Pewdiepie Might Not Be a Racist, But He’s Something Worse

Let’s say that you have over fifty million pairs of eyes upon you. Let’s say that you’re such a pop culture sensation and voice of your generation that you inspired an entire episode of South Park about you and played yourself in it. Let’s say that you’ve made hundreds of millions of dollars doing nothing of value and Disney is knocking at your door with even more. Picture this is you, dear reader, and ask yourself: “if this was my life, and the world was watching, what would I have to say for myself?” Now pretend you decide the best foot to put forward is using the N-word and calling for death to all Jews.

The internet has ushered in an age of obnoxious unaccountability that has been coupled with an obnoxious backlash and calls for censorship. It’s why things are how they are right now. Growing up in a world you no longer have to look in the eye and being able to say whatever you want from behind a monitor has bred the nastiest generation since cross burning was a thing, and it’s burning itself at both ends with endless feedback loops of rampant online abuse and political correctness taken to laughable extremes becoming the new cultural norm. What used to be considered internet troll culture is now occupying the White House. And people like this: they are the reason.

Pewdiepie (aka Felix Kjellberg) has emerged as the face not only of the millennial generation, but of gaming as well. And oh my, is it a punchable face. I may not understand the appeal of watching a human Spongebob character with the faculties of an edgy ten year old screech while playing video games or do a whole lot of nothing on camera when the world is filled with incredible art, beautiful film, talented people, books crammed with knowledge, and video games that I could damn well play myself, along with literally endless possibilities, but it’s plainly a fact that at least fifty million people see value in this, so let’s go ahead and call that battle lost.

Let’s move on to the real topic at hand: with so many people out there who love what Pewdiepie and his lot do, does he owe it to anybody to not say whatever he feels like saying? Can he or should he be accountable for anything he does online? In case you have been living under a rock without an internet connection, Pewdiepie has caused some controversy using racial slurs and calls for genocide as humor and then aggressively playing the victim when the media has drawn attention to it, citing “clickbait journalism”. And nobody has shut up about it for what seems like months.

I hate to tell you guys this, but clickbait has always been the only kind of journalism. Even before “clicking” was something you could do. Racism, sexism, child molestation, rape, murder, and general deviance have always been the front, middle, and back pages of the newspaper because that’s what the people pay to see. And if somebody is willing to pay for it, somebody else will always be willing to sell it. And on the internet, if people are willing to watch it, and advertisers are willing to pay because people are watching it, some idiot will post it on the internet. So accusing the media of doing something just to get attention/money while you film ignorance on Youtube for a living? Yeah, not a great defense. 

Shall we burn this Swedish millennial at the stake as a racist before he brings on the fourth reich? Prolly not. You see, I don’t really know that Pewdiepie even has a racist bone in his body. And unless you know him personally, neither do you. But I do know he’s the face of the largest video sharing website in the world and he’s using the platform to disseminate utter stupidity and ignorance to millions of kids, and whatever his intention, that makes him worse than if he really did want to kill all Jews (assuming he never actually puts it into practice). I don’t watch his videos, and I don’t care about what he thinks about anything whatsoever. But I do know his “humor” has an internet history that I’m going to relate here and put into its proper context to hopefully illustrate why the social issues that people like Felix cause go far beyond simple-minded racism.

Racism is a basic evolutionary and social feature. It’s lizard brain stuff that we as humans are fully capable of intellectualizing away once we’re aware of it, but it’s a fact that people are naturally inclined towards things that look and behave like themselves. Remove intellectual functionality and YOUR country automatically is the best country. YOUR political candidate is the best political candidate. YOUR mom is the best mom. YOUR local sports team is the best sports team. YOUR favorite show is the best show. YOUR way is the best way. YOUR race/gender/sexual orientation is the best race/gender/sexual orientation. And we are not exactly an intellectual people these days. But still, we had at least learned to put a polite face on it for the most part; out of sight out of mind. Civility is the best we can hope for and we had largely attained that, at least in some places.

But the resulting taboo that has sprung up around racism has served to make it fodder for modern edgy humor. In recent years, “death to all jews” and “Hitler did nothing wrong” were mottos bandied about on the internet by trolls for the sake of irony. On 4chan, they used to play a game (and probably still do) where people post links to videos and whichever post number has double digits at the end of it, that video will be targeted with ironic Nazi spam. The randomness of it was the funny. My guess would be that Pewdiepie was once targeted by this and became an admirer.

Now in small doses, this anarchic brand of ironic racism is worth a chuckle. I mean, a Taylor Swift music video getting raided by mass Nazi propaganda posts out of nowhere is Kaufmanesque humor to a T. But in keeping with the theme, I’ll offer up this historical quote: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” The origin of the quote is in question, but it’s usually associated with Hitler and Goebbels. The layers of irony are getting hard to peel away, though, because what began as a series of definite and distinctly ironic jokes has officially blossomed into an actual political creed over the years of mindless repetition. A generation raised on irreverent shitposting has ceased to understand the difference between ironic humor and actual politics due to years of hearing the same garbage in an online echo chamber over and over.

