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Draw distance

This blog has been defunct for over two years, since just before I came back to the UK from Japan. In that time I’ve lucked into a job with a media firm, moved to London despite my reservations, got a better job title, moved from the West to the East End, got another job title, worked some interesting projects, fallen in like with London, and just now got picked up for a job in a major game studio to manage content and write.

I’ve just finally sent off a TV pilot to my now-ex-boss. It’s something I’ve been working on for way too long, and I’m king of hoping I can just shelve it and finally move on to something else. I’ve got a script for a kids’ book, written in the pub in a state of abject disbelief. I’m working on an interactive argument in the closed Varytale beta.

I’ve learned a hell of a lot: in the media production trade, and in knowing where I want to end up, off in the distance. And the other day I caught myself asking myself – does the future seem nearer, now that I know roughly what I want and how to get there? Which seems more distant – a dream life you’re just waiting to happen to you, or a dream life you know you’re going to have to work for?

But working is normal life for me – everything else is just leisure. I don’t generally work for the weekend, and god knows I spend enough weekends working. Work’s not the space of my life I rent out to someone else – except on the most boring of projects. That’s why I’m so lucky to have had a decent job the last two years, where the gigs were interesting and there was space for me to work on my own projects. Now I’m walking away from that job, hopefully another step towards getting myself to a place where I get to think and write all day. Where there’s no longer any boundary between job-work and my-work.

So in that spirit I’m going to start writing here again, and try to get some personal branding up in this piece. It’s been a hard enough road to get a big games company to hire someone internal for a content role – to help make the cake, instead of just icing it. Getting known for writing interactive experiences isn’t exactly a carefully-hewn career path.

I don’t know whether I’ll keep posting on this blog – I certainly look back on some of those posts from when I was in Japan with some embarrassment. I’ll at least try to keep my sentence clause-count down in future. I was talking to a friend yesterday about looking back on your past self. It’s an odd feeling to know your 17-year-old-self would be kind of relieved to see your settled, reasoned life now. Because of course it’s a huge betrayal, a monumental compromise, that you no longer felt things so raw as you once did. But even compromise has to be worked at, and that’s something you don’t seem to understand when you’re a kid. You have to work at it every day.

Everything has a meaning or nothing has. To put it another way, one could say that art is without noise.

– Roland Barthes, Image… Music… Text…

That’s quoted in Gaiman/Mckean’s Signal to Noise, which is about compromise unto death, and film as an inherently compromised artform. (And was written by a prolific and highly effective collaboration, part fusion and part fight for atttention). Now, I believe games can be art. But because of the way they’re typically made, the sheer number of people involved and generally speaking the absence of a dictatorial figure, in some ways they are the noisiest of media, most prone to flaws and disappointments despite themselves.

Every aspect of a game is meaningful to someone involved in it, whether it’s the low-pixel area of the Skybox put by a coder to save memory, or the absence of a save point insisted on by the designer to keep it ‘Hardcore’. Or the shoddy dialogue written in Crunch at four in the morning. Now I’m planning to join that noise, and to try to help work it. We’ll see how that goes. At least I’m still not short of uncertainty, or ridiculously high hopes. 17-year-old is still hanging on somewhere.

like that and more so


					
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beastyA twitter from earlier in the week:

AboutThisLater: Just invented a new superhero: the Lampshader

6:32 PM Jul 3rd from TwitterMail

He’s like a cross between Deadpool and the parodically thinly-conceived Midnighter from The Authority.

I’ve been reading a lot of TVTropes lately (thanks to Stubby43 for the link), so where before I already knew that Deadpool was a classic fourth-wall breaker, I now have the vocabulary to describe Midnighter as textbook Cursed-with-Awesome and an egregious and obvious tribute to Batman, which writer Warren Ellis made entertaining by comprehensibly lampshade-hanging the character with Meta Fanservice/Going to Bed With a Trope: hardcore haunted Crazy Prepared bully-boy Midnighter is gay, and in a loving, settled marriage with Apollo, his universe’s Superman.

From TVTropes:

This practice is also known as “hanging a clock on it”, “hanging a lantern on it”, or “spotlighting it”. We went with this title because it’s the one used in the Mutant Enemy bullpen… Lampshade Hanging is the writers’ trick of dealing with any element of the story that threatens the audience’s Willing Suspension Of Disbelief—whether a very implausible plot development, or a particularly egregious use of a trope—by calling attention to it… and then moving on.

cannibalism not prostitution

(From Nobody Scores!. You just wait for an upcoming post where I stretch the bounds of critical taste with my theory that cannibalism is the most extreme form of various behaviours all similarly redefined by the internet: once viewed as a symptom of barbarism, people-eating is now tinged with an aura of terrifying, inpenetrable connoisseurship.)

