Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Golden Age of Video Games

There was a thread in one of the dumber corners of the internet last week full of sad sacks who can't talk to girls lamenting the current state of their toys. Turns out video games are too girly these days or whatever, though the long lost belle epoque of video gaming was, according to these professional victims, about a decade or so ago. Now I ain't no fancy-pants mathemetician, but wouldn't that make 2005 the year they're pining away for? How can they miss God of War and Guitar Hero when there's a new version pumped out every year with monotonous regularity?

So today, rather than a real post, we're gonna take a look at the actual Golden Age of Video Games:

Chrono Trigger
The JRPG everyone forgets. Rather than split the world into an isometric map and a battle screen, it integrated both into a single view so you could actually side step the damn random encounters if you wanted. Throw in an endearingly ludicrous plot full of time travel and frog knights, and you'll forget that you renamed one of the characters Nypps.

"Your turn, Anuss!"

EarthBound
Like Chrono Trigger, after one too many magic mushrooms. One of the few JRPGs to do things differently, weaving the typical "children destroy God with the power of love" plot into a surreal suburbia worthy of David Lynch. And the final boss battle is technically an abortion.

Jason Vorhees runs a meth lab while you talk Carlos Santana down from the roof.


Earthworm Jim
Before Commander Shepherd, before Master Chief, the fate of the universe rested in the robot hands of a sour-faced worm. Jim took on slimy aliens, cybernetic crows, and cows in his quest to make the universe safe for annelids. And he never needed no dang quick time events or crafting - he just blasted the crap out of everything! Or wip it with his own head!

Wip it good!

Flashback
Another game to get the modern remake treatment, though with much more going on. Conrad must piece together his shattered memory while exposing a vast conspiracy of slimy reptoids who seek to conquer humanity. It's Total Recall meets David Icke!

Bonus Pitfall nostalgia.

Ghouls 'n Ghosts
Technically Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts because everything was just so goddamn super back then. Double-jump your way to victory against the undead hordes and save the Princess... then do it all again if you even want to face the proper Final Boss. And kids these days think Dark Souls is rough...

In my day, we took on The Catacombs in our underpants!

Out of this World (Another World)
A gorgeous and nuanced platform adventure that punishes any misstep with instant death. Not because it's going for realism - your physicist Lester drives a Ferrari into the opening cutscene fer Chrissakes - but simply because they want you to fully appreciate how it would feel if you were suddenly whisked from your humdrum life off to Another World. It would feel terrifying.

It took most kids about a year to figure out this part.

Super Mario World
The apex of the Mario franchise. It's all been downhill since. Ditching the raccoon tail for a proper cape and stacking that with a sidekick much more endearing than that tagalong Luigi. Also marks the last good time you're trying to rescue Princess Toadstool instead of that blonde pretender to the throne.

And who could forget these huge honkin' assholes?


Zombies Ate My Neighbors
The most fun zombie game ever made and still the only good one. The bizarre monsters and equally bizarre means of blowing them up almost take a backseat to the gleeful mocking of American suburbia, from the shopping mall to the beach to the spaceship where your hayseed uncle got probed.

...This seems a little unfair.

Remember, these are all the Best Games Evar by strictly objective analysis. If you disagree, you are wrong and a bad person.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Happiness in Slavery

Fifty Shades of Grey has generated think pieces and article comments that are all united by their utter cluelesness. Twilight Fanfic du Jour is not some bold new take on sex, it's not some triumph of erotica, and it sure ain't the downfall of cinema. It's just another spank fantasy with nothing of substance to say.

So today we're going to examine a spank fantasy that has very much to say - Story of O!

Original title Histoire d'O, it focuses on the willing sexual slavery of a woman known simply as O to one powerful man after another. Beginning in Roissy - a little bit finishing school, a little bit Hellfire Club - the titular O is conditioned to be ever ready for oral, vaginal, and anal intercourse by a succession of nameless gentlemen who frequent the club, including the lover, René, who presents her in the first place.

