Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.
On an entirely different note: I'm watching the episode of Night Gallery which adapts "Camera Obscura" this evening, and I was wondering if Arthur might be interested in doing a little retrospective on Basil Copper. He strikes me as one of those authors much praised but little read or significantly discussed.
Our centers of learning have converted to power politics and an affirmative action epistemology cynically redefining truth as ideology. Logic is undermined by the new axiom of the ad hominem. If white males formulated logic, then logic must be regarded as an instrument of oppression.
I mean this way of peppering the text with philosophical concepts to make the writer sound somehow intellectual while at the same time demonstarting that the writer clearly has little idea of the very concepts he is brandishing seems so emblematic of this sort of pontificating in general. Like what on earth does he think logic is? Or truth for that matter? This use of philosophical and scientific terms to mask one's prejudice as somehow objective and rational seems to be especially prevalent with this sort of pontificating. That they somehow are a beacon of "truth" or whatever. Kinda reminds me of that ex-Google employee. Who perhaps wasn't as sordid as this Price fellow, but the rhetoric is similar.
Ichneumon: The Ellen Datlow thing is particularly paranoid-sounding.
Yeah, I found that jarring as well. His argument for why Datlow is not a True Lovecraft Fan consists of 1) her participation in the movement to change the World Fantasy Award from Lovecraft’s likeness to something else, and 2) her statement at one point that Lovecraft’s “prose was often clumsy and overblown.” The latter of these two points reads like something cherry-picked out of what could have easily been a largely positive assessment of Lovecraft’s work. This is what critics do: even when they’re showering praise on an author or their work, they’ll generally make at least a passing nod to the flaws, as well.
The two biggest criticisms of Lovecraft’s work that I’ve heard, from people who generally admire it, are racism; and shaky prose. I believe Stephen King once characterized Lovecraft as having “a tin ear for dialogue.” That hardly counts as an overall dismissal of Lovecraft or his work as a whole. And yet this is the implication I get from Joshi’s analysis of Datlow’s suitability as a special guest.
It seems like he’s saying that anyone who 1) doesn’t hold Lovecraft himself in reverential awe despite his racist attitudes and writings and other reprehensible aspects to his character, and 2) strongly criticizes any given facet of his writing as less than technically brilliant, obviously doesn’t truly respect Lovecraft’s work and has nothing insightful or relevant to say about it. Which is a pretty hard line stance to take.
Arthur: in taking sanctions against a keynote speaker who'd been so offensive to a cross-section of the audience, NecronomiCon is arguably following the example of Lovecraft when he told off fellow amateur press contributors for piling in on an antisemitic harassment campaign.
Yeah, as I was reading through Joshi’s rant, I found myself wondering what Lovecraft himself would have thought of the whole controversy, given your description of his experiences with the UAPA and NAPA.
Well, NecronomiCon Providence (August 20–23) has come and gone, and it was a tremendous event. I fear, however, that it didn’t get off on a very good start, as the opening ceremonies featured a surprisingly lifeless and mechanical summary by Leslie Klinger of the basic facts of Lovecraft’s biography (do we really need such a recitation at such an event?), followed by a rather windy and confused polemic by Robert M. Price in which he suggested that Lovecraft would by some miracle be aligned with contemporary conservative thought and be opposed to affirmative action and political correctness! Whatever the validity of Price’s remarks (and to my mind they don’t have much validity, given that Lovecraft had become a socialist by the end of his life), this was surely the wrong place and time to air them.
Let us unpack Joshi's logic here:
- Price has a track record of giving "windy and confused" talks.
- Price's analysis is clearly flawed and nonsensical.
- Price crowbars his personal politics into talks where they don't belong.
- Price's keynote address was basically a disaster.
- The convention organiser was as unhappy as many of the rest of us about all that, and said as much.
- Price demanded an apology and didn't get one.
- The organiser said that Price was welcome to come along to the next convention, but wouldn't be allowed on any panels.
- It's tremendously important that a confused windbag who packs his talks with irrelevant, offensive nonsense be allowed on panels at NecronomiCon because ?????
