xp

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Post-ideology.

One way in which people have felt [the ideological changes brought about by the end of the Cold War] is as a crisis of political representation, as a growing sense of being denied a voice, and of political institutions as being remote and corrupt, as the creation of a democratic deficit. The sense of being politically abandoned has been most acute within sections of the traditional working class, whose feelings of isolation have increased as social democratic parties have cut their links with their old constituencies. As mainstream parties have discarded both their ideological attachments and their long-established constituencies, so the public has become increasingly disengaged from the political process. The gap between voters and the elite has widened, fostering disenchantment with the very idea of politics.

The new political faultline in Europe is not between left and right, between social democracy and conservatism, but between those who feel at home in – or at least are willing to accommodate themselves to – the more technocratic, post-ideological world, and those who feel left out, dispossessed and voiceless.

Kenan Malik asks what happens after liberal democratic capitalism wins?

This is Malik talking about Francis Fukuyama’s End of History, which some of you may recall was my own Baby’s First Political Theory, and thus something I’ll always have nostalgia for, even if (like everyone else, up to and including Fukuyama himself) I no longer think much of the theory itself. Malik’s take here is that Fukuyama was right in the sense that the end of the Cold War marked the end of the main ideological battle of the bands of the 20th century, i.e. the knock-out fight between capitalism (primarily in its “liberal democratic” flavor)1 and Marxism (primarily in its “autocratic communism” flavor).2 Because capitalism “won” that fight, it’s held total sway over politics for the last few decades, and reduced all political debate in Western countries to, in effect, choosing what flavor of more capitalism they’d like to implement, rather than whether they’d like any capitalism at all.

What Malik is arguing is that this endless nitpicking has left huge swathes of the electorate behind and, specifically, those huge swathes that in previous decades would’ve rallied behind various flavors of socialism. This in turn has resulted in a growing “both sides suck the same”/”a pox on both your houses” kind of polity, on both the left and the right, with a political class that more interested in twiddling the knobs and dials of the existing order3 than it is in selling any kind of high-level vision of what society could be.

It’s also meant that both the left and right of politics (again, in the West) have had to remake themselves in capitalism’s image. For the left, Malik argues it’s been the move away from the Marxist class-based politics and into a kind of market-segmented “identity politics”, where one can “shop” for one’s preferred brand of social justice, be it anti-racism, feminism, LGBTQIA+ issues, or whatever. The right, meanwhile, has rediscovered capitalism’s autocratic arm, i.e. ultra-right nationalist fascism.

It’s worth noting at this point that I don’t… love the way Malik describes modern leftist/progressive politics, though I do think his argument is at least worth thinking about, if not uncritically accepting. I also tend to side-eye anyone who plays the “class-based politics is Real Politics™, identity politics is nonsense” card, since they all tend to be, a) men, who b) conveniently forget that a lot of traditional leftist/Marxist political movements are just as alienating to marginalised communities as their equivalents on the conservative right.4

Either way, I’m only giving a very bare-bones summary of a fraction of Malik’s whole argument, which is an interesting and thoughtful read, so… go check it out.

  1. Also, the fact that “liberal democracy” is commonly used as a synecdoche for “capitalism” is, let’s face it, telling in-and-of itself…
  2. Ditto.
  3. You may hear this expressed as, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
  4. Or, arguably, moreso, given people generally expect the the right/conservatives to be bigots, while the eternal conflation of “the left” with “progressives” can mean that running into an actual non-progressive leftist can feel like a deeply personal betrayal.
2018-07-27T14:37:03+11:0029th December, 2018|Tags: politics, xp|

For the fun of it.

The greatest joy of LiveJournal, and other similar proto-social networks and chat rooms, was their uselessness. There was no reason for any of us to be there, not really. […] That uselessness was precisely the thing that the internet offered: this was a place you visited to get nothing done, a place where nothing counted or lasted with benefits or consequences.

Perhaps more than anything else, what has sucked all of the joy out of the social internet in its current form is its exhortation to be useful. We have arrived at a version where everything seems to be just another version of LinkedIn. Every online space is supposed to get you a job or a partner or a stronger personal brand so you can accomplish the big, public-record goals of life. The public marketplace is everywhere. It’s an interactive and immersive CV, an archive. It all counts, and it all matters.

