This fucking show.
You know that game I talk about, from time to time, that game I play, that game, you know that game, that lets you play a character that you create, made through an immersive character customisation system, then you get to choose how they look, get to pick their graphical representation, get to choose maybe how they relate to the world, some beloved contacts and friends and factions that mean a lot to them, and how there’s a lot of fanart of characters made in that game and how they’re all about getting to express and explore this element of a wonderful world with this really exuberant kind of approach to expressing yourself? That game? You know? Final Fantasy XIV?
I kid, I kid. Final Fantasy XIV is a fascinating game full of interesting stuff, I’m told, and it’s fun, I’m told, and I should give it a shot, I’m told. It’s definitely got all the makings necessary for this particular phenomenon – though I don’t imagine it will cross the final threshold necessary any time soon.
See, what I want to talk about here is how a game dies, and what rises out of it.
Hey, you like YOUTUBE CONTENT? Do you like hearing people TALK ABOUT MEDIA? Do you like PAYING ATTENTION TO QUEER CREATORS’ PERSPECTIVES?
Well, sheeiiit, check this out.
Time to time, I share this meme.
If I have ever shared it with you, please understand it is entirely goodnatured.
A long time ago, and by that I mean ‘before 2020’ I spoke to a friend about the Rangers from Babylon 5, where I described the telescoping bo staff for use in combat in space ships where people had space lasers and psychic powers as being both extremely sick and extremely dumb. They then thoughtfully considered that the specific intersection of those two ideas was in fact, the entirety of their jam and I kind of agree with them.
I also have spoken about how ‘queer media’ is in some cases kind of isolated to these spaces where it invokes specific varieties of heavily introspective and personal narratives. It’s your artsy queer films or single moments expanded out into whole narratives, like a repeated argument over a dinner table, that kind of thing. These narratives are not in any way bad, but I don’t like talking much about them. Partly because they are just generally not resonant with me, and partly because they aren’t fun.
I like talking about fun media.
I like talking about the media we engage with because we enjoy it. I like talking about things that excite and inspire, because I don’t think those are separate things. The idea that ‘good’ movies and ‘popular movies’ are opposite elements frustrates me, as a devotee of the subconscious matter of pulp media.
And also, like, good fun media is really hard to make? It’s treated as if it’s a lesser form because big, expensive movies do it and do it a lot, but as with TISM’s expression: pop songs aren’t just more fun, but the constraints of popular media create tension that you can’t necessarily replicate with media that explicitly resists that form.
Anyway, The Old Guard.
Jolene is a 1973 country song by Dolly Parton. Without being overblown about it, Jolene is one of those songs that has its own wikipedia page. In a Rolling Stone list of the top 500 songs of all time, it sits in the top half, at 217, and while that entire idea of a list is silly, it shouldn’t escape notice that at least one person with a lot of free time was able to remember it when they tried to compile a list of 500 anythings. That’s too many things.
This song is one of those rare classic soncs that I actually like, but it isn’t exactly one I sing along to or even listen to very often. It’s very mournful and soulful and, as performed originally, it’s a song that’s as much about how much e m o t i o n you can club your audience with. It’s great.
A few years ago, a version of it ‘went viral’ inasmuch as they can, where someone took the original record and played it on a record player at 33 rpm – basically, slowing the whole track down.
This changes the way it sounds, of course. It stays soulful and sad, but now there’s an additional dimension to it. And this did create the feeling of a totally different person with a different sound of voice looking at the song. Sometimes it’s seen as sounding creepy and sometimes it’s seen as scary and sometimes it’s seen as haunting.
And that was a pretty cool find and resulted in a sort of resurgence of the song in my space around me. Suddenly, a bunch of people who weren’t born in the first half of the last century were pointing out that hey, Jolene rules.
Look it’s not a long reach to listen to Jolene and notice that the protagonist seems to be very impressed with how pretty Jolene is. We have no idea about the dude. Apparently, he’s worth fighting Jolene for, but… we don’t know what he’s like.
But we know Jolene is pretty.
Anyway, so that’s neat!
Thing is, there’s also this other take on Jolene that was first brought to my attention by Andi McClure of Mermaid Heavy Industries. She pointed out that there was a reading of the text where ‘Jolene’ was the man in question; that is, that Jolene is the feminine identity of the ‘man’ the singer perceives as ‘hers.’ Watching her partner struggle with her identity, she sees it as someone ‘taking’ him away from her.
