Apparently, Electronic Arts has designed Battlefield 3 so players can’t shoot civilians. I actually would be more interested to see a system where you can shoot civilians but there are disincentives in the game to do so, maybe a a sliding scale where the penalties increase the more civilians you shoot at. If you think that players wanting to act out in a game is a problem, it might actually be more indicative of how strong that desire is to see what price people will pay to engage in it than to ban it altogether. It’s one thing to see what people will do in the absence of realistic restrictions, like investigation, court-martial, and arrest. It’s another to see what they’ll do under constraint.
The folks behind Longform.org and Alexandra Lange are launching a site dedicated to picking the best of culture criticism, essays, and reviews. Let’s Get Critical is up and running, and I, for one, am already Instapapering things.
But I’m not just glad to see this because it’ll give me new things to read. Criticism performs a different function than reported journalism, but that doesn’t mean it’s less important, just that it functions in different ways and comes at societal problems from different directions. I’m glad to see folks who have done so much to insist on the importance and relevance of a form a lot of people have treated as if it’s prematurely dead are bringing their attention to a form that a lot of people treat as if it’s fatally light.
I know I’ve been a little remiss in working my way through your wonderful list of suggestions for me (which is, as always, open for additions), but I sat down to watch Richard Kelly’s trippy apocalyptic American fantasy Southland Tales this morning. I don’t know that I think the story Kelly’s telling in the movie works, but the world-building is really powerful, and refreshingly political.
The main reason I think the story doesn’t work, actually, is a political one. While much of the action is consumed with the potential manipulation of an upcoming presidential election, it’s not actually clear how the things that the characters are doing will influence the California voters we’ve told will be key, or what the differences between the two slates are. Similarly, I’d have liked to know more about the actual content of Proposition 69 and what impact it would have on civil liberties. It’s hard to feel tense about the world hanging by a thread when you don’t actually know what will happen if it snaps.
That said, I think there’s something really vital and radical about the idea of Fluid Karma, the magical renewable energy source that’s at the core of the much of the story. A lot of science fiction deals with the idea that we’ll so dramatically degrade the environment that we’ll endanger our own existence and have to come up with a solution, whether it’s going back in time to hit the reset button on humanity as in Terra Nova or safeguarding the first child to be born in years in Children of Men. But I think there’s also interesting work to be done in the interim stage, before things have gotten unliveably bad—sort of where we are now. What fascinated me about Fluid Karma was the idea that in the midst of environmental and more precisely, geopolitical (which is what it might take for us to actually do anything), resource strain, we might seize on what seems like a miracle solution without fully interrogating it. My inner regulatory nerd did a little dance for joy when a news anchor explained that Baron von Westphalen “refuses to release the environmental impact report from Utopia 3,” one of the Fluid Karma generators. And what if we pick something with deadly consequences? I’m not terribly worried that we’re going to open up rifts in time of space, but what if we pick something that makes environmental degredation a lot worse a lot more quickly?
Vulture wants to know if Lady Gaga’s dudely alter ego, Jo Calderone, is “interesting? Or just exhausting?” The persona, which she stayed in throughout her appearance and performance at MTV’s Video Music Awards over the weekend:
isn’t actually new. She premiered him on the cover of Vogue Hommes Japan in 2010:
And of course, he provides an opportunity for Gaga to make out with herself in the video for “Yoü And I”:
I don’t think it’s necessarily revolutionary that she’s cross-dressing or anything. What I do think is interesting about is how ordinary Jo is. The character isn’t presented as terribly attractive or together. The clothes don’t fit particularly well, and even if they were loose to conceal Gaga’s figure, they’re not stylish, or even necessarily clean-looking.
When pop stars come up with alter egoes, they’re usually about kicking things up a notch. Sasha Fierce is meant to be an even more badass version of Beyonce. Slim Shady is a way for Eminem to work out abhorrent ideas. But Jo Calderone is actually a step down from Gaga’s high-level performance of femininity, a presentation that’s often so extreme that it verges (I think intentionally) into the grotesque. And it seems like Gaga’s using Calderone as an way to critique her day-to-day performance of Lady Gaga-ness, in particular the part of her VMA monologue where Calderone explains that it’s inexplicable to him that Gaga gets into the shower in heels. I think I liked that because I thought it was an interesting and gentle way of presenting the kind of “Women. What is up with them?” questioning that shows up in pop culture a lot without an implied value judgement about the way women present themselves (even if those presentations are determined by perceptions of what men prioritize).
Gaga’s always kind of been an ouroboros of a performer. I used to joke that she’d reach a point where the most revolutionary thing she could do would be to get all Michelle Branch on us. Now, I wonder if she’s doing it by turning herself into a version of her own audience.
At GOOD, Megan Greenwell points out something strange in the course of meditating about our obsession with Michael Vick’s time in jail: that neither the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, nor the National Hockey league appear to have a consistent policy on how to handle players who are charged with driving while intoxicated.
It’s an interesting question, how it’s appropriate for the leagues to regulate the behavior of their players, given that the sports industry relies on both the physical safety and health of the players, and the willingness of fans to emotionally invest in both franchises and individual players. I think there’s a fairly clear case for high penalties for behavior that endangers players’ well-being. If you’re caught driving drunk, the law can and should punish you for putting yourself in a situation to hurt other people, and it seems entirely reasonable that your employer would punish you for putting yourself in a position where you’d be unable to fulfill the terms of your contract by hurting yourself.
