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.

Who Eats Tide Pods?

Remember this?

If you go check out the ‘Tide Pod Controversy’ page on Wikipedia, you’ll find a report that’s long on reports on the meme, full of people talking about the meme, referencing videos that reference the meme, and surprisingly scant on incidents where people, referencing or creating content about the meme actually did the thing the meme is about.

In 2018, there was a fuss. Teenagers, the fuss went, were making videos about the ‘tide pod challenge.’ If you didn’t actually hang out with teenagers, you probably saw tide pods coming up in the context of political cartoons, which used them as a go-to hack’s form of identifying the folly of youth. The idea was that youths were daring one another to eat tide pods, and then, doing so, and we assume, getting hurt and hospitalised.

This demonstrates the kind of object permanence that you can usually rely on media targeted at boomers to do. Because it turns out that if someone makes a video of them putting a tide pod in their mouth, or making soup out of them, that they aren’t necessarily eating that thing after the next cut. The other thing is, we keep statistics about poisonings, so you could just look those things up.

In the United States, an under 20 every single day was hospitalised by tide pods, which made up about a third of all hospitalisations from their ingestion. Of course, that statistic sounds pretty damning about stupid teenagers until you check the data and find that ‘under 20’ could be brought down to under 5s, and that data was from 2012 to 2014.  And then if you’re paying attention you go ‘hang on, a third?’ and find out that for every child that eats soap and gets sick, about two elderly people do too.

Tide Pods were already dangerous when they were first introduced. They were dangerous particularly to infants and the undercared for elderly. They still are. There’s a really worthwhile conversation to be had about how the marketing techniques to make Tide Pods generally appealing do make them look like a foodstuff – that we merchandise these things with chemical construction and colour choices to tap into the parts of our brain that like things, and we tend to like things that we can have sex with or eat (sorry, asexuals, but it is a trend in aesthetics). This is really a thing worth addressing in general.

Pathetic, then, that the conversation only surfaced when people wanted to frame it as teenagers, people who we give the tiniest bit of agency and unsupervised time, doing something stupid that, broadly, they didn’t do.

Oh, one final thing.

That statistic up there about how elderly people and children are the primary people who consume Tide Pods? Yes, a child is hospitalised every day under that.

There were six deaths to this kind of poisoning in 2018.

… shhh…

ASMR looks fundamentally strange from the outside and I’m reconciled to that.

It’s a creative space which has a lot of what I personally consider gobbledeygook. I mean nothing but the best of intentions to most ASMRtists, but there are quite a lot of reiki healers, both sincere and simulated, Youtube Culture Fans, Beauty Culture fans, Crystal people, healing energies people, conspiracy theorists, and just in general, nonsense that it’s impossible to test for its sincerity, because ASMRt is fundamentally, a quiet and private space where I actively do not want to become heavily invested in the personal life and opinions of these people.

As someone who doesn’t believe in the supernatural and whose opinion of the numinous is decidedly rational, this can be offsetting. Personally, I really like the ASMR space for its tangible effect helping me concentrate as I work. It can be an interesting avenue for science fiction and fantasy narrative, and indeed, good ASMR for me wants to do something surreal to make sure that I’m not thinking of it as ‘serious’ narrative. I definitely like stories told through this format, but I know full well the stories are being delivered in extremely stilted ways.

What I think, though, that matters to me a lot about ASMR, and one of the things I find about it so very comforting is the value that the format puts not just on quiet, but on the ambient and constant sounds of the world around us. I’ve talked about the idea of rhyparyography, the notion of artistic exploration of the unimportant, and how the bulk of videogame art exists in the space of artists making ten thousand mundane bookshelves.

ASMR often is drawn not out of exciting or mysterious devices, or elaborate and unique pieces of specialised hardware (though they are useful for the creation of the content). The things that derive sound for ASMR art are almost always definitively unimportant devices. Clacky keyboards. Tin roofs and rain. Pad and paper. Bottles of makeup and lotion.

As someone who surrounds himself with sound and stimuli, in a field that is so often about the quiet contemplation of the complicated, ASMR It encourages us to listen to ourselves

to our environments

and to the small and mundane devices in our life.

Story Pile: Coconut Telegraph

Sure, we’re bumping at the edges of the month, but trust me: There’s no Jimmy Buffett album that’s got anything fun to say on Pride Month. And this is going to be the last of our Boats to Build articles – at least unless I really regret it and extend my examination one extra album, for later.

