Category Archives: 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: The Wire

There are certain shows and films that I am cautious about being too overly enthusiastic about recommending. Breaking Bad, in which a mediocre white teacher snaps and becomes the most dangerous man in the world for about twenty people, is a show that I figure I’m probably going to always want to like cautiously. The Raid, a movie that millenial white guy film buffs tout like it’s their Asian friend that justifies Asian Cinema, that’s one too. And I’m dreadfully worried about what it might communicate if I pontificate overmuch about The Wire.

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The Endless Love Of An 80s Trans Elephant

About two years ago I made the joke that Lotsa Heart Elephant said Trans Rights.

It’s not a smart or deep joke. See this here is Lotsa Heart Elephant. They’re a pink elephant with a love heart decal, from the 1980s American Greetings Card owned and produced TV series The Care Bears. Now you might notice, Lotsa Heart isn’t a bear! That’s because in expanding the line of merchandisable properties, American Greetings introduced the Care Bear Cousins, who were the same basic thing, but different types of animal.

I feel like explaining the Care Bears lore, which I would normally do at this point, would be a little bit of a waste of your time and mine because while it is bonkers in only the special way that extremely incompetent multimedia empires of the 1980s could be. Like, at one point it veers into harmonising the Care Bears with actual literal Protestant Christianity.

But Lotsa Heart is a character who, amongst these greeting-card level characters, has tried on the genders.

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Nurse Chapel Is Bi Now?

I have no idea who this character is but I asked a friend who likes Star Trek a lot, and when they were done talking the sun had come up, so, I figured I’d go check that out and see what was what. And oh boy, howdy, did I learn a lot.

Particularly, I learned that there’s basically nothing about Star Trek that hasn’t been written down.

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Transformers: Acid Storm

It’s weird that the Transformers series are het, right?

It’s not weird, when you look at it from the outside, that it’s primarily an advertising vehicle made to sell toys to a particular market, which has been isolated to the cooties-averse category of young boys aged seven to eleven, as set out in around the 1980s, and every change to the franchise since then has been a matter of a modest step away from that same base narrative. In the original G1 continuity, there are around 400 characters, and of them, there were three women, but there were a few dozen stories about robots getting crushes on human women, or vice versa. The default was heterosexuality, which, y’know, that’s what heterosexuality wants.

But the robots are robots and they have an enormous amount of control over their identity and expression. Like, there’s no Robo Boobies to signal femininity, unless you actively choose to have them. When you view these creatures as people of a culture, then it kind of stands to reason there’d be robots that chose a different gender. Heck, they’re called trans formers, why would they have a specific gender as a constant?

Anyway, hey, let’s talk about Acid Storm!

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The Unbeard

A beard is a slang term describing a person who — knowingly or unknowingly — is recruited as a companion to someone in order to hide, well, usually, to hide that they’re gay. That’s uh, that’s the point, a Beard is someone you go on dates with or even marry, so that you can convince the people around you observing your life that you’re straight. Oh, you can make the case that if you tell your wife you’re going to Vegas to hang out with Tony Baloney for a minigolf tournament, and the inherent Dudes Rockness of that covers for the fact that you are, in fact, going to Vegas for some entirely heterosexual infidelity, and that makes Mr Baloney your beard, but let’s not kid ourselves, when people talk about ‘someone’s beard’ they mean the gay thing.

Beards are a longstanding tradition in media, and you can view them in terms of the real world people doing real things, or you can consider them as a media trope. In sitcoms, it was not uncommon for a Love Interest to get dropped in to a media vehicle for a bunch of male comedians just to make sure that this show full of dudes who hung out with dudes and did all their emotional engagement with dudes didn’t look, ah, gay?

What I want to present to you now is the Unbeard: A heterosexual love interest who is so unconvincing and undeveloped that it makes the character interested in them seem gay.

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Story Pile: Speed Racer

In 1999, The Matrix came out. Then I blinked, and it was 2008, and Speed Racer came out. And I, despite being a grown adult, looked at these two works, as advertised, and asked myself: How the fuck did these things come from the same people?

