V for Victory

It is no secret that I have a thing for Beethoven. I’ve written about it here and if you’re around me when I’m drunk enough to go on a ramble about music, then chances are that you’ll hear me talk about why Beethoven’s work is so important to me. But in the context of what the US is going through right now, and, really, what the world is going through right now, Beethoven is integral.

Anyone who pays any attention to news from the US and abroad knows that the world has seen a massive upswing in the worst excesses of right-wing politics, from reactionary rhetoric to autocrats encouraging the full-sale slaughter of their own citizens. But more disturbing than their actions is that, at least in the West, these parties are democratically elected. They are a symptom of a great amount of fear, hatred, and misplaced rage the world over, and the causes of that are best left for another post written by someone who hasn’t recently gone on a tear shouting “Punch Nazis wherever you see them.” No, what I’m here to talk about today is a follow-up to a Twitterstorm I threw out a few days ago about Shostakovich. See, that happened before our President, a man with a micropenis—evidenced by his reactionary and egoistic approach to anyone criticizing him or the straw figures he calls his policies—decided to throw a gag order on environmental and recreational federal agencies. After that popped up, I thought some more about Shostakovich, a man who fought back against another oppressive regime in his own way: He made music. And now, with our President deciding that, yes, a list of crimes committed by immigrants is a fantastic way to unify the country and use his executive powers, I think about Beethoven.

Beethoven was a man from the margins who spent his life attempting to become an aristocrat by virtue of his work. His family was not of the upper crust, and he knew that very well. It’s reflected in his relationships with his patrons and his mentors, this mentality that they had no moral right or standing to address him as an inferior, or that he should be content with his station as a mere employee or artistic servant. This carried over into his politics, where, for the day, he was a staunch proponent of individual liberties. He criticized the Austrian court, its secret police, and the foibles of the aristocracy. He supported Napoleon up until the point where Napoleon declared himself Emperor of France. His only opera deals with the theme of the unjustly imprisoned and mistreated overcoming their oppressors with the help of a just ruler. In all, Beethoven was, at least nominally, a friend of the common man. His music is filled with these themes, and to write about any of those pieces would provide enough content for an entire series about Beethoven and political resistance. Instead, I’d like to talk briefly about Beethoven’s 5th and World War II.

In short, the Allies realized that they had a propaganda coup with using the opening bars of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony to open their broadcasts. Not only is the music striking, but, in Morse Code, the same short-long pattern translates to “V,” as in “victory.” So, with every broadcast, with every bumbumbum-buh, the Allies would telegraph their hope for victory over the Germans. Of course, what they didn’t really make a note of is the very same bars being the implication of Fate knocking on one’s door. That, naturally, has its own propaganda use, as it’s almost as if Heaven and Earth are willing the Allied forces to victory over the Axis powers. But, that’s a lot less snappy than “V for Victory.”

Of course, Beethoven’s German roots were a little troublesome to some people. Those people, naturally, didn’t really think about that beyond the labels of “German.” On one level, it falls apart because Beethoven didn’t live in Germany, as Germany would not exist for decades. On another, he came from a Flemish family (hence the “van” in his name), and lived and worked in Austria for a significant portion of his life. On yet another level, that concern falls apart when one considers that Beethoven had a certain, significant portion of his brain dedicated to making known his disdain for autocrats, tyrants, and the crushing of the masses by the aristocracy.

But beyond all of those political matters, the underlying theme in all of Beethoven’s work is a sort of universalism that is a unique hybrid of a Protestant environment, Beethoven’s sense of natural wonder and nature-based spiritualism, and the brotherhood of man. The most famous example of this is the Choral portion of his 9th Symphony, which takes and edits (for the better, by all accounts) a poem by Friedrich Schiller. The content of Beethoven’s choral work is a sort of unitarian spiritualist praise of the best qualities of humanity, and, at its core, a call for people to rise above their base natures and embrace one another as brothers (and sisters).