The albums of Jimmy’s I listened to were the albums my dad’s music collection; the records he owned, on vinyl, and when we moved and I grew up, they were just there. In the church environment, dad couldn’t readily add music to his collection – certainly not vinyl, with his new fangled, impressive CD player that lived in the corner of the living room like a big black box of impressive technical doom.

I try not to think too much about it. Dad didn’t buy more Jimmy Buffet albums after this one – and this album landed smack between my sister’s birth, and mine. It might be that dad felt there was a massive dip between this album and the next… or maybe, being a father of two and looking for work that could support that while trying to contribute to church meant that these were the first costs that got cut.

In a way this selection of albums that all predate my birth but were endlessly replayed as I grew up are part of the foundation of who I am, a reminder that no matter how millenial I am, I’m grappling with being a product of cultures of lies that give me conflicting, meaningless insights into who they think people can be. It’s up to me to pull these pieces together – or discarding them! – and seeing what I can find.

This album has both one of my favourite Jimmy songs, and one of my least liked Jimmy songs.

Continue reading

Five More Bleach Songs That Were At The Start Of Episodes

I’ve said Tite Kubo is an artist who expertly renders a few seconds at a time. It means that when you ask him to try and create a splash page you’re going to get characters full of personality and aesthetic expression and maybe you’ll even get a vague hint of how those characters are strange to one another.

Ask him to resolve a plot and you’re going to get something that feels it got punched out of a template. And honestly, good. I don’t think he should have to try and pull of what he can’t do.

Know where this guy’s abilities excel?

They excel in media forms where you can depict maybe a split second of motion, a sense of character without necessary dialogue and maybe a single phrase or background image. Bleach is an entire anime universe constructed for AMVs, and you can tell, because of the opening and endings that already basically are.

I’ve already spoken about Shojo S, Asterisk, Alones, and Houki Boushi last time I did this, but the good news is that Bleach had forty five openings and endings, split unevently between either, so it’s not like I’m running out of material for this any time soon. I did do a stupid thing by mentioning Houki Boushi first because that ending kills and there are also thirteen versions of the ending, and if I put together a list of ‘all of the Bleach songs in order of best to worst’ Houki Boshi would fill an embarassingly high number of the top twenty.

Here then are another five.

5. D-tecnoLife

If you ever needed another testament to the complete cluelessness of this series, of the not knowing anything at all about what it was going to be, but being very sure about the methodologies of the story, behold the second opening. The song here is about being sad and tormented, but refusing to give up. It kind of frames the story it’s showing you as about a quest to go rescue Rukia as you fell into this world of strange and extremely cool characters who you are at odds with (but look how hot they are except the big fat one and weird puppet dude).

What we see is a montage of characters who are of varying importance to the plot overall (I mean, hi Chad, sorry Chad, hi Ganju, goodbye forever Ganju, jesus christ), but it still introduced you to a large chunk of the Gotei 13 characters that you wanted to know about. It didn’t do much to tell you about who they really were, but you did get some hints – like the way the opening shows you Hitsugaya dealing with being under Generic Attack from Ishida before trying to kill you, the viewer. I liked the way it showed a connection between Soi Fon and Yoruichi, with Soi Fon just trying to take Chad’s head off and Yoruichi wrecking her by taking the tip of her sword.

Which.

When you remember that sword is Soi Fon’s soul

And

You know what, let’s move on.

4. Tonight, Tonight, Tonight

A filler arc would normally be a perfect place to drop a mediocre opening, and you can sort of notice the way this opening saves its budget by using reused footage, still images, slow pans, empty spectacle, and an annoying focus on the god damn puppets. It also shows off a collection of Bounts, which are like slightly paper-jammed photocopies of designs you’ve kind of seen before elsewhere in the series.

This opening also has the bumper framing of Rukia jolting Ichigo into motion and then being his point of rest, at a picnic, together, where they fall asleep, because they are Good Friends, and Not Romantic Partners.

Man this series had no clue where it was trying to go.

Still, this is kind of how I feel like Anime Openings want to be, with this sort of smash-cut sequences of one or two actual things that happen in this story that are important to the story, and a chunk of character expression in a few short heartbeats. What really sets it apart is this song, by the Beat Crusaders fucking rules.

