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Orange Skull.

I didn’t think of myself as especially political compared with some of my fellow travellers, but when asked to kill a relatively anodyne reference to an Orange Skull I realised that perhaps it had been irresponsible to be playful about the dire existential threat we now live with, and I withdrew my introduction.

International fascism again looms large … and the dislocations that have followed the global economic meltdown of 2008 helped bring us to a point where the planet itself seems likely to melt down […] Armageddon seems somehow plausible and we’re all turned into helpless children scared of forces grander than we can imagine, looking for respite and answers in superheroes flying across screens in our chapel of dreams.

Art Spiegelman (re)learns that everything is political.

Timely reminder that the CEO of Marvel donates substantial sums of money to Trump, as well as functions as a political advisor, and is actively involved in censoring any criticism Marvel employees attempt to make about the regime in the name of being “apolitical”.

(Also that last line probably could do with a whole essay of unpacking all on its own because… wow. What a massive, potentially unintentional, neg against the superhero genre. I mean… I’m into it. But also… wow.)

2019-08-19T08:20:57+10:0019th August, 2019|Tags: comics, politics, pop culture, usa|

Universal comfort.

And not all biases are as obvious or culturally insidious. Maybe you just think no one under 21 should ever be depicted or mentioned as having sex because you’re under 21 and find the idea of sex incredibly distressing. And you’re allowed to find it distressing! No one should ever coerce you into having sex before you’re ready, whether that happens when you’re 17, 27, 97, or never! But if someone writes a YA novel where they draw on their own experiences of losing their virginity at 17, and it makes you uncomfortable – they are not sexualizing you. That YA author has no idea you, as an individual, exist. Instead of leaping to that explanation for why you find yourself uncomfortable, consider the chance that what you’re actually reacting to is someone portraying the experience of being a teenager in a way that you don’t identify completely with, and being challenged with the non-universality of your experience is what’s making you uncomfortable. 

‘Lena on universality.

I think this is a really interesting way of framing this conversation, particularly because it explicitly states that reactionary fandom anti “discomfort”1 with media—despite usually being framed in “woke” language—is coming from exactly the same damn place as white boys who get mad about girls and people of color in “their” A Star War (or whatever).

  1. See also: people unironically using the word “comfy” to describe media, which is both a huge red flag and massive berserk button for me. Yay! []
2019-02-07T13:23:24+11:0024th July, 2019|Tags: culture, pop culture|

The pan.

A look at the “art” of negative reviews.

This is… interesting, but since it’s working in a primarily professional-reviewers-versus-big-media, I think it… misses a big chunk of the conversation around smaller and independent creators. Even still…

2019-02-07T13:15:38+11:0023rd July, 2019|Tags: media, pop culture|

Extruded superhero product.

Season N of YYYY is available on Netflix. YYYY has tried to walk away from their life as a crime fighting vigilante but events conspire to bring them back into the life of violence they had rejected.

As always the acting is excellent with the lead actor bringing real depth to the role of YYYY. The pacing between introspection and violent, highly choreographed fight-scenes remains good but overall the plot would not have suffered from losing a couple of episodes. Like last season, there’s a sense that the show is trying to say something but in reality it is too mired in its own dubious ethical stance that hitting people is an effective solution to complex problems.

Well produced, well acted and with exciting fight scenes but stuck with a problem that YYYY objectively does more harm than good.

Camestros Felapton on formula.

[insert usually grumbling about the superhero genre here]

2019-07-23T13:59:02+10:0022nd July, 2019|Tags: pop culture|

Punk’s long dead.

Yet I have come to suspect these punk derivatives signal something more than the usual merry-go-round of pop culture. These punks indicate that something is broken in our science fiction. Indeed, even when they reject it, these new subgenres often repeat the same gestures as cyberpunk, discover the same facts about the world, and tell the same story. Our hacker hero (or his magic-wielding counterpart) faces a huge system of power, overcomes long odds, and finally makes the world marginally better—but not so much better that the author can’t write a sequel. The 1980s have, in a sense, never ended; they seem as if they might never end.

[…]

We are still, in many ways, living in the world Reagan and Thatcher built—a neoliberal world of growing precarity, corporate dominance, divestment from the welfare state, and social atomization. In this sort of world, the reliance on narratives that feature hacker protagonists charged with solving insurmountable problems individually can seem all too familiar. In the absence of any sense of collective action, absent the understanding that history isn’t made by individuals but by social movements and groups working in tandem, it’s easy to see why some writers, editors, and critics have failed to think very far beyond the horizon cyberpunk helped define. If the best you can do is worm your way through gleaming arcologies you played little part in building—if your answer to dystopia is to develop some new anti-authoritarian style, attitude, or ethos—you might as well give up the game, don your mirrorshades, and admit you’re still doing cyberpunk (close to four decades later).

Lee Konstantinou on postpunk.

I’ve probably mentioned before that I am endlessly, endlessly cynical about anything with the suffix -punk attached to it, because to me it immediately flags someone as not learning a single damn thing from history.

You know what killed the punks? Like, the original ones?1 Capitalism. That’s always the failure mode of punk; it always sells out, or is appropriated. It’s turned into a marketable aesthetic, into thousand dollar handbags, into liberal communist propaganda for bougie middle-class kids who want to play in the sandpit of rebellion while not, ultimately, doing anything to change a system they know2 will benefit them in the end. And, okay sure. You could make that argument about everything—we live in a late-stage-capitalist hellhole, et cetera—but the fact that we apparently keep recycling this one particular failure mode over and over and over again, with an apparent utter lack of irony, is just frustrating.

