Friday Afternoon’s All Right For Fanboying

Link post to some of my obsessions of the moment

I’ve been highly anticipating the finale of WandaVision all week, so my thoughts have been dominated by being smitten with the show and its stars.

Not WandaVision related, somehow:

Arrogance Persevering

Thoughts about jackasses on the internet and how much of my life I’ve wasted responding to them.

Yet another thing that I have to thank WandaVision for: maybe I can finally stop feeling the need to respond to arrogant dipshits on the internet? Last week’s excellent episode had an extremely well-written and well-performed scene in which Vision reminded a grieving Wanda that what she was feeling wasn’t just sorrow and emptiness. “What is grief, if not love persevering?”

An objectively good line in an objectively good scene in an objectively good show. ‘Nuff said!

Except Twitter’s gonna Twit, so the whole weekend was filled with some people gushing about what a well-written moment that was… followed by an assload of trolls, snobs, condescending misogynist dolts, insufferable anti-corporate twits, and generally arrogant an awful people mocking it — and the series as a whole — as being insultingly beneath them.

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Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: For the Boys

Two videos I just want to watch, so back off, okay?

Is there a word for when you feel like something is blatantly, shamelessly pandering to you, but you’re still into it for reasons beyond your control? That’s how I feel whenever I watch the video to “Fast Slow Disco” by St. Vincent.

But maybe I’m being dismissive of its artistry. Perhaps I should watch it again.

I can’t get too into this video, because I get irrationally and unfairly annoyed whenever I see women in gay bars. I also think that while I’m still a huge fan of St. Vincent, sometime around Masseduction she started over-estimating her own coolness by about 10-20%, and she could stand to pump the brakes a bit.

But it’s still a pretty good song, and I can hardly ever turn down a chance to watch guys with their shirts off making out with each other. And even though it feels a little like she’s wearing a gay bear leather bar as a costume — similar to how Lady Gaga’s meat dress probably wasn’t intended to make people think about cows — it’s nice to see someone fairly mainstream normalizing body types like this as being sexy and fun. This video isn’t all that sexier than the one for “Cold-Hearted” by Paula Abdul, and that one ran constantly in 1989 — on network television, even! — back when I was still trying to figure out why the scenes with Bob Hoskins and Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? were clearly connecting with me in a way they weren’t intended to.

Completely unrelated, here’s Michael Sembello lip-syncing “Maniac” for American Bandstand in 1983. Kudos to red beret guy for making the most of his camera time!

Semi-New Song Sunday: Arlo Parks

Poet and musician shows that “calming & relaxing” can have some amount of substance

I’ve had good luck with the algorithm this week: just five minutes ago, I checked Apple Music to see if there were any interesting recommendations, and it offered up Collapsed in Sunbeams by Arlo Parks. “Hope” is a standout song because it’s the mission statement of the album: uplifting music about a topic with substance.

It first reminds me of Morcheeba, probably because that’s the only frame of reference I have for a British woman singing over a lofi electronic track. Parks’s music isn’t as musically complex or unusual as even Morcheeba’s (which deliberately is about “chill”1In quotes because using chill as an adjective is a huge pet peeve for me more than challenge) but the lyrics are much more complex.

I also like “Portra 400” from the same album.

Not an Imaginary Story! (One Thing I Like About WandaVision Episode 8)

Episode 8 of WandaVision has what I believe are some great ideas about what’s actually “real”

Lots of spoilers for the entire series of WandaVision in this blog post, obviously, so read at your own peril.

Once again, WandaVision has taken us out of the fantastic bubble of Westview, dumping us into the mundane real world of the MCU, with its boring old stories of centuries-old covens of witches, and top-secret government facilities building fantastic sci-fi weapons to keep super-powered heroes in check.

Like you might expect from an episode titled “Previously On,” this one was full of exposition, delivered via speeches and flashbacks. Like you’d expect from WandaVision, it’s all so well-written and performed and executed that it’s almost a shame that the series’s weird and novel format distracts from how well made the show is.

But right as it ended, I felt a little disappointed. All along,1You’re humming the tune now, aren’t you? my favorite thing about the show has been that I’ve felt completely in sync with the storytelling, even though I recognized almost none of its Easter eggs, comics lore, or ever-growing MCU internal lore.2I nodded sagely when the videos pointed out that Strücker was the name of a Hydra agent, then felt kind of dumb when they pointed out that he was a fairly significant character in a movie that I’ve seen twice. This episode had the most genuinely moving moment in the series so far, if not the entire MCU: of course, it’s Vision’s description of grief as being not emptiness, but “love persevering,” which is especially relevant to everyone who survived 2020. But then it ended with a moment that felt so jarringly artificial to me that it knocked me out of the story so hard, you’d think that I’d just mentioned Ultron.

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Friday Night’s All Right for Tree-Hugging

A fairly new YouTube channel makes getting pissed about the environment fun again

Well, that didn’t last very long. Earlier in the week, I was wondering whether it would be such a bad thing if I got an internal combustion engine car and just didn’t drive it very often. After discovering the Climate Town YouTube channel, I’m resolving to never buy gasoline ever again. Not necessarily because I believe I have a huge impact on the environment, but out of spite for the gas companies that I now hate so much.

I suspect the idea behind the channel is that the messaging around climate change has for so long been dry and boring, angry and alarmist, or guilt-tripping. Rollie Williams decided to make videos that were a call to action, but also kind of funny. It worked for me, at least: some of these were things I was vaguely aware of, but had either never put the pieces together, or I’d completely forgotten about them.

