Previous Posts: Uncategorized / General: November 2014

No Analysis Please, We're Audiences Dept.

Analysis is not an assault on the audience's identity.

GamerGate, criticism, ideology and 'They Live' | Polygon

This fight to maintain a surface enjoyment of video games makes sense. If you see that games support a certain political idea you have to somehow react to it. If you begin to explore what the content you consume means you then have to do something. That takes effort, and saying something is "just a game" is not only easier, but more comfortable.

People get hung up with the idea that violent games make people violent, which is a tired argument. The real danger isn't just in actions but in patterns of thought. Do I think that Call of Duty makes you pick up a gun? Not really. Do I worry that it makes us accepting, if not welcoming, of a certain type of armed conflict? Absolutely.

Those two grafs highlight something I see a great deal in most knee-jerk reactions to critical discussion: the idea that something should not have a deeper level of meaning, because then we'd have to go through the painful business of having to actually think about it.

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Tags: criticism games media

Good Guy, Bad Guy, I'm The One With The Brain Dept.

Why black and white views of the world are self-inflicted, and self-crippling.

Stumbling and Mumbling: Hammett's world

Why do we cleave to the presumption of Manichaeism rather than the Hammettian conception?* I suspect the answer lies more in psychology than in facts. We want to preserve what Richard Sennett called a purified identity and hunger for what Christopher Lasch called "psychic security". In an age of narcissism people want to believe - often without troubling to read a word of moral philosophy  - that they are right and others wrong and the wish is the father to the thought.   

There's a dismaying amount of truth to this view, and it's not something limited to politics, of course, but that's where it manifests most blatantly and painfully. Society is not in the business of training its people to be skeptical of their notions, of being comfortable with being uncomfortable, as Pema Chödrön might have put it. It's in the business of indoctrination, largely as a way to keep the whole machine running. That there are ways to do this that do not involve indoctrination is a point too subtle for most societies to grasp. After all, they're not in the business of putting themselves out of business and replacing themselves with something better.

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Tags: philosophy psychology sociology

Test To Destruction Dept.

On the idea of "troll it 'till it breaks".

Earlier in the week I noticed someone online using the term "troll it 'till it breaks", in reference to how to respond to some nitwit piece of legislation. Jump on it until the inherent absurdity of what it is becomes exposed by sheer force, and then maybe enough people will wake up that the item in question will be killed. The best way to test something, in other words, is to see where its breaking point lies.

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Tags: psychology sociology

The Liar In The Mirror Dept.

On the fine line between "I only believe in facts and logic" and "If I believe this, it must be logical and factual".

At some point everyone sporting a brain has to break their shins on the realization that they are the easiest person in the world to fool. Beyond that lies yet another rough frontier to conquer: that the antidote to such self-delusion is not to tell yourself, "I'm no fool!" because that just sets you up for all new ways to be fooled.

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Tags: intellectualism skepticism Zen

The Pixel Factory Dept.

On Pixar's alleged slide into crass commercialism.

Is Pixar's Run of Greatness Over? - The Atlantic

[Apart from Inside Out and one other project], [e]very other upcoming Pixar feature that’s been announced is a sequel. Finding Dory in 2016, Toy Story 4 in 2017, and (as yet unscheduled) The Incredibles 2 and (brief shudder) Cars 3. For those keeping track at home, that’s a total of four announced sequels and two announced non-sequels. It’s tough to think of a more conspicuous advertisement that the creative wells at Pixar are running dry.

Dissenting POV here. I don't think it's that the plenitude of the creative wells that are the issue here. I think it's more a question of the effort-to-payoff ratio. If you know people are going to line up around the block for something with a given name on it, you lean that much more towards creating such a thing as a time- and cost-saving measure. Yes, cost-saving — the cost of not having to go through the trouble of iterating until you come up with something original that works, and the cost of worrying about how well it'll fly with an audience that knows nothing about it. Nothing succeeds like the same old success.

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Tags: advertising creativity creators Disney distribution marketing Pixar

Faking The Funk Dept.

On the word "fraud" as a term of critique.

Fraud is such an ugly word, one made all the uglier by its thoughtless misuse.

In the span of less than a month I have see separate essays that have decried the words of Alejandro G. Inarritu and David Foster Wallace as fraudulent, with the artists in question labeled as frauds. This is not a new thing, either; on searching my memory I can recall any number of instances where a critic or even a fellow artist blasted off an F-bomb at some target or another. I suspect I've done it any number of times on my own. If I have, it's high time I quit.