And with that brilliant segue, on to the main event: a trailer for a film whose writers have clearly been studying the Buffy playbook for ideas, not just for do-nots. Sam Neill, Ethan Hawke, Willem Defoe and Placebo star in a vampire flick which will quite literally have to be 100% lampshade (ah ha ha), and which annoyingly has taken a title which I’ve been kicking around for some time.

I’m reserving “Nightfallers” for the sequel, though.

It looks like a cross between Gattaca, Equilibrium and Jack Frost, the only good thing in the Blade movies. Awesome. [edit: he’s actually called Deacon Frost. False memory there. Thanks to @benfrenchman]

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What have I been doing, you ask?

Today’s schedule: Up and into town for work for an upcoming feature on the Museum of Asian Art’s Triennale. Conducted an interview with a trio of artists from Japan, Korea and China, whose work involves inventing a tiny fictional country and its flag, laws, currency etc. They even held their own Olympic ceremony, in Beijing, to coincide with the “real” one. I’m amazed they survived. Interesting lads who communicate through sketches and very limited English but who’ve been collaborating for years. Blog post will go up tomorrow, hopefully.

Then wandering around in the sweltering rain trying to follow email instructions on my phone, before finally finding the headquarters of the local branch of the General [foreign] Worker’s Union. A very interesting, earnest presentation about changes in immigration law and its implications for workers. Was kicked out before their AGM started, but again they’re nice, self-sacrificing, smart lads. Again, post up tomorrow, if I can make head or tail of my notes on Japan’s tortuous health insurance law.

Then to Niko’s for cannonball-heavy but delicious lentil stew, and finally starting to lay out pages of iland. Really awesomely exciting, but it’s weird to be doing it with only about three weeks before I leave. I have a long way to go before I can be sure I’m speaking the same language he is when trying to skype-describe how I think a frame should be oriented and where characters’ gazes should be going.

Finally home on the last train full of Sunday night drunks, reading an introduction to political philosophy and writing notes on my wrist. Came up with two great philosophical comebacks/punchlines for iland, but I guess you’ll have to wait and see.

9bb6fb8521f4d74804b4a7f7469b86c684ea07e7

please allow me to introduce myself

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“If the change is a result of a Face Heel Turn, see Superpowered Evil Side and Good Is Dumb. If it’s a result of a Heel Face Turn, then it’s a case of Evil Is Dumb. If the change is due to time travel, see Future Badass. If it is the result of finding a powerful object, see Amulet Of Concentrated Awesome.”

phillipeTwo interesting cases in honourable press mendacity.

1. The Daily Beast’s tempestuously appealing nympho-con Meghan McCain (yes, that one) argues that the Sanford sex scandal shouldn’t be enough to ruin a promising politician’s career

2. The revelation that the NYT and the Wikipedia executive purposefully suppressed news of reporter David Rohde’s kidnapping by the Taliban for seven months. Both cast interesting light on all my previous talk of news fragmentation, and the end of message control, especially in relation to Prince Harry’s secret military service in Afghanistan.

[Let me say now that what’s missing from the previous times I’ve written about Harry’s service is the acknowledgment that press silence could have saved the scion’s life, and almost certainly didsave the lives of soldiers around him.]

Meghan McCain first: a man who could have been president has been destroyed. Newsweek’s Ick Watch [and thousands of others] have copies of the emails sent to a mistress in Argentina by Sanford. I cite Ick Watch (and I’m not linking to it) because reading them does make your stomach turn a little: not in the grimy vein of Joyce’s letters to Nora Barnacle; because they are extremely intimate, thoughtful and slightly defeated love letters. Search if you must but frankly it’s none of our business precisely what he wrote, even if you believe that what he does in his spare time is our business.

Alternatively, read them and take a minute to consider what kind of a modern president would have written such cliche-defying personal confessions.

cake sniper diesel sweeties

Image from dieselsweeties.

Grasshoppers and bees

Meghan McCain, then. [Beast gave her the headline “Forgive Mark Sanford”, which doesn’t make much sense given her argument.] She argues in a balanced way something which I’ve always put in cruder terms:

“I don’t know if it’s the fact that I am younger, or that just have a more open-minded view of politicians and sex, but it’s of very little concern to me who elected officials sleep with.” via Daily Beast

The counterargument hinged, and always will, upon some connexion between personal morals and the capacity to rule a state. The way I’ve stated a similar opinion to Ms. McCain’s in the past, in case you’re interested, is “I honestly don’t care if they have a [willing] harem out back of the White House, so long as they’re a competent statesman”.

But then in the past I’ve spouted other such gems as “politicians almost always have more in common with other politicians of any party or philosophy than they do with you and me”. Hunter S. Thomspon would tell us that these are people for whom power is already better than sex, and that this is what has driven them to the top. Frankly, what goes on in the secret swimming pool concerns me much less than pretty much any other aspect of any politician’s personal life.