- It's especially offensive that a bunch of people that Joshi disagrees with are not also barred from panels, despite the fact that they don't have the same track record of utterly shitting up keynote addresses at the con and the like, because ????????????
The post overall makes it sound like he is grumpy that some of his friends didn't get as much publicity as he wanted, and some people who are not his friends got publicity at all. In other words, the petulant rant of a thwarted gatekeeper. One could imagine a reanimated August Derleth issuing a similarly huffy missive about the excessive exposure given to people who don't buy the idea that Nyarlathotep is an Earth elemental.
I've done a little digging and found the comments which got him banned; note that Joshi doesn't quote them in his post, mostly because if he did then it'd completely torpedo his point.
If we can manage to look past [Lovecraft’s] racism, we will manage to see something deeper and quite valid. Lovecraft envisioned not only the threat that science posed to our anthropomorphic smugness, but also the ineluctable advance of the hordes on non-western anti-rationalism to consume a decadent, euro-centric west.
Superstition, barbarism and fanaticism would sooner or later devour us. It appears now that we’re in the midst of this very assault. The blood lust of jihadists threatens Western Civilization and the effete senescent West seems all too eager to go gently into that endless night. Our centers of learning have converted to power politics and an affirmative action epistemology cynically redefining truth as ideology. Logic is undermined by the new axiom of the ad hominem. If white males formulated logic, then logic must be regarded as an instrument of oppression.
Lovecraft was wrong about many things, but not, I think, this one. It’s the real life horror of Red Hook.
That Joshi is chasing him down this rabbithole is disappointing (and arguably, given Joshi's own status as an immigrant, very much against the best interests of himself and his loved ones). Unfortunately, it's not surprising given his comments on the World Fantasy Award no longer using Lovecraft's likeness. Joshi ends up in a curious rhetorical position here where he, as arguably the producer of the best and most comprehensive biography on Lovecraft, can't really claim that Lovecraft wasn't a deeply problematic figure because he's extensively documented all that. At the same time, he seems to want Lovecraft to retain exactly the same level of esteem he has in fandom, if not gaining more, because... well, because of some flailing appeal to tradition and a sense of history. But that implies that Lovecraft represents a pinnacle unattained before his own work and unattainable afterwards, which I don't agree with.
The appeal to his own authority and Price's as Lovecraft scholars tends to gloss over the fact that they tend not to agree on much. For instance, Joshi is on the side of good and light in terms of regarding August Derleth's material as appalling trash; Price is on the side of the slimy, crawling things that feast on corpses and offal in that he believes that Derleth's Mythos writing has actual occasional merit.
The irony here is that in setting himself and Price up as the unquestionable god-kings of Lovecraft criticism, Joshi is engaging in exactly the same sort of gatekepeer behaviour that Derleth attempted with the Mythos - whereas conversely, in taking sanctions against a keynote speaker who'd been so offensive to a cross-section of the audience, NecronomiCon is arguably following the example of Lovecraft when he told off fellow amateur press contributors for piling in on an antisemitic harassment campaign.
I actually skimmed the comments' section, and sprinkled amongst the clueless misogyny there was some decent and semi-decent commentary. Some of the criticism which wasn't patently inane on its face included the fact that the researchers only looked at a single gaming event and the claim (I couldn't tell from the article) that they were only looking at male-female interactions between team members and not directed at opposing players - not being a gamer myself, I don't know how to weight this latter point.
I did find it odd that the article claims "no matter their skill level, or how the game went — men tended to be pretty cordial to each other." Again, I have no direct experience to speak from, but I was always under the impression that guys who make abusive gendered comments are also pretty harsh with other male players - it's just that in those interactions, there's no systemic oppression behind their vitriol.
Mainly, though, I'm wondering what the folks more experienced in online gaming think of the article's conclusions. Does this track with your experiences? Does it fit with your understandings?
I hear Doyle was progressive on race for his time (as seen in, e.g. “The Yellow Face”), but I didn’t realize it applied more generally.
Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with when “queer” and “straight” became associated with sexual orientation, so I’m afraid I can’t help you there.
However, the announced remake of “Final Fantasy VII” comes just at the right moment, I think. At least for the Western release. I mean, you play a member of a resistance / terrorist group fighting against the political take-over of a corrupt business CEO, who is militarizing the state and who is determined to exploit the planet's energy supply no matter that this exploitation is clearly destroying the viability of the biosphere. You couldn't get more topical if you made up a completely new story. (I guess it works in Japan, too, what with the government cover-up of just how bad the fallout from Fukushima is, with the crack-down on press freedoms and some attempts to make pre-WW2 militarism publically acceptable again...)
Ha! Good point.
But, nope, apparently he just grafted Holmes and Watson onto a non-Holmes (well, there's a false theory put forth by "a well-known criminal investigator", but the writer of the text isn't identified as Watson, and the solution isn't presented as the result of an investigative adventure) locked room type puzzle, written by ACD in 1898, that had a narrative that was just amazingly progressive for its time. (Apparently it, like the Sherlock Holmes stories, was published in The Strand, which often featured puzzles for its readers. Even if the solution involves a tale of cross-dressing and gay love just as a sort of "You'll never guess this!" by the author, I still wonder how he ever managed to get it past the editors of such a family-friendly, middle-class magazine.) And in the end, the short story actually gets considerably more progressive than the pastiche radio play, in my opinion, since the dramatisation doesn't keep this humanising scene:
"At the bottom I struck my head against a stone, and I remembered nothing more. When I came to myself I was lying among some low bushes, not far from the railroad track, and somebody was bathing my head with a wet handkerchief. It was Sparrow MacCoy.
'I guess I couldn't leave you,' said he. 'I didn't want to have the blood of two of you on my hands in one day. You loved your brother, I've no doubt; but you didn't love him a cent more than I loved him, though you'll say that I took a queer way to show it. Anyhow, it seems a mighty empty world now that he is gone, and I don't care a continental whether you give me over to the hangman or not.'
He had turned his ankle in the fall, and there we sat, he with his useless foot, and I with my throbbing head, and we talked and talked until gradually my bitterness began to soften and to turn into something like sympathy. What was the use of revenging his death upon a man who was as much stricken by that death as I was?"
The narrative in the radio play also doesn't lend itself nearly so well to blaming the tragedy at least partially on the fact that the brother is a homophobic jerk, because in the short story the accidental killer mainly just wanted to protect his partner from his brother's bullying, and keep him and himself out of prison. (In the radio play the brother's homophobia is toned down somewhat and the older partner is even more of an aggressive hot-head and pulls the gun with less provocation, and without the explicit line that he's not going to tolerate any bullying of his partner.) Nor does the killer mercifully get away. (
By the way, does anyone here know if the terms "straight" and "queer" in their modern meaning were already in use in the Victorian era, at least as insults? If so, ACD is more of a master of the stealth pun than I ever knew. (Besides the quote above, there's also the line "But I knew that this man Sparrow MacCoy had a great influence over Edward and my chance of keeping the lad straight lay in breaking the connection between them" – long before the reveal that the two card-sharps were anything more than just partners in crime.)
Apparently Beyond Good and Evil is finally getting a sequel (well, prequel). But I'm not sure if I should be sad that my antique computer won't be able to run it.
I mean, the original game had the same aesthetics of slim, pretty, humanoid girl characters running around in a world full of chubby furry guys. But the cuddly, cartoon-like graphics back then made it much less obvious how ugly the furries would realistically be. And as far as I remember, none of them were any female character's love interest, and there was only one female character (NOT the player character) whose outfit could be called "sexualized" (a catgirl in a skin-tight but all-covering bodysuit). And there were one or two humanoid, good-looking male characters.
In contrast, the new game seems to just run on the "ugly guy, hot wife" sitcom trope, and at least the trailer the uses heavily sexualized female characters like booth bunnies at a convention. Though to be fair, from what I've read about the game, the player character is probably the woman at the end of the trailer, not the one apparently dating a monkey, and the player character will be gender-custumizable this time around. Still, I expected much better from the sequel to a game that stood out of the crown in its respect for and resulting accessibility for female gamers.
