Category: Media

I’m a media studies graduate and with that comes a raftload of tools that I’m repeatedly told aren’t actually useful for anything, to which I counter that I like using them and enjoy the experience of applying those tools to all the media around me I partake in and therefore my life is enriched and overflowing with wonderful experiences of interconnectivity. By this point the other person has usually wandered off. Anyway, this is the category for anything that I think of as being connected to ‘media’, whether it’s a type (like TV, music, movies or so on), a brand (like Disney! Hi Disney!). This category also covers my weekly critical engagement column-type-thing currently called Story Pile.

Story Pile: A1A

Alright, so Jimmy Buffett’s supposedly discovered his Gulf-And-Western sound. We’ve had the mournful, serious songs that would have blown the doors off if someone ‘properly country’ had done them. Jimmy is now firmly established in something like four years as someone who’s clearly from Alabama, producing music in the south, and isn’t properly Rock to get on the radio that wants that in the 1970s. The lore is that he didn’t get much radio play at all at this point (and it was a point of contention he’d continue to bust on in his 70s albums). We already covered some of that last time, with Saxaphones basically being a whine about it, but it’ll continue here.

What came out next was an album which continues this same mix of different ideas. Rather than hammering on a single idea, or developing deep on this musical style, we get A-1-A, an album that feels like a greatest hits album for a guy who’d only been releasing albums for four years.

The album opens with such a riff. It’s funny to think this is what country used to be like, or at least, this is close enough to country to be throwing rocks. It’s funny because while I can definitely see some of that jangly, almost jug-band like musical feel to it, the opening song Makin’ Music For Money is sure a statement. This is one of the things about Jimmy Buffett as a singular creator that I really noticed growing up: he was definitely writing about what was on his mind at the time.

Some of his songs are kind of just generic love songs, using the june-moon-spoon formulas of music industry stuff. They’re not bad, but they’re so rarely a fave, often these meandering slow-swing songs that kind of want to hang out with You, Baby, Girl. But when he was writing about what he cared about you got these interesting statements of purpose like Makin’ Music For Money, the maudlin reflection of Stories We Could Tell and the too-too relatable A Pirate Looks At Forty. When this album came out, he was twenty eight, writing about a hypothetical future time when he would face down his own place in history, as he got older.

It’s a really lurching feeling, as this young man writes about how he’s going to get old, about how he doesn’t feel he belongs to his time (which, you know, lots of young people feel). It’s sad, and it’s a song that I remember hearing, the first time, around the time my dad turned forty. I was about five.

I remember there was something really mournful about it, and I had no idea what it was. I didn’t get it. I certainly didn’t get why my dad was so taken with this song about sleeping with younger women, committing piracy, and doing drugs (which I also didn’t understand).

Stories We Could Tell is one of those songs that really feels like it belongs to other, serious country singers too, guys who sing songs rhapsodically praising the work of men who died before he was born. It’s reverent, which maybe Jimmy was doing to try and get Nashville to like him. It’s not his song, and it’s been covered a few times (including by Kasey Chambers and holy shit I want to find that), but it feels so perfectly tuned to have been covered by – well, honestly, by Alan Jackson, fitting in alongside songs like Midnight In Montgomery. But then, if Jackson had covered it I’d have seen it as an entirely artificial attempt to borrow seriousness from better artists, because I don’t think much of Alan Jackson.

It also has Life Is Just A Tire Swing, which is a retrospective song about childhood and growing up and almost dying in a car crash. I remembered in that song that I ruminated on how my life, as a little kid, was probably just like this one, except I didn’t have any friends to hang out with and we didn’t go camping and we didn’t have fun and I knew I could hurt things. I assumed the narrator in the song got beaten up regularly. I realise in hindsight how weird it was but I assumed everyone relating stories about their childhood had stories they just didn’t mention about getting pinned down and stomped on.

The basic ideas of Jimmy Buffett albums are all here. Talking about the sea, startlingly specific references to what he was enjoying at the time, retrospective mourning a lost past, and convenient alcoholism. Migration is a song that’s basically impenetrable to me as an adult, but it had an upbeat rhyhthm to it and it talked about a swearing parrot so I listened to it a lot. When I was asked a few years ago about songs by Jimmy Buffett off this album that mattered to me, I did name Migration (and a song of another album, but anyway), because… I remembered liking how upbeat it was.

I do have a favourite song off this album, though, Nautical Wheelers, and it’s probably for the silliest reason. See, this song has a tempo change in it.

