rynling: (Default)
I'm reading Hillary Clinton's new book What Happened, and so far it makes sense and confirms a lot of what I've read from other sources, but there's one paragraph almost exactly in the middle of the book (location 3336 in the Kindle edition) that made me go What the literal fuck:

Technologists like Elon Musk, Sam Altman, and Bill Gates, and physicists like Stephen Hawking have warned that artificial intelligence could one day pose an existential security threat. Musk has called it "the greatest risk we face as a civilization." Think about it: Have you ever seen a movie where the machines start thinking for themselves that ends well? Every time I went out to Silicon Valley during the campaign, I came home more alarmed about this. My staff lived in fear that I'd start talking about the "rise of the robots" in some Iowa town hall. Maybe I should have.
Okay, um... I'm glad someone is taking this "existential security threat" seriously. I think Mark O'Connell's To Be a Machine paints a much more realistic picture of where we stand with advances in artificial intelligence, but you can't blame grandma for trying, bless her heart.

For the record, I respect Hillary Clinton immensely, and it's been my impression that the negative reviews of What Happened are extremely mean-spirited and don't reflect the actual content of the book. Still, I got a good chuckle out of this one random paragraph. If I were the sort of person who wrote political fic, I would totally write a story about how Clinton's email server achieves sentience and takes down the current administration. Although honestly, what with the president doing things like making up African countries in a speech to the United Nations, I'm not entirely sure this isn't already happening.
rynling: (Default)
I saw the movie IT last weekend, and it was a good, solid, well-made piece of Hollywood cinema.

Twitter has also been a lot of fun this past week, with people making all sorts of jokes and comics about how they could easily be lured into the sewers with promises of controlled rent and affordable healthcare (this is a good example). This somehow (it's a long story) morphed into fan art of Pennywise and the Babadook dating and doing things like reading picture books and holding balloons (and so on). Some people have tried to explain this by saying that the young Scandinavian actor who plays Pennywise is actually quite attractive (which is true), but I think Twitter's recent obsession with Pennywise is nothing more than people playing around with something that is inherently silly and ridiculous.

If I had to read more deeply into this, I might say that there is a long history of horror movie monsters being coded as queer, and so people facetiously shipping Pennywise and the Babadook is about the normalization of queer romance, which was often characterized as monstrous in the era of postwar American horror films that IT references. I might also say that, now that many people have been forced to confront real-life political monsters due to the rise of militant xenophobic nationalism on a global scale, something like Pennywise (or the Babadook, whose film is widely understood as a Marxist-feminist critique of contemporary Australian society) doesn't actually seem that scary. In the end, these comics seem to be suggesting, it may be preferable to hang out with one's fellow "monsters" in the sewer than to be forced to deal with the monsters who are currently in charge of creating public policy.

Meanwhile, on Tumblr, there are several posts in circulation that are basically saying, WHY ARE ALL THESE ASSHOLES WHO SHIP PENNYWISE AND THE BABADOOK RUINING EVERYTHING BY DEMONIZING QUEER ROMANCE. These sentiments are so performatively radical and ignorant of actual queer issues that they read almost as parodies of Tumblr culture, yet they've received tens of thousands of notes and have been reblogged by people in my own circles of fandom who, by all rights, are old enough to know better.

Personally, I tend to think that people who care about representation in popular media would be better served by celebrating all the things that the actual movie did right, especially in its adaptation of the source material. Let's be real, the book was borderline homophobic in its villainization of queer sexuality. To give an example, in the original novel, Mike Hanlon (the farm kid who stays in Derry and becomes a librarian) is only allowed to join the central circle of friends because another kid turns out to be gay and thus too weak, mean-spirited, and cowardly to fight evil. In the movie, however, one of the child heroes is not only very clearly coded as gay but also gets a lot of screentime, character development, and fantastic lines. Also, unlike the book, there is no bizarre and intensely heteronormative child orgy at the end of the movie, thank goodness.