Anyway, it’s wild because despite the fact this song doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, thanks to years of reiteration and attention, and being recontextualised through modern lenses, it’s kinda neat how the song’s become… pretty queer.
I need you to understand that straight people don’t exist.
Have you enconutered the term ‘TERF’ and left wondering: Wait, what’s that?
There are some people, TERFs mostly, who think that TERF is a slur. It’s not; slurs are terms used to direct social power against a marginalised group. If you shout TERF at someone on the street, they’re not going to assume someone else is going to attack them because of being so painted. If they are, they’re incredibly paranoid, because TERFs are typically very privileged people who are afraid of being criticised by trans people.
It may sound like I am overdoing it, but I really am not. The typical TERF discourse is an attempt to weaponise outrage at the idea of women facing disagreement from, pretty consistently, other women. But what is a TERF? And what about those other -ERF terms I’ve heard?
So, content warning: TERF stuff! And SWERF stuff! And BLERF stuff! What’s a BLERF? Well, after the fold.
Seems that if I’m going to talk about Bleach, I’m going to talk about lesbians.
Disney did something queer.
Or, well, kind of.
First of all this is going to be building off a point first cast into relief for me by Sarah Z’s video on The Johnlock Conspiracy. She is both directly connected with the experience of this space and did the research into the actual history of the people involved, a sort of on-the-spot observer recounting her experiences ethnographically. If you want a longer form deep dive on what The Johnlock Conspiracy is, check out that video. I will be providing a quick summary.
I’m also going to talk about fanagement, which I wrote about last year, which is about the way that fan engagement was seen as being a thing that corporate entities could deliberately engage for commercial ends. Fanagement isn’t necessarily an inherently evil or corrupting thing, but it’s something to know about as something that exists, and knowing it exists can colour your relationship to the media created in response to fanagement.
This is one of those British series that I think people like saying they like more than they like.
The Detectorists is a 2014 British sitcom, one of your six-episodes-a-season shows made by Mackenzie Crook, who you’ll recognise as The Office Dullard from the British The Office Series that existed, remember? Anyway, The Detectorists is a well-researched sitcom based in some part of the lovely English countryside with twinkly folk music background following a pair of what you can only call nerds whose hobby is going out into the fields and parks of their area to look for interesting stuff you can find with a metal detector.
Discovered, it seems reasonably recently thanks to the attention of, I dunno, Netflix or the Internet or The Algorithm or Lockdown or something, people talked about it, said it was better than the Office, and Netflix recommended it. With that in mind, I watched it, and, like,
Yeah I guess it’s better than the Office.
That doesn’t make it good though.
Who are my shirts for?
Like, that’s the question you ask with anything you make, if you think about it, enough. Who would want this, and being able to conceptualise your audience is a skill that I try and impart on my students. Who then, are these designs for?
On one level, what I’m doing is graphic design for sometimes as few as one or two people that might enjoy the joke. Sometimes I’m making shirts that I want to wear to class. Sometimes, I’m making shirts for people who aren’t me. For example, I don’t need a they/them pronoun shirt.
This shirt is a shirt that’s very much for me.
You’ve maybe seen this kind of shirt before. Normally, this design is focused on starter Pokemon – three form pokemon that get soooo much attention and merch.
And here’s a shirt of a Pokemon I’m very fond of – Gligar, and the silhouette of the Gliscor it one day will become and terrorise metagames that are afraid of a beastly physical wall.
Here’s the design, on a shirt:
You can get it on Redbubble.
Toy Story is a 1995 animated feature film by Pixar Studios, distributed by Disney, that serves as one of those iconic examples of early 3d Animation that ‘holds up’ over time by people who haven’t gone back and looked at any of the humans in it. With the voice talents of Tom Hanks and Tim Toolman, it follows the narrative of a pull-string cowboy doll competing with a kung-fu action grip spaceman toy for the attention of their gigantically towering owner, whom they must never allow to know that they live, breath, and know his name.
