Friday, December 30, 2011

11 Things to Hate About 2011

People love whipping up lists of this or that at the end of the year because it doesn't take much time or effort. So with that in mind, the good people and gnomes of VectorPress present the following reasons why you shouldn't miss 2011 and probably shouldn't have much hope for 2012 either...

High Profile Death Porn
We killed a dictator! Hooray! And by "we" I of course mean "those other people who actually live over in that country, Loobibia or whatever," or earlier, "Those guys the Navy sends to shoot people their drones can't find," or just, "cancer." But little inconvenient things like facts sure didn't stop people from patting themselves on the back. After all, we're the Good Guys so whenever the Bad Guys buy it, it's clearly because of something we did, right? So let's celebrate and post wacky macros, 'cause death sure is neat!

Happy times!

Donald Trump
If #OWS wants to really drive their point home, they need to start explicitly identifying the 1% as Donald Trump. What has this blowhard ever done to create a job? Near as I can tell, his whole shtick is destroying jobs to the raucous applause of willing serfs across the country. He outdid himself in the bullshit department this year with a fake bid for the presidency and by attempting to be the final nail in the embarrassing birther conspiracy. Watching the President of the United States curb-stomp this comb-overed doofus wasn't even worth it since the wackjobs have just kept going.

Government Shutdown Bluffs
What's really despicable is that's plural. Not once but seemingly a dozen times in a single year this country has been threatened with the services we all pay good money for being cancelled to satisfy the minarchist fantasies of a bunch of pig-ignorant provincials. Neither party has or had any intention of going through with it but we all had to sit through this pantomime every few months just because a few bloodless oligarchs in the GOP hoped to net a few more votes from trailer-park refuse that should've been removed by natural selection generations ago.

Ron Paul...
He's back and dumber than ever! Paul is again riding on the myth of his love of liberty and peace because white middle-class twenty-somethings can't be bothered to put down the joint and Xbox controller long enough to Google his support of a constitutional amendment banning abortion and the great taxmoney hole that is "missile defense." The one redeeming factor of this wretched bitch is that if he were elected, the establishment Republicans in Congress would stonewall him just as strongly as they've done to Obama, ensuring a good four years of inertia and stagnation.

"I suck!"

...and the Rest of the GOP Primaries
What's a circus without elephants? Romney has had the nomination in the bag since July because the rest of the field is just fucking terrible but every week we all have to hear about who the latest frontrunner is. Tellingly, they're never compared to the rest of the pack but only to Romney. Worst of all, the Republican party's hilarious collapse into nothing but a glorified reality show has been dragging on so long it's hardly funny anymore.

All the Stupid, Cutesy "Top 11" Lists
I am aware of the hypocrisy. And I don't care, these are horrible.

Coverage of DSK
Future anthropologists will probably make a drinking game out of the contemporary American justice system. Before Dominique Strauss-Khan had set foot in a courtroom, everyone had already determined exactly what happened - he raped the helpless proletariat black woman because all those IMF guys just love rape so much. Or because he was French. That was the US response at least, the rest of the world taking a more nuanced stance because they're adults and recognize his guilt or innocence is a matter for the courts. Americans, being just really fat adolescents, had a much easier time of determining him to be pure evil by healthily disregarding his actual record with the IMF - the closest to a progressive that institution has ever known - and the rather dodgy story of his accuser. And when said dodginess lead to the prosecution dropping the charges, it was time to break out the tinfoil hats! Because things don't just happen in this country, everything must fit a pre-defined narrative.

The Great Twilight v. Harry Potter Meme Smack-Down
If you know any women between the ages of 18 and 30, you've been subject to this on both Facebook and Google+. That's likely due to the infantlizing effect American culture has on women, feeding them the lie that it's okay to like books intended for children. Keeps 'em shallow and silly so they don't take any of that old women's liberation rhetoric seriously, start reading real books and getting ideas... But that's a rant for another time. 2011 was the year all the nerd chicks decided to go to war against the sparkly vampires on behalf of the shockingly sodomy-free English boarding school for D&D dropouts. A sadder cripple fight the world has never seen, the wand-wavers discovering no one particularly cared to defend a book series that at least tacitly admitted it was just as much of an escapist fantasy.

