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.

The Eucharist Wafer Conspiracy

Who doesn’t love a good Catholic conspiracy theory?

Not one of the conspiracy theories the Catholics have used to shape the way the world views faith and itself, no, those tend to be a bit more… well, they’re the conspiracy theories that we think of as ‘conspiracy theories,’ and they almost all seem to trace back to someone saying ‘Well, Martin Luther was wrong about a lot of things, but as far as it goes on the jews.’

And this isn’t one of those Protestant conspiracy theories about Catholics, which range from ‘they put cornflakes in their bed to stop masturbating’ (kinda true) to ‘they can’t whistle or the pope will hear,’ (definitely not true). It’s about eucharist wafers, and it’s about a conspiracy that, seemingly, some Catholics seem to think exists despite not believing in it.

The Eucharist wafer, if you’re not familiar, is a small bit of more-or-less bread used in a ritual known as the eucharist. During the Biblical narrative of the last supper, a ceremony we mostly document from the one person who definitely makes it clear he was not there, Jesus gives a speech where he offers the disciples wine and bread, saying, and I paraphrase, ‘Come, eat of this, for it is my body and blood, eat it in remembrance of me.’ It’s something Protestants and Catholics share as a ritual.

It is, however, supremely weird.

It’s really one of the sources of dissent between Protestants and Catholics – there’s an idea that this ritual, along with the baptism of infants, was basically one of the things that got the ball rolling on all the schisming and that’s why one of the major groups of not-Catholic Christians that hate the Catholics a lot (except when they’re trying to leverage them for political power) are known as ‘Baptists.’

The weird ritual is a little weirder in Catholic circles because of a belief known as transubstantiation. This idea is that the eucharist, when consumed, literally transforms into actual real Jesus meat and actual real Jesus blood. This belief was used to claim that Catholics were cannibals and tie them to blood libel (and what the hey, we’re back at the Jewish stuff again, that’s weird and sucks).

Transubstantiation is contentious because this idea, that the wafer and wine become real blood and meat is actual Church doctrine. That’s like, inasmuch as there are rules on this stuff, that’s what the rulebook as written says is there. The consensus amongst Catholics in the United States is, however, that this isn’t true; about two thirds of Catholics think that it’s entirely symbolic, just under one third believe it’s not. The church says it’s true, most people don’t believe it.

This makes it an interesting question to ask about on forms, and that gave us this beautiful graph from August 2019.

In this graph, we see that 69% of people (nice) don’t believe that the eucharist becomes real god meat. 31% believe it does. But there’s a breakdown in that; of the 69% of catholics who think that the bread and wine are symbolic, about two thirds of them think that the church also teaches that the wine and bread are symbols. This means that of the entire cohort, almost 45% of Catholics think that the bread and wine are symbolic, which is incorrect, according to the Catholic church itself.

Here, though, is where it gets wonderfully weird.

There is a cohort of 31% that believe that the food they are eating is magically transformed into god meat and blood. This is made up of a body (hah) of around 14 million Catholics, who believe in transubstantiation and who also believe that the church teaches transubstantiation. Yet next to them, in that weird little sliver, is that 2% that believe that it does become god meat… but that the church teaches it doesn’t.

What the heck.

What do they think happens there?

It’s this beautiful little bubble. How do you believe in a core point of doctrine for your church while believing they don’t agree with you, while also believing the weirder thing. Believing that you are secretly transubstantiating with a ritual performed by a priest who you also think is not doing the thing required for transubstantiation to happen, but you’re somehow bootlegging Jesus Bacon into your system some other way?

A little secret community of roughly a million Catholics in the United States.

Weird, huh?

Henry Orenstein

I’m going to tell you a story. It jumps around a little, to future and past, and it has a big twist in it that I’m going to need you to trust me on. Because of that, the fold – and content warning – is coming later than you’d expect.

This story, started, for me, on the Transformers wiki.

This is a Rubsign. It’s a small piece of plastic that’s heat-reactive. When Transformers started out as a brand, there was an immediate push to make cheap knockoff toys with similar ideas. In order to ‘protect’ the brand and ensure kids only wanted to buy the genuine Transformers, they developed something that they could pretend was part of the play pattern: a small symbol on the robot’s body that had the silhouette of either the Decepticon or Autobot faction, and you wouldn’t know for sure if you didn’t heat it up, usually as a child, by rubbing it with your finger.

Transformers, and their gimmick of ‘transforming’, is essentially, open source. You can’t copyright it or even copyright the techniques of a mould. This is one of the reasons there’s so many knockoffs of those toys — the actual technique of a transforming toy is pretty much uncopyriteable method.