Look, classic yada yada, groundbreaking yada yada, wholesome yada yada. I actually got to see this one while inside a controlled christian media bubble, and if tomorrow I found out all copies of it had been deleted I would react like that ‘oh no, anyway,’ meme. It is not a movie for which I have an enormous amount of affection. I don’t want to talk to you about the narrative, though, not of Wilson’s Best Friend negotiating with the Last Man Standing about which of them will be more validated by an actual literal child and the ontological questions of why aren’t the parts of Mr Potato Head independently alive?
I want to talk to you about the humans of Toy Story. Specifically, about Andy, and Sid, and the weird world they live in, and the weird world they’ve created.
BNA or BNA: Brand New Animal or Oh No I Guess I’m Hot For A Tanuki Girl Now Does This Make Me a Furry is a 2020 anime from Studio Trigger, the people you recognise the second you see their animation work, formerly of Kill La Kill, Little Witch Academia, DARLING in the FRANXX, SSSS.GRIDMAN, Promare, and a ton of other work including Indivisible, Flip Flappers, KILLER SHERLOCK, Akame ga Kill!, Steven Universe, Sword Art Online, and Space Dandy, and only one of them I made up.
BNA starts out with a tanuki girl crossing the boundary from conventional society to make her way to Anima City, the one city on earth, we’re informed, where human-animal hybrid shapeshifters can live, outside of the oppression of people who don’t transform, and therefore, view those who do with a sort of fundamental dehumanising horror. It’s, you know, furry racism, except handled a little bit less embarrassingly than normal.
The classic villain of the Transformers canon is the generically named villain Megatron. In almost forty years of reimagining and endless marketing, we have seen Megatron in a lot of different ways. He’s been an unassailable, all-powerful figure at the top of a hierarchy, a strongman ruler who can oversee an army, a gatekeeper of power, a rebel leader attacking an empire, a damaged soldier, a gladiator and an avatar of oblivion. Across the major histories of Transformers, Megatron’s image of himself has varied, from series to series, writer to writer (and in particular projects, episode to episode), but it is reassuring to see how consistently this character is recognisably himself.
Of course, to know that, you’d have to watch a lot of transformers media, and that’s not how lots of people partake of them. Most people, at least, most of the people who don’t watch the Bay movies and think ‘oh yeah that’s about right,’ bring the same thing to mind when they talk about Megatron.
They think about a gun.
Lots of movies are about games. Most of them are kind of bad – sports movies famously depicting weird strategies or rules loopholes or just bad versions of how their games are played to create the most dramatic moments. And if your sport is one of the heavily merchandised sports in the United States, your sport has absolutely got a set of movies, filling the niches of What If Sports, What If Sports But Girl, What If Sports But Animal, and eventually, What If Sports But Your Dad Cries. Moneyball is firmly in that last category, a rhapsodic story about how important a game Baseball is to culture, which is why it’s mostly only played by three countries, and I know someone’s coming along to go hey, you forgot Poland and I do not care.
Ostensibly, Moneyball, a 2010 film about a 2002 season of ‘Baseball,’ the 1845 game, follows Billy Beane, a lone, hard man, a bitter and tormented man, a baseball man, where he took the conventional wisdom to the table, rejected the model of running a baseball team and defeated the system with facts, and logic, showing that once and for all, baseball doesn’t care about your feelings.
I promise, promise, promise, this tone is necessary.
Because Moneyball as a movie owns bones.
I am not actively a big fan of the Simpsons. I mean, they’re part of my sense of humour, I know a lot of the memes, I get a bunch of references but that’s because The Simpsons is a kind of cultural background radiation. It’s not something I’ve actively watched on TV at any point in the past twenty-five years, which is kind of amazing to consider. Like, I haven’t watched an episode of the Simpsons since I was back in the cult, it was that long ago, and yet I’m reasonably conversant on the whole subject.
It doesn’t matter, though because apparently, the majority of the stuff The Simpsons fans reference all came about in that five year window, and I’m sure that there’s no other influence on this like the age of my friends. Based entirely on this I will simply assert that this is when The Simpsons stopped being good, and never bother thinking about anything after that point.
One episode in this ‘classic’ period, and the one which asks us to celebrate it tomorrow – I tell you early so you can get organised – on May the tenth, is the twentieth episode of the fourth season episode (blaze it), Whacking Day.
