Armagideon Time

I’ve had my fun

August 29th, 2014

While I’m not too proud to post found images for some decontextualized shits and giggles, I generally avoid plucking such low-hanging fruit as this ad from 1944…

…mainly because the “gag” is a greasy “because it NOW suggests a dur a hur hur” thing of the laziest kind.

I made an exception partly because I’m having a hell of a time determining if the tonic-pimping imp at the bottom was meant to be a Rodchenko-ean abstraction, a racist cariacture, or a creepy mixture of both. It’s a tough call, considering how many vintage product mascots veered into the realm of waking nightmare.

I also threw the image up there because it reminded me of something from my primary school days. In either third or fourth grade, I checked a book of Chinese folk tales out of the school library. I was hoping for stuff about dragons and kung-fu fights, but the first story was about a young boy whose cruel parents sent him into the woods to collect faggots.

Being a nerdy, non-athletic kid, I was well acquainted with the colloquial definition of the term. Really well acquainted, in fact.

Thanks to the increasingly rare ability to understand context, I figured out the term somehow referred to firewood, but I had difficulty verifying my hypothesis. The word did not appear in our classroom’s “child-safe” dictionary. I did not feel comfortable asking my teacher, especially after the collective shaming which followed our music instructor’s dubious decision to make a bunch of unruly nine year olds sing “…it makes me feel so gay.”

I eventually broached the subject with my mother, who used it as an opportunity to give me The Talk. You know the one, where your parents explain how language evolves over time and that terms like “colored,” “bitch,” and “Oriental” have certain connotations which must be taken in account. That language is a tool, and just like a power saw, must be wielded with care and precision to avoid injury to one’s self or others.

Wait, you thought I was referring to the “birds and the bees?”

Nah, I never got one of those lectures. I learned all that jazz after I stumbled on the sex chapter of The People’s Almanac while trying to find the section about the Loch Ness Monster.

Recommended listening: Another significant memory from that era.

Just a reminder…

August 28th, 2014

This is how it was done…

…before the internet was invented.

(I’m pretty sure I’ve posted this before, but it’s more relevant than ever.)

Yep, one of these posts

August 27th, 2014

My first GTA Online character was a dude whose appearance was roughly (thanks to the game’s absurdly convoluted creation process) modeled after my own. After I hit the inevitable “no more realms to conquer” plateau with him, I decided to start fresh with a new secondary character. This time around I picked a female avatar, mainly because the different set of fashion and hairstyle options added some novelty to a game that had begun to feel a bit stale.

It was an aesthetic change of pace, not a statement of substance, and really hasn’t mattered in a game where most player interactions are resolved with long range gunfights or frenetic drive-bys. Besides, both my gamertag and XBL avatar are pretty clear that there’s a dude on the other end of the 360 gamepad.

Or so I thought, up until the moment I got a text message from another player informing me that he was “a big fan” before requesting a photo of my breasts.

It was weird and unsettling, not because it happened to me but because it reinforced what happens to women gamers on a regular basis. Despite the moment of “why the fuck did you think that was appropriate,” I could at least laugh it off as a flash of idiocy from some desperate knuckledragger. (I did block and report him, for all the good it will do.) The idea that this is the status quo for women in the hobby is depressing — and unacceptable — as hell.

There was a time when I was willing to expound at length about the dysfunctional pathologies of “geek culture.” These days, I’m at a loss to say anything but “What the hell is wrong with these people?”

For all the whining and death threats and demands to be heard, I have yet to hear one cogent argument about why diversity and inclusiveness diminish the videogaming scene. Lacking any ideology apart from a rabidly entitled version of groupthink, the vomit their bile at the persons delivering the message — “feminazis,” “cunts,” “bitches,” “social justice warriors,” “liberals,” “white knights,” and so forth.

It’s a gallery of shibboleths which says less about the individual targets than it does about the frothing, unfocused rage held by the bro-mob.

In the case of Zoe Quinn (you can look it up yourself, cuz I ain’t gonna rehash it), the “cause” is purportedly the “integrity of games journalism,” which would be the stuff of belly laughs if it didn’t involve some of the most utterly vile behavior on the part of its so-called champions. If games criticism ever achieves mainstream respectability — a big “if” considering the current status of media criticism in general — it will be despite all the familiar players, not because of them.

There’s no lack of quality work out there, but geek journalism in general serves as a third-party marketing outlet for consumer products, with the hit-hungry sites themselves falling under the “product” rubric. Objective analysis is a liability in such circumstances, where effusive enthusiasm or snarky snideness are the best means of attracting the target demographic.

It would be hopelessly depressing if the stakes weren’t so goddamn low. No one is going to die over a breathy review of some overhyped AAA game or this years Big Funnybook Event. It may make a difference for indie and lower profile offering, but even those spotlights reveal the undisclosed relationships of “most favored/hated creator” bias.