Apparently Phil Collins covered it at some point? Weird.

3. Rolling Star

The story is still in filler space, and that kind of shows in the way this opening shows you all the top-polling characters and almost nothing of the enemies this story is about dealing with – they’re represented just by bleak shadows and shimmering shapes. There’s some hint of Gin (remember Gin?), Aizen, and Hollow Ichigo, but make no mistake, this opening was rolled out while theywere still in the filler turf of the Bount arc. The opening is a sort of ‘hey, remember the cool stuff?’ that you could use in a filler spot to get people to look forward to the thing you’re definitely not giving them yet.

It does mean you get a sort of platonic ideal of Bleach at this point; cool characters in casual gear, looking great (I mean, how cool is Hitsugaya’s outfit here), and lots of symbolism and imagery that absolutely does not and will not happen as suggested, but crucially, which kinda feels like it would.

That’s the thing that honestly feels like the biggest cheat: The story presented in this opening is a story I want to see more of, and we don’t even get that.

Complicating this further is that the song is excellent, a sort of ascending punch to Houki Boshi‘s crashing descent.

2. Velonica

Mmm, can you taste that declining budget?

This opening is composed of a large number of still shots and the animation is stuff like dramatic fluttering of robes, which is one of the easiest kinds of animations to do. You don’t have to track the movement of the objects, you don’t have to be sure that they make sense in a single shot, because what matters is that they look about right in aggregate. There’s a lot to forgive in reusing frames, too!

The opening is also a testament to how this series just has no earthly clue about what, in it, is going to be important. It does spare a moment to give you a massive shot of Nemu’s thigh, which is something, I suppose, but there’s this direct flow from Unohana into Kenpachi – and imagine if you’d known ahead of time that those characters had literally anything to do with one another.

The song kicks ass, which is why it’s in this list, but it’s a symptom of how this show has no idea of where it’s going or what matters. There’s a suite of characters presented at the end, who, by the way, rule, and their character designs are great, expressed in that single last moment, but that’s all you get. More time is spent focusing on Ginryusai’s bloody eyebrows.

1. chAngE

First of all, I think this song rules, I like it a lot.

I also think that this opening is a sign of just how utterly far Bleach has come from having the faintest clue about what it was going to be about or where the story was going, and this came with the knowledge there were two more plot arcs and seventy episodes remaining for the show.

The opening is full of these wonderful signs of stylistically rendered completely confusing nothing. Why are we seeing Ichigo flying in a trenchcoat against a sky of crows? Why are we seeing it in these long paced out sections? Why did Orihime say change?

By the way, this is one of those things Bleach does to its immense detriment: Orihime and Rukia both get Kairi’d real hard. They’re characters with nothing to do but to sit still and be emperilled so the plot can advance up to them, and that’s it, it doesn’t change the nature of what’s going to happen when the rest of the heroes get there. Also, note that because Orihime was the one being Kairi’d most recently at the end of the story, she’s the one who wound up ‘winning’ Ichigo, despite having three other potential love interests, two of whom were women. You’ve heard of ‘First Girl Wins?’ This is the sadder defaulting finale of that, a sort of musical chairs of Wrap It Up when the budget runs out.

Then, you get a glimpse of what’s going to happen next: Ulquiorra and Ichigo are going to fight and Ulqiorra’s going to look awesome. And

that’s all this vision of the future can give you.

The Vizard are in this! They look cool! They have cool masks and personality! Just show us them flipping out!

Compare this to the opening of the Soul Society arc; you got glimpses of characters, there was action, they were shown interacting, there were hints of who they would be even if the anime wasn’t sure. Characters were shown expressing the way they would be in potential spaces. Song’s great, no lies, but it’s an example of how Bleach wound up being: Impressively crafted, clueless nothing.

Fat Guys With A Chain

Hey, here’s a thing that character designers do a lot.

In videogames, there is an archetype you’ll see when you look for a fat man. In fact, in fighting and action games it’s almost the only option for a fat man. It’s pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: The character is a fat man with a chain. There’s room for a lot of other details – like how fatness is also often coupled with gastric and oral details (fire breath and fart powers), or ‘non-masculine’ behaviour (so crybaby emotionality or flamboyance), but the character is still, foundationally, a fat man with a chain.  Three simple words:

Fat. The character is physically large and round, and that roundness is presented as part of the character’s body, not an outfit they sit in or wear around.