I think the line for behavior professional sports teams should punish for endangering fans’ enthusiasm is a lot less clear, both because fans have totally different standards for what’s acceptable or what’s outside their comfort zone. Legally, of course, people who are charged with crimes are innocent until prove guilty, but do we think there’s an obligation for employers to abide by the same standard? Especially when sports teams may feel compelled to make decisions in advance of the legal process? And what are the requirements for making restitution if an employer suspends or penalizes an athlete for behavior the legal system later exonerates them of, or for charges that are later dropped? You can’t give Ben Roethlisberger back the games he was suspended for after being accused of sexual assault, and even if the allegations were withdrawn, I’m not sure he should get them back. There’s a difference between losing your freedom and losing your reputation, but I’m not sure how penalties ought to work in the space in between.
The bridge is yours. And I hope to see some of you in person tonight at Jack Rose in DC at 6:30.
-Some interesting thoughts on the problematic East-West dynamics in A Song of Ice and Fire.
-Is Thelma and Louise really the last great movie about women?
-In addition to emulating the tone of Robert Downey Jr.-Jude Law Sherlock Holmes movies, Johnny Depp’s remake of The Thin Man is also, apparently, going to be a musical. I foresee disaster.
-Someone is reviving the Early Edition concept, and I am happier than I have been in ages because I am an enormous dork.
-Is Doctor Luke pop music’s Tarantino?
Up at The Atlantic today, I’ve got a piece about the challenges of doing fantasy adaptations, as illustrated by True Blood and Game of Thrones:
[Charlaine] Harris’s Southern Vampire books may be fairly conventional paranormal romances, lacking some of the higher-level philosophical and mythological resonances Alan Ball’s added to the franchise. But they’re an impressive example of world-building and pacing. Harris started out with vampires and shape-shifters, giving readers a grounded sense of those concepts and mythologies before adding werewolf hierarchies in the third book, witches in the fourth, and faeries in the eighth. That pacing gave readers time to get a full sense of how different kinds of magic work before introducing new part of the world and explaining how different concepts interacted.
By contrast, the show’s moved faster, introducing both witches and the idea that Sookie has faerie powers this season. As a result, both concepts and characters have suffered…One of the most important structural elements of Martin’s novels is the addition of points of view that clarify events and to provide different perspectives on events we’ve already visited once in previous books. To move that diversification of perspectives forward more quickly, Game of Thrones’ adapters replaced some generic scenes of courtly life with conversations between characters that set up rivalries at court, like those between the realm’s treasurer and its spymaster…These additional scenes don’t change the pace of events—just our understanding of them.
I hadn’t really thought of it this way before I wrote the piece, but pacing’s particularly important with fantasy because of the way it interacts with world-building. If you want to disorient people, it’s fine to drop them in and rush them. But if you want the concepts and the assumptions of the world to be really clear so you can use them later, you have to take your time.
The key question at the end of the last, excellent season of Parks and Recreation was how Leslie, who has just embarked on a relationship with Ben, who is nominally her boss, will balance that romance with the chance to run for Pawnee City Council. In a weird way, I’m more interested in the news that she’ll choose between them rather than try to balance both.
The trope of a career woman who figures out how to have it all is one of the most common sub-narratives in romantic comedies. I don’t actually think it’s impossible for women to simultaneously have upwardly mobile career trajectories, and that there is a lot to think about when those sort of stories are done in creative and thoughtful ways. I think Leslie and Ben represent a couple whose careers have the potential for real emotional implications for each other, especially if Leslie’s campaign makes Ben feel insecure about his past failure as mayor, or if his past struggles make her feel anxiety about her ability to perform the job she desperately wants. But I do think the idea that a female character might want something other than a man enough to pick that is an emotion that’s essentially verboten in popular culture. At the end of The Help, Skeeter’s happily single, but she’s dumped by her racist boyfriend rather than kicking him to the curb to head up to New York and set the publishing world on fire. So if Parks and Recreation has Leslie pick City Council over Ben, or has her choose Ben and then spend half the season regretting it, I think it’ll be doing something rare.
And more than that, I’d like to see more romances that don’t have purely happy endings, that have the characters choose not to be in relationships; that have characters compromise to stay in relationships and make the case for that; to have characters have relationships that are good for a time, but are not meant to be permanent. The Wall Street Journal points to a study that suggests mothers who expect that balancing their professional and personal lives will not be difficult are at a greater risk for depression. It would be nice to have more pop culture that reflects that those balances are difficult for everyone, and that affirms that while choosing between priorities may not be fantasy-land style optimal, it’s not a sign of failure and can in fact be a sign of growth.
It’s not nearly enough to tide me over, but oh I am so glad that BBC taped more episodes of Sherlock before shooting started on The Hobbit:
One of the things I liked most about the remake, and I liked many things about it, was the way the show broached the Bert and Ernie problem, frequently having people assume that two grown men living together must be a gay couple, but insisting that the characters aren’t gay and that the intimacy of their friendship is unaffected by those assumptions. One of the things that I think has worked quite well about the update is the changes to the characters’ psyches and how those play off each other, with Watson experiencing trauma from his war wound instead of just bucking up and being cheerful, and Holmes having enough psychological knowledge in his background to solve a problem when he recognizes it by getting Watson out and about, even if he’s insensitive in situations that don’t require him to figure out the answer to a question.