Content warning: Psychological abuse.
Now I will tell you what I’ve done for you…
Content warning: Psychological abuse.
Now I will tell you what I’ve done for you…
Bezos’ net worth currently stands at $167 billion, a number higher than you can comprehend. Unlike his mega-billionaire peers like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Warren Buffett, he has not made substantial financial commitments to charity. He is so weirdly incapable of conceptualizing how he might use his immense fortune to help the world that he famously asked for philanthropy ideas on Twitter, and even more famously said, “The only way that I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel.” Jeff Bezos could be saving literally millions of human lives per year and curing entire diseases in the developing world but instead all he can think of is to build space rockets. He is a walking advertisement for the necessity of wealth confiscation.
(oh god I’m so sorry about the title)
Hey, so did you know that Evanescence is still making music?
OK so I’m gonna avoid talking in detail about where this little rant is coming from, instead we’re gonna keep things a little broader but also more personal:
stand-up comedy was something I grew up loving. comedy central felt like an outpost of strange, wondrous things back in the very early oughts to a kid with very little exposure to anything that would be considered “hardship” or “actually strange things”. but there’s this explicit combination of crafted narrative and vulnerable intimacy with my favorite kind of stand-up that I found addictive.
like one of my favorite acts, one that pops back into my head from time to time, is Zach Galifianakis’s 2001 set on comedy central presents. it is weird, and a little jarring; he knows he comes off as a strange dude and leans into it, with long wordless piano sequences between shotgun-quick jokes constantly heightening the tension (and somehow therefore becoming their own joke that generates more laughter as the performance goes on).
but: the target of the jokes is always Zach, it’s always him wanting to do or having done strange things or feeling like he looks strange or reacting poorly to bad life choices. it is a bit weird to say that “he” is the joke, actually — it’s the character he’s constructed who’s inevitably the thing being laughed at. but the “laughing at” is soft, it’s empathetic. we laugh because we recognize something familiar in his strangeness; this is like how great fiction works, where specificity draws on universal emotion.
you can find lots of much smarter people than me talking eloquently about “punching up” versus “punching down”, the idea that targets of comedy (when it’s targeted, when it’s meant to have bite) should be power structures and not the vulnerable. to which I say yeah, sure, I agree with that well enough. but it’s also worth thinking about what that even means, the premise that comedy is punching at all — that it produces violence or can enact something.
I don’t really think it does, most of the time.
I think comedy is a conduit for the generation of an in-group. the universal thing any of those in-groups have in common is that they’re laughing at the same thing — if we can laugh together, we can live together, that sort of thing. tribal formation is weird this way in modern society: there’s many things far more niche and seemingly unrelated to identity that cause tribal identification these days, so comedy to me seems almost traditional by comparison in the way that it lets you see yourself as part of a larger group. (this is the power of the live studio audience, whether it’s a stand-up show or a sitcom or SNL or whatever)
from there we have to ask how the in-group is defining itself. is it exclusionary? what are the characteristics of inclusion and exclusion? “did you laugh”, sure, but more importantly, did you agree that the thing was funny?
comedy can be a resource for marginalized groups to find power in recognizing each other and identifying with the mishaps and stumbles of navigating modern intersectionality; it can provide an outlet for ventilation of frustrations and genuine fear, released like a pressure valve as a laugh that can make you feel safe and like you belong. it’s super valuable in this way, even if I don’t personally think it has much power to go beyond this. you can “speak truth to power” with comedy to some degree but ultimately the power probably isn’t listening, so if you want the thing to have sociopolitical power it had better speak truth to the audience, too.
so when a white straight dude starts talking about his comedy “pushes boundaries” and is “not afraid to offend people” you put it in this context and you think about what his tribe is, and who he’s really talking to, and what he’s trying to say
jokes that offend the marginalized are just bullying; they aren’t challenging power structures, they aren’t disrupting the status quo, as a matter of fact they’re a reinforcement of the traditional status quo. they let the CHWM in-group feel validated in a world of Twitter where it’s easy for their oversensitive egos to be frayed. comedy like this is exactly the opposite of pushing boundaries. it’s re-setting boundaries.
