Tags: postmodernism


plot? what's "plot"?

Best artist-to-audience practical joke ever:

The first half of Episode 3 of Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is comprised mainly of slow fanservicey panning shots of Fujiyoshi--up until then a relatively minor character--as she watches Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei on a tiny television with the sound muted. Plot and character development progress as usual in the form of a Zetsubou-themed radio drama she's listening to in the background. She is drawing yaoi. The camera lingers over her thighs, her breasts, and her shoulders before suddenly cutting to shots of her desk, on which she is drawing scenes of young men having explicit gay sex. Every now and then she'll look at her television screen, and the camera will cut to it, in which the same panty shot is being repeated over and over. The only character dialogue is Fujiyoshi saying things like, "Etto...should I draw this pairing? It's a little obscure..." This goes on for about fifteen minutes before the episode actually begins, at which point the audience has already missed everything.

In another episode, the credits scroll across the bottom of the screen in the middle of the episode for no reason.

In yet another, while the characters are discussing the tendency of people to be distracted by small details, Earth is suddenly invaded by aliens. The rest of the episode is a gratuitous giant robot fight scene.

In yet another, Fujiyoshi is drawing hentai 4-koma, and Chiri shouts, "Harumi, what are you doing? This is disgusting! I won't stand for this! A story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end!" The rest of the episode--the ten minutes or so left, anyway--has a stirring rising action, a melodramatic climax, and a spectacular and totally nonsensical denouement, none of which have anything to do with the plot.

How could I not love this?

(In case anyone's wondering, I'm catching up on anime-watching in preparation for Otakon this Friday.)

who are the super mario brothers?

Clip from a 1988 episode of Inside Edition, featuring the new video game craze from Japan, Super Mario Bros.! Features the amusingly humble 1988 Nintendo of America headquarters, Howard Phillips in a bow tie, the Nintendo game tips telephone hotline, and a startlingly pleasant Bill O'Reilly. (How did this nice young newscaster grow up to become the scowling lunatic we know and love today?)

It just occurred to me that some of you had not yet been born when this episode first aired. I feel old.

but not as old as Bill O'Reilly

Relatedly, here's one in a series of wonderfully postmodern short films starring Zangief, the ultra-stereotypical Soviet wrestler from Street Fighter II. This isn't the first time Internet filmmakers born in the 1980s have used Street Fighter II characters to reflect upon their own loss of innocence (and the absurdity of the fictional heroes of their youth), but this one stands out in that it succeeds in being both sad and genuinely funny.

Also: uncomfortable movie plot summaries. "Star Wars: A New Hope: Religious extremist terrorists destroy government installation, killing thousands. "

pride and prejudice and zombies

Now, as you're probably already well aware, I'm not a big fan of the entire genre of published fanfiction literary tributes that Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice has spawned. (The kind with such authentically Austenian passages as " 'Why, Mr. Darcy,' cried a breathless Ms. Bennet as the hem of his breeches swiftly descended from his firm, ox-toned hips, 'you never cease to overwhelm me with your considerable...wit.") But I may have to make an exception for this one.

things i keep forgetting to write about (but can now because i am sick)

Conversation with Maxine, of the Brooklynite Cabal (crwr/english majors who went to high school in Brooklyn together, went to college at Oberlin together, and came back to Brooklyn together), at a holiday party:

Maxine: So I heard you moved? Where?
Kevin: Yeah! Park Slope, near the 7th avenue F stop.
Maxine: Near the hospital?
Kevin: Yes. You familiar with the area?
Maxine: ...We grew up there.
Kevin: "We"?
Maxine: Everyone here.

