear communication.

There is a way that he slows things down, though, because no matter how we cut it, bringing up Lovecraft means we tend to open with the dude was a massive racist, but, and then there’s a conversation about what we do with the work of bad people, and it just slows the conversation down. It’s understandable, mind you. Particularly, he was definitely racist as hell and racist themes are throughout his work; he was misogynist as expressed by the absence of women with agency in almost all his stories, and then you start to look for other axes he bothered to mention.

What’s particularly wild is the dude actually did manage to veer into transphobia, and not just in shaded tropes; given the way stories are normally structured in our science fiction and fantasy space, trans and cis status are normally subjects that require invoking information that we don’t get. It’s possible every Lovecraft protagonist is a trans man and we’d never have a reason to know, for example. That means bringing in transphobia involves going to something that you normally don’t have to bring up in order to kick it around.

In the story The Thing on the Doorstep, spoilers for a century old short story that’s not that good, but whatever, in The Thing on the Doorstep our narrator and kinda protagonist observes his best friend decaying in real time from a marriage to a woman that ruins him. Eventually he discovers that his friend has been married not to a woman, but rather, a man in a woman’s body, and that man then takes his friend’s body, leaving him in an older body it had, and that is the titular thing on the doorstep that the protagonist encounters. The horror of ‘what if the woman you got in a relationship with was actually a man’ is a very, very old, very well-worn trope, and it’s transphobic at root.

Lovecraft wrote about encountering alien minds and the strain it put on the human who was reading it to comprehend it. That there were certain mindsets – just ways of thinking – that were so fundamentally aberrant to humans that contemplating them could force the mind to adhere to alien programming and fall apart. There’s a twofold fascination that follows for me.

First, Lovecraft’s aliens and the horrors they represent are all things that a scientific mind can grapple with: There’s a thing I didn’t understand, and we can prove its effect, and so in cataloguing it, we can handle and understand that information. That means that the vision of rationality that Lovecraft had for his period of time was completely at odds with actual rationality – that information people couldn’t handle was in fact literally incompatible with their brains. For all the racism in his work, he paints there as being a whole category of people who can handle dealing with this information, and that’s the other. If you’re trans or queer or a person of colour, in Lovecraft’s world, you can actually handle that nonsense that wrecks white people from the mind out.

If you’re basically anything but a Prince of Privilege, in Lovecraft’s vision of the world, you are the monster. You are the beast from outside. You can move between mirrors, you can see the undersea places, you have the ancient knowledge and you can move amongst the most dreadful forces, and you’re fine. That’s wild. He’s so intent on dehumanising the nonwhite that it involves turning the white into the weakest, most pathetic type of person there is; completely unprepared and incapable of being alive in this dreadful world. It’s racist, sure, but it’s racist in a really pathetic way.

Here’s the other thing, though.

It is fundamentally hard, if not impossible, really, to get a grip on how Lovecraft thought this stuff. It really is. This dude was so racist he was able to get himself divorced for being racist in 1933. When we talk about the dude there’s this framing and apologetics about just bringing him up, as if we can’t let his racism pass without also making it an excuse to drop the topic.

Lovecraft’s racism is so utter and confusingly fearful that it’s kind of hard to really get. It’s hard to explain or explore it without a lot of deep reading of his work, and that’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Lovecraft was so racist that trying to think like him now doesn’t make sense, because with the benefit of a century of hindsight, everything the dude thought is aberrant to natural, civilised, adult thought.

Lovecraft wrote about a world of alien, parisitic monsters that consumed humanity and destroyed you by following its thought patterns and did not care about what affect it had because it would outlast any one person it ended.

Lovecraft never realised he was the monster.

Story Pile: Smokin’ Aces

When I resolved to not spend this month complaining about queer media I didn’t like, nor to subject myself to queer media in a form I knew I wouldn’t like, I didn’t realise how challenging that was going to make things since I didn’t have another Wynona Earp land in my lap. That meant going back through either movies I meant to comment on or movies I had commented on but never on the blog, and to my amazement, I found this.