Man. The character is coded masculine and adult, unambiguously so.

Chain. The character carries around a weapon that is a large metal chain.

Before I go on, I am not an expert in fat characters or how to design them, I am not an expert in what fat characters should or should not be. I don’t think I’m part of that conversation nor should I be – not because I am not fat or related to fatness, but because I haven’t done the homework. I’m thinking about this game design and how form and function interact. The example characters I’m using here are Chang from King of Fighters, Birdie from Street Fighter, Road Hog from Overwatch and Pudge from Dota 2.

The games these Fat Dudes With Chains are all from may seem very different – but they are all games with a fundamental importance to the idea of controlling space. MOBAs, fight games and arena FPSes, they’re all about controlling your opponent’s access to a space. Most characters control this space in a variety of ways: ranged weapons are common, but so are traps, mezzes, pursuit powers (think like Jhanna in Heroes of the Storm), barriers, all that good stuff, but also crucially, just the ability to move in those spaces. Position yourself and you effect your opponent’s options.

Historically, I suspect animating a chain nicely is relatively easy these days. If you check out how Chang from King of Fighters worked, he used the BALL more, which, again, a bit easier to animate. Still, he has the chain, and he can use it to extend the ball at distance, and give himself some reach, to get around that problem of moving fast.

The fat dude with a chain idea is hypothetically interesting: he can use his fatness as a counterweight, and force you, the other, to deal with his fatness, turning his fatness into a tool that he can use. This is not an inherently bad idea! The chain can move fast, and gives him reach without necessarily meaning that he moves his body very fast through that space. The chain gets to be an extension of his physical power that isn’t ‘letting the fat guy move fast.’

Here’s the thing though, there’s a base assumption here about why the fat guy needs the chain: He can’t be fast. That’s basically it. The fat man with a chain isn’t allowed to move fast, and the question then becomes: Why can’t he, though?

The first answer tends to involve the word ‘realistic’ or ‘realism,’ and that’s stupid. Realism isn’t important, feeling real is – and these games feature gigantic dudes like Juzoh, who is just as big but very capable of moving fast and dodging out of the way of dangerous attacks at a moment’s notice. Also, these games have fireballs in them.

Then the question tends to settle around ‘metaphor’ or ‘meaning’ about the characters, and then you’re left squirming as to why you’re defining your world by what, in a space of impossible humans, a fat person can’t do.

I’m very sympathetic to the idea of the big fat dude with a chain as a character being a cool design. Honestly, I think those elements could be used in a rad way. I like chain fighters, and I haven’t seen many big fat guys in these games that feels like someone I could like. But look at how Fat Dudes with a Chain outnumber All Other Fat Characters Period, and then ask yourself why the fuck, with all the mechanics available to every other body type, the fat guys keep getting this.

Now, I think ‘fat guy with a chain in an area control game’ works, because like I said, it gives a slow character reach, it lets him turn his body into a problem for others who aren’t familiar/aware of how to deal with that, but why not literally any of the other choices?

It’s not like big fat men can’t do things quickly. I’ve met big fat guys who can move their hands fast and can get themselves moving just as quick, and that’s reality, a place where gravity matters and nobody can jump twelve feet in the air at a dead stop. Why can’t a big fat dude be a dancer? And not a point of comedy dancer, but like actually just fast? Why can’t he be a teleporting ninja? Why can’t he be a mez-thrower trap-maker? Wrecking Ball from Overwatch could have been a big, fast moving fat guy. Also a joke, but it’s still a second fat guy and it isn’t a dude with a chain.

What you’re going to find is that there’s this desire to make the chain guy and the fat guy is the only natural home for that and they’re not going to make a second fat guy.

Overwatch has 29 characters. SNK’s character roster is preposterous and Chang is still the most obvious fat guy they have (and he has a chain). Street Fighter has Birdie and… god, anyone else? Heroes of the Storm has 85 characters. League of Legends has 143 characters. Again, in these spaces, there are a tiny number of fat characters, and those fat characters are more likely to have a chain than not.

The fat dude with a chain is a thing you can do. It’s just it’s really lazy, extremely basic, and tends to feed into an existing trope space where people aren’t doing enough to experiment and stretch their limits. You can do it, but may I suggest, instead, trying the tiniest bit harder.