I’m the father of a ten year old son. Every once in a while he does something really insane and gets a room full of people to laugh. Then he does it again and we chuckle politely. Then again and we maybe are still smiling. But eventually I have to tell him to stop because nothing stays funny forever and by repeating it over and over again, obnoxious humor ceases being humorous and becomes just plain obnoxious. It’s like I broke his heart, but it needs to be done if he hopes to learn how to function in social situations.

Likewise, racist humor in small doses can be very funny. But through repetition of the same jokes, eventually the humor will leave and you’ll just be left with the racism, and that’s what has happened to Pewdiepie. He’s taken something that was amusing years ago and has since been spammed into meaninglessness out of the context where it was ever funny at all and repurposed it to impress his audience with his ability to do whatever he knows he shouldn’t just to prove he can. That’s not comedy. That’s childishness. And for an adult man with a massive viewership consisting mainly of children, it’s fucking dangerous.

Children don’t understand the inhuman history of phrases like “death to all Jews” and can’t possibly comprehend the pain it can cause to somebody who was imprisoned for their ethnicity by madmen and then starved and tortured as a scapegoat for a culture that lost its way, or somebody who lost their parents and/or grandparents in an ethnic cleansing so some fascist politician could consolidate his power. These are real people who are walking among us right now. If you can’t see why hearing the hate speech that created that situation in the first place presented to children over and over because some douchebag thinks it’s funny would be a problem, then there is something extremely wrong in your brain.

There is no part of me that supports censorship. If somebody wants to say something racist, sexist, homophobic, or whatever then I thank them for advertising their stupidity to us. It’s like a billboard that tells you whose points of view you can’t take seriously right off the bat. If real life were always that simple and people were more honest about their bullshit, it would eliminate a lot of problems outright. I’m as big a free speech advocate as there is and you will never catch me endorsing laws that limit it.

But here’s the thing: free speech is for everybody. Yeah, you can say “Hitler did nothing wrong” and whether you are joking or dead serious, you’re entitled to that. But we are not obligated to listen. We are entitled to come at you with whatever non-violent response we feel like because freedom of speech isn’t just for you. So if I want to say “Pewdiepie can choke on Hitler’s only testicle and die”, I can do that too. If I happen to be a business owner and Pewdiepie is my employee, I can send him on his merry way because I don’t want him representing my company. And if he’s posting his nonsense on my website, I can delete it and tell him he’s not welcome anymore.

Freedom of expression does not mean freedom from reaction or social consequence. It means the government can’t prosecute you, but it leaves you wide open to whatever “free expression” the rest of us deem fit. And that is why respect and basic decency is important. It’s not only the proper way to interact with your fellow humans, it’s important to your social well being.

So maybe when Disney -a company with a long, shameful, and persistent history of pop racism- decides it’s embarrassed to associate itself with you or a blatant neo-nazi website becomes your most ardent defender, it’s time to reassess who you want to be and how you want to present yourself to the world. It’s not about political correctness. It’s about not being a completely reprehensible piece of shit and modeling for a generation of children to do the same.

There’s a world of difference between the adult-oriented cartoonish social satire of shows like South Park (whose creators have gone on hiatus after determining that real life has become more of a satire now than anything they could make) and Boondocks or Mel Brooks films engaging with racism to portray its ignorance and a real life celebrity spamming hate speech just because he can. The cost of the internet and the freedom of communication it affords is idiots having a platform to say and do whatever they like.

Artists and comedians can construct entertainment that can make us laugh and think at the same time,and in the past only those who could pull it off would rise to the public consciousness. The world is a better place with films like Blazing Saddles in it.  But now anybody and everybody with a computer can appropriate and twist things they don’t understand into something moronic and hateful. And anybody and everybody with a computer can watch them do it.

We can’t adequately police the world wide web or stop children from coming across ignorance there, but we can teach them what is and isn’t right and the difference between the way people act online when they want to earn money for acting stupid and the way they behave in real life when they want people to enjoy being around them. Personal accountability and integrity starts at home and we can’t afford to let kids be raised by Youtubers.

I’ve got a distinctly sick sense of humor and I want to be free to enjoy that, but it’s important that I understand the time and place to express that aspect of myself. With friends in private or on message boards where such people gather to share is fine. Outside of their proper context, these jokes are as likely to be understood as an old school 4channer running around shouting “desudesudesu” in public. You won’t see me making jokes about dead babies in front of my boss who may have lost a child, using the term “rape” carelessly in public, or declaring somebody “my nigga” on social media because I understand that there are people whose life experiences are not the same as mine and what might be amusing to me could be an emotionally devastating misunderstanding for them. Not being an asshole means respecting that.

Doing these kind of things just because you can is creating an environment that none of us is going to want to live in. The cycle of insensitivity and hypersensitivity is getting old and every one of us has the capability to break it, at least for ourselves. It sickens me that the gaming community has become such a focal point of this phenomenon and it has set us back long enough already. We’ve suffered in the underground being labeled as virgins and losers long enough, and with most people playing games now we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be represented en masse as bigots or man-children.

If nothing else, Pewdiepie’s antics have given us a starting point for this conversation. Yes, he and his have lowered the level of what constitutes entertainment to record lows with their spectacular lack of having anything of value to say, coupled with the willingness of millions to spend hours on end listening to them say it is helping to make this world a shittier place one inane video at a time.