The integrity of gaming journalism (or image appropriation or minor points of fact) are relevant to angry gamebros as the true circumstances surrounding the Benghazi attack are to right wing fucknuts. They are excuses to spray bile at objects of their preexisting ire.

The magic of the internet communities and adolescent malehood means that it only takes an alpha sociopath or two to set off a domino effect where every insecure little twerp feels compelled to prove their value to the pack. Functionally, it doesn’t really matter if an obscenity-laced death threat is by a true believer or a fan of being an outraged fan, but I do wonder how many of these little turds spouting “me hate feminists” have any motivation apart from some cowardly kicks and a desire to impress “GaltNinja420″ enough so he awards them moderator status.

Spend enough time in an echo chamber and the ambient ideology becomes internalized, whether it started off sincerely or not. Pile up enough bullshit — anti-vaccine, Birther, misogyninst, racist, whatever — and it will form a self-supporting structure despite the shakiness of the foundation.

I really don’t know what to do with these assholes, except to publicly humiliate them or kick them to the curb whenever they emerge from the slime pool. We’re past the point of where constructive engagement or educational dialogue is an option. For all the idiot talk about “rationality,” these fuckers are operating on pure vindictive hate without a shred of logic to be found.

Maybe some of them will grow out of it once they emerge from their insulated environments. The rest are invited to rot away in isolation, repeating the same old lies to themselves in hopes of staving off the nagging realization that they are irrelevant failures of humanity.

Fun fact: A dude whose twitter feed alternates between proud posts about his young daughter and retweets of virulent anti-feminist nonsense recommended yesterday’s post to the King of All Douchebros because I made a joke referencing Anita Sarkeesian. How do you even begin to explain the cognitive dissonance of that?

Following the cinematic success of The Planet of the Apes, Jack Kirby was inspired (with a little prodding by DC editor Carmine Infantino) to create a weird and wild riff on the franchise which occasionally transcended the source material.

The same cannot be said for Stan Lee’s similar attempt to channel some of that post-apocalyptic turnabout mojo in the debut issue of Marvel’s Savage Tales magazine…

…which swapped out the surly simians in favor of menacing misandrists.

Here’s the official explanation from the ‘zine itself:

The result is, perhaps, something just a wee bit new under the sun. Not quite sword and sorcery — certainly not science-fiction — and not exactly a political polemic. Robin Morgan clobbers Buck Rogers in the 25th century! Kate Millett zaps both Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless — then takes Mongo over for good measure.

Actually, it’s closer to Andrea Dworkin and John Norman fighting each other with rusty knives, while Robert E. Howard presses a borrowed handgun to his temple.

“The Fury of the Femizons” takes place in a future world run by the U.S.A. — the United Sisterhood Alliance, that is — a gynocracy established after the women of the world had enough of males’ oppression, belligerence, and habit of sending unsolicited photos of their genitals.

Those were some grim times, let me tell you — mass confiscation of fedoras, rows and rows of manacled bros forced to march for days without even a sip of Gamer Fuel, the agonized pleas of “NOT ALL MEN” cruelly ignored by the God-Empress Sarkeesian.

The women of the Sisterhood spend their days engaged in gladiatorial combat or culling the herds of feral males and spend their nights having sandwiches brought to them by domesticated sex slaves — all in accordance with the established principles of radical feminist theory. (“Objective #1: Overthrow the patriarchy. Objective #2: Get fitted for metal corsets that expose maximum cleavage.”)

Lyra, an esteemed warrior of the Sisterhood and the in vitro sister of Queen Vega, pays lip service to the realm’s guiding principles, yet feels unsatisfied with her way of life. This is not lost upon Syrani, the queen’s advisor, an ambitious woman who combines the looks of Lieutenant Ilia with the political ethics of Karl Rove.

Lyra’s dissatisfaction is partially due to to the fact that she has read, or rather “viewed,” the forbidden headband-powered “mind tapes” which document how life had been before the feminist revolution. It is Lyra’s hidden stash of those recordings that leads Mogon of the Hills, a male sleeper agent posing as a sex slave, to confront Lyra in hopes of recruiting her to his cause.

Mogon hails from a tribe of “noble” men, which unlike the feral wildmen, have learned from their gender’s previous mistakes and want to establish equality between the sexes. (I can only imagine how it was done: “Mogon, come forth! For your trial into manhood, Kelpor will tell you what he did today and you must stay attentive through the entire tale!”)