The other argument, of course, is that infidelity compromises a politician, whether through a) the machinations of robo-soviet Deceptasluts [see yesterday’s post on Transformers 2] or b) through simple tabloid vulnerability.

The former may seem obsolete but may actually be more difficult to deal with: never mind the buzzsheets, maybe what Americans should worry about regarding the Sanford affair is not that the Senator had a sordid affair with a foreign national, but that he had an apparently very committed, devoted affair with a foreign national.

As for the latter argument against political droit de seigneur, Ms. McCain along with many others points out that the logic of the argument is is circular as well as hypocritical. If nobody cared then nobody would care, and so on. The press stimulates outrage, then announces a duty to inform outrage, then stimulates outrage, etcetera.

“WHY,” politicians the world over must scream into their pillows, “why can Berlusconi get away with it and we can’t? Even Sarko gets to have a little bitta-bitta on his funky somethin’, and his constituents greet it with frank congratulations at his short-guy chutzpah. Journalists don’t wonder aloud whether Carla Bruni might be a Bulgarian spy, and even if she was they’d still come flocking to her, pantalons akimbo!”

Of course, it’s not particularly tempting to suggest suppressing this kind of news, even in order to give the public a bit of self-respect and probably grant politicians a little more time in their day. After all, the attempt to suppress these stories is what gives these storiesthem prurient fury in the first place. Newspapers certainly aren’t going to let go of their more-or-less even chance to ruin any politician they really want to, in some sort of crusade for more meta morals.

American politicians will have to wait till the American public stops taking things so seriously, which will be a while. Of course, in Britain we take fewer things less seriously than our politicians, which comes with a different set of problems. Sordid revelations of a sex scandal are more likely to have a disarmingly humanising effect on the public’s perception of a politician, especialy if they turn out to make a habit of sex while wearing a Chelsea FC shirt.

yeah

Incendiary or bigot

David Rohde next: chatter on Tweetmeme ran the gamut from wholehearted endorsement to tentative endorsement of the NYT and especially Wikipedia’s decision to suppress news of the reporter’s capture in order to downplay his value as part of a negotiation strategy.This involved Wikipedia in a long campaign of sustained deletes against a anonymous contributor in Florida, who was determined t make the news public and who may or may not now wear a tinfoil hat.

First, unrestrained applause must go to Rhodes and his translator Tahir Ludin for their bravery and sacrifice. Reading about this amazing business has made me reconsider my phrasing, if not necessarily my argument, on the numerous times I’ve talked about Prince Harry in Afghanistan. Whatever you think about Harry having a “right to serve” in a combat area, the British Army decided to send him. And having been told that, you, a major press editor, understand that you would put him and others in danger if you publish the story.

It can be argued that publishing all kinds of news puts people in danger, especially these days in Iran. It can be argued that Harry’s presence itself put the men around him in danger. But those decisions are already made and you, the news publisher, only have the option of publishing the Harry story or sliding it down a crack in the sofa cushions.

I certainly won’t dispute the rightness of the NYT’s decision. No doubt it was easier to convince other news outlets because a fellow journalist was in trouble, and because the Gray Lady would be able to make any other outlet which broke the story look boorish.

The Wikipedia argument is a bit more interesting: who are Wikipedia execs to say whether a Wikipedia article may cost a man his life? TechCruch are fully behind the decision, distancing themself from prim-hysterical “information wants to be free” arguments, while Mashable raise the issue of suppression being anti-wiki and then more or less dismiss it, given that lives were at stake.

I suppose what I want to say is that I have oversimplified. In the past I talked about the Harry thing in terms of media, not people’s lives. Of course, plenty of other people were going to talk about bravery and suchlike. But I also took the Harry thing as the straw which was going to break the back of institutional media. Today we’ve seen yet another straw, one which will contribute to the slow fragmentation of the camel’s back, if you’ll forgive the unfortunately straitened metaphor.

What I should have said is that sooner or later it would be impossible to keep stories like these under wraps, for however good a reason. In the meantime I want to see the inevitable movie adaptation include the character of the Florida-based anonymous Wikipedia editor, posting and posting against a Wikioppressor, convinced that he is right and that being right is all you need.

Man is in love and loves what vanishes,

What more is there to say? The country round

None dared admit, if such thought were his,

Incendiary or bigot could be found

To burn that stump on the Acropolis

thumbnail aeJust got back from watching the hypnotically disappointing Transformers 2. Now, I’m going to try to keep this short, partly because I need to work on getting my post length down and count up, and partly because I don’t want this to become a movie blog, since I have little to no opinion on the vast majority of them. By half way through the film, however, the thought of being able to vent on it was what was keeping me sitting there. That, and fascination.

I’m going to go back and forth a bit, but first I should establish the basic reaction: what irritated me the most wasn’t some frivolity of the script, but the ability of the production as a whole and, inevitably, Michael Bay in particular, to disregard their own previous film, which I had enjoyed immensely. The sequel treats the original not as an interesting story which should be responded to but as a weary preliminary now  out of the way: after all, Megatron is back so fast he’s barely had time to rust, and the world is infested with Decepticons (and apparently always was).