Helena Fitzgerald on ghost towns.

While I am an advocate for the “useless” web, I do think there’s an element of rose-tinted nostalgia going on here.

The early internet—at least, in as much as I remember it—wasn’t so much about being (in the article’s words) “useless”, i.e. done purely for one’s own self, but rather a series of ad hoc experiments done while people tried to figure out how to be “useful”, i.e. how to do things popular with others. Online popularity has always been A Thing. You remember BlogShares? Those five little rate-my-blog squares? Exclusive webrings/cliques? “XHTML/CSS compliant”? “Tutorials” sections? Yes, this shit has been going for years.

What I think has changed is that the metrics for “utility” have been a) formalized, b) monetized, and c) moved into corporate hands. Before, participation in the attention economy was mostly driven by individual motivations; vanity, curiosity, an earnest desire to connect with others, or just honest-to-gods being-a-cool-person-ness. Nowadays, though, “utility” is driven by commercial platform owners whose profits directly depend on the “average utility” of their users, and thus spend billions on engineering their systems to constantly try and wring more “utility” out of everyone (more likes, more sign-ups, more ad impressions). The visibility of this “utility” has become ubiquitous. We wonder why Boys These Days seem so obsessed with lobster serotonin and “T-levels” and “canthal tilt” and other bullshit measurements of “status”… and yet they’re also the generation who’ve grown up in a social environment measured, externally and numerically (subscribers, followers, monthly donations), on a global scale.

Forget napkins and diamonds and all that bullshit; this is my generation’s actual broken legacy. Boomers destroyed the economy and the environment, Gen X destroyed giving a shit about things, and Millennials destroyed the idea of doing things for the heck of it. Even the expression, “doing things for the heck of it”, has been replaced by “utility” phrases, “doing it for the Vine” et al., that reinforce corporate ownership and empirical-yet-meaningless “social metrics”. We connected the world and told it to measure itself, and never really thought about what that would mean.

Well. This is what it means. And I doubt we’ve seen the last of it yet.

2018-05-21T15:05:10+11:0021st November, 2018|Tags: culture, social media, tech, xp|

Nonflict.

Rachel Manija Brown on story without conflict.

I’m always really (a-har) conflicted by these sorts of posts, because on the one hand I agree—I love quiet scenes and cutrainfic and so on—but, on the other, I think in some respects they sell the notion of “conflict” itself short. Yes, there is an over-emphasis on superficial external conflict (e.g. violence, arguments) in a lot of media nowadays, see pretty much every action movie, for example. But, also, I think it’s possible for subtler forms of conflict to exist within a narrative, including metatextual conflict between the narrative and itself, the narrative and other works, or the narrative and the reader.

Brown mentions the “secret garden” genre, for example, as one that tends to be without conflict. But I’d argue that the attraction of the secret garden is, in fact, rooted in a metatextual conflict in this latter sense. That is, it’s the conflict between the reader’s unfulfilled desire for their own secret garden and the fact that the protagonist has one that the reader, by the very action of reading, intrudes upon and eventually takes over (by subsuming the book, and thus the garden, into their own memories).

Curtainfic, meanwhile, is a work that’s almost always in conflict with its own source material. A solid third of all fics tagged curtainfic on the AO3, for example, are in the Supernatural fandom, with the next biggest chunk coming from the MCU. These are not canons known for their fluffy domesticity! As someone who loves a curtainfic, and particularly loves its Villains Out Shopping subtrope, I can assert the fun in both reading and writing these scenarios is definitely in exploring the conflict their quiet mundanity presents against either the canon or the characters. (See also: why villain/antihero/antagonist fandoms tend to be full of “fluffy” memes.)

Like Roadhog and his pachimari.

For another, related, example, see any time anyone trots out kishōtenketsu as a “story without conflict” trope… and then proceed to give a handful of examples all of which include some kind of conflict. The fact that the conflict is usually framed as the story presenting contrasting narrative elements, with the conflict between them occurring within the reader’s head as a kind of dialectic—as opposed to direct “on the page” action—does not, in fact, actually mean the narrative is “without conflict”. But, like. Good luck getting anyone to admit that.