And maybe the mainstream media and those modern day Don Quixotes cartoonishly referred to as “social justice warriors” are panicking at this loss of control and reacting poorly by witchhunting for the symptoms of racism and the like when we should all be addressing the disease of a society that has willfully allowed its standards to be lowered to this point. And the only way to do it is the turn our attentions elsewhere. Find better ways to spend our time, and encourage our children to do the same. Hopefully someday we can collectively see somebody acting doofy on Youtube for attention and think “nothing to see here, folks. Just some dope with a webcam with nothing interesting to say.” Now that’s something I’d subscribe to.

Are Politics Ruining Gaming Culture?

politics

Gotta love the internet age. When I was younger, people had to take the time to at least listen to the radio or watch television before they pretended to indulge in half-baked politics. Sometimes I swear that the Internet is the greatest of mankind’s inventions. Everybody in the world can communicate anything now! Then I end up swearing that it’s the worst invention in human history. Everybody in the world can communicate ANYTHING now.

Like I said, back in the day you had to at least get the official line of bullshit regarding the goings-on in the world around you if you were too lazy to read a real book on the subject. That or you could listen to the ravings of homeless people and Christians with signs protesting devil worshiping outside of heavy metal concerts on the streets of major cities. If you wanted to publicly participate, you had to…you know…actually do stuff.

But now that we’ve got the internet, political education begins and ends with social networking posts that are derived entirely from other social networking posts that were made by people who don’t appear to ever leave their home and presumably have no practical interest in the outside world and politics anyways. At some point, this human centipede-like process of education based on tweets, message board posts, and status updates became the cornerstone of modern discourse in nerd culture.

What does this have to do with video games? Well, have you been on a video game message board in the last few years? One where everybody is an expert on human rights and hell-bent on bending the entire world to their will without leaving their keyboard? Every major game is now a political battleground between feminists with a massive checklist of demands that must be met lest they buy the game anyways but complain about it lots and misogynistic tools who may not even know themselves if they are trolling or not since online douchebaggery has become such a reflex at this point.

ninjas

I want to kick their asses SO HARD right now.

When I was little and my mother would throw me out of the house into the countryside to get me away from my Atari 2600 or NES for a few hours, I used to pass time in a little wooded area behind our house. I would pretend I was saving the world from something only I could defeat with my skills learned from watching Kung Fu Theater matinees: evil ninjas.

I’d spin kick and punch the air in all directions like a teenager hardcore dancing, convinced in my imagination that if I stopped, the world would be overrun by these ninjas that nobody else could see. It was good times, but thankfully (hopefully) nobody was around to see this immature maniac spastically lashing out in all directions at nothing. The thing is, as gamers we don’t play outside anymore and as citizens of the internet everybody can see us now. And too damn many of us are still fighting metaphorical invisible ninjas online.

It seems like every major game release comes standard with ridiculous manufactured controversy from the lunatic fringe these days. Grand Theft Auto has always had its share of controversy, but usually from people who are political idiots for a living. The last entry saw a series that has always been the very picture of over-the-top satirical misanthropy in hot water for making fun of female characters. Yeah, GTA. The satirical games known for juvenile humor where almost every character is an irredeemable piece of shit. I know. Try to contain your shock at this revelation.

When one reviewer pointed out this game-changing observation, it kicked off an epic torrent of hate from series supporters that blew up the internet. How do you make a single flame war between idiots in a community that is pretty much a lake of fire at this point actual gaming news? Well, if the article was written by a transgender individual it helps. Being an indefensible prick to a cisgender person is business as usual, but it sucks extra being transsexual and only widespread internet commenting can balance those scales.

Early images of Bioshock Infinite led to a public outcry over Elizabeth’s evil cleavage. A busty girl in a low cut top, you say? To arms!

  I can see your dirty pillows.

                  dirty pillows gif

When her bust size was decreased (which suited the character better, for the record), another outcry over feminism taking over the world resulted. When Bioshock Infinite actually came out, it was labeled “White Guilt: The Game”; presumably by people who either didn’t play it or were angry that the plot mussed their hair when it whooshed right over their heads like Rodan over Tokyo. How do you win?

It’s not all sexism, racism, and homophobia. That’s not First World problem enough to maintain middle class white rage over. Hating people based on that stuff is for edgy teens and FOX News viewers. Let’s talk BioWare. One of the most beloved video game companies in existence. At least they were. Then Electronic Arts bought them.

The torrent of Mass Effect 3 hate speaks for itself. BioWare has sold their soul! They’re the Machine, man! Day One DLC! Worst. Company. Evah. And that was all before they even got to the ending. The game itself: pretty much the same as the last one everybody loved to pieces. But why let things like whether or not it’s extremely fun and brilliant for dozens of hours up until the last few minutes influence you opinion on a video game? It’s EA!

ea evil

No, Shepherd. I am your father.

Here on Gamemoir, we have a smaller audience but a pretty high quality of clientele. If we’re lucky, we’ll get a comment or two on our articles, but zero threats of rape or questioning of sexual orientation or any of the other usual gamer talk. Maybe I’ll egg a few more comments out of somebody by arguing with them, but overall it’s pretty civil. Usually.

