The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Posts Tagged ‘Stupid little things I notice’

Posted by Matt on May 22, 2011

…and while I’m complaining about television, I got another issue.

Despite being heavily based in genre fiction, in books, comics, games, and movies, I have a hard time getting into most genre television. Most of it is because of the length issues I talked about the other day (and although many are not so heavily plot-based, most series since X-Files have story arcs). There’s something else, though, something that I think is far more ingrained in today’s genre TV conventions.

I have never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer for an extended period of time. I may have seen a few episodes here and there; in fact, the only season I have any real exposure to is the first one, which contained episodes about giant praying mantises and hyena people that I’m sure most fans are wont to forget (the only other episode I can remember watching? One that featured John Ritter as an evil robot. As far as I’m concerned, this is what Buffy is, a show about giant praying mantises and evil John Ritterbots). I do know many people who have seen all of it, and love it, and evangelize it. This audience kept a cult show on for seven seasons and a spin-off, and it has acquired a bit more cultural cache because of that. It has, really, become an influential force on the world of genre fiction. That’s where my problem begins.

Now, I’m not going to dismiss Buffy or its fans; I have no reason to, as I have not been presented with anything that says the show was particularly bad. But I have become quite aware of the show’s, and Joss Whedon’s, storytelling tics from exposure to fans and critics online. Since that awareness came, I have begun to see them everywhere. The show may not have been a cultural force, but it was a nerd cultural force, and so the nerds with a creative drive start getting their work out there, it’s influence spreads like a plague.

But what is this influence that haunts me? I think it boils down to the following recurring qualities:

1) General cheapness, with little or no desire to make up for it visually
2) Snarky dialog coming from all characters
3) A strong sense of ironic detachment

The first is more or less out of the creator’s hands; TV budgets are notoriously minuscule. Which is generally no excuse for lame direction, which is an epidemic among genre TV. Budget or no, bad action is bad action, and it’s not like its impossible to make something LOOK good on a small budget.

The second and the third are tied together, and this is what really gets me. It’s a nerd thing; they want to like the things they like, but they can’t look like they take that shit too seriously (even when they do), because well…it’s silly stuff. I know it’s odd to think of nerds having any sense of social awareness, but it’s there, every once in a while. What it does is when these types get a hold of entertainment, however, is make a contradiction.

Now, having an ironic, or less-than-deadly-serious take on genre conventions is not in itself a terrible thing. It can be done right, and has. The problem is that…everybody’s doing it now. You can’t have wizards or vampires or aliens in anything without at least one character who thinks the whole thing is a joke. But then the story plays it mostly straight otherwise, so any sort of commentary or comedic value is removed. It’s having your cake and etc., is what it is. These writers really do love stories with vampires and wizards and stuff like that, but they know that most people think that shit is stupid. So, they make this show that basically says “Here’s a monster, but just between you and me, this is really pretty dumb! Keep watching anyway” It feels a bit dishonest to me.

I think a lot of this comes from comics culture. I’m sure most of the people who write genre television was, at one point, a Marvel or DC reader. By the mid-90s, all the kids and teenage comic readers had vacated superheroes, leaving the long-time readers to hold the fort. Being adults, they knew that if other people found out they still loved stories about men in gaudy costumes punching each other, they would be ostracized…moreso. So they started that ironic detachment, mocking most of what had built the superhero comics up until that point: the silly adventure stuff, the world domination plots, the super pets. Then these same guys went on to be the writers of the comics, and they brought that sensibility to the books themselves. Superhero comics have yet to recover from that incursion of irony, and even the movies have yet to really capture the kind of grand cosmic weirdness that they were capable of 25 years ago (both Thor and Green Lantern seem to be getting closer, though).