The “carbon footprint” is the one that really got me, because it reminded me of my history of being gullible and letting corporate marketing campaigns manipulate me. Back in high school, I would dutifully tear apart all of the plastic soda-can yokes before tossing them in the recycling, never once questioning why it wasn’t Coke’s responsibility to come up with something better than plastic soda-can yokes.

Hooray for Niche Audiences, or, We Made it Weird

Modernizing adventure games, the potential lifespan of interactive media, and what it means to be a “niche audience” in the 21st century

(One of my favorite jokes I’ve written for a game is a reference to Zork, even though I don’t like text adventures. Sam & Max screenshot via Mixnmojo.com)

On his blog, Andrew Plotkin wrote an interesting post titled “Unwinnability and Wishbringer.” The basic concept is taking aspects of 80s text adventure games that have fallen out of style — for instance, letting the player get the game into an unwinnable state without necessarily realizing it — and thinking of how to modify them to be more appealing and less annoying to modern audiences.

The thing I found so insightful about Plotkin’s post is that he makes clear that many of the “annoyances” of text adventures weren’t flaws or mistakes, but design decisions. It’s easy for us to just assume that the frustrations of those older games were a result of their being old. Either limitations of technology (I have to draw my own map?) or primitive game design that simply hadn’t yet evolved elegant solutions to problems like being able to leave an area without a crucial item.

Instead, he suggests that the decisions were made for a reason, and you need to understand what they contributed to those text adventures before trying to modernize them. For instance: drawing your own maps reinforces the idea that you’re exploring a real place, and a closer idea of how the areas are related to each other. Having unwinnable states can help make the game feel like an active, living system, instead of a set of static puzzles waiting indefinitely for you to solve them.

What I really love about this is that I can extrapolate it out to say that text adventures are more than just a format, they’re a genre. And therefore, I can say it’s fine that I don’t like text adventures, and it just means that they’re not my thing, not that I’ve got too short an attention span and lack of imagination to appreciate them as a more intelligent and cultured gamer obviously would.

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This News Will Throw This Car Into Chaos!

An update on the search for an electric car, with the surprising introduction of a new contender.

(For the record: the title of this post is a reference to Randy Candy’s part in this Saturday Night Live sketch, which I disappointingly found out recently was actual product placement).

When last we checked into my car search, I’d decided to forget the fun mid-life crisis convertible I’d been coveting, in favor of something that felt more environmentally responsible. I’ve been reading articles and watching tons of videos about the current state of electric vehicles, and I’ve been getting myself comfortable with the idea of a crossover SUV, since that’s apparently the body style America has declared it wants.

So far, the front-runner has been the Volkswagen ID.4, which seems unlikely to blow anybody away, but which strikes me as comfortable. I like their tech system, I like the sunroof, I like the interior lighting, I like the estimated range, I like the “free” charging, and it seems like they’ve filled it with just enough conveniences to hit their target: a comfortable, moderately-priced electric vehicle.

It might not be “fun,” exactly, but I can at least geek out over the technology while patting myself on the back for “zero emissions.” (In quotes because I think Alex Dykes makes a reasonable argument in this video that it’s disingenuous not to include the emissions it takes to charge the car’s battery).

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Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: What Could It Mean?

Two tangentially-related tunes every Tuesday! This week: do you have what it takes to unlock the baffling subtext?

Two songs have been running through my head this week. What mysteries could my subconscious be holding?

One is Seu Jorge’s Portuguese cover of “Changes” by David Bowie. If for some reason you haven’t seen The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, or unfamiliar with Jorge’s music for that movie, I really recommend checking it out! I think those covers, along with The Venture Brothers, made me more of a fan of Bowie’s music. (This one and “Life on Mars” I have to say I actually like better than the originals).

The other song is “Found a Job” by Talking Heads, which isn’t one of my favorite of their songs, but it was in Stop Making Sense, which means that it’s permanently embedded in my brain.

Semi-New Song Sunday: Ana Tijoux

French-Chilean rapper and singer Ana Tijoux makes politically-conscious music (even for those of us who can’t understand it)

This week’s new-to-me music comes courtesy of Neko Case’s Instagram account. Ana Tijoux is a Chilean singer and rapper, born in France, where her parents had fled after Pinochet’s coup d’etat.

Even though my Spanish is limited to counting and identifying pencils, I could tell that “Antipatriarca” is a political song. (I used context clues). What the video makes clear is that the idea of separating art from politics isn’t “conservative;” it’s absurd. It’s only because people have spent decades encouraging an insulated and uninformed middle class — which, to be clear, absolutely includes me — that we’ve even got the notion that political decisions don’t have much of an impact on “normal people.”

And this is a great example of the old idea that music is universal. I know even less about Chilean politics than I do about Spanish vocabulary, but pairing the images and the messages with music means that more people like me are going to be seeing it and hearing it for the first time.

The most recent performance by Tijoux that I can find is this video from KEXP, in which she performs 5 songs. It’s kind of a tough sell for me to listen to 20 minutes’ worth of songs in a language I don’t understand, but this is really a showcase for what a fantastic singer she is, as well as being a talented rapper. And she not only seems to effortlessly slide between singing and rapping, but she combines the two at key moments. It’s completely captivating.

My favorite track so far is the title track from her album 1977. Based on the title and the video, I’m guessing it’s her life story. The focus is on her rapping, but I love the samples just as much. It’s not quite like anything I’ve ever heard before.