Monday, October 31, 2011

Duck Comics: "The Poorest Duck in Duckburg"

Sunday, October 30, 2011

You gotta do what? I gotta believe!

Man, thanks to this stupid fucking Anonymous movie, the stupid fucking Shakespeare-authorship conspiracy theorists are getting new publicity for their stupid fucking ideas. Granted, most of that publicity consists of scorn being heaped upon them, but I feel like when it comes to stupid fucking ideas like this, no publicity is bad publicity. As with creationism, trutherism, birtherism, climate-change denialism, et al, engaging just gives them an increased sense of legitimacy (and how fucking perfect is it that the Oxfordian who pops up in comments to the AVClub review is also a proud truther?).

What is it about these people that makes them so particularly enraging? The noxious classism is obviously a big part of it (in our current political climate especially) but not the only part. I think it also has something to do with the fact that they're so fucking smug about the fragments of wishful-thinking non-evidence that they're able to muster up in support of their argument. They try to create the impression that they're interested in debate, but they're not; there is absolutely nothing anyone can say that will disabuse them of the idea that they're right, unlike all you sheeple out there, maaaaan.

I guess another big part of it is the total contempt for history that they display. At least with birthers and truthers, there's a clear political motive for them thinking what they think (not that that makes them any less misguided-at-best). Whereas the anti-Stratfordians just want to fuck around with history because they can and it satisfies their petty prejudices. Sometimes people ask: why does this matter? They're arguing about stuff that happened hundreds of years ago that has no clear connection to anything that's going on today. That, however, is the same attitude that allows winger theocrats to do what they do; to pick out an assortment of misleading facts, factoids, and out-and-out falsehoods in order to create the impression that, eg, America's founders supported their particular brand of totalitarian dominionism. Same methodology in either case. Furthermore, our inability to engage with history (wherever you want to say it comes from) has a lot to do with why our overlords are able to revoke workers' rights that many people fought and died to secure; why they're increasingly able to strip away women's right to bodily autonomy; why they're able to get away with starting obviously fraudulent, unprovoked, unwinnable wars; and so on.

And from a literary standpoint, it's also the rather obvious point that few of them actually care about the work in question from a literary standpoint. They're not reading Shakespeare to read Shakespeare; they're combing through it like cryptologists trying to find nonexistent "clues" to crack some sorta code. Mine you, that leaves mysterious how no less a personage than Derek Jacobi could buy into this. He builds a career on the man's work and then kicks him in the face. Nice, guy.

You know what I'm really reminded of? Those obviously-guilty-as-sin witnesses in Phoenix Wright games, who, once you expose their first lie, always immediately leap to something different, which you then have to disprove in turn, and so on. How they can get away with this is just one of those delightful idiosyncrasies of the law in Ace-Attorney-Land. The difference, of course, is that with the anti-Shakespeare people, you will never, ever reach the end, and they have no compunctions about returning to earlier claims that you've just disproven. Actually, come to think of it, I guess that's how all conspiracy theorists operate. I still like the simile, though!

I understand--or think I understand--the appeal of conspiracy theories. There's something undeniably cool about feeling like you're ferreting out secret truth under the "official" truth. Putting pieces together, like a badass detective, to reveal what "They" don't want you to know. Certainly, our government does not go out of its way to demonstrate that it is not capable of big cover-ups and such. But, really now, you're devaluing actual mendacity when you latch onto this transparent nonsense, and it has real consequences, so stop doing it.

Here's a site that patiently debunks anti-Stratfordian claims, in case anyone was sincerely confused. Here's an instructive post and comments thread in which you can see their techniques in action. Here's a fun article by Ron Rosenbaum savaging the movie and associated bullshit.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mouse Comics: "The Great Orphanage Robbery"

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Exciting Announcement!

Depending on your definition of "exciting," perhaps. But the fact remains, Duck Cartoons Revue is embarking on a new, albeit somewhat predictable, project: Darkwing Duck! Rejoice!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Duck Comics: "The Gab-Muffer"

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (1906)

Probably gonna run into trouble if you try to write about Upton Sinclair and then it is revealed that you haven't read The Jungle, right? Still, while it may be the one Sinclair novel that anyone knows about and the only one consistently in print, I'm a bit curious as to how many people in this day and age have actually read it, as opposed to just being peripherally aware of it. I have the impression that it's sometimes assigned in high school, but it sure wasn't ever to me, and I'd say it's actually a fair bit longer than just about anything that was.

