Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘books’

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.

p

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.

p

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

p

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.

p

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

p

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

p

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.

p

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.

p

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.

p

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.

p

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.

p

(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

p

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.

p

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.)

p

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

Read Full Post »

Image post up at If it Has a Name, from the Nagasaki Lantern Festival.

p1050872

nagasaki manga-ka portrait sketch

There I was, peacefully pondering the remarkable level of Oedipal tension subcontext in Back to the Future 2, when we found a manga-ka doing portraits for a measly grand. Mine, as I mention on If it Has a Name, is similar to a picture of me done by some Chinese students of mine a few years ago: it seems to deeply begrudge the beard attached as an afterthought to an otherwise blank expanse of emasculate bishi features.

manga mangaka sketch bishi bishonen

manga mangaka sketch bishi bishonen

manga mangaka sketch bishi bishonen

Cho-chan (male, 22) posing for a sketch.

I’d love to write about the cultural significance of Japan’s love affair with the bishonen, the gender-ambiguous razor-jawed boy-woman. Bishi protagonists are generally the sign of weak or indulgent plotting, while as a sidekick/secondary character they generally serve to highlight the relative normalcy of the protagonist with extreme martial ability, sports, queerness or flamboyant humour, similar to the figure of the “perverted best friend”.

"What childish, infantile, immature and entirely uncreative mind could have come up with Buttlord GT is entirely out of my comprehension"

"What childish, infantile, immature and entirely uncreative mind could have come up with Buttlord GT is entirely out of my comprehension"

Compare the non-protagonist at the centre of The 10k Commotion, whose mystic bishi-abilities (especially at Dance Dance Revolution) drive the story while never allowing him much of a personality.

dynamite 10k tenkay commotion

Also compare the absent Mary-Sue poetess protagonist at the centre of Priya Sarukkai Chabria’s generation 14. The actual protagonist is both a clone and a reincarnation of her ‘Original’, whose work was so revolutionary that it threatened her post-dystopian world, causing her to be killed midsentence.

generation 14 priya sarukkai chabria

Can’t find a single better cover image, and it’s nowhere on Amazon. Best get it from Penguin India here. Extracts here.

p

p

p

p

p

p

p

The clone narrator has a mutation which enables her to remember her Original and her other past lives, and her cognitive development is a combination of fan-fiction and a Bloom-style Oedipal urge towards her ineffable, genetically perfect poète fatale ancestral donor. She is urged to to become her, to recall her work perfectly, but she also wishes to slay her with her own Work, establish her own identity. It has its problems but it’s excellent psy-fi. Recommended.

manga mangaka sketch bishi bishonen

Nat with her alternate-universe femme fatale persona.

Finally, the best thing about Generation 14 so far, appropriately enough, is the epigraph. Like The God of Small Things, which Emiko kindly lent me, it’s obsessed with the multiplicity of life and hence of Work: Roy’s epigraph is John Berger, “Never again will a single story be told/ as though it’s the only one”. Chabria’s, which I will re-rob without shame for Iland, is a Leonard Cohen extract which I somehow hadn’t come across before.

Ring all the bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There’s a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

p

Is plagiarism a problem on the internet? Well, yes. The waka I wrote at If it Has a Name is, I said, a simple sentiment in a consciously finite format, and so I find it hard to believe it has not been written before, even if it is formally incorrect: I line-break a subject particle, for instance. I don’t have the heart to google it.

Is plagiarism inevitable on the internet? Well, logically it is becoming exponentially more difficult to identify except in oneself, and so it may be approaching a stage where it exists suspended between being inevitable and being indeterminable.

As a concept, is plagiarism being subjectivised out of existence? Well, that depends on what you believe about reading the internet. Whether you believe that online people are automatically exposed to a proportionally, ideologically and stylistically broader field of reading material. Or whether you believe that online reading allows people to constrict their reading, to micro-manage their language and its signifiers. Which is the old argument about the Daily Me all over again.

Extract from a covering letter, sent with CV to a very interesting company who wanted to know applicants’ opinion about the success of one internet institution. I haven’t heard back. Oh well.

Feel free to skip.

I took every opportunity for personal research during my course to study online communications, including a course essay on the language of bias in supposedly non-ideological “News Watchdog” sites, and my thesis, entitled “The Information Sphere: Ideology and Langauge in News on the Internet”.