I feel like, if you want to talk about social justice as it applies to IT, there are so many more interesting and meaningful ways to go about it than to yell about how gay artists on Twitter are making jokes about the love life of a fictional clown monster, good grief.
rynling: (Teh Bowz)
In a chapter of her new book Kill All Normies titled "From Tumblr to the Campus Wars: Creating Scarcity in an Online Economy of Virtue," Angela Nagle summarizes her theory on how the right was able to take political power even while the left has become more stridently vocal. She writes:

In the early days of Twitter, a platform in which users are supposed to compete for followers and through which lagging careers can be instantly boosted through the correct virtue signaling, minor celebrities realized that one could attract a following greater than through traditional media. At first, self-righteously or snarkily denouncing others for racism, sexism or homophobia was the most instantaneous and certain way to achieve social media fame. Something about social media platforms, it turned out, was conducive to the vanity of morally righteous politics and the irresistible draw of the culture wars. But soon the secret was out and everyone was doing it. The value of the currency of virtue that those who had made their social media cultural capital on was in danger of being suddenly devalued. As a result, I believe, a culture of purging had to take place, largely targeting those in competition for this precious currency. Thus, the attacks increasingly focused on other liberals and leftists often with seemingly pristine progressive credentials, instead of those who engaged in any actual racism, sexism or homophobia.
Although I tend to think that Tumblr functions differently than Twitter in a number of meaningful ways, this hypothesis makes sense. In fact, I've posted multiple times here on Dreamwidth about how confusing and frustrating it's been for me to be attacked for seemingly minor infractions (such as finding nonwhite fictional characters attractive in the "wrong" way) on Tumblr while actual literal white supremacists drove the U.S. presidential election and were then treated seriously in the discursive forums of mainstream media.

That being said, Nagle's ostensible emphasis on rationality and resulting lack of empathy for other human beings calls her conclusions on leftist culture into question in its creation of major critical gaps. To give an example of what I mean, Nagle is deeply steeped in academic ideology (she wrote a dissertation about this, after all), but for some reason she refuses to reference any political theorists who aren't white, male, and European. As a result, the only women who appear in her discussion are either (a) real or hypothetical victims of online harassment, (b) "special snowflakes" on Twitter and/or Tumblr, or (c) herself, whom she repeatedly positions as being above the "fetishization of vulnerability" that she claims characterizes identity politics.

Essentially, Nagle is uncomfortable looking at the current political situation from the intellectual perspective of anyone who is not white, male, and European. This leads her to make numerous statements such as the following, which precedes a brief discussion of Gamergate:

First, let me be clear on my own position on gaming. If you're an adult, I think you should probably be investing your emotional energies elsewhere. And that includes feminist gaming, which has always struck me as being about as appealing as feminist porn; in other words, not at all.

Statements like this demonstrate that, for someone who goes through great pains in order to connect the contemporary alt-right to twentieth-century academic political philosophy, Nagle really... hasn't done all of the required reading, I guess.

Even though what Nagle is saying about the self-cannibalization of identity politics on Tumblr makes sense, I find it difficult to have any faith in her overall argument, which is basically that the trolls on Reddit and 4chan hate Tumblr-based leftist culture because of course they do, any sane person would. I mean, that's a reasonable thing to say, but it's not really a thesis statement that I would expect someone with a PhD to make, you know? What I'd like to see is a more sensitive and nuanced critique of Tumblr-based political culture from the perspective of someone who is more sympathetic to the concerns of the people who have created communities there; but, to be fair, Kill All Normies is very clear regarding the fact that its focus is on white men.
rynling: (Default)
The Books
The Hunger Games

What This Is
A series of three books by Suzanne Collins that was adapted into four movies. I've read the books but haven't seen the movies.

Are women raped and murdered?
No one is raped, but one minor male character alludes to having been the victim of sexual abuse as a young man. Plenty of people are murdered (that's what the battle royale referred to as "the Hunger Games" is all about), but the murder is equal opportunity.

Are existing power structures maintained?
Existing power structures are whittled down to their bare bones. There's a social hierarchy with a ruling class at the top, and people are not permitted to move between classes, which are reinforced through geographical sequestration. The third book is concerned with a revolution that is ultimately successful, but it's strongly suggested that this violent upheaval has only resulted in one dictator being replaced by another. At the end of the book, the hero of the revolution, Katniss Everdeen, returns to the ruins of her former home to spend the rest of her life alone, convinced that nothing has changed or will ever change.

