Thursday, September 25, 2014

Denise Dorman Did Not Say That Cosplayers Are Ruining Conventions

I've seen a few articles in my news feed today (like this one from Topless Robot) complaining that comic artist Dave Dorman's wife, Denise wrote an article that's mean to cosplayers. Most of the headlines say some thing to the effect of "Dorman Says Cosplayers Are Ruining Conventions." I read the blog post when it showed up in my Facebook feed a couple days ago. I did notice a kind of "you kids get off of my lawn" attitude toward cosplayers, but I remembered the point as being more about the financial realities of exhibiting at conventions.

As I read the TR article, I wondered if maybe I'd missed something in Dorman's blog post. After all, since I usually attend conventions to try to sell games (either directly as a vendor or indirectly by running panels and demo games), it's entirely possible that I sympathized with Dorman over the financial difficulties of exhibiting at cons that I misread or downplayed where she was laying the blame. So I went back and re-read her post.

The first five paragraphs are what I took away as the main point of the article: that conventions are expensive, that attending a convention as a creator isn't usually fun and can be downright miserable, and that cons are getting harder to financially justify. Dorman first mentions cosplay in paragraph six:

"I have slowly come realize that in this selfie-obsessed, Instagram Era, COSPLAY is the new focus of these conventions–seeing andbeing seen, like some giant masquerade party."

She doesn't say cosplay has ruined conventions, she says cosplay has become the new focus of conventions. True, she follows it up with what can easily be seen as overly-harsh accusations of the kind of shallow narcissism that anyone over 30 usually bitches about any time the word "selfie" comes up, paired with a lot of bitterness about creators not getting as much attentions at conventions, but she's still not suggesting the kind of cosplayer pogroms that some of the response articles make it sound like she's advocating. In fact, she even acknowledges that cosplayers aren't the whole problem:

"I just float the idea that maybe we’ve reached a tipping point. Have the expenses of dressing up, rising ticket prices, price gouged hotels, and parking costs to attend these costly conventions made it financially unfeasible for people to actually spend money on exhibitors anymore?"
At no point does Dorman ever suggest that cosplayers are "ruining" conventions, just that conventions are changing (in part because of the increased popularity of cosplay) and that those changes are making it harder for creators to justify attending. Her final question (presumably to other creators) re-iterates that the post isn't about resisting change, it's about how creators are going to deal with the changing focus and financial realities of conventions:
"So I ask you…at what point would YOU cut bait and stop attending these shows? How do we satisfy the fans in a way that makes sound financial $ense ? ? ?"

Harry Potter & Holy Grail

Chances are you've already heard about the Christian re-write of the Harry Potter books, but if you haven't actually read it, you really should. It's got it all. There's Christian persecution fantasies combined with a Michele-Bachman like understanding of history:
"My father says that dark times are coming," Hermione spoke worriedly. "There is a man named Voldemort who wants to destroy all that we stand for. He is pushing an agenda in congress which will stop us from practicing our faith freely."
"But that is what our founding fathers built this nation for!" Harry cried indignantly. "The freedom of religion!"
"Voldemort doesn't care," Hermione remarked sadly; and she shook her head. "And he is gaining power. The freedom of Christians to practice our faith is disappearing by the day. Soon, it will be like it was in Rome." Lovely, ladylike tears began to roll down her delicate, terrified face. "And I don't like lions!"
Weird Bible interpretations:
"Hufflepuff Hats believe in the Bible; but only some of it," Luna explained casually; and she was still feeding on that stuff. "We don't believe in the stuff against fornication and drinking and socialism; but we really like Matthew 7:1; and that's about it. We're really fun and we seem really nice and really tolerant as long as you agree with us!"

Even weirder interpretations of what a Sorting Hat is:
"But you see, here at Hogwarts, we divide ourselves up into Sorting Hats. After breakfast, all the new little ones will choose their Hats. Each of the different Hats have different beliefs; but we all love the Lord!"
Miracles Everywhere:
With the simple faith so often seen in little ones, Harry got down on his knees; and lifted his hands skyward; and shouted prayerfully, "Dear Lord, please open these doors; and allow me to enter my new home!"
(This isn't like a locked door to the Chamber of Secrets or something, just a fucking door. If I were God, I'd be pissed at these non-exactly-wizards praying for me to do everything for them).