Turns out that that’s an incredibly stupid question.

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Don’t Buy (Corporate) Pride Shit

This month you’re going to see a lot of companies putting rainbows on their products. A bunch of what they do is going to look very cool, even whipping some degree or measure of ass. Consider these rad shirt designs from Wizards of the Coast, which if you like their iconography for their games, integrates really good design aesthetics with the brand.

Don’t buy them.

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Story Pile: Moriarty The Patriot

Understand that literally anything that gets compared to Death Note has an uphill battle with me. Fortunately, Moriarty The Patriot isn’t like Death Note, in that it’s a fun anime about an interesting character. It doesn’t rely on a lengthy sequence of connected cat-and-mouse ploys to hook you in or arbitary ambiguated rules that make for world-affecting crime wizards in a society that cares an inexplicable amount about their impact. On the other hand it’s good that it doesn’t have to compare to Death Note because the alternative is comparing it to Sherlock Holmes and the character there of Professor James Moriarty, with whom this anime has nothing in common.

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Story Pile: Elementary

Oh hey, this happened didn’t it? There was a whole Sherlock Holmes TV series a few years ago that lasted for seven years and went out with pretty good ratings and earned a bunch of praise before it became a footnote in the fanagement story of how fans of another Sherlock Holmes story decided to be proactively racist to Lucy Liu of all people?

Hey, why don’t I check that out? Adrienne says it’s good and she’s neat so let’s check it out.

Oh hey, that was pretty cool!

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Story Pile: Orson & Olivia

A recent conversation on twitter kicked around with the question of ‘hey, do you remember a television program that it seems nobody else remembers?’ and that led to a lot of people sharing the ways that television, for all that it’s this heavily documented and mass produced resource that feels infinitely replicated in our streaming now, is still a massive sprawling media space of things that didn’t necessarily stick to the culture at large. Of course, there are always some people who remember everything. The people who made works are often the people who will always stand by and recognise the part they had in the place of things.

For example, Orson and Olivia is remembered, at the least, because of the voice actors.

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Shirt: The Idyllshire Copycoeurl

You know now I’m open about playing Final Fantasy XIV there’s a whole bunch of specific niche jokes I can make that don’t make me feel like I’m divulging the location of a covert operative.

These two designs, the Profile and Bell designs, are available on Redbubble. I recommend a baseball 3/4 style, for that proper ‘sports teams supports’ design.

Phones Have Never Been Normal

I was born in the early 1980s. In the first house I remember living, we had a phone that was a pale yellow, with a thick transluscent plastic ring on the front. You dialed a number by sliding that ring around in sequence. When you picked it up, you could make a call to someone who was physically in their home at the time you called them. It had a long, twisty cable that you could really mess up but which kept you near it, by the little table in the hallway. The cable was very short – you could stand up, next to the phone, but that was it.

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Story Pile: The Irregulars

In 2016, Netflix announced that Tom Bidwell, the director of Netflix’s Watership Down was going to make a new series based on the Baker Street Irregulars. For those familiar with Sherlock Holmes stuff, that’s an exciting idea — the Irregulars is a term that Holmes used to refer to a group of youths around Baker Street who he could rely on to do all the tedious parts of investigation that he wouldn’t want to be caught doing. The premise, Bidwell described was even more interesting:

Sherlock Holmes had a group of street kids he’d use to help him gather clues so our series is what if Sherlock was a drug addict and a delinquent and the kids solve the whole case whilst he takes credit.

The idea of ‘Sherlock without Sherlock’ is a really cool one, and it’s not the only time this idea’s been floated. Gene Wilder made The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, which even used an actor who’d been renowned throughout the 60s for playing Holmes. The Great Mouse Detective has Sherlock Holmes in the literal background of its own story, and that movie whips. There’s a lot you can do around Holmes, right?