This is yet another story in which I ended up sympathizing with the villain. After he's captured, President Snow bitterly explains to Katniss that, while the Hunger Games are disgusting and barbaric, they're necessary in order to prevent another war on the scale of the conflict that caused the apocalypse. If the terrible loss of life and widespread destruction of the revolution against Snow's regime is any indication of how the world of these books operates, he's not wrong.
rynling: (Cecil Palmer)
The Book/s
Y: The Last Man, written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Pia Guerra

What This Is
a sixty-issue comic series put out by Vertigo that ran from 2003 to 2008

Are existing power structures maintained?
More or less, but with a twist. The premise is that all of the male creatures in the world (except for one dude and his pet monkey) suddenly drop dead one day. The remaining women do a fairly decent job of keeping the lights on and the trains running. The problems that arise have more to do with the sudden drop in population than they do with anything really changing, and it's strongly suggested at multiple points that, the imminent demise of our species (and many other species) aside, humanity might be better off with no men. A lot of this feels pandering and not really grounded in the complexities of the real world, though. For example, the food shortage in the comic makes no sense given the highly gendered nature of food production (including the production of manufactured food) in the twenty-first century.

Are women raped and murdered?
Women murder other women – and how! – but no one is raped EXCEPT FOR some kinky nonconsensual bondage in which the protagonist is psychologically manipulated for his own good by a secret agent who wants him to confront a key truth about himself. This is highly reminiscent of that gross series of scenes from Wizard's First Rule in which the male protagonist is raped by a dominatrix who only wants him to grow stronger. I'm not a big fan of the trope of "fantasy rape training," which doesn't take into full consideration what "rape" actually means to people who have to deal with it on more than an abstract level.

I was talking about why I have so much trouble getting behind Y: The Last Man with an intern the other day, and she was like, "Even if there's only one man left in the entire world, he still gets to be the protagonist and point-of-view character." This summarizes so many of the problems I have with this comic. Every day I make a blood sacrifice and thank the elder gods that Brian K. Vaughan found Fionna Staples to work with on Saga.
rynling: (Cecil Palmer)
The Book/s
East of West, written by Jonathan Hickman and drawn by Nick Dragotta

What This Is
a comic series put out by Image that's been ongoing since March 2013

Are existing power structures maintained?
The premise of the story is that the Civil War only ended when a comet hit North America in the early twentieth century. After this small apocalypse, various regions on the continent established their own sovereignty, with areas of land such as Texas, California, and the Louisiana Purchase becoming separate political entities. Each of these countries has its own unique culture and government, but they're all slouching toward a larger apocalypse that will be set off when a late Cold War style detente is broken by eschatological religious fervor at the highest levels of leadership. In any case it's cool to see things like corporate Washington and neo-Orientalist Los Angeles side together to break an alliance between monarchist New Orleans and a cyberpunk First Nation.

Are women raped and murdered?
It's entirely possible that I'm forgetting something, but I don't think anyone is raped, and the murder is equal opportunity. The most invasive act of violence is performed against a male character, but people of all genders and sexualities die in all sorts of horrible ways.
rynling: (Cecil Palmer)
The Book/s
The Stand, by Stephen King

What This Is
a don't-drop-it-on-your-foot novel with a six-volume comic adaptation

Are existing power structures maintained?
Initially, it seems that a Magical Negro is going restore civilization via a benevolent theocracy, but that doesn't really go anywhere. It then seems that the noble disenfranchised of the pre-apocalypse world will set up some sort of idealized democracy, but it turns out that the job of these men is to get rid of the Big Bad. By the end of the novel, the reader is led to believe the community established by the heroes has reverted to politics as usual.