(If you wholeheartedly love your Big Chainy Round Boys, let that love show)

August Shirt: Magic Nonsense!

I’ve really become way too into shirts that need explanation and nobody’s going to ask for it.

Here’s this month’s shirt designs:

This design relates to that 300 year old magic trick from a Scam Nation video I shared. here it is, on a shirt:

You can get this design as white text or black text!

But wait, there’s more!

And here’s this design on a shirt:

You can get this design in black text or white text!

Sankey Magic

I don’t really want to spend this month showing you tutorials and stuff for Magic. It’s a discipline with a lot of different ways to learn, including numerous extremely technical books and documents and one-on-one demonstrations. What’s grown in popularity these days is jargon-light videos, where you’ll see someone show you how to do things, with simple terms used to describe them as opposed to the deliberately obscure and difficult form of our discipline. Between being a literal criminal subculture and the scholarship being spread across numerous countries, there’s a host of things magicians do that are described in a user-hostile language of unhelpful bullshit.

Youtube, however, has been pretty good at establishing new language for this stuff. Particularly, there are a few channels that mostly are just archives of tricks, demonstrated and given clear, specific explanations. There are, in essence, only about seven fundamental structures to a magic trick, but it’s not a discipline where knowing that unpacks anything for you; you may know that there’s been a ditch or a load at some point, but that doesn’t mean you have any idea which of the two it is. If you know your principles, though, Sankey does a great job of showing you a lot of different tricks that use the same small number of skills. What’s more, Sankey does something I see a lot of magicians avoid, which is that he’s inclined to use gimmicks, and he teaches you how to make them.

This makes sense: Sankey is trying to make money, and the ways he does this is with long-form instructionals and things like printable and digitally distributed gimmicks. This is not strange at all. It’s still a pleasant thing to see, because it’s often surprising how many magicians simply do not approach gimmicks these days – deck prep, sure, but things like ironing labels or creating fake gum wrappers, that’s its own discipline and it merits respect.

(Though uh, one of his recent tricks involves blowing air into a bag of food, which, you know, maybe don’t do that right now.)

Now, before I recommend this channel: Sankey is not, as far as I know, a dude who’d be considered ‘of my circles.’ I have no doubt given his style of patter and his general demeanour that he might drop some casually unpleasant or thoughtless joke, because the point of patter is to disrupt your attention, meaning that they always veer towards the racy and the rude even as they involve the self-deprecating. There’s going to be use of the word ‘insane’ and ‘crazy,’ in a lighthearted way, but it’s still a lot.

There is a nonzero chance that Sankey’s channel has, somewhere in its huge pile of videos, Jay saying something that’s pretty awful, and probably pretty awful in that thoughtless, ‘didn’t even think this was a thing to care about’ kind of way. I’d love to be surprised, but to be able to vouch for him I’d need to be able to watch every single video and then also be expert enough in all the ways he makes jokes to know for sure. I just want to make sure if you’re checking him out, that this guy is not carrying a Talen Seal of Approval.

Still, it’s a good resource for a wide variety of simple, approachable tricks, and over time you will see with a fairly random assortment of tricks that look interesting, the library of ideas that tricks like these are based on. You can check out his channel here.


There’s another added bit of weirdness here. Sankey was on Penn and Teller’s Fool Us, which is a show that has a lot of weight in the magic community, and maybe I’ll talk a bit about it and what they ‘value’ in terms of magic tricks. But Sankey went on Fool Us, and he did a routine and they talked about it nicely, and he ceded, on stage, that he hadn’t succeeded at fooling them, then he left.

Then on the internet, he claimed that he had in fact, fooled them, because that was his plan all along. This … looks dumb. Penn and Teller didn’t really say anything about it, though on a podcast, Penn did cite Sankey  specifically for a type of magician who was doing very expected things, and how they had to winnow out acts that were like that, because they weren’t at risk of fooling them.

Now, lots of people who go on Fool Us are effectively just building brand. They’re making sure they get seen and they’re promoting themselves with the segment – and the praise from the magicians is important. Magicians are also extremely egotistical people, and often quite obnoxious.

Not that it matters, but if you want a ‘truth’ from me here, I’d say that Sankey almost certainly didn’t fool Penn and Teller; that the line once off-set was an attempt to build his own brand further; and that Penn and Teller do not care that much about his claims to have ‘double fooled’ them because they’re both millionaires and some of the greatest in their craft. Does this make him kind of an asshole? Kind of? But magic is, sadly, a place where most of the luminaries of the form are all Hatsune Miku.