Balzac is shocked at your puerile excuse for reading material!

People Who Hate Facebook
I was going to title this section "Google+" but everyone who blathers on about how great it is falls squarely into this category. I use Zuckerberg's hookup site too and I honestly have no clue why people are always getting so bent out of shape about it. You don't want people hearing about your drinking, drug use, or sexual experimentation with a koala then don't post it on the fucking internet! Christ, do you people want some sort of iDarwin Award? Would that drive things home?

The Response to Occupy Wall Street...
Thirty years of Reaganomics has now successfully molded America into a land of jackals who walk upright. When people walked out into public and spoke the simple truth about this country - that the rich rule and anyone not making a seven figure salary is just so much chattel - the propaganda floodgates opened! Since September every stooge from David Brooks to those plastic suckpuppets on Fox have blathered on about how these are just a bunch of no good commie-hippies who don't want to work and just smoke bowls all day. And significant numbers of Americans buy that line because it's easier to hate and blame your neighbour than try and take on the rotten morons at the top.

...and Occupy Wall Street
Have you been by the Occupy DC camp? They really are a bunch of no good commie-hippies! #OWS's biggest hindrance since it began is that it's populated by Americans and Americans just don't have the balls for a real fight. It started out promising but has devolved in the past two months into just another partisan sideshow 'cause everyone was too busy feeling good about themselves for their "leaderless movement," their fancy fucking "happening" that they let the other side continue setting the terms of the debate. Squatting in a city park is all well and good for getting the dialogue going - which remains #OWS's greatest and only victory - but unless you're ready to start hammering out the specifics of your grievances, of pushing for genuine policy changes, and opening yourself to all the criticisms and compromises that sort of necessary realpolitik entails than you really are just throwing a tantrum! A bunch of college students marching on DC didn't stop the Vietnam war, it was the Vietnamese kicking American ass. You wanna end the class war? You better find some way to start kicking banker ass because screaming at the injustice of it all is just giving them a misery stiffy.

Bonus Baker's Dozen of Hate!

Geeks Rule Hollywood
Comic book adaptations, three hour toy commercials, and the fucking Hunger Games next year... Cinema is dead.

Not the Stop Online Piracy Act itself but how this simple, doomed bill has lead thousands to defend the indefensible. The false sense of community you get from posting comments on the Huffington Post isn't worth the continued existence of the elaborate fetish support systems and grotesque cartoon pornography that constitute the majority of the internet. I am in full support of ending the torrent era if it also means an end to this -

And the bastard is drawn Japanime style. Your free speech is not worth such atrocities.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Never Trust a Friedman

If you ever hear the name "Friedman," two gents immediately spring to mind - thankfully deceased Milton "Liberty is a necktie!" Friedman and the regrettably still living, pro-globalization suckpuppet Tom Friedman.

Tommy boy is our subject today as he's got a brand new article out full of tortured logic, bald-faced lying, and the most vile rape of the english language since "lol."

"Was Iraq the way Iraq was because Saddam was the way Saddam was, or was Saddam the way Saddam was because Iraq is the way Iraq is... Were America and its Iraqi allies going to defeat Al Qaeda and its allies in the heart of the Arab world or were Al Qaeda and its allies going to defeat them?"

People tell me Friedman is somehow known for his ideas. Maybe it's a writer thing, but I don't see one coherent idea in this whole damned mess! "Was this as is it was whatever?" Reading Friedman is like watching Don DeLillo and Cormac McCarthy fuck.

"Now gimme a kiss!"