The previous film is the means to have the ball well and truly rolling at the start of #2, with a host of bitterly-held adolescent fantasies rightfully fulfilled in protagonist Sam. Sam has a devoted, bitchin’ girlfriend, a puppy-like Camero homie, magic powers, and ultimately a mandate from the Transformer gods. He has already saved the world once, everyone has to take him seriously, and despite his sufferings and embarrassments the joke is on those who don’t.

Now this is weird, since writing about Star Trek the other day I tried to debunk picking on movies for discontinuity in general. It’s a question of deciding to like a movie, I said. Well, T2 is best approached that way too. About an hour in, having decided that I very firmly didn’t like it, I was still sat next to my 15-year-old friend who was raucously enjoying every minute of it, fart jokes, bitchslaps to authority and sex predicaments included.

And I couldn’t bring myself to proselytise to him, I suppose because I have an outlet here. He didn’t take it personally that our opinions differed, and I would hopefully never give him the impression that I judged him for his, mainly because I know he’s an intelligent bloke. None of my most hotly-phrased arguments mattered, since none of the things that my liberal mind wanted to rail at were really going to damage him: inanity, gleeful destruction of libraries and monuments, and poorly-concealed rage at some past Prom Queen-related humiliation.

If I were going to proselytise, and let’s face it I am, I would have to respond to the film’s obvious hatred of women by saying that if you’d seen the previous film, (or even the Trailer for the current one) then you’d only need to know two additional things in order to be able to predict more-or-less exactly the events of the first hour or so of the second film. 1) Sam is going to an easily-stereotyped Ivy-like college, in a long-distance relationship with Micaela; 2) In defiance of all the story’s other logic there is now an evil seductive Deceptaslut transformer with a serpentine robot tongue.

Yeah.

Now, I’m sick of the idea that predictability alone is enough to make a movie bad: after all, I’m assuming you have half a brain and a grounding in Freud when I give you the above information and tell you to put two and two together and make a blatant neurotic jump.

[Note that the above video contains dialogue not in the final cut. I’ll give you a hint: it’s everything interesting or intelligent or speculative.]

It’s important that you’ve seen the first movie for that predictability to become easy (and enraging), because the second has all the first’s slightly worrying gung-ho tics writ large. It’s worshipfully military-fetishistic, and not simply apolitical but contemptuous of any kind of political context to military affairs and clean might.

Similarly Michael Bay’s now-notorious comment to Megan Fox when she asked what she should be doing to develop her character between films: “look hotter”.

Lord knows I couldn’t bring myself to love Bay’s version of the woman, with her tannic scorch and painfully blown lips, but watching her in T2 reminded me of nothing so much as watching Nicole Kidman in Lars von Trier’s experi-sploitation flick Dogville. It’s probably equally vile to over-react to Bay’s ability to hugely raise the sex of female action film stereotypes without a similar rise in intelligence. But all the same I left feeling like she was hard done by the film, overexposed and under developed, on and probably off screen.

Whatever. She’s a big girl. It’s a proudly sexy film, in the sense that it’s standing on the roof gable waving its dick around. It’s proud, too, of whatever it is that knits together Black Hawk helicopters, fixed notions of the absurdity and lechery of academia, easy professionalised racist archetypes and finally the urge to add slogans and fake genitalia to vehicles.

T2 quite literally adds gold teeth and swingin’ steel balls to the motherfucking Transformers.

In general, so much attention is paid to the talking robots in an effort to avoid fan fallout (Optimus dies again, and gets the best lines, and is heroic in a bumper-sticker sort of way) that something by turns lazy and mad can happen in the huge swathes of the film which don’t even involve them. And that includes the puddle-eyed orphan Jerry Springer robo-ho and her whole sordid bit.

Sabine_women

In case it’s not thoroughly spoilt, I urge you to check out this excellent Transformers 2 FAQ on Village Voice’s Toplessrobot, which provides the beginnings of an explanation for the movie’s various massive clangers.

Why would a robot need to fart, pee, or vomit? And why would it need testicles?
Michael Bay does not understand what a robot is.

-via ToplessRobot

Michael Bay’s “hilarious” comment to Megan Fox is starting to look like one of those little hints you should have spotted in your neighbour, before he started shooting people in his underwear and screaming about whore-aliens. He managed to make a film devoid of any sense or type of responsibility. A gleefully adult film which my 15-year old friend enjoyed, and rightly described as a “toy movie”.

A multi-million dollar adult toy movie.

Don’t give me that

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[Edit: I forgot the most important thing! As Stubby points out in the comments, the above can mostly be applied to Transformers 1 as well. I just happened to enjoy that movie, and chose to dislike #2. Or wasn’t feeling quite receptive enough for its bullshit. Once I’d chosen, the evidence mounted up: the plot is nonsense, continuity is utterly nonexistent the setpieces undramatic.

