Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: 1984 Anti-Eroticism

I’m still not exactly sure how any of us survived being teenagers in the 1980s.

It’s alarming how many people either don’t know or don’t remember — or refuse to remember — the video to Billy Ocean’s “Loverboy”. It exists, it happened, and if we go on denying it, we’ll never recover as a global society.

Actually, even though it’s just bonkers and more than a little off-putting, I love that the video exists. I feel like the TV-headed aliens were genuinely novel; it was at least he first time I’d seen anything like them. It’s tempting to say “they don’t make ’em like that anymore!” but that would be a lie. This might be the biggest gap between inexplicably weird video to straightforward pop song ever, though.

Looking back on the early 1980s, I’m kind of surprised that 12-13-year-old me survived it without becoming even weirder than I already am. Everything seemed unnecessarily sci-fi or post-apocalyptic (Star Wars and Mad Max/The Road Warrior over-saturated 1981-1985 even more than the MCU has done in the present), and oddly sexual and dirty. Not dirty like “naughty” but dirty like actual dirt.

In particular, Russell Mulcahy-directed videos for Duran Duran around this time, like Union of the Snake and The Wild Boys, hit me right in the adolescence. They were a blur of scaffolding and leather and abs and eye make-up. Watching Simon LeBon tied up on a windmill made me feel like the villain in Hunchback of Notre Dame watching Esemeralda dance.

But I mean, Duran Duran was supposed to be 80s sexy; that was their whole schtick. You don’t really get a feel for how bizarrely sexualized early-80s music videos were unless you see something like Hall & Oates’s “Adult Education”, with its post-apocalyptic wedding ceremony and John Oates looking very angry that he didn’t get to wear a shirt. I’m pretty sure that this video had the most naked person I’d ever seen up to that point. But it was like seeing Michael Douglas’s gratuitously bare-assed flank in Romancing the Stone: I thought “even as a ridiculously confused and horned-up 13-year-old, there is nothing I can do with this image.”

Friday Night’s All Right for Wii Snorkeling

This week’s link post features music for imaginary games and real etymologies

For the past few years, Gabriel Gundacker has been producing soundtracks for Wii Sports games that don’t exist. These exist somewhere in the space of 21st century creativity that I’m not even sure how to explain: they’re not parodies, because there’s nothing that calls itself out or hints at its being a joke. It’s just a bunch of compositions that would fit perfectly — eerily perfectly — into the music of a 15-year-old game, and are as catchy as much of the rest of the music for the Wii.

(Gundacker is also responsible for my favorite Vine ever made).

Drew Mackie’s blog The Singing Wolf is full of interesting, short-form posts about the etymology of words, how they contrast with what you’d assume is the etymology, and personal observations about each one. This is exactly the kind of blogging I’d like to see more of as we all abandon Twitter, Facebook, etc, and return to the Open Web.

Mackie is also co-host of a podcast called Gayest Episode Ever, about “the one-off, LGBT-themed episodes that classic sitcoms would do back in the day, when it was rare to see queer characters represented on broadcast television.”

Swingin’ Yetis, as in, to Swing

Free armchair imagineering available here

I don’t actually know how many people outside of Disney parks-obsessives care about the Yeti inside Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom.

I mean, I know plenty of people like to call it the “Disco Yeti” or make “Did you know…?” videos about it, and pester people working in Imagineering, and make novelty T-shirts, but I don’t if it’s actually enough of an issue in real-people terms, or enough for Disney to be genuinely interested in fixing (apart from vague promises at fan conferences).

Considering how much Disney loves projection effects these days, and how their B mode for the effect is flashing lights at it, I’m wondering why they haven’t invested in a permanent projection plus wind effect for the stationary Yeti.

The car moves so quickly through that scene, and the strobe lights alone are enough to suggest movement, and they’re already using a projector earlier in the ride for the scene in which the Yeti breaks the track. Even if it would be impossible to reproduce the original’s swipe-at-the-train movement, a super-brief animated projection could make the Yeti seem more alive and, for example, animate the eyes and hand to suggest it was about to attack. I’d especially love to see some environmental animation to suggest its status as a mountain deity, like the mural you pass under during the main lift hill.1Lift hill mural image from easyWDW.com. Maybe it could be similar to the Mara effects in the Indiana Jones adventure, suggesting that the Yeti is about to go super-Saiyan or something.