Think up a new suffix, kids. Please. And stop retreading the same old paths dressed in different clothes. Trust on this: if you want to get somewhere different, you’re going to have to walk into the scrub.

  1. “Punk’s not dead!” Yeah, okay. And the fact that catchphrase has been around for almost as long as punk itself tells you… what, exactly? []
  2. Or hope. []
2019-02-04T11:42:15+11:007th July, 2019|Tags: books, pop culture, sff|

1999.

As someone who, was indeed, “building it themselves” in 1999 (where “it” is “a blog”), I am totally all over this retrospective on early social media

(Also, man. DreamBook and Pitas… I’d totally forgotten about DreamBook and Pitas!)

2019-02-04T11:13:17+11:006th July, 2019|Tags: blogging, internet, pop culture, social media, tech|

Narrative will.

The reason that letting the audience choose its own story keeps failing when the entertainment industry tries it is that it’s a bad idea. It’s the author’s job to write the story. They can then choose a way to convey that story that gives the reader freedom in how they experience it. But if the story itself is merely a loose collection of different options, each in a different genre and with a completely different tone, then what they’ve created isn’t a coherent work, but a self-indulgent mess.

Abigail Nussbaum on story.

This is from a really, really good comparative look between Black Mirror‘s “Bandersnatch” and the “walking simulator” video game genre which, among other things, really nails why I can’t fucking stand Black Mirror‘s smug, lukewarm, late-to-the-fucking-party takes on things. Also Firewatch was a fantastic game, so was Gone Home, and while I didn’t love Night in the Woods I can see why people do.

Also related thought: the tension in tabletop RPGs between “the GM designs the game and the players experience it” versus “the players make-up the game and the GM facilitates” it. I’ve mentioned before I am… not particularly a fan of the latter approach and, again, I think this article well-articulates why.

2019-02-04T10:01:28+11:005th July, 2019|Tags: gaming, pop culture, tabletop rpgs, video games, writing|

Systemic failures.

To me, it’s disturbing whenever I see authority figures embracing Punisher iconography because the Punisher represents a failure of the Justice system. He’s supposed to indict the collapse of social moral authority and the reality some people can’t depend on institutions like the police or the military to act in a just and capable way.

The vigilante anti-hero is fundamentally a critique of the justice sysytem, an eample of social failure, so when cops put Punisher skulls on their cars or members of the military wear Punisher skull patches, they’re basically sides with an enemy of the system. They are embracing an outlaw mentality. Whether you think the Punisher is justified or not, whether you admire his code of ethics, he is an outlaw. He is a criminal. Police should not be embracing a criminal as their symbol.

Gerry Conway on the Punisher.

Conway is, of course, the creator of the Punisher. So… y’know. There’s that.

2019-01-23T13:25:13+11:0024th June, 2019|Tags: comics, culture, pop culture|

Against hope.

And modern fandom — okay, Tumblr — has this bad habit of describing works as more pure (“pure”) than they actually are. Like, people will claim that Mad Max: Fury Road treats all women as people, overlooking that the Milking Mothers — fatter and darker-skinned than the Wives — are shown hooked up to milking machines and treated as props. I’m still mad about that time people told me — and I believed them — that Pacific Rim was a smart, feminist movie. Tumblr’s current favourite movie is Addams Family Values, which a friend recently rewatched and found full of racism and jokes about violence against women.

Now, my only actual trigger is “bad things being portrayed as good or, at least, deserved”, so a lot of the discourse around hopepunk really puts me on edge. Take, for example, “hopepunk” coiner Alexandra Rowland’s list of people (men) who embody the concept: “Jesus and Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Robin Hood and John Lennon”. Out of five men, one is fictional, two were domestic abusers. I mean. Seriously?

Liz on purity.

This is like a million years old at this point, because basically that’s how my WordPress post queue works, but I still think this is a Timeless Point that needs to be restated.1 Also, because this is a Dreamwidth post: do go read the comments, as well.

  1. Also, Pacific Rim was a racist imperialist garbage film and y’all need to stop pretending it’s not. Like. Right now. I enjoyed parts of it, too, but… seriously. []
2019-01-21T10:05:13+11:0012th June, 2019|Tags: culture, pop culture|

Big Google.

Okay, so… on the one hand this is a decent look at the extent of Google’s creepy data profiling business. Which… sweet.

On the other, it starts with this:

When lazy journalists are pessimistic about Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home, they say stuff like: “Even Orwell couldn’t have predicted that we’d willingly bring Big Brother into our own homes.”

And I’m not sure exactly how ironic this is supposed to be because, um actually? Orwell did predict that. Like, he literally predicted that; it tends to get missed in most of the pop culture understanding of 1984, but the telescreen is a consumer good. That is, Party members buy them and voluntarily install them in their homes. Remember the antiques store guy whose house Winston camps at has an offhand comment about how he doesn’t own one because he never bought one, and it’s mentioned in the book that most proles (non-Party members) don’t have them at all? Like, it’s not the most obvious detail and people tend to elide it because of the whole “BIG BROTHER = COMMUNISM!!!” angle—which is also a bad take,1 incidentally—but it totally is there.

So… yeah. Orwell: Still Even More Relevant Than You Think (2019 Edition).

  1. Oceania is ostensibly a socialist state and it does treat “the capitalist” as its ultimate class enemy. But Orwell was a disillusioned socialist himself, and he was more writing about how elite class interests subvert the ideology for their own power than making a critique of socialism per se. In other words, Oceania’s economy is supposed to look more like the one of Franco’s Spain or Hitler’s Germany, i.e. fascist, than anything that would make Marx nod in approval. []
2019-06-07T14:36:36+10:007th June, 2019|Tags: books, pop culture, tech|