But, as it stands, and as poetic and beautiful and moving as the 9th is, there is nothing quite as punch and attention-grabbing as those opening bars of the 5th. They force you to sit up, focus your attention, and set you up for riding the wave of Fate that is the 5th. Most relevant for today’s political environment, though, is the call to action implicit in those bars. As the dynamic, bombastic music throughout the symphony would suggest, Fate does not favor those who sit idly by. Fate favors those who act.

Perhaps that was in the background of the Allied propagandists’ minds when they decided to use those opening notes in BBC broadcasts across occupied Europe. For whatever reason, though, those opening bars of the Fifth Symphony have found their place in the composer’s work’s theme of triumph over adversity, of resistance to tyranny, and the triumph of individual liberty.

As the United States faces a President who is at the very least someone who is eerily close to several definitions of fascism, we would do well to look back at the inspiration our parents and grandparents took from art like the Fifth Symphony, and the themes that Beethoven espoused in his work. Just as Fate favors the bold and the active, it takes more effort than we’d like to admit to rise above our evolutionary origins of face-ripping, feces-throwing apes and fully embrace each other. It takes a strong will to stand up against the empowered few who seek to dominate the disempowered many.

⬤ ⬤ ⬤ ▬

The List – 36 Movies You, as a Person, Should Watch

One of my coworkers suggested I draw up a list of movies that people should watch. So, here are 36 movies you should watch! All but one of them were released after 2000.

Documentary

  • The Wolfpack (2015) – Follows six brothers who were isolated in their apartment by their father. Their method of learning about the outside world was through movies, which they would reenact and film. Thus, this is a documentary about movies and people watching movies. Meta as shit.
  • Grizzly Man (2005) – Werner Herzog’s documentary on a man who lived with grizzly bears every summer in Alaska until, eventually, he was killed by one of them. Herzog, I think, is about as close to an incarnation of God as we’ll ever see, and any time you can see him wax philosophic on the interaction of humans and nature is a blast.
  • Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (2016) – Werner Herzog’s newest documentary, about the Internet, technology, and how people interact with it. Come for the ethics of connection, stay for the bit where someone suggests robots could make movies.
  • Jesus Camp (2006) – [screams]
  • Trekkies (1997) – Documentary about Trekkies and what it means to be a Trekkie
  • When Jews Were Funny (2013) – A perfect companion piece to two web series: Old Jews Telling Jokes and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Jokes! So many jokes!

Drama, Westerns, & Others I’m Too Lazy to Classify

  • The Road (2009) – Post-apocalyptic movie adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name. It’s a challenging one to watch. You’ve been warned.
  • Only God Forgives (2013) – Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, Only God Forgives is another entry in the Fucked Up Movies genre, following Ryan Gosling as a young drug dealer in Bangkok, being hunted by a merciless, machete-wielding police officer. Dialogue is sparse in this movie, which is driven more by a dreamlike atmosphere than conventional storytelling.
  • Tangerine (2015) – Two trans prostitutes are on the warpath in Los Angeles after their pimp cheats on one of them while she is in prison.
  • Slow West (2015) – Western with Michael Fassbender playing an Irish outlaw escorting a young Scottish noble who’s trying to track down his exiled paramour in the expanse of the American West.
  • The Witch (2015) – Horror film about a 17th century New England Puritan family exiled from their township for blasphemy. Living in isolation, they fall prey to malevolent forces in the woods.
  • Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009) – Directed by Werner Herzog and starring Nicolas Cage, this movie is something else. Oftentimes manically edited to match the eponymous cop’s drug habit, you need to be on your toes for this one, lest you’re left behind, stuck in the mire of post-Katrina New Orleans.
  • Creed (2015) – Fighting harder, fighting stronger.