and it makes me sad and angry to see people misconstrue this. I think the in-group should be defined broadly and be inclusive. the thing that defines whether you laugh shouldn’t be “am I the right ethnic/gender identity to not be upset by this” but just “is this my style of joke-telling”. there’s so many ways to tell very good, very strange, very interesting jokes that let people into your worldview and invite people to understand you, and each other, just a little bit more. there are many ways for this to happen along intersectional lines where the jokes reveal inches of truth about how people who aren’t you have to encounter and react to their world a little differently, and that can be almost enlightening even as it’s also not necessarily too much more substantial than the joke itself
or I guess comedy can also be a very appropriate-for-2018 shithead vacuum where you reinforce that it’s cool to hurt people as long as you can’t see them
you do you, comedians, I guess
I’m not really interested in just dunking on some stranger on the internet so I’m gonna keep this vague
okay so there’s this new Apple Homepod ad directed by spike jonze and it is very cool and good and you should watch it and basically just have your eyes cross and unfocus whenever the apple branding shows up:
watched it? ok cool
so on a website I frequent, one of the commenters said something to the effect of this (paraphrased but then quoted so you can parse this rambling a little easier):
so who comes out of the mirror at the end? I think it’s the reflected version of her at the end, gazing at her new place and thinking that she’s not gonna waste her time in the real world like the original
this is such a weird reading to me of an intentionally surreal piece of abstract storytelling (which is what an ad like this is when it transcends to art — it’s almost like a piece of wealthy-patron-supported flash fiction)
do people really watch a thing like this and think of the reflection as a separate entity from the woman, as if it’s not a reflection in the sense of an angle into her inner (not necessarily “actual”) self? what kind of weird-ass horror movie is this where mirrorwoman trapped her original self in a dark no-longer-existent antechamber? how is that at all congruent with the vibe or the emotional storytelling or the pretty not-subtle metaphors (the dancing as unfurling of societal cocoon, the expansion of the mirror and duet as self-acceptance and self-love)?
I feel like people do this a lot with art — they take the most literal superficial interpretation of plot character and events and speculate off of or latch onto that — and I find it utterly strange.
I mean whatever like things however you want and all, sure. but it reminds me of how people watched hannibal and laser-focused on how cute hannibal fucking lecter was and how they wanted hannibal and will to hook up. who watches a show like that — a show that among other things portrays that specific relationship as the most fundamental kind of horrific abuse — and takes that away from it?
the west wing has a subplot I really hate, from the episode “Arctic Radar”, where josh gently-but-patronizingly berates a star trek fan for being public about liking a thing:
the “that’s a fetish” line really bugs the shit out of me because it’s a crazy dismissal of the kind of fandom that allowed the west wing to thrive and allows it to have such a following now. it’s more about aaron sorkin’s hangups about the Internet than it is about any real thing. BUT I think it also bugs me because it accidentally scratches close to a kind of truth that I don’t think aaron sorkin really understands, which is that while fandom is healthy and normal and basically just a modern extension of the human social contract, some/many fans do attach to properties in really weird ways, imposing very personal and odd things in ways that don’t really exist in the original work, edging closer to what could accurately be described as fetishism.
that’s how you get erotic fanfiction of children’s stories and rule 34 I guess but it’s also how you get a style of fandom that’s not quite that obviously askew but falls maybe closer to “recap of show as though all these things are real”. treating fictional situations not as prisms through which we view ourselves but things to be emotionally engaged in of themselves. this is I suppose especially problematic in a time of Marvel™ Cinematic Universe Franchise™s where we get so many damn stories that aren’t about anything except the perpetuation of their own goofy whatevers.
