gwalla: (fizzgig)
Dear Mick: What is it with these people who write to you, in effect, "I haven't seen the film, but how dare you trash it?" Have people's perceptions sunk so low that they are unaware that Hollywood has become better than ever in the brainless rubbish department? I see a great difference between the simply dumb, innocuous, generic movies of the past and the proudly, transcendently stupid products on the screen nowadays.

James Pendergast, Sonoma
Dear James: Stupidity used to be something to be embarrassed about. But we're going through a phase of stupid pride right now, and it pervades many aspects of our cultural life. People in power, with access to the media, have stumbled onto a great truth: Stupid people long to feel good about themselves. They want to be told that what they secretly suspect is true: that they're the ones who apprehend the big picture, while the supposedly intelligent folks are just nitpickers bogged down in meaningless detail. Since the stupid can't see the nuances, they prefer to believe those nuances just aren't there. That's why, for example, every stupid critic's favorite reference is "The Emperor's New Clothes." For the complacently stupid, that's the height of aspiration, to see and think like a child, a state they sentimentalize as clarity and virtue.

We see this in movies. We also see this in politics and religion. Appeals to reason are distrusted and discounted. Appeals to emotion and invitations not to think rule the day. Fifty years ago, the most famous television preacher was Bishop Fulton Sheen, a highly orthodox Catholic who, nonetheless, offered complicated Aristotelian proofs of God's existence and who insisted that thought, study and rationality were intrinsic parts of a religious life. Today, TV preachers say what politicians say: "Don't think, just listen to me, and you'll be saved. You'll be virtuous." The good news, sort of, is that eventually stupid pride produces situations so untenable that reality becomes undeniable. In the movie business, reality presents itself at the box office, and in a democracy, it's usually at the ballot box. But in Berlin, 1945, it didn't quite sink in until people were knee-deep in rubble. In any case, this delightful phase we're in will end, sooner or later, one way or the other.

— Mick LaSalle, "Ask Mick LaSalle, Chronicle Movie Critic", San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 27 2006
gwalla: (magma)
Some musing inspired by the discussion following this post by [ profile] heykidzcomix.

The question of how to attract female readers to comic books is the source of much debate and hand-wringing in the industry. The major publishers both, on occasion, decide that they're going to make an effort to get girls into comics. They know that girls like manga, so they try incorporating anime/manga styles and tropes (e.g. Marvel Mangaverse, which is generally terrible, and Mary Jane, formerly Mary Jane Loves Spider-Man, which is charming and fun). They push titles with female heroes beating up baddies. They succeed marginally if at all.

I think the problem is not necessarily one of methodology (although those attempts at anime-fying superheroes can be pretty hamfisted), but of scope. When a publisher decides to attempt to woo female audiences, it's usually its own little thing, set apart from the rest, like one or two titles devoted to the purpose. Meanwhile, the rest of the editors, writers, and artists continue to operate under the (safe) assumption that their audience is primarily young men, and produce accordingly. They know their audience; it just isn't the audience they want to add. So the peace offerings to the female contingent drown in a sea of testosterone, and as a result female readers don't get a significantly better impression of American comic books as a whole.

People tend to repeat the assertion that the problem is that many male writers attempting to write "strong female characters" end up writing macho men with breasts. To some extent this is true, but they also point to the "bad girl" comics as examples. This is a red herring, I think. While "bad girl" creators were fond of claiming that they were promoting "images of strong females", this was never more than an excuse. The central premise behind the bad girls, which I'm certain all of those writers understood, was to have a adolescent wank-fantasies for protagonists, while giving them "macho badass" personalities their adolescent male readers could grok (many boys would have a hard time letting themselves identify with a character who worries about her appearance or is otherwise "girly", but punching people in the face is much more in their comfort zone).


Nov. 28th, 2005 09:10 pm
gwalla: (halloween)
In the past few years it's slowly started to dawn on me that frequently fandom is not about liking something, but hating it.  Superhero comics fans gripe about the directions DC and Marvel are going in. Harry Potter fans kick up a fuss when the latest book invalidates their speculation on romantic pairings. Wrestling "smarks" complain about the latest angles. It's like a sort of masochism: those superhero fans hate what DC is doing but continue to buy the titles, those Harry Potter fans will undoubtedly be standing in line to buy the next volume when it comes out, and the smarks who bitch about Vince McMahon and Triple H tune in to RAW and Smackdown every week

This isn't exactly new, but I recently stumbled across a few good essays on the phenomenon:

