The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Which can be misconstrued as saying The Dark Half is the scariest story ever

Posted by Matt on August 18, 2011

I find disorders like paranoid schizophrenia and depression to be among the scariest things in the world. There is something to the idea of a thing that only affects you (in a way) and can’t be turned off. Like a deformity, a curse, something that follows you everywhere, can’t be satisfied, can’t be quieted; it’s as permanent as every other sensation. The only short term solution often involves forcing your personality to change, whether it be through changing your life patterns or taking drugs. Sometimes, these things will eventually rid you of the problem. Other times, it can return, even worse than before. In either case, once you’ve suffered something like this once, you will always remember it, and you’ll be stuck with a lingering fear that it could return. That can sometimes be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I don’t know if it’s just a hypersensitivity to noise or something else, but sometimes I think I hear noises. Whispers. I know they’re not really there, but sometimes it just feels like I can’t make them stop. I’ve lived like this for most of my life. It’s not that bad, really. But it makes me wonder. It makes me wonder what it would be like if those noises I can easily dismiss were a lot louder, a lot harder to ignore. Omnipresent. I wonder what it would be like if I couldn’t use my rationality to rid myself of the fear that creeps in. Then, I wonder what would it be like if this was a regular occurrence, and if there was no easy way I could deal with it, other than a major medical intervention. This scares me more than anything else.

What’s worse is that there is no single cause to these disorders. Certain events can trigger them, but there’s no germ, no force we can blame our problems on. Sometimes, they simply happen, even to people we don’t expect. To people who didn’t expect it themselves. It is simply something that happens to us, a fact of the chemical interactions that make up our thoughts. I guess saying “what’s worse” at the beginning of the paragraph was sort of hyperbolic. It’s not something that I find to be that frightening, or that puts me into a state of “oh woe is the chaos of nature” nihilism. It’s simply…a fact. Something that’s good to know. A point of interest. Not that knowing will render the problem null if and when it ever shows up, although I think a greater understanding will make sure the proper steps are taken as quickly as possible.

It is a topic I come back to. I mean, it’s horrible, and something I’d probably do anything to avoid. But as creative type, I like looking at these things that scare me, and trying to understand why for me personally, why it might be the same for other people, and as many other angles as possible. It’s a good way to get ideas for stories and characterization. It may also help with my mental health, but why should that ever be a priority?

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The People Will Know When You Have Failed Them

Posted by Matt on August 16, 2011

With it looking like I have failed to become a student of journalism, why not talk about journalism some more?

The more I think about it, the more I think that journalism is a fucking science. The ADHD news cycle has moved past it already, but there was a good month there where tabloids were being scrutinized for their shitty tactics and scary level of political influence in the UK. In Greater Canadian Motherland, we have no such problem, despite Quebecor’s ubiquity on the newstands of the nations (and yes, I see as many people picking up the Winnipeg Sun as the actual[ly kind of mediocre] newspapers). It has been kind of interesting/amusing to see Sun News end up as the failure pile in a sadness bowl it is, desperate for anyone to pay attention to it. So much for Fox News North, you conspiracy nuts.

I’d like to think most people who buy tabloids know that they’re paying for screeching paranoia for people who want to be outraged all the fucking time, and that it’s really only for entertainment purposes (shitty entertainment, but when has that ever been an issue for most?) That’s way too optimistic of me. Chances are the people picking up the Sun think they’re getting the same level of quality information as readers of the Free Press. But that’s probably because they see the news, in all its forms, as a form of entertainment. Through the fault of the press, who have on a whole dumbed themselves down to reach some mythical rich idiot demographic that keeps getting distracted by shiny rocks or something, and/or the people themselves, who just don’t fucking care, the idea of the news has been distorted into either something you gloss over before you look at the TV listings, or a thing you read to have all your previously held opinions validated.

It shouldn’t be either. For the most part, good journalism is essentially politically neutral (although not really, because most politics involves molding reality in the minds of the people who let you do stuff, and unfortunately truth and information often gets in the way of that). I mean, facts well told may be unpalatable to one person who overly identifies with a political mindset, but facts hold no biases and are equal opportunity. As long as the information is accurate and provided within the proper context, we can be sure that decisions are informed, even when they completely disregard the facts for wild fantasy.

