Death to Fans

Remember that time Led Zeppelin got a negative fan reaction upon first playing “Stairway to Heaven” in concert, and Jimmy Page cast a satanic hex on them, sacrificing a young virgin live on stage in the hopes that the Lord of Darkness would consume anyone who didn’t support what the band did 100 percent?

Or when Paul McCartney, upon hearing negative fan reaction to the Beatles’ Revolver album, called anyone who didn’t like it a “bloody tosser who lives in mum’s basement and is probably a closet fairy” as he sipped his tea and nibbled on a biscuit laced with LSD.

This also brings to mind John Hughes’ response to people who didn’t like Uncle Buck (yes, these people exist), when he hired actual hitmen to hunt them down and beat them within inches of their life until they posted ads in the newspapers talking about how his movies were the greatest things ever.

And lest we forget the time William Shakespeare famously told a crowd who booed the opening of Hamlet to “kindly fucketh offeth and dieth, thou fouleth Nazi-eths.” But then again, Shakespeare had a massive lisp, so everything he said sounded kind of funny.

(Note: I’m not too sure about all these details, but they probably happened.)

Oh wait, no they didn’t. Because artists from Bach to Rembrandt to Jack Kirby to Prince actually did care about their fans–also known as “the people who pay us money to keep producing our art”–and didn’t piss all over them. Because these people, and many others, for all their quirks, weren’t hate-filled and mentally unstable.

Okay, a lot of them probably were mentally unstable. But they didn’t take it out on their fans! Continue reading “Death to Fans”

Would John Wayne Approve?

Guys are funny, right? And immature. Definitely immature.

You’d think this if you see nearly any movie with a male protagonist. He’s an overgrown man-child, always there with a quip or an obnoxiously immature pastime that holds him back, while the kick-ass riot grrl rolls her eyes and does all the real work, maybe letting the dude accidentally do something right or lift something heavy.

Maybe it’s be a male character full of power and competence who still has to be funny. Because serious people–adult males, especially–are boring!

Or so hundreds of Hollywood screenwriters would have us believe. Not just screenwriters, but novelists, TV writers, and those in the comic book business.

Jamaul over at Jamual Writes discusses this in a great post called “Always Be Funny.” The new God of War video game, and its strong, silent, and brutal male protagonist got him thinking about the phenomenon:

So, I was just on Twitter talking about the new God of War video game, which I’m watching via YouTube.

I love this damn game. It’s amazing.

But I did notice something about the main character – Kratos.

Dude is uber serious. Never crack jokes. Never smiles.

Even Wired wrote a piece on Kratos – and his appetite for violence, claiming that’s he’s toxic.

I disagree. I think Kratos is just a personality type. Strong, but silent type. A warrior. And that’s the thing with the personality type – they don’t think, they just do. Tough, stoic.

Much like the John Waynes, Clint Eastwoods of the old Westerns, which I love.

These characters don’t talk much, quick to anger, disagreeable, grumpy, strong, leaders, and blaze their own lane.

They’re my favorite type of characters. Which seems to be a relic, nowadays.

The pathetic state of video game journalism aside, imagine a world where a quietly bad-ass character is considered “toxic.” Throw out all your old John Ford westerns and Mickey Spillaine noir thrillers, I guess! Nope, men have to be seen as non-threatening, cute, cuddly teddybears.

I think what Jamual is noticing is that male characters used to have some kind of danger to them, an edge, an element of unpredictability that could erupt at any moment–and here’s the important part–against the bad guys.

Charles Bronson wasn’t mowing down the innocent in Death Wish. Clint Eastwood wasn’t abusing women and children in Dirty Harry. Richard Roundtree wasn’t beating down the righteous in Shaft.

These guys were just bad mofos doing what had to be done. Even Han Solo, grumpy and quippy himself, was competent, and his humor fit the character and his swashbuckling way of life. Which is masculine. Which is why, I think, our cultural elitists in charge of making this stuff need to neuter the men. As Jack Donovan is so fond of saying, strong men acting together are the biggest threat to the nanny state. So the “gang,” if you will, must be broken. Continue reading “Would John Wayne Approve?”

Yesterday’s Works, Today’s Eyes

I never liked the band Sublime.