Inevitably, some of the ideas I formed in this thesis have been modified by the online news revolution in the late stages of the American election, and the current status of The Huffington Post is an interesting study.

In the thesis I argued that the internet does not have an inherently ‘radicalising’ influence on newsreading, as in Sunstein’s ‘Daily Me’ argument, nor does the proliferation of ‘citizen journalism’ necessarily herald the deprofessionalisation of journalism as many have argued, notably CNN’s Christiane Amanour.

This said, I did argue that because of the experience of choice in newsreading, and the increasing experience of participation, users would tend to develop ‘personal news cycles’: first referring to a small group of professional newsroom services, which are increasingly pressured to present “unbiased” newswire copy, the users then research and participate in news communities grouped by affiliation.

At the time of writing I cited Drudge, but his power as a maven ended with the election and his embarrassing himself (in my opinion) in the final weeks. The current era belongs to the more openly slanted magazine/conversation-styled Huff, and its web and talk-radio counterparts on the right wing, of which a web leader has yet to emerge.

I think Huff’s popularity is partly a result of its nurturing a returned sense of community in politics, which Drudge’s ‘insider’ aggregation approach rejects, and partly a result of its responding to a demand for personality in news content.

For the future: successful attempts to create a single ‘news homepage’ have rarely worked and will probably get rarer, and so I think Huff’s investment in for example sports and even entertainment reporting is probably wide of their core business, when specialised alternatives like Gawker are proliferating.

teenaged in the pace age

p

Update: Instead of “are proliferating” I should have said “are proliferate”, though CVs in general make poor canvases for experimental adjectivism. I need to find myself a word that’s between proliferate and profligate, to describe the status of sites with a high, cultivated visibility but an uncertain readership, like Gawker or American Apparel ads.

Read Full Post »

Endorsionists

Photo post finally up at If it has a name know it.

p1050521

p1040010

p1050341

I would have loved to build up a portfolio of examples of Indian advertising, which is simultaneously more primitive and more advanced than anywhere else. The wit, the sex, the ubiquitous dead-eyed celebrity endorsionists, the absolute clarity of impulse; it all walks the line between maternally iron-clad prelapsarian filial values and sexual endorsement.

It may be the most advanced in the world, in terms of biological imperative

so to speak.

Incidentally, two superb books I read while I was there were Amruta Patil’s Kari and Ambarish Satwik’s Perineum: Nether Parts of Empire, neither of which can be too highly recommended. I’d hesitate to describe Kari as my discovery of indigenous Indian comic writing, as I think its near-unique use of image and word isn’t representative of a particularly Indian style but of an eclectic talent. It’s claustrophobic, densely sexual bed-time reading for copywriters, right at the edge of Indian modernit: Kari herself is like an angry, newly- sexually- disenfrachised superhero.

satwik1849_full_kari

Perineum could only have been written by a surgeon, and a Delhi one at that: it’s got a livid, twitching yet placid intelligence that’s only Indian. It’s essentially a collection of fictitious documents rather than a short-story collection, which is what drew me to it in the first place: a series of exercises in imitated style: formal and phatic, clinical and cruel, from every angle of the colonial equation and from every stage of conquest, and every morsel has an erogenous relish for the anatomical and a polyglotted ear for endlessly reinventive English, the kind you sometimes catch at the edge of Rushdie.

I was reading Fury on my flight back and enjoying it before I left it on the plane; and restraining myself from thinking terms like over-literate. I.e. I was stopping myself both from criticising the Rushdie of Fury’s vocal tic of constant referencing, and from trying to Uncle-Tom him with a puritannical preference for the alien, invented Indian English of Perineum.

Authenticity and its pursuit was already a perceptible undertow in this holiday: bought authenticity, pained-for authenticity, briefly-but-memorably interrogative authenticity. Doing hotels and travelling with ‘locals’, it was a great comfort to the ego of a former backpacker scum to observe Indian people with no particularly reverent sense of their country’s paradoxes, its disparities or its uncommodifiable Realness. An Indian can travel 200 miles within the country and be a foreigner in terms of language and tradition; he can hop over a wall and be in a different world in terms of economy and mores.

cat and girl bought authenticity

gaijin is still better than gweilo

Read Full Post »