Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Corganwatch: Organ Versus Lov

Billy Corgan and Courtney Love, seen here with a classy dude who knows when to shut his fucking mouth.

The other night I was explaining to my girlfriend that I'd once been bored enough to watch a movie called Reddy Versus Jaso on my dad's cable. (This first entailed explaining that this was in the days when plenty of people thought nothing of watching widescreen movies on square televisions, though the pan-and-scan process did horrible things to any sequence in which two figures were stood at either side of the screen, ie the defining shot of most Character Versus Character movies; to say nothing of what it does to the title sequences of said movies.)

A common problem with movies like Reddy Versus Jaso (or, for that matter, Lie Ersu Retado, but presumably not Amer Versus Kram) is that they present two equally repellent figures, both legendary and in their way commanding of awe, but both quite categorically To Be Stayed Away From; but due to the demands of narrative storytelling, both figures cannot be consistently vilified in equal measure, so the movie's drama invariably boils down to the protagonists (who are, disappointingly, never Reddy, Jaso, Lie or Redato but just boring old creatures of the Uman Bein variety) having to choose between the lesser of two evils. Which is a boring thing to make a story about!

Which is why it's actually quite boring that Billy Corgan has despoiled yet another modern invention by using Twitter to go off at Courtney Love.

Because being the protagonist of the line, "she eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak" is sort of classy; WHEREAS using Twitter to say to no-one in particular, "maybe you should go someone nice+live off your husband’s money, u know the money he made for writing all those great songs" is sort of tacky. Sort of!

And yes, lines like "Born of the airs and dues, my airs of madness do declare/That it's ok, it's love" paint an intriguingly oblique picture of a hapless victim of destructive love (Study question: Whose? Points for answering Study Question: 0); WHEREAS tweets like "if you can’t write your own songs maybe you should just be happy that you fooled someone into doing your work for you" just make a fellow want to point out that the username "@selfimportantchump" actually isn't taken yet.

And, for that matter! Performing extended half-hour live versions of Silverfuck dedicated to Courtney Love in which one descends into endless chants of "THAT FUCKING WHORE THAT FUCKING WHORE THAT FUCKING WHORE" is sort of artistic, maybe; WHEREAS using Twitter to tell NOBODY IN PARTICULAR things like "the world is aware of your lack of responsibility, as seen in the gov’t taking away your parental right. Only you could abandon such a beautiful, incredible child who is smarter than u, cooler than u, and better than u. Oops, did I say too much?" is just uncomfortable.

While hating on Courtney Love is still the #1 way for the closeted misogynists of the Grunge Era to vent their cunt-despising fury without anyone calling them on it, she is probably the Jaso or Redato of this equation, if only for the facts that (1) it's called a fucking @reply, it's what separates the general-broadcast message from the asshole-a-rific passive-aggressive snipe; and (2) Nobody's Daughter is pretty fucking great, whereas Teargarden by Kaleidyscope Vol. 1: Songs for a Sailor HOLY FUCK WHAT A TERRIBLE.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

In which I talk about movies by writing about games.

Gamesradar have two articles about movies with tangential mention of games in them also up this week. Here I am talking about filmmakers who've crossed over into games, and here's a piece about games with a love for cinema and an originality problem.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tom's Texas: What you'd expect

"I believe in God," says a woman on the bus whose cigarette I helped light, and who is now my BFF, "but why'd He have to go and create Lucifer? Why'd He have to do that?" she asks me. Her tone implies less the plaintive cry of the beleaguered theodicist and more the irritated tone of the DMV customer who just wants to renew her driver's license, but that jerk-ass Son of Perdition is always on the desk making shit tougher than it needs to be.

"Well," I say to her, "that's something of a perennial problem for theologians. It's called the Problem of Evil, and --"

"Yeah, I know that one," she says impatiently. "But listen, if you have three doors, and two of them have a goat behind them? And so you pick one -- go ahead, pick one..."

Suffice it to say she can not figure out the Monty Hall problem. I try to explain to her that it isn't about working the odds - we're not Rain Man here - but about demonstrating that intuition is sometimes at fault. "You flunk!" she yells. This from the person who took twice as long as she ought to to light a cigarette because she had to tell me about the guy who has demons in his house and can't get rid of them with Jesus because "He just hangs there!" so he buried a bunch of guns in the cemetery and one of these days is going to unleash hell on the soup kitchens and halfway houses of Austin, Texas.

All in all, the most surprising thing about Texas is how much it smells like potting mix. I wish I could tell you I had my expectations confounded, but if you went to Texas thinking that Texas was where the run-off from the American psyche pooled in a shallow drain, there to drip-dry in its own paranoia and genuine, unabating, somewhat terrifying weirdness, well, you'd be getting a bit needlessly dramatic, but then again, I wouldn't argue with you. The lead stories in the paper the day I get there are about how Juarez residents are getting bored of walking past crimescenes where innocent small-business owners have had their heads blown off, and how nobody's sure how to reduce the amount of prison-rape in Texas.