I still love the coaster, and even though it’s not as cool riding it today as when the Yeti actually moved, it’s still a fine ride. But since it’s pretty clear we’re not getting an overhaul of the ride big enough to fix the animatronic, it seems weird that they wouldn’t use the technology that they’ve been perfecting everywhere else in the parks.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Hyperspace Hoopla

Always two there are, on Tuesdays, no more, no less.

For this May 4th, my favorite performance of “Hey Ya” and what might be the best thing that I’ve ever seen (almost) live: the Hyperspace Hoopla, part of the Star Wars Celebration at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which culminated in a dance off with Chewbacca and the women of Star Wars shaking it like a Polaroid picture. (YouTube won’t let me embed this version of the show, but it better conveys the mood with the introduction of DJ Lobot).

That was such a joyfully ridiculous (and ridiculously joyful) show — extremely, almost obscenely cheesy, effusively corny, so far beyond the boundaries of self-awareness that it became earnest again, and seemingly driven more by genuine enthusiasm and love for all of this nonsense than by a desire to impress. I was at the studios goofing off after working on a project, unaware that the show was even happening, so stumbling on this bizarre moment and learning it was part of a long-running tradition made it even more remarkable.

A huge part of the appeal of Star Wars for me as an adult is that it’s precariously balanced on a knife edge between cool and ridiculous. The ridiculousness of the “Hyperspace Hoopla” without the dancing and costume-making talent would’ve been cringe-worthy. But if you just try for cool props and set design and visual effects, but no spark of joyful goofiness, you end up with Rogue One.

Tuesday tune two is “Nama Heh,” which is one of the songs played at Oga’s Cantina in Galaxy’s Edge. A fact which should surprise no one is that for at least two months after Disney released the cantina songs on streaming services, I listened to them in a near-constant loop. Another example of extremely talented people putting all their talent into making something goofy, because these songs are both a) nonsense, and b) bangin’.

Captain America and the Pledge of Allegiance

Why The Falcon and the Winter Soldier worked for me, even though its finale didn’t

After watching the episode six finale of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, my initial impression was that it was a really strong five-episode series. There were some pretty great action sequences, and a few really good character moments. I even liked Sam’s extended monologue lecturing all the selfish politicians about how everything was their fault. But I still felt like the finale had betrayed much of what had made the previous episodes so strong, tossing out the attempts to show complexity and nuance in favor of the over-simplified action movie morality that the MCU is too often accused of glorifying.

Now, though, I think that’s both unfair and inaccurate. The series did have things it wanted to say and new ideas it wanted to bring to the MCU, and I think it did end up being tonally consistent. My problem with it is that it wanted conclusions that it didn’t quite earn.

If nothing else, it got me invested enough to be yelling back at the screen through much of it, which is something I haven’t done in a while. But to explain why requires spoilers for the entire series.

Continue reading “Captain America and the Pledge of Allegiance”

Friday Night’s All Right For Swooning

I’m repeating myself by saying that Aaron Reed’s 50 Years of Text Games series continues to be excellent.

I realize I keep mentioning and linking to Aaron Reed’s 50 Years of Text Games series, but that’s because each one is somehow more interesting to me than the last.

Plundered Hearts is a game I’ve known about for over 30 years, since I knew the titles of all the Infocom games, even though I’ve never been able to finish one. At the time, this one wouldn’t even have been on my radar as something I’d want to play, since it was an interactive romance novel, instead of a story about spaceships or wizards.

Reading Reed’s account of its author, Amy Briggs, going into the creative process, and the game’s reception to audiences in 1987, is fascinating. It shows how much we’ve matured over the years — seeing the reaction from both “eww, girl stuff!” computer game reviewers as well as “eww, too much girl stuff!” from contemporary feminists seems so alien right now that it’s almost quaint.

But it also shows how much we’ve developed tunnel vision. I think back in the 80s, an interactive romance novel might’ve felt dismissible simply because it still felt like there was so much potential for interactive entertainment. When it seems like the medium can do anything, having it do something as familiar and as seemingly low-brow would seem unambitious. Now, the idea of a commercial video game release that’s both a clear work of an author and an unapologetic celebration of genre fiction would be a huge novelty.

We’re better suited to individual creators making story-driven fiction like this than at any point in history, but it’s also unlikely to get any traction because there’s not much money in it. Well-written, unconventional games that aren’t entirely action- or puzzle-based are still seen as academic experiments or hobby projects. The only game in recent memory that has that feeling of “literary fiction” is Firewatch, which felt more like an adult contemporary short story floating on the surface of a first-person action adventure game.

