eat the rich

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.

laughter and applause are the tools of the master

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.

the amount he doesn’t look at the camera or audience during the show is also pretty compelling

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

literalism is bizarre

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

thoughts on metal gear solid 2

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


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

the game loves showing off its hair physics. they have not aged spectacularly well. also, time to linger way too long on hairy armpits

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)

i do love the rhythm of using the controls to do the “freeze!” thing. very satisfying

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.


oh god i’d forgotten that people really wanted to try to get raiden to show his donger, poor naked guy

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)


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

are you me? am I you? – thoughts on ANNIHILATION

(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)

“The effect of this cannot be understood without being there. The beauty of it cannot be understood, either, and when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you.”

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