I would say all this, if I was going to gripe. If I was going to gripe I would say something about the apparently unnoticed irony that in a movie with such a visible erection for tanks, aircraft carriers and planes, that unquestioning protago-geek hero-worship results in confused American soldiers dying in the desert based on one teenager’s hero fantasy.

If I was going to gripe. I suppose the point of all this was going to be some magnanimous edict that action films are what you make of them, or something. But the more I think about T2 the less inclined I am.

T2 is a movie designed to insult the intelligence of almost everyone watching it. And if you’re okay with that, then fine. But I’m pretty sure that’s not what action movies are supposed to be about.

So, imagine:

You’re the guy JJ Abrams comes to and says “we’re going to make a new Star Trek”.

And you say No!                                        No.

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No.

No. no. no. why? no.

And he says “wait, hear me out,  it’s not what you think. It’s not just an extended episode of Next Gen. It’s a pseudo-definitive prequel!”

And you say NOOOO. No. no.

No. no. no no. Stop. No.

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And then he makes you the guy who has to write the damn thing, and make sure it isn’t an unwatchable piece of filmwork. And you have to get paid a huge amount of money, and go on the witness protection program, and take your inspiration from fanfiction in order to write the plot of a film which auto-retcons itself out of canon, and then you see it made and see Zachary Quinto cast as Spock.

I can think of far worse jobs.

X-Men 2006 character list deadpool movie

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I twittered a while back about how it’s not necessarily the desire to experiment, or even god help us the desire to update beloved properties that irritates their fans so much.

It’s not just that it’s a Star Trek movie, nor even that it’s a prequel, though that does take some chutzpah. No, it’s the fact that it’s not Star Trek: Verb Adjective. It’s supposed to be the Star Trek. It’s pretending to be definitive. You can’t call it Transformers: Thought Experiment or GI Joe: What If? because then normal people wouldn’t go see it. Apparently.

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Similarly the trailer for Guy Ritchie’s Guy Ritchie: Sherlock Holmes by Guy Ritchie. [Embedding disabled by request] You can’t call it Sherlock Holmes: The case of the hypermasculine reimagining, because then it wouldn’t fit on a billboard, and 18-30s would get bored saying the title before they finished their sentence, and it wouldn’t be deliciously presumptuous and naughty.

Now, I’ve been told by people whose opinion I respect that Ritchie’s new drug-sniffing dog-bashing Holmes is evil, and wrong. And admittedly after several watchings the trailer gets old and you see that it probably isn’t going to be very good. But not on principle. I went to see Star Trek with a friend who knew very little about Star Trek, being exclusively a Voyager fan. (Hmm. Maybe my parents are right, and I do automatically limit my friend groups to people above a certain threshold of nerdiness.)

prom

prom

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We were in, bliss of blisses, a completely empty theatre so we could make fun of it just enough, and we both walked out having enjoyed it about the same amount, which was quite a lot. I was quite glad I briefed her on the Kobayashi Maru while we were biking over, though it would have been an interesting litmus test if I hadn’t, as I think that bit would have made little sense if you didn’t know what it was all about.

The bit with the Kobayashi Maroo [come on, guys, Japanese pronunciation please] was the closest the movie got to a concession to the fans, since it was hard to follow if you were a non-fan. As geeky archetypes go, Kobayashi Maru is both a shibboleth and a means of feeling exclusive. It’s like Mornington Crescent: you’re either in the know, or you’re not.

superkiss superman lois lane kiss

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Now, I should point out that my nerdly understanding stems from nerd anthropology. I may well have seen fewer episodes of Star Trek than the friend I went with. I certainly remember few enough. I realised only recently that it was actually always my mum’s decision that we watched Next Generation with tea after school: she exerted so little preference pressure but it always happened. Same with Farscape and later, more transparently, SG-1. I don’t think even she could have thought of herself as someone who could be a sci-fi fan, and it fact it may be the glorious @betterthemask who finally brings out that side of my mum in time to become a boxset obsessive when she retires.

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truffleshuffle300fm2No, I actually prefer to read Fans! and to read Wikipedia articles about comic books and TV shows, more than I actually enjoy watching or reading the things themselves. I love being able to dip into incredibly hard-wrought expertise, feel the obsessive passion that drives it through the opaque, wry reserve of Wikipedia house style.

You can literally hear the shouts of exultation and the hours of devotion that go into the restrained superlative of Wikipedia pages on James T. Kirk or Rand al’Thor or, for that matter, Michael Jordan. That stuff is like crack to me. I take an interest, because I’m interested in obsessives and in characters with intricate backstories. Whereas my friend who loves Voyager cannot call herself a Star Trek fan.