What is a fanboy?
"What characterizes a fanboy, as opposed to a mere consumer? Paramount sinks a lot of money into producing new episodes of Star Trek, so one assumes that it must have a mainstream audience far beyond the realms of obsessive hobbyists. Either that, or there must be an awful lot of fanboys in the world. Is there a difference between 'Thinking that Star Trek is an enjoyable television programme' and 'Being a Star Trek fanboy?' Can we come up with a definition of Doctor Who fanboy other than "One who has watched 'Creature from the Pit' more than once, and watched 'The Gunfighters' at all"?"
The Third Age of Fan
"It would not be fair to say that the fan-boy does not like the thing which he is a fan-boy of. It would be more accurate to say that liking and disliking is irrelevant to his activity. Fan-boyhood grows out of nostalgia and therefore fixes its gaze on something ephemeral, commonplace and of low artistic value. It then attempts to catalogue it, study it, collect it—or in extreme cases re-enact it, thus investing it with significance and mummifying the memory."
" ... (noun, pl.); fans who violently believe the only valid interpretation of any entertainment source is a dogmatic adherence to their favorite version of that source. Any change to the smallest detail is inherently unacceptable (see also heresy) and met with frantic scorn. See also Hal Jordan and Klingons, bumpy vs. smooth."
There also seems to be a growing realization among Internet wrestling writers of this trend and an accompanying backlash. That the griping continued even through the recent death of and memorials to Eddie Guerrero seems to have made some of them realize that something is wrong. There have been a few angry pieces on taking fans to task for astoundingly insensitive comments on the memorial episodes of RAW and Smackdown.

Fortunately, webcomics fandom seems relatively free of this trend. I was going to say that I thought it was because it hasn't been around for long enough to develop, but then I remembered that Harry Potter hasn't been around for very long either. So I'm not really sure why it hasn't developed. It may have something to do with the fact that most webcomics are the products of single creators: there is only one creative voice in effect, so there can be no complaints about the author not being "true to the characters". And the only real examples of it in webcomics (that I can think of) are indeed times when someone other than the original creator stepped in: T Campbell's run writing Cool Cat Studio for Gisele Lagace, and to a lesser extent some artists on Fans. Harry Potter fandom provides a counterexample, though, in the Harmonian Uprising (when the Harry/Hermione shippers, who called themselves "Harmony", got pissed that the latest book hooked Harry up with Ginny and Hermione with Ron, and even produced a re-edited version with names changed to be "romantically correct"), when the series has always been 100% J. K. Rowling.

So I'm really at a loss. Any ideas?
gwalla: (comics code authority)
Great Steven Grant column over at ComicBookResources on how art vs. craft is a false dichotomy.

It's a counterargument to a common argument I find incredibly frustrating: that craftsmanship is somehow antithetical to art. Or, to put it another way, that the ineffable qualities of "talent" and "inspiration" are the only things that matter, and therefore skill is nothing. In this line of reasoning, the development of skill is irrelevant at best, or "selling out" at worst, and it's more often considered the latter than the former. As he points out, it's the punk DIY ethic gone wrong: "you don't need to be technically skilled to create" became "you shouldn't be technically skilled to create", with the result that artists/musicians/what have you are scared to learn how to be better at what they do because they're afraid it'll somehow get in the way of their art. Training is "corruption". Not knowing what you're doing is "pure". It's a mess.

Sure, there are a lot of examples of "style without substance", but if the style wasn't there that doesn't mean substance would be. They're not mutually exclusive; they're mutually beneficial. Art made without something to say is empty no matter how well it's put together, but art made without technique may not make its point. It's always better to make decisions based on what works best rather than what you don't know how to do, and that means it's better to have a technique in your toolbox than not, even if it turns out you don't need it for a given work: it's called keeping your options open. To my mind, if you don't care about how your message comes across, then you really don't care that much about your message.

But he says it way better than I can. Check it out.

(I disagree with him about prog rock. But he's allowed to be wrong about some things.)
gwalla: (halloween)
There was a time, not so long ago, when comic books could actually be light and fun. But for more than a decade now, they've been dominated by the grim, gritty, and X-TREEM. Just look at DC's "Identity Crisis" crossover, which involved the forced lobotmoization of an old villain, mind-wiping heroes (including Batman!) who didn't agree with it, and the separate rape and murder of the Elongated Man's pregnant wife. Or their latest clusterfuck crossover, Identity Crisis, which seems to be based almost entirely on the heroes being assholes.

Reviewer Paul O'Brien takes on Countdown to Infinite Crisis, which sets up the whole mess, and finally takes the entire comic book industry to task for getting "depressing" confused with "deep". As a bonus, he's written a good capsule review of Villains United #1 (the brightest spot in the Infinite Crisis morass), which takes a swipe at all the Crisis tie-in miniseries.
gwalla: (lon chaney)
A Brief History of Time Travel

A short and interesting analysis of chronophysics as it has been approached in science fiction. What happens when you go back and kill your father before you were born? Depends on your universe.

