Friday, September 25, 2009

What Monsters Would Say: Beast of Le Gevaudan

"Wassat? Whosere? Nevermind. Phew. Okay. Cripes. Okay. Reckon I'm in the clear. Gotta get up pretty early in the morning to outsmart the ol' Beast of Le Gevaudan!"

Friday, September 18, 2009

In Which I Come Of Age as a Games Columnist by Ridiculing John Romero.

Busy little bee Tom G had another article up today as well. The initial pitch was "The Heaven's Gates of Gaming"; as my editor pointed out, nowadays that doesn't refer to Michael Cimino's apocalyptic career suicide so much as something else entirely. So here is Gaming's Would-Be Innovators.

Here are some of my favourite things people say of it:

"Will the internet EVER stop making fun of Daikatana? Let's hope not."

"Tom Goulter made this article his bitch!"

"the goonies is the best movie ever..."

In Which I Do For Games What Alan Moore Did For Comics.

My Gamesradar piece on gaming meets mythology is up, and it is a doozy. Many hours of research; countless re-edits to be concise, inclusive and steadily witty; more than a few masterworks of Photoshop. And some twat in the comments has to point out that I probably visited Tvtropes in the piece's early stages. (I did).

Feast thine eyes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Corganwatch: Freak Out, Give In, Start a Blog About What You Believe In

9/12 of The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Nine saw a fascinating and confounding pair of essays published in the Wall Street Journal. On the one hand, ex-nun turned spiritual scholar Karen Armstrong, author of the wonderful A Short History of Myth, argues the case for a more numinous, less big-beard-in-the-sky sort of God and how He might continue to play a valid role in the hearts of c21st humans. Armstrong writes:
In the past, many of the most influential Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinkers understood that what we call "God" is merely a symbol that points beyond itself to an indescribable transcendence, whose existence cannot be proved but is only intuited by means of spiritual exercises and a compassionate lifestyle that enable us to cultivate new capacities of mind and heart.
God, for Armstrong, is not the sternly loving, humanised Socrates-lookalike who gazes down from the roof of the Sistine Chapel. It's a force at once elusive and pervasive, one for which even questions of "existence" may be inappropriate. God is myth and question, darkness and illumination, something incompatible with our modern tools of thought yet inescapable even in discussions of its possible irrelevance.

Armstrong the mythologist is paired with Richard Dawkins the scientist, well-spoken champion of rational inquiry. Not for Dawkins these fuzzy discussions of ritual and meta-belief:
If sophisticated theologians or postmodern relativists think they are rescuing God from the redundancy scrap-heap by downplaying the importance of existence, they should think again. Tell the congregation of a church or mosque that existence is too vulgar an attribute to fasten onto their God, and they will brand you an atheist. They'll be right.
Dawkins marvels at existence itself, and he resents anyone branding that marvel with the same language that was used to justify the Crusades or the Inquisition or 9/11. For Dawkins, there can be no discussion of God until we can agree on a definition of what God is, and the popular definition doesn't stand up to the reason that is the engine of progress in our age.

Both make a passionate point, and both leave gaping holes in their argument. Perhaps what's needed is a third thinker, one less bound by scholarly path or accumulated reputation to either end of the debate. Fortunately, three days earlier, the world had given us such a man.
If you think of what a light bulb does, it just shines. There are of course many different types of light sources, the Sun being the optimal one of course. Without it we’d be toast! Or maybe non-toast? Whatever we would be without the Sun it wouldn’t be good!!
William Patrick Corgan has spoken eloquently on matters of faith and the nature of God before. Sometimes he's fer...
In the land of star crossed lovers and barren hearted wanderers, forever lost in forsaken missives and Satan's pull, we seek the unseekable and we speak the unspeakable; our hopes dead, gathering dust to dust, in faith, in compassion, and in love.
...Sometimes agint.
Belief is not to notice, believe is just some faith - and faith can't help you to escape.
Corgan's spiritual progression develops through his lyrics: from the Trinity-defying swagger of I am One, through the cod-Zen dissociation of Rocket, to the elegant conceptual substory running throughout the gloriously wanky Machina/The Machines of God. Machina was pushed as something of a half-hearted concept record, and inasmuch as this is the case, the record's overarching narrative drive is that of Billy Corgan's own Pilgrim's Progress (because if all art is secretly about ourselves, then all Billy Corgan's art is nakedly about Billy Corgan).

Machina closes with one of Corgan's finest works, both lyrically and musically. Age of Innocence, a clarion call to worldly mortification, to forward movement even if it takes us through hell, is at once inspiring and terrifying. It's an challenge to reject the sky-bound chiding father figure, to accept progress and human growth; but also a suggestion that on the other side of desolation are opportunities for a truer, more holistic sort of faith and ritual. In its way, Age of Innocence rejects the paternal 20th-century God figure as passionately as does Dawkins; even as it looks toward an understanding of the Divine as nebulous and hopeful as that which Armstrong urges us to consider. It would have been the perfect work with which for Corgan to close the book on Smashing Pumpkins and its stance on spirituality.

