pop culture

Home/Tag: pop culture

The Power.

But here is what I know about women and power: Men fear powerful women, because they know that women have always had cause to fear powerful men. Men fear that women’s power will be violent, because they use their power to rape, assault, and beat us. Men fear that women’s power will be temperamental and despotic — that they will be forced to fear our every mood swing and obey our every irrational whim — because men have been raised to believe that their women should tend to them, cater to their whims, hang on the thread of their good graces. Men don’t fear “female power,” in the abstract. They fear being treated like women; they’re afraid that, when we win, they die. That when get the power, we’ll do the shoving, and it will hurt.

Sady Doyle on power.

This piece is on Game of Thrones, so appropriate content warning for sexual violence. But having never seen nor read (nor ever had any intention to see nor read) GoT/ASoIaF, the thing this post actually reminded me of was Naomi Alderman’s The Power, which I threw across the room1 when I realised it’d done exactly this bait-and-switch on me.


  1. Metaphorically, given I was reading the ebook on my phone. []
2019-07-09T15:14:58+10:009th November, 2019|Tags: books, cw: sexual assault, pop culture|

Kicking over the sandcastle.

I mean. I like major plot threads to be wrapped up, sure, and I like emotional arcs to come to fruition, and it’s good if Chekov’s Gun gets taken away by the BATF agent at some point, but. I like my stories to end in a way that goes “we solved that specific plot problem, and now everything else gets to continue on more or less as it was, except for the ways the characters and their relationships grew and changed, and the repercussions of that specific problem that are still shaking out.”

I don’t like my stories to end in a way that goes “And everything you’ve been invested in is changed and gone forever and nothing will ever be the same!”

And it seems like in our new 21st century media era of Everything Is Part Of A Years-Long Dramatic Arc, that’s the only way things get to end anymore.

melannen on endgames.

Pretty much.

But, also: I’ve said this before,1 and I’ll likely say it again, but the basic reason here is because humans are bad at having a critical/analytical reaction to something at the same time they’re having an emotional reaction to it.2 So fostering an extreme version of the latter in an in-the-moment reaction is basically the Number One way of preventing too much of the former, because people also tend to over-conflate “Thing gave me Emotion X” with “Thing was Good” when, spoiler alert, it’s actually not that difficult to give humans emotional reactions since one of humanity’s core evolutionary traits is that we’re hyper-empathic.

As you can probably tell, I loathe media that does this, mostly because it’s one of those things that, once you’ve seen how the trick is done, you can’t unsee it. And boy howdy is there so much of it around to not unsee. It’s also worth pointing out that part of the reason is because I am very easy to sucker into having emotional responses to fictional media—one of the reasons I hate the Distancing Effect is because I don’t like segregating myself in that way from a narrative—and media that’s, shall we say, disrespectful of that makes me feel cheated and exploited.3

Tl;dr endings are hard, and being bad at them in a cheap way is far, far easier than doing them well in a way that works.

  1. About the ends of both Angel and Torchwood: Children of Earth, in fact, so this is… not a new observation by any means. []
  2. Basically the reverse of My Media Nemesis, the Brechtian Distancing Effect. []
  3. Which isn’t to say I universally hate rocks-fall-everyone-dies endings. I’m one of the like 0.01% of people who likes both the endings to Dragons Ages 2 and Inquisition, for example, and I’m also partial to Birdman-style ambiguous endings. []
2019-06-26T15:07:04+10:0024th October, 2019|Tags: pop culture|

What do Kids These Days have on their walls?

You know what seems like it’s Not A Thing any more? Posters. Whatever happened to those?

I remember when I was a kid, the local video store1 near my friend’s house used to sell used movie posters for $1. Because they were $1, we used to go down and buy heaps of them. It was always a bit hit-and-miss whether you could get films you actually liked—they were basically the posts for the last-month’s-latest-releases—but still. $1! I had so many of those damn things on my walls…

  1. Yeah, you heard me; I’m Old. []
2019-06-24T11:07:45+10:0022nd October, 2019|Tags: pop culture|

Stomach this mournful tone.

You see where this is going, right?  Red Dead Redemption 2 came out in 2018.  And in 2018, you can’t talk about cons without talking about the con that is America.  With its conman president, enabled by the con that is conservatism, selling the con that is the American Dream.  It’s an old story, one that Red Dead thinks it’s in on.  The con of the frontier, the con of settlers, the con of whiteness, the con of exceptionalism.  Necessary violence as a path to freedom.  The con of freedom.

