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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Charlie Manson, Sitcom Star

During some beer-fueled tweeting last night I happened across the info that Charlie Manson is up for his latest, and what will most likely be his last, parole hearing later today. Even today, Chuck tends to exert a certain bizarre fascination over people. I’ll admit that when I went through the typical “rebellious” teenage interest in serial killers that strikes certain people of a morbid disposition I found him to be one of the more interesting cases. He was an umpteenth-times loser who’d spent more time out of prison than in, yet he managed to gather his own personal band of fanatics. These folks then went on to commit what, in some ways, was they ultimate crime against the American psyche; they killed a woman who was white, attractive, famous, and pregnant. What the “Manson Family” did was horrible under any circumstances, but when they chose the particular victims that sent them up the river they made a costly mistake, and became an example of the “dangers” of counterculture. In effect, Chuckie and friends were not rebelling against the system, but became the kind of rebellion that Foucault talks about; one that exists to visibly violate the rules so that their punishment can serve as an example to others.

Unlike Tate’s husband Polanski who fled his own crimes, Chuckles fulfilled his Foucaultian role to a T, drawing down far worse punishment than he would have if he had transgressed against someone less “important.”

This is where I come in. Years after any morbid interest in the psyche of killers I happen to overhear the opening of The Brady Bunch, and realized that one could insert the line, “Here’s the story of a guy named Charlie,” without breaking the underlying structure of the tune. Normally these sorts of thoughts simply pass through my head, and leave a chuckle when they go. Alas, this one decided to stick around, and kept clamoring to get my attention.

The idea kept popping up, insisting I do something with it, so finally I jotted down a few notes and took to the internet. My first task was to refresh my memory as to some of the pertinent details of Chuck’s life. While I was doing that I consistently ran in to people talking about how evil he was – perhaps the most evil man to ever live, even. Again, Chuck was a loser who spouted catchphrases with meaningless content, and often unintelligible form while rambling on about his plans to build a bunker to survive the coming race war (which wasn’t coming fast enough for him, so he was going to help it along). I can think of any number of men and women who have done far worse than he did, yet his transgressions against fame and beauty earned him a higher place in the dark parts of our psyche.

Armed with these thoughts I realized my course was clear; I must deconstruct the myth of Manson. Not through evidence or argument, but by inverting his position in the collective unconsciousness. I would turn Chuckles into a pathetically comic figure, fit only to be laughed at. Yes, my intent was to make him the star of a terrible sitcom.

My original impulse was to make a webseries around the concept. Webisodes were starting to get more attention at the time, and it seemed a natural fit given that the central premise was a sitcom, and that I have a background in theatre (also I wanted to jump on the bandwagon). Unfortunately it also required equipment, people, and resources that I simply didn’t have access to. So I scrapped that plan and reworked it as a webcomic.

Not that doing it as a webcomic came off without a hitch. The first artists to express interest flaked on me. Finally I dragooned an old friend, who’d originally volunteered to do inking and/or coloring on the project, into doing the whole thing. The early strips varied quite a lot as we tried to settle on the size and style for the strip, and we changed the format after the first 15-episode “season.” The sitcom premise remained intact, with each strip representing an episode in a season-long storyline, with short “commercials” filling in between seasons. It even managed to pick up its share of regular readers, though never so many as to make me internet famous. However, life, as is its wont, intervened and season two went on a hiatus from which it never recovered. Maybe one of these days the comic will return, but I wouldn’t lay money on it. Though if you like it by all means let me know; a show of support might convince me to get the wheels turning on the return.

Presuming you’ve made it this far, I know present to you the comic in its entirety:

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Posted by on April 11, 2012 in Comics, Pop Culture

 

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No, I don’t think Someone need like a Genre to Review that Genre

So the new season of Game of Thrones got a less than kind review that also happened to take pot-shots at fans of the show. There’s also apparently been a kerfuffle over a review of The Hunger Games, which I don’t have a handy link to. I’ll be honest with you, dear readers; I don’t give a fuck about Game of Thrones. I don’t have HBO, and I haven’t read the books. From what I know of the premise, it just seems too politically focused, and too much politicking and intrigue quickly bores me. It could be I am wrong about this, and one day will discover that I think it is the most awesome series ever. That day is not today. I’ll also freely admit that I give even less of a fuck about The Hunger Games. I have also neither read nor watched it, and have no plans to. That is why I won’t be reviewing those things.