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Pride Shirt 3: Pronoun Stamps

As with previous shirts in this, the month of Jesus Christ What Next 2020, these are decorative, fun items that are ways for you to spend your disposable income in ways that amuse you and I do not think that you should view them as making moral statements or supporting me for its own sake.

Still! This here’s a set of shirt designs for showing off pronouns of choice and making a bit of funny text along with them.

Here’s an example.

 

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

Holding On To Pride

Hey

Things are pretty rough right now.

I get that there’s a certain degree of hopelessness that comes with just being? Because everything that is is just kind of busy with reasons to focus on pumping pain into your ear, because the alternative feels like complicity with things you can’t help or focus on?

I get it.

There’s this thing I’ve taken to saying to queer folks on their birthdays. It’s been more and more important as time has gone on since I started. The average age for queer folk is typically much lower than nonmarginalised groups – same for people of colour, and even moreso for queer folk of colour. It’s all kinds of bad out there when you look at the statistics. And we know for a fact that these are imposed, societal burdens. Queer folk aren’t living in worse areas because they like smog more – they’re being pushed to those spaces by diminished earning potential and exclusionary housing policies, for example.

The idea is this: Every day you live while the world is telling you to stop is a day you have stolen.

Every birthday, you are fighting to push back a number that is used to diminish the hope of others. Every expression of pride, every step forward, every refusal to hide and be polite about it, is pushing the average that people just like you, five, ten years ago, are going to be living into. Make your life better, make it happier, be proud of yourself, and be proud of refusing to die in a life that seeks to be cruel to you.

Right now there’s a lot saying no, stop. Be queer but you know, keep a lid on it. Be tidy about it. Don’t put your pronouns in your bio because that makes us uncomfortable. Why you gotta make a fuss about it? Why is Pride so flamboyant, why are people so out there about it, why do you have to post ‘girls’ twenty times in a day?

And whatever it is you love, I encourage you to embrace the lesson of the mermaid:

The Dipper Pines Trans Headcanon

Hey, didja ever think about how Dipper Pines might be trans?

That’s not the fun way to start this, I know. That’s a reasonable sounding position that forwards its idea as a thing to think about and a characterisation point as a sort of fanfictiony, culturally exchanging storytelling kind of way, but the fun way to start this is

DIPPER PINES IS TRANS AND THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT

which is provocative and it’s confrontational and it sets a tone for a sort of performative destructiveness of a hypothetical other because you’re not going to read any further if you don’t agree so instead we get to smugly sit here, under that line and go hey, hey, how about that asshole who wandered off, anyway, here’s my conspiracy board of interconnected nonsense to explain the cartoon character thing I said.

But hey, this is something that’s been kind of just lurking in my mind for a few years now. See, one of those ‘hey, every character could be trans and you’d never know it,’ and like, yeah, that’s true. Then the question becomes ‘what stories look interesting or meaningfully different when there’s a trans character?’

The original analysis I read suggested that Asami Saito reads as a trans woman, and then suggested, hey, what does this internal knowledge do to change the character?

That’s when I got thinking about Dipper.

I don’t dislike Dipper. He’s a really good little Adventure Boy character, with all the struggles that come from that. Smart, but not super smart, tenacious in the way that kids tend to be, and that tenacity becomes a genuine virtue that also ties into a very preadolescent feeling that you’re on the precipice of some great discovery and some great change. That’s fine.

Dipper is also probably pre-pubescent, and very focused on growing up. This isn’t very uncommon, and it does make him keenly aware of traits of his that we associate with weakness (and commonly, therefore, femininity). He wants his voice to be deeper, he wants to be bigger and stronger, he’s heavily invested in the idea of measuring up to bigger boys, even through violence. Throughout the whole series, Dipper is constantly trying to reject comparisons to his sister, constantly trying to assert his masculinity, and constantly trying to prove himself to a masculine standard, even as everyone around him is incredibly kind and permissive about his behaviour and encourages him to be who he is.