Defenders might say Red Dead Redemption 2 is about this very American con.  It’s not.  If it were, it wouldn’t center shitty white men.  It wouldn’t use Native characters as props for white plots.  It would have actual cogent criticism embedded in its structure rather than all this wasted extravagance.  It wouldn’t have dead eye.  It wouldn’t be a shooter at all.  It would explore alternative mechanics.  It would not mourn.

It is here, between its seeming subject and the actual experience of playing it, that we have the heart of Red Dead Redemption 2’s con.  We have white american outlaws and traditional gamers, both sick with empire.  We have collaborators with the systems that enable their delusions.  We have pain at the expense of everyone who is not them.  And in this particular moment, that makes RDR2 not only the worst game of the year, not only the worst game of this generation, but an active contributor to the all-consuming falseness eating our world.

Replace the cowboy hats with MAGA hats, and it becomes a little clearer.  This is a family not of outlaws but of reactionaries.  There’s nothing radical or courageous about them.  The entire tone of Red Dead reflects this current conservative moment, the con being perpetuated.  Your main man Arthur isn’t even a special case.  Sure the world has plenty of dumb loyalists like Bill and charming young dipshits like John, always claiming “I don’t have a choice”.  But there are just as many Arthurs out there in red caps as racist fucks like Micah.  Not true believers but sad sacks gone sour.  With more sulk than bile, longing for a past that never even existed.  And these Arthurs, like so many gamers, don’t even care anymore that it’s a lie.  They gave up responsibility for the truth a long time ago.

What does it mean to long for a lie?  Where does it end?  Especially when, at most, what you’re longing for is a feeling.  Well, what you remember of a feeling.  Hasn’t anyone told you the bad news, sweetheart?  It’s not coming back.  Not the old west, not your white stories of America, not frontier or freedom.  And not Soulcalibur or Far Cry 2 or Rockstar’s heyday either.  None of it’s ever coming back.  Certainly not your lost feeling.  It’s just as your conservative heart fears.  Nothing will be made great again.  Because past greatness is a con.  And there is no again.

tevis thompson on redemption.

This is a long quote from a long essay, but it’s something I think (along with its interlude) should be mandatory reading not just for everyone who plays videogames, but for everyone with any kind of investment in or fanishness over modern, specifically American,1 pop culture…

  1. Yes, endless flood of Marvel films. I’m looking at you. []
2019-05-15T08:54:40+10:0013th October, 2019|Tags: culture, gaming, pop culture, video games|

Soft power.

[T]here is one element missing in [recent commentary around China]: our (West’s) collective hypocrisy.

We in the West should very well know what and who we are dealing with — China might be decked out in Louis Vuitton, but underneath, it is still a single-party, quasi-communist nation. Knowing the Western desperation for growth and the insatiable needs of the stock markets, China also knows it can yank anyone’s chain.

Huawei isn’t a recent problem. It was a problem a decade ago. The dynamic in this spat between the NBA and China isn’t new — China gets what China wants, not the other way around. Why are we being outraged now? The West signed up for this.


Sitting in Delhi, it is fairly easy to be reminded of the time when most of the world felt the same way about the American influence on culture, economy and politics. Growing up in socialist India […] I read countless articles in newspapers and magazines that bemoaned American hegemony.

Now the shoe is on the other foot now, and China is doing the kicking with its way of governance, controlling speech and business.

Om Malik on hegemony.

I’ve cut out a quote here from someone else that essentially points out China and India were dictating global market norms for nearly two thousand years before the West (i.e. Europe and America) showed up in the last few hundred to mix things up a bit. But China in particular has been waiting and planning its resurgence, and with America so outwardly weak and internally fractured, well. Now’s the time.

Extreme Team No-one on this issue, but it is… definitely frustrating to constantly see the utter lack of self-awareness (or, at best, special pleading of the “but when we do it’s it’s Good!” variety) from American commentators. Not to mention some of the stuff China is getting blamed for1 is starting to smell a li-ii-ii-ittle bit like Yellow Peril 2.0, so… yeah. About that…

Edited to add:

For what it’s worth, I think Stoller is correct in his analysis and his proposed solutions… bu-uu-ut he’s also pretty much the Ur-example of the sort of hypocrisy Malik is talking about above. And, like, take a shot every time someone says “kowtowing to the Chinese” which… yi-ii-ikes. Can we not?