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Loose Using

All our words through loose using have lost their edge

Ernest Hemingway

Is that a real quote? I don’t know. I learned it from an old videogame, called Wordtris, where it was part of the copy protection. Wordtris was a tetris-like game, where you were given letters and you were rewarded for spelling dictionary words. You had descending letters, and, as of games of the early 90s, Wordtris relied on a copy protection system, where to start the game, you had to provide some information that was available in the manual.

Wordrtris, being a game about fancy words and knowing words, made its information quotes from a variety of sources about words. There are quotes from this game’s copy protection that linger with me even now, particularly the paper burns, but the words fly away, an idea that has given me hope about ideas outlasting materials.

The lasting quote, however, is this Hemingway one. Which I cannot attribute, though I can find a host of sources saying ‘Hemingway said this.’ Is that true? Don’t know. Not a big Hemingway guy.

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Story Pile: House

One of the last television programs I watched, regularly, when there was a television in my house plugged into a plug in the wall that was connected to an antenna on the roof that pulled signals out of the air and converted one of five free-to-air channels, paid for with advertisement revenue of me watching the show, was House. I remembered thinking it was very clever, a very smart series, whose main character was very smart and clever and that justified such complex narratives.

I wasn’t quite sure what I expected when I rewatched the show. My memories of the show cut off at some point, which I assumed meant I just wasn’t that into sitting on my sofa to watch something far away from a system of videogames and music I had in the other room. What I expected to find in hindsight was a show that was probably really intelligent and thoughtful, and that I’d still find it annoying because I’d grown tired of dealing with dudes who fancied they were like House.

Turns out I was half right.

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April 2022 Wrapup

It’s the end of the month, it’s time for me to point out to you all these great, corking articles that keep you up to date with the kinds of things I’ve been doing that you may have missed. I know that my particular form of blog writing isn’t for everyone, so I hope having a guide for the stuff I’m really proud of is really useful.

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Representing Fights With Kenpachi

Alright, let’s talk about a pet theory about a manga I stopped paying attention to and which wasn’t really made with a coherent explanation in mind by an author who was extraordinarily checked out in varying stages of the production. This is fanfiction but admit it you are here for it because you weren’t going to go check if I just said this authoritively.

Let’s talk about Yachiru, one of Bleach’s many dangling threads!

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Story Pile: Fullmetal Panic

I promise I’m not just an immense mark for millenial-focused high school alt history, it’s just come up twice.

Fullmetal Panic is kind of a greatest hits of 1998 to 2004 ‘anime’s subject material. It’s a highschool drama, it’s a gifted child narrative, it’s a mascot-based comedy, it’s a Highly Marketable And Merchandisable mecha and military kind of story that includes most of your greatest hits, including in a fairly economic way, the three flavours of Waifu; Big Sister, Little Sister, And Miscellaneous.

It tells the story of Kaname Chidori, an ordinary high school girl who has the Techno Renaissance in her head (but she doesn’t know that), and her new classmate, Sousuke Sagara, an ordinary highschool boy who’s a former child soldier transferred to the school to serve as Kaname’s long-term bodyguard because there’s multiple non-state actors (and state actors) that would use her head full of super-science ding-dongery to take over the world, deployed by the NGO Mithril, who are technically mercenaries, but the kind of mercenaries who seem to largely be paid in justice and are often scrabbling for money.

The mecha are detailed, the helicopters are realistic, the gun nerdery is (I’m told) extremely in depth and all of these components are brought together to tell a story that kind of runs in three basic lanes:

  • Super-science conspiracy stuff
  • Mecha battles with ‘small scale’ tank-comparable mech
  • High school comedy nonsense

Spoilers for the anime and light novels to follow.

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Mask: Some Masks!

I don’t need shirts right now. I do however, want to have some masks, so I can wash them very regularly. Let’s check some out!

I love my THIS SHIRT SAYS TRANS RIGHTS shirt, and I wanted a version I could wear on a mask when I need my shirt real estate to say something else, like, say, DID YOU CHECK THE SUBJECT OUTLINE. I made this variant on the shirt for mask purposes.

I have a M*A*S*K mask already, but I was never as into MASK as I was into Transformers. This mask is based on the face of Wheeljack, from Transformers.