Similarily, there's finally a trailer for the long-awaited remake of Outcast. From what I gather, the project is primarily nostalgia-fuelled (kickstarter and all). I can understand the wish for a remake, and it probably will be a decent enough game. But, in my opinion, the project is just doomed to disappointment.
For one, no doubt it looks much better than the original, but in a time when all AAA games have almost photo-realistic graphics and a full orchestral soundtrack, it just can't recapture what made the original Outcast so special - that "Wow, I've never seen graphics this gorgeous!" reaction that was only possible by the game using a very unorthodox graphic engine at the exact moment at the turn of the millenium when CPU performance took off and graphic cards hadn't caught up yet. (For those not in the know, the game used special voxel graphics which were calculated with the CPU alone, and which lent themselves very well to displaying smooth, curving landscapes, even if they couldn't do sharp edges without severe aliasing. And it needed a really high-end PC at the time - the game is kind of infamous for the fact that only people who'd just bought a new PC could play it when it was first released.)
But more importantly, I just can't see the game not offending modern sensibilities, if they really make it a 1:1 remake. Playing the original game felt very much like being in an interactive action flick of the same era - sort of a cross between the original Stargate movie and The 5th Element. And not just because my localised version had the brilliant idea to give the main character the standard voice actor for Bruce Willis movie dubbing. The main problem is that the only female character in the game is straight out of 1980s/1990s action flicks - shrill, incompetent, and only really there as a damsel in distress. (I remember this already sticking out like a sore thumb when the game was first released - I'd have been much happier with someone like LeeLoo as a love interest - and it really won't go over well with audiences now.) Also, the evil dictator had an asian-sounding name, while the player character and the good mentor were Caucasian. And the plot is basically the White Saviour thing with primitive, superstitious aliens instead of human 'savages'. (The plot is kind of like that of Dune, with the player character taking advantage of a fake religious saviour myth that turns out to specifically have been put in place to help him.) Plus, the local alien population had a culture that made them hide away all the women and children on an island we never see. (This was understandable in a time when there weren't the computing resources to display very many different character models, but now it would feel like a deliberate allegory about Middle Eastern culture, especially since the design of the main city is already heavily based on Aladin.) And there was one minor alien character with an ambiguous gender representation (the player character keeps asking if they're female, but in context with the local culture, it's clear that they're supposed to be transgender or gay and effeminate), which seemed to be there solely to squick / amuse the male players by having the character flirt with the player character. I mean, in 1999 it may have been progressive to have any non-heteronormative representation in a PC game, but now this character would just be offensive.
Also, for all it's pretty, pretty game world design, the actual worldbuilding and the plot were rather shallow. Though perhaps that still isn't out of place in a game that's primarily a shooter. (I'm more used to playing action RPGs like Morrowind.)
And at the end of the day, I wouldn't be surprised if they get sued by the holders of the Stargate franchise. (It's not just the cribbed design of the between-continents teleportation system. There are also some details in the worldbuilding that coincide with the direction that the Stargate TV 'verse was developed in during the later seasons / iterations. As such, the world in Outcast now works pretty well as an AU of the Stargate story where humanity never found their gates in Egypt/Antarctica.)
However, the announced remake of Final Fantasy VII comes just at the right moment, I think. At least for the Western release. I mean, you play a member of a resistance / terrorist group fighting against the political take-over of a corrupt business CEO, who is militarizing the state and who is determined to exploit the planet's energy supply no matter that this exploitation is clearly destroying the viability of the biosphere. You couldn't get more topical if you made up a completely new story. (I guess it works in Japan, too, what with the government cover-up of just how bad the fallout from Fukushima is, with the crack-down on press freedoms and some attempts to make pre-WW2 militarism publically acceptable again...)