In fact, it really seems that in the last decade, all the mainstream comics have essentially become genre television in ink form. All above features I listed above are there, in addition to things like a focus on ongoing story arcs, and even the contradictory desire to be both shocking (usually via character deaths) while maintaining the status quo (because change makes people feel scared). As I mentioned, some of this stuff originated in comics and comic readers, so it’s all full circle. It’s worth mentioning that many comics writers in the mainstream today either moonlight as television writers, or seem to desperately want to be (I don’t remember where exactly I read this, but I remember someone saying that Brian Michael Bendis, for example, seems to want to write crime or espionage thrillers, but life dealt him superheroes instead). So there really is no mystery to why all this is going on.

I just don’t really like it. It’s not the type of writing I can really enjoy very often. It gets tiring. You just want them to commit to an idea; either be a full-on comedy making fun of genre tropes, or just write a story using those tropes (hopefully in a creative way). The closest thing to it on my regular viewing plate is Doctor Who, which while not completely serious, is still pretty devoted to its sci-fi ideas, which I find enjoyable more often than not. The funny thing is, the original run of the show is one of the things that I think a lot of genre writers aspire to, but are forced to distance themselves from because of its (perceived or real) cheesiness. The new show embraces its past, but has still taken in what has changed within the world of genre TV within the past two decades, so it ends up avoiding the major shortfalls of both eras. It’s a nice balance, one that I hope to see more of.

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Posted by Matt on June 30, 2010

I am once again reminded that Pokemon knows how to push my buttons:

Sableye is a stylization of the Hopkinsville Goblin, a creature from an alleged Kentucky “alien encounter” described as having shining eyes, small legs, clawed arms and swaying hips (a movement that Sableye does indeed imitate in the 3-D Pokémon games). The Hopkinsville aliens are most famous in Japan, where they have appeared in other anime and video games.”

FUCK YES I remember reading about the Hopkinsville Goblin during my paranormal obsession days. I never would have made the connection, but now I see it, and it is awesome:

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Posted by Matt on June 5, 2010

I don’t know if I want to talk about anything at this moment, so here’s this:

As you can see, at some point in the 90s, Sega thought that they should use their Batman: The Animated Series license to create a Gunstar Heroes-style shooty-type game, complete with weird 90s electronic music, which the Genesis’ tinny sound was actually able to do quite well. If Batman and a parade of recognizable villains didn’t show up, this would not be an identifiably ‘Batman’ game. It reminds me more of other older shooty-type games, which often consist of bizarre levels with very little connection to one another. For an example, let’s skip ahead in this playthrough:

Most of this is in the I guess appropriate Mad Hatter levels, which involve a robotic enchanted forest that eventually breaks off chunks of pixel to attack you and ends with an almost photorealistic bouncing gnome. It’s weird on its own, and even weirder because it’s a Batman game.

I will give them a little extra credit for going the unexpected route of having Mr. Freeze as the final boss, as well.

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Posted by Matt on May 28, 2010

Apparently the latest movie punching bag is Sex and the City 2. I don’t know much about the show or the previous movie, but I think I get the gist if it enough to know that a plot involving the consumerist zombie protagonists going to Abu Dhabi is a strange thing indeed. It reminds me of the kinds of plots that journeymen screenwriters churn out for every feature-length adaptation of something that can not sustain a story beyond 30 minutes. Sitcoms, board games, silly cartoon characters, you name it.

So, if you have to write a movie script for one of the above, here’s a helpful list of story ideas that no one other than me will call you out on reusing:

* (X) go on world adventure/road trip across America, get involved with jewel thieves/smugglers
* (X) ‘s home is threatened by greedy real estate developer
* (X) inadvertently carry around top secret government technology, government tries to get it back from them
* (X) save the environment from evil corporation (not just greedy or negligent, but worse than Hitler)
* (X) get involved with the Mafia. Not the real Mafia, some cartoon bullshit version.
* (X) do the exact opposite of what they normally do, realize how wrong they are, and then go back to the status quo
* (X) get involved with some stupid regicide plot by the Duke of Dickface or whatever
* (X) go to another planet/dimension where ‘more epic’ things can happen
* (X) save/meet the President
* (X) are stranded on a desert island

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Posted by Matt on May 22, 2010

Bear with me, I’m on a nostalgic trip.