By the redoubtable Justin B. Rye, author of Espe-Ranto: Learn Not To Speak Esperanto, the excellent Star Trek Rant (why Trek's science and tech makes no sense), and great essays on SF Xenolinguistics and Futurese.
gwalla: (lon chaney)
You've seen all those tattoos, T-shirts, and decorative wall hangings with Chinese characters that supposedly mean "love", "courage", "dragon", etc. Now find out what they really mean.

I want a tattoo that says "hand warmer and air conditioner"...

gwalla: (king crimson finger)
I sometimes think that as Britain declines, dreaming of a sweeter past, entertaining few hopes for a finer future, her middle-classes turn increasingly to the fantasy of rural life and talking animals, the safety of the woods that are the pattern of the paper on the nursery room wall. Old hippies, housewives, civil servants, share in this wistful trance; eating nothing as dangerous or exotic as the lotus, but chewing instead on a form of mildly anaesthetic British cabbage. If the bulk of American sf could be said to be written by robots, about robots, for robots, then the bulk of English fantasy seems to be written by rabbits, about rabbits and for rabbits.
— Michael Moorcock, Epic Pooh

Laying the smack down on Watership Down. The essay itself is a condemnation of trends in fantasy fiction in general, and J. R. R. Tolkien in particular. In its political analysis of a popular classic of a genre, it's sort of like Brin's essays denouncing Star Wars. However, while Brin's essays seem to come down to "I don't like it because it doesn't agree with my politics", Moorcock's is a lot more interesting (and better written): he ties it in to the sentimental, reactionary myth of Merrie Olde England.

The little hills and woods of that Surrey of the mind, the Shire, are 'safe', but the wild landscapes everywhere beyond the Shire are 'dangerous'. Experience of life itself is dangerous. The Lord of the Rings is a pernicious confirmation of the values of a declining nation with a morally bankrupt class whose cowardly self-protection is primarily responsible for the problems England answered with the ruthless logic of Thatcherism. Humanity was derided and marginalised. Sentimentality became the acceptable subsitute. So few people seem to be able to tell the difference.

I don't agree with everything Moorcock says—I still think The Lord of the Rings is great—but I love how he says it.


Mar. 30th, 2005 04:16 pm
gwalla: (king crimson finger)

Kei Kurono is a bastard. Apathetic and antisocial, he looks down on everybody around him. Even his "friends" are really just guys he trades porn with. Then one day he meets Masaru Kato, an old friend from when he was younger, and does something very out of character: he helps Masaru try to save a drunk who'd fallen on the railroad tracks.

And he dies.

Kei and Masaru are run over by an express train...and find themselves in a room with a group of other people who had just died, along with a strange black sphere called Gantz. There they are trapped, unable to even touch the doorknobs and latches, until a weird message appears on the surface of the sphere: "YOUR LIVES HAVE ENDED. HOW YOU USE YOUR NEW LIVES IS ENTIRELY UP TO ME. THAT'S THE THEORY, ANYWAYS." Provided with futuristic weaponry and costumes, they are teleported outside. Their goal: to find and eliminate an alien within a time limit. Although they are outside, they are still trapped: they are invisible and inaudible to those around them, and they are not allowed to leave a 1km square area. Breaking the rules is punishable by the detonation of a bomb implanted in the brain, resulting in instant—and this time, permanent—death.

After the game is over, they are teleported back to the room, and their "points" are tallied by Gantz. Then they are allowed to leave. But this is parole, not freedom: they cannot tell anybody about the room or their heads will detonate, and eventually they will be brought back to the room and forced to hunt again. Only somebody who accumulates 100 points total is allowed to leave the room for good. And even then...

Gantz puts the reader as well as the protagonists in a strange situation. The aliens seem to be minding their own business, invisible to the world around them, and appear to be harmless until threatened; their appearances are ridiculous, based on Japanese jokes and puns. The Gantz sphere itself is silly—it begins the hunt with the jingle from a morning exercise show, and communicates in nigh-leetspeak—but also sinister, using the characters for its own obscure ends, and manipulating them with its scoring. And characters die with disturbing regularity.