We do get some hints about what we’ll call off the rack biology when his voice breaks and his eager interest in his chest hair – which doesn’t prove anything, either way, but it’s still common to signify that with those traits. C’est la vie.

The thing that I find interesting is that if Dipper is an AFAB trans boy, that precipice he’s standing in front of is puberty, and the potential unwanted changes that brings to his body, and the ways he keeps trying to assert control over himself are things that are very much big and scary and can feel beyond his control. All that masculine behaviour isn’t a cis boy deconstructing his own relationship to toxic masculinity but is instead a trans boy trying very hard to construct masculinity that he’s going to hope can keep his identity together.

Is this a better story? I dunno, I’m not a trans boy, I don’t know if I’m being insulting or what. I like Dipper. I like both these possible interpretations of the character. If you give me a choice, though, between whether I’m more interested in a boy learning to be less of an asshole and a boy trying to learn how to be a person and avoiding ever becoming an asshole, the latter is more interesting to me.

I’ve talked in the past about how gender and sexuality are pretty different in stories, because they don’t necessarily get expressed in the same meaningful way. To reveal a character’s sexuality to an audience, you just can demonstrate it by showing who that character expresses interest in. That’s easy, and we even have a whole set of storytelling signifiers for when characters feel that kind of thing. But when you want to talk about a character’s gender, there’s really no good way to express that because even if a character talks about it, it’s possible they’re lying because the pressures to do so are so phenomenally strong.

It’s wild and pretty unfair, and there just aren’t that many trans dudes in media period. I can’t think of a single Adventure Hero Boy who’s AFAB, which is a real shame, because I think it gives us cis boys a chance to look at how our masculinity is constructed, in real time, in a way we often won’t trust other cis boys to show us.

Story Pile: Madoka

Man how much does it suck that this blog that is ostensibly about the critical engagement with pop culture media and niche genre spaces with an eye towards queer and marginalised people has to open conversations about extremely popular media with a disclaimer about how, hey, woah now, hold up, just so you know, I’m going to fail to fawn over this work for its excellence. Like, how poisoned is the entire idea of discourse that media must be treated with kid gloves, because the people to whom it matters are so starved of the kind of media they love that they fancy the idea of ‘their’ media being criticised as being an act of violence.

Point is, I’m not really interested in talking about Madoka itself.

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Story Pile: John Wick 3: Para Bellum

You know what, I’m not going to unpack for you the incredibly obvious idea that I, me, the person I am that writes this blog, loves the hell out of John Wick. Right? And okay, the series of movies are moody and atmospheric and they’re excellently made and full of deeply thoughtful imagery and they’re created primarily by the people who normally don’t get power to make movies like this, so you’re seeing the expertise of a niche group expressed in the medium they’re best at and so you get this fricking amazing movie of practical stunts put together by stunt crew who know their discipline down to the the bottom of the floor. Excellently made, brilliantly compelling, fantastically fun, and full of all these actors who are great doing a great job, nobody needs to hear this because as a mediocre millenial white guy of course I love John Wick movies you can just kind of assume and even if you were wrong it wouldn’t be offensive or anything.

There’s your basics.

No real spoiler warning, I’m going to talk about one character and they show up early.

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Pride Shirt 1: Diceheart!

Okay, look, this isn’t going to follow the normal template. Part of why is because there are too many options.

Check this out.

Presented here is the first Pride design, called Diceheart. This presents you with seven different queer banners, including rainbow, bi, lesbian, pan, trans, genderqueer and ace, and five different dice colours.

They’re both set up as collections available on Redbubble and TeePublic. And

Christ

It’s so much work to upload and manage allllll these files.

Pride Flags In Pride Month

Hey, you know how I talk about flags?

You don’t?

God, it’s hard to have a coherent, clear brand. Anyway, yeah, I talk about flags? Sometimes? But when I do talk about them I tend to talk about them a lot because people are really bad at making good flags, even though ‘good flags’ is a category that’s super easy to work on. Anyway, there are a bunch of pride flags, and I’ve worked with them – you may remember my Captain America Pride Shields, for example.

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