Early this morning, I saw that CTV was airing OWL TV. I used to watch OWL TV in my preschool days. It was one of those shows that made me interested in Animals!

How many of these kinds of children’s science magazine-format shows do they have now? Honestly, I think one of the easiest ways to get kids more excited about learning and science is to just show it to them, plainly, because nature has a way of being awesome on its own. I’m sure kids still like animals, and animal facts, right? They damn well better.

This, of course, led down the rabbit hole of children’s shows that I watched. Camp Cariboo, Fred Penner’s Place, The Umbrella Tree (fucking horrifying puppets), stuff like that. Then came…PJ Katie’s Farm. Upon reflection, I now realize the utter strangeness of this show.

Here’s the thing: the show was about a woman manipulating little home-made clay figurines to tell a story about farm animals, doing all the voices as well as narrating. No camera tricks, stop-motion, or anything. She just moved the clay figures and told the story in plain view. It’s sub-Manger Babies level television. Yet there’s something to the low-key affair and its public access production values; it makes me kind of glad it exists.

To show you how this show worked, here is a highlight reel:

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Posted by Matt on April 10, 2010

This made me laugh:

Skylar Neil (1991-1995), American cancer victim

I am a bad person

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Posted by Matt on April 4, 2010

Not seeing Clash of the Titans in theaters due to disappointing reviews and tacked-on 3D. Oh well, maybe I’ll wait and see Iron Man 2 as the first movie I see this year.

However, Clash’ release this weekend has put me in Greek mythology and monster mood. So I will now talk about one my favourite parts of the whole crazy enterprise that is Hellenistic myth: the monsters, and the crazy little things about them.

The people who say that superhero comics and classic Greek stories are pretty identical are right. But you already knew that, I’m sure. But even when you get right down to minutia like continuity they are the same, with a general timeline existing, some consistent character traits, and a whole lot of stuff that changes from author to author, even when they create inconsistencies. If we’re comparing them to modern superhero comics, there’s also a lot of moping and rape, although in the case of the myths, they didn’t need Watchmen to decide that was the proper thing to do.

Then there are the monsters. We all know the monsters. Monster Manuals and Final Fantasys the world over would have some gaping holes in them without all those Greek monsters. Some of them go on to become cultural icons, who doesn’t know what a gorgon or a cyclops is these days?, and some of them are left in obscurity, like Python and the fox that can’t be caught and was ultimately destroyed when a guy sent a dog that always catches its game, and Zeus just can’t take the paradox.

One detail about many of the most famous Greek monsters that I’ve always liked is the fact that they were related. And that includes some of the big ones, too, like the Hydra, and Cerberus, and the Sphinx. Yes, despite not looking the least bit similar, they all have the same ma & pa. The father, Typhon, was a giant horrible fire-breathing demon who tried to destroy Zeus because he locked away all his giant horrible siblings. Zeus then threw a volcano on him. This is a long line of awesome, as you can see.

For reference, here’s the family roll call:

-Nemean Lion (One of the Hercules’ twelve tasks involved killing this thing, despite it being nearly invulnerable)

-Ladon, the dragon guarding the golden apples. Hercules had to kill this thing too. See the pattern yet?

-Cerberus, the guardian of entrance to the Underworld and one of the few survivors of the the Herculean labours, only being inconvenienced. This is possibly because he was the only real non-jerk among the monsters.

-Orthus, a two-headed dog that was also a victim of Hercules’ anti-monster killing spree. In true Greek fashion, some sources claim he is in fact the real father of some of the other monsters.

-Lernaean Hydra, who famously had infinitely regenerating heads and poisonous breath. She (yes, she) also had a crab sidekick, sent by Hera to annoy Hercules while he killed the Hydra.