Park Slope is gorgeous! Absolutely fucking gorgeous. I mean, I knew that before I moved here--it's why I moved here, really--but only after coming this deep into the neighborhood do I really appreciate how beautiful it is. It doesn't feel at all like New York, it feels more like the downtown part of some large-town-not-quite-a-city in Massachussetts, Connecticut, anywhere vaguely New England. None of the tired urban squalor that 80% of the city's neighborhoods have in common; it's all Christmas wreaths and baby carriages, and parents talk to their kids about baseball teams and conservation of volume instead of GIT BACK HERE SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP. (It's so cute...the parents talk to their kids as if their kids were little grown-ups, and the kids talk all grown-up in response. Maybe this is what good parenting looks like?) When it snows there's a coat of vanilla icing over everything. Very Norman Rockwell.

My room may be dorm-like and suffocatingly tiny, but with Prospect Park one one side and 7th Avenue (diner-and-laundromat street) on the other, I really have no excuse to be there. Except, you know, when I'm sick. Like now.

2. I've finally found a few places to eat in Park Slope that I can afford to enjoy more than twice a month. All of them are extremely wanting in atmosphere, but they're about the same price as McDonald's (which I used to eat at least once a week in povertyville), have better variety, and are about twice as good. One of them is a generic Chinese-Mexican place, which, while far more expensive than your typical dirt-cheap New York Chinese-Mexican place, is also proportionately better in quality, and still comparable to a sandwich at the deli. Another, which is a diner, not a bakery, despite the huge "DONUTS" sign out front, is the quintessential greasy spoon. Not the romantic ideal of a lonely urban diner, captured at first by Hopper's Nighthawks and then glamorized into its exact reverse, but the kind of place that inspired the painting in the first place. A newspaper-and-cigarette-butts kind of place, lit by flickering white ceiling tubes, where wizened Jewish grandpas sip iced tea from chipped plastic tumblers and the lone waitress is a scowling middle-aged Greek lady with a dirty handkerchief on her head. There is a wide variety of menu items under eight dollars, most of them large and meat-based, which come with potatoes and your choice of vegetable, making it a great place to go for a pseudo-home-cooked meal if you don't have the energy to prepare one yourself. And the bizarre, gnarly conversations that the aging, racially diverse other customers have in the adjoining booths--not hard to see how that kind of thing has become material for generations of stand-up comedians. It's like eating at a significantly dodgier version of the diner from Seinfeld.

3. A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes is a very good read. It's just as smart-assed and pretentious and workshoppy as the title suggests, and it's still a good read. The first chapter is an alternate retelling of the story of Noah's Ark, as recounted by a stowaway (who deeply, deeply resents the humans for the account presented in Genesis, which he regards as historically inaccurate). That tale is masterfully told, even when borderline blasphemous; the creature somewhat appropriately has the voice of an ornery Jewish grandfather and is scathingly funny in his exposition. What follows afterward is not a series of narratives describing subsequent events in the history of the world, as one might expect from the title, but a hodgepodge of chronologically sequential stand-alone short stories, academic papers, legal documents, art history lectures, and what have you, all written in a different style and a different voice, which seem to be completely unrelated until you realize that all but one of them is tied to the first story by an intricate network of motifs, themes, and historical running gags to which the speaker of each document is completely oblivious. (Particularly compelling is the story of the boat full of Jewish refugees from the Holocaust, who are smuggled onto a cruise ship out of an emerging Nazi Germany during the Holocaust, only to be denied asylum at every harbor at which the ship lands, due to anti-Semitism.) Apparently the history of the world is the story of Noah's Ark told ten and a half times, over ten and a half different time periods. (And, in a fuck-you to all the creative writing majors who looked at the title and immediately thought he wrote ten chapters and couldn't bear to axe the eleventh, it's actually eleven and a half.) A major theme in the book is the unreliability of history, and how stories get altered and lost in the retelling, with the implication that the perception of those stories passed down to us may ultimately be more important than the truth, and it is this theme that makes this collection of shorts something far greater than the sum of its parts.