But Corgan is still going. His new blog, Everything from Here to There (the title, he says, comes from his work-in-progress spiritual memoir), aims to be a place where individuals can openly discuss "mind-body-soul integration" without fear, judgment or "making proof". The content is inarticulate, roundabout and somewhat embarrassing: a post intending to discuss ancient Egyptian wisdom ends up urging people to think more like lightbulbs.

In keeping with the tone of Machina, his most spiritually consistent work, Corgan seems to be aiming for some sort of nu-Gnostic approach to belief: he talks of Egyptology, alchemy, of God as both non-interventionist meta-force and Grace-bestowing entity. That's all very well, but to adopt the iconoclastic stance of Gnosticism without knowing your shit inside and out is to risk shunning by believers and nonbelievers alike, to court acceptance only by rebellious fourteen-year-old Anne Rice fans.

Perhaps the former is what William Patrick Corgan is after. Perhaps the latter is perfectly fine for him. But it's disappointing to find that, when theological scholasticism and scientific reasoning fail to make much headway in either direction, that Billy Corgan can't just solve the whole thing either.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Tom's America: The Phantom American

University of Washington. "What do you mean you didn't know I was Mexican?", asks one of my oldest friends. "When you first knew me, my last name was [incredibly Mexican]!"
"It just never occurred to me", I shrug. "I just saw you as a Korean-American Army brat".

"Well, I mean, my dad wasn't full Mexican. And I'm actually part Native American as well."

"I didn't know that either."

She pauses for a theatrical little sweep through a doorway. "So, you know", she grins, "I
am America!"

It's often put forward that all of modern life, particularly in gendered and racial spheres, is performance; but in the outposts of Albion, where American cultural colonisation isn't yet openly acknowledged, it's a whole nother thing. I am nursing a theory that a large part of the cultural malaise suffered by Antipodeans, our culture still young and impressionable, stems from a basic identity crisis: we're Americans who think we're still fundamentally British.

But it's not the British who have spent the past fifty-odd years (postdate it from Elvis) dictating directly to our unconscious. The hypnosis is all the more effective for its unintentional nature. American media doesn't mean to speak to us - even the most aggressively prescriptive American media is really only concerned with dictating ontological policy to, and reaping the price of admission from, Americans - and that is precisely why it has worked as effectively as it has.

Do most people in America make American movies (apart from in a hinky psychoanalytic cultural-dreaming sense)? No they do not: but they do consume them if they taste right, and this consumption is a fairly lucrative business, and so we have evolved to a point where America is better at making slick, digestible, articulate mass media than any other country.

And so the vast majority of movies and music and television consumed by a young non-American growing up in the English-speaking West (even one molded by the Tofu Years, on which more anon) gets to be American. And much of the American media worth a damn happens to be media that is concerned with either telling Americans how to be, or pointing out to Americans how they are.

So as to render this process less than totally irrelevant, non-Americans develop a kind of inner American, a Phantom American, which can then be by turns nurtured and chastised by American media. John Wayne was never congratulating us on our frontier spirit; neither Zabriskie Point nor Fight Club were directly chiding us for our complacent commercial slough. So we find the commonalities between Americans and ourselves, that we might get the most from what's on offer. If you're buying an Xbox game, you don't want half the disc locked until you buy extra content; if you're buying a movie ticket, you don't want half the picture's message to be addressed to someone who in no way resembles you.

The Phantom American grows with praise, learns from challenge, and takes criticism on board. By the time the Antipodean reaches adulthood, their Phantom American will have developed its own tastes, experiences and ways of thinking. It starts to have a noticeable influence on some peoples' speech, style, posture, movement. My best friend in Primary School was a guy who spoke almost entirely in the vernacular of American kids' television. He was an extreme - most people will restrict themselves to unconsciously adopting a gesture here, a speech pattern there - but it's rare to meet an Antipodean whose Phantom American isn't starting to peek around the corners of their regular identity, the way Christ's soul is said to have been larger than His physical body.

But the American has none of this. The American doesn't have a Phantom American. The American just is an American. Plenty of people in the US are very enjoyable folks as a result of their American-ness: self-effacing, gregarious, mindful of the best and worst of their country. But even the American who represents everything non-Americans despise about Americans - brash, self-centered, entitled, overly fond of fatty foods - is admirable insomuch as his American-ness has an unconflicted purity to it. Where we're us with a little bit of America on the side, they are America.

Across Seattle and America, flags are halfmasted atop skyscrapers. Flaccid in a gentle wind, they bow toward the Western-setting sun. It takes me a second before my Phantom American reminds me why this should be the case.