For whatever reason, their 1996 self-titled third album became really popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s when I was in high school and college. And even then it annoyed the hell out of me. To this day, I can’t hear “Santeria” or “What I Got” without getting a twitch in my eye. And remember, this was the era of nu-metal and rap-rock–Korn, Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, and their ilk were everywhere. Even in this morass of awfulness, Sublime stood out to me as particularly wretched.

So what in the world makes me think of them now? I’ll tell you what brought Sublime to mind: I’m a musical masochist.

See, from time to time I like to pop over to Pitchfork and see what’s new in the world of indie hipster music. I know, I know: I get what I deserve. But I check the site more for laughs because nearly every single review has to go into politics, and oftentimes the reviews hinge more on the politics of the artist and how they’re embedded in the work and less on the actual notes involved. 

It’s almost as though Pitchfork’s stable of reviewers is more convinced on the influence some music can have than on the music. But nah, art doesn’t influence people, right?

I love rock musicLove it. But its current state is pretty sorry.

Anyway, a week or so ago, Pitchfork, for whatever reason, decided to review Sublime’s 1992 debut album 40oz. to Freedom. And this review typifies a phenomenon I loathe with nearly every ounce of my being: judging past works as being deficient for failing to live up to the current year’s moral and political standards.

This is how you get idiots screeching that the entire Western cannon of art, music, and literature is racist and unworthy of learning because “Muh dead white European males!”

It gets classic Mark Twain novels like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer–which carry a strong anti-racism, anti-slavery message–banned because they use the n-word.

Heart of Darkness. To Kill a Mockingbird. They’ve got to go.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the classic album by The Beatles, is blamed for making rock a “male” thing, as if (a) that’s necessarily a bad thing, and (b) is even true. So it has to be “reassessed.”

The works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis? Racist and bigoted because they’re too Christian. Out with them!

Even a video game like Kingdom Come: Deliverance, made by a Czech company that takes place in a historically accurate recreation of 15th century Bohemia, gets criticized by idiots for not having any black people in it.

This drives me crazy. Continue reading “Yesterday’s Works, Today’s Eyes”

The Influence of Art (and Other Hypocrisies)

[Preemptive request: I don’t buy the “video games cause school shootings” argument, so kindly don’t spam the comments to the effect that I do. Thanks.]

It’s a well known fact that violent video games create violent people. Except when they don’t.

It’s just like movies and TV: These things have absolutely no effect on the behavior of those who watch them. Unless they do.

The President waded into this recently after the terrible school shooting in Parkland, Florida, suggesting a summit to discuss the effect that video games have on young impressionable minds. He was widely mocked for this. It’s settled science, after all, that video games don’t make players violent gun nuts.

But they do turn gamers–especially white male ones–into misogynistic racists who hate gays. Or something. I don’t know.

And movies and TV, which influenced people to stop smoking, most emphatically don’t make viewers more violent. Except when they do. But they also paved the way for America to accept gay marriage. Except showrunners and moviemakers are unbiased souls who just want to make art and not propaganda. I guess.

My point is that this entire debate is pointless nonsense. Of course art influences people. How couldn’t it? Continue reading “The Influence of Art (and Other Hypocrisies)”

A Budding Gamer

Knowing my fondness for retro games, this past Christmas my sister and her husband–total gamers, the both of them–got me a Super Nintendo Classic Edition.

For those who aren’t aware, the Super Nintendo Classic Edition is a cool little device that Nintendo released in 2017 that’s similar to their NES Classic: it’s a hand-held version of their classic early 90s Super Nintendo console pre-loaded with 20 classic games, designed to work on modern TVs, and guaranteed to tickle your nostalgia gland and separate you from your hard-earned money!

So while we were visiting my parents over Christmas, I fired it up and gave a few old games a spin. And my pleasure centers were absolutely engaged. Super Mario WorldSuper MetroidF-ZeroDonkey Kong CountrySuper Castlevania . . . aw yeah, total classics. And of course, one of my all-time favorites that I haven’t played in easily twenty yearsMega Man X. I loved that game, and was immediately engaged.

And of course, so was my son.