The rubsigns, however, were made with patented technology; not only weren’t other people allowed to put them on their toys, but even worse, they simply couldn’t make them because the method for their creation was proprietary. What I thought as a child was a clever way to represent a disguise, for a moment of tension in the narrative, was really just a corporate control collar, a thing that meant they could draw a hard line between their version of the idea and the other, shitty ones, so I could ensure my collection of second hand transforming robot toys was properly branded.

Rubsigns are a cop is what I’m saying.

But, they had to be invented.

This is Henry Orenstein. Learning about the origin of the rubsign meant learning that to my surprise, the patent for them is not held by The company per se, but is instead partially owned by Hasbro, and partially owned by this one dude, Henry Orenstein.

When I found his name in the Transformers wiki, the wiki stated, perhaps boldly: His life is more interesting than Transformers.

Bold claim.

This is professional Poker. It’s a well known game that involves players playing for extremely large sums of money, often with similarly large sums of money involved in the buy-in. It’s grown in popularity over the past twenty years, in part because of improvements in presenting the game to an audience. Back in 1995, a patent was filed for a device known as a hole camera, which let the broadcasters collect the information about the players’ hands without doing anything that disrupted the natural flow of the game. The hole camera was used in 1999, and that’s about when poker started to pick up in public discourse.

And the patent for the earliest hole camera (which isn’t used much any more) is to a guy named Henry Orenstein. So important was this – and his winnings and his achievements lifetime – that he’s been inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame.

This is a Johnny Seven OMA, which were made by Topper Toys. And that’s a company Henry Orenstein founded to make his toys after being annoyed at how expensive dolls and toy guns were for poor kids. Topper Toys eventually folded into another brand, Deluxe Reading, which I understand if you are a hardcore toy collector, really into things like barbie accessories and cross compatibility, is very important to the hobby.

This background was how Henry got the attention of Hasbro, and wound up working with them on acquiring new toy properties. That meant he was in position to be in Japan, looking at Takara and Microchange toys, and come back with the idea of acquiring both toy sets, and rebranding them as Transformers in 1980.

Interesting dude, right? He should write a memoir.

Except he did already:

And now, when we jump back in the story, I have to say: Content Warning: Nazis.

Continue reading

Story Pile: Wind of Change

Do you remember the song Wind Of Change?

Or, knowing my audience’s typical age, do you know that song your older sibling or parent or wine aunt or board game uncle liked, Wind Of Change, by 80s metal band Scorpions?

What if I told you that that song was not by Scorpions, but was, in fact, a CIA op designed to undermine the Soviet Union?

Okay, there are four broad responses to that idea and it depends on how you see media and how you see the CIA. If, for example, you think media is a completely powerless element of our reality, just a reflection that people partake of with no effect, and CIA as a sensible wing of the US government that largely spends its time listening to ambassadors and definitely not doing anything weird or unreliable with an enormous black budget, this probably sounds completely silly.

But if you see media as powerful, or you see the CIA as a pack of unaccountable weirdoes who occasionally destabilise governments ‘just in case we need that coup later’, then suddenly every part of it gets a little more believable.

And if you think that the media helps us shape our reality, especially as it pertains to political movements and popular uprising and that the CIA are the kind of organisation that spent thousands of dollars on developing cats that explode and dog poop radios, and then the whole thing sounds very believable.

This idea doesn’t come out of nowhere, mind you.

It comes  from the CIA.

Continue reading

Every Church Has A Conspiracy Theory

Qanon has been a surprising opportunity for a lot of people to learn something they probably never realised before: That the conspiracy theory wing of the world was bountifully alive, well, and extremely well-fed, in the existing landscape of Christian dominionism.

Content Warning: Church, Qanon and related subjects, American Christianity, and Conspiracy Theories.

Continue reading

Instant Stooging

People are really helpful.

In magic performances, the stooge is a person who seems to be unaffiliated with the performance, but who secretly is. You might also know this kind of performance, where an audience member or seeming bystander is roped into the performance, as one that uses a plant. This extra character is super useful — there’s a lot of different magic tricks that need this kind of tactic, they can be useful for setting up puzzles or even just introducing a prop that wasn’t there before. There’s a lot you can do with an extra pair of hands.

There’s also a thing where these days, with the prevalence of phones, and the potential for a trick to involve things like dialing a number, having someone who can pick up a dialled number is important too. There’s stuff you can do with recordings, but really, it’s just easier to have an accomplice who can answer or call some thing, right?

Stooge techniques open up a whole range of possible performances, but it’s not uncommon to see magicians and performers quietly disdaining stooging. I know the hypothetical argument against stooges when doing street cons is typically that you’ve halved your take – after all, one other person involved is someone else who can get caught, someone who can tell the police, someone who can get beaten up and interrupt your scam. It’s just a point of failure. This carries through to stage magicians, where the margins can often be extremely thin, and paying a plant is a meaningful cut of your earnings.

