Monday, 17 August 2009

Red Hot Riding Hood

I just happened to come across this whilst searching for material for a certain other blog of mine and I thought I'd share it here. This article is about a Russian strip club that caters to het women. It raises some pretty interesting questions about "the gaze", the role of feminism and consumerism in sex culture and the essential differences (or lack thereof) between men and women.

The thing that really stands out to me is that the article constantly asserts that this whole thing 'isn't gay', which to me implies that we've come so far from being able to accept the female erotic gaze that we automatically see male nudity or male displays of sexuality in terms of homosexuality. See also this SocImages post on a related topic.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Jaws

At about 18 seconds in, a slow-motion sequence starts that shows this beast doing something that I honestly thought no real creature could actually do!
Yes, that's right, this thing shoots its own mouth outside of its head, Alien-style. I think what's so impressive about this is the scale; this is the sort of thing that I can imagine insects doing, but not notably larger animals like sharks. Eww.

Skin trade

This video from The Onion neatly captures exactly what I hate about PETA. Like the very best of satires, this sketch is only a hair's width away from the bizarre truth. Incidentally, PETA's "response" at the end of the video practically had me in tears from laughing so hard.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Random thoughts on "Obsessed"


Ok, it's another Mariah Carey "what the?" moment. In her latest video (which I'm not going to embed as I can't find a decent embeddable version at the moment, but here's the link to her official site where it plays within a little widget on the left), Mariah Carey not only dresses up as a man and plays her own stalker (a nice way to get double the screen time for MC, as opposed to say, what would happen if she brought in David Boreanaz to play the part, and also giving the whole video an Austin Powers/Dr Evil vibe), but we then see him/her get run over by a bus. Now that's a surprisingly violent climax for a Mariah Carey video, no?

Incidentally, I've always been fascinated by the presentation of Mariah Carey's race in all of the media pertaining to her. Mariah Carey is mixed race, with Irish-Caucasian on the one side and Black-South-American on the other, yet was famously made to "play down" her "blackness" (as well as any explicit portrayals of adult sexuality) whilst working under husband/manager Tommy Mottola. Upon her separation - personally and professionally - from Mottola, you suddenly see a massive upswing in the amount of cultural signifiers of "blackness" in Mariah Carey media, including a great deal of collaborations with rap/hip-hop/r&b artists (and hey, Spike Lee too). I also find it telling that Mariah's "evil alter ego" - appearing in the videos for "Heartbreaker" and "Boy" - is called "Bianca", although maybe that's a bit of a stretch.

The reason I'm thinking about all of this? Simple. When watching the video for "Obsessed" I couldn't help but wonder, Mariah Carey can certainly get away with playing a white man, it seems, but if she'd been playing a black man, would she have been accused of 'blacking up', despite her own black heritage? It's all a moot point, obviously, as she's not done so, but still, it makes me wonder.

And in case you're wondering why she gets hit by a bus in the new video, well, it's all a big "fuck you and I hope you die" to Eminem, apparently.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Meet Buddy


I was wondering how long it would be before I'd come across a picture of a gender-reversed Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast on deviantart. A certain section of fandom loves to play around with cult media archetypes, amalgamating them, reimagining them as part of different genres (I've also seen pieces that show the Buffy cast as bona fide spandex-clad superheroes) and yes, gender-reversing them. Just go and search for "gender reversed Teen Titans" and you'll see that I'm not kidding. Again, all I'm saying is, I'm surprised it took me this long to find an image like this.

Incidentally, I'd be horrified if I found that someone had written gender-reversed Buffy fanfiction. The reason being that, hopefully, any amount of thought on the part of the author would make them realise that a gender-reversed version of the BtVS plot would be exactly the same, unless of course one happened to hold some bizarrely sexist beliefs about the differences between the sexes. 'Alexandra' would still be a clumsy, horny teen; 'Will' would still be a shy geek with an interest in the mystical... And yet, a part of me just knows that some idiot somewhere has written this thing, and that it features tonnes of purple prose about how the newly-female characters are just "so much more sensitive" and other puke-worthy rubbish.

So yeah, this works as a visual experiment, but please tell me there isn't crazy, sexist fanfiction about all this stuff.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Whoever wins...

I promise I'll do a more substantial post sooner or later, but this just made me laugh, so it gets posted.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Crazy Mariah Carey art

just testing the alt text



Bonus!
One of my favourite weird Barack Obama images:


Monday, 22 June 2009

This is just far too good...



...and, as one commenter on Pandagon put it, also "sadly appropriate," considering how Edward's stalkerish actions are commonly construed as so utterly romantic. Oh, thank you Rebellious Pixels for reminding me how - even though it may not have been perfect - Buffy was still head and shoulders above a lot of similar shows out there.

P.S.
Oops, sorry about the weird size of the thing.

Monday, 8 June 2009

A very 'not good' comic


Hey, remember that bit in Kill Bill where Bill (speaking of whom, let me just say "RIP, David Carradine") says "This is me at my most masochistic?" Well, for some reason that quote just kept popping up in my head while I was reading through the latest volume of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic. 'Cause yep, masochism really is the only way I can explain why I'm reading it at all, really.

It's not to be wholly unexpected. A common, if unfortunate side-effect of any fandom is that sometimes one will continue to invest in something long after one has become no longer, well, invested in it, just as a way of supporting it, or perhaps just out of habit, or some kind of anterograde amnesia-style perpetual forgetting of just how bad it's gotten. Perhaps it can just all be chalked up to a very misguided sense of what exactly 'fan loyalty' means. Maybe it's just Emotional Branding.