Also worth mentioning about this book is that Barnes is a master of voice. Most writers struggle at establishing one compelling, natural-sounding authorial voice; Barnes effortlessly juggles ten. If not for the one name on the cover I would have believed that this book was a concept anthology by ten different people. In one chapter he'll be a dapper, charming, engaging Oxford art history professor, giving an immensely gripping art lecture--the kind that has his students hanging on every words, the female students in particular leaning out of their desks, breathless and spellbound--and in the next he'll be an astronaut from Topeka who used to play college football and used his budding knowledge of rocket physics to play pranks on his neighbors. One of the reviewers on the back of the book (which I generally never pay attention to) described it as "masterful ventriloquism." That's exactly what it is. Most writers, even great ones, can put themselves in the heads of other people, but still come off sounding distinctively like themselves. Barnes doesn't. It's hard to tell which voice is the real Julian Barnes, even in one chapter where he talks to you, the reader, as Julian Barnes. (It's never clear what is fiction and what is nonfiction in this book--which is entirely the point.) Particularly striking are Barnes' many and diverse American voices, which somehow manage to sound unmistakably, believably American, despite the fact that Barnes is British and is writing the book from a very post-imperial perspective.

Be warned that there is a great wealth of Biblical allusions in this book. It's too provocative to be shelved as what most bookstores classify as Christian literature, yet requires too much context for it to be truly appreciated by an unfamiliar atheist. I suppose Barnes could get away with this in Britain, where even (and especially!) the atheists tend to have grown up with an Anglican upbringing, and would at the very least be culturally conversant with certain Biblical stories, like Jonah and the whale and the sacrifice of Isaac. In the secular literary circles of coastal America, however, I have the feeling that many readers will feel like they are reading a joke without a punchline. (Chapter 3 in particular, which is the court record of an eighteenth century French Catholic trial of the descendants of the stowaway in Chapter 1 for an unrelated crime, will be impenetrable to someone who has never taken a stab at making it all the way through both the Old and New Testaments; any such person may want to skip it altogether.) At the very least, you'd have to have read through the first dozen or so chapters of Genesis to make sense of the book at all. Jews will probably love it, though. As will the more open-minded among the hay-and-buckwheat crowd. :]

4. Hey, you. I know you skipped that blue link up there. Go back up and read Genesis, if you never have. Say what you will, and believe what you will, but from any perspective it's extraordinarily beautiful prose. And the source material is a lot more compelling than what you might have seen in Sunday School dioramas. (My favorite book, I confess, in the entire Old Testament.)

gaming the metagame: gaming the metagame: gaming the metagame:

Computer games. Psh. Who has time to play computer games anymore. Let's play computer games about computer games.

First off: Achievement Unlocked! This flash game is a scathing critique of the X-Box Live achievements system that is all the rage these days, and the funniest game design satire since You Have To Burn The Rope. If you find yourself asking, "Wait, how do I play?" or "What am I supposed to do?" you're entirely missing the point.

Second: Rara Racer! If you have ever looked up a game on GameFAQs before playing it, watched Let's Play videos on youtube, read the TigSource forums, or consider "gamer" to be a badge of pride, you owe it to yourself to play this. (Sneheheheh.)

epic internet-inspired internet epic

Today I went to an awesome place. I am not sober enough to write about it right now. So:

(part 2 here)

This isn't going to mean anything to those of you who haven't been following Japanese internet memes (or at least watching my last few youtube posts), but if you have, this just might blow your mind.

Listen to the music. Does it sound familiar? Yep--it's the song from the super-condensed Nico Nico Douga million meme video! Performed by an ELEVENTY BILLION PIECE AMATEUR ORCHESTRA. In a REAL CONCERT HALL.

They are all wearing masks worn by users in popular Nico Nico videos--so they're Internet users pretending to be other Internet users pretending to be cartoon characters. Musicians playing a earnest cover of a silly mashup of ironic remixes of songs from Japanese pop culture--recorded as a Niconico video that will itself become a meme. It's a tribute to a tribute to a tribute to a tribute. If the meta got any more nested, the universe would segfault.