I mean, Mega Man X, like every single game in the Mega Man franchise, has bright and colorful graphics, fantastic music, exciting gameplay, and robots that fight each other, steal each others weapons, and blow stuff up. In this edition, the main character, X, has to fight animal-based robot masters in order to beat their big boss Sigma. It is, in short, tailor-made for a five-year-old.

snes_mega_man_x_p_xky270

But the presents a bit of a parental conundrum for me. I grew up with Nintendo, getting a set for Christmas in 1987, when I was not much older than my son. I also played Atari with my maternal grandmother, who is always up on technology, and classic Sierra adventure games with my paternal grandfather on his then state-of-the-art Leading Edge computer (with two external disk drives!). So video games were always a thing with me.

I’ve written fondly about retro games before. The music in those old games was often fantastic and inspiring. And speaking of inspiring, the plots and mechanics of many old video games really stoked my imagination, and continue to be an unlikely source of inspiration. And I know for a fact that I am not alone in this.

But I also reflect on all the hours I spent playing video games as a kid, especially as the console generations marched on and got better and better and more realistic, and the games got longer. I always liked role-playing games, you know, those dorky games where you fight monsters and level up and so on. They always had really fun tactical combat, customization of characters, and a lot of options to just go and explore stuff.

They were fun. They were engrossing. And they often took sixty hours to finish.

And as the games got better and better, they got longer and longer.  Continue reading “A Budding Gamer”

Pop Culture Is All We’ve Got

Pop Culture Shirt Under A Suit

Why do people care so much about big blockbuster movies and pop music and comic books and video games and television and sci-fi and fantasy books and all other pop culture? This stuff is junk. This stuff doesn’t matter. This stuff just isn’t that important, right?

But it is.

High culture is dead. It died a long time ago and is firmly in the “smells funny” phase. Pop culture matters because pop culture is all we’ve got.

Culture helps transmit values. This used to be the province of myth and story, painting and sculpture and poetry and music.

We are talking things that are shared by a people. Things that are enjoyed for their portrayal of truth, their embodiment of beauty, and the pleasure they bring to the eye or to the ear or to the mind or to the soul.

Maybe these things are cliched, but some things are cliche for a reason. They are cliche because they work. Hence the continuing popularity of narratives that show the struggle of good triumphing over evil.

“That’s not realistic!” many say. “It’s simplistic!” they criticize. But that’s the pointGood doesn’t always win, but that doesn’t mean human beings want a culture that reinforces the worst case scenario all the time, one that embodies and exalts the nastiest parts of being alive. It’s not in our nature.

Back to high art: Quick! Name a modern “serious music” composer who matters! Or a poet! Or a painter!

You can’t.

But I’m sure you know who Taylor Swift is. Or what Star Wars is. Or what team LeBron James plays for. Because pop culture has become our culture, for better or for worse.

pop-culture-guide-2016

This is why people argue about movies involving aliens and laser swords. Or books taking place in fantastical realms with dragons and magic. Or television shows about zombies. These stories reflect and shape who we are as a people. This stuff matters. Continue reading “Pop Culture Is All We’ve Got”

What Owns You

Hands in chains

Compulsion. We think it’s a disorder–OCD. Most of us, we say, are above it. We’re in control.

But really, that’s a delusion. So many things control out lives. And adding more irony is that we are keenly aware of it.

The device you’re probably reading this on: How many times a day do you check it? If you’re an average person, the answer is 80 times per day. Eighty! Who’s in control?

It’s no great revelation that the stuff we own ends up owning us. But it’s helpful to occasionally remind ourselves of this.

Tyler Durden Fight Club quote the things you own end up owning you
People knock Fight Club, but the book and movie resonate for a reason.

Lots of these things are vampires, leeching us of or time, money, and energy. Time, money, and energy that could be put to more productive use. It’s bad enough that we don’t really own much of the stuff we think we do . . . and then, this stuff turns around and owns us.

I know that I myself have several things that own me, physical good or otherwise. These keep me from doing what I really want to do and know that I should do: write, read, pray, work out, play music, think, and so on.

Bela Lugosi Count Dracula

A caveat: These things don’t interfere with family time. When I’m with my family, the screens are out of sight. That’s an iron clad rule, and it’s one that’s easy to follow, because my wife and I keep each other in check (this will be important later on), and quite frankly it’s embarrassing wasting so much time on this stuff. Continue reading “What Owns You”