The idea that it has to be either shrieking or bone-dry is a false one. There is style in news reporting, and it involves skillfully and clearly conveying all the vital information of a story. It can be informative and entertaining you know, unless you can only be entertained by bright colours and movement. There is no hope for you then.

Now down to the science part, which is hilarious considering how badly reporters often mangle stories from the world of science (documented pretty frequently by Ben Goldacre). Journalism has what should be a scientific model system built in: science papers have peer review, newspapers (presumably) have editors and/or fact checkers. Now, editors aren’t going to make your reporting go from shit to gold, and poor/manipulative writing can still creep through. Even so, there’s still a level of assurance that a second opinion is being brought in, so we don’t just get straight prose goop from the reporter’s notepad to your table.

Whether or not the editors are doing their job is another issue entirely.

There’s also the issue of transparency. Science has built-in transparency: all published papers are easily accessible, and references and details about experiments are required. Reporting can’t quite have the same level of transparency, what with confidentiality of certain sources imperative. That gets into a whole ethics battle that will likely rage between journalists forever.

This means the comparison isn’t 100% perfect, of course. But in a very broad sense, science and journalism are still pretty close: both are based on reporting real, tangible information, require truthfulness and clarity on the side of the reporter, and need to pass a review process, where hopefully the information is confirmed as legitimate before being released for mass consumption. Both should be readable by everyone, and both are essential to understanding the world and making sure we don’t screw it up further. The dubious examples of both should be easily identifiable for most, and they should be criticized for it. No one should be ‘tricked’ into reading a tabloid, they should be able to detect the sensationalist shit just from the headline.

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The Social Media Universe Explained

Posted by Matt on August 9, 2011

As you may have noticed, I have joined numerous websites based on the idea of mass communication. One may wonder how I can keep track of all my web domains, or if I’ve joined the legion of Internet ADHD Victims. The jury is still out on the latter (not really, I totally am), but for the former, it’s all about having each account serve a specific purpose in my web of advertisements for me. You may prefer one mode I choose over the others, so I will now explain what those specific purposes are:

WordPress blog – Longer posts about things I don’t like, people I like to insult from afar and under general anonymity, some bad reviews (because I can’t review things very well), and observations about creativity and writing for the most part. I will be embarrassed by whatever I’ve posted here as little as a week after writing it.

Tumblr – Links to things I read or find interesting. Because I really hated doing that on the blog. Also, a record of my Internet ADHD.

Twitter – Dumb statements I make on the fly because I think I have to. Links to my Tumblr posts awkwardly shoehorned in. Attempts to communicate with people I respect, only for me to delete all replies because I’m afraid of looking like a fool.

Endless Reaction Shots – Beats the hell out of me.

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Posted by Matt on July 31, 2011

Hey, that gender diversity in comics topic is still pretty hot right now, isn’t it? Better hop on the train while the hoppin’s good.

In short, hiring writers and artists of diverse gender, race, sexuality, and background is not simply that old affirmative action canard. It’s a about getting a wide variety of styles into the mix that could then appeal to a wide variety of people. Plus, it opens up the hiring prospects quite a bit, so not only are you not just getting white guys to make everything, but you’re also not getting THE SAME white guys to make everything. This isn’t some draconian feel-good rainbow concept; this is intelligent business for anyone in a creative industry, one that doesn’t plan on stagnating any time soon.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like that includes the biggest names in the comics industry right now.

Of course, I also buy into the counterargument that while there are quite a few female talents in comics (and there really are), there might not be as many female talents in comics who want to play in some big corporation’s multimillion dollar sandbox, where there every idea will be absorbed and exploited for profit by others, with the only credit they get being a ‘Created by’ sidebar on Wikipedia. It’s not like creator’s rights at the big comics companies hasn’t been in the news lately. Same goes for the black creators, or the gay creators, and all the others. So there’s that to consider, as well.