Dai Vernon & Richard Turner

Okay, so, story time.

You need to know two pieces in this story. The first to know is a guy called Dai Vernon. Dai Vernon was one of the Old Great Men of magic. The dude looked like Colonel Sanders or Mark Twain if their particular fields of interest was sleight of hand magic. A number of modern magicians now are people who were trained by or who were given the opportunity to learn at the tables of experts who were themeslves maybe lucky to have been taught by Dai Vernon.

Hm, okay, maybe not quite conveying it.

Dai Vernon was contemporary to, and famously fooled Houdini.

Continue reading

JJ Abrams’ Mystery Box

Man, fuck this guy,

JJ Abrams is a person with an overwhelming position of power in modern media. Bequeathed with positions of power and seen as a reliable director to helm projects ranging from Justice League movies, Star Trek movies, a few Stars War, and a variety of other projects, Abrams is ostensibly responsible for shaping the last decade of geek culture in a way that single individuals rarely can. His particular basic assumptions, his values, inform a host of movies that are then propogated outwards by the work of other esteemed individuals, who can choose to reinforce or resist his perspective with how they do their work.

I don’t think that he’s never made a good movie, if only because I’ve not seen them all, and I don’t think he’s fundamentally incapable of making a good movie, because hey, that’s a really silly categorical way of thinking, but it’s not his movie making that bugs me.

It’s how he talks about his movie making.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase magic box or mystery box in the past few years, chances are good it’s because of Abrams. He even did a TED talk about it, which is almost a punchline in and of itself, though, I shouldn’t be too down on TED talks because TED talks do tend to bring actual magicians out and let you see stuff they do. If you want to see some really showy stuff, check out Hannibal and Lennart Green, who’ve both done demonstrations of magic.

What Abrams likes trotting out is a Mystery Box, an item he bought at a garage sale, unopened, which is a box of magic tricks made to be bundled and sold cheaply. Despite purchasing the box, Abrams claims to have never opened it, to have never looked inside, because as long as he doesn’t do that, the box contains a mystery.

His principle, the magic box idea that he likes to trot out and treat as a revolutionary idea for storytelling, is the idea that people should have some feeling of antici

 

 

 

 

 

pation when they watch your movie, when they come into the movie. This is not a revolutionary concept. It is, in fact, what one might imagine a movie is about, because people don’t know what the movie is going to have in it until they’ve seen it.

The thing about this that moves it from mere self-promotional marketing deepity to actually angering me, though, is that he tries to co-opt the idea of the magician into this, with the notion of the mystery box. That him not knowing what’s inside the box is the creation of a mystery.

It’s vulgar.

It’s vulgar to me because magic isn’t about not knowing things. Magic is about controlling attention. Magicians don’t keep flummoxing and flailing to keep people fooled while they come up with new ideas on the fly. They don’t look at the box and think oh boy, imagine what’s in there. The magician is not someone who doesn’t open the box. If you’re the storyteller, if you’re the movie maker, if you’re the one who presents the box, you need to know what’s in it.

They open the box, they practice with what’s in the box, they try over and over and over again and they get better at it, they iterate on it, and they learn what people like and they overwhelmingly are the people who understand what people want and know how the trick ends.

They don’t just pull a billion dollar excuse out of their arse, then claim the reason it was unexplained and unearned was because mystery.

Is this particularly important? No.

But fuck the way this guy talks about mystery.

Scam Nation!

Around ten years ago now, good god, I got involved in what we awkwardly refer to as the atheskeptihumanist community, the online space of people who were actively interested in building a prosocial online community that present a counterpoint to religious and counterfactual organisations. During this time I listened to a lot of podcasts and read a lot of blogs and generally got a handle on the ways that I was messed up by my religious experience.

Then Elevatorgate happened, and I watched the way (now Dr) Jen Mcreight was treated by the community around them, and basically everyone involved in that space got super split along lines of ‘not a garbage human’ and ‘garbage human tolerant or adjacent’ and I became aware of just how badly ‘atheist’ was maligned as a label amongst other non-religious people. It was still an important part of who I was, but good news, a religious upbringing taught me how to keep important parts of my identity hidden from the world around me for fear of how I’d be treated.