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Tags: creativity criticism

A Classic Dilemma Dept.

Young-adult fiction and the classics, once again.

A good, and appropriately narrowed discussion, of why the Percy Jackson books may be their own reward:

Young Adult Fiction Doesn't Need to Be a 'Gateway' to the Classics - The Atlantic

... one of the messages of Percy Jackson, and of a lot of kids' literature, is that children are not just waiting to pick their lives up when they're grown, but are heroes of their own stories now. That's a lesson that adults have trouble with, if the condescension and contempt in the discussion of children's reading is any indication. Maybe the people who really need to read Percy Jackson are the grown-ups.

Again, I'm of two minds. Yes, it helps not to give kids something too stale for them to chew on, and if they blossom all the more enthusiastically because of something trendy, great.

That said, I'd bet what they find stale and antiquated is something best left to them to discover, and not something dictated to them arbitrarily. And in the long run, it helps to get them to discover the stuff that has stuck around as long as it has for good reason.

So, there does need to be a way to reach the classics, but let's not count on YA fiction as a way to do it. It'll save both the classics and YA fiction from taking on burdens neither of them benefit from.

Tags: fiction readers reading young-adult fiction

All Of My Heroes Have Been Dead Men Dept.

There's no hero worth having that's not also worth growing past.

I'm at about the age, I think, when most of my childhood heroes begin to die off.

This isn't something you notice all at once. No one departure sets off the alarm bells. But one day, you look around, and the emptiness of the room, the dents in the couch where fine company once sat, resonates with you like a struck bell. Fixtures of my childhood imagination, like Moebius and H.R. Giger, are gone now. Men and women who gave my life direction and purpose in adolescence and early adulthood — Roger Ebert, Akira Kurosawa, Kurt Vonnegut, Nan Robertson, Stanisław Lem, all nothing but names now. Former employers, childhood friends, family members.

They are all now nothing but a double handful of cold earth. Two dates separated by a dash.

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Tags: death hero psychology

My Ears! My Ears! Dept.

Few things hurt a writer worse than having a tin inner ear.

Richard Ford’s Hero Returns in ‘Let Me Be Frank With You’ -

Frank [the protagonist of Ford's novel] almost seems like a parody of a professorial liberal, who talks about buying Aaron Copland’s “whole oeuvre” online. Which brings us to another problem with Mr. Ford’s depiction of Frank in these pages, a problem Updike also had, at times, in depicting Rabbit: that is, a tendency to ascribe dialogue or thoughts to their middle-class, Everyman characters that are hard to imagine being evinced by anyone but the most literary minded of individuals. Would Frank — retired real estate agent and former sportswriter — really describe a remark he’s just made as his “best go-to Roethke line”? Or think: “The suburbs are supposedly where nothing happens, like Auden said about what poetry doesn’t do; an over-inhabited faux terrain dozing in inertia, occasionally disrupted by ‘a Columbine’ or ‘an Oklahoma City’ or a hurricane to remind us what’s really real”?

Before I go an iota further, let me install my foot in my mouth good and proper and declare that I find the works of Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, and the rest of that post-Updike, post-Roth crew to be some of the most gawdawful boring "Lit'rary" old-white-dude navel-gaze since they started giving out the National Book Award.

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Tags: literature writers writing

Der Ding An Sicht Dept.

Writing: the work that validates itself. (But who really believes that?)

At some point, I'm not exactly sure when, I started telling something to people who told me they wanted to be a writer: "Is that something you want to spend at least an hour a day doing for the rest of your life, whether or not a single other living soul on God's green earth gives a damn? If so, get in line; there's a million others waiting." (That said, I couldn't present you with statistics about how many of them find another hobby after such a speech.)

If it sounds gauche of me to discourage other people, or if it sounds like I'm harboring some resentment of possible future competition, believe me, it isn't that. It's just that there are still staggering numbers of people who get into this game without the slightest idea of why. They think it's about validation of their ego, or about people patting them on the head for their originality or their ideas, and trust me, it's not about any of those things. It's about ...

... writing.


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Tags: Brad Warner creativity writers writing

Right Here, Right Now Dept.

Action in the present moment: for you and you alone.

I suspect some of what scares people away from Buddhism, even when they get past the b.s. pop Buddhism that's being thrown around, is because some of the claims it makes about what you're supposed to be doing seem alienating or counterintuitive. One of the ideas that really bakes people's cookies is the notion that there really isn't such a thing as the past or the future, so the only thing that counts is the present moment and action in the present moment.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries in the Uncategorized / General category from November 2014.

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