It’s one of those things in comics. A lot of people, myself included, would like to see Marvel and DC improve their publishing outfit, and that includes hiring more and better talent. However, we also have to recognize that the work-for-hire scenario they offer is pretty rotten, so unless someone is either (a) absolutely in love with Marvel/DC’s universes and characters and doesn’t care about the downside of working for them, (b) like Warren Ellis and Joe Casey, who take on books for mainstream publishers solely as a self-imposed creative challenge, or (c) really like money (but not a substantial amount of money, albeit probably more than the average independent will get on their own), why should we expect said people to WANT to work for them? There’s a hell of a lot more avenues to get your work out there now, so really, why bother? It’s not like being a Spider-Man writer or artist or inker or colorist will be much of an status upgrade; it’s going from a niche to a slightly larger niche.

****

On a related note, here’s another observation culled from an addiction to trolling comment sections.

One of the frequent wrong ideas perpetrated by the masses in the world of fanservice-based fighting games (yes, I’ve seen it used for every. single. one.) is to lay the blame for the lack of diversity in gender/race (not sexual orientation, though. Gamers aren’t demanding proper homosexual representation. What a shock) on the developers of the game. Basically, if the game doesn’t meet some arbitrary quota of female characters, it’s a sausage fest. I mean, it’s clearly just the individual commentators trying to find the game’s character picks guilty of some social injustice so they can justify their whining about whatever characters THEY wanted not getting in, but let’s address another reason why it doesn’t hold up.

You see, the people behind games like Marvel vs Capcom 3, or Super Smash Bros. or Street Fighter x Tekken, are limited in their material. They set out to make a game that uses previously established characters, and like all fighting game developers, try to make the cast as diverse gameplay-wise as possible. Basically, they want to make the game interesting and fun, but can only use other people’s creations. So, that’s what they do: out of those creations, they choose the bunch that would include the greatest variety of gameplay styles, factoring in aesthetics and fanbases as well. This means that, unless they think it fills a particularly important gameplay or aesthetic niche, they will not consider that character’s gender or race or whatever, because that becomes secondary or tertiary when you bring in gameplay and giving the greatest number of different fans what they want. They’re just trying to do what’s best for the game with the material they set out. As some other commentators in the same arenas point out, there is no point in adding a character to these games if it’s just because they’re female.

Besides, the anger is completely misaimed. You want to see more women or black people showing up in these games? Ask the people who make the games these games pull their material from to create more diverse sets of characters. The world would be so much better if more games had a greater variety of protagonists and antagonists, anyway. So not only do the fanservice games get a wider variety of characters to use, but the games themselves would be more interesting. Everybody wins!

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Posted by Matt on July 29, 2011

I try to avoid watching newer episodes of The Simpsons. It’s not simply that I don’t find them funny anymore, although they aren’t. I have a much stronger reaction to them than I should, really. They are more mediocre than outright offensively terrible. But this is The Simpsons, and The Simpsons means a lot to me. So to see something under the name of one of my dearest pieces of entertainment, featuring characters who have provided with me so much over the years, spout out easy jokes and go for whiz-bang technical stuff and overly complicated plotting over any real heart or humour…it’s like the uncanny valley. It makes me feel ill.

I think a couple months ago, I saw most of two episodes. One of them had Werner Herzog as the guest star, which should be right up my alley, but it just didn’t click. For one, Herzog wasn’t really playing a character (although he is one of the few celebrity guests nowadays who wasn’t playing himself), but rather a vehicle for Wernzer Herzog to say things on The Simpsons. That isn’t terrible in itself, but it shows a real lack of thought behind the whole thing. Aside from that, there was a plot about Lisa inventing some sort of medication that made things placid, and giving it to all the established elderly characters on the show so they’d be less grumpy. Then their eyeballs pop out of their sockets, and we get some speech about how being grumpy is a natural and good and etc. Nothing about any of this is inherently funny or insightful or whatever. It just sort of…happens. I’d say the premise is too outlandish for the show, but I since some of my favourite episodes feature outlandish plots (“Homer’s Barbershop Quartet”, for example”), I really can’t use that as a major negative. The difference is that where in episodes like “Deep Space Homer”, the ridiculousness of the plot was a major vehicle for jokes and character moments, something like this episode doesn’t really have much of either. I guess the writers just thought it was a funny visual? It isn’t, but that’s the best explanation I can think of for it.