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From the Youtube comments on the Star Trek trailer:

Alturiste (2 days ago)           Reply    Spam

Section 31

So, because I’m a fan of only 2 of the 5 other series and because I perhaps haven’t read as many Trek books as you, that makes me a “lesser fan”? What you seem to want do to is impose your own preferences on everyone else. THAT is contradictory to the spirit of Trek.

Don’t make yourself out to be “better” by doing a Nazi-like imposition of your values on other people. If you didn’t like the movie, we can agree to disagree, fine. But don’t demean people who don’t share your taste.

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What I loved about the Abrams Star Trek was that it was clever, satisfying, and that with relatively little contrivance it made itself into a grinning, joyful piece of fan fiction. It mocked its own pretensions of being authoratative, it reveled in slash, it happened in an alt-universe.

Of course, time traveling is cheating. But thank god they didn’t make too much of a meal of it, and thank god it wasn’t the other two much worse premises in the fan fiction trifecta: mind control and fucking Q.

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Don’t let the trailer fool you, it is of course Spock’s story. The Kirk of what will come to be known as Star Trek [2009] disqualifies himself early on as a piece of Gladwell-esque psychological thought-experimentation.

He’s barely there at the movie’s centre to begin with, poor chap, and then we discover that he’s only an idea of what might have been?

greedo shot first

Of course it’s not going to please people. Like chess, bemani or amateur dramatics, Star Trek doesn’t drive sane people mad: it keeps mad people able to interact with the world in a normal, if narrow way. It may be that my friend is unwilling to refer to herself as a trekker (see, I know the right terminology) because trekkers themselves have made it such an all-or-nothing thing.

Extremist fans, figures of easy media pantomiming, have made Star Trek seem like an impenetrable, no-love-for-casuals world. As fans will, their stories are dominated by searches for their own authenticity, claims to definitiveness. Janeway is Satan. DS9 is rubbish. The original series alone is pure. The Abrams Star Trek credits had a “Vulcan and Romulan Language Consultant”, for goodness’ sake.

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(They also had a team of five “Inferno Artists”. How I would love to be able to put that on my passport. Speaking of which: Klingons are conspicuously completely absent from the new film: perhaps they realised that fandom defines itself by its villains, and that they could never modern-gloss klingons to look anything but ridiculous.

I want to see a word-for-word adaptation of Larry Niven’s Ringworld. That’s what I want.)

darth vader whistler's mother

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Another friend of mine was very happy to see Terminator 4, and ambivalent on Transformers 2, but utterly opposed to seeing Star Trek. Not because it was a dumb action movie; it was a dumb action movie with pointy ears. Never mind that Terminator is based on a painfully dated pair of superbly clever but inaccessible action movies (and a regrettable, forgettable third movie).

Those films had Arnie, which makes them acceptable popcorn fodder. If I’d banged on and on about how the first two movies were smart and interesting, I would probably have made the fourth film seem less like a fun night out at the movies. Not because my friend is a moron (she isn’t) but because now-gen blockbuster remakes come with a context and a reputation which they cannot escape, and which determines their branding.

Consumers have remarkably sensitive ideas of context for films: a mere six-month trailer campaign can completely buzz a movie, so what did you think forty years of very grounded, personal pre-jusdgment would do?

The producers of the ’09 Star Trek can strip down the uniforms and cut out the Klingons, but they can’t make it not to boldly go, and so wisely didn’t try.

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Transformers is also difficult because it’s obviously a “known quantity”, but can probably be pigeonholed into “idiot 80’s kids’ stuff revival”, and hence is not completely worthless since X-Men worked. And the Transformers have been subject to brilliant and, more importantly, thorough re-imagining.

The Transformers are barely there in their first film: they are essentially talking firearms. It’s hard to believe that in the comics they’re there in fully realised personality: in one comic there’s an entire pastiche of the detective genre played out exclusively by transforming robots.

This same friend of mine would probably find the idea of a GI Joe movie nothing but comical and interesting, but would never in a million years go to see an Action Man or, worse, a Stretch Armstrong movie. It’s all context. It fascinates me that she didn’t put LOTR in the same vein, nor the new Star Wars trilogy:

“yeah, well, the nerds when we were kids didn’t like Star Wars”, she said. Her reason for not wanting to see Star Trek was the image in her mind of two nerdy trekkies from her school days. One is pretty much normal now. The other, she says, is well weird.

Whoever marketed LOTR and, even better, X-men, deserved a medal for steering their properties out of the waters of fan exclusivity, of fringe. And god help whoever was at the helm of NCC-1701 Marketing, for having to sell a property that has always sustained itself by nicheing itself.

Marketing! damage report!

She cannae’ take no moore, Cap’n!

Simon Pegg probably helped. God damn it that they couldn’t find a Scottish actor, but he probably sold more seats than any other actor in the film. (Winona Ryder was in it and neither of us noticed, and Eric Bana is very good but unrecogniseable.)