Action

  • Mad Max: Fury Road (2016) – Once again, we send off my War Rig to bring back guzzoline from Gastown and bullets from Bullet Farm. Once again, I salute my Imperator, Furiosa and my Half-Life War Boys, who will ride with me eternal on the highways of Walhalla! I am your redeemer! It is by my hand you will rise from the ashes of this world!
  • Dredd (2012) – Brutal reboot of the Judge Dredd film property with Karl Urban. Taking heavily from The Raid, Dredd is a fantastic action flick that more than redeems the travesty that was the Stallone film from the 90s.
  • John Wick (2014) – Don’t fuck with a man’s dog.
  • Ip Man 3 (2015) – Donnie Yen plays the embodiment of awesome in this third installment of the Ip Man series. Loosely based on the life of Bruce Lee’s mentor, Ip Man follows Yip Man as he defends family and country against aggressors. Ip Man 3 finds him against an American real estate developer played by Mike Tyson and his horde of greaser minions. It’s a lot of fun, even if the pacing’s off at times.
  • JCVD (2008) – I’m not quite sure where to put this one. It’s a drama, and an action movie, and at times a comedy. JCVD follows Jean-Claude Van Damme as he reflects on his life, imminent divorce and bankruptcy, and also gets held hostage in a bank robbery. And it turns out that JCVD is a really fun guy to watch, even to this day.

Sci-Fi

  • Moon (2009) – Directed by Duncan Jones, Moon follows astronaut Sam Bell as he experiences some super weird shit on a lunar installation on the moon.
  • Ex Machina (2015) – What’s worse than an egotistical startup tech genius? An egotistical startup tech genius dicking around with AI research.
  • Children of Men (2006) – In a world where procreation is impossible, one woman can suddenly have a child. Clive Owen puts in a legitimately good performance in a bleak post-apocalyptic film about humanity.
  • Prometheus (2012) – An extremely divisive film, Prometheus is the prologue to Alien. It has a similar plot trajectory, but delves just a bit more into the lore of the Alien series, and has some extremely striking visuals and a very unique tone throughout the movie.
  • Interstellar (2014) – Christopher Nolan’s entry into the sci-fi canon. Interstellar acts in a way very similar to a lot of older sci-fi novels. The plot is slow, the science is somewhat heavy, and the characters are not so much people as interactions of ideas and philosophies. Notable as a think-y blockbuster in an age of sequels and series.
  • Pandorum (2009) – This movie is garbage, but it’s occasionally creepy garbage.

Comedy

  • What We Do In The Shadows (2015) – A New Zealand faux-documentary about vampires sharing a house in Wellington. It’s hilarious, and has so much more than the “werewolves not swearwolves” line that everyone latches on to. Pray you never meet The Beast.
  • The Nice Guys (2016) – Shane Black’s post-Iron Man 3 movie follows Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as slimy private investigators with hearts of gold, caught in the midst of a plot between 1970s Big Auto, the porno industry, and their own lackluster professional lives. It’s a fantastic crime-comedy that borrows from Black’s earlier work, the buddy cop genre, and Abbot & Costello in equal measure.
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) – Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer star in Shane Black’s other mystery-crime-comedy. This one is equally as amazing as The Nice Guys, and it’s awesome to see pre-Iron Man Downey Jr do a comedy schtick relying on him being an idiot. Amazingly meta. Great fucking watch.
  • Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010) – A horror-comedy about two rednecks who are hunted by college students in the backwoods. Officer, it’s been a doozy of a day.
  • In The Loop (2009) – British comedy about American and English diplomats inadvertently starting a war. Brilliant satire that has some of the most artful swearing in the history of cinema.
  • A Serious Man (2009) – One of the most Jewish movies in the history of movies, the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man follows a put-upon physics professor as his life takes on serious undertones of the Book of Job. Contains a fantastic slew of an ensemble cast, and then this scene, which is [drools].
  • Hail, Caesar! (2016) – The Coen Brothers’ latest movie follows a studio fixer as he herds cats including George Clooney’s idiot movie star character, a charming hick of a horse rider-turned-star, twin gossip columnists, and Scarlett Johansson’s foul-mouthed It Girl who is on the prowl for a dependable man in Hollywood.
  • In Bruges (2008) – The best Irish movie set in Belgium in the history of Irish movies set in Belgium. Maybe that’s what hell is. Being stuck in fucking Bruges for all eternity.
  • The Lobster (2015) – A very weird movie about the horrors of dating and being a single person in modern(ish) society. Very worth a double feature with In Bruges just to see Colin Farrell suddenly put on thirty pounds and grow a dorky mustache.