It has probably the first tempo change I ever noticed.

It’s a simple song, with a waltz of a chorus. It doesn’t carry a lot to it. It’s positively G-rated for a song about getting drunk, staying up late, and having a party where you dance with people underinspected.

I was raised to hold on to a Bible verse: I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. It was the idea that you could just be happy being, and we did all sorts of hoop jumping, all sorts of nonsense to justify the way we made ourselves so intensely miserable while we claimed we were all joyful in the LORD. In all my time at church I never saw anyone, anyone who was ever content.

And this song about nothing much was my first vision of the idea of some people who were happy being unremarkably okay.

So, the Album is fine, it’s not got any of my all-star favourites, but it’s still got a lot of Extremely Important moments from my formative little mush-brain growing up. I still realise there’s some of the creative coda in Making Music For Money in my mind, where I realise making is more important to me than success at making. There’s still shards of the fatalism of passing forty. There’s still images of an old guitar haunted by the person who played it last. Is it a best album? Nah. It has to, after all, measure up to its nearest neighbours, which doesn’t do the album any favours.

 

Decemberween: Best of Press (This Year, So Far!)

I did say that part of Decemberween would be giving you stuff that cost very little to engage with, right? Well, how about this very blog, where there’s a bunch of stuff that you might have missed?

I get readership statistics on my blog, which I can break down to teach me all sorts of interesting things. One interesting thing is that even a mild bit of interest from Reddit explodes my statistics, and also that the most popular thing I’ve ever done is probably always going to be the No Magic Colour Is Transphobic piece. Magic content gets more attention, reddit-friendly content gets more attention, it do be like that though.

Here’s a curated list of the top stuff that I wrote this year, sorted by how much I like them. Note that this year has featured three hundred and sixty five articles, so this is going to give you a long list of maybe thirty of the ones I like the best out of the ones that audiences have indicated they like the best.


Games

Okay, so what are some of my game pile articles that I liked? Well, I wrote about Kingdom Hearts, after watching a video on it and I think the ensuring research was so fascinating I might be able to be considered something of a fan of it? Look, there’s a nonzero chance I’m going to buy this game to talk about it more in depth.

Easily my favourite, most self-indulgent piece this year was my two parter discussing Exalted and Exalted: The Infernals. Not only were these articles extremely fun to write and read, I’ve seriously considered turning them into long-form videos. They’re about one of the most bombastically excessive, beautifully evocative and dizzingly incompetent Roleplaying Game sourcebooks and settings I’ve ever seen. Bonus, it has probably my favourite joke of the whole year in it.

It wasn’t a proper Game Pile article, but back in June I did break down the enormous and preposterous Fabula Nova Crystallis in a summary fashion (and missed some important details and context, by the way!). I may still hate how excessive and extra everything Final Fantasy is trying to do has become, but you gotta respect the completely wasteful and foolhardy development process, or don’t!

I also made some videos about games! Particularly, I made one about Mirror’s Edge and Platform Capitalism, one about Skyrim and Gaps In Language, one about Love Is Strange, The Game You Asked For, and one about Abe’s Oddysee and Meatpunk. I’m pretty happy with these (I need to get used to using backing audio to make my voice sound less like a lecture in an empty room), but I’m glad at how I’ve improved and sped up at making these videos.

I talked about three critical darlings this year: Majora’s Mask, Bloodborne, aand Braid, and one of those games got a real kicking. I looked at a bunch of visual novels as well, and of them, my favourite, DoraKone still stands out to me as being worth sharing and suggesting you check out.

Finally, at the start of the year, I codified a new direction on kindness and cruelty with my view of Risk of Rain. Be kind with energy, be cruel with purpose (Exalted).

Dungeons & Dragons!

Oo boy! Lots of stuff this year, and some of it surprisingly well received. None of my Hunter’s Dream work cracked the metaphorical top twenty, but that doesn’t matter that much. What does surprise me is that double digit groups of people wanted to check out my takes on 4th Edition D&D.

First, an article about how 4th Edition’s structure limited it. Then there was an article about how you should give 4th edition a shot (because it’s cheap). Then another article, about making halloweeny heroes for 4th edition, and finally, my favourite so far, the How To Be Hilda article.

There was also some setting stuff I wrote about, things that are more generally applicable than just my 4th edition treatment, which mostly focused on, weirdly, races. There’s an article about how Dwarves relate to goblins (dwarves are bad, yo), my article about how I and only I get Tieflings right, and the twin pair of articles about Orcs and Elves.