“But, Alis!” you might be thinking. “What you’re describing is contrast, not ‘conflict’. You’ve even used the word multiple times!”

Yeah. And what I’d argue is that, in almost all circumstances, when people talk about “conflict” in the context of narrative what they actually mean to talk about is contrast (a.k.a. tension). Two random characters having a fight is conflict, but it isn’t narratively interesting unless you’re one of those people who nuts to mechanized descriptions of fight scenes.1 Two characters having a fight over differing ideologies, on the other hand, is interesting, particularly when each side has some valid points and the audience themselves is engaged with attempting to determine who to root for and why. This is also why so many “popcorn villains” are so flat and kinda bullshit.

Think about, say, Strickland in Shape of Water, for example, who is pretty much the epitome of an uncompelling antagonist. This isn’t the fault of Michael Shannon, who does great; it’s because in the context of the narrative Strickland is just a one-note bad guy. He’s a bigot who hates the fish man! Okay, well… good on him, I guess. But the reality is Strickland could be replaced by literally anything else—including nothing at all—and the film’s conflict would remain the same. Why? Because the conflict in the film isn’t “oh no gubba gonna getcha fish, gurl”. It’s “ahaha in every other story like this the fish guy is either evil, or dies, or turns human at the end”. It’s a metatextual conflict, in other words, between the audience and their expectations for the genre. This is also, incidentally, why I thought the film was kinda meh; because I read a lot of monster romance, I have no genre expectation of the narrative going in any way other than “girl fucks fish man”. Because that’s how monster romances work!2 Which means the actual narrative itself felt empty in the “superficial conflict no contrast/tension” way.3 Also, the romance was really flat. Like, really flat.

I did look pretty, though. So… there’s that I guess.4 Also, it won a bunch of Oscars, which just goes to show why narrative conflict is such a minefield, since it leans so heavily on being able to anticipate the mental/emotional states of your audience…

  1. No judgement, you do you.
  2. Except when they’re, like, “boy fucks fish man”, or “girl fucks eldritch horror”, or “enby shares non-sexual intimacy with demon”, or whatever.
  3. Also see: the Obvious Hints that Sally is also, in fact, a fish monster. Meaning the story isn’t even “girl fucks fish man”, it’s “fish woman fucks fish man” which… eeeeeh.
  4. Though don’t get me started on the whole “sassy Black best friend with deadbeat husband” and “tragic queer uncle” tropes because, ugh. What is it about del Toro films and throwing intersectionality under the goddamn bus?
2018-11-26T08:10:31+11:0023rd September, 2018|Tags: fandom, fanfic, film, pop culture, writing, xp|

Wyrdverse, Conflux, and Kickstarters (oh my)!

Oh no. It’s That Time of the Year again, the time when… (looks around nervously) … things happen.

Thing #1.

I formatted a book! Wyrdverse: Tales of the Wyrd is an anthology of short stories from the, well. Wyrdverse. These aren’t new—you may have previously read them on my website—they’re just now… collated better.

Wyrdverse is currently available super-cheap from Amazon, although if you’d like to snag yourself a free copy you can do so from the princely sum of your email address, by signing up to my book news mailing list.

Oh, and because the whole purpose of this exercise was to practice using Indesign, a print version of the book (in all its extensive, 80-page glory) should be available sometime in the next few weeks. So… keep an eye out for that.

Thing #2.

Speaking of awesome books you should buy (or, rather, back) right now, Crossed Genres’ Resist Fascism speculative fiction anthology is in the final days of its Kickstarter. From the official description:

RESIST. ANY WAY YOU CAN.

The world is in turmoil. The world is always in turmoil, but in recent years, people have seen violence and hatred become proud instead of ashamed. What meager rights we’ve fought for are being deliberately eroded. And the vulnerable have any help stripped away. All of this is happening openly and without fear of reprisal. And the worst perpetrators are some of the largest governments of the world.

Resisting the spread of fascism is as important now as it was 75 years ago. And there are many effective ways to resist.