and really honestly I mean this part the most: none of this is really a “problem”, get what you want out of art and do you, fetish or not, thumbs up to all that and anything else. but it sometimes puts me in an awkward position personally, when I want to just interpret the thing from a passionate but also academic vantage point and end up falling into groups that mostly want to pin the thing onto their particular corkboard of personal interests or talk about which characters should bang
ok just needed to say all that somewhere where it wouldn’t spark a fight, back to my regularly scheduled positivity
part 2 in my series of replaying metal gear solid for no real reason whatsoever. alternative title: “a meditation on a meditation on metal gear solid”
my thoughts on this game are somewhat scattered so I’m gonna lump this into a couple of sub-sections
ON METAFICTION AND “IT’S ALL A GAME”
so the youtube essayist super bunnyhop has a video about MGS2 in which he posits that essentially everything in this game is a VR simulation, that none of it is meant to be taken literally or as things happening in the “real” universe of the game’s mythos
and certainly there’s plenty of evidence to that effect but I a) don’t really buy it, and b) think that such a take sort of elides what the game’s trying to do with the metafictional aspects this time around
basically: what’s important about Raiden as a character is that he’s been crafted into a cipher by his traumatic experience (both as child soldier and as VR grunt) onto which external forces can exert control. one of those forces is literally the player (literalized specifically with the dog tags at the very end). he’s a broken person whose sense of reality has been nearly shattered before the game even starts.
super bunnyhop points to things like the cartoony inexplicable anime-ness of the final sequences (and especially things like snake pointing out his infinite ammo bandana) as proof that the “external world” being shown by the game is as false as the Colonel, but I think the point of this is actually just to demonstrate how destabilized Raiden’s worldview has become.
the game after all is a sort of horrid thought experiment, much like the first game. MGS1 has among its central thesis statements “what does war inflict on soldiers”; MGS2 has as its core theme “how does the war machine build its soldiers”. the reason video game-i-ness becomes frontloaded in this is because it’s a way to force player complicitness and because frontloading the medium itself is a very postmodern way to utilize the medium to its fullest extent. kojima loves that shit.
so then Snake tells Raiden at the end to find something other than “truth” to grapple with, because the Patriots, Solidus, et al have stripped that faculty from him almost entirely.
all of this is sort of peripheral because I think SBH makes/emphasizes this point because he finds the actual plot details ludicrous, so much so that contextualizing them as essentially fiction within the game world makes them easier to swallow. this feels like a cop out to me — it also ignores or downplays a lot of worldbuilding details that are interesting in and of themselves (the fatman/stillman dynamic, for one). but it also tries to pretend that every Metal Gear game doesn’t start absurd on its face, logistically impossible and cornily acted and melodramatic to the extreme.
I compared MGS1 to godzilla and I think the “goofy but earnest” tag holds up here, too; even as it’s finally dealing with really ghastly concepts like child soldiers and systemic social control, MGS2 is silly and weird and leans into its silliness and weirdness in ways that really help balance out the sense of self-seriousness that I’ve seen the games accused of in the past
this game is so fascinating to think about from a technical standpoint. it came out barely a year after the PS2 launch and is clearly trying to push the console to its absolute limits, which both makes it extremely nice to look at even now and also shows many of the flaws
like: the rain effects in the tanker are so weird to look at, textures in general are overly slick/clean, the game’s palette goes for “gritty/realistic” and ends up mostly looking almost entirely brown/grey, there’s a huge amount of slo-mo even in the HD remake that seems almost certain to have been originally used as much to conceal frame-rate hiccups as for dramatic effect
but it is still great to look at, particularly in wider shots or when we’re looking at machines instead of people (I love the design of RAY, it’s unsettlingly animalistic in a way I think they were shooting for but didn’t quite get with REX due to the PSX’s polygonal limits).