I don’t think it’s entirely economical, mind you. I don’t like using plants or stooges, because it’s hard enough to find someone who wants to see a magic trick, let alone someone who might want to collaborate on one. Also, just… it seems less clever? It’s a different skill axis, and that skill definitely deserves attention and respect, it’s just it’s not the skill I like developing.

Some magicians like to refer to stooging as a cheat, which I think overstates it. That creates the classic magical gatekeeping problem. It’s just that if you’re focusing on skillset A, for effect B, introducing skillset C just isn’t what you want to do. Magic cares about methodologies, after all.

This method, though, also introduces a really interesting piece of social engineering.

When you have a cohort in the crowd you use to make the trick happen, that’s stooging. But you can grab someone, out of the audience, and when you pull them up, you can just tell them to do things, and they will, usually do it. And I don’t just mean ‘come here, stand here,’ I mean you stand there, and you whisper in their ear stuff like ‘just say schnapps’ or ‘there’s a secret panel in the back of the box, press it.’ And … they’ll do it? They won’t stand there and go ‘hey, this guy is asking me to cheat,’ or ‘hey, I thought this was a magic show!!’ or stuff like that.

This is known as instant stooging, and it’s really wild, because you’d think surely that wouldn’t work.

You can do it a lot of different ways. Some classic magicians were fond of using kids in their acts because hey, a kid is innocent, they couldn’t be a conspirator, of course. What was happening, though, was the magician was, once the kids were close, threatened the kids and that kept them behaving in accordance with the trick. Which is a novel stunt, but also, wow, fuck you buddy.

Instant stooging has a problem in that when it fails, it tends to fail catastrophically, but good magicians are also catastrophe planners; lots of tricks are designed with a ‘get out’ clause to make a failure funny or to make it look like a setup for another part of the set. It also scales up in weird ways; if your show has props or sets that require containment, you might not want someone on stage who might be unpredictable, after all. When you have a really small audience, like three or four people, stooging one of them might be hard because when are you going to have the other people distracted?

Ultimately, though there’s a simple truth for why this tends to work: People are helpful.

Story Pile: Capricorn One

Morning.

The TV broadcast is rolling.

The silhouette of the rocket on the launching pad, the black shape created by the cresting sun.

The sound, from somewhere, to somewhere, about the countdowns, about the tanks being flooded, about the expectations of the mission. About the vast things humans have done, to make this happen, about how this is a first step on a months long path.

About this, the first crewed flight to Mars.

And then, someone taps on the side of the module where you’re sitting, and says: You need to get out. We need to talk.

Capricorn One (1978) is a conspiracy thriller movie about NASA trying to fake an extraterrestrial landing in order to avoid embarrassment and funding failures, and the escalation required to maintain a conspiracy that does not hold.

Continue reading

T-Shirt Megapost: Subject Outlines 2

Yesterday I started on showing off this month’s t-shirt designs, and boy there are a few this month.  I would normally put t-shirt designs at the end of the month, but in this case, I’m actually getting these shirts in time to wear them for this semester… which is also the same time any of my peers might want to see them.

Sonic The Hedgehog logos are really quite good. It’s a standardised font, it’s a standardised formatting, and the rest of the logo is done with individual specific details for the media in question, like Mania’s springs and whorls. This was really, really easy to make and it looks great.

I think sometimes it’s easy to fail to appreciate just how good the branding is for Sonic.

Also, there’s a version of this with ‘& Knuckles’ on it, but it honestly doesn’t look as good and means the joke ends on a second punchline, and that sucks.

This was based on the suggestion of my dear friend Shelf, who pointed out that while yes, it looked like a Final Fantasy logo to start with, I needed something crystalline in the middle. Fox also pointed out that it’s where a splash of colour happens. In this case, it’s a silhouette of an elk.

Because elks are cool.

The elk is a gradient that then got ran through a cubism filter to make it look kinda crystall-y.

Speaking of that cubism filter, get a load of that crystal in my extremely home-made leadership matrix. The matrix is entirely out of gradients otherwise.

The text is really interesting because my memory of the gradient on this is really vibrant – a really rich red, a really deep blue. But if you go back and look at the G1 logo for Transformers, it’s… positively understated.

This gradient is made up, in order from the top of the image to the bottom, a gradient of blue-to-white; a line of garbage hand-drawn then smoothed and smudged to look a bit more like a mountain range; a gradient of red to white. The bottom of the garbage line gets blurred into the red-white gradient, and that’s how I got that effect.

I’m really proud of all these things that don’t require me to like, do much drawing vs making my designs with shapes, rotations and symmetries. There’s a lot of that here.

And finally…

God damn.

I wanted to make a shirt with the design from the Vaporwave Designer meme program. But the thing is, that’s not only not at a proper resolution for shirts, but it’s also really busy for a design when I can’t control all the elements of the shirt. I can’t cover the entirety of the shirt, to give it the proper background. I can’t do gradients either – less-than-full opacity, when printed on a shirt, is printed on white and creates a nasty white silhouette.