Now, none of what I saw in that episode was truly awful, and considering the obnoxious stupidity of some of the show’s brethren on Fox Sunday nights (The Cleveland Show, for the love of god), it’s almost a palate cleanser. But it’s still incredibly middle-of-the-road material, only slightly more sophisticated than the average syndicated sitcom. And really, that’s the level I put The Simpsons and Family Guy (a show that, while never to everyone’s tastes, could have at least been considered inventive some years ago, before falling into a predictable and sometimes smug routine), basically animated counterparts to King of Queens and the like. The only reason I care about this at all is because, at one point, I liked these shows. In the case of The Simpsons, I loved it, internalized it, and still watch the good episodes whenever I get a chance, and still laugh at them. It could be an easily ignored program if it didn’t seem like a mediocre puppeteer controlling the corpse of something once great. So I avoid it not just because it’s no good, but because it’s no good and it was once the greatest and that makes me cringe.

Part of what helps ease the pain of the loss of The Simpsons (and really, can you consider getting 8 years of some of the funniest material ever that can be rewatched infinitely a loss? Most good shows can only dream of having that level of consistency for that long) is that since the show went south, others have picked up the ball and ran with it. Comedy both animated and live action have been influenced by the show as much as I have, and they not only aspire to reach the levels it did at its peak, but to do it in their own way. Considering the level of impact The Simpson had, you could probably connect it to all modern comedies in some way, but the best of the disciples are the ones who are so good, the influence is subtle.

To use some of my current favourites as examples, the whip-smart dialog of The Venture Brothers can be attributed to the Simpsons influence, but it’s also a show with its own ideas, a real desire to create characters, and not just shapes with names that jokes are attributed to. Not to mention the action and real dark satire of how the promise of the future in the boys adventure fiction the show skewers has been fucked up royally; stuff that the more sitcom-y Simpsons wouldn’t dream of doing. Even something like Adventure Time, which is part of a wave of childrens’ cartoons that aim to bring back the animator-driven format of old that the writer-driven model represented by The Simpsons seemed to antagonize, has taken the show’s cue when it comes to its dialog-based jokes and attention to detail (both AT and the earlier Simpsons seasons understand the sheer comic potential of facial exaggeration, for example). Even if I hadn’t heard Pen Ward explain how much he looks up to The Simpsons, I can still tell that Finn and Jake fighting Why-Wolves and George Takei Heart wouldn’t be possible in a world without Flaming Moe’s and GABBO GABBO GABBO.

So yeah, seeing The Simpsons flail about is sad, I don’t mourn it. Because even when the show no longer worth watching, I know that it’s existence made it possible for many shows that are worth watching to enter the game, and then try to one-up the senile master. That’s what creating entertainment should be about, shouldn’t it? Showing how much we, the creators, have loved something by trying to surpass it, to DESTROY it. What better way to know you have been a major part of someone’s life, than seeing a bunch of upstart punks beat you at the game you invented.

Posted in Idiot Box, Observations | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Stuff Read

Posted by Matt on July 15, 2011

How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered The World: A Short History of Modern Delusions,
by Francis Wheen

When I decided to read Francis Wheen’s polemic against irrationality, I made the (understandable) error in thinking the majority of the book would sock the major players in the world of quackery and supernatural bollocks, something that I read on a regular basis and quite enjoy. That’s not to say the gang wasn’t all there: Wheen went after homeopathy, UFO conspiracy theorists, creationism, astrology, motivational speakers, and false prophets both ancient and modern in good order. But all these things, all relatively easy targets as widespread as they are, were simply the symptoms of something greater, Wheen says, and repeatedly traces it back to one decade: the 1980s. I think you know where this is going.

The thesis of the book seems to be that the 1980s, and the election of the Iron Lady in Britain and the Gipper in the US, ushered in a new era, a “counter-enlightenment”, whose primary goal was to undo the scientific rationalism that began to spread with the work of the 18th century Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire, Diderot, and the American founding fathers. The search for truth those great thinkers advocated was derided as the source of the world’s woes, and various forms of political and economic mysticism were invoked to get the world back on track. Wheen tracks the movement to every aspect of life: the massive deregulation of businesses and the subsequent overzealous businessmen who rose and fell in the manic trends (which we’ve seen even more of since the book was published), America’s search for a new post-Cold War archenemy (which was, apparently, Japan for a very short while), the takeover of academia by post-structuralist and postmodern thinkers who take healthy skepticism of authority to unheard levels by rejecting reality itself, and the massive outbreak of overemotional hysteria that reached its apex with the death of Princess Diana in 1997. What all these have in common, Wheen argues, is that they all derive from an ideology that rejects every advance made by Enlightenment 200 years earlier, putting emotion and belief ahead of thought and understanding. Even worse, he writes, the people who should be fighting back, the so-called progressive thinkers, have succumbed to the same illness, firmly planting themselves in their own opposition ideology of anti-Western fervor that they rarely see the forest for the trees.