Tellingly, O is not pursuing this on her own but is in fact following the wishes of René. Her subjugation to other men is presented as his will, to which she willingly complies. After she graduates from Roissy, she returns to René as a child returns to her father and continues to obey him in their ensuing adventures through the underground BDSM scene of mid-20th Century Paris. In the course of this, René eventually presents O as a "gift" to his elder brother, Sir Stefan. O, being a good girl, does this for René but ultimately grows to love Sir Stefan instead and attends the advanced slavery course at Samois, culminating in a literal padlock on her vagina.

Like all the best French writing, sex is front and center through all this but serves more to illuminate human nature. O's devotion to René at first makes things appear as just a kinky romance but her switch to Sir Stefan demonstrates that this is just as much about power. Anyone familiar with BDSM is going "Well duh!" right now but Story of O does not leave this at merely the fantasy level, where modern BDSM fearfully clings. Rather, the novel is a critique of power dynamics from the sexual to the economic. O's subservience to the men in her life is nothing but the logical extreme of actually existing patriarchy, where a woman's highest desire is pleasing men.

The insidiousness of this system is highlighted by O presenting her ravaged body and pad-locked pussy as her own choice to a horrified fashion model - not just demonstrating how people can internalize the culture that oppresses them but also the murkiness of trying to reconcile the personal with the political. Though O is degraded further and further into an object over the course of the narrative - not once is she even given the dignity of a full and proper name - but she willingly allows this out of her declared love. Who can say she doesn't honestly feel for René and Sir Stefan? Is this still slavery if it's not only accepted but actively sought by the slave?

While the personal and sexual dimension of power in Story of O is explored in every direction, the economic dimension is critiqued more subtly and through strategic omission. At the very start, René does not himself drive O to Roissy but hires a cab. All the other gentlemen at Roissy carry themselves with the stiff confidence of the upper classes, indulging in and abusing the women who are made to dress as eroticized servants and obey. Not once does O encounter a man from the laboring classes - indeed, Sir Stefan is blatantly of a high patrician class and even exerts power over other men, particularly his younger brother René. Yet many of the other women O encounters, from her horrified model friend to the other girls at Samois, could easily be from less privileged backgrounds. The Samois girls in particular reflect the suggestibility and dependence of teenage runaways picked up and turned out by pimps, seeking some purpose in life and finding it in complete submission to those society deems their betters.

The novel ends with O reduced to such an object, so lacking in agency, that she requires Sir Stefan's permission to die. She never once protests this condition as to do so would be asserting herself as an independent being in her own right, with desires independent of serving those in a position of privilege over her. That she nominally chose this course only raises the question of if the world ever really gave her a choice from the start.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Proto-Uber-Mensch

The ridiculousness of 1980s American cinema is well documented. Rugged beefcakes with guns as big as their biceps mowing down commies, darkies, and other assorted scum while indulging in homoerotic subtext. The action films of the Reagan years all follow this sordid pattern, all reflective of the triumphant and sexually confused Republican epoch.

Yet there's very little on the action films of the waning 1970s, despite the seeds being very visible. Chuck Norris did his best work in this era, right about the time karate peaked in popularity and the vast Sullen Majority craved some alternative to the moral complexity of the New Hollywood productions. They got that with Chuck and his roundhouse kicks of justice, just as much as they did with Clint Eastwood's .44 and Charles Bronson's celebration of vigilantism.


Good Guys Wear Black is a prototype of the loudly fascist 80s Action Films to come. The title itself is a reference to Norris and his entirely black-clad black ops team, whose final mission in Vietnam goes awry because of meddlesome DC bureaucrats. It's a staple of American reactionary cinema that the failure in Vietnam was the fault of inadequate will on the part of the politicians and media - the Dog Ate My Bazooka defense - rather than the clear military superiority of the NVA and Viet Cong. Because the outside world is never real to provincial idiots, beyond its utility in presenting neat little moral lessons about Honor and Duty and whatever. This narcissistic fantasy has persisted right up to the present day, with both The Hurt Locker and American Sniper turning the black comedy of the Iraq War into just another sump for bathos over Our Poor Hometown Boys.