Anyway, The Jungle. You know the plot, maybe: a Lithuanian immigrant, Jurgis, and his family come to Chicago where they get jobs, mostly involving meat packing, and are steadily ground down by the remorseless forces of capital. Then he learns about socialism. The end. It's more effective than I thought it would be, based on those coal mining novels, I'll tell you that much. The march of unrelenting misery is kind of predictable but it has its impact. There's not much in the way of context for why things are as they are; this, the book shares with the coal novels, as well as characters that are constructed more to be acted upon than to act. I think these are flaws in terms of the book's overall effectiveness, but not fatal ones. And sometimes you come across a bluntly effective passage, like so:

…then [the man] set some one else at a different job, and he showed the lad how to place a lard-can every time the empty arm of the remorseless machine came to him; and so was decided the place in the universe of little Stanislovas, and his destiny till the end of his days. Hour after hour, day after day, year after year, it was fated that he should stand upon a certain square foot of floor from seven in the morning until noon, and again from half-past twelve till half past five, making never a motion and thinking never a thought, save for the setting of lard-cans.


Not that I wasn't aware of this stuff in the abstract, but for all their faults, I do feel as though these books are giving me a more concrete picture of the hellish sort of world our Mighty Leaders are so eager to return us to. For that reason, I think they should be more widely read.

However, whatever praise you want to give the book, it's impossible not to notice that it badly loses its focus once Jurgis's wife and son have died and he goes off on his own. First he tries his luck as a hobo; then he comes back to the city and there are some bits where he tries to get work in several different unsafe factories, but it doesn't feel like Sinclair's heart is quite in it, compared to the meat-packing sections. There's a most peculiar interlude in which he falls in with a drunken, upper-class fop straight out of the Drones Club (even his name, Freddie Jones, has a Wodehousian flavor). It's possible that this is just meant to stoke further class outrage, but I have the sneaking suspicion that it's actually meant to be funny. Finally, he turns to crime, and Sinclair does a pretty half-assed job of showing his conflicting emotions during this period (ie, just enough to let you know he's supposed to have conflicting emotions, but no more).

For all that this section meanders, though, I have to admit I found it more engaging than what had come before--its sheer unpredictability was more interesting than the previous section, which was very predictable. It would be hard to argue that it's very effective as propaganda, however.

And finally, socialism! Conveniently enough, Jurgis just happens to get a job with a totally awesome socialist boss, from which to lecture the masses. Whee. And his story sort of breaks up and fades away in a flurry of monologues and dialogues about socialism in a way that vaguely reminds me of Slothrop's dissolution in Gravity's Rainbow. The very last part features Sinclair's attempt at envisioning what an ideal socialist future would look like; it's not wholly convincing, but fuck--how could it possibly be worse than what we've got now? It's a bit unfortunate, though, that Sinclair was so enthusiastic about fad diets and such. Not that this stuff plays a huge role in the novel, but when part of your utopian future involves people learning a special technique to obtain more nutrition from food through more effective chewing…well, you're not exactly inspiring confidence.

The real lesson to be learned from The Jungle, however, is this: people are self-centered jerks. And I'm not talking about the captains of industry; they're beneath contempt, of course, but really now: as you know, probably, the novel's descriptions of meat packing inspired the Pure Food and Drug Act. And yes, these descriptions are really, really disgusting, but the book is not about food sanitation, and there is just no way that anyone could possibly imagine that it was. These passages make up a very small portion of the whole, all told, and they're obviously there to illustrate the general sociopathy of the companies so as to emphasize how horrible they are in their treatment of workers. But does anyone care about that? NO. Because they're not us. Instead, let's fixate on this tiny portion of the novel that affects us personally and throw out the rest. It's held up as this exemplar of how a novel can make a difference, like Uncle Tom's Cabin, but you'd think that the very particular, limited nature of this difference would be more a source of embarrassment to us than anything else.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Happy Ending

So anyway, after defeating the evil monsters, they lived happily ever after. I am not even joking. You probably think I mean "they lived long, happy lives together" but "long" simply doesn't cover it. They lived forever. Eternally. The world changed, and sometimes it got worse, but they always got through it okay, and anyway, mostly it got better; all the bad climate-change things we were expecting were averted, because we got rid of all the republicans and other corporation-beholden creatures and elected sane people who totally fixed the environment and also fixed all income inequality and other social injustice and it was really great and it stayed like that forever. It was totally awesome and they never were any less in love and they never experienced the ravages of age or anything. I know it's hard for you to imagine, but that's how it happened. Sometimes they went to sweet amusement parks and went on badass roller coasters. Sometimes they went to nature preserves and checked out the cool animals. One time, they got to see a baby rhinoceros. In the wild. The mother saw them, but she didn't attack them. The baby came right up to them to check them out. It was super-cute. Anyway, things like that just kept on happening and as I say, they went on forever, and if you're worried that eventually the Sun would go supernova and wipe out all life on earth, and that even if they didn't die 'til then, that would get them, rest assured: that didn't happen. Although sometimes they would get in a sweet spaceship and visit other worlds, which were also awesome places to live, and they saw all sorts of wondrous and sublime things. And you know what else didn't happen? The universe did not collapse into a singularity. Man, you should've been there. It was great.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Quick Breaking Bad admission

I have no choice to concede that I was wrong, wrong, wrong in my previously-stated assumptions about Breaking Bad. I don't mind, because Vince Gilligan is awesome and the finale worked and was really kind of amazing. I will maintain, however, that my previously stated belief vis-à-vis the poison was a reasonable one, as I'm still pretty sure that the show has not previously elided events in this way.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Duck Comics: "The Curse of Flabbergé"

Thursday, October 06, 2011

On Fantasy Miscegenation

Dungeons & Dragons has half-elves (half-elf, half human, that is). This makes a certain amount of sense, since it's easy to imagine elves being sexually attractive to both men and women. I mean, isn't that basically the definition of elves? "Like humans, but sexier?"