And, most importantly, really detailed descriptions of pretty much every male character's chest hair:
On the porch was standing a huge, muscular man with a big, manly beard; and he was dressed in a plaid, red shirt, blue jeans, and sturdy, leather boots. His chest was covered in a thick, unruly carpet of coarse, brown hair.

I'm reasonably sure this is parody. All the talk of chest hair and virility is just a little too creepy to be unintentional, some of the wingnut-isms are almost too dead-on, and the writer's apparent level of familiarity with the books/movies just isn't consistent. For example, I  have trouble believing that someone who doesn't know enough about the books to sort out the distinction between The Sorting Hat and houses would know the Dursley's first names and street or be aware of Luna Lovegood's existence. Whether it's a Poe or the product of a deranged mind, it's pretty funny.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Star Lord: Secret Origins

The local art house theater (Maiden Alley Cinema--they're awesome, give them money) has a movie series sponsored by Schlafley Beer (it's very tastey, give them money too) where they play classic movies accompanied by beer. This year, they did a preview for the event that showed clips from the movies in the series. I've probably seen the trailer at least 3 times a month for the past 6 months. One of the movies this year was Boogie Nights, the trailer for which includes the following image: 

As most of you know, Star Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy also had a couple of Awesome Mix Tapes, so the first time I saw the trailer after seeing Guardians, I formed a theory that Dirk Diggler was Star Lord's dad. It made perfect sense; We know Star Lord's father was an alien, which would explain Dirk's "special gift." I promptly forgot about the theory and watched whatever movie I was seeing, but remembered it again every time I saw the trailer. 

Eventually, I remembered my Star Lord/Dirk Diggler theory while I wasn't in a movie theater and posted it to Facebook. A couple days later, Chris Sprouse (he draws funny books and also deserves some of your money) pointed out the fatal flaw in my theory. Namely, that the Awesome Mix Tape did not belong to Dirk Diggler, but to this guy: 

I think that Molina's character from Boogie Nights being Star Lord's father is an even stronger theory. After all:
  • This guy and his firework-throwing pal were really damn weird. When I saw the movie, I assumed it was due to drugs, but maybe it's because they don't fully understand human behavior.
  • Look at him.
  • His robe is made out of material that looks like a space suit. 
  • Every time I see Boogie Nights, I wonder why the hell the scene is in there. It's a completely different tone than most of the movie and doesn't really add anything to the plot or character development. On top of that, one of the major characters of the scene (Molina) doesn't appear anywhere else in the movie and another (the porn star who isn't Marky Mark or Dewey Cox) is basically an extra in the other scenes he's in. Setting up a relationship between Molina's character and the star of an extremely unlikely movie based on an obscure comic book series that wouldn't be made for another 20 years really does seem like the best explanation for why this scene was both filmed and left in the movie.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Six Random Thoughts

  • "For as long as Winston can recall, Oceania has been in a constant state of war – with whom it was at war is of neither importance nor consequence."--George Orwell
  • I'm pretty sure Miley Cyrus is trolling everyone, I'm just not sure if she's aware of it. 
  • I'm also pretty sure that James Franco is an elaborate performance art piece, and that he's completely aware of it. 
  • If you're concerned about journalistic integrity and not just a misogynistic cretin, "journalists trade influence for sexual favors" is probably a better narrative than "slutty slut slut uses magical lady parts to mind control journalists." Just FYI.
  • I used to work in a game warehouse. During that time, White Wolf released a lot of non-gaming books, including a collection of Harlan Ellison's LA Free Press columns, which I read when there was nothing better to do. He had a lot to say about flan. 
  • Richard Linklater's movies don't so much end as just sort of trail off, usually about half an hour after you think they should be just about over. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Couple Quick Movie Reviews: The Conspiracy/Branded

A couple of movies I've watched on Netflix recently:

The Conspiracy is a mockumentary-turned-found-footage-film-because-we-need-more-of-that. Except for a couple of framing shots of the director's narrating, the early part of the film could be a conspiracy doc, complete short interviews with conspiracy wackos and collages of screenshots from conspiracy websites set to sinister music. When the main subject of the doc goes missing, the guys making the movie start searching for him which ultimately leads the to break into the secret meeting of a Bilderberg-like group. So basically it's a few chapters of Jon Ronson's Them smashed together with substantially less likable POV characters. It's not a bad movie, there are just a lot of scenes that don't really contribute to the mood (the mood of most scenes is "guy being filmed with a handheld"), further the plot (yeah, conspiracy, we get it), or add characterization (they remain "two random guys filming a conspiracy documentary despite a few attempts to give them depth"). At least 40 minutes of the 84-minute movie feels like filler. The ending is clever, but it's clever in a sort of "trying so hard it's kind of dumb" way.

Branded is a better movie. The basic plot is about a Russian marketing genius who goes into business with the CIA right after the fall of communism and becomes very successful and is eventually approached by the chick from Joy Ride to help her with some dumb reality show about making a fat girl pretty. Meanwhile, the novelty of fast food has worn off to the point that even marketing can't preserve profit margins, so the shitty burger Illuminati hire Max Von Sydow, who hatches a plan to sell more food by making fat beautiful. The first step is to sabotage Main Character Guy's show and put the contestant in a coma. This gets Joy Ride girl thrown out of the country and causes Main Character Guy to become a cowboy in Siberia or something. When they'er re-united a few years later (along with a kid), he does some kind of cow-killing ritual that gives him the ability to see the extra-dimensional marketing creatures that attach to people and cause them to want stuff they don't need. Eventually he uses this ability to destroy major brands and convince Russia to ban advertising. The weird-marketing creatures come across a lot like a MacGuffin in a Willaim Gibson novel--there's a lot of potential there, but it all goes unrealized. It doesn't show up until the movie's at least halfway over, is never really explored beyond its capacity to allow for trippy special effects, and, worst, completely unnecessary. The marketing creatures don't really explain anything better than the "Main Character Guy is a marketing genius" explanation that works perfectly fine for the first half of the movie. I enjoyed Branded and it does play with some neat ideas, but it's somehow simultaneously too ambitious for its own good and not ambitious enough.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Currently Binge Watching: Raising Hope

A friend told me I'd like this show a few years ago, but I forgot all about it until I was looking around on Netflix earlier this week. Turns out, she was right. The show is about a guy named Jimmy (some dude I don't recognize from anything else), who's kind of a loser but wears a lot of R. Crumb T-shirts, so he's got that going for him, which is nice. Jimmy and his equally loser white trash parents (Martha Plimpton and that creepy whore-killer guy from Deadwood) live with his senile great-grandmother (Cloris Leachman). One night Jimmy sleeps with Bijou Phillips, which I think most of us would do given the chance. He manages to get her pregnant, but since it turns out she's a serial killer she gets executed right after the baby's born and Jimmy gets stuck with the kid, Princess Beyonce. In one of the few displays of good judgement shown by the show's characters, they decide to change the baby's name to Hope. That's pretty much the premise, though they do throw in a love interest (the daughter from The Riches).

Yeah, I know, sounds like once you get past the pilot it's a pretty standard sit-com, but it's got that same kind of so-weird-it-seems-authentic poor white trash vibe as My Name Is Earl. Given the fact that Jason Lee, Ethan Suplee (who Plimpton describes as looking like a skinny version of that fat guy from Mallrats), and Jaime Pressly have all had cameos and Crabman shows up whenever they need a random dude with a job who has lines (the joke is that he works everywhere because he has 12 kids), I'm guessing some of the key people behind the show were also involved with Earl. Like My Name Is Earl, Raising Hope is filled with characters who consistently make terrible decisions, oddball bit characters (instead of Patty The Daytime Hooker, they've got Dancin' Dan), and a kind of skewed version of reality that's simultaneously surreal and completely believable. Also, Oates from Garfunkel and Oates has a recurring role as the woman who runs the dog/baby/old people day care, and most episodes with her include a song.