Shorts

 

Aaron Yells at Clouds: Narrative Ownership in Games

Perhaps it’s because I grew up playing video games in the era of consoles, where you had no choice in anything, and didn’t play a game where you had a choice in anything until after grad school, but there’s been something happening in comment sections of games journalism sites lately that’s really bothered me. (No, not the whole Gamergate thing. That’s not even worth flippantly talking about.) The issue I’m talking about is that there seem to be a very vocal group of gamers who demand that developers be constantly open with their development processes, that they—the gamers—have full choice within games, and, before the games are made, have a voice in what the game is and what it becomes. Now, it also may be the fact that, primarily, when I think of narrative, the thing that pops into my head is the novel or short story. In that, it would be patently absurd for readers to make the same kinds of demands. (Granted, that doesn’t seem to stop some rabid fanbases like the A Song of Ice and Fire crowd from doing just that.) Why? Because novels and short stories are, ostensibly, one-way media. Setting aside the idea that you should be interacting with text, we’re left with the notion that games are the only true interactive art form. Thus, goes the thinking, shouldn’t gamers have more of a say in things?

It probably won’t surprise you to see that, no. I don’t think that’s the case at all.

Backing up, though, there are a few things that prompted this. The first being the comment section on a Polygon article inspired by our second thing, this post on Ask a Game Dev. As a summary, a game developer talked about developers’ practices of being tight-lipped on details about anticipated games, and what the gaming public’s reaction usually means for them. Third, posts and comment threads like this on the SWTOR subreddit. We’re getting super nerdy here, so a little description might be worthwhile: Bioware, maker of the game Star Wars: The Old Republic, are releasing a new expansion that, they say, will drastically change the way the game is played. Beyond that, and some hints about changes to the way your companions will be handled, the way in-game professions will be handled, and a few other things, they’ve not been forthcoming with information. The subreddit has been reacting exactly like you’d think they would: Stopping just short of calling BioWare fascists. The fourth is the Mass Effect 3 ending debacle which probably prompted BioWare to not share many details on things in the future. There are tons of thinkpieces about that floating around online, so feel free to do your research on that. I’d rather not revisit it in this space.

The running theme in all of this has been that the vocal gaming public has shouted for more knowledge of games that they want to play. They say, in a commonly-held idea, that they pay a lot for games, and so they should be entitled to more say than, for example, someone who goes to see a movie. (In my mind, this is an example of some pretty faulty logic. A movie is $12 and a game is $60 because of a lot of reasons, scale among them. Paying more money for media does not mean you get more say, otherwise Comcast would have millions of shareholders.)

Growing up when I did, and playing the games that I did, this strikes me as utterly insane. If developers want to bring the public into the creative process, then that’s fine, but they must have a much higher regard for the public than I do. I’ve tried to think of what Blizzard’s games would be like if the fans had any say in it, and all I can think of now is that World of Warcraft would oscillate wildly between the easiest thing in the world, and something you have to turn into a job where you put in doctor hours.

But at the heart of it all, I think there’s a simple misunderstanding: When people talk about “investing” in a game, they’re misunderstanding the metaphor. You are not investing money in a game. You are investing money in the chance to be entertained. You are paying for a product, and when you pay for a product, you get whatever the product is. Sure, you can change the way future products are made, but you have to open a sane dialog with the manufacturer, or boycott, or any number of post-purchase actions.