It’s a powerful, eye-opening argument, and one that Wheen does an excellent job supporting. That the stories of dot-com era businessmen putting all their money in websites that literally make no money somehow end up being more damning of the deficiencies of the modern world than stories of fear-stricken dunderheads making preparations for California-destroying earthquakes caused by a rare planetary alignment is definitely a point in the book’s favour. Of course, we would all think to point and laugh at the latter and wonder what’s wrong with people, but to consider that the former and latter (and many more instances of both institutional and cultural insanity) derive from the same sweeping epidemic of anti-inquiry? That’s frightening.

So, a book that would initially seem to be an amusing look at snake-oil salesman and their marks (and Wheen’s style is definitely still quite amusing, even as he dives into the bleakness of the situation) turns into an examination of a world that has turned its back on critical thinking, and won’t stop it’s retreat to the dark ages even as it’s endeavors fail again and again. It was a bit of a surprise for me, but that only made the read more rewarding. The connections between all these irrational things hold up, and creates a disturbing realization of just how embedded these inanities are in our culture.

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Television Aliens I Have Known (Not About ALF. The ALF post will come later this week)

Posted by Matt on July 14, 2011

Why don’t I explain why I like Doctor Who? I don’t think I’ve done that yet.

Now, one thing to be noted is that I became a fan of the show recently. However, it wasn’t with the new series; I found a bunch of Tom Baker-era reruns on television before the new series aired, and was fascinated with them. Because of my latecomer status, I think I have avoided the zeitgeist that often comes with something as old and fanatically loved (and, in the case of the UK, ingrained in the basic fabric of the culture) as this, and can thus rationalize how I like this show a little more clearly.

One of the big things that endears to me about this series, both the original and the new ones, is that they seem to be able to balance different ideas of sci-fi quite effectively. What are those ideas? The first one is the speculative, the one that has dominated the first half-century of Science Fiction prose before the even pulpier aspects of the genre turned into space opera and took over. This side of sci-fi is the obsession with big ideas, with futuristic plots, with What Ifs. The show’s time travel element, more than it’s space exploration, exemplifies this, especially in the last few seasons, where going back and forward in the timeline to alter things plays a significant part of some of the plots (look at the “Pandorica Opens”/”Big Bang” finale from last year). When the show got weirder ideas in its head, even better. Some of the first episodes I saw were the wonderfully strange “Talons of Weng-Chiang” (which managed to mash together a time-travelling criminal, a killer ventriloquist dummy, Victorian England, giant rats, and Chinese stereotypes into one story) or “The Face of Evil” (which is essentially the standard ‘technology influences a primitive culture’ plot, but also has a computer with multiple personalities, including the Doctor’s). Even in the show’s lesser moments, you could often find a weird story idea or two that stand out among the Sci-Fi television landscape. Whether the show went into the future, or added an alien twist to the past (the latter of which I really enjoy because of the mash-up of incongruous elements. A story about medieval England is so much better when a robot shows up to fuck shit up).

The other element is the one that has been a part of pulp fiction for years, but was really solidified in the 50s: the love of goofy monsters. DW, more than any other big science fiction television show I can think of, has embraced that side of sci-fi, always attempting to come up with some sort of alien beast for the characters to face. Helping that is the low-budget nature of the show; for whatever reason, costumes and make-up and puppets (the show hasn’t even had the money to utilize some stop motion) just make more of an impression than impeccable computer creations (even when the show uses CGI these days, it’s pretty low-rent). I think it may be because the people behind the show had to be creative to make up for the fact that a lot of their monsters were simply fake fur and spray paint. A lot of the scariness ends up being implied; the Daleks and Cybermen are simple and low-tech in execution, but they were given unsettling concepts (the Cybermen were the Borg some 25 years before the Borg, remember, and what are the Daleks but miniature Panzers with a super-Nazi ideology?) to make up for being kind of goofy looking. Sometimes that didn’t work, and we ended up with something completely laughable (Kandy Man?) But even then, there’s something endearing about them. I mean, even bad old monster movies, not Dracula or Bride of Frankenstein, but The Giant Claw and From Hell it Came, have followings. The same deal applies here: it doesn’t matter how stupid a monster is, something about those rubber costumes instills delight in people.