Anyway, to sum up, what I'm getting at here is that I really did not enjoy Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Time of Your Life. To summarise, ToYL is a story in which Buffy is brought into the future by a centuries-old and apparently evil (although in actuality, really just very confusing and seemingly confused about her own motivations) version of Willow, who, for some reason or another, opts to start a fistfight between Buffy and her far-future counterpart Fray. Buffy then kills future Willow before coming back in time, the end. Somehow this took four issues and for some more apparent reason, I felt a little ripped off. You know what's a good deal if you like both superhero-versus-superhero punch-ups and Joss Whedon? That Astonishing X-Men special he penned a short for a little while ago that also collecteda bunch of old comics in which the X-Men met, fought and then teamed up with other Marvel super-heroes like the Fantastic Four, the Avengers or Spider-Man. This new, Buffy/Fray one on the other hand, is a confusing mess that seems to ultimately lead nowhere and really perhaps is just an excuse to get people to shell out $15 for a very brief and poorly justified fist fight.

Oh, and don't even get me started on the non-entity that is the story's so-called sub-plot. Some magical monsters attack our heroes, who then fight back and win. Yes, it really is that simple, and yes, it somehow took four issues to tell. Damn you, decompression!

One interesting curiosity though is that this collection also contains a one-off story based around the Buffy animated series that never was, which is slightly weird, because surely that makes it a spin-off of essentially nothing. Sure, the unaired pilot is still floating around the internet for those who wish to find it, and yeah, I think they may have released some toys/statuettes/maquettes 'based on the series' before, but those may have just been solicited and then disappeared into the ether like that BtVS tarot deck that was solicited a while back (and I must admit, I so would have bought, in probably not my wisest of purchases), but still, I find the whole thing a little odd. So yeah, there's that little curiosity there.

Anyway, I guess that's me done until I inevitably buy the next volume of this stuff and then begrudingly review that.

Ooh, luckily I picked up the new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen too to help cleanse the pallet (ThreePenny Opera references for the win!).

"How do you like my new uniform?"



Get a load at the new look Harley Quinn, as redesigned for the upcoming video game Batman: Arkham Asylum . (Her old look is featured below, in case you need a reference.) Personally, whilst I can kind of understand the thinking that must have gone behind the redesign (a mix of "we need a more realistic costume," and "we need to turn her into something that'll make her more evidently appealing to teenaged boys."), I still think it all looks a little American McGee's Alice for me. And hey, whilst I enjoyed that game back when it came out, now I think I'm more inclined to go with the line of thinking that brought about this particular Penny Arcade parody. Sometimes Todd McFarlane-ising things is not the most sensible way to go.

Consider it just the grumblings of a comic fan, but I just don't think putting a girl in a corset and leather boots compares to the simple yet dynamite design work on display in Bruce Timm's original creation. And hey, if they were worried that people wouldn't find the look realistic, they probably should have checked to see whether people have actually tried to pull it off in real life...

Haskins! Fairy tales! Feminist criticism!

Saturday, 23 May 2009

A Mimi joint

Ok, you know what's weird? That a couple of years ago, Spike Lee made a short film about/starring Mariah frickin' Carey.



I mean, am I the only one who finds this odd, who doesn't immediately lump those two together in their head? I mean, I just find it jarring considering some of the subjects of Lee's other, feature films, no?

Oh, and ignore the bullshit about a free iPhone too. Sorry, but this is the only version of this video that I could find online.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Meh, it's ok. Provided you don't get motion sickness...

Ah, fuck it. That new Star Trek movie absolutely defies any attempt to take it seriously at all.

Also, I just want to do my part to make sure that this is making the rounds:


Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As 'Fun, Watchable'

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Trekkin'

Ok, I just wanted to quickly jot down some of my thoughts regarding the new Star Trek film before I actually see it later today (I may do a follow-up post once I have actually seen the thing).

Firstly, I imagine that, judged purely on its own merits, this new film is going to be a great success indeed. I can see it being a slick, exciting and fun example of action-scifi-blockbuster fare.

However, my main issue with the film lies more at the conceptual level. In that respect, this film kind of reminds me of Gus Van Sant's Psycho: it's a perfectly good film, as far as films go, when judged on its own merits, but the real headscratcher is why the film even exists at all. Who the hell thought that the world desperately needed a remake of Hitchcock's Psycho?

Indeed, whilst a bold, new direction was very much needed in order to bring life and public interest back to the Star Trek franchise, I do wonder about the wisdom behind harking back to the franchise's Kirk-and-Spock origins, which almost seems to ask us to imagine this film in the same vein as other classic-TV-show-reimagined-as-modern-film releases of the last several years. Is that what Star Trek needs, not a Grace Park Battlestar Galactica but a Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson Starsky and Hutch?

Ok, that was perhaps an unfair comparison, I admit, but my main point remains: what does it say about the future of the franchise that the only way to bring it forward is by looking back, by fetishising the past? Is this 'reinvention' really just a way to sell us on old ideas a second time around? Will we be seeing Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Next Generation twenty years from now when the whole thing goes full circle?

Still, I see that sacrifices have to have been made in order for the money-men behind all of this to have even signed off on making this new film. The thing does have to be saleable, after all. But still, that worry is there: can this new direction actually bear interesting fruit in years to come (they're already working on Star Trek 2, you know) or will the whole thing prove to be a shiny-but-shallow excercise in wistful nostalgia taken to infinite regress?

Friday, 1 May 2009

It's good to see a Nazi and a Communist getting along

Wow, comics sure are awesome, aren't they? You know, I recently discovered a comic book idea so absolutely insane I simply had to bring it up here. Now, I know that using real-world figures as comic book villains is nothing new, but for some reason this particular variation on that old chestnut strikes me as particularly weird for some reason. Readers, meet the Lethal Legion...


Zyklon (Heinrich Himmler), Axe of Violence (Lizzie Borden), Cyana (Lucrezia Borgia (Lucrezia Borgia? Really?!)) and Coldsteel (Joseph Stalin. JOSEPH FRICKIN' STALIN!).

Also: "Zyklon"?! Holy insensitivity, Batman! Did I mention that his superpowers include actually firing poisonous gasses at people? Also: Lethal Legion Lizzie Borden totally has an axe for a hand.