  • Reed’s article on Uncle Roger by Judy Malloy was even more fascinating, because it’s a game and a developer I had never heard of. It sounds even more like adult contemporary short stories, but presented in hypertext format. Again, it shows how much the game industry has overlooked and undervalued the work of women, and how much innovation and sense of raw potential there used to be in the game space, before we got stuck with so many over-familiar genres and formats. Reading about Malloy’s innovation made me feel simultaneously inspired and like a huge, unimaginative, fraud.
  • I haven’t yet read Jimmy Maher’s post about Plundered Hearts on The Digital Antiquarian, but I’m looking forward to it, as it sounds it’s a little closer in time to interviews with Briggs, and it’s more in the tone of looking at the game as a creative work as opposed to its place in video game history.
  • This blog post from 2012, lamenting the loss of “Miss April-December” from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, was circulating again now that her portrait has been restored to the ride’s loading area.
  • Matt Sephton has a blog post explaining how to Turn an iPad Pro Into the Ultimate Classic Macintosh. I’ve always had bad luck with emulators, but Sephton’s links an explanation made it so easy that even I was able to get it working. (You do need to be able to run Xcode and make builds for an iOS/iPadOS device). Reading about video game history has made me severely nostalgic for my old Mac Plus, so I really appreciate his pointing me towards the instructions and an outlet for running HyperCard and the like again.

Sharks and Technokings

Apparently I’m turning into the Macalope

Above is a video from Marques Brownlee comparing the relationship between Apple and third-party developers to that of sharks and remoras, and then comparing that to the Tile app and for some reason, lingering bitterness over Watson.

I mean, I’ve acknowledged several times over that I’m an Apple apologist, so I’ll go ahead and spoil this post and say that I think this video is bullshit mistaken and oddly conspiratorial.1“Bullshit” was way too harsh, now that I’m re-reading. I don’t even care about the topic that much. He goes out of his way to make business sound sinister and non-competitive, and right out of the gate he’s got a spurious argument.

As Brownlee points out, Apple set up for the launch of Airtags by making the Find My network available to third party developers. (For the record: I was completely unaware that they’d done this, so I’m even more surprised to see people calling foul). He then claims that this is just an illusion of choice, because whether or not Tile chooses to make Find My-compatible devices, Apple still “wins” because each Tile device now improves the Find My network, instead of Tile’s own network.

The first, most obvious problem with that: saying that a “win” for Apple is a “loss” for everyone else. By that metric, there’s no middle ground between “corporate altruism” and “unfair monopoly.” Brownlee makes it sound like the most valuable asset Tile has is its proprietary network, and not the devices themselves. But he’d already described how there are many, many more Apple devices out there on the Find My network than there are Tiles, but orders of magnitude. If Tile were competing on the network alone, then they’d already lost that before the Airtag was even released. And Apple’s only non-villainous option would’ve been to stay out of the business completely. Make its own network open to third parties and not introduce its own separate tracking device.

The other problem I have with it is illustrated in Brownlee’s thumbnail, and in the video as he holds Tile devices up to the camera. The Tile devices all have holes drilled in the tile itself, making them useful without buying an extra case or strap. And there’s a variety of sizes, including credit card-sized ones that will fit in a wallet, unlike the Airtags. So Tile has already differentiated itself in a marketable way. Taking advantage of the Find My network seems like a no-brainer.

What strikes me as especially weird is that Brownlee has been an advocate of Tesla for a long time, and a few months ago he made a video essentially describing how and why Tesla was so far ahead of the game in the EV market. To be fair, he did mention some criticisms of Tesla, and he said the whole reason for his video was a desire for there to be more competition in the EV market. But he listed Tesla’s battery range and extensive supercharger network as the two main reasons the company was at least a few years ahead of every other EV manufacturer.

Whenever people are praising the supercharger network, they never seem to have an issue with the fact that it’s proprietary, for Teslas only. On the rare occasion they do mention it, it’s always described as being the fault of other manufacturers, for not following Tesla’s lead. Because as we know, establishing a tech standard means proposing your own and telling every other manufacturer to do it your way, or suck it. Somehow, this is described as groundbreaking innovation, and never as colossal arrogance or anti-competitive business.

Obviously, a company as huge as Apple doesn’t need some jerk with a blog defending it. But its size doesn’t automatically make it the bad guy, either. Starting a business dependent on another company’s product — whether it’s software development or hardware accessories — is always going to be risky. It’s usually in both companies’ best interest to make sure the other succeeds.

