No stakes.

The loudest and most powerful voices when it comes to the future of the planet — the ones with their hands on the levers of power — have a strong tactical advantage: they will be dead before the shit really hits the fan. This fact curiously goes unspoken, for the most part. Popular arguments tend to be framed around a rosy vision preserving the planet for future generations, which gives our boomer aristocracy the most effective cover story imaginable. They don’t need to care about that, as nice as it sounds. Why would they? It’s all completely hypothetical to them. You may as well be talking about climate patterns in Narnia. Make no mistake: older generations living in the developed world are part of history’s most under-appreciated death cult.

This isn’t abstract psychoanalysis. There is a brutal calculus going on in the minds of everyone from your skeptic uncle to the bankrollers of squillion dollar think tanks whenever they think or talk about climate change. They know that they will never have to really answer for their opinions on this matter, because they’ll be six feet under (and loving it!) when the world’s arable land is rendered infertile and its coastal cities flooded by rising oceans. In some dark and venal corner of their minds, they’re thinking about that fact all the damn time. Despite the frightening predictions of the new IPCC report, they’ve still got plenty of wiggle room to keep denying until they’re dead – which will be sooner rather than later. With any luck they’ll even avoid being held accountable in any concrete way, which for the conservative commentariat is an even worse fate than the Mad Max hellworld towards which we are hurtling.

J.R. Hennessy wants Boomers to shut up about climate change.

2019-06-04T07:33:35+11:0014th October, 2019|Tags: climate, culture, nature, science|

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+11:0013th October, 2019|Tags: culture, gaming, pop culture, video games|

Buckle up on Buckle Up.

There is something undeniably reassuring about pinning the blame for a frightening and dangerous problem on a single individual. It doesn’t make the problem go away, but it does make it comprehensible. If you believe that you can pinpoint exactly why and how things came to be so broken, if you can trace it back like a single thread in a dandy’s coat, you can pretend to yourself, even briefly, that those problems be fixed.

In fact, taking a dramatically reductive view of the past is very much in keeping with a particular kind of anti-intellectualist sentiment — the one that assumes, or pretends to assume, that no one actually likes “difficult” books or movies or art, and that they are only saying they do in order to seem smart or trick someone into having sex with them. There is a lot of it going around, lately, a lot of people trying and failing to strike a tonally consistent register that lies somewhere between “I am sophisticated enough to complicatedly enjoy things that stupid people like” and “Fuck you for even suggesting that it is possible to draw a distinction between smart things and dumb things: they are the same.”

Rosa Lyster on difficulties.

This is in response to the rise of what the author refers to as Buckle Up Twitter and what anyone who’s ever been on Tumblr for more than five seconds will recognize as “Andrew Hussie’s Homestuck authorial voice repurposed by teenagers having Baby’s First Revelation about [insert random socio-historical issue here].”1

  1. Also: in some fandoms, a lot of fic, which tends to be written with the same sort of affect… looking at you, tag:stucky sort-by:kudos. []
2019-04-30T12:47:37+11:0011th October, 2019|Tags: culture, twitter|

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|

The 0.01%.

Interesting interview with Abigail Disney (yes, that Disney) on what it’s like to be mind-blowingly rich. The thing about the private jets in particular is… actually personally validating, because it kind of confirms a suspicion I’ve had about American air travel for a while…1

  1. Specifically, that air travel in the US, even first-class air travel, is so godawful compared to literally everywhere else in the world because the mega-rich in the US fly chartered or private to a degree the extremely wealthy in other countries generally don’t. []
2019-04-30T12:35:58+11:0010th October, 2019|Tags: culture|

MACBOOK: Would you like to update to macOS Catalina?

ME: Yeah sure go for it.

MACBOOK: You haven’t backed up in over four hundred days… would you like to do that first?

ME: That means I’d have to go into the other room and clean my desk, so… nah.

MACBOOK: Bold choice, human.

2019-10-15T08:27:06+11:0010th October, 2019|Tags: apple, os x, tech|

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+11:0010th October, 2019|Tags: culture, pop culture, video games|

Small ponds.

So Conflux was this weekend and I went and did things and so on and so forth but, mostly, some general observations:1

  • The SFF con scene is not very big.
  • That includes both fans and pros.
  • Big name pros.
  • Internationally.
  • No one is more than two or three degrees of separation away from anyone else.
  • Even if people aren’t directly BFFs, they know each other by reputation.
  • You want to have a good reputation. Especially with the people you aren’t BFFs with.
  • I really, really mean that.
  • And not just for “opportunities” and “career advancement” (though it will help that), but also because you just… don’t want to get the reputation of being That Guy.
  • If you’re ever That Guy, it’s really, really difficult to ever not be That Guy.
  • People notice who Gets Things Done; who organizes events, volunteers time and resources, who goes out of their way to help other people.
  • They really notice the people who are only there for themselves.
  • Not to mention the people who are never there for—to put it delicately—specific demographic segments within the broader community.
  • I mean it is an SFF con, so it’s likely a good number of the attendees are awkward, shy, weird, or all three. Particularly if they’re new.
  • So people are fairly forgiving.
  • But not eternally forgiving.
  • And, like I said, the scene really isn’t that big…

Just… something to keep in mind.

  1. Not, it must be said, directed at anyone likely to be reading this… []
2019-10-09T08:12:57+11:009th October, 2019|Tags: conflux, cons, fandom, sff|

StaaS

By merging all updates from all the accounts you followed into a single continuous surface and having that serve as the default screen, Facebook News Feed simultaneously increased the efficiency of distribution of new posts and pitted all such posts against each other in what was effectively a single giant attention arena, complete with live updating scoreboards on each post. It was as if the panopticon inverted itself overnight, as if a giant spotlight turned on and suddenly all of us performing on Facebook for approval realized we were all in the same auditorium, on one large, connected infinite stage, singing karaoke to the same audience at the same time.

It’s difficult to overstate what a momentous sea change it was for hundreds of millions, and eventually billions, of humans who had grown up competing for status in small tribes, to suddenly be dropped into a talent show competing against EVERY PERSON THEY HAD EVER MET.

Eugene Wei on performance.

Quite long (so set aside some time), but really interesting look at the emerging status-as-a-service business, a.k.a. social media.

Also: Watching TikTok videos makes me feel Extremely Old™.

2019-04-30T09:24:36+11:009th October, 2019|Tags: culture, social media|