But if you can make it through - rum helps - Friedman's goals become pretty goddamn apparent. He's trying to dodge any sense of guilt over his shameless cheerleading for the Iraq war by admitting it was a failure but the good sort of failure - "It is possible to overpay for something that is still transformational." And goes on to credit the occupation with the revolutions in Egypt and Libya, regardless of what's going on in reality.

He blathers on about Iraq maybe becoming "a model where Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, the secular and religious, Muslims and non-Muslims, can live together and share power." And I'll grant that he honestly believes that as Friedman's whole career shows him to be of too limited a mind to conceive of sociological factors that can't be condensed to suburbanite-friendly Power Points -

"No two countries that both had McDonald’s had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald’s." Tom Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Branch.

Correlation ain't always causation, especially when talking about a mess of tribal feuds like Iraq - and really the entirety of the Middle East. But Friedman isn't even going into that. He can't. It's as far beyond his comprehension as long division would be to a Texan and more importantly it doesn't pay. Friedman is very well-paid for his baffling bullshit because as terrible as his prose is, it serves to reassure Americans that they aren't really vicious swine for supporting the bombing of some third-world sandpit for no other reason than feeling pissy. His article is just "We had to destroy the village in order to save it!" updated for the 21st century. He's not just dodging the guilt, he's offering an excuse for Americans to dodge it too, filled with lots of smart-sounding words. 

Tom Friedman is a fool and a liar. And you deserve every bit of him.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Hunger Games (Or, Why I Hate Geeks)

In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins accomplishes within the first few pages something it takes most writers whole careers - exposes herself as an irredeemable asshole:

"Sitting at Prim’s knees, guarding her, is the world’s ugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squash. Prim named him Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower. He hates me. Or at least distrusts me. Even though it was years ago, I think he still remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home."

And after reading that, I agree with the cat. Granted, I like cats - something Collins and other subhuman filth clearly do not - so I might be a little biased. So it goes on:

"Even though trespassing in the woods is illegal and poaching carries the severest of penalties, more people would risk it if they had weapons. But most are not bold enough to venture out with just a knife. My bow is a rarity, crafted by my father along with a few others that I keep well hidden in the woods, carefully wrapped in waterproof covers."

Anyone who's hung around gamers - both of the video and tabletop variety - will immediately recognize the irksome swagger of this passage. The narrator is a badass, she wants you to understand that she's a badass, and the text is helping her. The fact that this style of writing has moved out of its original habitat - internet fanfiction - and into something approaching mainstream success should be a source of shame for all of us.

Normally I'm opposed to book burning... Normally...

The plot revolves around your standard After The End setting where young folk are required to participate in a grand deathmatch. Sound familiar? The Japanese did this already, and did it brilliantly, with Battle Royale. That was a hard, nasty little film with no heroes and no sympathy either for the kids eagerly blasting each other or the adults who put them up to it.

The Hunger Games doesn't even come near that sort of artistic bravery. It can't because like most of the geek lit saturating the market these days it is all about characters as escapist vehicles. Katniss - the cat-drowning bitch who narrated those two passages - is full of courage, resourcefulness, and a lovely brunette braid which she uses to best the oppressive post-apocalyptic government while rescuing the cute guy. Yes, it's that stupid!

The triumph of this two-dimensional Mary Sue isn't even plotted properly. The novel begins with her as an accomplished hunter and popular in that totally underground way with the community as "the girl who brings the strawberries." 'Cause it's not enough to just be jock-popular, she's that special kind of not-admitted-but-understood popular so craved by mediocre egotists who want the big mean world to recognize their inherent fabulousness.

So she's already awesome, and then - then! - she volunteers to go Battle the Royale With Cheese in her sister's place. Her sister whom she opened the damn book bitching about but she really loves her and stuff. I'll admit that excuse for a thought process is a realistic portrayal of a teenager but nobody with any self-respect would be interested in the thoughts of a teenager in the first place.