The amount of money Apple’s going to make off Airtags is likely going to be on the level of a rounding error compared to their other businesses. It’s probably best to think of the Airtags as similar to reference graphics cards made by the chipset manufacturer: an Apple-designed example of how devices can use the Find My Network. That’s the kind of symbiosis that Brownlee describes, so I’m not sure why he’s so eager to make it sound sinister.

The Ironically-Named Universal Studios

Reconsidering my opinions about theme parks that treat me like I’m too fat to visit them

Two things I’ve seen recently:

  1. A theme park and roller coaster fan posted a photo to Twitter, showing his hand-made calendar of weight-loss goals he wanted to hit. The overriding goal: to lose enough weight to be able to ride the new Velocicoaster at Islands of Adventure in Orlando.
  2. A couple that makes YouTube videos were at a preview day for Universal Studios Hollywood to prepare for its re-opening, and they wanted to go on its new dark ride for The Secret Life of Pets. But when trying the test seat outside the ride entrance, one of them found he couldn’t fit with the ride vehicle and its restraints. He then did something I’ve never seen from a theme park YouTuber: he said, on camera, how it was a drag that Universal didn’t make more of an effort to make the ride accommodating for larger guests. But then — twist! — he found a way to fit in the ride vehicle, so they resumed their previously-scheduled ride-through and talked about how great the ride was and how Universal had even beat Disney at its own game, etc.

Taken together, I’d say that sums up the state of Universal, in the current Wizarding World of Harry Potter era: creative is doing the work, coming up with rides that seem fun, are full of novel ideas, and have been getting exceptional reviews. But then they’re put into theme parks with what seems like no concern given to actual guests, and then for whatever reason, guests are eager to treat it like it’s their own fault, not Universal’s.

For a while, I’ve been feeling like such a theme park snob for having such a low opinion of Universal Studios, based entirely on a couple of disappointing trips I took with my family in summer in the late 90s/early 2000s. It felt disrespectful to the hard work of so many people, especially since the parks had shown an eagerness to be more experimental and innovative than the notoriously risk-averse Disney parks.

So I made a point not to compare it to my memories of Disney, and instead focus on all the cool stuff they were doing — the fantastic Spider-Man ride, the great theming in both Harry Potter lands, the beautiful layout of Volcano Bay, the ingenious design of Cabana Bay as an affordable hotel that was so cool that people would actually prefer to stay there instead of a more expensive one, and the still-phenomenal tram tour at the original Universal Studios Hollywood.

And I kept being disappointed, over and over again. Because again, the creativity and the design weren’t in question. The problem was that they were constantly being kneecapped by baffling decisions apparently made elsewhere. Entire lands made with seemingly no thought as to capacity. Hour-or-longer waits for a brief “ceremony” at Ollivander’s that chooses only one child in the audience, and doesn’t even give them the wand afterwards. Rides for properties that appeal to younger audiences, but have ride systems that keep younger audiences from riding. And overall, the constant feeling of being told by Universal that I’m too fat, too old, or that my time isn’t valuable.

I realized that I wasn’t the one being disrespectful to the work of the creative teams, Universal was.

The Secret Life of Pets ride looks genuinely charming, and appealing to me even though I have zero interest in the license. There are some very clever effects throughout, combining screens and projections and animatronics and special effects. It could’ve been a wonderful family ride, but it has a ride system that might as well be on a roller coaster.

Any time this criticism is raised, you can see people leaping to Universal’s defense, almost as if someone had dared to criticize Elon Musk online. They make it sound as if these are just unavoidable design constraints that every theme park is subject to — even though we all know that there’s a very liability-sensitive 900-pound gorilla just a few miles away from both of Universal’s American resorts. And on the rare occasion that Disney does make something that’s not (ahem) universally accessible, they get reamed about it online.

I’ve spent most of my life somewhere on the spectrum between “husky” and “fat,” but I’ve very rarely been subjected to the kind of criticism that most overweight people have to put up with regularly. It’s always, always presented as your fault. “You could be skinner if you tried.” “You’re responsible for making yourself unhealthy.” “I lost x pounds, so you could, too.” “If you took better care of yourself, people wouldn’t be such assholes to you.”

Along the same lines, Universal advertises these rides and parks to us, while making what seems like zero effort to make them accessible to us. And everyone acts like it’s our fault. Meanwhile, the parks sell pizza fries, butterscotch-flavored cream soda, and milkshakes with whole slices of cake or doughnuts in them.

To be clear: I absolutely don’t begrudge in the slightest any of the people using a fun-looking rollercoaster as a metric for their own plans to lose weight. On the contrary, that seems like a fun way to do it. What I’m calling out is the idea that we’re obligated to change our bodies to fit the rides, and not that these companies are obligated to change their rides to accommodate as many of us as possible.

