Playpen

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.

at 18:30 on 29-03-2014, Robinson L
Excellent point, Tamara. Now that you mention it, that's always how Doctor Who (including under Moffat) has come across to me, as well - it's not even trying to be part of the conversation. Which is what surprised me so much about the post on Moffat and feminism I linked below - it isn't even just that I find Moffat's feminist credentials dubious (to put it charitably), it just seems so incongruous.
permalink
at 15:43 on 29-03-2014, Tamara
I'm also kind of reminded of how some people, at least, were making really positive, thoughtful feminist analyses of the first season of Dollhouse, whereas many of us on the site ... were not. (Which is to say, we found the show's feminist credentials somewhat lacking.)


You know, I don't recall being impressed with the feminism of Dollhouse either, (granted, it's been a while) but I kind of give some credit for ambition. It wasn't good - possibly it was actively bad...but it was trying to say something, in its fumbling way. There was something to be in a dialogue with there, in a sense that you can't really be in with things without ambition, I think. I can castigate, I dunno, Friends from a feminist perspective until the cows come home and possibly turn up something interesting even, but I'm not really in any kind of conversation with it. It's doing one thing, I'm doing another (and that's fine.)

With Dollhouse...it's kind of participating in the conversation. You can judge it as succeeding or failing. My point being, that that's not a sense I've ever had with Doctor Who. It's Friends, not Dollhouse. I can pick it apart plenty, or even praise it here and there, but its feminism (or sexism) always seems by the by to me, never anything deliberate.
permalink
at 15:02 on 29-03-2014, Robinson L
Janne: It is ridiculous that someone, even supposedly a smart some one can actually believe something like this.

Well, if Tom Scocca (the article author) is to be believed, he may not actually believe that, he just wants other people too. (That may be too harsh, or it may not, I don't know.)

maybe dissertations and such count too?

I expect a 80-90 page thesis is roughly equivalent to a short nonfiction book, so sure, why not?
permalink
at 12:12 on 29-03-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
Barbarossa is set in a fictional Second World War setting in which cute German military girls rush against Moscow to defeat the evil magician Stalin.

It's good that they emphasized the fictionality of the setting. For a while, I was doing a spit take, before calming down to just plain confusion.
permalink
at 11:59 on 29-03-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
@Robinson
This strikes me as a rather weaselly move on Eggers' part - putting forward two utterly barmy injunctions, but then immediately linking them to a semi-reasonable one


And it's such an outrageously untrue thing to say! It is ridiculous that someone, even supposedly a smart some one can actually believe something like this. Like it would take a carpenter to see that a table is crooked. I guess we should all write a novel just to be able to say things, although maybe dissertations and such count too? My master's thesis, which I'm just about to return in a few weeks time will be just about 80-90 pages, can I then say that something is bad?
permalink
at 00:36 on 29-03-2014, Robinson L
Daniel F: If I don't on some level like to think about it... well, as you say, I default to vitriol. That's not pleasant reading.

Personally, I think even when I am writing vitriol, I can still make it engaging, but it's not as fun to write nor (I assume) as entertaining to read as when I'm just taking a playful poke at something.

Having now finished the article, I think the stuff about snark is entertaining but not particularly memorable. The analysis of smarm, on the other hand, I think is just brilliant - it aptly describes the attitude taken by ineffectual/and or corrupt authority figures and their apologists that I've encountered.

Janne: I think the writer deliberately does this to defend even the more negative ways of doing criticism just to make a point that the false and naive positivity is still more damaging to a discussion than that. I did not get the feeling that he was defending trolling or anything like that, merely the attempt to stifle discussion by dismissing everything that is not nice and shiny.

Oh, I didn't get that impression either. But assuming the book by David Denby is a real thing, then it would seem snarkiness does indeed have a reputation as being primarily a tool of negative criticism which I guess I hadn't been previously aware of.

I also want to spotlight this plea by Eggers quoted in the article:

Do not dismiss a book until you have written one, and do not dismiss a movie until you have made one, and do not dismiss a person until you have met them.

This strikes me as a rather weaselly move on Eggers' part - putting forward two utterly barmy injunctions, but then immediately linking them to a semi-reasonable one ("do not dismiss a person until you have met them"; I have a pretty low opinion of David Cameron, but if I were ever to meet him in person, I think I'd try to be open-minded), thereby inviting the reader to take the three as a package.

The thing is, the three are not equivalent - reading a book or watching a movie is comparable to meeting a person, writing a book or making a movie is several rungs higher (about on par with being said person you are supposed not to dismiss).

Then, of course, there's the whole elitism angle with the article's author also covers, but just WOW - no matter how obviously bad the book or movie, you're not allowed to say it's bad until you've made one yourself? No matter how bored or annoyed you were with it, and no matter how obviously pointless it was, I guess you're just not allowed to call 90 minutes or a dozen chapters of Epic Camping bad flimmaking/writing unless you can show your list of credentials in the field. Silly me, thinking entertainment was in the eye of the viewer, rather than the expert. (And oops, there I go with the snark, because I'm just a big hater.)