While it certainly follows this modern script, Good Guys Wear Black deviates somewhat in two important factors. First, it is much more a thriller than a balls-out action flick with Norris getting wind that his old team is being bumped off, necessitating a cross-country investigation to determine not just the who but the why. Though this does allow for thrilling ski chases and one-on-one roundhouse duels.

Second, and most striking, is the film's blatant anti-establishment sentiment. Following the failed Vietnam mission, the story jumps ahead several years to find Chuck working on his PhD in political science, teaching classes on how the Vietnam War was a horrible mistake. After Reagan took office, you'd only ever hear that statement in an action movie either uttered by a peacenik strawman or followed by "because we didn't nuke the shit out of 'em!" The villain, the very same bureaucrat who sold out the Black Clad Heroes, is not some sniveling weasel anomaly but so much the norm of America that he's about to be appointed secretary of state! Rather than the triumphal tone of Commando or Top Gun, Good Guys Wear Black feels both weary and frightened of the very nation and people Chuck Norris would later celebrate in his films.

However, these symptoms of the Bad Old 70s are still overshadowed by the visceral power fantasy on which 80s Action would very soon be based. Chuck, realizing he'll never get The System to punish his nemesis, resorts to straight up murder. Gleefully and without consequence. The assassin is revealed to be another of the titular Good Guys, the lone Asian one, and Norris kicks his head off before his motivations can be revealed as anything other than The Untrustworthy Yellow Race. And while Norris romances a woman who survives all the way to the end of the film, he reserves all his true affections for his male former comrades and the One Good Bureaucrat who serves as his accomplice at the end.

Good Guys Wear Black is a fascinating look at just how the typical action films from the Reagan years to today developed. And it's not half bad as far as 1970s thrillers go.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Twilight of the Gods

There's a sight as common on the NYC subway as amateur dance crews and that's middle-aged Nigerian immigrants babbling about Jesus. Unlike the dance crews, this is greeted with a rigorous indifference as everyone looks away and tries to find something, anything else to focus on until they or the proselytizer gets off the train.

Now you probably want to shrug this off as mere New Yorker godlessness but there's two problems with that. First, New York City is much more Republican than the boring states are willing to acknowledge. You can't throw a rock in Sheepshead Bay without hitting some Ayn Rand quoting blowhard - who also identifies as Christian because Randroids are too stupid to even get their own philosophy right. Second, and most importantly, this very indifference - if not outright hostility - to wild-eyed Belief was demonstrated by much more middle Americans a little over ten years ago:

[T]he pilot of an American Airlines flight started talking crazy Jesus shit shortly after takeoff. He asked the passengers, over the intercom, to raise their hands if they were Christians... The great thing is that the pilot didn't stop there. He asked each of the passengers who didn't raise their Jesus-spiked hands to seek help from the nearest Christian lunatic in the plane. 
"The passengers feared for their safety." That's a direct quote from the reports.

This reveals one of those never acknowledged but undeniable truths about modern America: religion just ain't that important. Oh sure, you're shit out of luck in South Carolina or Kansas if your boss finds out you attend the wrong church - or even worse, no church - but that's just the everyday petty tyranny of the workplace. The weirdos are always purged so as to maintain the same bland normality, whether they're atheists or into group sex. Culturally normative behavior, especially the image of such, is strictly enforced in America by the middle management commissars.

But not one of those All-American Bible-clutchers really believes any of it. Not the same way as these Nigerians evangelizing the morning commuters. For them, religion is Religion. It's a beginning and an end, an injunction encompassing the whole of life. It is, quite simply, "To the death!"

Not even the most red-faced Jesus-Freak Republican is "To the death!" Not a single gringo has treated religion with that certainty, that intensity since the Thirty Years War. Everything from the Eucharist to the Pentecostal Potluck is just so much hollow ritual, people going through the motions just to find some sense of community and consistency.