There are also half-orcs, which is somewhat harder to imagine, since very few people are sexually attracted to green pig-people, and the reverse, one would assume, would also be true. I think this idea runs on a vaguely racist/misogynist trope of, well, of course those savage, sexually-insatiable orcs are attracted to Our Women, and of course they're going to rape them given half a chance. I don't think there are too many half-orc characters who are presented as coming from consensual unions, or ones in which the mother is the orc. According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, half-orcs were at one point temporarily eliminated "as part of a wide attempt by TSR to remove controversial topics from D&D," whatever that may mean exactly. Citation Needed, however, so take that as you will.

There are no half-dwarves, and this makes sense, because it's hard to imagine most people being attracted to fantasy dwarves (obviously, this has nothing to do with real-life dwarfs, who are something else entirely) (note that I'm making sweeping generalizations here--that last statement is definitively not true--and no doubt in some sourcebook somewhere you can find all the things I'm claiming you can't find--but they're certainly not anywhere near as standardized/widespread as half-elves). But why not half-dwarves/half-gnomes? Dwarves and gnomes are supposed to be related to each other, even, so you'd think it would be only natural that there would be inter-racial unions. For that matter, why not half-dwarf or -gnome/halflings? Halflings may not be related to either, but you'd think the relationship would be analogous to that between elves and humans. But these things just don't seem to exist.

You could say that this is because we need humans to identify with, so other-race hybrids are beside the point; it's the same reason that science fiction almost always features humans or at least characters who are essentially human. But that doesn't really pan out, given that there are all kinds of crazy non-human PCs in various permutations of D&D, from goblins to giant bugs. I dunno. I suppose it's not a big deal, but it does seem to bespeak a certain lack of imagination on the part of the designers.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The worst of messes become successes. Occasionally.

Hey, I haven't been publicizing it over here, 'cause that would've gotten old fast, but my ongoing quest to watch every episode of Ducktales has finally reached its exciting conclusion. Check it out, if you like old cartoons of wildly varying quality.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Duck Comics: "Diner Sore"

If you've gotta break...

This post is not going to be meaningful to anyone who doesn't watch Breaking Bad, and in any case, there are BIG SPOILERS. The optimum course of action, if you haven't seen the show, is to bloody well get on that, starting at the beginning--not a good idea to try to jump in midway.

Last night was the penultimate episode of this season of Breaking Bad. Ooh! The big question of the night is: who poisoned Jesse's girlfriend's son, Brock? Jesse sees that the cigarette containing a capsule of ricin, with which he had been meant to kill Gus, is missing, and immediately assumes that Walter must have somehow does this, in order to get revenge after their earlier argument; Walter convinces him that, in fact, it was Gus who somehow effected the poisoning, to frame him and to break the last bounds of loyalty that Jesse feels.

It's hard to say. None of the possibilities seem to be especially feasible, given the time frame; I haven't got a clue how the writers are going to resolve this--but hey, it's Breaking Bad. It hasn't let me down yet, so I'll assume they have their shit together until proven otherwise. But I am baffled by all the people in comments to the AVClub review who are convinced that Walt is the guilty party, or at least a prime suspect. Obviously, I can't say anything for sure, but if that turns out to be the case, I will be seriously disappointed in the show.

I'm agnostic as to the question of whether Walt would be capable of such a thing. Still, while I wouldn't swear to it, I'd say probably not. Yes, he let Jesse's junkie girlfriend die, and yes, he ordered Jesse to murder Gale, but those people were both actual threats to him, even if in Gale's case it was inadvertently so. Not that this "justifies" their deaths, but we're so deep into the swamp here that at this point there really isn't any morally "right" decision that doesn't involve getting the hell out period, in which case we have no show. But so anyway, they were existential threats, whereas Brock's just a harmless kid.

But more to the point, that just isn't how the show has worked up to this point. Walt is basically the viewpoint character. Correct me if I'm forgetting something, but I don't think the show has ever hidden crucial actions on his part from the audience for extended periods before. If they started now, it would feel like they were breaking the rules, and not in any canny, "okay now they have expectations so we'll consciously dash them in a very precise way" way, more in a "here's an easy, cheap way to get a rise out of them" way. And this show is just better than that, dammit.