So basically, if you like off-the-wall white trash sit-coms, you should watch this.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Social Justice Warrior Is An Insult? Really?

I'm not going to comment one way or the other on the whole Quinnspiracy thing going on in the video game world right now because I'm not a video gamer and I don't have the time or the interest to try to sort out which frame is most accurate (though I do have strong suspicions based on what I've seen from both sides). If I want to explore representation and treatment of women in geekdom, I'll stick to the comics and gaming subcultures that I know. If I'm going to worry about journalistic integrity, I'm going to worry about the fact that They Daily Show is winning Peabody Awards, not that someone may have written a soft review of the latest version of Grand Theft Auto. I'm not saying these issues aren't important, just that they're not important enough to me personally to try to sort out the Springer episode that they've turned into in order to make informed comments about them.

What I am going to talk about is the use of the term "Social Justice Warrior" as an insult, because I'm pretty sure I've seen it used in other contexts (mainly by right-wing types), it seems to be becoming more mainstream (it showed up a comment on the Hex Facebook page recently), and, most importantly, because it's the most pathetic attempt at an insult that I've ever seen. As I understand it, "Social Justice Warrior" is used to describe people who argue for inclusiveness but who, at least in the mind of the person using the phrase, have ulterior motives for advocating a particular position (improving their reputation, getting laid, whatever). I'm not interested in the definition. It attacks a person's intent, which is hard to prove or disprove without a confession or very damning evidence, so whether the intended insult is accurate is a moot point. I'm interested in the phrase itself.

The reason "Social Justice Warrior" doesn't work as an insult is because it sounds bad-ass. "Warrior" is a word that rarely has negative connotations, so pairing it with the actual thing that the person (accurately or not) claims to want is basically saying "HA! HA! You fight for what you believe in!" And since not supporting "Social Justice" implicitly means supporting social INjustice, you're not going to find a lot of people who reject the overall concept (though some may qualify their support by providing a strict definition of the term). So when you call someone a Social Justice Warrior, you're basically trying to insult them by implying that they're willing to fight for something that most people support. See how that's dumb?

I suspect that the main reason that more people on "social justice" side aren't fully embracing and co-opting the term is that it just sounds too cool. Social Justice Warrior should be reserved for people who take much greater risks, like those who risk their lives and freedom by travelling to dangerous parts of the world to heal, feed, and educate people in need; or people like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning who made enormous sacrifices for what they believed in. Speaking up publicly, donating to causes, attending protests, and other common forms of activism just don't seem dangerous enough to warrant the designation "Warrior," even with the increased levels of government spying, police brutality, and targeting of activists we've experienced in recent years.

Some people might find fault with my assessment of the label "Social Justice Warrior" because it's so similar to "White Knight," which has similar meaning and is commonly seen as an insult, at least by people who spend a lot of time on the internet. The reason White Knight works is that it's evocative of both an outdated, paternalistic worldview and a kind of naivete found in the fairy tales and romances that feature the White Knight character. Social Justice Warrior fails to evoke any similar connotations.

Since "Social Justice Warrior" is such a sad attempt at a slur, I'd like to offer three better alternatives that the Anti-Carlin who came up with the phrase could have used instead that just require changing a single word.
  • Social Justice Crusader: Sure, still sort of bad-ass, and "Crusader" is similar to "Warrior," but there's a subtle difference. The association with the Crusades gives this one a religious connotation that suggests zealotry and uncritical loyalty to a cause or leader.
  • Social Justice Extremist: Describing someone as an "Extremist" is always a good way to imply that what they're saying has no value. "Social Justice Extremist" evokes visions of the kind of fascistic inclusiveness and equality that guys like Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh have nightmares about.  
  • Social Media Warrior: This one undercuts the word "Warrior" by implying that the insultee's actions are limited to complaining on the internet, thereby lumping them in with slacktivists and hashtag activism. Sure, that my not be true, but since the whole point is to discount rather than debate the person's argument, who cares?