And this is my masterpiece. This Haruhi-inspired asymmetrical mask is a reminder to me just how much I love that classic anime. I should write about it later this year.

Story Pile: Brave Father Online: Our Story of Final Fantasy XIV

Some of the dates her are a little general, sorry, it’s just what you gotta deal with. Here’s the long walk version: Sometime, around 2016 by my best information, a Japanese blogger who played a character named Maidy Maidy in Final Fantasy XIV made a blog detailing his story of connecting with his father through both playing the game Final Fantasy XIV. Maidy’s plan was to get his dad into the game, and befriend him there, without his dad knowing his friend was his son.

This was successful in the way that autobiographical blog posts relating to videogames rarely are.

The real-life account of this was so compelling there was a book made (2017), then a TV series (2017), then a movie (2019), and at each step of this process, the original author, who was a real person talking about his real relationship with his real dad resisted changes that were suggested to make the story more tragic or heartbreaking or more classically dramatic. The movie uses in-game footage captured by an ordinary player account, though dramatically enhanced through crime programs, and Maidy ‘plays’ his character and his guildmates play their roles with him. It is effortlessly charming, very funny, classic to its form, and a movie I really enjoyed.

It is a personal story about a relationship and a videogame.

Content Warning: Cancer!

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Changing Avatars

Good god I need to be careful about how I word this.

Okay, how to word this. How about if I say, up front, NOTHING TRANS IS HAPPENING, and then people will go ha ha but no really, but I’ll have to restate it that I mean it and NO REALLY, THIS ISN’T ABOUT THAT.

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Story Pile: Community

When Community was at its first wave of popularity, I remember reading a tumblr post praising it for its authenticity in comparison to the other, more successful and advertiser-prone alternative geeks-and-jokes series, The Big Bang Theory, which chose to describe the latter Bazinga-Em-Up series as nerd blackface. A phrase that at the time I thought ‘yeah, that’s a smart way to describe it’ and now I think ‘oh no, that’s a real sign of how brain-rotted I was to see geeks as an oppressed underclass.’

I think this helped to create a narrative about Community; that it was the ‘real’ funny sitcom about nerdy things made by nerdy people who were good, not like that other one, that was bad. And make no mistake: Big Bang Theory is extraordinarily tedious basic-ass sitcom made with a laugh track to prime delivery and a condescending view of nerds’ abilities to, like, respect women’s boundaries. By comparison and also just, on it own, Community is a really funny show.

Mostly.

In fact, so much so I’m just going to spend a few paragraphs here talking about things in it that I think are funny as hell.

The deaf girl and Abed rivalry. Troy embracing dance, but not the other thing, with the theatre. Jack Black showing up and making fun of retroactive continuity. Troy being a savant at Air Conditioning. The flag being a butthole. The pillow fort/blanket fort contention. Abed’s rap. The episode with the six rolls of the dice. Physical comedy on many levels. Dean Pelt’s many ridiculous outfits and the time when he burst out rapping even if sounded like he wanted to drop a hard n.

Hell, even just single lines are amazing and bring to mind an entire comic situation. Would that this were a Time Desk. You can excuse racism? Oh he’s too attractive, even the shadow. Football is in your blood. I’m a living god. I hope this doesn’t awaken anything in me. The professor was SO old. How about I pound you like a boy? My father held grudges and I’ll always hate him for that. This isn’t budget daycare.

Now I mean this is a series that I may have just praised but you’ll also notice that for example, Ben Chang doesn’t show up in any of those anecdotes, and Laverne barely does. It’s because Laverne’s a fucking homophobe and everyone around her is just okay with that because everyone else in that room is a homophobe, as you might note by the way they’re totally okay with one of their friends being a blatant homophobe. It’s a quirky belief, just like her antisemitism. Oh wait I’m supposed to mention something that’s acceptable. Her fondness for parental abuse?