Every evening, all of Austin gathers by the riverbank to watch the bats. You have never seen this many bats in your entire life, I guarantee it. The largest urban bat colony in the world! You wait and watch the sun sink lower and lower into Lady Bird Lake - named, of course, for the wife of the world's creepiest stand-up marionette - and a subtle chirping slowly builds. As the sun's last melon-pink glow sinks beneath the horizon, a flitting cloud begins to zip from under Waugh Bridge, endless tiny squeaking little darts that sometimes zip close enough to remind you that they're not birds, sweetie. On the way back up to Commerce Street, I walk past a young guy on a park bench. I only catch a fragment of his fevered speech: "-- Son of Man and I know time's soon ending and I am sorry I'm truly sorry --"

The buses in Dallas have news tickers installed in them. While riding from Dealey Plaza out to Bachman Lake - which is basically Eastbourne with better and more readily-available Mexican food - you can catch up with the news of the day. On the day I was traveling, the news of the day was: "THE KFC CORPORATION HAVE ANNOUNCED A NEW SANDWICH MADE ENTIRELY OF CHICKEN FILLED WITH BACON. THE SANDWICH WILL GO ON SALE APRIL 12. AND NOW THE WEATHER."

Fueled with my knowledge of global affairs - or at least those portions of global affairs that look like the world's least charitable drawing of a vagina - I kept watching the ticker for other information. "THINGS TO BE HAPPY ABOUT," teased the ticker. "NO SCHEDULED APPOINTMENTS. LIBRARY READING TABLES."

At Dealey Plaza, an old man talks non-stop for twenty minutes about Woody Harrelson's father, Jack Kennedy banging Mariln Monroe, and the ass of a girl on the Grassy Knoll. This latter is the only thing that diverts him from his banter: "Fifteen gets you twenty," he repeats until he's sure I understand the subtext. At the end of his spiel, he becomes irate when I refuse to give him $20 for telling me that the Sixth Floor Museum doesn't give equal time to the theory that Lyndon Johnson had Kennedy killed. I offer him $5 for his engaging ramblings and tell him, "Good day to you, sir." He hunches over the fence of the Dealey Memorial and gazes balefully at the X in the street while turning my inadequate offering over in his hands: "How can I have a good day, Tom?" he sulks.

At a bookstore whose door opens onto the spot where one of Charles Whitman's victims was gunned down, the proprietor expounds on his theory that Whitman was a victim of mind control. He offers no evidence to support this theory, save for the fact that you can see the Clock Tower from the door of his shop, the implication being that he ought to know from Charles Whitman. He goes on to tell me that the ugliest building in Austin is a monument to child sacrifice.

Again: potting mix. Even the airport. Genuinely surprised.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What Monsters Would Say: Feejee Mermaid

"Hmmmm... Decisions decisions. Double decaf mocha soy latte or venti grande caramel macchiato with cream? Hmmmm..."

(thanks to guest WMWSayer Beware the Fish)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Juggalos vs. The Enlightenment

If we did not have to live our lives amid a fog of uncertainty about a whole range of matters that are actually of fundamental interest and importance to us, it would no longer be a human mode of existence that we would live. Instead we would become a being of another sort, perhaps angelic, perhaps machine-like, but certainly not human.
- Nicholas Rescher, Forbidden Knowledge

Fucking magnets, how do they work?
- Shaggy 2 Dope, Miracles

In Miracles, we find Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, the Insane Clown Posse, giving an itemized list of things that provoke transcendental bliss. Things counted by Messrs. Jay and Dope in the category of "miraculous" include but are not limited to:

- Oceans spanning beyond one's sight;
- Long-necked giraffes, pet cats and dogs;
- Niagara Falls and the Pyramids;
- Water, fire, air and dirt;
- A pelican that tried to eat a cell phone.

The Posse are in awe of the world and the things in it, and they won't have this awe marginalized by petty human attempts to codify existence. In the piece's most widely-quoted lyric, Shaggy 2 Dope expresses open hostility toward those who would reduce the objects of his admiration to humanly quantifiable phenomenon:
Fucking magnets, how do they work?
And I don't wanna talk to a scientist
Y'all motherfuckers lying, and getting me pissed.

This pugnacious attitude toward the Enlightenment project of human elevation through scientific knowledge places the ICP on a timeline extending from Socrates' maxim of "I know only that I do not know," all the way through that celebrated stone in the stream of Enlightenment, John Keats, and his complaints of the "mathematizing of language"; his frequent barbed toasting "to Newton's health, and confusion to his mathematics."