There is also something appealing to the idea of a show where the protagonist is more of a thinker than a fighter, even if it doesn’t always follow up on that idea (here is an analysis of that). Despite being an alien and having lots of gadgets (and, at one point, mastering kung-fu for some reason), the Doctor is not superpowered or a gun-ho type, nor are most of his companions. The characters on the show end up having to solve their problems with thinking…and the odd deus ex machina (again, inconsistencies are there, but not enough to ruin the whole enterprise). This is usually where the horror and mystery elements kick in, which is another thing that makes the show stand out. For someone like me, who can enjoy well-done action with kick-ass heroes beating the shit out of evil, it’s a refreshing thing in to see in the genre pantheon. It’s fun to have an eccentric science-type to be the real hero of the story, and like the monsters, I think the limitations set by having (generally) normal characters who have to use their wits lends to some fun, inventive storytelling.

I think this is why it appeals to me more than the various branches of Star Trek, for example. Now, even though I’ve never tried to become a Star Trek, I do respect what it was trying to do, for the most part. Well, what the original series was trying to do, and TNG tried to emulate, and every other one after that sort of lost. Especially in those original episodes, there was an attempt to combine social awareness (the fact that it had a multiracial and ethnic cast should not be overlooked; I know my generation has come to loathe ‘affirmative action’, primarily because they are a mob of spoiled dickheads, but really, trying to be diverse shouldn’t be considered a problem) and the pulp goofiness, a potent combo that defined Science Fiction literary canon for years (including works from alumnus who worked on the show, like Harlan Ellison). Later series tried to capture that again, and sometimes succeeded, but starting with TNG, the series started to bog down with a love of the bureaucratic utopia the original show proposed, wedging itself firmly up its own ass and losing the sense of fun that the adventures of Kirk & The Gang had (I know there are lots of fans of Picard’s Merry Band out there, and I’m not someone who wants to hate TNG or anything, but I’ve found lots of enjoyment in original series fans’ evisceration of it). So, yes, Star Trek, on paper, should be right up my alley. But it isn’t, and Doctor Who is. To put it simply: I’ve just never been as much of a fan of stories about the kind of space adventuring on Trek, which feels almost militant and colonial; but I can dig the more free-spirited nature of Who, which feels more like wandering from place to place, never knowing where you’re going, not having any sort of mission or objective other than pure curiosity. Add in the horror and mystery stuff that DW aspires to more than most sci-fi televison, and we’re set for life.

But that’s not all. Remember all those production limitations I mentioned before? While the show’s special effects and conflict resolutions are kept in check, the one area where the show doesn’t really have much of a limit is in story possibilities. As I mentioned before, we could have an episode in 13th century England with robots, 20th century Germany with slug monsters, or some distant planet with robot slug monsters. It’s that freedom of imagination that really appeals to me, I think; a show where you can really do anything has always been very agreeable to me.

Being a new convert, as well, means that there’s a ton of history of the show to get into. It’s been fun looking back and seeing how show has evolved over the years, reflecting the times, etc. It’s just like how I was a late convert to comics, and found that I pretty much have ‘new’ material to last me for the rest of my life. It’s reassuring to know that I am still wading in the shallows of the ideasphere. I always have something to go back to.

And that’s why I like Doctor Who

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Wizards and Goblins I Have Not Known

Posted by Matt on July 12, 2011

With all the noise being made about HBO’s A Game of Thrones, George R.R. “Fatboy” Martin’s newest book in the original series, and the incoming overextended Hobbit movie, we’ve all been getting a massive dose of high fantasy lately. Here’s a secret: a don’t really like high fantasy. At all. this and this will give you a good idea why. But there’s more.