Come to think, I have written a novel - a couple, in fact, counting NaNoWriMo - and of all the qualities about me which speak to my competence as a critic/reviewer, that bit of trivia is somewhere at the very bottom of the list. (The novels in question are all crap, have never been published and with any luck never will be in anything vaguely approaching their current status - but if we go that direction, Eggers' criteria falls apart even sooner: where's the cutoff? Self-publication? Professional publication? Best seller list? None of those necessarily tell you anything about the caliber of either the book or the writer, so what do you do then?)


Arthur: For the Doctor Who gripers: this essay is a really nice summation of everything that's wrong with the Moffat era.

That's a fantastic piece, Arthur. As is this essay defending Moffat from a feminist position, to which the one you posted is something of a response.

I more incline towards many (though not all) of the criticisms of Moffat in the former article, but I find the arguments in the second pretty interesting. I'm also kind of reminded of how some people, at least, were making really positive, thoughtful feminist analyses of the first season of Dollhouse, whereas many of us on the site ... were not. (Which is to say, we found the show's feminist credentials somewhat lacking.)

Mind you, I still quite enjoy Moffat's stuff, because the writing's so good. On the other hand, neither one of them really addresses the biggest problem I have with the Moffat era, which is that the writing's so bad. (And no, that's not a contradiction, as far as I'm concerned, Moffat is prone to extremes, as well as mediocrity, and even recent Moffat has produced some gems as well as dross.)
permalink
at 23:39 on 28-03-2014, Arthur B
I know Michal, I know.
permalink
at 23:29 on 28-03-2014, Michal
Barbarossa is set in a fictional Second World War setting in which cute German military girls rush against Moscow to defeat the evil magician Stalin.

Uh...

What?
permalink
at 22:11 on 28-03-2014, Arthur B
Oh, and before anyone suggests it: no, I will not be doing a Kickstopper article about this.
permalink
at 20:57 on 28-03-2014, Arthur B
Ron Gilbert recently found his notebooks from designing the first two Secret of Monkey Island games and is posting treasure from them - first post here, second post here. Some really fascinating treasure here.
permalink
at 13:13 on 28-03-2014, Arthur B
For the Doctor Who gripers: this essay is a really nice summation of everything that's wrong with the Moffat era.

Lots of nice stuff about Moffat's cosy sexism and similar issues, and also some fairly cutting remarks concerning now, even when you ignore the social justice stuff, he's just kind of a shit writer these days:
The threat posed by the Intelligence in ‘Name of the Doctor’ is that he/it will take over the Doctor’s entire life and rewrite it to suit himself. This in the same episode in which Moffat literally inserts his own character, Clara, into every moment of the Doctor’s life, having her meet every single one of his incarnations, putting her at the very moment when the Doctor first leaves Gallifrey, telling him which TARDIS to steal. This in the same episode in which he introduces an entirely new, never-before-seen incarnation of the Doctor. Whatever else you can say about him, Moffat isn’t a writer who allows himself to be troubled by an excess of self-awareness.
permalink
at 20:30 on 26-03-2014, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Forget alchemical symbolism; I want to know what part of the Bible is going to be reinterpreted with yonic spider-monsters.

In other news, issue 19 of The Manhattan Projects came out and holy goddamn shit.
Farewell, Robert, and hello Joseph Beyond The Infinite. And hello again, Albert.
Shit is just escalating in this book. I'm gonna have to write about it once the next trade drops.
permalink
at 11:52 on 25-03-2014, Daniel F
Well, I don't know about you, but I'm going to be watching like a hawk for alchemical symbolism. ;)
permalink
at 10:39 on 25-03-2014, Kit
Welp, apparently Prometheus 2 (or whatever it end up being called) is a thing that's going to happen. I guess some of you will be happier about it than others :)
permalink
at 07:41 on 25-03-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
@Robinson
However, I also find it kind of baffling, because it sets up a premise - which the author seems to concur with - that snarkiness is always critical and negative.

I think the writer deliberately does this to defend even the more negative ways of doing criticism just to make a point that the false and naive positivity is still more damaging to a discussion than that. I did not get the feeling that he was defending trolling or anything like that, merely the attempt to stifle discussion by dismissing everything that is not nice and shiny.

The article does proceed by way of opposites though, which reflects the way these sorts of discussions often seem to come about. Snarkiness in nature is more what y'all are describing, an authentically positive, fun inspiring phenomenon.
permalink
at 02:10 on 25-03-2014, James D
@Dan H
I think basically it only makes sense if you assume the target audience is somebody who agrees strongly with the opening sentence and has never considered the reply, so your thought process is supposed to go something like: "Hell yeah undifferentiated XKCD character, I strongly self-define as having an insatiable lust for answers! But holy shit, my self-definition as an insatiable lust for answer having individual is rocked to its very core by your revelation that sleep is mysterious and poorly understood when I, as a person who self-defines as having an insatiable lust for knowledge, have hitherto taken it for granted!"