But it echoes also wisdom from further abroad. In his Tao te Ching, the great Chinese scholar Lao Tzu counsels us:
The five colors blind the eye.
The five tones deafen the ear.
The five flavors dull the mouth....
Therefore, the wise human attends to the belly, and not to what he sees. He rejects the latter and chooses the former.
- 12: Moderation
Tzu's advice can be interpreted as cautionary: our rapacious urge to categorize, to reduce an item to those properties which we can see, blinds us to the item's totality. Rather than pursue this fool's errand, better to attend to those earthy needs that one does not need scholarly learning to perceive.

"The Dark Carnival," the Insane Clown Posse's mythological conception of a realm of earthly delight and terror, functions as a world where this imperative is all: it is
your invitation
To witness that without explanation
Take a look at this fine creation
And enjoy it better with appreciation.
The Insane Clown Posse delight in acting as Ifrit-like persecutors of the sinful, and they here add the over-inquisitive to that mix: just as Thomas Hobbes, in Leviathan, proclaimed that:
Desire to know how and why, CURIOSITY… is a lust of the mind, that by a perseverance of delight in the continual and indefatigable generation of knowledge, exceedeth the short vehemence of carnal pleasure.
...So the Dark Carnival welcomes lesser sinners of the flesh - the angry, the carnally lustful - but turns away scientists. Those motherfuckers lie and get you pissed. Whereas, in proclaiming phenomena such as the sun, moon, childbirth and genetic lineage "shit that'll shock your eyelids," Violent J assumes for himself the mantle of Michel de Montaigne and Blaise Pascal, thinkers aware of their portée: mental or philosophic reach.

In proclaiming the miraculous provenance of the Milky Way, rivers, shooting stars and vicious weather, Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope affirm their perfect placement in the hierarchy of all things as decreed by Montaigne, who ruled that "a man can only be what he is and can imagine only according to" this notion of portée, or philosophic limit.

"Our intelligence," argues Pascal, "occupies in the order of intelligible things the same place as our body in the extent of nature." Violent J reminds us that in this harmonious state, we need not dull our senses to appreciate our circumstances: "We don't have to be high to look in the sky / And know that's a miracle opened wide."

In embracing their portée, the Posse stake a claim to greater appreciation of the world's wonders. Their paradise is that "sweet soft pillow" offered to the "well-made head" by Montaigne's suggested attitudes of "ignorance and incuriousness." J and Dope profess rhapsody while surveying hot lava, snow, rain, fog, even UFOs and fucking shooting stars; this rhapsody can only come from careful study of Emily Dickinson's warning against too-close scrutiny, "lest interview annul a want / that image satisfies"[1].

And those who would deny miracles, extend beyond their portée? Their own goal - that of perfect knowledge - is not beyond them yet. "The truth you seek to fathom," counsels Peter Damian in Dante's Divine Comedy, " lies so deep in the abyss of the eternal law, it is cut off from every creature's sight." Or, as the Posse would caution: "That wicked shit! Who can survive Hell's Pit?"

[1] For this analysis of Dickinson, and for many of the quotes and attitudes expressed herein, I am indebted to Roger Shattuck's sublimely curmudgeonly Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography.

Friday, April 09, 2010

A Short and Selective History of the Aesthetics of 9/11.

September 11, 2001: September 11, 2001.

October 2001: Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002 is eventually released, after having been held back to remove the Twin Towers, lest the news media hear about a videogame that let you re-enact 9/11.

November 2001: 24 premieres. The series will become a key text in War on Terror media, and hence an important example of the 9/11 Aesthetic.

February 2002: Collateral Damage, a terrorist-centric thriller starring Cliff Curtis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, is eventually released, after having been held back to recut the ending and preserve fragile worldwide sensibilities.

May 2002: Spider-Man, having notoriously used the 9/11 Towers in its teaser campaign, is eventually released, after having been held back to advertise with something less suggestive of 9/11 and add scenes in which New Yorkers band together to stop the Green Goblin (and, by extension, Al Quaeda).

December 2002: Gangs of New York, a movie about unwelcome foreigners fucking shit up in downtown Manhattan, ends with a timeline shot bridging the gap between the movie's events and (bizarrely) sometime around 9/10/01.

June 2004: Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore's tiresomely polarizing documentary about the War on Terror, includes sly nods to the emerging 9/11 Aesthetic in between its sequences of rich people proving their complicity in the Military-Industrial exploitation of America's young poor by not wanting to talk to a man famous for making rich people look like shit on camera.

April 2006: United 93, a shakycam-heavy documentary-style reenactment of the events of 9/11, is released to general acclaim. The movie is instrumental in bringing The 9/11 Aesthetic to the mainstream, sidestepping charges of tastelessness by never actually showing the money shot.