Still, there were names during that time. People whose credentials and work I picked up that I managed to keep a hold on, even after I stopped checking the same spaces. Dr Luke Galen, for example, who researched prosociality in religious organisations, or PZ Meyers who I saw standing up for queer folks in the face of transphobia from younger members of the movement, and Brian Brushwood, a goofy street magician who did a few podcasts on how understanding how people are fooled.

Brian Brushwood, through the early days of ‘Netflix as a subscription service that mailed DVDs to your house’ and ‘everything is a domains.com sponsorship,’ ran an online video show called scam school (It’s been changed now to Scam Nation as it works on growing up a bit) which was about bar bets, magic tricks, games and puzzles that you digest in about five minutes. The channel has problems, certainly back a decade ago, when it did bar tricks to get attention from girls, and when dealing with other magicians from other spaces, there’s always that risk.

Especially when you check out his other channel, Modern Rogue, which is basically a No-Boobs Lads Mag of activities – building impromptu tools, trying to do things from movies, dangerous stunts, playing with fire, picking locks, concealing weapons, all that good stuff.

Now, okay, here’s why this channel got great though: because during the lockdown, turns out you don’t have people going to bars to do puzzles and bets and magic tricks.

But what Brian Brushwood does have is a family.

And that means that for the past few months, Scam School has been held in his backyard with his daughter, Josie. And if you’ve ever wanted to watch a magician deal with a hard audience, there is nothing so hard as an unimpressed ten year old kid. It’s lovely, it’s wholesome considering it’s talking about ‘beer bets’ with a kid?

Alright, now, one of the reasons I brought this channel up is because there’s a single trick from this channel that I do, and it’s one of my favourites because it’s a math puzzle and the trick itself is three hundred years old. Probably older, but we have proof it’s at least 300 years old. It also works as a trick you can perform for an audience of two.

 

Story Pile: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: Trixie

Ha ha, see, check that out, it’s right there in the subject.

That’s a lotta colons tho’.

Okay, Friendship is Magic was – yes, was – a kid’s cartoon show that started airing in 2010 and finished up last year, which got to be a wonderful field research test sample for studies about fandom evolution, masculine toxicity, pornography, corporate branding, and defensive misogyny, about ponies. It wasn’t just a show, it was a cultural movement. It could be used to talk about fanagement or anon media spaces or maturation out of extremism or even the way the manosphere attempts to culturally colonialise everything.

Or you could use it to talk about a dumb standard story trope.

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Imposter Syndrome

You have this?

You probably do. I mean you’re reading my blog, you’re probably not particularly endowed with tons of confidence, I imagine. Or maybe that’s just me imagining that my audience is mostly composed of fragile queers, because I don’t have a lot of confidence in my own work and hey look at that, here’s a segue to our subject!

Imposter Syndrome is the term for the psychological pattern of being unsure that one’s praise or accomplishments are legitimate. There’s a lot of reasons for it, some tied to things like self-assessment, and how difficult it can be to subjectively grade your own performance, and also, an awareness of how your own process and outcomes are related to things like good luck.

Speaking just from experience, the games I’ve made the most money selling are the games that still surprise me, given the type of games they want to be. I know that when I stand in front of a stranger at a table, I can tell them things and they, largely, are going to have to believe me, because why wouldn’t they.

For me, this means it’s really easy to believe it’s not that I have skill in making games, it’s that I have skill in convincing people to buy games.

I’ve taken a strategy to fight this.

The thing is, an imposter is a term we use to refer to a type of con artist. It’s a trick. And the second part of that term is the important one: It’s artistry.

It is not an act of being an imposter. I am, like a cool and stylish thief, using words and ideas and presentation to convince people to pay attention to me, and that even if I don’t deserve it, the fact I can command it, the fact I can lift it, is a cool and clever con. You can make people pay attention to you, you can make people respect your work, and they never get to see the five or ten or fifty drafts to see how good the version you made finally came out. They don’t get to know you’re the kind of person who had to double check for the ‘mentiond’ typo a dozen times.

You aren’t an imposter.

You’re an artist.

You’re taking attention and you’re making use of it, and then you are dancing on.

What you’re doing isn’t fraud.

Rather, what I am doing is an attention heist.

Story Pile: The King of Thieves

I love a good heist movie.