The other big escapist aspect? It's a survivalist novel. They're becoming more and more common ever since a black guy moved into the White House but there's something more than simple reactionary pissing going on here. Like the bravado I just described this is rooted in self-aggrandizing fantasy, the desperate craving for power by fascist twerps. And it's just as divorced from reality - if you're a sixteen-year-old girl and want to try hunting bears with a bow and arrow your daddy made, be my guest. The Darwin Awards always needs new material. Americans - especially 21st century nerd Americans - are some of the squishiest wimps in human history. And they know it, so they gobble up this nonsense so as to better imagine themselves as something strong and independent. And most of them wouldn't last one week without government cheese.

"But it's a YA book" the enablers of this drek exclaim. YA stands for "Young Adult," meaning "a children's book for kids who've started growing hair in new places." If that sounds vague and half-assed, that's because it is. Young Adult is not a genre, it's a cop-out. An excuse for adults to write as badly as adolescents. And an excuse for the fans to indulge in the same teen power fantasies they gravitated towards back in their own awkward years (which they clearly haven't gotten over), getting that much craved dose of two-dimensional bathos while putting on literary airs.

The Hunger Games is the John Wesley Rawles answer to Twilight and it's become popular enough for its own movie. Americans are the most credulous readers on the planet so no, this is not all in good fun. It's an indication of just how divorced this culture is from the ugly reality it faces in the mirror every morning.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Pictures of the Now

I just couldn't resist...

"Help!" cried Romney. "A peasant is touching me!"

Imagine the poor goon's disappointment when he got to the brownie recipe...

"What, me win an election?

I'm not sure what's sillier - the glorified American Idol spin-off that is the GOP primary race, or how everyone is still taking it so damn seriously.

Why SOPA Doesn't Matter

The whole internets has worked itself into a tizzy over the dreaded Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA, which incidentally means "Be quiet!" in Greek). If you believe the blaggers, it'll usher in the final and irrevocable transformation of the good ol' US of A into Nazi Germany. Yes, the Feds are coming for our internets and it's the end of the world!

...Or not. If you stop to actually read the legislation, you quickly realise it's not at all enforceable. Computer nerds may claim such and such can be tracked down online but really, covering your tracks and being anonymous is easier than polling better than Mitt Romney in the primaries. SOPA might slow piracy for a little while but it won't stop it, it'll just cause headaches and slow postings for legitimate sites.

And it won't be the end. When SOPA fails - whether under vote or because implementation is impossible - the dreaded RIAA and MPAA and whatever video games are ruled by will just redouble their efforts, put out another overreaction to piracy, and the process will start all over again.

That's because contrary to the hand-wringing in the blagosphere, piracy is a real problem for business, particularly video games. The ones doing the pirating like to cite restrictive DRM and corporate malfeasance but give 'em the chance to skip all that - get the product directly from the creator with no fixed price - and they'll still fucking steal it!

So yes Che, digital piracy is a bad thing. When you do it, you are hurting what you like - it's just a matter of degrees. If you download a dozen pop songs, I doubt Columbia Records will fold. If you and a million other people download the whole catalogues of your favorite artists, music stores shut down. And while I have worked in one and have no sympathy for the unrepentant douchebags who define themselves by their local record store, I recognize the necessity of such stores if only to keep hipsters occupied while the rest of us do the real work.

And that's what gets lost in this debate - the regular consumer. Publishers are overreacting to piracy, pirates are throwing a bitch-fit and still pirating, and anyone that just wants access to media now has to jump through obnoxious hoops. This naturally drives more people into piracy or to just abandon the whole thing and go get a movie from their local library. You can do that by the way, watch and read all sorts of stuff for free thanks to the taxes you pay the Big Gub'mint.