-Theban Sphinx, who guarded the entrance to the city of Thebes by asking riddles. When our future no-eyed hero Oedipus figures out her riddle, she jumped off a cliff, despite having wings. Well, at least she wasn’t killed by Hercules.

-The Lycian Chimaera, who was the youngest and maybe the scariest. She was killed by Bellophron and Pegasus.

Giving all the major antagonistic monsters a single origin certainly makes sense. If there’s one thing older human thinking promotes, its things have a very simple, understandable beginning, even if the rest of it doesn’t make any sense (see also: every other religion ever). The fact that the monster family is completely random doesn’t mean a thing as long as where the monsters came from isn’t.

It’s pretty easy to understand why I like this detail. One, it involves monsters. Two, there’s just something cool and cute about a family of monsters. Three, there’s a interesting dynamic created when most of the monsters are sent out to fuck people up by the same group of Gods who thought it proper to bury their dad under a volcano. Also, the children of the God who buried dear old dad under a volcano have a tendency to kill them. I think I could do something with this.

This has been my profoundly silly post of the month.

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Posted by Matt on March 24, 2010

Decipher has this CCG called Fight Klub that’s been kicking around for the past few years. It’s big thing was that it had a new distribution model, one that was player-driven and not nearly as random and money-draining as other CCGs are. The gameplay itself is…adequate (here’s a random review I just found). It seems weird that Decipher, after years of producing highly-complex games like Star Wars and Star Trek, would decide to make a rock-em-sock-em robots game…but whatever. There’s the history.

New release. So far, the series has used characters from action and horror movies, everything from Silence of the Lambs and Rambo to fucking Species and Chuck Norris. The new set follows in that tradition, and even manages to land the big guns with Terminator and Robocop. So yeah, that works fine. What else is there? Jeepers Creepers? Bullshit, but I guess applicable bullshit (this is one of those things with recent movie-based CCGs, I’ve found. Both this and Marvel Superstars are games that mix material from both good and utterly terrible films, so it’s kind of hard to judge them on their own grounds because the whole time I’m thinking “Well here’s an Elektra card…my god did Elektra ever suck”) .

But then…Fargo. What? Really?

And then…Platoon. Maybe a little more appropriate, but on the other hand, I wonder how Oliver Stone thinks about his ‘Nam confessional being used to the delight of nerds. Not that this is anything new.

It’s weird is what I’m saying.

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Posted by Matt on February 5, 2010

There are so many good games I’ve never heard of before. This is one of them.

I love a good fast-paced action game, and even as the times change, there never seems to be a real lack of them. The SNES had/has a good selection, and even then I’d say this one looks like one for the top.

First, the shooting gallery style certainly sets it apart from the rest. Second, the futuristic west is just a fun setting, especially for a game like this. So, not only are you getting the background for general badassness and shooting, but you also get the background for creating a lot more things for you to shoot. Shooting criminals is all well and good, but shooting giant crab robots is something else entirely. Two-player doesn’t hurt, either.

Wild Guns even has awesome music. The interesting thing about the music and sound is that it is almost exactly the same as the three Power Ranges SNES games I used to play. Check it out. They must share a developer; I’m too lazy right now to confirm this.

There is another game that also shares the sound stylings, called The Ninja Warriors.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this and Wild Guns shared a developer. Both have the same sort of high-quality arcade action game quality. Both also have heavy use of robots. In this one, you get three cool playable characters (not just ninjas, but ninja robots, and that has to account for something) with huge movesets, beset on all sides with enemies for you to pummel, and there’s even objects you can throw at them! Just good stuff all ’round. The only thing it lacks is two-player.

More information on Wild Guns and the entire Ninja Warriors series (yes, there was more than one).

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Posted by Matt on February 3, 2010

Stupid stuff I find funny:

Akira: Virtua Pouter.

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