In one author’s legendary debut post, she reviewed Europa Universalis IV with part tongue-in-cheek humor and part delightful loopy and antagonistic political rantings over eurocentrism that translated roughly to “flamemeflamemeflameme”. To date, that one post has received nearly 130 comments, almost all different posters, almost universally negative. I’m not sure if the ones that got deleted once the discourse turned anti-Semitic (don’t ask) count on the total, but I think the word “shitstorm” is appropriate either way.

I kind of miss the days where controversy meant rich old people declaring that Mass Effect was hardcore pornography and Grand Theft Auto was a murder simulator. We had a good laugh together at these uneducated dimwits fighting battles against nonexistent problems, didn’t we?  It’s only been a few years, but in that time fighting the war against people who are wrong on the internet has somehow become more important than the entertainment culture we share and now we are the dimwits lashing out blindly at each other while accomplishing nothing aside from making ourselves look stupid.

Being pampered First World residents who can afford to spend all of our time playing video games and pretending to be all deep and stuff by typing about privilege on the internet until our fingers hurt while other people starve and freeze to death or dodge bullets and bombs in their neighborhoods doesn’t really show how socially aware we are so much as it highlights how unspeakably immune to irony we are to have nothing better to do with our time. And yes, I am doing it right now. You’re learning.

If making the world a better place was the goal, I suspect there are better ways to go about it than spreading politically-correct fascism or donating over $150,000 that could have been used to feed the hungry for the pleasure of watching a

sarkeesian gif

The Hiltons and Kardashians are currently in a bidding war to bottle her sweat for a new fragrance.

cartoonishly indulgent Youtuber who never played video games before list stuff that happened in video games where female characters aren’t the most awesomest.

Who knew that all that time I thought I was playing Super Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong in my youth because the games were fun, it was actually all part of a brainwashing conspiracy to make me hate women?  Well it didn’t work in the slightest, but Anita Sarkeesian appears to have made more inroads in that direction with a few videos than a thousand video games ever could for some people. Irony does not have to be our enemy, friends. A little self-awareness goes a long way.

In a world where somebody who rapes a 14-year old girl can get off with a misdemeanor child endangerment charge and the only way we find out is because a hacker collective spams the net with it, I’d say we have bigger fish to fry than video game characters’ fashion sense and internet trolls where misogynistic behavior is concerned.

dragons crown sorceress

Just to be clear: this is utterly ridiculous.

Fiction is almost by definition a place where we can get away from real life for a while. We can be someone and somewhere else and experience things we can’t normally experience and do things virtually that we have no real interest in doing in real life like pay hookers for car sex and then running them over and taking the money back to kick off a citywide mayhem spree that ends with being blown up by tanks. In other words, it’s not real life. Not even comparable.

Fantasy entertainment is a place where we can indulge our id to its utmost without any consequence in a society that has become so super-ego driven and unaware of itself that it’s practically a satire. By choosing to ignore the real world and transplanting its problems into fantasy fiction, we are doing both a disservice and shitting where we eat.

Will the invisible ninjas we call political differences ever go away? Nope. Idiots gotta idiot and jerks gotta jerk. There is no controlling this. As long as humans have been able to communicate, they’ve been able to miscommunicate and the internet has made worldwide distribution of brain vomit as effortless and simple as the thought processes that spew it. There is no changing our fellow humans.

Remember the last time your political arguments were so convincing that the opposition bowed down and told you how right and smart and superior you were and would you please teach them to be so knowledgeable?   Exactly. There is no mission to accomplish here; just a lot of delusions of the other side taking over the world if we don’t stop them using the letters on our keyboards and social media-driven education to right their grievous wrongs.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of this stuff is worth discussing. But there is a time, a place, and a balance. Spending all day looking for a gaming journalist who made a faux pas so you can gather the troops and bully them for using a word you have collectively decided you do not like or some other nonsense adds to the community about as much as an 11-year-old on Xbox Live screaming racial and sexual slurs.

If we can all just agree to be responsible for our own behavior, I think it’d make our little community a lot more livable. When we accept the fact that we can’t change other people and that many of those other people enjoy saying and doing things we may not like to say or do, we’ll understand the actual meaning of tolerance. Until then, feel free to try and beat Gamemoir’s flaming record telling me how dumb I am. 130 comments is your goal. Alternately, you could use this handy guide to gauge your own personal rage level.

internet comment guide

So When Are Spoilers Okay, Again?

spoilers1

This article contains spoilers. Lots of spoilers. Crazy spoilers. Eeeeeeevil spoilers.

Geek culture, man. You can spend your entire life immersed in it and still not understand it completely. Take spoilers, for instance. When are they okay? When are they not okay? Does anybody have a definitive list of when they want spoilers?  Personally, once I’m sold on something I tend to avoid the media hype about it as much as possible because I’d like to go in blind and experience everything as it happens, but being a citizen of the internet, they don’t make it easy.

There used to be a code of honor for some mediums that they’d label an article title with spoilers. For instance, it might say “Villain for Next Spider-Man Movie Announced!” At that point, you could choose to click on the article or not. The specific instance that got me thinking about writing this article came from Agents of SHIELD.