I now know that I must own Avengers West Coast #98-100, which introduces these guys. Luckily, Free Comic Book Day is tomorrow, so I imagine I'll be in the vicinity of a comic book shop.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Pussy Superstar

Tsk, that's annoying. One of my all-time favourite fan-made music videos has apparently disappeared from the internet. If anyone finds a surprisingly well-edited-together music video for Jack Off Jill's "Strawberry Gashes" featuring Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel (note: not this one) please send it this way.

In the meantime, I did discover this video that I'd somehow never seen before whilst I was searching.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Word!

I've mentioned before that I am so sick of being called close-minded because I don't believe in ghosts or whatever, especially considering the absolute irony that most people who hold supernatural beliefs unconditionally are practicing a kind of absolute close-mindedness themselves.

But hey, why listen to me when you can listen to this:

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Politicomics

Pro-Obama merchandise is the new anti-Bush merchandise. Anything that can have his face on it is now getting his face on it. Check out this series of "Barack-sploitation" videos (nice title there. It may be an obvious pun, but it also serves as a reminder of how Obama is frequently tied to mainstream concepts of blackness). Still, comic books are really exploiting Obama-mania. This is partly because comic book companies are usually quick to try and exploit popular fads anyway, and secondly because of the fact that it's made just oh so much juicier by the fact that Barack Obama is actually a self-confessed comic book fan. Check out this wikipedia page listing (some of) the comic books that feature Obama.

Supposedly, Obama's favourite comic book characters are Spider-Man and Conan. The Spider-Man connection has already been somewhat exploited to death. If you can (it doesn't work in Britain, the country that I live in), check out this clip from the Colbert Report where Stephen leaves out a copy of the Spider-Man/Barack Obama Marvel comic book, signed by both Colbert and current Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada as "Obama bait". Still, the Conan the barbarian connection has been somewhat less utilised...

...Until now, that is.

Yes, that's Devil's Due Press' solicitation for some Barack comics that include Barack the Barbarian. I could spend hours unpacking all the ideas about black masculinity that the cover image presents (an unavoibale side-effect of combining the popular image of the president with the world's most famous Cimmerian, perhaps?), but I also want to point out that DDP have proved unable to resist the temptation to create a "Red Sarah" (a take on Red Sonja) variant cover that ties into all of the sexist "sexy Sarah Palin" nonsense that has surrounded Palin ever since she first stepped out onto the world stage. *Sigh*.


Does anyone else find her somewhat static and lifeless face in this image absolutely terrifying? That is some seriously not great comic art right there.

Still, on the positive side, it's good to be reminded that a certain other Sarah is still about.

Going back to the subject of Barack Obama and comics though, I just want to remind everyone about this Sinfest comic strip from November last year that posits Obama as the latest chapter in a history of black super-heroes (Black Lightning, Green Lantern and Steel). There's a nice pun on Washington DC/DC comics (no Marvel or other super-heroes are represented) and I like the fact that here, Obama isn't just standing in for some black superhero (honestly, non-comics fans, had you even heard of Black Lightning or Steel before just now?) but has in fact stepped into the role of the new Superman, a clear metaphor for a black man finally gaining the highest political office in the U.S. A black man is now finally a leader of heroes, not an also-ran.


I'm not a huge fan of the common Barack-Obama-as-a-superhero conceit, though. Like a lot of his fans, I'm worried about the man becoming lionised to some ridiculous extreme, which only feeds right wing concerns about Obama as some kind of vacuous celebrity/false prophet (Sinfest also dealt with the image of Barack as a rockstar ("Barackstar") here, amongst other instances). It's great to have a charismatic, popular individual in such an important political role, but still, a lot of the popular imagery surrounding Obama has that same aura of incredulity that those "Bush/Hitler: same old shit" t-shirts had. Cashing in on Obamania may just have the unfortunate side-effect of turning Obama merchandise into the twenty-first century equivalent of the Che Guevara t-shirt; which'd be a real shame.

Now, just so I don't end on too dour a note, let's remind ourselves of what would be on t-shirts everywhere had a certain other individual won the U.S. Preseidential election:

Grade-A bullshit

I simply can't do enough to point people in the direction of this Sociological Images post. Ever wonder what astonishingly rigid gendering in children's books looks like? Wonder no more! This one features gems such as "Boys build houses/Girls keep houses," "Boys fix things/Girls need things fixed" (WTF? Being useless and needy is considered a role now?) Don't let me spoil it all for you though, hop over and discover it yourself.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

(Dresden) Doll parts

Well, I'm not quite certain what's going on with Amanda Palmer right now. It appears she is still with Roadrunner Records, but is actively trying to get dropped by them. Hey, she's even written them a song to that effect:



One thing that this song does address is the fact that the Dresden Dolls/Amanda Palmer really don't fit with Roadrunner Records' overall style, which is something I've noted since I first started listening to them/her. After all, does she sound like she belongs on the same label as Slipknot, Killswitch Engage and Hatebreed?

Oh, and just for fun, here's the Dresden Dolls being interviewed by Simon Amstell at the 2005 O2 Wireless festival, where I actually saw them performing the song that they sing here.

Tasteless

The designers of this particular IMVU ad were obviously going for a kind of softcore "in the throes of both agony and ecstasy" pose from the female figure here. It's a shame that instead, she looks as dead-eyed and lifeless as a fresh corpse, giving the whole thing an unsettling necrophiliac aura. Not to mention ties with the grotesque misogyny of the "ooh, aren't recently-murdered women hot" tradition.


Still, I can't fault the advertisers for their choice of location for this vamp-themed ad, even as I'm damning the execution (no pun intended).