It's interesting to see how Kei's involvement in Gantz's game changes him. The game is a prison, but it's also a focal point for his life, and it forces him to reexamine his own behavior. It's a bit early to say what the point of Gantz is (it's still unfinished), but I suspect that arbitrariness is part of it, as is the dubious moral position of Gantz. I think the people who theorize that Gantz is trying to recruit a fighting force to defend Earth from an alien invasion, trying to find a reason for the Gantz mission to be heroic and good, are missing the point (and not only because Gantz' scattershot recruiting method, which picks up "fighters" such as a dog, a panda, children, and the elderly, seems like a pretty inefficient way to build up an army, especially since at other times it seems to know exactly what it's doing ).

Gantz is also, I think, a statement about action/adventure manga in general: that as long as it brings the requisite sex and violence, an action comic can be about pretty much anything, no matter how nonsensical.

I recommend it highly. Be warned, though: there is a lot of violence and gore, and also a lot of nudity and some explicit sex (fortunately not at the same time as the gore—yet). Not kids' stuff.

You can download English scanslations here in Zip format.
gwalla: (got basil?)
I wonder what old world food must have been like before contact with the new world. Tomatoes, potatoes, and chili peppers are all new world plants. No marinara sauce, no baked potatoes. This doesn't just affect European cuisines, either...what was sczechuan cooking like before the introduction of hot peppers? What about Southern Indian food? Or Korean kimchee without those vicious little chili peppers.

It's weird to think that so many of the foods we consider representative of various world cuisines didn't exist before the European Age of Exploration.
gwalla: (lon chaney)
I've just discovered (in the Christopher Columbus sense, as in other people were already aware of it) a really excellent manga called Death Note. Here's the premise:
There exists a world other than this one, in which creatures called Shinigami (lit. "gods of death") live. Each shinigami has a notebook that he carries around with him, called a Death Note. With a Death Note, it is possible to kill anyone as long as you know their name and face, simply by writing their name in the book. It's also possible to specify the time and circumstances (as long as they're possible) with the Death Note; not doing so causes a death by heart attack.

One shinigami named Ryuuku, bored with his world, accidentally-on-purpose loses his Death Note (complete with instructions) in the human world, where it's found by a brilliant high school student named Yagami Raito. Raito discovers its power, and decides to clean up the world by eliminating all of the bad people (criminals in particular). Ryuuku, who Raito can see because he touched the Death Note, tags along as a sort of observer (but not exactly ally).

Rumors begin to circulate that the unexplained rash of heart attacks among criminals is due to some sort of god, which people start calling Kira. Interpol, alarmed (but conflicted) by these strange events, assigns their best detective to the case, a mysterious man known only as "L". With Interpol, the police, and others investigating, Raito starts to kill to keep people off of his trail. Soon it's turned into a game of mutual cat-and-mouse, with Raito and L each trying to uncover the other's identity in order to stop him, without revealing his own...
It's not too often that you see a anime or manga series centered around a full-on antihero—usually the closest you get is an "antisocial hero", tragic hero, or sympathetic villain. But Raito is the real deal: although he starts out ostensibly to "create a better society", his "ends justify the means" attitude borders on the sociopathic, and he's soon "sacrificing" innocent people (some of whom you get to know and like beforehand) to protect himself and feeling less and less remorse. Ryuuku is no help; he's basically amoral, and concerned mainly with his own entertainment. L, our antagonist, is to a degree sympathetic but, well, kind of strange.

While it's presented as a shonen manga (it originally ran in Shonen Jump), there is very little overt action as you'd expect, especially as it involves death and supernatural powers. But the Death Note's ability to kill at a distance means that most (but not all!) deaths occur "off screen" , and it feels more like a seinen. Most of the plot happens in Raito's internal monologue and conversations with the ever-present Ryuuku, and, later, in L's internal monologue and conversations with his police allies. The primarily internal nature of the narrative reminds me of Kobo Abe's work, particularly The Face of Another.

The art is very good, with a semi-realistic style that falls somewhere between Ryuichi Ikegami and Katsuhiro Otomo. Very clean linework. And ladies, Raito is definitely on the bishy side.

You can get English scanlations here. Each file is a zip containing an entire volume of the manga. The "pilot" is pretty good, but unnecessary, as it's mostly unrelated to the plot of the main series (as far as I can tell—I haven't finished the series yet); start with the first volume (chapters 1-10).

Good stuff.
gwalla: (Default)
Beware the musical mage
gwalla: (halloween)
Originally posted in reply to an article on Websnark:

The great thing about the Internet is that it allows widely dispersed enthusiasts of various niche activities to find each other. Webcomic readers, language designers, interactive fiction fans, etc. all have their places online where they can hang out, support each other, and remind themselves that they're not alone in their passions.

The terrible thing about the Internet is that it allows widely dispersed enthusiasts of various niche activities to find each other. Pederasts, anorexics, white supremacists, etc. all have their places online where they can hang out, support each other, and remind themselves that they're not alone in their passions.
gwalla: (magma)
From Reinder Djikhuis's blog.