I like this series. I like Community. There are a bunch of episodes that are funny and it has some great sequences of dialogue and some episodes A plot or B plot is really great and forms an enjoyable, thoughtful whole. Lots of plots resolve out cleverly, the reference pool is very relatable to me, and when the show dips into nerdy topics, I get the strong impression that I, as a white guy who is now approaching forty, am the kind of nerd they want to be talking to. It’s really good at being a funny show with a cynical edge.

But there’s always something that comes up, eventually, and ruins it.

If you want the short reason, before the fold, here’s the simple bit: Britta. But for more, we need to lay down a content warning for Child Sexual Assault.

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Story Pile: The Story of Tiffany Aching

I’ve said that the correct place to start with the Discworld books is to grab one that looks interesting and go for it. There is no need for the continuity of the story for it to work for you, they’re all contained stories that work well on their own and hold together without the need for knowing exactly what comes before and after. You don’t have to treat these books like they’re part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a reading order to tell you what you can or can’t handle.

This is not, however, to say there is no continuity in the Discworld. Instead, that continuity is much more about tracking the narrative path that follows something in the setting, whether it’s a character or organisation or country, seeing the way they change from one story to another, the way they grow or suffer, the ways their choices and jobs and circumstances shape them. It can be something like watching the Omnian Church arc from inquisatorial fundamentalism to its eventual representation by Constable Visit-the-Infidel-with-Explanatory-Pamphlets.

One of these stories is about a nine year old girl, and her arc from wisp to witch. It’s the story of the what it’s like to grow up and want to wrestle with the incomplete world the adults have given you, about how being smart isn’t the same thing as being good, and how being good is a thing some people have to practice. It is a young reader’s set of stories that come together to form darkest, most intricate Smurfs fanfiction you’ve ever read.

I want to talk to you about the story of one Tiffany Aching.

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Story Pile: Martian Successor Nadesico

Martian Successor Nadesico is a comedy-drama science-fiction space opera story with an enormous cast of characters that introduces a spaceship, recruits its screwball crew, goes to mars, then to the moon, engages in multiple sorties, defies the UN, deals with shadowy secret research, uncovers a conspiracy, grapples with questions of culture and media, wins a war, creates a peace, has a talent contest, multiple music videos, love triangles that go through the full typical mathematical configurations, is funny as hell and serious as a heart attack.

This popcorn anime of the late 90s is now a vintage classic.

The world was a different one, where anime were not being wholly produced on computers (yet), nor the natural end point for a churning industry of marketable light novels (yet), nor an endless filler spiral trying to maintain the presence of one of the big three shounen anime in the minds and charts of the viewing public (yet). It was a time when anime series were seriously grappling with just being too big to reasonably buy, where a 13 episode anime would still cost you $140 to buy, because you’d get two episodes per VHS tape, and each tape would cost you $20 AUD.

You had to pick dubbed or subbed when you bought the tape, and it was entirely possible that the track you wanted wouldn’t be available when you went to the store. An anime might sell out of like, volume 6 in sub or dub, and you had to wait literal years for the next reprinting.

It was a time when the medium was the message in a truly astounding way: when anime was competing for a small number of slots, for a small audience, and as a result, it was even more self-referential, trope-codifying and quietly impenetrable than you’d imagine. Right now, the main anime people know from this time, and I say ‘know’ in that they ‘kinda remember’ or ‘have watched some of,’ or think about it as a thing that’s important to ‘anime,’ is Evangelion or Pokemon, which you can definitely look at as two forking paths: one of mass-market popularity, and one of deliberately reflective genre awareness.

It’s one thing to be a leader. It’s another thing to be one of the first followers.

And it’s even more impressive to somehow follow both.

SPOILER WARNING: Uh, spoilers? Some? For stuff in the series that is why you should want to check this anime out?

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Shirt: Somy Pacestation

I’m fond of these things, these deliberately wonky brands you see in anime and TV that can’t or won’t pay other brands to advertise their bullshit. How am I going to explain this one. It’s just the text. It’s literally just the text!

Here’s the design:

And here’s how it looks on a mask:

Here are links for if you want it in white text or black text.

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