Are women raped and murdered?
There aren't that many female characters, relatively speaking. A major antagonist is female, however, and for some reason she thinks she's destined to become the bride of the Big Bad. Although (or probably because) she's the most sexually active character in the story, her virginity is fetishized, and then when she finally encounters the Big Bad what passes between them is unquestionably rape. She is impregnated, but she tricks the Big Bad into murdering her before she can deliver the child, because Stephen King is classy like that.
rynling: (Cecil Palmer)
In a reply to my comment about a certain failure of postapocalyptic imagination, [personal profile] renegadefolkhero wrote, "I don't think I've seen anything in a PA setting that was imaginative in regards to power structures and society." I started thinking about this, and then I couldn't stop thinking about it because apparently I am really fucking morbid, and now I'm going to write about it. I have no idea how long I can keep this up, but bros I made a list so get ready.

The Book/s
The Dark Tower, by Stephen King

What This Is
a seven-volume dark fantasy series with an ongoing comic adaptation

Are existing power structures maintained?
After the apocalypse, the world has reverted to a quasi-medieval society in which men are kings and knights (or "gunslingers") and women are mostly virgins, whores, or witches. De facto matriarchies exist in small rural towns, but they're largely dysfunctional.

Are women raped and murdered?
In the first book, the protagonist rapes a woman with the barrel of his gun. Later on the main female protagonist is raped by a demon, only to be kidnapped by other demons who force her to deliver the baby. Pregnancy via supernatural rape is probably my least favorite fantasy tropes, by the way. Like, I could viscerally feel myself fall out of love with Haruki Murakami the instant he pulled that shit in 1Q84.
rynling: (Cecil Palmer)
I'm reading Blake J. Harris's book Console Wars, and it is terrible. Harris is a screenwriter, and Console Wars is written like it wants to be a dramatized biopic. It's almost like bad fanfic, with real people described as raising eyebrows and – I swear to Jesus – chuckling. All that aside, a major focus of the first third of the book involves the people at Sega of America gloating about how "slow" Super Mario World is.

I don't think Super Mario World is slow. I just started replaying it last night, and I've found that its level design encourages and rewards running, high-speed flying, and quick decisive jumps.

Super Mario Land 2 is legitimately slow, though. Not only are there frequent framerate slowdowns, but both Mario and his enemies move sluggishly through space. Since there aren't a lot of environmental hazards, and since the rabbit ears power-up allows the player to bypass most of those that do exist, Super Mario Land 2 is nothing if not easy.

The game makes up for its lack of any real challenge by offering a ton of variety.

Almost every single level has its own special gimmick that appears nowhere else in the game. For example, in Area 2 of the Tree Zone, Mario can swim through sticky sap that functions like water with a higher viscosity. In the Hippo level that leads to the Space Zone, Mario can float through the air in a bubble that will pop if he touches an enemy. In Area 2 of the Mario Zone (a giant clockwork version of Mario), tiny vicious bears roll beach balls that Mario must appropriate if he wants to cross the spiked floor.

The game also has a lot of levels with one-off enemies. Area 1 of the Tree Zone has hopping frogs that occasionally stick out their tongues, for instance, and Area 4 of the Macro Zone has witches that will pop out of item blocks and run off with the power-up inside. My favorite level is Area 2 of the Pumpkin Zone, which has all sorts of Japanese yōkai creatures like tsukumogami (haunted objects like umbrellas and lanterns), one-eyed oni demons, and invincible kitsunebi balls of foxfire.

Like Super Princess Peach, Mario Land 2 is a platformer that I would describe as "low stress," making it a good gateway for kids just learning to play video games. I was one such kid; Super Mario Land 2 is the first game I ever owned. I'm not too terribly interested in retro gaming for the sake of nostalgia, but I remember this game being surprisingly fun and creative, and it still feels that way more than twenty years later.

Hot damn did writing that last sentence make me feel old.
rynling: (Celes Chere)
Read 100 books.

I read 156 books. In addition, I read 112 graphic novels. I also read 235 manga in English, 53 manga in Japanese, and 115 dōjinshi. It's anal retentive to keep track of shit like this, but I swear I have a good reason. Or rather, it's a horrible reason and an uphill battle I will never be able to win. Maybe I'll write about it one day, or maybe I'll just let it simmer in the stew of my feelings of inadequacy; either course of action is equally terrible.