Lyra hesitates about helping Mogon carry out his plan to destroy the sperm banks the Sisterhood uses for replenishing its population, but comes around once she realizes the other reason for her recurring sense of dissatisfaction…

…the need for a lover with both a slow hand and an easy touch. After the pair are done exploring each other’s Forbidden Zones, they ride out to a secret camp in the ruins to meet up with Mogon’s compatriots to plot the raid on the baby-making factory. (No, not Africa, you silly infertile yuppies!)

What they discover upon arriving, however, is a trap laid by Syrani’s secret police force, which are dispatched in an orgy of violent innuendo…

Having killed a dozen agents of the state’s security apparatus, Lyra and Mogon return to the royal palace and pretend that nothing ever happened. This incredibly cunning plan fails to work, and Lyra is brought before Queen Vega to answer to charges of treason. To spare Lyra from execution, Mogon decides to take the fall, and provokes the warrior princess into killing him in front of the royal court.

The exonerated Lyra puts on a brave face, even going so far as to demand some sex slaves for a threesome in order to give horny fanboys some wank material maintain appearances…

…yet she still longs for a man like the one she publicly eviscerated.

“The Fury of the Femizons” is a terrible effort, even by the dismally low standards of heroic fantasy potboilers. It does, however, offer an interesting and embarrassing glimpse into how the feminist movement was perceived by the funnybook industry at the dawn of the 1970s — name-dropping and professed good intentions resolving as offensive caricature and the projection of one’s own behaviors on a marginalized other. While it was nice to see John Romita work his artistic magic (check out those shading effects) outside the limitations of four-color superhero fare, it’s clear that Stan the Man was phoning in a “mature readers” retread of his Atlas sci-fi and romance material — shallow irony and laughable melodrama spiced up with the mildest of titillating content.

Though the bulk of this post was written and posted to AT 1.0 back in 2008, both the quality and (even more timely) themes of the tale more than warranted the Sisterhood’s induction into the gender-blind assembly of Nobody’s Favorites.

Another week, another record purchase inspired by Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces. Today’s featured platter is the 12″ single of “Inconvenience” by the Au Pairs.

The co-ed quartet was part of the first wave of British postpunk acts, back in the days before the genre was classified as a separate subcategory. Musically, the Au Pairs worked an angle akin to Gang of Four’s punky-funky political style, but with a specific feminist slant.

The band also garnered its share of pearl-clutching controversy, thanks to “Come Again” (which critiqued “enlightened” sexuality as just another exchange of goods) and “Armagh” (which had the poor taste to mention how the British were treating Nationalist internees in Northern Ireland).

The Au Pairs’ first single, “You,” was one of the tracks cited in Lipstick Traces, and so ended up on my initial record collector want list (scribbled in pencil on the back of an index card). While I was unable to locate a copy at my usual haunts, my searches did turn up the above record in the Newbury Street Mystery Train’s “Misc A” crate.

None of the cuts on the single made much of an impression on my younger self, who was expecting something bit spikier and guitar-driven. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s — and countless Sunday afternoon viewings of a VHS bootleg of Urgh! A Music War with Maura — that I went back and revisited the Au Pairs’ smallish body of work.

Being slightly older, much wiser, and freer of my former punk puritanism, it was a case of love at second sight with the band securing a permanent spot on my “Most Favored Artists” roster.

Meanwhile, I can barely bring myself to listen to ninety percent of the hardcore punk and Oi! stuff I used to champion back in the day.

Fun Fact: I am not sure if I still own this record. Shortly after I began hanging out with my punk rock pall Leech, I unloaded a stack of unwanted records — including the “Inconvenience” single — on him.

He returned some of them a few years later after my tastes changed, but I can’t recall if this was one of them. I suppose I could pull my record collection out of storage to check, but the value of knowing is offset by the risk of getting crushed to death under a bunch of boxes filled with old sci-fi paperbacks.

Song for Sunday #106

August 24th, 2014

Nick Lowe – So It Goes

To my little brother on his birthday.

(from “Superman’s Hunt for Clark Kent!” by Otto Binder, Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye in Superman #126, January 1959)

And antiquated notions

August 22nd, 2014

The wife and I made a trip to the Museum of Science today, and it was a fun — if odd — experience.

It had been a while (as in over twenty years) since I’d last been there. While I knew it wouldn’t resemble the abstract, 1970s retrofuture-fonted destination for so many family outings and elementary school field trips, I was not prepared at how mall-like and corporate sponsored the place had become.

(It was also unsettling to see how much Cambridgeport has gentrified since my punk days, when the Galleria’s neighbor was a giant muck-filled hole in the ground and not luxury condos.)

Even though the vibe had shifted from “second unit Rollerball set” to a more contemporary form of techno-dystopia, there were ample exhibits from the groovy old days to set my nostalgia cortex ablaze. After all, there’s only so much rebranding one can do for a (shockingly large number) of taxidermied platypus carcasses.