Further, so much of the hysteria is driven by now hallowed rhetoric on the democratizing powers of the internet. "Free speech" and all that. Not once will you hear the people offering this argument concede that the internet's communal benefits are only available if you have a luxury electronic device manufactured by Third World slaves. Virtual communities are not real communities, just as a transman is not a real man (though science is working on that). The internet is certainly easier than mucking about with your actual neighbors - easier in that you can insulate yourself from conflicting opinions. Fox News ain't the only echo chamber in town...

What I'm getting at is SOPA is not the end of the world. You probably won't even notice it - most of the crap that gets posted online falls under the fair use clause of copyright law. And if you're a dedicated pirate, you'll find a way around this - prompting another mess of legislation.

You asshole.

Friday, December 9, 2011

When Bad People Make Good Movies

It took me six months to get around to Insidious. I had low expectations as the source I most trust panned it and I doubted anything from the Saw crew could be good but last weekend I bit the bullet and gave it a shot -

It's not bad. It's no The Ring but few films are - not even Ringu (suck it, nerds!) - and it's a fun way to spend 90 minutes.

It's a haunted house story that's really a haunted kid story with ghosts and a demon and astral projection. This stuff is covered at the halfway point so I'm not really spoiling anything. And these sorts of movies are all about the ride anyway, not complexities of plot. The filmmakers think they've got that going - I watched the behind the scenes featurette and those Saw guys are suffering from Bigelow levels of unwarranted self-importance. Thankully, the producers of Paranormal Activity were riding shotgun on this and I credit them with keeping things small, fast, and visceral.

The calls are coming from inside the kid!

Story is not the strong point here. It's all atmosphere and imagery and this might be why I actually liked it. I have a soft spot for those old 70s horror flicks, the ones with possessions and poltergeists and things going bump. Those films had a distinct aesthetic - sparse but good effects, shrieky violins - which Insidious steals and puts to good use. I couldn't tell you the names of the characters but the doll-faced ghosts with their still bodies and jerky smiles is still burned into my mind three days later. And this one scene with a gas mask that makes little sense even in context but doesn't detract from the overrall experience. Horror films have every right to get a little goofy, just as long as it doesn't overshadow the scare factor - which is why I am quietly dreading the film adaptation of World War Z. Zombies are the comedy-horror monster of choice right now and if you're a fan of that style then I hate you.

Again, not the greatest horror flick out there but a fun ride, even with the cheesey parts.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Bore with The Dragon Tattoo

I want to see David Fincher's adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo for two simple reasons. 1) Trent Reznor is doing the soundtrack and I am a shameless Nine Inch Nails fanboy. 2) Fincher excels at taking rotten books and turning them into good movies (exhibit A, Fight Club).

...or not.

And it is a rotten book. I tried reading it in anticipation of the film and it only confirmed my existing prejudices against the whole "thriller" genre. And worst of all, it's soaking with the two most common mistakes of first novels - padding and petty hatreds.

Here, this occurs at about 140 pages in - and 60 pages after the friggin' plot actually starts - and it's as good an indication of the rest of the book as you'll see:

"The bus stop for Hedestad was over the road from Konsum, and Blomkvist started off his exile by carrying out his plan to go shopping in town. He got off the bus by the railway station and made a tour of the centre of town. Along the way he bought heavy winter boots, two pairs of long underwear, several flannel shirts, a proper thigh-length winter jacket, a warm cap, and lined gloves. At the electronics store he found a small portable TV with rabbit ears. The sales clerk assured him that he would at least be able to get SVT, the state TV channel, out at Hedeby, and Blomkvist promised to ask for his money back if that turned out not to be the case."

Now imagine a million more passages. Just. Like. That. Thrilling, ain't it? I'm on the edge of my seat! Huh, I should probably move back. That'd be more comfortable.