Post one book review a month.

I made 32 posts to my professional blog, which had 108,795 views in 2015. This is up from last year but way down from 2013, when I became the target of legions of asshole trolls from Reddit and 4chan. The blog also has about two thousand subscribers across several feed reader services. Considering how specialized the subject matter is and how infrequently I update, I think I'm doing well for myself. Now if only I could convert this success to money.

Leave two comments on AO3 a month.

I kept a running total of all the comments (with a complicated set of rules for what does and doesn't count) that I made across AO3, Tumblr, and ff.net, and I ended up with 109 comments. I'm not sure if that's a lot – it's certainly far less than my yearly total of comments when I was active on Livejournal – but I feel like I did okay. I'm not saying that the comments I did leave weren't sometimes awkward as fuck; but hopefully, at the very least, I helped to improve the intersite and search engine rankings of a small handful of stories.

Watch some quality tee-vee.

Fuck television, I hate television. I canceled my subscription to Netflix months ago. I managed to get through the first season of Hannibal and four seasons of Parks and Rec, and they weren't bad, but I felt like I was wasting time that I could have spent playing video games. Instead of actually watching anything, I decided to cheat by listening to the podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour and appropriating the opinions of its hosts whenever someone tries to talk to me about television. I did watch a ton of anime though.
rynling: (Gator Strut)
This book is all about how your life will be better if you throw away most of your stuff and then steadfastly continue to throw away more stuff.

I have a modest proposal: STOP BUYING SO MUCH STUFF.

The most unexpectedly amusing thing about this book is the way that the author repeatedly reminds her readers to throw away their books. "Books are stupid," she writes. "You never learn anything in books. I wrote a book to teach people this valuable lesson."

The other source of deep dark black humor I got from the experience of reading this mess came from the author encouraging her readers not to stockpile supplies. "This is Japan," she says, "not some third world country. It's not like we're going to have a huge major earthquake that shuts down the entire country's infrastructure or anything."

I mean, I'm not a big fan of clutter either, but one does need to be prepared for the zombie apocalypse emergencies.
rynling: (Teh Bowz)
I'm trying to read an academic study of a popular author, and I can't understand any of it. Any passage chosen at random is equally unintelligible to me. For example:

Postmodernism's radical compression of perspective negates ontological stratification, necessitating a restructuring of the hermeneutics of expression. The inviolability of the self is crystallized into the physical, mechanical 'black box,' the disparate elements of a dimensional subjectivity rendered anthropomorphic entities with individual consciousness and agency distinct from the originary monad, and the Freudian divisions of the psyche externalized onto geographical terrain, with the subterranean naturally corresponding to the territory of the repressed. The disenchantment with the strata model must then necessarily give way to an alternative dialectics of ontology.

I think what the writer is trying to say here is that many postmodern authors reject a simple division between the conscious and the unconscious...

...but I'm not sure??

Sometimes I start thinking that I'm smart, and then I remember that mostly I'm just talented at pretending to be smart. People who are actually smart live in a different universe.
rynling: (Cecil Palmer)
This book is too precious:

For the most part, the same consumer demographic that had gone nuts for Beautiful You was now swarming to buy a new style of shoes. It was a trend Penny couldn't understand. To her, the shoes were clunky and ugly, with wide straps across the arch and thick heels, but some group dynamic had taken hold. The same block of women, nationwide, was making a banal romance about vampires into a bestseller.
Bro u mad??

See also:

In recent recent decades it had been primarily young men who'd fallen victim to the crippling pleasures of sustained arousal. They'd been seduced by the soaring levels of endorphins generated by playing video games and perusing sexy Web sites. A generation of young men had become entranced by the lure of loveless release and had fallen through the cracks of society. They were hunkered down in their basement rooms heavy with the reek of their dissipation, oblivious to maintaining real relationships with actual love mates.
Hey now! Don't talk shit about my waifus.
rynling: (Cecil Palmer)
I'm addicted to Evangeline Anderson's Brides of the Kindred series of trashy romance novels. They're available for Kindle, and the first one is free, which is how they get you.