Update: Just so we're clear, I'm not criticising erotic vampire imagery as a whole. I just think that this is an astonishingly poor example of it.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Still up to their old tricks, I see

PETA already have an established history of acting like insensitive jackasses, but this German campaign, which exploits holocaust imagery and directly compares slaughtered cattle with concentration camp victims just takes the sodding cake.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Local colour

Recently a great deal of the shops in my local area have been going out of business. Faced with the daunting prospect of having several major consecutive high street/mall landmarks look desolate and abandoned, some bright spark has decided to "beautify" the window displays of otherwise vacant shops. In some cases ironically (though with a clear economic purpose in mind) transforming the shops into veritable advertisements for consumerism itself, as long as you spend your money within the (remaining) local high street shops. Rather than distract, these aesthetic eyesores only serve to underscore the problem, making themselves and the problem that they represent, that of absent actual shops, all the more apparent. Still, I guess someone thinks it's better to have 'pretty' signs of an economic depression. Maybe the plain frontispiece above could stand to learn a lesson or two.

I worry about whoever makes these sorts of decisions sometimes.

Below is the absolute worst offender. It's colourful optimism a stark contrast to the blank space it tries to distract from. Below that is my local (ex-)Woolworths, now a sad testament to Chelmsford high street consumerism, which it still finds itself trying to push.




It wasn't until I blew it up that I realised just how unbelievably pointy Poison Ivy's face looks in that pin-up


Above: if you can twist so that we can see both of your boobs and both of your butt cheeks at the same time, you've probably done some damage to your spine, Harley.

June will see the debut of new Batman spin-off comic Gotham City Sirens, a series focusing on "the bad girls of Gotham City!"

"Sirens," seriously?

I understand the fact that a lot of the Batman mythos has its roots in the noir genre, including a hefty amount of femme fatale characters, but honestly, they're callng a title based around the female members of Batman's supporting cast Gotham City Sirens?!

Two things to note. One: this new series is clearly influneced by Gotham Girls (is the new name supposed to imply that the 'girls' have now grown up, and are now full-fledged sexual, alluring threats?). Two: that this essentially replaces the previous title about the various women in Batman's supporting cast, Birds of Prey (which not only had a generally very positive portrayal of women, but was notably written by one of the most successful female writers in modern comics, too).


I have to say I'm in a bit ambivalent about this. Creatively this new series looks interesting as it's being written by Paul Dini, who does tend to make really good use of Batman's quasi-noir roots in his stories, leading to some usually very readable tales. On the other hand, I just can't get over the inherent sexism of the femme fatale trope.

Also, note that there is no Boys of Gotham/Gotham City Incubi title coming out. The companion title - also written by Dini - is called Batman: Streets of Gotham.

Am I kicking up a storm in a comic-book-shop teacup over a title I haven't even read yet? Perhaps. But I'd feel remiss if I didn't at least comment on this little pop-cultural trend.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Man-eaters




I could go on for days about all of the nonsense presented in the first clip above. As for the second, that bell idea is so weird that it absolutely intrigues me. Imagine if they still employed that in cinemas today. It's pretty distractingly fourth-wall-breaking though, no?

Sunday, 22 March 2009

"Exploring" a mall near you, soon


Ok, this is my fourth post today, so that must mean I'm eating well but infrequently (my brain goes a mile-a-minute when I'm really hungry but have otherwise been eating healthily). I just wanted to link to this post over at the best blog discovery I've made in quite some time: Sociological Images. I highly recommend reading through and pondering over their entire output, but this latest post was one I found to be of particular interest (especially when paired with this one about the gendered packaging (and, more importantly rebranding) of the charming Dora the Explorer).

Ok, so I did end up watching Watchmen...

...and hey, did anyone else notice that that's fuckin' My Chemical Romance covering a Bob Dylan song?! What the hell, people?



That's not to say I don't actually find this song not completely unpleasant, though.

Also...

Thank you to Virgin1 for reminding me how completely crush-worthy Nicole de Boer is.


That is all.

Thinking too much about things that don't bear thinking about (Death Note edition)


Today I watched the two Death Note films back-to-back. I found the first one thoroughly enjoyable, the second one less so. However, something that struck me during the course of these films, and in particular the second one, was the over-reliance on completely made-up mystical rules (or as one imdb commentator put it: "the intriguing mystical lore"). Now, I can understand the appeal of universe-building, and of trying to make whatever magical/science-fiction-ey elements you're introducing make some sort of workable plot sense. Introducing limits is a very good way of controlling whatever non-real element you've introduced, so as to try and ensure you don't get into some kind of Superman II situation where absolutely anything goes, sense be damned ("and then Superman spits himself into three people...because, you know, he can totally do that...now"*). However - and keeping with American superheroes for the moment - I'm reminded of an assertation I first remember being made by David Mazzuccheli, although I'm sure it's been said hundreds of times by hundreds of different people, that the more realism you apply to something that is blatantly not realistic, the more you only serve to highlight the absurdity at the heart of the genre. You'll never see Robin in the Christopher Nolan Batman films, for example, because brightly-coloured boy sidekicks would simply jar with the more realist world that Nolan et al. have generated. All criticisms of the Schumacher films aside, it could hardly be said that Robin's was distinctly out of place in them (he was played as an infuriating, unrepentent jackass, but that's beside the point).

I guess what I'm getting at is that, with the Death Note films, I really resented the over-use of completely fictional magical rules and regulations, because the more they cropped up, the more I couldn't resist thinking about them and what might be the cause of them, only to be frustrated by remembering that, of course, there was no cause to them as they were completely made up. For those who don't know, Death Note is a manga/anime/film series that follows a young man who one day stumbles upon a mysterious note book. Whenever this young man writes a name in the note book, that person dies shortly afterwards. The young man thus decides to use said note book to help rid the world of criminals. This is actually a really interesting concept, and it all serves - perhaps fairly obviously - to lead into a neat fictionalised look at the corrupting influence of absolute power versus the possible good that might come of this form of extreme vigilante justice.