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I’m increasingly losing patience for the idea of picking whether a film is good or bad. Especially using plot holes or general “plausibility” as a measure. It’s the most obvious means by which people who decide not to like a movie can justify themselves, and yet it’s so easily turned off. You just decide to like the movie. It’s not hard.

I would have to watch Star Trek another time and think very hard in order to decide whether or not it was a good film. And it doesn’t really matter to me anymore. Blockbusters are becoming harder and harder to judge; enjoyment is colliding with the sheer skill of screenwriters in adapting crackpot ideas. Some are obvious clangers: Terminator 4, by report. That, I would actually watch again, in order to determine what was bad about it.

But I know that I enjoyed Star Trek, that it was easy to enjoy, that the pacing was a little uneven, but no more. And I still enjoyed it. I know that it stretched the imagination a bit in order to get Star Fleet cadets on the bridge and in command time after time.  But I also know that the older-officer-incapacitated-so-cadet-has-to-take-charge scenario is the bread and butter of Star Trek metafiction novels.  So I can enjoy it at that level, too.

The desire for a film to be better should, I think, always involve an idea of how you would have made it better. For fans, anyway. Maybe it’s a sign that I’ll never have my dream scriptwriting job, that right now I can’t think of a better way to have done Star Trek, given the challenge of doing Star Trek.

Also, John Cho is fucking awesome as Sulu. Roll on Hollywood finally recognising the quantity of Asian talent in its midst.

away party

sun splash body art tattoo branding self

phillipeImage from a beach festival I covered over the weekend called, unsurprisingly, “Sun Splash”.

In case the image isn’t clear, the guy in the picture has the logo painted on his shoulder. The body art/temporary tattoos were being done by the Teku Teku Daimyo guys, an environmental project who I interviewed a while ago. They started body art because they were bored at their “information booth” at an earlier festival, and quickly found they were getting a lot of attention. They’ll do requests, but they find many people walk up without something in mind, and so they often end up inking people with the Teku Teku brand or with the brand of the festival.

Now, that’s what I find interesting. This festival is a for-profit in its second year; the first year was rained off. It’s not hard to see why people would willingly get the brand of a local environmental group painted on their skin. But how could this festival possibly command the kind of brand loyalty that lets a customer unselfconsciously tote the brand around? Does it festival stand for something?

Take a more stark example: you wouldn’t be surprised to see someone with a facepaint or even a tattoo that said “Woodstock”, but if you saw a guy with a chest tat that read “The Carling Leeds Weekend ’02”, you would probably assume that it was a  horrible drunken mistake. Likewise, if I had sat down at the Teku Teku body paint booth saying, like many others, “just surprise me”, and walked away with a facepiece of the KFC Colonel, I’d probably be walking straight into the sea.

So what prompts those hot young things to offer up their bodies? Well, the festival does have elements that a customer might identify with or want to promote: it still feels local and has a pleasant ramshackleness. And the tattoo does have a kind of ‘I was there’ kudos, albeit in a very temporary, digital camera instant-nostalgia sort of way. Neither I nor any of my friends ever bought any Leeds Festival-branded tat, even when in desperate need of new clothes on the morning of day 3. But we did wear our weekender entrance wristbands as a badge of pride for six months or more afterwards; and heaven help you if you tried to suggest that the Carling Reading Festival was in any sense superior. Our riots were better.

The upshot of all this is that I sat in the sunshine for a while with my rum and coke and lashings of cocktail-gouging water, and I thought about how to recruit people as auto-branders when it’s a matter of life and death, not a question of transient fun.

There are always some people who will auto-brand, based on the merits of, or their relation with, the product or message in question. They are mavens or activists, A-players, boxset bullies who force their favorite show on you, with the entitlement to be offended if you don’t give it a good shot. Those people are great, they’re what marketers of every stripe have been trying to grab since Tipping Point, probably none with more success than the Obama campaign.

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Hence I first started thinking hypothetically about how to recruit “those guys”. They will be the battleground state for the next British election,all sides having paid neurotically close attention to the American proceedings. Some young, cool, potentially persuasive people will be longing for “their Obama”. Some will already be burnt out on the possibility. Add to that the fact that politics commands so little fervour in this country relative to America, and I suspect all sides will find it a challenge to get any hip teens putting up posters in sixth form or organizing debate parties.

It’s not helped by the fact that activism in this country has proven itself able to form itself into a bloc, what will come to be called ‘Generation G8’ or some similar shit, but this bloc is one which the two leading parties will probably find impossible to own. Arguably the concerns and priorities of the “four horsemen” align much closer than the unlikely union of Karl Rove’s bloc of business, heavy labour, religious conservatism and Southerndom. Nonetheless it would take an almost unimaginable shift in image for those people and the people they influence to support either leading party.