Yeah, that makes sense I guess, but it presupposes a very specific pair of responses from the readership. In my case I only sort of agree with the first character's premise, but thought the second character's response was common knowledge. Nobody fully understands why gravity works the way it does either - touche?
permalink
at 00:55 on 25-03-2014, Daniel F
But I tend to be at my most (and to my mind, best) snarky when I'm talking about something I'm at least somewhat positive about, but feel compelled to take a few pokes at nonetheless - in other words, not so much being outright critical as taking the piss.


That's my experience as well. I am most able to write about or critique something if 1) it is something I have a genuine affection for and 2) it's nonetheless something that frequently irritates me. There's this odd sweet spot. If I like it too much, I can't think of enough to analyse, or I'm afraid to analyse it because it might taint my enjoyment. If I don't like it enough, on the other hand, I'm just not interested enough to stick with it. If I don't on some level like to think about it... well, as you say, I default to vitriol. That's not pleasant reading.

I did really like the smarm article, though I suspect it is tilting at a straw-man. That's not to say smarm doesn't exist or isn't bad; but it seems to me that when people criticise snark, they're not opposed to meaningful critique. 'Snark' in the sense that I think it's being criticised is a sort of cynical detachment, an attitude that only cares enough to make a pointed observation or a devastating, attacking comment. But it doesn't care enough to provide any real criticism.

So I'd like to think there's a middle ground there. My thought is that smarm and snark are both, essentially, forms of apathy. They're both saying "I don't care enough about your work to engage with it": it's just that one is superficially nice and the other is superficially nasty.
permalink
at 22:30 on 24-03-2014, Robinson L
I dunno, the comic Arthur linked was just incomprehensible, but that earlier one you linked just seems to be saying "dreams are weird, yo" in a moderately amusing way.


I've also started reading that snark vs. smarm article Janne linked - which is neat, but loooong.

However, I also find it kind of baffling, because it sets up a premise - which the author seems to concur with - that snarkiness is always critical and negative.

Certainly, I've seen people (present company included) utilize snark to devastating critical effect, and have often utilized it myself for critical purposes. But I tend to be at my most (and to my mind, best) snarky when I'm talking about something I'm at least somewhat positive about, but feel compelled to take a few pokes at nonetheless - in other words, not so much being outright critical as taking the piss.

Generally, when I'm really offended/annoyed/or bored by something, I don't make too many jokes about it (though I do make some), I'm more prone to just spewing vitriol.
permalink
at 20:39 on 24-03-2014, Dan H
I think basically it only makes sense if you assume the target audience is somebody who agrees strongly with the opening sentence and has never considered the reply, so your thought process is supposed to go something like: "Hell yeah undifferentiated XKCD character, I strongly self-define as having an insatiable lust for answers! But holy shit, my self-definition as an insatiable lust for answer having individual is rocked to its very core by your revelation that sleep is mysterious and poorly understood when I, as a person who self-defines as having an insatiable lust for knowledge, have hitherto taken it for granted!"

See also this much earlier comic on the subject of dreams.
permalink
at 14:06 on 23-03-2014, Arthur B
Yeah, it's like he did the rest of the comic and the alt-text after forgetting what the setup line was.
permalink
at 00:54 on 23-03-2014, James D
Fuck, the third paragraph of the Wikipedia article on sleep goes "The purposes and mechanisms of sleep are only partially clear and the subject of substantial ongoing research." I dunno about you guys, but "substantial ongoing research" is a pretty glaring symptom of curiosity and a hunger for answers.

I don't know if you read the alt text, but Randall even acknowledges that point himself. Some dude has spent 50 years researching sleep without coming up with any real conclusive answers...so doesn't that kind of prove the first guy's point about humanity? Why is the "we all sleep and don't know why" a touche?? Really I find this comic more mystifying than anything else. It's like Randall realized he didn't really have a point and made the comic deliberately ambiguous to hide that fact.
permalink
at 23:18 on 22-03-2014, Dan H
XKCD gripe squad: ACTIVATE!


Oh dear, that really was annoying.

It wasn't even trite, because being trite implies saying something a least vaguely coherent. This is just a meaningless statement followed by a complete non sequitur.

But just to prove I don't hate all XKCD on principal, I will add that I quite liked this one possibly because it is a rare example of the "trite rebuttal to common observation" comics that actually manages to be halfway insightful.
permalink
at 22:04 on 22-03-2014, Arthur B permalink
at 20:18 on 21-03-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
Well, that's as good an opportunity as any to link this article against that whole "criticism and snark is bad and done by envious people" thing that is plaguing the culture of our times. It also provides some shots at Dave Eggers, so there's a tangent to a recent article here as well!
permalink