There’s this idea in religious studies, but usually something you only examine as a member of that religion, where you try to take conflicting or seemingly conflicting incidents in different texts and try to construct an explanation for how those things work together. This idea, of trying to bring these works together, is known as harmonisation. It’s a way that multiple conflicting canons – in the religious sense – can be ‘explained’ into one another. It also, when you understand it as a practice, makes a lot of changed texts make sense.
Like Star Wars movies.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one, or one like it.
The story starts in a remote, boring little bucolic space where nothing is happening but there’s talk about an old mystery that connects to a family line. Our hero, Tenchi Masaki, wants to go explore the interesting thing, but his grandfather tells him he has to do his chores, instead. When he slips from his grandfather’s attention, he winds up exploring an old cave he’s been told not to, whereupon he gets a sweet laser sword that’s a relic from a more civilised age, and also wakes up an ancient demon, which kicks off a series of events resulting in his whole house being teleported next to the same bucolic shrine, meaning it’s easy to hide spaceships coming and going, and you don’t have to draw as many backgrounds in a city or non-major characters.
Along the way, he discovers the demon is actually a cool space pirate who wants to jump him, she’s being hunted by a haughty princess, who wants to jump him, and then a steadily coagulating core of Other Girls arrive to join in the queue of Wants To Jump Him.
It’s not a hentai.
There’s space-faring adventurers, battles with spacefaring criminal types, a vast empire, and deep powerful forces that well up from inside Tenchi (who is secretly a prince).
Now I may have described The Most Generic Anime Plot ever, but the good news is that’s because I also described The Most Generic Anime ever, an anime that has been part of the background of anime for a while now.
Content Warning: Mentions of incest.
Anime is an art movement that has encapsulated thousands of different competing threads and there’s no true centralising canon because it’s fragmented across all sorts of cultural anchor points. Australians of my age that are into anime so often got started because Aggro’s Cartoon Connection screened Sailor Moon, the ABC screened Astro Boy, Cheez TV screened Teknoman and SBS, in the late 90s, screened Neon Genesis Evangelion, meaning that those four anime are sometimes seen as ‘common ground’ topics. Common ground for one age bracket in one country, and even then, only sometimes.
There are some events that can be looked upon, in the english-speaking anime fandom, though, in terms of their impact on shared cultural spaces, typically conventions, but also just, anime releases that somehow managed to be widespread enough at the right time that they became foundation to the conversation. The big three of Naruto, Bleach and One Piece. Evangelion movies. Fullmetal Alchemist, then Fullmetal Alchemist again. A collection of trans girls and boys and nonbinary people that can trace a lineage from Ranma 1/2 through to Kampfer and Haku and Soul Eater and maybe a few tracing lines to Vandread.
There is a category of people I can annoy enormously by responding to a Touhou picture with which anime is this from?
There’s only so much room for any given series to suck up a lot of the oxygen in the fandom space. You can’t typically have five or six ‘big name’ anime that ‘everyone’ has an opinion on. One of those ‘event’ Anime, that rose, became incredibly prominent, and then deformed the culture at large, becoming one of the rings in the tree trunk that is this strange cultural enclaves, was the enormous franchise known as Haruhi Suzumiya.
Hey, remember how I gave that list, ‘five reasons you shouldn’t read Animorphs?’ The ways that the books aren’t necessarily fully transitive to your experiences now, and that doesn’t mean that you should necessarily take my love of the series to heart and follow through on it? Maybe then I should follow that up with a good way to ease yourself into the story, or some sort of reading list that skips awkward bits?
Or, and hear me out, I could talk about one book in the franchise, that occurs near the tail end of it, and is both the earliest point in the narrative and a standalone science fiction story and a deep lore dive that features no human characters at all.
Let’s do that one.
Let’s do the incomprehensible one.
I thought a lot about this month’s shirt.
I mean, it’s the me month right? Am I going to put a logo on a shirt that you can put out there that shows off like… me? That seems weird. Plus, my current setup is a little… let’s say it’s branding obtuse. Like, go on and ask me what ‘press dot exe’ means sometime, except Shelf, who knows.
Anyway, I thought at first about making some kind of logo for myself, then I did a few dumb deep-cut jokes about game logos and then I thought about making fan merch for a game that obviously a lot of people care about but which is completely unrecognisable to even other fans.