Let’s get that out of the way up front. If you’re going to offer a “review” of something, you should be familiar with that particular book/movie/album/sex toy/whatever. If you’re not actually familiar with the thing you’re supposed to be reviewing you’re not engaging in a review, you’re presenting a comment, and an incredibly uninformed one at that.

What I’m here to talk about is the idea that we should expect reviewers of geeky things to be a fan of said thing/a geek in general/familiar with the genre/at least not hate the genre. These are all pretty much bullshit.

Let’s start with the idea that you shouldn’t assign a reviewer who hates either the genre under review, or even the specific material in question. I hate Plato. I think his work is lacking in pretty much every way it is possible to lack, and is the source of some of the most destructive ideas in human history. I also think Descartes is shit. I have reviewed the work of both men despite that fact. I’ve have torn into their ideas. At the same time, I have countered weak ideas presented by their critics, because if you’re going to criticize their thought you should make damn sure you know what it was they were actually saying. Philosophical writings aside, if someone can articulate why they hate Game of Thrones, or why they think fantasy in general is a subpar genre unworthy of consideration beyond a simple, “it is fantasy, and fantasy is shit,” I am perfectly content to let them review it all they want.

Let us move on to those levels of familiarity whose criteria is slightly more involved than “not having active antipathy for the material in question.” This is often a significantly worse idea than a reviewer who is apathetic or antagonistic to the material at hand. First and foremost, if we are familiar with a genre we often accept that genre’s conventions, even if those conventions are shitty/sloppy/stupid. It drives me nuts when we handwave away something that is weak, and that deserves to have criticism heaped on it in big steaming piles, just because that’s the way things are done in genre X, and everyone else does it that way, so we just accept it and move on. The only things I can say to that are: What the fuck? And cut it the fuck out.

Even if we are going to uncritically accept the conventions of a genre, why should a new reader coming to the genre be left unaware of them? They don’t have the same assumptions about what to expect as we do.

There’s also another problem, and that is the problem of language. There was a cat named Wittgenstein who said some things about language. No, not an actual cat – I’m sure there have been cats named Wittgenstein, but they are neither capable of human speech nor writing philosophy. Anyway, ignore Wittgenstein’s earlier work; he doesn’t get interesting until he shakes off Russell’s tedious influence. One of the things Wittgenstein talks about is the way in which different groups have their own dialects. Certainly most of us are familiar with the concept of regional dialects; they way a common language shifts and differs from place to place. Saying soda vs. pop, or the pronunciation of certain words, for example.

Wittgenstein goes beyond that, however. Even within the same region, a builder and a banker have different languages. I’ve talked before about how our environments are part of shaping us, are in effect part of who we are, and our language is part of this. Even though the banker and the builder might both be from Boston, and are both speaking English (for sake of argument we will presume they are both native speakers of English), both their past and present experiences shape their ways of understanding and conceptualizing the world, and thus shape the languages they speak.

Geeks are no different. We speak a language that is often incomprehensible to those outside the tribe. For that matter, we further subdivide ourselves into clans that often have difficulty speaking to each other (despite claims of inclusiveness for all, geekdom is still as fractious and tribal as ever – this is but another manifestation of that). If we can’t even speak clan-to-clan, how the hell can we meaningfully review something for anyone other than other members of our clan, who are presumably already fluent in our clannish tongue, let alone to those who aren’t even in the Geek tribe?