This might be the ragtaggest ragtag bunch of musicians history has ever brought together (did they even know each other before this project? this is almost a flashmob), so it's clear they haven't rehearsed enough to bring this piece to perfection. But the energy of the composition and the vitality of the performance is astounding. I never thought the song from the "Yatta!" dance would bring a tear to my eye, but here I am...

On an unrelated note, today I saw a biker riding a motorcycle shaped like a coffin. It was tacky, but appropriate.

in which kevin reviews things he has finished recently

Kingdom Hearts II for PlayStation 2: Five hours of startlingly poignant, compelling story, with fifty hours of bad Disney crossover fanfiction sandwiched in between. Oh well--I suppose that's the only way to carry such a terrible concept and make it work. (Rumor has it that the game was conceived when a Square exec and a Disney exec were standing an elevator at a graphics conference, and one of them said to the other, "You have a highly marketable franchise! We have a highly marketable franchise! Let's make a game that will sell lots and lots of spinoff merchandise.") Gameplay-wise, it's God of War for kids, which is in no way a bad thing, unless "giddy combo-mashing fun" is a bad thing to you. Just the right level of challenge, too--I've beaten the game on Proud and Sephiroth still kicks my ass. Oh, and I know half the Internet has said this already, but I don't care what the cosmology of the game says--Roxas is a far more genuine and interesting character than Sora.

The Adventures of Chairman Mao on the Long March by Frederic Tuten: A short but bold experiment in creative plagiarism. If you went into this book not knowing anything about its premise, you could be excused for believing at first that it is a dry, textbook account of the father of Chinese communism's rise to power. By the time you get to the parts with the uncredited excerpts from Jack London novels and the historical account of 1920s silent film actress Greta Garbo seducing Mao from the hatch of a tank, it's pretty obvious that Tuten is fucking with you. Apparently Tuten was a good friend of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichenstein (the cover of the current edition was actually painted by Lichenstein himself), and his book is written with much of that same deconstructionist playfulness. Like his contemporaries, it's often hard to tell whether he's trying to make a serious point or whether he's just trying to trip every bullshit detector in criticdom. Highlights include: a scene where Mao fantasizes about the wives of other famous dictators through history, a bullshit-heavy parody of a paper on academic deconstructionism, and an end-of-book interview in which Mao reveals himself to be a hipster. Art, English, and history majors will adore this book to pieces, but other folk will probably go wtf.

I had a very special experience reading this book outside the World Financial Center at dusk. I saw rays of blood-gold sifting through the Manhattan skyline, glittering across the river, casting shadows of tables and chairs up a five-story flight of stairs, to rest on a gaggle of New Yorkers watching a crane lift a piece of the new World Trade Center into place. If only I had a 360 degree camera. That had depth perception. And no fisheye. Oh well, I guess some moments weren't meant to be preserved.

New Super Mario Bros. for Nintendo DS: A great tribute to the first four Super Mario Bros. games, but not a particularly memorable experience in itself. For a DS game, it's annoyingly non-portable, given that you have a finite number of saves for the entire game. Has its moments, though--plowing through a level when you are almost as big as the level itself is always fun.

Neuromancer by William Gibson: Okay, holy shit. I knew that this book was influential but I had no idea it was this...ambitious. I know this book inspired the Matrix trilogy, the Shadowrun role-playing games, and the entire genre of cyberpunk--not to mention the names of half a dozen real-life technologies, of which "cyberspace" is but one--but no one told me that all that stuff was based on the first five chapters. Gibson creates not only a imaginative yet chillingly familiar post-1980s future city (at least, if you read the book two decades ago), he writes an imaginative yet chillingly familiar post-1980s world. The universe of the novel spans five different countries--two of which are in orbit--each of which has entered the cyberspace age in unique yet plausible ways. And while Gibson was wildly off on some thematic and geopolitical counts (nobody expects the Japanese recession!), some technological observations were so accurate that I frequently had to remind myself that the book was first published in 1984. A lot of his observations, like the jury-rigged cyberspace nodes in the Middle East, have become true in spirit if not in fact. Now-timeless characters, a gripping story, and some astonishingly beautiful prose make this novel exceptional in its own right, not merely a fine work of science fiction. Which sets it apart from pretty much every other sci-fi novel written during the 1980s. Or the 1970s or 1960s, for that matter. Fucking starry-eyed machine worshippers.