I, for one, find the Medieval Euro-centric concepts of these stories to be pretty dull on their own. Being a white, middle class North American all my life, I’ve had the real and imaginative histories of Western Europe drilled into my brain pretty thoroughly. I’m tired of it, really, especially when the authors have no innovative takes on the hoary old cliches at all. And really, there’s so many neat histories and myths found around the world, I think it would be worth more time seeking those out than hearing about kings and dragons again.

Like O’Neil, I am also unceasingly skeptical of authority, especially arbitrary authority as represented by the monarchies and upper classes that have spent the better part of human existence oppressing 98% of the population. Once you exit adolescence, I think the fantasy of ‘good’ kings should be long gone. Most high fantasy is inherently nostalgic, whether it be for the times of kings and nobles, or for the uncomplicated country living idolized by Tolkein’s Hobbits. But nostalgia in both instances is ignorance of history, a callback to times that didn’t exist. We may pretend that the British Royals are anything other than vestigial entities in a political realm that completely ignores them in every way that counts. Yet, I still see a defence of the Royals in local newspaper columns almost every Victoria Day. “It’s a tradition!” they cry out, as if traditions have ever had a particularly good track record. “It’s what keeps us connected to our unique heritage!”, which only reminds us that our heritage different levels of inherited authority figures sending each other out to take and enslave. But reality is no deterrent to the nostalgic set, and therein lies an appealing factor in high fantasy, a reminder of simpler times that didn’t actually exist. Even the more complicated political worlds of Martin’s books can’t escape it, especially when little to no attention is paid to the people under the warring noble factions.

Then there’s the length. I have always considered brevity a virtue, so if you’re story requires several 500-1000 page books to tell in its entirety, I get the impression that it’s getting bogged down by something. Worldbuilding is probably my least favourite literary trend, as it attempts to wring out a sense of importance and ‘epicness’ from the blandest of tales, and usually hinders plot and characterization. You want a big fucking universe? Write a fucking encyclopedia for it; don’t distract me while I’m trying to enjoy your yarn.

And that’s why I don’t like high fantasy.

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Disturbing Fetishes I Have Known

Posted by Matt on July 11, 2011

Now for something completely unwanted.

Now, I’m not one who thinks the waves of unsettling fetishes one can (too) easily find on the Internet only came about because of the Internet. No, they were almost certainly there since before the digital age. It’s just that people like you or me, who had no idea one could be turned on by such and such, are more likely to find out about them. Learning way too much about them, even. I’m sure most people innocently watching stuff on Youtube have had a moment where they see a video on the ‘Recommended’ list with an unusually descriptive title, click it, and find themselves through the looking glass. It’s far worse for anyone who dares peruse any of the many open art sites like DeviantArt.

I think it would interesting to look up an actual psychology paper on these sorts of things and how they come about, which must exist somewhere, but am too afraid to look it up myself. But for those of who have been lucky enough to avoid finding out about some of these things, sticking to your basic websites and getting in and out of your Google Image Searches quickly, here are some of the odd ones I’ve stumbled upon. I’d love to learn where some of these things come from, but for now, the knowledge that they exist is enough. More than enough.

Hypnotism

On one hand, probably the tamest of the lot with it’s light BDSM traits, but in other ways, very very disturbing indeed. Let’s face it: someone with a hypnosis fetish craves domination, or to be dominated themselves. All the methods seen in the media are featured on the sites, and special attention to paid to the face of the ‘victim’. Some like them to stare blankly (an additional love of vegetables?), some enjoy the ‘victims’ being all smiles. Drooling might be considered a bonus. A subset of this is mind control, which only furthers that rather unsettling feeling.

Quicksand

Now we’re getting more into the Internet era of fetishes, which includes categorizing random scenes from movies, television shows, and drawings of all sorts. Like hypnotism, there are a fantasy bondage aspect to the quicksand fetish, what with the focus on struggling, helpless women and all. Of course, being a groan-worthy staple of children’s adventure stories for so many years, it’s no wonder it’s ended up being an obsession (a real obsession. Just read the quotes from this) for the many now scouring the Internet. Also like the hypno fetishists, there are subcategories. Some, for example, just like the idea of people covered in sticky sludge, which would include things beyond quicksand.
Quicksand and other bondage scenarios involving women even have a ‘cute’ acronym among the fetish circles: DiD, or Damsels in Distress. Are they trying to hide behind it? I don’t know.
A related phenomenon that is far worse is a sort-of sister fetish centered around women being hurt in several different ways called ‘Ryona’ (I don’t know what the term actually means, and like hell am I diving even further into that cesspool). It’s really scary, and I’ve unfortunately stumbled on far too many Ryona videos on Youtube. Just a heads up: stay the fuck away.