A couple weeks before the show’s return headlines on nerd-based websites declared “Deathlok is coming to Agents of SHIELD!” I don’t know if Disney paid these sites to do this (I tend to blame all worldy problems on Disney whenever possible), if Marvel is applying their stupid comic book marketing to television or what, but any hype generated (as if the average viewer would give a shit about such an obscure character) was offset by the fact that the show did a great job of setting it up and revealing it only to have it blown weeks before it was revealed. This pretty much destroyed the entire episode for me.

Instead of being in the moment and having my mind blown as intended, I spent the entire episode thinking “Oh, so that guy is going to be Deathlok. Look, He’s getting his Deathlok leg. Such Deathlok. So cyborg. Wow.” The name was never spoken or implied, but then at the end of the episode, the camera zooms in on his leg, where you see word is stamped in what would have been a “whoa” moment for loyal comic nerd viewers, but instead was just a “duh” moment because it had been all over the flippin’ web. This kind of crap is new to television, but there’s plenty of precedents elsewhere.

spoilers2

Spoiler alert, Lois: nobody stays dead in comics. Such a drama queen.

At this point I have to wonder if this won’t become standard operating procedure in popular media. Comic companies have been guilty of deliberately spoiling their most important stories for years in hopes of enticing collectors to flock to get their copy of the historic death or of a big name or some obscure character coming out of the closet. Anybody with a brain knows that collectors flocking will most likely mean there would be no point in collecting an issue since everybody having a copy does little to appreciate the value, but a sale a sale to the comic industry.

How mind-blowing would it have been to have been reading your monthly Superman comic expecting to see the big guy win yet again and to have been met with Doomsday beating the Man of Steel to death instead? Right?! Too bad. In case you missed the media firestorm preceding it, they made damn sure to plaster “THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN” on the cover alongside the (amazing) image of Lois Lane clutching his brutalized body. Sure, there were still feels to be felt, but imagining how much more truly jaw-dropping such a moment could have been if you’d never seen it coming makes me kind of pissed.

On the other hand, take a franchise like Harry Potter. Reports and videos of trolls pirating the books and showing up at midnight bookstore releases to rain spoilers upon unsuspecting fans reveal some pretty strong feelings regarding the practice.

Props to the guy with his hands on his ears going” la la la la”.

Which brings us back to the question, when and why are spoilers acceptable? A lot of us scour the net for any little tidbit of leaked information about upcoming films and television shows, but we will threaten you with bodily harm if you see something before us and try to tell us. We’ll pitch a fit if somebody tells us who dies in a message board post or comment section without proper warning, but we just accept it as part of comic book marketing.

And what is the statute of limitations? Some twists are so ingrained in popular culture that it’s almost unthinkable that somebody wouldn’t be aware of them. Some are so well-known that they transcend the medium altogether and are common knowledge even among people with no interest in the work it came from.

Speaking of transcending mediums, what’s the etiquette with that? Take Game of Thrones, for instance. The show is pretty universally loved and airs some ten eagerly anticipated episodes a year. But the books the show devoutly follows have been available for consumption for years. Wherever people discuss the TV show, the George R.R. Martin fans are likely to converge and begin discussing things that the show hasn’t caught up with. This leads to all sorts of drama.

Is it kosher to banish commenters who are big enough fans to have read the original work to cater to fans who aren’t? I mean, A Song of Ice and Fire may not be Star Wars, but most of the stories have been out there being discussed for years. At what point do you just say “get off the damn web if you don’t want to know”?  Or does a cross-medium franchise have its own set of rules? What if it’s a remake? Can I not discuss that Carrie kills everyone at her prom (oops) because you haven’t seen the latest revamp yet and lived your entire life without bothering to see the classic film (or other remake) or read the popular book? To what extent are those in the know beholden to those who aren’t?

spoilers3

I mean, if you love something enough to care about spoilers, odds are you are going to be on top of it. There’s a definite level of dickishness associated with deliberately spoiling something for somebody else, depriving them of that “holy shit” moment they can never get back, but there’s also a slightly lower level for people who choose not to keep up with popular culture and make a show out of making everybody else dance to their ever-so-slow tune.

Then there’s the tricky business of online reviewing. To fully explore what makes some stories great, it can be necessary to allude to if not state outright plot elements that might be better left a surprise. Do you risk semi-spoilers in order to better convey your appreciation, or do you hope that your vague positivity shines through and gets the point across? People might say to always avoid spoilers outright, but recalling the most famous and celebrated film critic of all time wrote a popular review of Night of the Living Dead that was little more than just a list of spoilers and observations regarding children in the audience with precious little backlash, one wonders what the standard is. Maybe it was just a different time.

As far as I can see at this time, spoilers for casual pre-release marketing purposes seem to be acceptable while post-release spoilers between fans are unacceptable. Trailers that give away practically the whole plot of a film or TV commercials and “on the next…” segments are pretty commonplace. The current review standard seems to indicate that spoilers are okay so long as you give fair warning first. With that in mind, at some point I wish we’d question the need for major entertainment companies to use them as advertising. That seems to be the one area nobody has a problem with and it’s often the most egregious.  Unless one is trolling. Like so:

spoilers

Spoiler alert, losers!