Great Dream of Heaven by Sam Shepard: I'm willing to be the reason why this book is only worth four dollars, despite the fact that Shepard is a Pulitzer winner, is because the very very small number of people who actually read literary fiction thumbed through this at the bookstore and realized the first story, about a boy who helps a horse doctor rescue a trapped stallion, is absolutely awful. Like, dear goodness how the hell did this get published awful--it's disgusting and cruel, and there's no depth to any of the characters other than the sly but not subtle pedophilic and bestial overtones. It's a bit of a surprise, then, to discover that most of the other short stories in this anthology are actually pretty excellent. Fiction seems like a weird medium for Shepard, who won his Pulitzer for playwriting, but Shepard compensates by drawing from his phenomenal talent for dialogue. Every story is dialogue-driven--there's some exposition, some sense imagery, but all the tension and the all the character development comes from what the characters say. It's like reading a novel through a telephone, which would be a negative criticism for anyone but Shepard, who manages to spin not only believable but completely human characters from a few short pages of words. He's got a knack for finding compelling stories in the most mundane of plots: a woman's car breaks down by the side of the road; a dude at a casual restaurant asks a waitress about a sign; a Jew walks into a bar. (Okay, I made that last one up.) As my own prowess with dialogue is severely lacking (how am I supposed to write talky bits when I'm a recluse in real life?), this book is worth having to study as well as to read.

Tropic Thunder: If you've seen the trailer, you already know what to expect. Surprisingly enjoyable for a Ben Stiller film--the only Ben Stiller film I've ever seen where the audience broke into applause at the end--and squeefully meta (it's a movie about real life for people making a movie about real life!)--doubly so when you realize that most of the characters who are actors are scathingly self-deprecating parodies of the actors who play them. Manages to be much funnier than a typical Ben Stiller movie while being only half as stupid. And yes, that is Robert Downey Jr. in blackface, and no, it's not as crass as you might believe. Also, UNEXPECTED TOM CRUISE AAAAAAHH.

Welcome to Tranquillity Vol. 1 - by Gail Simone and Neil Googe Written by Gail Simone, famed feminist comics historian and talented comics writer in her own right. Drawn by Neil Googe, who I'd never heard of before, but has a knack for gorgeous pastel tones and clever panel designs. It's a very tongue-in-cheek series about a retirement community for Silver Age superheroes and their families. The protagonist is the sheriff of the town--an ordinary black woman with no superpowers. A sampling of this series's brand of humor: In the first chapter, a young hooligan from out of town comes into the Chik-N-Go to cause trouble. His name? Emoticon--and he wears a mask over his face that always shows the ASCII representation of what he's feeling. He wears a giant bling necklace around his neck that reads "EMO" in glittering studs. Hilarious, and a real delight to read, especially if you have some general knowledge of comics history.

Guitar, Month 3: exit valve for the heart.

in the category of "so terrible it goes right back around to being awesome again"

Shakespeare isn't rolling in his grave. He's ROCKIN' in his grave.


Twelfth Dog Night:

Fleetwood Macbeth:

They've also done Romeo Hall and Juliet Oates, A Midsummer Saturday Night's Fever Dream, and Hamlet: The Artist Formerly Known As Prince Of Denmark. Alas, there are no videos for those.

From my high school physics teacher Mr. Genest, of all people.