Inflation

This one might be a tad more widespread because of the crossover with the furry community. Essentially, this is people who tug to the image of people/things being inflated like a balloon. ‘Muscle inflation’ is a popular term/category. I don’t really have much to say about this one, except “What. The. Fuck.”
There is also some crossover with the final fetish I’m going to talk about here.

Vore

That is, being turned on by the idea of being devoured. There are two main divides in the vore community: ‘soft’, which means essentially being swallowed whole and alive, and ‘hard’, which I assume means not being eaten whole and alive. I have successfully avoided the latter one so far. There’s really no limit to what can eat what in this world, it all works (which is why there’s a segment of the furry base revolving around this, as well). Some subcategories of the soft side include things called “Unbirthing”, “cockvore”…ugh, you get the picture. It’s not a good picture. (Ramble: I remember reading an early report on the PSP Kingdom Hearts game that called the new monsters in it ‘Unbirths’, and I said to myself: “Boy, they’re going to need to change that”).
Cartoon lions are a popular feature on the vore Youtube. Some people like to involve stomach acid in their fantasies. As for ‘why’, I’ve observed a few explanations from those who inflict this upon us all. Some people apparently like the idea that being inside someone will be all warm and comfortable. Some, probably the vore-inflation dual classes, like the image of someone with a cartoonishly inflated belly. There are certainly bondage aspects to soft vore, as well as domination fantasies. Personally, I find it all really, really gross.

Again, my main purpose in recalling these things, aside from creeping myself and everyone else out, is to wonder how things like this happen. The common thread between all these fetishes is that they often take root in childhood, based on something the participant witnessed in their choice of entertainment. The Internet really can’t be considered a true culprit in this matter: it’s an enabler, but it’s not a cause. I doubt many of these fetishists got their starts by just finding these sites. No, something has to be there before. So, what makes it so that something as (seemingly) random as this takes such a stranglehold (uh oh, that’s an unintentional allusion, oh boy) on their psyches? I’m sure most live completely normal lives in all other respects, but something happened there to make them become one of THESE THINGS. There must be an answer somewhere, but like I said, I’m sure as shit not going to go down that highway of madness.

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Who is the Worst Gamer Group of All?

Posted by Matt on July 3, 2011

FPS Gamers

Case For: Will yell “Faggot!” at you for fifteen minutes, speaks exclusively in incomprehensible jargon, will either be a rules stickler or a anything-to-win rules breaker, will spawncamp your ass all day

Case Against: Easily defeated by turning your headset off

Fighting Gamers

Case For: Highly elitist, conversations consist of jargon and unfunny in-jokes, obsessive-compulsive about things like controllers, not allowed to have fun, will probably make more money on the tournament circuit than you do actually contributing to society

Case Against: Those Justin Wong combo videos are pretty awesome

JRPG Gamers

Case For: Pretend to be sophisticated despite being functionally illiterate, refuse to play games that are less than 100 hours (where 40 of those hours are spent wandering around, and 50 are spent doing the same thing over and over again), would never pick up a real book in their life, very likely to be an otaku

Case Against: Those 100 hour single-player games means they have very little time to interact with others (and when they do, it’s at cons, which are very easy to avoid)

MMO Gamers

Case For: Addicted to clicking the same buttons over and over again, will spend real money in exchange for game money, make the worst stereotypes of gamers as passive blobs a reality, members of their guilds are probably the closest thing they have to friends, smell bad

Case Against: Same as RPG gamers, except that they don’t even really have cons. Are essentially recluses.

Sonic the Hedgehog Fans

Case For: Either gross furries or colossal man-babies, refuse to recognize that the Genesis games weren’t perfect either, are probably angered that most of the modern games are aimed at (gasp!) children, keep paying attention to the series they apparently love/hate instead of moving on, think the ‘serious’ cartoons/comics should be the model for the games, haven’t figured out that Sonic has always been a marketing-focused character

Case Against: Hm…I think we have a winner here.

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