hoo boy here’s the thing: I had a great time playing through this game again after so many years, except for the fact that most of the “playing” is fucking awful
especially given how good this game looks even if you look all over the place in First Person Mode, the static camera angles are brutal. they are a frustrating mess in sneaking sessions and they are fucking criminal in the Vamp fight. whenever I was detected I basically let myself get killed immediately because it’s such a fucking pain to navigate the game without the radar. I guess dual-stick free camera wasn’t a thing in 2001 but it’s so, so badly needed here. (I never played MGS3 but understand that this is a thing, or at least was a thing after they rereleased it as subsistence? god I hope so)
the aiming/combat controls are only slightly improved over its predecessor; they work in more deliberate situations but are a nightmare the second things get frantic.
there are so many single-use gadgets that your inventory becomes a total mess to navigate by the end
there are however a lot of wonderful, interesting, alive details in the gameplay mechanics and the enemy AI and so forth — it’s clearly a game into which much love was placed on detail, it’s just so much a product of its awkward time.
so many of them! so sculpted!
(side note: raiden’s one-handed fist-fighting when you’re running around naked is hysterically funny and a nice way to pass time when you’ve fucked up that section and basically just have to watch yourself die)
I NEED SCISSORS! 61!
stepping back to metafiction for a moment, holy shit the Colonel-glitches-out sequence is still an absolutely perfect example of this kind of mind-bending moment. MGS games are so good at this. the music is both fitting with the game’s general score but also off-kilter; the actual codec communications are a great mixture of hilarious, unnerving, and perplexing; what you’re doing while it’s happening (running around heavily-armed guards while naked, occasionally taking a pill to stop yourself from catching a cold) adds a perfect air of desperate gonzo urgency to the whole weird thing
another THIS IS A GAME thing about this game that I love is how the flashbacks to MGS1 are done using that game’s shitty PSX graphics (I think this continues in MGS4); it hits this great, weird note right between jarringly and appropriately nostalgic
(major spoilers for the film adaptation of ANNIHILATION, and minor spoilers for the book. if you haven’t seen or read either, I’d recommend them — they are not for everyone and challenging in their own ways, but unsettling and thought-provoking at a minimum)
i’ll write some extended thoughts on ANNIHILATION once I’ve processed a bit later this week, because it is a movie worth processing in detail, but my tweet is a pretty good quick summary of my feelings
ANNIHILATION is nothing like and everything like the vandermeer book/trilogy; it is deliberately slow, haunting and eerie, and ultimately horrific and bonkers; I want to watch it every day and let it get into my skin and my blood until it bears fruit
— Kybard (@KybardCSL) February 24, 2018
but instead of writing about BLACK PANTHER i’ll just link you to film crit hulk’s review which is nearly as beautiful and essential as the movie itself
over the past few days I completed a full playthrough of metal gear solid 1 for the psone. this game is 20 damn years old. and in 1998, I fell for it completely
finished MGS1. suddenly itching to write an academic essay comparing it to 1954's GOJIRA: two goofy but earnest meditations on the post-nuclear age and dissociative Japanese identity that tend to be remembered and loved for the least interesting reasons
— Kybard (@KybardCSL) February 24, 2018
I mean that both in the “fall in love” and in the “fell for the trap” sense. mgs is an earnest, goofy, clunky, artful mess of a game, but in my memory it was essentially perfect, full of thought-provoking philosophy and science, fourth-wall-breaking mind-blowing shit, and cool-ass action movie moments
(aside #1: I remember people complaining about how much the gamecube remake twin snakes amped up the matrix-y action scenes, but it’s pretty clear watching the original cutscenes that if kojima et al could have pulled off those sequences on PSX hardware, they totally would have. people jump to dodge bullets and do flips off very tall things basically constantly)
it certainly has those things but it’s also, like I said, extremely goofy. the voice acting is incredible for a ’98 Japanese import, but the script translation suffers occasionally from the standards of that time; characters have weird responses to each other and repeat things a lot. the music is still tremendous, but the cinematic cutscenes feel a little chintzy these days