I also don’t begrudge any YouTuber who just wants to have fun at the parks (and not piss off Universal with their videos) instead of having to think about any of this bullshit. American society finds ways to make fat people feel bad about themselves multiple times a day, every day, and it’s such a relief to be able to take even a brief vacation from it. Not to mention the anxiety that comes from wondering if you’re going to be publicly kicked off a ride because “you don’t fit” (always worded that way instead of “the ride doesn’t fit you”).

So I’m done giving them a break. Again, by everything I’ve seen, Universal creative is doing some really good work. But I’m kind of done making excuses for theme parks that repeatedly act like they don’t want me there. I’m sure I’ll go on the tram tour at Universal Hollywood again, and I’m looking forward to seeing Super Mario World, and finding out if they’ve made the rides there ridiculously hostile to the overweight.

But I’ll have to leave the Hagrid coaster, and the Velocicoaster, and the slow-moving family ride based on an animated movie about adorable pets, for the average sized. Meanwhile, I’ll be at Disney, where they almost never make me feel old and fat.

My Dragons Are More Sophisticated Than Your Super-Heroes

Responding to dumb ideas that refuse to die, and how it all relates to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

I’ve only seen one complete episode of Game of Thrones, but that was enough. Seeing a beautiful young woman pushed into an arranged marriage that was essentially slavery and then violently raped, and then an incestuous couple pushing a child to his death for witnessing them having sex, convinced me that this wasn’t the HBO prestige series for me.

Even if it wasn’t for me, though, I’m not interested in trying to put it down or anything. It had a lot of talent behind it, and I know a lot of smart people who got really into it. Plus, it inspired a lot of creative people to try their own hand at fantasy world-building themselves.

For instance: in an opinion column in The Washington Post, Alyssa Rosenberg constructed a fantastic, elaborate, alternate reality in which Game of Thrones was a dramatized extrapolation of the War of the Roses designed to engender thoughtful, mature discussions about trauma, parentage, the foundations of a just government… and which also, occasionally, happened to show titties and people being beheaded or getting their eyes gouged out.

I’m not suggesting that the depth and nuance Rosenberg describes wasn’t actually present in the series, but I am absolutely 100% saying it’s comically disingenuous for her to act as if Game of Thrones‘s popularity was due to its mature and thought-provoking ideas, and that its TV-MA content and promise of dragons and zombies was just a happy accident. I have to call foul when TV critics claim not to understand how prestige TV works.

As Rosenberg describes the state of popular media as toothless and “flaccid,” while lamenting that Watchmen and Promising Young Woman weren’t more popular, it’s clear that this just boils down to the familiar refrain: the stuff I like is complex and sophisticated; this other stuff that’s popular is trite and simplistic. The part that I can’t get over is how weird this version is.

Continue reading “My Dragons Are More Sophisticated Than Your Super-Heroes”

Closure

Thoughts about the beautiful serenity of not giving a damn

I read something on Twitter the other morning that made enough of an impression on me that I felt compelled to break my read-only rule1Just temporarily, Twitter is still garbage and comment on how false it was. It was from game developer Rami Ismail:

A reminder that being a terrible person that “loves crunch”, “yells at people”, and “says things they don’t mean” will eventually end your industry career, even if you manage to grow your tiny studio from just a few people all the way up to AAA size. Being a team player matters.

To be clear, I’m not trying to call out Ismail or anything. It’s an idea that I would’ve agreed with to some degree at several points over my career. And that is why I want to stress that it’s not true, but more importantly, it doesn’t really matter that it’s not true.

So let me stress first: it’s demonstrably false. I’ve worked for or with quite a few terrible people over the past 25+ years, and most of them have just kept failing upwards. Unless by “eventually end your industry career,” he meant, “you’ll at worst retire comfortably,” then I’ve never seen any evidence of the kind of cosmic justice that he’s describing.

I spent quite a bit of time in my 30s and early 40s holding out expectation for resolutions that were never going to come. First hoping for reconciliation, then vindication, then even schadenfreude, so I’d feel that there’d been some kind of justice. It almost never actually happens, and on the rare occasion it does, it almost never actually makes anything better.

So when I say that terrible people almost never face any real consequences for treating people badly, it’s not just empty cynicism or bitterness. Just the opposite, in fact: I’m saying stop wasting any time thinking about what may happen to other people some day, and just live your damn life.

Continue reading “Closure”