With those limits, instead of duplicating that style, I wanted to make something that evoked it, in colours I like. And thus, we get this hodge-podge of ‘wow, look at all the effects I can do.’

If you’d like to check these shirts out, maybe buy a sticker or a shirt… well, check it out here.

T-Shirt Megapost: Subject Outlines 1

ha ha ha or maybe we’ll have another lockdown after I write this post and the next one and these shirts will instead not get worn at class but oh fuck it here it is anyway


I like wearing my shirts to class. You maybe have seen my bumper collection of Loss shirts that I wear to teach a class about memes. One shirt that got a yell of laughter last semester was my ‘Have You Read The Subject Outline’ shirts.

Well, as this post goes up, I’m going to be teaching again this semester, and I made a bunch of other shirts of that joke so I have a full matching set for the semester. Here, then, are the first half of them, with some notes about how I made them.

The actual phrase Have You Checked The Subject Outline scans to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cadence. Thanks to one Glench, a tool exists on the internet for building a framework for that kind of design.

In this case, the output of the creator just gave me the angle/style of fonts, and then I went and recreated them myself once I had someone else doing math on the arc of the letters.

The Fullmetal Alchemist logo is composed of letters, with specific kerning and details, that I seem to have installed as part of a system package. To get this look, I pulled the spacing in tight for the body text to make sure that the two most similar words fit the same bounding box. Then, it was a matter of giving it a pair of outlines – which I noticed, a lot of things rely on outline-thicker-outline, which does look great.

This is mostly just sets of gradients; one gradient for the red body, another for the red outline, same for the greys and silvers.

Note that in this design because the original logo doesn’t have a hanging element (the foot of the J), I had to then restructure things a little; I couldn’t just make SUBJECT and OUTLINE separately, because otherwise the bottom edge of SUBJECT would overlay on the top edge of OUTLINE. In this case, I put the topmost layer (the inner body text) paired together, with SUBJECT on top; then under those two, the outlines, then under that, a grouping. Then I had to make space to make sure the outline on the J fit.

Design number three went through a lot of iterations. There’s a free font for minecraft, but to get the 3d effect I had to do a lot of struggling. First, create two layers of text, with a distressed/non-distressed font. Then I used a perspective tool to make it tilt backwards.

Once I had that, I took a copy of the bottom layer, the un-distressed one, and gave it a vertical motion blur a pretty big distance, then made a folder for the blurry one. I copied it a dozen times, merged those, and then made a copy and got rid of all the contrasty bits to make sure it was a ‘solid’ shape rather than a blurry one.

Then it was a matter of just trying out a lot if graphical effects to see if I could get a ‘dirt’ vibe without using textures I didn’t own and wasn’t allowed to use. I did toy with pixel blurring photos, but that got me inconsistant pixel sizes, and that was super annoying and looked a bit crap.

That’s half of these designs, we look at the next set tomorrow!

Jesus Mythicism

I don’t think Jesus existed.

I mean, there’s scholarship on it, and for some of you, ‘no, we can give the concession,’ and there’s a host of opinions. Lots of people I know, atheists even, even active anti-thesists, think that Jesus existed, or rather, say that they think that Jesus was a ‘real person’ and attribute the teachings in the gospels to that person.

I don’t. I don’t see how I have to give that concession. And, like, I think the idea that ‘there’s a real kernel of truth’ to Jesus mythicism is really weird. Why? Because the text that describes Jesus also describes massive sermons memorised perfectly, specific literary devices that would be very unnatural as observed practice, historical characters behaving wildly out of character, an actual zombie apocalypse, and people coming back from the dead. Those things don’t happen, meaning any text that includes those things is inherently suspect. Like, The Walking Dead happens in Macon, Georgia, and the fact that Macon exists doesn’t mean that The Walking Dead is a good text to use to learn about it.

And largely, the thing is… what is there left, then? If you take all the stories in aggregate and just drop the stuff that contradicts one another, and the stuff that absolutely could not have happened, you’re left with a very vague outline that at some point, a dude named Jesus existed. Historically, the best record we have is a hundred years later is people saying ‘hey, Christians exist, and they say this is their backstory,’ which I mean, that doesn’t mean anything. Every religion we’ve ever seen founded with good record keeping has an obviously nonsense origin story, why is this the one we take seriously? Because that’s the only records we have? But those records also have again, total nonsense in them.

There are some academics who have written on the topic*, and they construct a reasonably solid argument for the mythical nature of the Christ story. In 2007, the Jesus Project was kicked off to attempt to settle the question in an independent and authoritive way, only to be shuttered two years later when its own coordinator determined that the project could neither get reliable enough historical information to prove Jesus existed, nor could it in any way verify the idea that Jesus did not. There was also a problem with how the researchers seem to split into people who assumed Jesus was real and people who didn’t, which meant there wasn’t a proper skeptical framework. And when people say ‘we have more proof of Jesus than we do of Julius Caesar,’ it’s kinda this auto-disqualifying position, but it’s seen as the norm to say that.