Then as a last bit, a bit about what dragons represent in your story and making your setting queer. I’ve been thinking about ways to build on this going forward, so look forward to that.

The Story Pile!

The most popular Story Pile this year was my piece on Touhou Project as a storytelling canon, which it turns out, was one of those social groups that click links a lot, especially if it’s saying that they are doing something good. I don’t imagine ‘Touhou is hollow and everything meaningful to it is created by the fans’ would fly well!

I took a month to go in on the new Voltron series, a project I greatly relished, and still hold that series out as an excellent and positive franchise that more people in fandom should look to, and that more writers and creators should embrace because of its positive attitude towards fandom. Hunk sucks though.

I finally sat down and pulled apart a retro anime series called Geobreeders, because it’s one of those things that kind of just hangs around the back of my mind, a weird and remotely removed unimportant anime series that was nonetheless composed mostly out of the mind of a lone creator’s personal obsesssions. I went in on one of my favourite characters in Young Justice and even talked about my favourite Disney movie, Lilo And Stitch.

Finally, I explained not anything about the story but about the presence in the culture of the immense anime titan Neon Genesis Evangelion. Mixed in amongst this there’s also a little slip about the Gen 1 Transformers, The Stunticons Are Gay.

Media Criticism!

This year brought with it a handful of different pieces about longer-form criticism, tools for talking about game making and media criticism. One, I got to codify my problem with TvTropes Criticism, and a longer form response to Chris Franklin’s piece where The DM Is Removed. Inexplicably, my piece on how a game of Scrabble ends was really popular?

I also talked about the role of erotic roleplay in academic studies of people and their relationships in online spaces, which was in response to a year of watching people who I used to respect deciding to mock people for using the internet to have sex.

There was also two other points of spite: One about the term Owlbear Traps, and one being The Tail Of Spite. These are both short pieces on problems with how gamers treat one another!

Magic Stuff!

At the start of this year I said I wasn’t going to write about Magic regularly. This is something I’m glad I did, but also it’s kinda funny that this year would have been the best year to write about it weekly because there was always something going on to write about. There were four major set releases over the course of the year, there was a banning, a whole new format introduced, major story related stuff happening, announcements and special projects and all of that and hey, we may have gotten rid of Nicol Bolas! For a bit!

Maybe!

Still, I did write some stuff about Magic, and I even collaborated with Fox on a two hour long video where she basically passed her opinions on which members of the cast she wanted to do smooches on.

There were also some other articles! First, there was an attempt to reconsider the problems of Boros in Commander, and a piece on trying to design a small, sharable tinycube for Winston draft.

Then I did some articles about custom magic design: One about why we should ignore the bottom of the deck, and one about how to manage your word counts and why that matters.

And then there was the absolute doorbuster of an article I put out in April, where I spent three thousand god damn words talking about how the discourse comparing a random distribution physical game without a central server was and had the same moral pitfalls as a Gacha game might. Since I wrote it, literally nobody I know has criticised me for it, so I have to assume I just got it right, and now that discourse is over.

And that’s that! It’s a bunch of reading that you, the audience, has deemed to be popular and good! thank you for your attention and I hope you keep reading!

Decemberween: Vocaloid Calendar!

At the end of 2018, I got a Vocaloid calendar from Kate, my big sister. Over the course of the year, I updated semi-regularly with the pages from it, tweeting out at first, one each week.

This year my timekeeping got pretty shaky! I didn’t wind up doing a good job of keeping on top of my bullet journal either, with October and November not even getting spreads, and here we are in December, with.. well, also no spread.

But still: If you wanted to see all those pictures, collected in one spot, here they are.

yes, the photography is uneven and shoddy. I wasn’t doing this for archive purposes.

Story Pile: The Gauntlet

Hey, look, alright, I know this may seem a bit weird to anyone out there who already watches and enjoys Mystery Science Theatre 3000, but I had to be introduced to this show after it stopped running and everything gets to be someone else’s first time. What do you want from me, I’m trying to spend this month focusing on media that’s family-shareable and isn’t going to be ruined by interrupting it for a meal.