My dad also brought up an interesting point, which hadn't occurred to the rest of us. About a fortnight ago, before we'd seen the film, we were talking about the controversy in the Middle East over the protagonist being portrayed by an Israeli woman who vocally supported the 2014 war on Gaza. ptolemaeus' view was that there's more to Gal Gadot than Zionism, and more to the movie than Gal Gadot. After seeing it, though, my dad said he thought there was more substance to the criticism of the movie than he'd originally thought, because the depiction of Young Diana as innocent and peaceful and just paralleled the myth of Israel he'd grown up with.
The above issues notwithstanding, my dad still enjoyed the movie, and I in my ignorance of the character's comic book history, enjoyed it on second viewing as well, despite my misgivings about its politics. I feel like the humor doesn't always work, but when it does, it's great, and also there are a few points where a scene is in danger of becoming too sappy, but is saved by the insertion of a good joke: the scene where Steve proves he's telling Diana the truth about taking her to the front by wrapping her golden lasso around his hand, then goes on a tangent about how it's an incredibly bad plan, springs particularly to mind.
I also initially thought that the plan at the end for disposing of Dr. Maru's gas was the biggest plot hole of the film, but in our post-viewing dissection this weekend it was pointed out to me that
Two last observations from second viewing, one a correction to my previous comment. I said that the gas was intended for use against a military target (in contrast to the atomic bombs dropped on Japanese civilian centers), and, indeed, when it's first discussed it's in the context of Ludendorff and Maru releasing the gas at the front. Later in the movie, however, when they're actually preparing to deploy the gas, we see briefly that their actual target is, indeed, a primarily civilian center (though, again, of more military significance than Hiroshima and Nagasaki).
Secondly, I wonder if Amazons in this universe are naturally less hairy than humans; the only other possibility I can think of is that they shave their legs and armpits, which I find even less credible.
This was my first DC superhero movie since The Dark Knight Rises, and my first in the theater since ... possibly ever, come to think. I haven't seen the previous DC movie 'verse films, partially because I'm less of a DC fan to begin with, partially because my siblings haven't been particularly interested either, and partially because of the negative press they get. However, we were all eager to support a rare female-headed superhero movie, and it didn't hurt that Wonder Woman actually got positive buzz.
Overall, I thought the characters were good, with the exception of General Ludendorff, who was a walking cliche. Diana/Wonder Woman was suitably heroic, and Gadot handled the "fish out of water" comedic sequences very well, also. Oh, and Young Diana with her posh accent and her desperate wish to be a badass Amazon warrior was adorable. For some reason, I had low expectations of Chris Pine's Steve Trevor going in, but he was good, too. In fact, I was genuinely impressed by the scene where Wonder Woman has her little moment of disillusionment, and after trying to get her help, he finally says, "fine, you stay here, I'm going to go take care of the gas." Not often a sidekick has that much independence from the hero. Ares also turned out to be a more interesting character than I expected (low bar, admittedly), and he really came across as someone convinced he was doing the right thing. However, his decision to kill all the other gods makes no sense to me, either with the motivations Hippolyta ascribes to him or the motivations he claims to be working under.
The character arcs were pretty good, too, and carried the movie most of the way. Good enough to paper over some weak points in the plot, which itself mostly holds together if you don't look too hard.
The cinematography and set design were great (though my sisters all complained about the low lighting and inability to see a lot of the action). It's too bad that after the lustrous beauty of Themyscria, most of the film takes place in grungy locations, but the sets and the costumes were still terrifically well-realized.
Overall, my sister Noria put it best; she liked Wonder Woman, but what she really wants to see is the Winter Soldier to this movie's The First Avenger.
Thematically, though, I feel the movie tried to have its cake and eat it, too. Sorry, but I'm bringing back political stuff. If you still want to avoid it, scroll down to my last paragraph.
As I was saying, there's the whole thing at the end about there being good and bad on both sides and among all humans, and stuff like that. But at the same time, the Brits and Americans are portrayed as basically the good guys, and the Germans as the bad guys. (Trevor outright says as much when he first meets Diana, and while parts of the film undermine that dichotomy, other parts reinforce it.)