Personally, I think that the way we give Jesus the benefit of the doubt is a form of religious privilege; that Jesus gets held to a much lower standard of evidence, because well, there’s all this stuff. Look at how much Christian-ness there is around us, surely the history of this church has to be, like, based on something right? And we defer to the experts within the textual space, in the privilege superstructure of the church itself. And like, surely there have to be good sources for this, right? Right? It’s a coincidence I’m sure that in our Christian culture surrounded by Christian media with Christian colleges that have Christian teaching positions for Christian students that there’s a bias towards selecting academics who may think that there’s something to this Christianity nonsense.

One predominant complaint about mythicists that’s used to dismiss them wholesale, tends to be ‘these people aren’t getting hired in academia,’ which I mean, that sounds like a hiring practices problem? Like, the argument seems to literally be ‘we don’t hire mythicists, and none of these mythicists work as professional scholars.’

Anyway, I find the entire idea of a historical Jesus unnecessary, and any historical records we have are so far beyond the life of an actual cult leader that any of the records about his life presented in the Bible are no different than Qanon fanfiction.

There is a problem with my position though.

You see that *?

That * is where I would normally talk about and share excerpts from those scholars and why I find them compelling. And I used to be happy to do that. Except now… I don’t. Rather than swerve this little piece all the way into the ditch, though, I’ve put an explanation for those things down under the fold. Basically, the scholars on this subject that helped me build to this position – where I now don’t feel I need their writing to do it – are people I’m not comfortable mentioning in public, because of Content Warning bits.

It’s not necessary? Like, I don’t think that you need these scholars to serve as the undergirding for dismissing the idea of Jesus. If you don’t think the Bible is a historical text, and I don’t, because of all the stuff in it that is fictional, then literally all that we have is ‘Christians say they followed a dude with an extremely common name, who came back from the dead,’ and like… that’s just repeating a clearly fictional story. I don’t need any of the people with degrees to tell me that that’s not convincing.

I don’t know what a historical Jesus gets you anyway? Like, if you don’t believe in the miracles or the ahistorical bits, or the fictional bits that can’t work, or the teachings that are in many cases inconsistent, or the weirdly threatening culty bits, or the ability to see the future, and you say ‘well, I do think there was a guy, in this time, in this place, who had a cult, and that became Christianity,’ then I’m left wondering what’s left of that that matters?

… And now, the Content Warningy bit.

Continue reading

The Human Mars Base That Definitely Exists I Promise Dude Just Trust Me

Hey, you remember me mentioning the Giant of Kandahar? That was a fun bit of conspiratorial nonsense embraced by bad people in an existing support network of fabulist grifters and true believers, wasn’t it? It was especially fun because, if it’s true (and you can’t prove it’s not!) then you’re left with proof that conspiracies are true, and that means you may believe in other conspiracies, because, after all, the coverup of the Giant of Kandahar shows it!

Gunna talk about conspiracy theories, which are fun, but then I’m going to talk about Qanon, which isn’t! I guess I’m also mean to the Seven Day Adventists a little?

Continue reading

The Too Perfect Problem

All forms of tricks need to avoid being too perfect.

You might notice that a lot of magic performances, certainly these days, rely on doing something that make you laugh. It’s extremely common to see a magician incorporate some form of oafishness or buffoonery into their act. This is tied to the fundamental principle of controlling attention. First, the magician demands attention, and then they use the fact they have demanded attention to subvert the idea that they deserve it.

Then they prove they do.

Continue reading

Story Pile: Poolhall Junkies

Even if you win, you can’t win.

I had no idea that I was going to like this movie so much.

Poolhall Junkies is a 2002 movie with the extremely worrying phrase in its byline: Written, directed by, and starring Mars Callahan. And he’s not in this movie as a minor character, this isn’t a Quentin Tarantino thing – this is Mars Callahan writing a script, then directing a movie, about a character that he plays, and relies heavily on the skills that Mars Callahan absolutely actually has.

But.

But.

Before we go on, some content warnings, and like, one of them is a big one. There’s a reason I invoked Quentin Tarantino.

CONTENT WARNING: In the opening five minutes of this movie, there is a white character using the n-word. It is used repeatedly, it is used in a conversation with a black man, and is used with a hard r. It is a conversation about n-word privileges, and at the end of the conversation, because the white man uses the hard r, the subject is dropped, only to come up shortly after when it’s shown that the black man knows the protagonist wouldn’t talk like that unless something was wrong. It definitely comes across as edgy comedy about Who Can Say That at first. Later, the n-word without the hard r is used to refer to a black man, by the villain, and that black man doesn’t show up to respond or retaliate about that until the end of the movie.