Personally, I kind of prefer the J.J. Abrams approach to marketing. Dude doesn’t want to tell us shit about shit he’s doing. Half the time, he’ll avoid even giving you the title of a film for as long as he can unless he’s working on an established franchise. Remember that first trailer for Cloverfield? THAT is how you get peoples’ attention. Giant monster movies are a small market, but his refusal to tell anyone what the hell they just saw made what would have been a cult release at best a majorly anticipated event among all sorts of moviegoers.

So round and round we go, when we can rock spoilers nobody knows. Perhaps Congress could spare some time from their lax schedule of destroying America to hash out some Constitutional amendments regarding lawful use of spoilage. In the meantime, surf the web at your own risk because here in the wildlands of cyberspace there be trolls and corporate leaks. Beware!

Piracy and Me: Is Paying for Stuff for Suckers?

piracy

It happens more and more often. Ask somebody what the last CD they bought is and their response is laughter followed with “you still buy CD’s?”  Go to a message board and see somebody complain about having wasted sixty dollars on a half-assed game and behold the mockery at somebody who actually purchased a copy of what could be downloaded from the internet for free.

Right now you are either saying “f*** yeah, loser!” or “Nick, why didn’t you call the police and turn these miscreants in to the proper authorities?!” Any way you look at it, piracy is part of our world now. Welcome to the digital age. The only question is what the hell can we do about it?

Well for starters, let us all collectively point and laugh at the tools who suggest that multi-billion dollar corporations track down and sue the families of every child who downloads a song or watches a Youtube clip that they don’t own the rights to for millions of dollars that they’ll never get just to ruin as many lives as possible. That’s not an option.

And let’s go ahead and mock those ridiculous anti-piracy ads that corporations have possibly been wasting more money making and distributing than they were ever losing from piracy while we’re at it.

piracy2

piracy3

piracy1

Ummmmmm….they may be going about this wrong.

That last ad does have a point seeing that corporate capitalism resembles pimping more than anything else. The people at the top have other people do all the work, take all of the profits, and then dole out as little scratch as they can get away with to the people whose labors earn them their fortunes.

With the internet making information so easily transferable and most media being easily reduced to information, it’s natural that people would begin file sharing. The concept is a natural progression from handing a CD or book to an acquaintance. But now, the entire world is digitally acquainted.

So we’re back to the question of what to do about it. I’ve struggled with this issue for a long time. There are so many ways to obtain media in the digital age, but the people selling it seem stuck in a business model that no longer works. Their reaction to theoretical lost profits from piracy seems to have been to raise prices, which in turn has led more and more people to turn to piracy for relief.

Income and employment are down, the cost of living is up, and corporate profits are still rising. It makes you wonder who is the real bad guy here. You know what? I NEED a downloadable car.

piracy4

Go, internet, go!

Do I care if the pimps at Disney or Microsoft or Warner Brothers lose money? Not even a little. But here’s where it becomes an issue for those of us whose interests extend beyond the mainstream. Capitalism is the closest thing we have to true democracy. We vote with our money. If a little video game or indie flick made by an innovative artist comes out and can’t get any financial traction, they go away, possibly never to resurface.

This is why I still buy DVD’s, video games, CD’s, and books. I think of it as donating to the cause. Whenever I can, I try to support the cause. But is particularly taxing for a comic book reader and anime fanatic like myself. Comics are a few bucks an issue and anime series are typically released in pricy box sets. And here I am turning my pockets inside out to find only lint.

Comics in particular have been an issue for me. There are a ton of them out there and it’s nigh impossible to keep up, much less acquaint oneself the classics without devoting yourself entirely to it. This is the medium where I lean on file sharing the most, and feel the worst for doing it. It’s an industry I support as much as I can, but to read an entire run of a comic series is a triple digit investment at least.

How do I live with myself having availed myself of a creator’s blood sweat and tears without paying? Well, if I love it, I will buy it when I can. In the meantime, I have often taken to the net to review and otherwise hype my favorite titles as a way to give back. It may not be legal tender, but I like to think in some way I do my part to pay the artists back by bringing in new fans. Hopefully ones with fatter wallets. Isn’t rationalization fun?

piracy5

Then there’s anime. It’s a niche industry in America that always manages to find a major distributor like the now-defunct ADV or Funimation, but it is always struggling. Companies go out of business and operate on small budgets with many of the voice actors also taking on production duties in the localizations. It’s a small circle. But more and more often fans are taking to streaming on the internet rather than waiting for DVD releases.  This doesn’t bode well.

Hits like Attack on Titan and Kill la Kill are viewed, raved over, disseminated, memed, and moved on from long before they even make it stateside now. I prefer to wait given the choice, but that brings me back to money. The prices went down for a while, but they seem to be back on the rise now.  Netflix has a massive anime selection, but they are far from reliable when it comes to getting the latest and greatest, either to stream or on disc.