But here's the thing. I can very easily buy the central conceit, that there's this magical note book that can be used to kill people. The strength of such a concept lies in its simplicity. It's got a nice fairytale quality to it ("this lamp will grant you three wishes," "these boots will allow you to travel seven leagues in a single step," ...). What I find problematic though, is the fact that, no doubt forseeing that fans would seek to pick holes in this concept ("what if two people have the same name? Do they both die?"), the author saw fit to include all sorts of rules and caveats ("the person writing the name has to have the victim's face in mind at the time of writing, so the book 'knows' not to pick someone else with the same name"). Now, there are quite a few of these rules, and after a while they all get quite convoluted. There's this whole thing about losing your memory and regaining it once you've touched the book again (but only if you're actually holding onto the book, if it's not one you've used before...or something) that really takes the fucking overcomplication cake, as far as I'm concerned. However, my real problem isn't with these made-up rules themselves. I'm not here to pick holes in them. The problem for me really is the fact that they exist at all, as - and maybe I'm alone in this - every time these rules about the way life, death and these note books comes up, I'm left wondering where the hell these rules came from and who on Earth put them there in the first place.

Fairytale concepts thrive on their simplicity. If one wondered why the hell the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood could talk, one would likely go a bit mad (could the cows whose milk made the butter that Red is transporting to Grandma's place also talk and think? If so, what the hell were they doing being farmed in the first place?)** However, one simply tends not to think about these things at all unless the rules and the universe behind them is explored. But, as I'm arguing here, any such hard look into a completely fictitious world will no doubt ultimately be frustrating and fruitless as of course it leads into a big bottomless pit where of course, there are no ultimate solutions because it's all totally made-up; d'uh! I don't go about reading into the whys and wherefores of science fiction and fantasy concepts as I please, in fact quite the opposite is true, that's the whole point of this post. I once chewed a guy out for getting all concerned about why the mechanics of the Matrix universe wouldn't work, arguing of course that in something like The Matrix, the point of the story lies far, far away from the strict mechanics of the universe. In Death Note, however, so much of the plot involves utilising/abusing a knowledge of these rules in order to create intricate plans and schemes that take advantage of them. They're always in the spotlight. As I said, maybe other people don't think like me, but to me, all this served to do was highlight the fact that the rules made no sense. It's not so much that they were gobbledegook (the author clearly had done some thinking when coming up with them), more that the very fact of them was nonsense. Who the hell made them up, why, and how?!

Maybe all of these are addressed in the manga. I don't know. Either way, I suspect that any solution would only lead to a kind of infinite regress wherein whatever magic rule-maker exists must also adhere to some other magical set of rules or whatnot.

To summarise, whilst I enjoyed Death Note thoroughly, watching the films simply served to remind me that while establishing a set of rules to dictate fictional powers & abilities is important (otherwise you risk ending up in "My magic is stronger than yours." "No, my magic is stronger than yours; just because" territory), I wish writers would avoid relying on these rules as plot points, as focusing on them only serves to illustrate their ultimately contrived and constructed nature. Remember in Ang Lee's Hulk where he explained why the Hulk can just spontaneously grow muscle mass even though biological growth doesn't work that way, and all it did was open up a new can of worms? I guess that's my point in a nutshell. Sometimes, the magic of a concept is lost when you look at it with too analytical an eye (or more specifically, when the plot itself forces you to look at it with that critical eye).

*Not to mention the infamous "then Superman throws his suit's logo at the bad guys and it turns into a huge net, because yeah, I'm sure we meant to establish somewhere that Superman can do that. We're not just pulling random super-powers out of our collective asses, honest!"
**I'm channeling a little bit of Gregory Maguire here, who asks such questions of animals/Animals-with-a-capital-A in L. Frank Baum's land of Oz in his Wicked novels.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Quick hit

To use the modern parlance: made of win.

Monday, 23 February 2009

As a follow-up to my earlier, bitchy Watchmen movie post...

...This pretty much encapsulates my fears regarding a big-screen Watchmen adaptation...in the most hilarious way possible.

You can probably guess which recent event got me thinking about the Joker

The target audience for Dresden Dolls/Batman the Animated Series mash-up fanvids must be pretty niche, but I happen to be in that niche.

Dresden Dolls: Half Jack (Batman-Mad Love)

Buchanan angrifies up the blood

Shorter Pat Buchanan: "Hey, I heard somewhere that some black people live in ghettos and then shoot at each other. That means they're racist and pro-segregation, as they're separating themselves off from us blameless white folks, who have only ever tried to help them!"

Nobody puts themselves in a situation like that, dumbass! Black communities like that aren't like those gated, white-only communities you've heard about, they were formed under circumstances so entirely different that I'm genuinely shocked that I'm even having to type this sentence in order to try and explain something so patently obvious.

To me, Buchanan's way of thinking ultimately traces back to a very common conservative fallacy: the idea that people's social status is informed by their nature, not the other way around. Put in the very simplest terms possible: people are poor because they are bad, not bad because they are poor. In his worldview, the state of black people in America today is entirely the fault of black people not pulling themselves together and trying harder. This is such a completely myopic worldview that I barely know where to begin, and yet I see it everywhere. I talk to (totally abhorent) anti-feminist women who insist that sexism doesn't really exist and in actuality is just a complaint thrown out there by whinging women who don't try hard enough to be successful (they owe nothing to women's lib, I suppose). The very idea that there aren't innumerable social barriers to success is one based on total naivety.

People don't just wake up one day and decide to start a revolution (whether that be overthrowing Batista or busting up Sal's). Circumstances beyond these people's control squeeze them to the point where they explode and simply have to act out upon the system that's put them in the godawful position that they're in. Crime in the black community of contemporary America is so clearly a result, not a cause, of a legacy of second-class citizenship that is not even close to coming to an end (you know they're only just phasing out segregated prom nights in some Southern schools? Way to keep the rest of your country behind, South!).