A typical internet atheist would rub his hands with glee at this revelation. Because internet atheists are just as entrenched in Western myopia as the dullest Baptist in Charleston. Yeah, religion in America and Europe may be just a zombie puppet show but goddamn does the rest of the world still mean it! Those Nigerian Christians actually die in their homeland for it and they were doing so long before Boko Haram came on the scene. Sunni Jihadis from the Sahel to Chechnya have killed and died - often both at once - over the sanctity of some long dead goat-fucker's likeness in newspapers.

And before you get a head up of good ol' Islamophobia, remember that those same Nigerian Christians are just as able and willing to massacre the jihadis right back. Liberian preacher Joshua Blahyi spent the 1990s as General Butt Naked, leading his Butt Naked Brigade on a rampage of drugged up Kalashnikov fire and severed head soccer. Honor killings and even human sacrifice still go on in the northern backwaters of India and the Buddhists in neighboring Nepal and Indochina were the guerrilla warfare capitols of the world all through the latter half of the 20th Century.

Besides, it's not like the lukewarm Christianity of America has made it any nicer either. An entire political movement was born in 2009 because people were opposed to getting better healthcare. The recent torture docs revealed all the bizarre butt stuff that went on as "enhanced interrogation" which anyone willing to pay attention had known for years anyway. And the nominal peace movement spends more time dithering over the legality of flying killbots, having internalized the priorities of amoral global empire.

Point is, people don't need some medieval spook in the sky as justification to be assholes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

On Satire and Obscenity

Sometimes you need to take a step back and appreciate the absurdity of the world.

Like how twelve French journalists were murdered over cartoons. In all the commentary and nombrilisme over the Charlie Hebdo attack, you often see that point left out. These people were murdered over cartoons, that is the exact reason the attackers who were posthumously claimed by Al Qaeda Yemen gave for their bloodbath. They were pretty ambiguous, as reactionaries often are since nuance is one of those things for wishy-washy liberals.

Although, going by the reaction in Anglo-American media, those same wishy-washy liberals can lock it down like the best neocons. First you had all the cable news companies "refraining" from showing the cartoons because they're pussies so as not to offend, then you had dozens of online lefties - even the excellent Jacobin! - offering the argument of "Yes murder is bad but Charlie Hebdo is racist."

Now that's pretty damn absurd too. And it's a rare case of a commie agreeing with a Catholic:

Religious freedom and freedom of expression, [Pope Francis] said, are fundamental human rights. But they are also not a total liberties... "If [a close friend] says a swear word against my mother, he’s going to get a punch in the nose," he explained. "One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith."

Yep, Pope Franky is totes for free speech but wants you to understand that it'll get you ganked. Like how you should expect sexual assault if you go out dressed like a whore.

John Dolan, in a bit of a rant, makes the point that Anglo-American culture just doesn't get French satire. That's certainly true, the gleeful irreverence of French comedy being alien even to liberal Americans. That's also what makes it so goddamn brilliant, the utter lack of sanctimony. That's why Republicans are so unfunny and also why AlterNet publishes the occasional complaint about The Daily Show - sanctimony is as American as Apple Pie or crediting upper middle class protesters with ending the Vietnam War, as opposed to the bravery and ingenuity of the Viet Cong.

That deeply normative sanctimony is why so many Americans are dithering over Charlie Hebdo. They know the proper response should be "free speech," but there's just something too salty about those anarcho-atheist Frenchies. The charge of "racism" even uses the very broad American definition, which is obsessed with skin color, rather than the French concept which has much more to do with national identity. In France, if you drink wine and sneer at religion you're In, whereas in America even Darius Rucker still gets shit from country fans just because of his melanin.

The only sensible thing out there is this article by sci-fi fantasy author Saladin Ahmed. He examines the "punching down" of Charlie Hebdo's vendetta against Islam without condemning them. And thank Allah for that because it moves past the shaky - and blitheringly ignorant - debate about racism and brings us to the much more real problem of the rising right-wing hysteria in Europe over what's a meager single digit percentage of Muslims in the  population:

"In an unequal world, satire that mocks everyone equally ends up serving the powerful."