Matthew White's Historical Atlas of the 20th Century site has some pretty cool stuff:
  • Most overrated historical aspects of the 20th century — The Cold War? Martin Luther King, Jr.? White makes a good case that they, and other things, people, and events, are overrated.
  • Most underrated historical aspects of the 20th century — To balance it out, some people, events, and things that deserve to be better known.
  • Which has killed more people: gun control or Christianity? — Doesn't really answer the title question, but is quite interesting.
  • Comparing the USA to Rome — A lot of people (particularly on the left) like to compare modern America to Imperial Rome, usually implying that it's about to fall. But most who say this don't actually know that much about Rome. So, how do they compare? Starting with the provocative assertion that current events bear much closer resemblence to Rome circa the end of the 2nd Punic War, White draws up a comparative chart of the two nations, which extends into an amusingly written future history.
The pieces are fairly short, witty, and well-written.
gwalla: (Default)
It sometimes seems like there is a general "Internet aesthetic", a general shared taste among Internet users (with exceptions, of course) that sometimes transcends subgroups. But it's a taste for things that society outside of the Internet would tend to think of as pointless, ridiculous, insane, stupid, or wastes of time. The "Zero Wing" phenomenon could only have been generated by the Internet, not just because of the ease of dissemination, but because the Internet audience seems geared towards an appreciation of the absurd and frenetic (the original opening isn't particularly hyperactive, but the Flash video certainly was). Similarly, the Monkey Pit (an example of which is still, I believe, hiding on is the sort of head-scratcher that could only be nurtured on the 'Net. Gene Ray is just another nutcase in the "real" world, the sort you'd find standing on a streetcorner wearing an incoherently lettered sandwich board and ranting at all and sundry, and who you'd cross the street to avoid, but on the Internet he's considered a sort of mad genius of comedy (a status he would doubtless not appreciate). Pokey the Penguin. Homestar Runner. Yatta. The epilepsy-inducing pop culture barrage of countless animutations.

This ludicroëclectic aesthetic (dare I call it a movement?) seems to combine aspects of dadaism, postmodernism, and punk: a mish-mash of cultural (usually pop-cultural) icons and tropes in service of no coherent central meaning other than being, frequently married to a punkish DIY approach. Influence from the "sampling culture" of hip-hop seems probable. The assertion of an "end of irony" made soon after  9/11, while frequently rejected since then, may have in a sense been correct: if everything is ironic (who knew Alanis Morissette was so insightful? Aside from Kevin Smith, who typecast her as the playful, omniscient God in his films), then irony ceases to be a useful concept in itself.

And with the Spongmonkeys advertising Quizno's on TV, if only for a brief moment, and Happa-tai appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live, it seems like it's making incursions on the mainstream.
gwalla: (Default)
Homeland Stupidity
gwalla: (evil mickey)
Did anyone else see that Brazilian marathon runner get tackled mid-race by some asshole from the crowd?

That was bad enough. What a shitty thing to happen, and what a shitty thing to do. But what really pissed me off was that the announcers started referring to the costumed jackass as an "apparent protester", and then as simply a "protester". Why? There wasn't any evidence that the guy was protesting anything, and the guy he assaulted was Brazilian, not American.

And it eventually turned out that he wasn't a protester, he was just some (ex?-)priest from Ireland with mental problems, who had also run out onto the track on a previous occasion (wearing the same costume!) during an indy-car race and narrowly avoided getting his ass run over.

(Oh yeah, and nice job, Olympic Security! One of your guys was right there on a bicycle and couldn't prevent the guy from attacking; the crowd had to pull him off of the runner.)
gwalla: (Default)
Is it some sort of rule that a network can't broadcast the Olympics without fucking up? We saw the women's sabre fencing semifinals earlier, and they showed all three matches in full. In prime time, they showed a summary: four fucking points out of the final match. The final! It's not like the matches take that long! Doesn't the possibility of the first American gold in the event (and only the second American medal, after the other American got the bronze in the semis) deserve a little more respect than that?

Oh well, they have been doing better in general this time than in some previous Olympics. At least they haven't been concentrating solely on the Americans and doing big puff-piece promos on American athletes who don't even make it past the first round.
gwalla: (evil mickey)
On the same wavelength as Flame Warriors: Fuckheads: The Bane of the Internet

This essay is pretty damned accurate. I've certainly come across my share of these people on Usenet and message boards. One thing it doesn't mention though: Fuckheads can't and won't stop being Fuckheads, because they're incapable of realizing that they are.


gwalla: (Default)

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