Just because

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Not really a "debate" as such

An oldie but a goodie, this video. I very well may never have seen such a great discrepancy in intelligence between two adult human beings.



There are so many things to criticise here that I barely know where to begin, although the "yeah, I can say that Hitler is representative of all atheists [??] but you can't say that the Inquisition is representative of all Christians, that's just fairness" shtick that O'Reilly brings up at one point is pretty remarkable. OMGWTFBBQ!?

Also, check out this amazing blog for some atheism/lolcat fun.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

On bad films - 2009

Just a quick hit from me, paragraphs four and five in particular are right on the money when it comes to the upcoming Watchmen film.

Most of the time, I don't feel the fannish/masochistic need to expose myself to what I have no doubt will be a terrible adaptation of a comic that I love. I haven't seen a single "Alan Moore film" in the cinema since League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But then again, I can't decide where I fall when it comes to Watchmen. I may very well be tempted after all.

And incidentally, that masochistic urge is still driving me towards the upcoming Star Trek film, despite my better judgment.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Don't go to sleep, you may wake up a hero

I've been thinking a lot about Batman recently (no doubt inspired by some truly astonishingly long sessions on my flatmate's copy of Lego Batman for the XBox), and have honestly been meaning for quite some time to turn a lot of my half-baked thoughts on the character and his history into a full-fledged post here on the blog, but I've been having some difficulty. The issue at hand is essentially my inability to reconcile my desire to do a full-on, fully-researched, post-grad level essay on the political/social underpinnings of the character and his fictional universe, a lot of which have re-entered public discourse since the debut of The Dark Knight and its at times sledgehammer-subtle allusions to the Bush doctrine; and my desire to simply rabbit on about some of the sillier comics/videogames that I like and post some pretty pictures (except that I never really like adding pictures in blogger, it really is too much of a pain).

Above: the source of so much recent consternation for me.

Still, I imagine I'm not going to be able to write about anything else until I've at least got this one out of my system, so here goes a pretty half-assed post about a 70-year old superhero (I mean that the comics have been around for that long, not that Bruce Wayne is a septuagenarian, obviously) written almost solely so that I can then go on to write about other things.

Firstly, to sate the former of the two desires outlined above in quite possibly the laziest way possible, here's a pretty neat sixty-second summary of why Batman is at heart a character straight out of Conservative fable (courtesy of Reginald D. Hunter):



I've honestly tried to elaborate on Hunter's point, but every time I do, I read my words back and realise just how incredibly pretentious they sound, so I end up scrapping the whole thing. Needless to say that I think that I'm going to need to have a good, long look at superhero fiction as a whole, and wonder whether there can be any way around the political paradigms so deeply embedded into the narrative that makes up the backbone of the genre.

Then I might make a start on analysing that whole "women in refrigerators" thing, too.

One thing I would like to point out though is a specific Batman comic book I read recently. "Urban Legend" was written by Bill Willingham and was published in a 2003 issue of the Batman comic Legends of the Dark Knight (I could spend entire posts looking at Willingham's own politics, but that's not the point of this post), although I read it as part of the "and Other Tales" of the Batman Begins: The Movie and Other Tales of the Dark Knight collection. The story begins with a beaten and brusied Batman, shown to be suffering from amnesia, all ailments apparently resulting from a recent fight against some unknown criminals against whom Batman clearly came out the worse off. Still, despite his lack of knowledge about his whereabouts, his secret identity, or even his specific mission, and with some really remarkable physical injuries slowing him down, Batman takes one look at himself and realises the superhero he must be, and sets off to find and mete out justice to the villains whom he works out must be responsible for his current condition. The whole thing reads like a bit of a darkly comic farce, to be honest, with Batman phoning the Gotham City police from a payphone, calling a cab because he cannot locate his Batmobile and getting brained by a prostitute that he actually manages to save from a vindictive pimp. Still, when Batman finally reaches the headquarters of the gang of criminals he has spent the last twenty-or-so pages searching for, the twist is revealed as the real Batman shows up and dispatches the criminals, exposing the Batman that we've been following as merely a confused amnesiac who woke up in a Batman suit (for reasons that are explained within the comic but are mundane and incidental, really) and jumped to the wrong conclusion.

Above: Urban Legend

The whole thing has echoes of everything from Memento to Dark City, but a more specific mirror can be found in Alan Moore and Rick Veitch's 1999 Greyshirt short "Amnesia" from the pages of Tomorrow Stories #1. Whereas "Urban Legend", despite its occasional comic turns, seems ultimately an optimistic piece about the innate goodness that could be awakened in us all ("what if, tomorrow, you woke up believing yourself to be a superhero? Maybe you too would act upon all that that role bestows," the comic seems to be saying), "Amnesia" looks at this same concept from the other side of the looking glass, imagining instead an amnesiac who wakes to find himself surrounded by just the right clues to make him believe that he is in fact a certain notable serial killer. In his quest to flee the police, whom he believes are after him, he kills another couple of people, before it is of course all revealed to him that, before those murders, he was in fact a completely innocent man, and actually received his amnesia-causing injury in an altercation with the real serial killer (if memory serves me correctly, that is. It's been a while since I've read this one).

The two tales may, on the surface, appear to be telling the same story, but it's hard to ignore the ultimately far more optimistic note of the former (although that was published later and may, perhaps, have actually been inspired by the Moore tale). An idea central to the Batman mythos is that fact that he really is just a man (a concept from which Batman Begins extracts a lot of mileage, emphasising the difference between a mortal man and a faceless figurehead, the darker side of which is explored in that film's sequel), but one whose 'powers' come from the fact that he has spent years building himself into a very different kind of 'superman': the unspoken implication being the supposedly inspirational message that anyone of us could do the same if only we had the will to do so; if only we could also spend years training our minds and bodies the way that Bruce Wayne did. Of course, this is once again where the spectre of the underpinning right-wing politics of superhero narratives begin to show, as such an assertion renders totally invisble the phenomenal privelege that Bruce Wayne enjoys. Despite what certain people would have you believe, we literally cannot all afford to become superheroes.