June 2006: The Omen 2006 is released on time, its entire existence being predicated on the movie's release date of 6/6/06. The movie courts controversy by including the 9/11 attacks in its backstory as examples of diabolic influence upon our modern world. The film's director, John Moore, defends the choice in a press conference, to which his questioner yells, "it's a good thing nobody's going to see your movie because it's a piece of shit!"

August 2006: World Trade Center, a melodrama-heavy dose of sturm und drang by Mr Oliver Stone, bizarrely eschews the director's trademark visual hyperbole, itself a clear forerunner to the 9/11 Aesthetic.

August 2007: The Kingdom, a Steven Seagal movie starring Jamie Foxx as Steven Seagal, features a super-stylized title sequence in which the events of 9/11 are recast as what looks to be a commercial for Nike brand basketball sneakers.

January 2008: Cloverfield, a shitkicking action movie in high-concept cinema-verite trousers, openly invites aesthetic comparison with 9/11. Nobody really minds, possibly because it is so willfully ridiculous that to quibble about aesthetic tastefulness in Cloverfield would be like asking Lady Gaga to model a new line of businesswear.

April 2009: Six Days in Fallujah, a forthcoming action game in which players relive the Second Battle of Fallujah, is dropped by its publishers, Konami, amid cries that videogames and the War on Terror are an inappropriate mix.

April 2010: Pixels, a short film blatantly utilizing the 9/11 visual style, sees a shadowy figure plant an advanced IED in downtown New York which triggers a massive and relentless attack on the city. It's what it would look like if Pixar made a 9/11 movie.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

In Which I Tread A Thin Line.

Some people see a Church in jeopardy due to its leader's obscene ambivalence toward sexual abuse and callous disregard for the wellbeing of his flock and they see a tragedy. Me, I see a feature that someone ought to write - and it might as well be me. Who else is going to work Isaac Hayes lyrics into a paragraph about Dracula?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

What Monsters Would Say: Oriental Yeti

"So they put me in this pink cage and I think to myself this is quite demeaning and emasculating, but then I think to myself well, wouldn't I put me in a fucking pink cage too? I mean look at yourself, I say to myself, you're a fucking travesty. I don't know where to begin. Look, fuck it, do you at least have some moisturizer I can borrow? You probably won't want it back. Fuck."

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

In Which I Say The Obvious Things.

A while back I asked a bunch of friends what books they'd like to see made into games. Here are the most popular answers in article format!

Sample comment: "Feom boobs to books, Gamesradar has you covered!" Love.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Corganwatch: Fool's Mate

The gossip blogs will not let go of the fact that Billy Corgan and Jessica Simpson like playing chess together. Let us touch but briefly on the reason why everyone likes the idea of Jessica Simpson playing chess with Billy Corgan. It is because in the minds of unimaginative people, Jessica Simpson is perceived as stupid; Billy Corgan is perceived as having many pretensions toward intelligence, tempered with some actual intelligence (both qualities being in evidence in the lyrics for Marquis in Spades); and chess is perceived as for being a game for great big super-brainiacs. So the idea of chess (very smart) being played by Billy Corgan (very pretend-smart, a little actual-smart) and Jessica Simpson (in no way smart) is amusing to people who like to see themselves as arbiters of smartness by dint of their own massive intellectual prowess, and who read gossip blogs about Jessica Simpson because all that curing of the AIDS with their perpetual motion machines gets tiring at times.

Anyway, so now we can move on to the real story, which is that Billy Corgan was never dating Jessica Simpson in a way that would cause you to overemphasise the word "dating" while making a "finger going in and out of hole" motion with your hands. While refusing to deny this rumor afforded Billy Corgan the valuable opportunity to have people paying attention to him while he expressed the exact same opinion of John Mayer held by everyone else in the entire world, apparently this was all a ruse. Billy Corgan is dating Jessica Origliasso, who, while she has the same first name as Jessica Simpson, is in no way linked to the singer; Origliasso and her twin sister are the Australian pop duo The Veronicas, despite neither of them being named Veronica.

While lazy speculation might have it that Corgan is either dating an obscure pop singer instead of a well-known one so as to get indie props (a ridiculous proposition), or dating someone whose publicist does not have to be consulted before sexual intercourse can be commenced (an only vaguely ridiculous proposition), Corgan has been spending his nights far more wisely than that. By playing the chivalrous celebrity chum in one move and the backstage feel-copper in the next, Corgan has distracted us from his real strategy, that of helping his longest-running pawn back across the field, that she might once more become the queen of fans' hearts. Obviously Billy Corgan is not such a bad chess player after all!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

In Which All Things Geeky Are Done.

My article about videogame comics - in which I defend the notorious Sonic comics - is published on Gamesradar. If you like videogames and comics, and you like my talking about things... well, you're just in hog heaven, aren't you?