There are a lot of different ways to treat a heist, in a movie. There’s your Ocean’s Eleven, where the whole thing is conducted with a sort of elegant smoothness, where there’s some clear outcome, a magic trick of a conclusion and you’re just weaving the narrative around that point. There’s a ride to it, a certain gentle sleight of hand. They’re kind of spectacle heists, where the question is how it all looks in motion, like Michael Caine’s The Italian Job.

Then there’s the tense ones, the heists that are about backstabbing and misdirection and the carnage that ensues when something goes wrong and how crime is fundamentally and foundationally an example of a failure of trust, in society and in one another, like Michael Caine’s Get Carter.

Here’s Michael Caine’s The King of Thieves.

The basic plot of the movie is an inspired-by-history real world heist; the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Burglary, which holds the record as probably the highest-value heist in British history, with a net value of something approaching £200 million being lifted in cash and jewels. It was one of those crimes where the numbers are extremely hard to pin down, because insurance and assessment and privacy and disclosure were all involved. The real world events are kind of tailor made for a movie, and even tailor made for this movie.

See, what happened is that a collection of old thieves, in their sixties and seventies, hit a target that was generally recognised as being untouchable; it’s a safety deposit box facility in the centre of the UK jewel trade, and obscurity is part of its security. It was something of a white whale for them, to hear the telling – a target they never tried, and they’d even in varying stages, retired from crime, only to give the deposit one last shot in their twilight years. They made one of the biggest scores of all time, then had a hard time moving the goods properly, because their criminal contacts included people who’d been previously pinched and were under police surveillance. Eventually, all the older thieves were pinched and a young accomplice got away.

The movie, then, takes this real world sequence of historical events, massages them extensively, and hands the roles of criminals who used to be threatening, in charge criminals back during the 1970s to a group of actors who themselves set the tone for what a gangster in a movie looked like, and also Charlie Cox, who, no lies, is pretty good in his position as ‘the one young person.’

A little detail about it – which isn’t really super important, but it’s still there – is that the way this movie treats police. Typically, when the investigation of a crime begins in movies, it introduces a character to be the incarnation of the investigation – a tradition that reaches back centuries. Dogged investigators that can be the voice of the very task of getting to the bottom of the crime. In this, though? There is no single police person that’s at the root of the investigation. It’s shown as being the work of dozens of people, doing lots of different, specialised jobs, bit by bit, working together and helping one another in a coalition of different races and genders. That cooperating, collaborative group are, uh, cops in a surveillance state. So that’s… not… super cool. Weird.

The movie didn’t do well. It was seen as lacking in punch or style – it wasn’t cool enough or funny enough or dramatic enough or historically precise enough. You can watch it on Netflix, and you may get the feeling you’re watching three movies snapped together awkwardly. The opening is a very old dogs-new-tricks kind of narrative where these characters rouse themselves from a quiet end to do one last score that they honestly probably do need to do, because the life they put together isn’t even giving them dignity in its end. Then there’s an actual heist movie, which is as much about showing how a complicated technical task can be done with a variety of holdups and failures, and how some of those failures are actually dealt with, and what that looks like (and how absurd that can be). Then, the movie becomes a socially jarring failure – a failure that, if you were mapping the story to a story you had more control over, you might make more dramatic, more cool, or more classy. It wouldn’t turn into a bunch of old men shouting at one another over bitter, ancient grudges. It wouldn’t end with them all getting caught and the least notable character getting away.

It ends with four senior actors who helped shape our culture’s vision of these moments, sitting in the dock, getting ready to walk into court, getting ready to be tried, and negotiating with themselves about how they’re going to do it.

There’s this line, a line I’m told is from Yeomen Of the Guard, which I’ve never seen, and I think I heard from The West Wing. There’s a point where the hero and his men are discussing how they go to the executioner’s on the next day. A man in the next cell makes fun, and there’s this exchange:

“What does it matter how a man falls down?”
“When all that’s left is the fall, it matters a great deal.”

These actors probably are never going to do something like this, ever again. Even before the pandemic, we’re talking about actors who are all cresting into a point of their lives that are not going to do prop-based physical acting roles, roles that convey them as gangsters any more. There’s a real chance that the shift in the way England relates to the world is going to make Hatton Garden not an important centre of the global jewel trade, too. The men who really did this crime are all passing away from their advanced years.

The movie isn’t an amazing movie.

But as a way to fall down, I’m fond of it.

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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