Which is how they get you.

I'm on the fourth book right now, and so far each of the novels has been about a human woman and her alien lover/s. These stories are absolute shiny crack for someone who's into weird interspecies sex (and I just so happen to be such a person), which becomes more interesting and original as the series progresses. The focus is obviously on fucking and feelings, but what's kept me reading has been the gradual world-building as the universe the characters occupy has been expanding outward.

It's kind of like Star Trek, if Star Trek had been less about anthropocentric humanism and more about having sex with aliens.
rynling: (Cecil Palmer)
I have this friend who's a nice guy and a cool person; but, as much as I like him, I like his publicist even more. My friend mainly translates the sort of long and ponderous graphic novels that Glen Weldon regularly creams his pants over on NPR (while the rest of us resolutely go about our business), but he's finally gotten around to writing his own book, which happens to be on a subject near and dear to my heart. I was hanging out with his publicist the other day, and she was talking up the book like it was the best thing since Beard Papa opening in Georgetown. Granted, this is her job, but she seemed genuinely excited. I love her and want her to be happy, so I agreed to accept a galley copy for review, which I almost never do.

The book sucks. It really sucks. It is a black hole of suck. It's not just terrible; it's the sewer that runs underneath the sub-sub-basement of terrible. Usually when something is bad I just pretend I never read it, no matter how friendly I am with the author or publisher. The insane thing about this book, however, is that it's bad in amazing and interesting ways, and I ended up writing a review that was liberally illustrated with beautifully appropriate animated GIFs. It took a long time, but I had a lot of fun, and I can never, ever submit it. Instead I'm going to churn out maybe four paragraphs of unembellished description of the book's scope and structure, which is stupid and boring but won't get me in trouble.

This is the right thing to do, but I resent having to do it.

One of my best friends in the entire world is a genuinely kind and good-hearted person who legitimately doesn't understand why people are mean to each other. Her reasoning goes something like this: Isn't it easier just to not be mean? Instead of going out of your way and expending effort to be mean, you can not be mean by literally doing nothing.

To this I say that sometimes it is hard not to be mean, especially when being mean is so goddamn enjoyable.
rynling: (Teh Bowz)
This book should be subtitled "Hermione has excellent ideas and is right about almost everything but no one listens to her."

Most of the story is about Harry being angry that no one listens to him, but the people not listening to him have obvious political motives for discrediting him. Meanwhile, the people not listening to Hermione are her best friends in the world. Harry is allowed to be outraged when no one believes him (even though he's frequently and quite catastrophically wrong), but Hermione has to be humble and sensitive and apologize to everyone when they don't believe her.

The only time Hermione is clearly wrong about something is when she knits and leaves out clothing for the Hogwarts house elves, but I maintain that this functions as a brilliant and subtle critique of immature social justice warrioring, which makes perfect sense when you consider how long the author spent with Amnesty International when she was younger. Anyway...

I was 19 when this book was published, and I don't have any memory or record of reading it again since then until now. I remember that the initial experience was painful and made me feel shitty. Now that I'm 31, I appreciate the book for what it is and what it's trying to do, but I think it hit a little too close to home when I first read it. I was 28 or 29 when I formally resolved to stop apologizing to people all the time, and I still feel crying-in-the-restroom guilty when I have to fight for someone to acknowledge me when I'm right. Reading Order of the Phoenix now, I look at Hermione and am like, "Oh my god."

The Order of the Phoenix movie is actually one of my favorites, mainly because it swaps out the anger and frustration of the book with wonder and joy, but Hermione still gets the same treatment. She delivers flawless exhibition and drives the plot, but she's never in the foreground (she's always in the second or third row of characters) on the movie posters.

What the everloving fuck, you know?
rynling: (Silver)
This morning I found an anti-theft sticker between the pages of a newly-purchased copy of Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. Don't get me wrong, stealing is obviously bad, but it warms my heart to think that there are still people in the world who would walk into a bookstore and decide that they're going to lift a fifteen-year-old book-length essay about a fat and charmingly cultured middle-aged man hiking the Appalachian Trail.


rynling: (Default)
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