We already see some of this in this most recent NYT piece. Their audience is not geeks.I suspect that they conceptual audience they keep in mind when establishing the paper’s “voice” don’t even give a fuck about the existence of geeks. This shows in the language they use to speak to that audience. Snide jokes about Dungeons & Dragons, and using D&D as a referent for the concept of fantasy in general, is perfectly in line with the conceptual schema from which their language arises.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a sneering piece of snobbery that isn’t particularly effective as a review, but that’s what the NYT is about, really. I don’t go to them for actual reviews, I go to them for the snobby opinion; doesn’t matter if the material in question is genre or not.

Even if the NYT woke up tomorrow and started publishing actual, critical reviews my immediate thought still wouldn’t be to appoint a geek to review geeky things. We’re often not the best choice of critics – our general affection for the thing being reviewed blinds us to its faults. There’s also the simple fact that we’re often not the best ambassadors of our own interests. They often horrid public behavior of geeks aside, we’re too wrapped up in our conceptual dialect to be able to effectively communicate to those who don’t speak the lingo. This is problematic enough when we’re dealing with our own; if we’re trying to speak to others it often renders the message unintelligible; which is, I suspect, a less-than-ideal choice from the point of view of most publishers.

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2012 in Geekery, Pop Culture

 

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Could we have a Little less Nostalgia, Please?

I confess I might be a tad grumpier than usual today, goslings. I attribute this condition to a combination of my naturally surly disposition, and a headache that has been plaguing me for close to a day. That aside, I would like to present you this as a prelude to discussion:

Have you watched it yet?

No?

I”m not going to keep talking until you have?

Done? Good.

For those of you who were to young to have lived through the relevant era, this wasn’t a real cartoon. However, what it does is brilliantly sum up the essence of various cartoons and televisions shows from the 70s and 80s, and that essence can be summed up with a single word: feculent.

I can already hear many of you crying foul, citing your fond childhood memories of He-Man, Transformers, Thundercats, Silverhawks, Robotech, or whatever your poison of choice was. I say thee nay! Oh, I certainly won’t deny that many of us, particularly those of us who identify as geeks, have fond memories of these television shows. They were often played an integral role in the shaping of our nascent geekhoods. That doesn’t mean these were good by any reasonable standard. Quite frankly, they were often poorly written, over- or poorly-acted, had production values that could vary widely in quality not only from season to season but even episode to episode, and generally were not good. Yet we loved them as children, and from that love has arisen the willingness to endow these shows with qualities they never possessed. We do not love these things because they are good; they are good because we love them.

This is one of many, many reasons I’m getting tired of the outcry whenever some beloved childhood property gets a modern remake. Were the live action Transformers films terrible? Yes. So was G.I. Joe, and TMNT as directed by Michael Bay will likely also smell richly of shit, because that is how he rolls. Yet none of these properties are ruined by this fact, because they were never good to begin with; all that Michael Bay et. al. manage to accomplish is to add a new stench to an already rich bouquet of stink.

Even if, and that is quite a large if, these properties managed to overcome their own mediocrity when analyzed with an eye unglazed by the cataracts of nostalgia, the existence of these remakes does not somehow ruin our childhoods. Much as is the case of the Mass Effect 3 ending, our experiences with these television shows, they way they delighted us, the ways they helped to shape us, have already occurred. Barring an accident of the Phineas Gage sort, the onset of severe dementia; there is also the very slim chance of my being proven wrong about the non-existence of time qua time, and thus the possibility of time travel existing outside the pages of fantasy; this cannot be taken away from us. Beyond this, people who like to throw around the term “rape” in relation to these remakes need punched in the mouth repeatedly. Possibly until they die, because I’m tired of having to tell people the same thing more than once.

I’ve talked about the ways in which fictional stories can touch us, and we enter a type of emotional ownership with them. I understand that we can feel like these “inferior” remakes are somehow an insult to the things we loved. Except that isn’t true, because many of those things we love were already crap, and the existence of a new, also shitty version, does nothing to remove the experience that we once had. So while I’m perfectly willing to stand up when I think objections are valid, this isn’t one of those times. Bitching about these remakes solely because they’re remakes of things we love is nothing more than whiney fanboyism. Now fucking well quit lest I be forced to cut you.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2012 in Geekery, Pop Culture

 

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