Edited to add: there are of course exceptions to prove every rule. For a great example, I'd highly recommend immersing yourself in Alan Moore's V for Vendetta as well as almost any comic featuring transparent V knock-off Anarky. Also, while we're on the subject of Mr Moore, don't forget to go out and read Watchmen right now, before the film comes out and potentially ruins any chance that you might be tempted to read it. Hurry, the film's release is only days away!

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Blah blah Buffy blah blah


I am large in the Walt Whitman sense. I'm big enough to contain contradictions.

One amusing aspect of not only my personality but the personalities of humans worldwide is that I can give a damn about the big and the small. Just because I think and talk about the huge, obvious evils of the world such as rampant sexism and racism doesn't mean that I can't occasionally get caught up in a three hour conversation about everything that is wrong with the new Star Trek film. I can be petty sometimes. I'm a human being. Vice versa, just because I talk about the ups and downs of DnD 3.5 doesn't mean I don't care about the larger issues.

All of this really is just a preamble to the fact that I'm now going to start ranting about fandom, so beware, you're opinion about my values may just be about to plummet (as if it was particularly high to start with). That's kind of why I've put that big disclaimer up there.

You know what I hate? These kind of Thomas-Hobbes-as-applied-to-geekdom way of thinking that says that if you are a fan of something, you're not allowed to criticise it. "If all you do is say 'I hate this' and 'I hate that' then you're not a true fan" cry some idiots, completely unaware that showing an inclination towards something does not mean I get to automatically switch off my critical faculties and disregard anything that it might do that is patently wrong or stupid. Yes, some people may bitch to high heaven all the time and may never seem to have a positive thing to say about their chosen fandom. I agree, that's fucking irritating. But that's different from, say, being a fan of a director/writer/actor/artist/TV-show producer and blindly saying that you really really love everything that they've ever done when as a matter of fact, that likelihood is that not only will they occassionally fuck up (remember, they're human too) or else do something that doesn't appeal to your particular taste or what you otherwise really like about that person's work, but that you as a fan are more likely to be aware of said missteps and will typically have the appropriate knowledge and vocabulary to explain what it is that you particularly dislike about these aspects of your pastime and/or passion gone wrong. Although - again, as a disclaimer - this does not mean I'm aware that some people truly are idiots who do nothing but complain about the most moronic things for the most stupid reasons.

That said, I just want to get it off my chest that whilst I'm generally a massive, feck-off huge fan of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer franchise, here's a list of a few things I just can't stand.

- Spike. Honest to god, I could dedicate an entire blog about the many and various ways that I do not like Spike. To be honest, I actually really liked him during season two of the show. In the sense of full disclosure, I'd actually rank him amongst one of my favourite things from that season. But god damn, why the hell did they have to go and bring him back in just the most appalling way(s)? Almost any and all appearances by Spike have that reek of insincerity and money-men dictated decisions; "hey, this character's popular, why don't you put him in the show some more?" rather than including him for reasons that, say, make any kind of story-sense. The biggest culprit here is obviously his inclusion in Angel season five, where he not only shamelessly brought back from the dead following what was supposed to be a heroic sacrifice, but his sacrifice was essentially nullified by the amusing geek-history footnote that the WB had started promoting Angel season five before UPN aired Spike's supposedly big, important sacrifice, making it all seem rather muted and pointless in the eyes of the viewers who watched it, as we all knew he was coming back. Oh yeah, the episode "Chosen" should probably make this list of BtVS things I could spend all day criticising too.

- The fallacy that states that if you like BtVS and/or Angel, you must also like Firefly. The other thing that I could easily dedicate an entire blog towards is my many and varied criticisms of the show Firefly, which, for the uninitiated, was a thankfully short-lived science-ficition television series (which later scored a spin-off film) produced by a lot of the same people behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I do have some good things to say about the series, but a lot of that is buried under the fact that I think much of it is hackneyed misfits-in-space/Western stuff that was getting old and done-before long before Joss Whedon took his hand to it. Many place the blame for Firefly's demise on the shenanigans that were going on behind the scenes: the networks' continual fucking around with the show. This no doubt contributed greatly, but I also think that, in no uncertain terms, it simply was not a particularly good show.

Ok, well, it looks like this list is going to end at two for now as I'm kind of running out of bilious steam and I don't like it when I don't finish a post in one sitting so I'm really not going to come back to this post and add to it, so that's really it for now. Once again, I just want to reiterate that I freakin' love BtVS. As shows go it may have a rather considerable series of ups and downs, but most of these I simply take as idiosyncracies or interesting faults that are natural symptoms of what the show did really well at least 50% of the time. I'm not for a moment going to say that it's the best work of art to ever come out of the Northern Hemisphere. That would be stupid. But the nature of fandom is that I still really like it, warts and all ("Where the Wild Things Are" and all), and that I'm willing to engage with other fans about the various bits that I like and dislike.

In the interest of fairness, here are some things that are popularly disliked about BtVS/Angel that I actually really like:

- Connor.
- "The Girl in Question".
- Riley Finn (although only in season five. I mean jeez, I'm not crazy. Seriously though, having him become a depressive, sympathic perpetual outsider (the same mould used for all of Buffy's major paramours) was a really good turn).

Just so that I can at least pretend I've done something more than talk about trivia I happen to be particularly passionate about, here's a link to the latest weekly round-up at feministing. Go, think about public attitudes to breast-cancer survivors and women over 50 in the modelling industry, go! Then come back and maybe we can chat about Buffy some more. After all, how astonishingly unfun would fandom be if these minor disagreements didn't open to door to discoure amongst peers, eh?

Sunday, 25 January 2009

I've got to sit down and do another proper post soon...

...But in the mean-time, please enjoy The Breeders' cover of "Wicked Little Town."