For full disclosure, friend-and-all-round-awesome-person Rivqa has a story in this anthology, and I have read it and it is boss. So if you, too, would like to read a boss story about found family and Jewish jujitsu IN SPACE, then you should go smash that pledge button, as the kids on teh YouTubes say.

Thing #4.

Oh, and while you’re in the spending money mood,1 Mother of Invention is on sale! From the blurb:

Knit robots, build spaceships, and shape the future.

Extraordinary short stories about gender, artificial intelligence and the art of building something new. Mother of Invention features the work of Seanan McGuire, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Nisi Shawl, John Chu, Justina Robson and more.

Awesome? Yes. So what are you waiting for? Buy like a hundred copies and you’re set for presents to give out to all your friends, enemies, and loved ones at every birthday, anniversary, and culturally appropriate religious celebration for the indefinite future. Let’s all knit a softer, warmer robotic future together.

Finally… Thing #5.

Conflux! It’s coming, and I will be there. You can even come hear me blather on about narrative in the panel Play to write: what tabletop and video games can teach writers of fiction. And by “me” I mean “Rivqa and Elizabeth“, and by “blather” I mean “make interesting and intelligent points while trying to ignore their drooling co-panellist (i.e. me).”

Sound great? Of course it does! See you there.

  1. … I know, I know.
2018-09-12T08:15:44+11:0012th September, 2018|Tags: book news, books, conflux, cons, fandom, gonzo author stories, sff, wyrdverse, xp|

Twenty years.

Jason Kottke’s retrospective of twenty years of blogging.

I’m not quite up to twenty years yet—My First Blog was a LiveJournal, creation date 14 September 1999—although I was making non-blog websites by ’98. Thankfully most of these have been lost to the gods of bitrot; unlike Kottke, I’ve gone through periods where I’ve wiped my old sites and started fresh, mostly because, like him, there’s a lot of shit in my old archives1 I look back now on an cringe over. The person I am at thirty-four is not the person I was at twenty-four… or fifteen, for that matter.

Because I was fifteen when I made my first post on LiveJournal and, of all things, I still remember doing it; I was sitting at my computer in the living room of my ‘rents old house, off school for the day because I’d bargained Mum out of having to attend the athletics carnival if I vacuumed the house. My First Blog Post was explaining this situation, as well as confessing I had not, in fact, vacuumed the house because I was too busy tooling around with LiveJournal (which I was sure would “never take off”).

As mentioned, pretty much all those old websites have been lost to the ravages of time, although I will admit I did get nostalgic and try and have a look for them on archive.org anyway. This was the earliest I could find, circa 2001 (minus all graphics, which from memory featured… Gackt, maybe?):

Dat color scheme, tho.

Things to note:

  1. The “articles” are tutorials on how to integrate the then very basic Blogger-based weblog into a custom domain using PHP includes, which was basically how people made websites Back In The Day.2
  2. The comments were done via a third-party JavaScript popup thingie because, again, blogs (except LiveJournal) didn’t have native comments in 2001. There are no comment counts on posts because, well. There just weren’t in those days.
  3. The hosting section was how people got cool websites in the pre-social media days. It was kind of like sharehousing but, like. On the internet. And with no-one but the “homeowner” paying any rent…
  4. Not pictured: the obligatory cliques, dolls/adoptables, and webrings section. You know… I actually miss webrings. We should really bring those back.
  5. Reading those list of links reminds me that one of the individuals turned out to be involved in one of those weird, infamous fandom kin-cult things
  6. The early 00s website design aesthetic (which I was… never very good at) has really, really not dated well, based on my archive.org-rabbit-hole survey of other websites from this era. That being said, I do sort of miss the experimental messiness of it all, especially when compared to the prefab template sterility of the Tumblr/Twitter/Facebook dashboards. On the other other hand: 8pt justified Verdana. Never. Again.3

Mostly, though, we were all just so young. Yikes.

  1. Yes, I still have them; they’ll be in MySQL dumps somewhere on one of my computer’s HDDs, if I really wanted to torture myself digging them up.
  2. Or, if you were Rich™ you bought a Movable Type licence.
  3. It also just… does not look the same on modern monitors, which are both bigger and have, like, font anti-aliasing.
2018-09-05T13:25:32+11:001st September, 2018|Tags: internet, tech, xp|