Stieg's central story here - I'm going to keep calling him Stieg because every time I write his last name I feel like I'm insulting the vastly superior Gary Larson - his story is a not all that interesting cold case. Some girl disappeared forty years ago and now her rich old uncle hires Stei - I mean, Mikael Blomkvist to investigate how. And why said old uncle keeps receiving the traditional framed birthday flower the missing girl used to give him. That little revelation is delivered, like everything that actually advances the fucking plot, in a single line at the end of another twenty page chapter - "'I want you to find out who in the family murdered Harriet, and who since then has spent almost forty years trying to drive me insane.'" Stieg is aiming for the cliffhanger here, and elsewhere, but because he has the novelistic chops of a blind badger it comes across as sheer slapstick. "They're drivin' me crazy I tells ya!"

When Stieg writes dialogue, he's passable. Often unintentionally funny too, as he has - or had - no ear for inflection making every damn character sound alike. When he writes anything else, he will make your teeth grind. Half the time it reads more like an outline then an actual book - "Blomkvist went and did this... And then he did this... Boy it sure is cold... And he did this some more..." The only time he goes into depth with his descriptions is when they involve his pet hatreds - Nazis and libel laws. And he doesn't see much difference between either.

See, Blomkvist published a hack-job on some investment banker type and got sued for libel. Apparently in Sweden, you can do jailtime for something like that - which Blomkvist is supposed to. At some point, it's kinda loose over there. That's the first quarter of the novel, detailing how this awesome reporter got screwed by the evil plutocrat. Now that's something that could be interesting if the author wasn't a vain mediocrity, so the whole conflict is boiled down to Blomkvist being in the right while everyone else is just wrong wrong wrong.

Everyone else mostly meaning in this case other reporters Stieg doesn't like. Comparing the sparse details to the multi-page bitch fests dedicated to the less moral, more successful journalists - which I am not quoting - you get the distinct impression Stieg has some professional axes to grind. It's silly, it's embarrassing, and it's the sort of thing any self-respecting reader wouldn't give a shit about so it just becomes more padding. Seriously, I've seen teenage girls with less padding than this!

Which, awkward as I now realize it is, brings us to Stieg's real reason for writing this overhyped paperweight - Lisbeth Salander! The titular girl with the titular tattoo! And despite all the times Steig assures us she's flat as a board, "tit" is a very apt word here. Again, this is one of those rare instances Steig bothers with real description and you can't help imagining it composed one-handed - "a pale, anorexic young woman who had hair as short as a fuse... a wasp tattoo about an inch long on her neck... dragon tattoo on her left shoulder blade... a natural redhead, but she dyed her hair raven black..."

You kinda want to set the book down. Leave Stieg and his creation alone for some "quality time."

Not that she's just a pretty face. No, Steig demonstrates in a too long exposition just what an awesome investigator his Salamander is - often employing tactics that would get one arrested or shot in real life. And she has l33t hax0r skillz, the kind imagined by people who've never actually looked at source code. She's edgy! She goes her own way! She's every timid twerp's spank fantasy!

And she gets raped. Like, alot. The first time it happened, I actually woke up for a moment. After that, well... Steig may have had an untapped talent for the ludicrous. Beatings, reamings, tazerings - a whole parade of abuses that would leave a real human a traumatized wreck, not to mention enough physical evidence for even Inspector Lestrade but our little Lizzie  soldiers through it! As The Stieg himself says, "She did not cry."

"I like 'em quiet..."

And she tortured the shit out of her rapist in a ponderously long scene that would wear on Saw fans. I guess that's entertainment now for you normal people...

So Salamander and Blomy meet up about a hundred pages too late for me to care, bump uglies, solve the mystery, bump uglies some more, but Lizzie doesn't want to join his harem and runs away to set up the sequel. Oh yeah - Blomkvist gets to do every hot chick in the novel because he's a transparent escapist vehicle for Stieg. And their husbands are cool with it.

And there was some stuff about how Sweden had Nazis and that's a bad thing but fuck it. Fuck this book and fuck you too if you liked it. To quote a much finer writer, "God's mercy on you swine!" 'cause I sure don't have any.