Since the character is played by the author of the script and the director, it feels very uncomfortable to me, and it happens so early in the movie that I can understand if it turns you off entirely.

CONTENT WARNING: In a very generally 2002 way, this movie uses the r-word twice that I saw. It also has some conversations in it between characters who the movie does see as kind of stupid goofballs, where they talk about boobs and vaginas in an extremely ‘oh god, I was twenty’ way to me. Doesn’t make it better, doesn’t redeem it, but yeah, this movie has that stuff in it. And that sucks!

These warnings make it awkward, though, because if you cut these bits from the film you get a film that may well be one of my favourite movies.

Continue reading

The Callomania of Haruhi Suzumiya

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.

Continue reading

Story Pile: Gen:Lock

If you’re not familiar with the term Rooster Teeth, well, congratulations on not being as tragically online as I have been for the past twenty years. First rising to prominence through the machinima web series Red Vs Blue, a 2003 comedy series told through the medium of the limited waggly animations of Halo characters in a multiplayer map, Rooster Teeth followed up on that success with a lot of minor projects, including animation work for a bunch of other people. They then went on to create the fanfic oroborous that is RWBY, a show I tried and wasn’t fantastically impressed with, but also seemed largely harmless. At the time I watched it, I said:

here is a show where you, girl born in 1995, get to be a main character superhero with a sick ass scythe gun.

Knowing this, I had no strong positive opinion on Rooster Teeth as a company. They were a sliver of 2003 humour that, yes, is undeniably part of my personal lexicon — which tastes like red bull. Which is disgusting — but I didn’t imagine that they were particularly important creators.

A friend mentioned hey, you should check out Gen:Lock. I think you’d like it.

And, because I was a little dubious about that, I didn’t check it out for two years. And it turns out that that friend knows me way, way better than I’m used to being known, ‘cos this year, on a lark, I watched Gen: Lock and then I became mildly insufferable as I tried to find an awake friend who had also watched it so I could talk to them about it.

This is gunna feature some broad ‘spoilers’ but nothing I feel is a big deal. This isn’t really a series about The Mystery, this is a series about the moment.

Continue reading

T-Shirt: Team Vaccine

As of when I write this, I am unvaccinated. Here in Australia, vaccination has happened on a schedule that we might conservatively call ‘a bit of a mess.’ Since February I’ve been aggressively checking the schedule to determine when I can get vaccinated, with an eye to being as soon as possible.

The category I belong to, according to our current government schedule, is ‘Balance Of Remainder,’ which is to say ‘everyone who isn’t old or a conservative politician.’ And so… time to cheer for the team.

Here’s the design, on a shirt:

You can get it on Redbubble.

BuJo Tricks: Closing It

A little bit recently – as when I wrote this, which is months ago now – there was a conversation I had with a friend about why I use a material journal and take notes there, rather than recording audio and using digital tools for transcribing those notes and highlighting what’s important.


I’ve remarked how 2020 was the year I fell out of Bullet Journalling, which, I mean, we all fell out of things, but I fell out in January, months before the lockdown and heightened precautions. Last year, I did a lot of things without my bullet journal as a personal ritual, as a thing that broke up long sessions of computer usage. I gave up on notepaper and creative tracking, which had, I think, a negative effect on me, especially a lot of long term projects. It made me appreciate things my bullet journal is good for.

Particularly, right now, my Bullet Journal is in a different room.

It’s closed.

My journal is great for helping to  order a disordered mind; I flip it open and check it out when I have free time, and look at the important things I need to do. If I’m feeling it, I can tackle one of them, or progress it, or I can stop and not. But crucially, my bullet journal being a thing I can put down and close means that there are times I can easily commit to not worrying about it.

I can say, with this phrase, that I have done enough for today, and go address that in the journal in the morning.


Now, what is fun, is that friend? They went on try out physical media, and commented how restful it was. So that’s nice to know I’m not just fooling myself. I could be fooling two people.

Talen Talks Netflix Marvel

There, are at this point, six major Marvel Netflix TV series, and I have watched all but one of them. Starting in 2015, the Marvel Netflix experiment was seen, for a time, as a reason to get Netflix, and gave us a sequence of shows that were, in their own ways, pretty impressive. If you were a critic who wasn’t me, you’d talk about how they elevated a different kind of superhero, how they showed a different dimension of superheroics and were a step apart from the brightly coloured optimism and simplicity of the movies.

I don’t tend to agree with other critics, I find.

Anyway, I did watch exactly the right amount of all of these series and wrote about them, but found to my amazement going back, that if you want to look at those articles there’s really no single source. I watched them in orders close to release order, all higgledy-piggledy. Heck, my articles about it predate the Story Pile terminology I use on this blog to sort that kind of article.