Also, it’s the Me Month. So I wanted it to be really easy.
I actually wound up making three designs today (today!). I also almost mad a fan-design for Carcer, based on a drawing a friend made of a spooky ghost. But that’s their art, not mine, and so that got scrapped. Maybe some of those other designs will come up later. The fine thing, the most important thing:
I really wanted this month’s shirt to be easy.
Like, if I was going to do something for myself, today, I think it’d be giving myself a break.
So I made something that gives me nostalgia and which I know will probably never sell a second copy.
Here’s the design! It’s a 3.5 inch diskette and that is my handwriting. It’s meant to be like the disk that Johnny used to get the game in the book of the same name – complete with the fading text. It’s just a simple, small little thing, it wasn’t hard to make, and it reminds me of something that I care about a lot.
It also has a message that has more and more become part of my life. We’re the only people going to be saving us. It’s not coming from space and all.
Here it is on a shirt.
You can get it over on Redbubble.
It’s no great secret that I love the band Five Iron Frenzy. I often give them such lofty praise as ‘the one good Christian band,’ or ‘great ska’ or ‘the one thing that stuck with me from church.’ But did you knooooowwww that they aren’t, in fact, popular? or rather, that in the spaces they’re from, they have this habit of annoying people?
Come along, check it out, and enjoy learning about just some of the ways that a Christian Ska band from Colorado managed to piss off lots of people in the superstructure that meant they got to be something as niche as an internationally famous Christian ska band at all.
When we talk about characters in the Transformers franchise – we, I say, like you’re taking part in this conversation. When I, when I bring them up unprompted, when I talk about The Transformers, there’s a sort of corpus of ‘the main characters’ that represent the typical, classic forms. I don’t need to explain who Optimus Prime is, because he’s Optimus fucking Prime. I like talking about the groups and characters that have an idea I find interesting, which the media doesn’t necessarily carry out. It’s stuff like the way that Blades is clearly holding himself together through caring for his found family (which annoyingly has two cops), or the way that the Stunticons can be read as a group of trans girls waiting to escape an abusive father figure.
What’s a rarity, then, is where the character as depicted in the media they’re from is just, like, no, that’s it, that’s the tweet. That’s the thing I like. The character as depicted, in the story, is a good character and I like them.
Such is the case with Beast Wars’ Dinobot.
What, didn’t I just Story Pile about Robotech? Yes I did and in that I told you nothing about the actual stuff that happened in Robotech that I loved. I told you about how Robotech doesn’t exist, and how it’s embarrassing to be a fan of it.
Fuck that, here’s stuff from Robotech that lives in my head rent free whenever I think about the sci-fi Epic. Context? No, you don’t get context. Now buckle up and jam on your thinking caps.
It is challenging to know one of your favourite things is so aggressively mediocre.
This music, this opening, set the standard in my child mind for what epic truly represented. This opening that starts with a clearly damaged, recovered piece of footage, then switches constantly between different arcs of the story, showing characters who, at the start of the series aren’t even born. Three generations of a narrative collected in the opening, and in an 85-episode show, screened weekly if I got to catch all the episodes, some of these story beats were a literal year away.
This here is a follow up to yesterday’s article about the fact that Bleach used swords as the fundamental metaphor for a bunch of characters. Want some examples? Well:
The Bleach respecter has logged on.
Okay, so basically there’s a thing in shounen anime how every one of them, more or less, has a thing that means ‘hey, here’s the reason people have a special ability.’ Whether it’s the Devil Fruit from One Piece, the Special Grade Curses from Jujutsu Kaisen, or the special Jutsu from Naruto. Kamen Rider Drivers, X-Men Mutations, Stands, Kwamis, they’re there to explain why Some People have the cool special powers and Some Other People don’t.
In Bleach, the ‘thing’ was a sword. The term for it is your Zanpakuto, but c’mon.
It’s a sword.
These swords aren’t just, you know, a sword, they’re a real sword (hhhnnnnnn I dunno) made out of your soul. It’s not a device with its own personality or traits, it’s something that was Inside Of You All Along (which I guess means Anthy Himemiya was a Soul Reaper?), and the way it works reflects something of who you are. There are three forms this sword can take (basically).