(aside #2: man the PSX’s fixed-point math has aged so terribly. a game like final fantasy 7 has held up a little better because almost every sweeping camera movement in it was captured via pre-recorded FMV; here with every camera movement your eye just gets trapped looking for every surface that’s jittering or warping around like a coked-up squirrel)
it honestly reminds me of the original godzilla movie — gojira, the 1954 Japanese original. in graduate school I wrote a paper about that movie, how despite its low-grade effects and silly plot logistics, it’s fundamentally a very sad and complicated movie about Japan’s post-war dissociative identity. the monster is the nuclear future and also Japan’s warlike past; the movie’s ultimate hero is similarly both scientist and war hero, ushering in a catastrophic age and tied up inexorably with the horrors of war; hero and monster are reflections of each other, identical but opposite, and (spoiler for a 1954 movie) they’re both killed in a single action of recognition by the hero that the past must die to avert a horrible future
the first metal gear solid, a game that isn’t yet having to deal with the crazy silly storyline baggage of future games, is too all about legacy and war. all the characters are obsessed with vengeance and genetic fate; they’re all complicit in atrocities that have happened or that might happen, and they’re all struggling to find noble purpose in lives bent to the whims of the war machine. liquid’s all messed up; he wants to continue his father’s legacy but also hates his father and sees himself as an inferior double; the future he’s seeking is just the perpetuation of the war state he knows.
the game’s ultimately about how the past is a trap and an anchor, full of horror and trauma, and that the only way to live is to live beyond it, to accept that though there may be some fate written into our genes, we can’t know it, and letting it go is the only way to live for other humans instead of being obsessed with one’s own purpose and failings.
OK so basically metal gear solid 1 is a game about how trauma (including but not just war) creates families, and vice versa. it's a cast of broken people scrambling to assert coherent identities in chaotic systems. also, butt jokes
— Kybard (@KybardCSL) February 23, 2018
it’s a very Japanese game in this way, despite being so influenced by the long history of Western action movies. most killing is optional; the killing that isn’t (the bosses mostly) tends to come with long, tragic post-scripts emphasizing how the people you’ve killed, like you, are trapped in a cycle of bloodshed that can only end in death. (twin snakes added a tranq and the ability to not kill the bosses, right? I never played that game to be clear, but think this is not a good addition; the deaths of the FOX-HOUND members are important to the game’s emphasis on war as a cycle from which death is the only escape)
post-war Japan was literally blinded to its own recent past. during the USA occupation, Japanese newspapers were barred from running photographs or stories about the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. the country was basically in one night transformed from an imperial state to a pacifist Western ally, with no reckoning about the clash between those identities. gojira is wrestling with this really actively as a movie made in the early 50s, and at the end no one is happy, no one is cheering victory over the monster, everyone is simply brought low by the horror of widescale death and the inevitability of its recurrence
mgs ends more positive but is similarly a movie about how killing is awful and does awful things to those who kill. which is not a new angle for video games, not even really in 1998, but the resonance is so much more powerful here when things like nuclear deterrence and PTSD are so heavily frontloaded. it’s also not really that action-heavy a game, so the bursts of violence are more impactful and can be used to say more interesting things. other people have said more intelligent things about that aspect of the series but it’s definitely striking, even today, how ambivalent and ugly the game’s presentation of violence really is.
honestly it’s crazy this game was so successful in the USA in 1998. this is a game that is deeply bitter about the effects of the war economy on individuals, and it’s incredibly anti-authoritarian, especially and specifically as regards the American government. to wit, this frankly shocking passage at the game’s end:
Campbell: Washington isn’t stupid enough to use nukes to cover up a few secrets.
Snake: I wonder about that.
Colonel Campbell lies to Snake constantly but is just a pawn in the same game, and the chessplayer is always a higher authority, always mysterious but malevolent. do your job if it’ll save lives, but trust no one, especially not the people who claim to be your boss’s boss, especially not when those people control the weapons. that’s a crazy, wondrously progressive thought to have so well infiltrated a children’s video game in the Bill Clinton era.
assorted other thoughts: