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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]

p

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

p

“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.”

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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

p

[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.

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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.

p

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.

p

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.

p

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.

p

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.

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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

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Supplementary to yesterday’s rather dour post on the media implications of US foreign policy jostling: Reza Aslan’s How to Win a Cosmic War.

Globalization and especially the power of the Internet, Aslan explains, have enabled alienated Muslim youth in the Middle East and Europe to find a collective identity through religious symbols. Rather than go through the years of study necessary to join established religious institutions, jihadism is a kind of short cut. But having joined this movement, what makes some decide to join the ranks of mass murderers while others just cheer from the sidelines? Aslan doesn’t offer a convincing answer. –via Jamie Rubin

Yesterday I thought about raising the question of whether actual, suicidal violence isn’t the most extreme form of a turning inwards: an intolerance, growing into an inability, to listen to or even encounter alternative points of view. Put another way, take ‘extroverted’ haters, who troll ideologically-opposing discussion sites and who attempt, at some level at least, to engage with the ‘wrong-headed’. Even if only in terms of designing abuse to provoke a reaction. Are these, who encounter opposition at the ‘battle line’, less likely to commit acts of violence than people who get their ‘news’ strictly from the World’s End presses, the ideologue or the online pulpit, who burrow themselves into recursions of confirmation and vindication?

I think maybe. I think that debate, however broad you stretch the term, is always better than staying within a system which sees enemies as totally ‘other’, and which tries to construct all ‘others’ as uniformly ‘enemy’. I think that might be part of a wider definition of ‘asymmetric warfare’.

But who knows? Probably the middle-class 18-25 year olds in Wahabism’s key demo are well informed and sincerely disgusted by the depredations of the world around them. Certainly American Christian exretmism couldn’t be characterised as ignorant of the world, though one might argue they are either attuned or taught to see everything through certain specific blinders.

Put it in the terms of a con: is the clincher in the pitch, or is it in the mark himself?

[straying dangerously close to Darrow Defense territory here]

Maybe the difference is where ideological recruits aren’t taught to debate or challenge, since the evil is portrayed as being in blood so far stepped that argument becomes pointless.

HG Wells believed that education would sooner or later raise everyone to the same moral level. I’m not ready to rule that out just yet, at least for most of the people, most of the time. But I am certain that information is not education. The way you receive your information can force or encourage you to see it in a certain way, but the medium is not inherently good or bad. Much as I hate to admit it, growing up accustomed to free online information distribution isn’t the same as education; it’s a form of conditioning, one that’s likely to provoke resistance as well as enlightenment.

Back to the thesis again: the web isn’t an inherently radicalising medium, nor even an inherently polarising medium. It is, however, an effective fetishizing medium.

Enough of the moral stuff. Tomorrow: back to killer apps.

if you like something you shouldn’t put a wig on it

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ridley scott forever war joe halderman concept art

New post up at If it has a name know it: The Forever War, G20 and other guttering splutterings.

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I and @iduncan have made the agonising decision to wait for the Japanese cinema release rather than getting the movie by other means. So long as we don’t snap and download it before then.

Dann sind wir Helden

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