  1. Yeah, I’m looking at you, everyone who likes to point fingers at China because Disney and Marvel—the latter of which in particular is run by a Republican with a known history of conservative editorial interference—won’t make boys kiss in your Extruded Superhero Product Films. Like, don’t get me wrong; China is definitely shitty on this issue. But, like… America has hardly been better. So you’ll have to forgive a little skepticism on my part that this one is solely China’s “fault”. []
2019-10-11T09:14:15+11:0011th October, 2019|Tags: culture, economics, pop culture|

Ethical art.

If you’re speaking to an (essentially captive, given the marketing monies involved) audience of five million people you’d better be sure your ideas are, at least, not actively harmful, and in fact should ideally be improving – – fine. How about an audience of 50 people? Or an audience of 0? Does that mean this work is less moral than what speaks to a larger crowd – in effect, that it’s worse? And what about the relationship to audience that this kind of teaching implies? i can think of several occasions where people from different subcultures or minority groups were reprimanded because something in their own experience might read differently, or problematically, when presented to a presumably white/cis/affluent etc audience – which is of course the audience that matters, because what’s the value of presenting work from an alternative perspective to an audience already familiar with that perspective, to whom it has no automatic moral significance (might, in fact, merely be ‘aesthetic’)? Compare the complexity of a specific local audience which can think for itself to the easy win of the alternative:  a phantasm audience of moral blanks to whom rote lessons in hypothetical empathy can be tastefully and profitably imparted over and over, forever.

If the ethical act is that which we’d be willing to posit as universal law, perhaps we could say: the ethical artwork is that which we’d be willing to mass produce. Small or hobbyist developers are encouraged to work from the perspective of a mass-productive capacity they do not in fact possess; their successes and inevitable failures are hoovered up alike by the industry proper for later deployment in the form of cute dating sim or inspirational narrative with similar but sanitized tone or aesthetic. In essence a kind of moral QA testing, with all the job security and recompense that this implies.

myfriendpokey on audiences.

I think the line ethical artwork is that which we’d be willing to mass produce is probably the most scathing rebuttal to the ~comfy uwu~ brigade I’ve ever read.

See also this and and this… and you can tell this is a topic that’s been on my mind a lot recently, no?

2019-07-31T09:40:01+10:0010th October, 2019|Tags: culture, pop culture, video games|


BRB forcing all the “uwu no one should ever have to be ~uncomfy uwu” brigade to watch this.

(Also insert “… Clive Barker is  gay?” because… apparently I managed to miss that, somehow?)

2019-04-29T20:45:15+10:005th October, 2019|Tags: culture, pop culture|

The culture flood.

My frustration was for these overlooked artists, but also for the artists being overlooked now, the ones with interesting new ideas (if not necessarily revolutionary ones) that can inch the discourse forward in some way. We choose virality instead — repackaged, reshaped, shareable versions of what has come before — and equate it to quality because of its resonance. Which is itself resonant because the irony of the web is that even though everyone can have a voice, the ones that we project are projected over and over and over again. This isn’t quality, or real diversity; it’s familiarity. We model ourselves on fandom, where there is no sense of proportionality — there is everything, there is nothing, and there is little else — and the space between now and the future, the space in which critics used to sit, increasingly ceases to exist.

We need a mass realization that pulls us out of this flooding culture. That is: the acknowledgment by powerful organizations that we do in fact engage more with original stories — it’s a fact, look it up — that lasting conversations do not come out of Twitter trends, and that diversity means diversity — more that is different, not more of the same differences.

Soraya Roberts on drowning.

Another one of those long-quote-go-read-the-whole-piece articles.

2019-04-29T08:10:16+10:002nd October, 2019|Tags: culture, pop culture, social media|

Good boys.

If a bad person is hurting people in The Division 2, options to resolve the situation include A) shooting the enemy in the head until they die, B) deploying a turret to shoot them in the head until they die, or C) commanding a drone to shoot them in the head until they die. If a dog is in distress, there is no enactable solution. Like many loot games, rewards do not come in the form of emotional closure, but instead an incremental power bump. Gaining mastery over the world tops the list of priorities, and mastery does not include a genuine display of affection for an innocent living being.

On petting the dog.

From the creator of the Can You Pet the Dog? Twitter account, on the strong opinions people have about petting dogs in videogames.

Also, speaking of strong opinions on dog petting: apparently a large number of videogame animators have no idea how to actually pet dogs. Get some additional training for them on that, stat!

2019-04-05T09:32:13+11:0021st September, 2019|Tags: gaming, pop culture, video games|