Basically, if you want to have any hope of keeping up, your options are either stream for free, import on the cheap, or wait a year or two and pay a ton for it. I tend to trend towards the middle option, but that opens up the even worse issue of of bootlegging.

piracy6

Moving on to video games, PC gamers are legendary for their pirating prowess. In fact, they kind of invented modern piracy as we know it. As I said, it’s commonplace to go to a message board and see a poster declare that a game wasn’t worth the money they paid for it followed by a number of posts cackling at the very concept of paying money for a game.

Personally, I have almost never pirated games; they are too readily available and the prices on games go down pretty steadily after release. Console gaming is a primary hobby for me and I support it with gusto so my conscience is clean here, but the community on the whole is dirtier than bad hentai.

Game developers have probably the best reactions to piracy too. Sometimes they release augmented copies onto the web that are deliberately broken at key points so that after a gamer has spent ours investing themselves, they get reamed by being unable to progress further. I can’t say I disapprove of this method.

Others take a kinder gentler approach. Hotline Miami creator Jonatan Söderström went so far as to offer technical assistance for pirated copies of his 8-bit 80’s ultraviolence wonderland after it was torrented far and wide. When questioned about it, his statement was “I’m not going to criticize this, it’s a fact of life. It would be nice if guys could find it within themselves to pay for it, but that’s the world I’m in, so you know, you just have to take it for what it is.” My reaction to this dead-on assessment was to go buy the game.

piracy7

Last on the chopping block: music. This has been ground zero for the fight against piracy, and it will possibly be the industry that finds a solution. Apple’s one-dollar-a-song approach paid huge dividends for everyone, but that price point has since gone up substantially to the point where it’s still often a much better deal to just buy the physical disc.

While other companies are finding some success with a subscription model, the constant raising of prices for downloads and the decline of physical media has led to pirating becoming the standard way to own music. I’ve had many a head shaken in my direction while trying to extoll the virtues of buying stuff instead of torrenting it to music “fans”.

And maybe they’re right. After all, most artists make precious little from album sales with the record label taking the lion’s share. Whenever I buy a new album, they release a better version with bonus tracks or a live disc a few months later, which makes me feel like a sucker for being in such a hurry to tell them to shut up and take my money. After they take it, they demand I shut up and buy it again for the bonus tracks.

And with corporations taking things to insane extremes to go after consumers and extort money or ruin their lives while lobbying for draconian new laws that practically make the internet itself illegal, I’m not sure I see a downside to watching them crash and burn. There are plenty of ways for artists to get their work out to the general public in the digital age. Corporate sponsorship is not the only way to gain distribution anymore and without payola and massive advertising campaigns determining what we see and hear in the media, quality and word of mouth could actually determine what succeeds for a change.

piracy8

I’m still on the fence, personally. While I can acknowledge the ethical issues with torrenting when you should be buying, I’ve never been a proponent of eliminating file sharing or hunting and legally savaging those who engage in it. It’s just too valuable a tool and I’m not at all sold on the concept that it’s destroying our way of life; maybe the way of life of someone with a much higher standard of living than mine, but that sounds like somebody with comparatively little to bitch about if you ask me. And is it as bad as knocking an old lady down and stealing her purse or even shoplifting? Psh. Distributing a digital copy is not the same as taking somebody else’s property. Until you understand the difference, you not able to partake in this discussion seriously.

But this has all been discussed to death. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to keep with my happy medium in the meantime. My meager monthly comic bill nets me a few hours of reading, and a pricey anime box set I might not even enjoy that much will keep me busy for a few more, but to even imagine an attempt to give love everywhere it’s due in geek culture, torrents and streaming are a necessity. Otherwise I simply would never read or watch a lot of great titles and that would be a shame for artist and thief alike.

Is not paying and not reading/watching in any way better than not paying, reading/watching, and spreading the love? I don’t believe it is. And this is why piracy and I will maintain a casual acquaintance. I’ll never suggest that we should not pay into the things we enjoy, but at the same time I think we have to respect that the sellers have so much more than the buyers at this point and there is so much out there that cheating a little is kind of the way it’s going to be for a lot of us. Just don’t forget that some things are well worth supporting and I won’t tell if you won’t.

Is “Geek” Culture Really Any Different from “Real” Culture?

geekculture

You know we love our geek culture here. We wear it on our sleeves and everywhere else. Video games and cartoons and comic books full of sci-fi, fantasy, and all of the stuff that the jocks and yuppies just don’t get; yesiree, that’s where we want to be. And those opposed? Yeah, they think we’re a bunch of man/womanchildren that still live with our parents and can only interact with the opposite sex in two dimensional terms. But that’s cool because at least we aren’t a bunch of superficial plastic celebrity-worshipping jerks with pretensions of sophistication. Sure both sets of stereotypes are somewhat true and often false, but [Morpheus voice] what if I told you that the divide between regular culture and nerd culture was practically negligible when taken in perspective?

That’s right; I said it. Most mundanes are pretty damn nerdy when you get down to it. I’m not even talking about the impending absorption of everything we love into the larger mainstream consumerist collective symbolically represented by Marvel Comics and Lucasfilm being bought out by Disney. I’m saying that regular beer-drinking, sports-loving jocks and wannabe socialites are just as nerdy in their own way, but that their brand of dorkiness is somehow deemed more socially acceptable due to its long-standing prevalence.