Monday, 12 January 2009

I'm totally stealing this from Siskoid, but...

The Psychocrystals...

...they glitter with death!

GLITTER with DEATH!!

Friday, 9 January 2009

As a child of a single-parent family, all I have to say is...

"Fuck off, Ann Coulter, just fuck off."

Falwell would be proud

Correction: the funniest two minutes of your week may just be the CDAC's top ten instances of Christian-bashing in America. Apparently, the fact that Barack Obama isn't a Christian (note: he is one!) actually qualifies as a veritable attack on Christianity itself! Fantastic stuff.

#1 is my favourite though. Oh those poor American Christians, so oppressed by the gays...

Haskins!


Yay! The latest infomania is out! It's been far too long since I've been exposed to some new Sarah Haskins hilarity.

You know what, I haven't even seen her latest video yet, and still I'm linking to it, so convinced am I that'll it'll be the funniest two minutes of my week (and possibly yours, too!).


Sunday, 4 January 2009

On close-mindedness

Wow, I haven't updated this thing in ages. This is probably due to that massive downturn in the amount of insomnia I've been suffering lately; seeing as how insomnia is the number one cause of content being generated on this blog. Well, here I am in the middle of the night, after having - possibly unwisely - watched some of those films that I got in the January/closing down sales back-to-back and late into the early hours (including the weird combination of watching Aliens vs Predator: Requiem followed by the 2007 version of Hairspray) and it seems like it's time for another post, perhaps another atheist vignette.

One of the most ludicrous arguments against atheism that I've ever heard, and that I also keep hearing, from numerous sources and in numerous ways, is that atheists are all incredibly close-minded, that we're just so completely closed off from any ideas other than those immediately apparent to our limited senses that we just can't see the bigger picture, we just can't open our minds to the grand, supernatural reality of things, that if we just all stopped being so incredibly myopic and intellectually shallow we'd see the awesome reality that is the existence of god(s).

This, of course, is the most bullshit piece of reasoning I've ever heard.

I think the particular iteration of this argument that got me riled up enough to actually come out and write this post is the one that I heard expressed by this guy (little note to that guy: the fact that you happen to disagree with atheism does not technically in any way make atheism "self-refuting.") Still, this post is going to deal with a more general version of this argument than the one that guy presents. This isn't just a response to that one particular little vid, but that vid sure did make me angry.

At first it's easy to see the appeal of this whole "atheists are close-minded" argument. After all, atheists do not typically appear to be open to the idea of the existence of god(s) any more than they are to the idea of the existence of werewolves or wood nymphs. This must surely mean that they're just close-minded, right? They're just all Scullys, all totally closed off to the idea of anything existing beyond what they can see, hear, smell, taste and touch, right? All they need is some nice, religious Mulder to show them the way, right? Wrong. Atheists are probably some of the most open-minded people you'll ever meet, as they are typically the kind of people who embrace scientific reasoning, which highly values an openness and acceptance of all sorts of information. The truth is, if tomorrow, someone found absolute, indefatiguable proof that evolution is wrong, then all of those godless, anti-creationist scientists would have to say "well, what do you know, looks like we were wrong" and accept this new information. This is the way scientific reasoning works: by being fluid and succeptable to change. After all, when was the last time you went to your doctor only to be told that you were having an attack of bad humours? Doctors and scientists are not so stubborn as to believe in such outdated theories. Scientific theories are always only as good as they need to be until new evidence comes to light.

Take religious thinking on the other hand. Religious thinking is stubborn, totally resistant to change, revision or acceptance of new information that might actually broaden one's horizons somewhat. If someone believes that the first man was constructed out of the dust of the Earth itself, then no amount of reasoning will change that person's mind. To paraphrase a classic Jonathan Swift quotation, you cannot reason someone out of a position that they did not get into by way of reason.

Religious thinking is the ultimate in close-mindedness. It is "my religion is right and yours is wrong." People may be accepting of people of other religions, but they're really not being very good religious people if they give other religions equal weight in their heart of hearts. Being religious requires being biased. Atheism, on the other hand, views all religions with an open mind. The atheist says, "ok Hindus, Jews, Christians, Muslims, etc" (sorry to brush off so many religions with a mere "etc" there, I feel like Rev. Lovejoy when he did that whole "or miscellaneous" thing) "come to me and tell me what your religion has over every other one, that makes yours more sound and reasonable over all of the others" and of course, all the religious mind can offer in response to that is a pathetic "well, it's obvious, isn't it? Mine is just right and the others are just wrong!" In the eyes of the impartial atheist, all religions are of equal validity.

Open-minded does not mean automatically being willing to accept without question the existence of angels, demons, fairies or whatnot. Open-mindedness is when one does not stubbornly stick with outdated modes of thinking that have been shown to be lacking when compared to actual evidence and knowledge of the world and the way that it works time and time again. When the world has been shown to not fly through space by riding on the back of a giant turtle, it might be time to give up on that belief, rather than being close-minded and refusing to let any alternative idea into your head.

This is, as these things so often do, turning into a rant. Still, I'm just so sick of being called "close-minded" because I do not accept the existence of things that are literally impossible. It's far more close-minded to believe that your impossible set of beliefs has some sort of special status that elevates it above other people's impossible beliefs, as you're just showing a clear bias and unwillingness to accept information that really is just as valid and acceptable as what you're already going on. To paraphrase someone else, all people are atheists of a sort, in that they vehemently deny the existence of thousands of gods, atheists just take it one step further.

I am an open-minded atheist. I accept all possibilities, but naturally, I gravitate towards those that actually seem grounded in the reality that I know and that we all share. I would gladly accept any religion, if I believed that any religion were founded on greater validity than "well, isn't it obvious this one is the right one?" Not if you're being open-minded about it, no.

Heh, maybe I'll write about something less heavy next post, I promise. Maybe Sinfest again. Or hey, maybe Penny Arcade.