Passion is always cool, activism is always cool, but it may still not be hip by the time the next election rumbles around. Probably one or both sides will have got some foothold among peer-influencers, probably in part through the use of Social Networks to spread and ubiquitize increasingly complex messages, to counter the relatively primitive, pervasive images of the two lead parties which allow me to make such sweeping generalisations.

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Social Media allows you to spread complex messages more quickly, and as a Social Media sycophant I firmly believe it allows complex messages to be couched within the real relationships and networks which have far more influence on consumption and voting. If two of the people on your friend list get politicised, then it is instantly and potentially-pervasively visible. The argument is always in the light and always among real people.

One problem is shared by the Red and Blue teams, and that is apathy and political disillusionment, and that is why this war will be fought tooth and nail. UK politics is dogged by the appearance of impenetrability and a lack of a sense of consequence, which causes a reaction of increasingly simple stereotypes: politicians as hogs or dogs, incompetent or malicious (though “simple” belies the huge amount of sophisticated thought and design which goes into sustaining those images).

It should (theoretically) be relatively easy to convince individuals of the irrelevance of this image to political reality, which is why I believe that the that party wins the youth will be the party who first effectively communicates a complex message, one which entices young, independent-minded potential activists to identify with it, and which crucially pays respect to their ways and thoughts. The message may not take this exact form, but I think it will be the same in gist: It’s Time to Grow Up.

A message like that is a challenge to the reader, and when it is passed onto you by a person you respect, you’re challenged to take it seriously. It acknowledges the grimy past, makes a gesture of un-sugaring it, and it makes a show of asking not for your loyalty but your decision. It is, inherently, British.

If the theory were actually used the slogan would likely be softer, something twee like “Let’s Get Serious”, especially if used by Labour. As the incumbents Labour would find ITGU even more dangerous a slogan, but they have even more need of recruiting and building cells of people suceptable to a certain kind of aggressive message. And this is a message that would provoke votes, good and bad.

After all, slogans are public property, used to hang the authors as often as the opposition. The main danger of such a caustic, demanding slogan would be that while it tried to earn respect from one group it could be used to alienate another. By demographing the message you might be accused of political larceny: using different words to different people. And even if you wanted to, the idea of keeping the message within its target demograph is completely untenable. It would be harder, not easier to contain, assuming the message will be communicated on the supposed “youth-scapes” of the Facetubes and Myboxes.

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Even more important, transparency has to be the law when you’re conducting people politics online. If a message comes from your office, no matter how it’s released, you have to take responsibility for it, and let your opponents publicly hold it to any standards they wish. Attempting to astroturf or disguise your work in social networks may still work on some people, but it is kryptonite to the kind of thoughtful, hyper-brand-sensitive, potentially brand-loyalist person that you are trying to politicize. The kind of person who could read and respect It’s Time to Grow Up, and pass it on to people who want to grow up just like them.

robin by batamarang from bugs is icky

Even if the message is different from what I predict, the market is the same. They are sharp, they are pragmatic, they are active. They can take a message that assumes that they are realists, that they are bruised but not finished. They are IT-GUys. And, political idealist that I am, I believe that if you treat people like one, talk to them one-on-one, like they’ve got some sense, you’ll find that almost anyone can be one.

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But then, maybe I’m being idealistic and contradictory. I’ve argued extensively about the limitations of the Internet as a medium for political “radicalisation”, and after all radicalisation is what we’re talking about: recruiting activists, putting them in cells, giving them the tools to work with but little central instruction. Maybe it’s for the best that I don’t have the ear of anyone important. Yet.

So, thanks to Teku Teku and the fact that I was about to apply for  an unpaid internship for a green concern, I began thinking about the same branding problems in a situation when the message was environmentalism: relatively baggage-free and appealing across the board. Of course, the strategy is much the same: the liberal=environmental abstract=ideal equation isn’t as strong in Britain as in America, but isn’t going away anytime soon (though hopefully the irony is no longer lost on “conservatives” of every stripe).

I present to you then, a different slogan for the same theory: the name of a group, a movement, a new realism, a new aggression, a new appeal to the jaded: Out Of Our Way. A slogan for a group just entering adulthood and preparing the face the consequences of a previous generation’s laziness and abuse. For a generation ready for the first time to go out of its way, to lose some of its conveniences, for the sake of the future. A generation that realises that everything on Earth is part of our environment, that nothing is “out of our way”. And a generation that realises that nothing is out of its reach.

Right?

jivejournal

p

PS Who are these people? They are some of these people.

Path ology

Brilliant, minimal comic on cancer below, from Phd. Cancer’s terrifying, and even if it has passed close to you, you still hear about its atrocities like you’d hear about the pathology of some foreign army, butchering and tainting and warping the need to grow. I’ve heard about cancer my entire life and I still have no idea about what it does, still conflicted about how to fight it. Bleak as it is, this puts it in perspective.

phd cancer cure comic cartoon boston