There are real issues of power here that the attack on Charlie Hebdo has brought up for discussion. French Muslims are as powerless as Shias in Saudi Arabia while being just as demonized - though they likely don't get whipped and beheaded as much as said Shia. Truly bold satire denigrates wealthy Sunnis like the House of Saud and the Catholic Church that continues to retard sexual health in the developing world while molesting children. Speaking truth to power is a vital necessity of any free and progressive society.

So in that spirit, here's a caricature of Sarah Palin getting hammered in the ass by Joel Osteen a closet-case pastor:

"So, did you see the upstairs?" Madame President's hand was roughly kneading inside his back pocket. "They've got this new... thing."

Damn woman! Couldn't She leave him be for just one evening? "Love to."

She dragged him up the wide staircase. He could feel eyes flitting to them from the now drunk crowd. "There they go again," they would all be thinking. Bad enough Feely had to pleasure the goddamn whore but now everywhere he went, everyone he met just saw him as one more of her playthings - and oh how many She'd already had!

That was one of the many elephants in the room he'd learned of in this town, how She'd been fucking everyone but Her husband since the moment She took office. He'd seen all the anonymous blogs, claiming firsthand accounts of the affair - even the paid journalists couldn't keep a straight face anymore in denying it. His congregation had a field day once getting righteously pissed over executive infidelities which left him wondering if now they didn't care or they were really too dumb to notice.

The second floor was empty, save for the two of them and - as always - Klein. He gave the usual nod, a silent "I've cleared out anyone who might hear her moose noises." Feely had to admit that, despite the work he did, he genuinely liked Klein. He was quiet, professional, and never judged. And that chiseled jaw line -

"Let's do a quick one in the bathroom," She said, Her tongue slithering over his ear.

It didn't bother Feely as much anymore. He'd gradually learned how to tune everything out while still "performing." Alcohol usually helped, as did Her seemingly endless supply of cocaine. Really - he frantically told himself - he actually enjoyed this blanked out mental state. It gave him time to relax, to remember happier times of sneaking past Anita to go cruising Denver for a tight-assed boy and some meth -

The brief reminiscence died - as always - to Her slobbering grunts of, "Fuck my pooper! Fuck my pooper!"

Get my filthy and disrespectful novel One Nation Under God on Kindle or the ereader of your choice!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

FINIS

You’re staring down at a meal. Could be a turkey dinner, a pizza from Domino’s, mint chocolate-chip ice cream, whatever you like. Because this is your last meal. The last thing you taste before the elected Powers That Be take your life in the name of Lady Justice.

Because you fucked up. Maybe you caught your significant other getting some on the side and lost control. It happens. Or maybe you were a dirty crook to begin with and shot some rich prick who wouldn’t give up his Rolex. Hell, maybe you’re a methodical serial killer. Ted Bundy: The Next Generation.

It doesn’t matter.

Whoever you are and whatever you’re eating, you have a unique opportunity. Unlike many, you can contemplate your death as an immediate reality rather than a philosophical abstract. The greatest thinkers themselves were never in your position, the old being too incoherent and the young never seeing it coming. Well, there was Socrates, but we won’t get into that.

The myriad of possibilities rushes through your mind. Heaven, Hell, Reincarnation, or just plain Oblivion. The greatest question ever asked by humanity: “What comes after death?” and you are about to learn the answer and, possibly, the ultimate Truth of the universe.

You may be excited or intrigued at the thought of gaining such knowledge. You might be shitting your pants; terrified of losing the only existence you have ever known. You may have found Religion while on death row and go to your fate with a sense of peace. You may be an unrepentant monster who happily recounts every horrendous act, especially the ones the cops never found out about.

Doesn’t matter. There’s a schedule to follow and your feelings don’t factor into it.

You can be thinking of this while you eat, or while the nice guards lead you down the hall. It’s okay, no one will deny you the right to daydream.