We had an argument about this in the car on the way home, with my sisters pointing out all the times the shortcomings of the Americans and the English are brought up, which to be fair is a lot. But my answer would be that the treatment of the Americans and English on the one hand in Wonder Woman as opposed to the Germans is basically like how the police are depicted vis-a-vis criminals in the better sort of cop show. A good cop show will acknowledge that the police are flawed, and sometimes authority figures within the police system are corrupt and murderous; but the baseline assumption is that the police force is an inherently noble institution, and this assumption is reinforced by treating those contrary elements as deviations from the norm. A few bad apples, if you will.
Similarly, the better sort of cop show will acknowledge that not everyone who commits criminal acts is necessarily a bad person, and that sometimes, their story is downright tragic. But again, the baseline assumption is that criminals are bad, and the ones who commit crimes for truly sympathetic reasons are exceptions to the rule.
Okay, I realize that's a dodgy comparison, but I hope it provides a useful framework to explain how I read the treatment of the two sides in the conflict. Somehow, I just can't imagine the film being so blase about depicting American or British soldiers slaughtering Amazons (
Speaking of the setting, I know this isn't the reason the film is set in the first rather than the second World War, but I find it cynically hilarious that General Ludendorff and his killer gas are basically a scaled down version of Harry Truman with the A-Bomb. Except that Ludendorff, if I'm remembering correctly, intended to attack a military target to help his side win a war they were losing, whereas Truman used his superweapon to attack two civilian targets when he was pretty sure of winning sooner or later anyway, and at least partly to get the upper hand in his ongoing dick-waving contest with his ally of circumstance, the Soviet Union. Again, I realize there were more pressing reasons not to set this movie during the second World War, but it also would have been really hard to paper over that parallel if they'd done so.
My sister KorraWP brought up her appreciation that the movie acknowledges the genocide of American Indigenous peoples by White American invaders in a conversation between Diana and the Chief, but that scene frustrated me because there was zero follow-up. Apart from downplaying the villainous potential of the Americans/British by not dwelling on iniquity when it's committed by "our" side, this felt very weird to me in terms of Diana's character arc. By this point in the film, she's come to trust and respect and maybe even idolize Steve Trevor, and though she's already seen things which give her pause, this is the first time she's directly confronted with something truly vile in which he is complicit. It should come as a major revelation to her, but it's just sort of passed over, without even a short scene between her and Trevor discussing it. I would have expected a cop-out: Trevor says "yeah, my people have done some bad shit, too, and I don't feel entirely okay about it"; Diana accepts it, and they move on. And I probably would have accepted it also, even though it's a cop out, but it doesn't visibly effect their relationship at all, which I find baffling from a character perspective.
Wonder Woman! What did people think?
Personally, I haven't switched over to Dreamwidth yet, because I've been busy with other projects. However, I have read up on it, and now I'm asking myself what's taken me so long to make the change.
I mean, if I'm reading the "Account Termination" (6th point) accurately, they say they're going to hold onto all the journal information for a year even if someone deletes their account, and potentially share it "upon the lawful request of the competent authorities" (such a delightfully vague description). But as you say, I'm not living in Russia, nor do I have any plans to visit it in the near future, and switching to Dreamwidth then shutting down the account seems probably the best option under the circumstances. I'll look into it after I get back home next month, and probably just stay off the site until then.
(I also can't help thinking, as chilling and obnoxious as the Russian government's data collection policy is, at least they're up front about their draconian tactics, unlike certain other governmental bodies I could name a bit closer to home.)
On an unrelated subject, I wonder if folks in the greater London area are aware of the Bare Lit 2017 Festival taking place this weekend. It's an annual literary festival organized around writers of color - who often get overlooked in mainstream literary festivals, or pigeonholed into being the token person of color talking on a diversity panel.
One of the organizers is a buddy of mine from grad school (who invited me to attend, but sadly, I can't make the trip across the pond); and it seems like the kind of event that would potential appeal to a lot of Ferretneurons.