Investing in something, on the other hand, is very different. You give an organization a large amount of money beforehand with the expectation that a) you will see a return on that money and b) you may have the chance to steer the company—usually in the form of being involved in shareholders’ meetings or, if you have enough money, at the start of the company. I’m making an assumption here, but something tells me that gamers are not bankrolling BioWare or EA in order to fund wide releases.

The counter to all of this is Kickstarter, or Indiegogo, or a new thing called Fig. Fig seems to be a combination of Steam and Kickstarter, but with a little less communication between creator and backer. I don’t know what to think about that, mainly because the linked Polygon article is so gushing in tone that I come away deeply skeptical. However, the article does point out something important that should keep at bay the hordes of gamers shouting about gamer agency:

“The reason why they were coming in and providing that money was because they trusted so much the creative control brought by the developer. We love getting our community involved in these games, but it’s community-informed. I don’t think you want a community-designed game.”

A community-designed game, I think would be a deeply post-modern thing. A chimera so hideous that none would be able to look upon it without their faces melting a la Raiders of the Lost Ark, and that’s not just me being elitist. When you have an entire community designing something, it becomes a game of telephone, or one of those writing exercises where people write a sentence or a paragraph and pass it along. Occasionally, you might get a good plot, but by and large, it’s going to be absurdism without the art.

Who, then, owns the games? Well, the artist. The same answer as you find in novels or films. It’s their narrative, and while they may be willing to ask for input, they get the final say. Why? Because they’re doing the work in creating something. Compromises may be made along the way, and the finished product may be vastly different than what comes out at the end, but when it’s all said and done, it’s the artist who created the world and they get to say where it’s going to go from here.

The best example of this in non-games, I think, is Star Wars. Here’s a series that started off with three movies that were wildly different from their original inception, then expanded upon with three prequels that people over the age of 8 hated. The movies may completely ignore the language of film, storytelling, and any number of other, important things, but George Lucas stood by his creation, and you have to respect him for that.

So, what? What am I saying to people who are frustrated that they’re not receiving information about things at a steady enough pace for them to feel okay with the future of a game franchise?

Partially, I’m saying that these people should calm the hell down. We live in a time where, if you binge-watched an entire season of a scripted show a day, you would not be able to watch all of the new television shows in a year. And that’s just scripted TV! That’s not counting reality TV, talk shows, sports, or the news! Not to mention movies! Books! Magazines! Other games! We, in fact, live in a rough approximation of the world built in Huxley’s Brave New World, except for the fact that our government is not nearly as benign as theirs. My point being: If you want to do something other than rend your hair and grind your teeth in anticipation of not having a flawless gaming experience, you have other options. You have so many other options. You have, I think, too many other options, to the point where, if we, as a society, were smart, we’d say, “No. That is enough, thank you. I do not need any more; I’m just fine as it is.”

But we’re not. So we’ll keep making media, and in the case of games, you’ll continue to see baffling statistics like this: From May 12 to June 12, people who played Witcher 3 just on PC logged 1,770 years‘ worth of playtime. What that means is if you made that a real life block of time, and placed it chronologically in the continuum of human history, a very unfortunate strawman Witcher 3 would have started when a Roman Emperor named Philip (yeah, good luck finding people who knew about him without looking up the year 245 on Wikipedia) did… well, Imperial stuff, would have continued through the fall of Rome, onward through Charlemagne, the Inquisition, the Reformation, the colonization of the New World, the Enlightenment, the Napoleonic Wars, both World Wars, the Cold War, the Iraq wars, and then, stepping outside for a Doritos and Mountain Dew break, would have been sunburned immediately, as his skin would have become translucent and Gollum-like.

My point to gamers is this: You have other options. Calm down. If you’re dead set on playing games, then find something else until more information is released. Shouting about not being respected just makes people who aren’t you respect you less. You would, rather, probably be better off if you went and read a book.