With that in mind, what I’ve done here is a masterpost, bringing these six series together, so you can read them all conveniently.

Continue reading

Story Pile: The Mitchells vs. the Machines

There are two parts to this article.

The first part, the easy part, the nice part, is going to come before the fold. No spoilers, just a little summary of this fun little movie that I had a good time with, because it’s a fun movie.

The Mitchells Vs. The Machines is a 2021 animated movie about a family road trip. It was going to come out in theatres, but 2020 kept happening, so instead it came to Netflix, where you can watch it right now, if you want. It’s about a teenage girl about to leave her home for college to study animation, and the ensuing feelings of family distance that come with it. It’s about one last road trip to bond together, to build memories before the onset of college life.

And then the machine apocalypse hits.

Look, you know the kind of colour-by-numbers kids’ movie we’re dealing with here. A family against the world, in their so-called car, coming up with schemes and chicanery to try and survive, then save the world. The main characters are a kind of likable, the jokes are very funny, and the sense of humour relies on actually knowing a few things about the kind of things they’re teasing.

It’s one of your heartwarming everything-works-out-okay kind of movie, with some fun unexpected laughs, a great sense of timing, and an interesting instagram-filter-and-stickers kind of aesthetic to express its character.

Solid movie. I liked watching it with my friend. It was a good time.

See?

We’re done, right?

I’m smiling!

And the rest is below the fold.

Continue reading

Story Pile: Sk8 The Infinity

Why now? Because it’s not Pride Month material, but it’s really close.

Sk8 The Infinity, stylised as SK∞ THE INFINITY, is a high water mark in the long-established genre of The Not Gays. Incarnated in this case as a classic ‘sports’ anime of ‘two hot boys and their mutual special interest,’ a genre deftly feigned by this year’s Misplaced Smooch Month Anime Haikyuu!!, Sk8 The Infinity is a Studio BONES production, with the talent of Hiroko Utsumi, formerly of the other most recent triumphant entry in the Not Gays genre, Free! which was about a heroic group of anime swimboys banding together to fund an animation studio, and also the anime adaptation of Banana Fish, an anime in the comparatively small Actually Gays genre.

And Sk8 The Infinity is, as much as this genre goes, real good.

Look, ‘good’ is a weightless word, all it tells you is I liked it, and I liked this. I liked this anime a lot and I think the story as much as it can signals that a bunch of these hot boys are kissing and it’s cool and the music is great and the sense of kinetic motion is excellent and the villain is ridiculous and the cultural insights are perfect and the boys are really hot and it’s great. I enjoyed it a lot.  If you’re just looking for some extremely lightweight, predictable anime about hot boys who probably kiss, then you should check out Sk8 and then get an AO3 account for what I am sure must be an absolute torrent of fanfiction.

For those who want more, gunna give you a plot rundown and some light spoilers after the fold.

Continue reading

The Connection of Haruhi Suzumiya

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.

Continue reading

Story Pile: Zombieland Saga

Something had to be this month’s anime (so as to just not overload the Story Pile with being about anime this year), so your choice was deniably gay boys or definitely trans girls, so spin the wheel and here we are.

Hi!

This is an article about Zombieland Saga, an idol anime. To get into it we’re going to talk about some spoilers, we’re going to talk about the genre, and we’re going to talk about genders, but to get there, we’re going to have to talk about dead girls. Like, actually, literally, really dead girls. They died, and the series makes comedy out of it but undeniably, this is a series about a bunch of teenaged girls who died. If you’re not here for an anime which literally hits a child with a car in the opening minutes, as in ‘pair of minutes’ – then you can totally afford to skip this anime. Okay?

Content Warning: Child Death, abusive business practices, and some body horror! For comedy!

I’m also going to talk about this series without any concern for spoilers. If you just want the general ‘hey, Talen, do you think I’d like Zombieland Saga?’ the response is ‘I mean kinda?’ It’s about as good as it looks. It’s completely unremarkable as an idol show, from what I can tell, the songs peak at ‘eh’ and there’s pretty much no compelling reason to watch it except as it relates to the inclusion of some fun Pride-related stuff. It’s available for free to watch on Crunchyroll.

I can’t just say ‘watch one episode and ditch on it’ because the cast largely doesn’t show up until episode three, and that’s when you’ll know if you care about the characters at all.

Continue reading

T-Shirt: HAPP PRIDE

This month, I wanted to do some pride themed shirts like last year, a shirt a week, but I just didn’t have a lot of inspiration for them, and, uh…

Look.

One of the things I like the most about pride is flags, because I am a huge dork. I don’t go to parades, and I’m a bi dude so Pride is also this common space where I get to watch myself get erased and forgotten and – like, lots of stuff in that space that kinda sucks. But flags, flags are cool!