First, to those people who are already into this kind of stuff: If you haven’t checked out The Gauntlet, aka Season 12, which is available on a variety of streaming services that are now all offering a one-month free trial in various locales, you absolutely should give it a shot. While you can talk about the charm of older episodes and a different time or energy in different arrangements of the cast, approached as its own thing, The Gauntlet showcases a variety of bad movies that are different enough to tell them apart and funny enough on their own without the (very good) comedians helping out.

Now, then.

Everyone else.

Anyone who has no idea what I’m babbling about.

Mystery Science Theatre is a TV show that could not be more of its time if it tried. It was basically a show that served as a wrapper for movies, which mostly but not always showcased science fiction or fantasy movies. This is a thing that you’d see on television, back in the day, where schedules had to be determined well enough in advance that they could be printed in the newspapers (in Australia) or books (in America and other countries) that would show you what TV shows would be available to watch at various times. This schedule meant that you sometimes would get ‘shows’ that would curate other shows and show them, sometimes edited for time or content. They might have names like ‘masterpiece theatre’ or ‘the Afternoon Show’ or ‘Saturday Disney,’ or, in this case, Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Continue reading

Decemberween: Amber!

As the year concludes, I thought hey, I should check out my friends’ stuff and show it off because it’s a perfect time for people to look for small weird specific things that they might not realise they wanted until hey, now, time to see it. Anyway, this has meant going to all my friends that I made this year or people I reconnected with (as say might happen thanks to City of Heroes coming back?) and being surprised by the cool things I wouldn’t have known or expected because hey, everyone keeps their business to themselves more or less.

Sometimes this means finding out that a friend is working on a tactical RPG they don’t want to talk too much about in public, and some are making microfiction and some of them are successful prop makers and cosplayers with over ten thousand instagram followers.

Yeah.

That was

That was a surprise.

It’s weird but in my little creative space I’m kind of used to being a microscopic fish surrounded by even smaller fish. Now, I still approached my friend with an attitude of ‘hey, I want to promote your work because I like you and is that okay’ and then found out that the reach I was extending to my friend is pretty much meaningless to her by the kind of numbers she can do just waking up of a morning.

Anyway, I met Amber this year, and we got to hang out and play superhero games and talk about our pets and her work schedule lines up well with mine and so, in a very natural, comfortable way, we just wound up hanging out a lot, and turns out, I think she’s super neat and she sure tolerates me. And if you want you can go check out her cosplay instagram and prop store, which I normally would then go on to tell you is great or cool because something or other, but uh, nope, turns out that I am way out of my depth here and she’s doing this as her main source of income.

So that’s cool! I made a cool friend! She’s helped me find my feet in some social spaces I’d normally withdraw from, we’ve punched Nazis together, and helped each other consider various logistical challenges of our workloads. Go check her stuff out!

Decemberween: Song Vs Song

There are lots of music podcasts out there and for the most part I find them extremely unrelatable. Maybe it’s because they’re engaged with by people who have a very American music palate, who are either markedly younger than me, or maybe they’re not ashamed to dance. Where, then, is the podcast for guys in their thirties who are sobbingly distressed about their age and who only started to engage with pop music in the very tail end of the nineties, maybe ones who are ashamed to show their faces in public.

Ah, here we are.

Todd in the Shadows is a youtuber and Channel Awesome escapee, who does pop music song reviews, with sorts of sub-themes of examining One Hit Wonders and disastrous albums, and they’re really cool and fun. This is a podcast he does with Dany J Roth, his friend who goes to Karaoke with him. I have a hard time remembering Dany’s name, in part because I also listen to Dave And Jeb Aren’t Mean, where one of the voices is Dave Roth. Anyway.

There’s no deep insight here, no great brilliance. But if you want a new podcast that has a few hours of goodnaturedly ribbing on various hit songs in contrast with one another, this is one I like and I recommend you check out.

Decemberween: ASMRtist Recommendations!

For someone who gets mad at suggested content so much, I’m extremely bad at subscribing to things. As I’ve had a channel of my own on Youtube, and a few podcasts going, I’ve been trying to get better about remembering to actually do that thing, broadening my media intake rather than rewatching the same thing over and over again.

Still, I’ve done a lot of focused work this year and that’s meant using a lot more ASMR channels to help me focus, and that sometimes means, like flipping a pillow over, I need to slightly adjust what I’m experiencing to be able to appreciate it. Here are some ASMRTists I listened to this year:

Gibi is a pretty well-known ASMRtist. She’s one of your ‘general mix’ channels, which do a bunch of roleplay things, close attention to a small number of objects, but also, she does videos as an anime character. Particularly what I like about her work is that she does a lot to play with wordlbuilding and character voice – such as her play as Hange Zoe, which has a random joke about potato theft in the middle that you’d only appreciate if you actually can put her actions in context. Interesting stuff!