The word culture is more or less defined as collective achievements of creativity representing uniquely human experiences as a society. Seeing that humanity is represented by large numbers of differential factions -even in the smallest of communities- that makes the scope of the concept almost infinite. So how on earth does one define “real” culture or even attempt to place value on something so subjective? Well, one thing that is definitive in all human cultures: we all love to argue.

So fantasy; historically a genre for dorks, virgins, neckbeards, and general losers who are too lame to cope with real life so they wrap themselves up in childish fairy tales about audience surrogate heroes in fantastic worlds full of magic and robots and silly stuff like that. No self-respecting adult would ever consider such tripe worthwhile entertainment, much less any sort of classic. I mean, talking animals? Can it get any more childish?

geekculture1

Well, yeah, maybe if they linked arms and sang together while skipping…

Oh wait. There’s that whole “universally beloved and acknowledged as a masterpiece and cultural touchstone” thing. But surely The Wizard of Oz can’t be compared to nerd bait like Lord of the Rings. It had Judy Garland! Or maybe the setting for a story doesn’t matter as much as people think it does and our own prejudices are the only thing holding us back from a good time.

Is going to see the latest epic adaptation of Tolkien’s work that much nerdier than going to see The Lion King on Broadway or A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare in the Park? One is seen by some as high culture and art while the other is disregarded as pop trash for children. Good entertainment is fun, and everybody likes fun. Most of us can all agree on that; except when we don’t.

Take those freaks who like to dress up in costumes. Please. I mean, how big of a loser do you have to be to go to a Star Wars movie dressed up like a character from the series? It just ain’t normal. I mean who does that?

geekculture2

Fresh from a hard day on the ranch bustin’ broncos and rustlin’ cattle, I’m sure.

So just to get this straight: it’s perfectly acceptable to dress up like cowboys (or something) when going to see a fake country concert and wear professional athlete jerseys when watching grown men play games involving inflatable balls for obscene amounts of money, but dressing up similarly to see a film or attend a convention? That’s for social outcasts. Good to know.

So my wife likes to watch boring shows about families, relationships, tearful betrayals, secrets and lies, and all that lameness. But not me; I like to watch Arrow. You won’t catch me getting all caught up in some teary-eyed drama about familial bonds and love triangles and…I am watching a soap opera that happens to feature a guy in a costume who shoots people with a bow and arrow aren’t I? Well shit.

Comic books have long been considered the domain of children but have now graduated to “manchild” status, so some headway has been made. Mainstream society unreservedly accepts the value of art and of literature, but somehow draws the line at the combination of the two. But movies made from them are all right.  Why does the society who made Fifty Shades of Grey a cultural phenomenon opposed to granting similar status to a medium that regularly features high quality artwork coupled with allegorically sophisticated storytelling techniques that often can’t be reproduced in other mediums? Judging by the cover of any given romance novel, I’d say it’s got precious little to do with the objectification that some complain of. I suppose some cultural prejudices simply defy any amount of rationalization.

 reading

Et tu, Beast Boy?

Oscar winner Black Swan was inspired by an anime, but considered high art by massive numbers of pretentious film critics because it has ballet in it. Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary: a pure ballet film ignored altogether because it involves vampires and is a silent film. In other words, it is both too high concept and too low concept at the same time to warrant attention. Ironically, a lot of the people who like to think of themselves as cultured are also the ones who run screaming from “movies that make you read”.

So nerds are often drawn foreign language features (which represent exposure to culture in the most literal form), but high society can’t comprehend Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon beyond it having flying people in it. Sure, it can get a nod as a “foreign language” film, but can’t be included in the same league with the “real” (read: Eurocentric) films. Yet the choreography and wirework in that film rivals any ballet you are likely to come across in its beauty and expressiveness. Go figure.

And is playing World of Warcraft and investing all that time into building up your characters and playing with friends online significantly lamer than fantasy sports leagues? They’re both paying to play with a bunch of statistics to brag about? But at least with video games, you aren’t relying on someone else to do the playing for you. And I think it’s safe to say that online geek culture has developed some behavior that often resembles that of high school bullies.

geekculture3

To be honest, this behavior is not in any way exclusive to nerds or bullies. It’s pretty ubiquitous.

I think the determining factor in these conflicts boils down to the same thing it always does: personal preference. We like to think of the stuff we enjoy as superior to what everyone else likes but- regardless of taste or preference- art and culture are nothing more than the style in which we like to present ourselves. You can’t really label any one variation as “real” since it implies that anything (and anyone) else is somehow less authentic.

No matter what costume you choose to parade around in at whatever gathering of people with similar interests and/or backgrounds, it’s all just the same thing with different window dressing. We all love ridiculous drama and stuff that looks nice and our own little sets of celebs and games, and it’s all just divergent versions of the same basic human behaviors. These are the ways we choose to communicate our feelings and identities to one another, and what we typically communicate is that by-and-large we’re all a bunch of weirdos.

Now that it’s been established that our inter-cultural arguments regarding the allegorical pronunciation of “potato” are all just a big waste of our time, we can focus on further compartmentalizing and labeling each little sub-clique until every single one of us is considered a culture unto ourselves and we can attain peace on Earth. Or possibly Armageddon.

geekculture4

Probably Armageddon.