Here’s a shot taunting a shrine to one of my recurring nemeses…

…and here is one where Maura and I got to fulfill our dream of living in an early 1990s EBM video…

…and Pal Dave’s perfect response to it.

The hun has got his hat on

August 21st, 2014

The world may going to hell in a mortgaged handbasket, but at least I have a new hat.

I’d been thinking about getting a chapeau to bridge the seasonal gap between “bare-headed” and “surplus U.S. Army helmet liner,” but had difficulty deciding on which type I’d actually wear.

Greek sailor cap? Too Ringo.

Fedora? Too Reddit.

Baseball cap? Too dudebro.

Beret? Too aging Beacon Hill jazz enthusiast.

Even the hats I do like — a Union Army kepi and a French Foreign Legion cap — were a bit too ostentatious to serve as casual wear for a dude on the other side of forty. I’d pretty much resigned myself to a vernal/autumnal hatless existence when inspiration stuck from an unexpected quarter.

Following a couple of quick internet searches, a trip to the eBay storefront of a military reenactor supply firm (based in Singapore of all places), and a three week wait, my long search was over…

It’s a replica of World War One German feldmutze (“field cap”), designed as a comfortable alternative to the Pickelhaube or Stahlhelm during those rare quiet moments away from the hail of bullets and storm of shrapnel.

The place carried a dozen unit-specific color variants of the cap. I went with the “grenadier” model because its subdued palette best matched the rest of my wardrobe. The two cockades represent the German Empire (red) and the Kingdom of Prussia (black), if you were wondering.

I was little nervous about the sizing, but I added a centimeter to the self-measurement of my skull and it ended up fitting perfectly. It’s comfortable, it’s different yet understated, and the wife doesn’t think it looks foolish.

A win-win all around.

Old man yells at cloud

August 20th, 2014

I’ve discussed (to the point of redundancy, perhaps) the disconnect between the collective nostalgia for and the actual reality of a given era. It’s a matter of cherrypicking a handful of elements from a complex tapestry and ignoring the rest, a problematic neutering of the glorious messiness of the historical bigger picture.

Sock hops, Elvis, poodle skirts! The Beatles, hippies, love-ins! Shag carpeting, bell bottoms, and prog rock!

Even Mad Men, which does a better job than most period pieces in trying to capture the holistic details of a mythologized era, often falls into the trap of delivering what the audience expects “The Sixties” to be. (“It’s 1967, time to grow out those sideburns, fellas!”) It’s sins are minor when compared to Back to the Future‘s, however, which continues to be celebrated despite exceeding even Red Dawn and Rocky IV on the Reagan Era cinematic propaganda front.

The reductive consensus of nostalgia is especially evident in the realm of “listicles,” where a given decade is summed up as a clickbait slideshow of the “best,” “worst,” or “weirdest” plucked from the lowest hanging of fruits. Plan 9 From Outer Space is a terrible film and Ed Wood was an interesting individual, but neither were anomalous entities. Framing them as such ignores the equally — if not more — fascinating cinematic subculture that thrived in the shadow of the big studios.

The same applies to every applied-in-hindsight superlative. Starship’s “We Built This City” has become a the go-to selection for “worst song ever.” It was also the #1 song in America for a couple of weeks and earned the band a Grammy nomination, which sounds so “OMG WTF” until you take a glance at the top of 1985′s Top 100…

…and realize that the rest of the mainstream pop scene wasn’t exactly covering itself in glory. Yes, an extended exegesis on the evolution of mid-1980s pop music in light of MTV’s outsized influence and the rise of a new class of videogenic superstars might be a bit beyond the reach of the average Buzzfeed or Cracked prole, but that doesn’t excuse defaulting to lazy third-hand reference humor for some quick LOLs.

It’s bottom-feeding from the nostalgia pool, which is why you can predict the next “episode by episode” AV Club TV feature by taking a glance at what just got added to Netflix’s of Hulu’s streamed video selections. It’s easy filler and can be entertaining to read, but it reinforces the notion of collective nostalgia as a circular system fed by media combines.

We will never return to broader concept of nostalgia put forth by folks like Rod Serling or Ray Bradbury — the longing for a small town childhood of carousels and band concerts on a common. For better of worse, corporate brands and other mass market properties are the closest America gets to “monoculture” these days.

That alone is troubling, but the aspect that really worries me is how rapidly these works turn become transformed into memetic flash cards. Context becomes superfluous, because the items in question have been reduced to a trigger for a reflexive chuckle or a simply the acknowledgement that “I KNOW OF THIS THING.”

If that’s what floats your boat, fine. But you should know that cultural history has some pretty amazing deep cuts, too.

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