Kaya ASMR is a channel I don’t actually know very much about at all, because all I’ve seen from her is one video – a really high production value scene of playing with locks and keys, and I don’t just mean normal tapping, drumming and close inspection, I mean hardware store key archive tools. It’s really lovely and interesting to watch and then the narrative gives this context of a cyborg watching its own complex parts be examined. It’s a really good video!

Albinwhisperland is probably the channel I’m most embarrassed to share because the video of hers I keep returning to is one where she’s asking a questionnaire. She does a lot of stuff about vintage clothing (in which I am not interested) and small focused roleplays like Morticia Addams doing your makeup. She’s got pink hair, she’s high femme in a truly over the top way, and I just find her very restful to listen to while I’m taking notes on Autoethnographic practice.

So there’s three folk I’ve been revisiting this year and greatly appreciating as they help me work and relax and deal with my stress.

Decemberween: Microfiction Experiments!

Okay, so what’s Microfiction? Microfiction is fiction, but smol, and oh hey we’re done. But seriously, Microfiction is fiction made using some inherently limited medium, stories that want to be able to fit in a tiny space, or in a medium that forces a smallness.

It’s something that you may not realise if you don’t spend your time examining mediums instead of media, but the size of a page changes the way stories on that page feel, and readers and twine games and webpages have got us re-examinign this whole space all over again. The format I’m focused on for here is twitter microfiction, where your natural unit of story is a single tweet. You can thread them together, like pages, but the breaks between tweets is part of the form that you use. There’s this whole thing here where if I was a better read narratologist I’d be able to say something like the narrative morpheme but hell with that.

Two of my friends are big into making Microfiction, with my friend Cae even compiling a book of Microfiction this year, while still releasing a bunch on twitter. My other friend Jade, and by other friend I mean she’s the other friend I brought up at first, not that I only have two friends, but if I did only have two friends, these two would be pretty good choices, point is, Jade also makes microfiction.

Microfiction is basically this whole way of telling a story that we normally reserve for something the size of a joke. It’s interesting and it’s challenging and it’s a really good way to get into the habit of telling small evocative stories that cut away every part of what they’re trying to do in as few words as possible.

Story Pile: Living and Dying in 3/4 Time

Aw hell yes.

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

Fifteen years after I first heard the album.

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

Get off my lawn, Jimmy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decemberween: Resplendent in the Sky!

I have a complex relationship with long form fiction.

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

I have read a lot of fiction books.

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

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

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

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

Honestly, yeah pretty much. Go check it out!

Story Pile: Rise of the Guardians

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

Continue reading

Sneeze Fetishists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November Shirt: Do Not @ Me

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

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

Here’s the design: 

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Story Pile: El Camino

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

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Academic Success

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

It’s a cheap gag but let me have it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ready Player One And The Hyperconsumer

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

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

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

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

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

But he’s poor.

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

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

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

an unsophisticated cybertext

a

19

hallmark

15

requires

57

a

25

ideas

10

seen

64

a

33

in

35

somehow

63

a

54

in

44

such

27

a

68

interesting

3

text

30

aardvark

75

is

2

than

70

another,

52

is

21

that

6

around

61

is

62

that

56

as

13

it

1

the

9

as

28

jump

60

the

14

as

65

less

66

the

39

be,

74

linear

47

the

42

being

31

mine

43

the

46

book

55

of

8

this

29

browser

37

of

16

this

71

consider

5

of

41

to

4

contingent

23

of

67

to

51

could

72

often

22

to

59

deciphering

45

on

24

use

12

determines

18

on

32

we

11

engagement

40

one

7

webpage

34

flow

48

one

50

what

17

from

49

or

38

where

53

game

20

platform

26

you

58

game

69

possibly

73

your

36

Story Pile: A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

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

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

when the trailer dropped.

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

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

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Reviewing My Own Loss Shirts

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

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

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

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

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“It was as wide as it was long,”

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

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

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

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

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

Okay okay okay, but what brought this on?

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

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

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

Breath of the Wild Recipes And Assumptions

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

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

First, the context.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story Pile: Hanna

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

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

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

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Story Pile: A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halloween As an ASMR Fan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

leunig can go fuck himself

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

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

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

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

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