And when you’re being strapped into the Chair, or the Gas Chamber, or whatever form of egress is currently in vogue, it hits you: the banality of the whole thing. The systematic tightening of restraints (can’t disturb anyone with you’re flailing limbs), the droning voice of whatever religious authority you have requested (if any), it’s all so mechanical. Executions, the State ordered ending of a life, are carried out with all the seriousness and emotion of a routine board meeting. You’re Executioner looks like he’d rather be at the bar with his buddies. This is when you realize there is no grand finale, no climax, no drum roll leading up to a clash of symbols. It just ends.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Year in Hate

2014 sure was a banner year for hate. With so much racism and police state apologism exploding in just the fall, you likely forgot some of the highlights earlier in the year.

Like Cliven Bundy, the "tax protestor" who turned out to be a vile racist since those things are usually so separate. No less a national blowhard than Sean Hannity hitched his wagon to this cracker and his half-assed anti-government rhetoric until it all culminated in the murder of two police officers. The NYPD has yet to blame Bill de Blasio.

"Blah Blah racist bullshit."

In other shooting news, poisonous skitstovel Elliot Rodger tried to go on a shooting spree in retaliation for never getting his dick wet. That he didn't rack up much of a body count, including some dudes, convinced professional internet misogynists that he wasn't influenced by them at all. Nope, he just managed to regurgitate all of their talking points in his ridiculous manifesto by coincidence.

"Feminism is why I can't get any, not my repulsive personality!"

Besides, gun crimes only count when police think a black guy might have a gun. That's why they didn't even bother with the theatrics of asking a grand jury following the killing of John Crawford. They heard he might be carrying a rifle and you just can't do that in public.

Running around a toy store with assault rifles is a job for the police.

Or stolen cigars. That there's a capital offense. Especially if they were stolen by a colossal Terminator-Demon-Gorilla and you're a nebishy police officer with nothing but your sidearm, baton, pepper spray, a militarized police force, and the support of a frightening number of the population to protect you.

"That black kid is scaring us!"

And God help you if you're selling untaxed cigarettes, because freedom-loving Americans and their justice system sure won't. Sure, Jaime Dimon can obliterate the savings of millions and still walk around unmolested but he's rich and white. If you're engaging in shady economic activity just to put food on the table, you're worse than Hitler.

This is what a police state murder looks like.

Much like trying to shoot all the filthy whores, you'll find a surprisingly vocal segment of America who are all in favor of police brutality when it's against poor brown folks. This is what John Dolan calls the Sullen Majority, that bedrock rottenness of every civilization where there is no joy, just petty malice and resentment. This is how you can get the same people who have cried for years about Obama the Islamo-Commie stealing their freedoms turning a blind eye to actual abuses of the citizenry. This is how you get so many red-blooded American patriots defending anal rape by their government. The American concept of "freedom" is a narrowly narcissistic thing, championing one's every action as sanctioned by Providence while demanding the whole weight of the law smack down any of those uppity Others.

But no catalog of 2014 hate would be complete without a look at the internet! Continuing to demonstrate how SOPA might have been a good thing, lots of the same assholes who celebrated Elliot Rodger spent the past few months flipping their shit over video games. What began as a hate movement against any women who dare to get near their toys - including a threatened school shooting in October - soon devolved into pedophilia apologism and straight up white nationalism. Also, Eron Gjoni rapes goats.

Here, this is a nice distraction from all the awful.

In far more important internet news, beloved hacktivist doodad TOR was revealed to be funded by the US State Department. People who'd invested their time and trust in the TOR network engaged in serious debate about the ramifications for privacy and Nah, they flipped their shit too. Not because they're all secretly on the NSA payroll but because programmers are the modern manifestation of Jonathan Swift's Laputa. This is still ongoing and you can see all the histrionic scumbags on Twitter proving why hacktivism is a waste of time.

Each layer is more denial. And Neo-Nazis.

So there you have it: 2014 was the year of hating anyone and everyone who dared to not be a wealthy white dude. Honorable mention to Hobby Lobby, for setting a legal precedent that your employer can now control your sex life. Because freedom.