I also liked my candy hearts design from earlier in the year, and I like the way they’re these like, badly printed, nearly-good representations of the things they’re representing. I like that a lot, and so I made this design that used my candy heart design and some flags I like.

 

Here’s the design, on a shirt:

 

You can get it on Redbubble.

Ax

In the Groundbreaking Award Winning Traumatising War Anime That Somehow Only Ever Got Produced As A Series Of Scholastic Young Adult Fiction Science Fantasy Novels, Animorphs, there’s this character, and his name is Ax. Well, his name is Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill, which you may recognise in the middle as ‘what you get when you slap your hand on a keyboard and then try to make it look like you actually a word,’ but he’s called Ax, by his friends and cohort of fellow pro-human terrorists freedom fighters, and he’s from the other evil empire of the Andalites, a force in contest with the series’ longstanding villains, the brain-puppeteering Yeerks.

Because everything in this setting is meant to give a teenager some form of prolonged anxiety, rather than being a small slug that crawls in your ear, and flattens across your brain and takes over your body so perfectly nobody will ever realise it’s happened to you, the Andalites are instead, a race of purple centaurs with scorpion tails, the ability to read minds, and developed technology that lets them shapeshift into literally any living creature around you, including dangerous ones and unnoticeable ones, and you just have to deal with that.

Man, Animorphs was a trip.

When Ax joined the group, being a big ole centaur with a scorpion tail and no torso, read the description the cover art is a lie, there were some things he couldn’t readily do, like socialise and visit the mall and wear overalls and scrunchies (as were the style at the time), because his body as structured didn’t have it. In order to partake in Human Society and its Important Social Bonding times, Ax used the Andalite shapeshifting technology to take DNA samples from all the other Animorphs, and merge them together to make himself a new identity that mixed together the phenotypes of all four available humans. The result was someone the story described as –

And I am talking about a teenaged character here, and whose memories and relationships and feelings I have from when I read it, as also a teenager so don’t go getting weird on me here –

in essence, he’s described as hot, but kinda unsettling.

Ax takes on a masculine gender, despite being composed of two human boys and two human girls, and, because I can’t check the books right now one must assume zero hawks. And this is one of those things back in the 1990s that makes no sense in hindsight, because in the 1990s media was doing its damnedest to pretend that queerness existed in exactly one of two ways: A single gay man you could keep at arm’s length but deem yourself enlightened for tolerating, or someone who crossdressed and didn’t get run out of town for it. I’d love to say ‘it was a different time,’ but no, it was that time, and it sucks.

See, okay, it’s one thing to point out that if you were an alien making a human identity out of mashing up four chunks of human DNA, on the spot, by shapeshifting magic nonsense science, the idea that you’d get a strict, simple binary identity is weird. These days it’d be a perfect opportunity to have Ax have a nonbinary gender, especially since so much of gender is social.

But also, and this is now like, a secondary to pride thing about Wasted Opportunity To Express Nonbinary Icon Ax, Ax does a lot of things that uh, kinda just read as autistic? Not to us – not to the readers necessarily – but to other people, he does things like get obssessed with reiterating and replaying words, stimming with the way different words work, or being overwhelmed with eating things – and like, the same specific thing. Ax eats something and then he eats it again and then he eats it again, because he really, really wants to experience that over and over again.

Now part of this is just the nature of a written book. When you read a character’s inner dialogue, one of the side effects is that a character is always describing their thinking as if they are describing their thinking. It’s not visual, it’s typically detail oriented, and it often involves a character working out an explanation for how characters are behaving. Bonus, in Ax’s case, he routinely misunderstands the focus of a question, and needs someone to clarify what they are focusing on.

There’s a lot of complicated questions about what ‘male’ in one culture means vs ‘male’ in another culture, so it by definition is pretty challenging to say that, in our society, what Ax is what we would assign male at birth or assign female at birth, because Ax was Andalite Centaur At Birth (ACAB).

There’s a question about what kind of hormonal or environmental changes that are allowed to happen to the body that morphing can inherit, too? Like despite the fact these kids are shifting back and forth out of human bodies all the time, there’s no notable difference in how they age, which suggests that these bodies are maintaining some sense of what’s happened to them, their overall age and the like. But also we know that shapeshifting lets you regrow lost limbs (because this is a series that gets metal as hell), which also implies that the bodies are able to differentiate between some changes like injuries versus epigenetic changes like the byproduct of quantities of hormones distributed across the body. We also know that allergies can get involved, so systems on the layer above DNA are doing stuff. And we also know the people that mix up the soup that makes Ax includes a black girl and a biracial Hispanic kid.

Anyway, point is that Ax has every room to be a nonbinary trans autistic culture mix alien icon and we missed it because the culture was wasting its time with ‘a gay teenager? What would that even be like?’

Queerer City

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.

Continue reading