Channel Criswell's "Apocalypse Now" analysis

Spoiler and content warning: this is a detailed analysis of a movie about the horrors of war. 

I haven't actually seen Apocalypse Now, but I really enjoyed watching this analysis, which approaches the movie from a spiritual thematic perspective.

Criswell, the creator of this video, is currently being sued by, I believe, Stanley Kubrick's estate, for use of clips in one of his videos. As far as I can tell, it's a bullshit lawsuit based on a refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of YouTube videos as educational or critical, but even winning this lawsuit could ruin him. (I don't know much about Criswell aside from some of his videos, and he trips some red flags that make me extra-vigilant for examples of him being a huge asshole, but either way this lawsuit is scary on an internet freedoms level.)

Sunspring

Sunspring is a short sci fi film written by a neural network named Benjamin after being fed what looks like about 100 .txt files containing scripts of SF movies and TV shows. It's very weird, and not that great, but it makes me really excited for the possibility of seeing other art made from averaging genres. A few moments from it were just awesome and I hope more people do more stuff like this in the future.

Here's a link to the video. Content warnings: suicide, death, extremely low-budget body horror.

A few notes about continuity near the end: the script doesn't actually specify that the guy that H finds through the black hole is the same person as C, the man from the beginning of the script, and the woman talking at the end is T, not H2, despite being played by the same actor.

Minecraft series -- Etho's Lab, Sky Factory

If you're a huge nerd like me and like watching Let's Plays, my current favorite is the Modded Minecraft: Sky Factory, featuring Etho, VintageBeef, and PauseUnpause. They start with a single tree on a piece of dirt in an otherwise completely empty void, and using a bunch of interesting mods they're slowly building a world out of it. It's kind of a lot like Etho's earlier series, Crash Landing, another modded themed pack with some of the same mods.

YouTube Red and virality

I just watched one of CollegeHumor's YouTube Red videos, it was kind of a YA-dystopia parody based on buzzfeed quizzes. I watched it, and I kind of wanted to share it, and I was about to, then I remembered it was on YouTube Red. 

I haven't bothered to experiment with whether those videos are actually shareable. I assume it'll just give the "This video has embedding disabled" thing and clicking the title will link you to a "YouTube Red Only" page. 

My first thought was "Oh, YouTube Red totally undermines the entire business model of YouTube -- content behind a paywall can't go viral." Then, my second thought was "Oh wait, people pay for YouTube Red. They've already got a replacement business model."

I've had YouTube Red pretty much since it came out, and I like it a lot -- so far $10 a month has felt worth it for getting rid of ads and being able to play YouTube audio on my phone without keeping the video on-screen. (These two features combined make the Hamilton soundtrack YouTube playlist functional -- plus,  I can back it up on my cell phone so I don't need to use data to sing along on long drives.)

Exclusive content is by far the thing I feel weirdest about when it comes to Red. I'm looking forward to some of it -- really, just Game Lab -- but mostly there's something pretty essentially weird about the idea of putting a show together that's (a.) for the internet, and (b.) limited to a paying audience.

But, as MatPat has repeatedly explained when it comes to Game Lab, there's no way he could afford to put together this kind of show without external support, and YouTube Red gives him a way to do that without relying on sponsors, who would influence the content.

The relationship that art has to budgets is probably always going to make me uncomfortable, and while I don't want to say that any particular art shouldn't exist, I'm not necessarily in favor of maintaining economic structures just because they enable any particular kind of art. And maybe more importantly, there's a difference between the concepts of "art" and "entertainment," even if one category entirely contains the other. And there's the complexity of culture -- who should have access to it? What should the barriers be? And coming back into the opening question of this blog post: shouldn't it be possible for any media to go viral? By which I mean: shouldn't any influential media be freely available to all the participants in a culture?

My intuition says it should. I don't have anything more to go on right now.

Fringes of ideas: Game of Thrones spoilers

I have a thought bubbling in my mind, but I don't really know how to put it together properly. I wanted to write about it today, so I'm going to do that anyway, but for anybody who's at all interested in avoiding Game of Thrones spoilers, I warn you: This goes right up into the most recent episode, and the payoff of my insight is almost guaranteed to be not worth it.

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I can't find this one damn interview

Several years ago I spent a bunch of my time online binging Cory Doctorow interviews, and I didn't do any particular documenting of those binges. For the most part, that hasn't been a significant problem. But there's one interview that I really want to double-check and quote, and I just goddamn can't find it.

I think it was filmed at his office in London, but I'm not sure. It was put together by an organization that seemed to have done a lot of that kind of interview. It was segmented into like 5 to 10 different videos, and each one had the same clips from the interview for intro and outro material, which leads me to believe that it was aired on TV -- it was the kind of annoying repetition you'd see on the History Channel.

In the interview, he talked about why he thought fiction was an effective activist tool. I haven't been able to find records of him saying quite the same thing anywhere else.

If this sounds familiar to anyone, and you have a link, please get in touch.

Daredevil is not impressing me with romance this season

I'm about six (?) episodes into the new season of Daredevil, and Let Me Tell You I am not having any of these ships. (Spoilers, but not like for real spoilers? because I haven't finished the season. Anyway, I'm gonna put a read more in here.)

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Daredevil is not impressing me with romance this season: http://www.txwatson.com/blog/2016-3-28/daredevil-is-not-impressing-me-with-romance-this-season

Shintaro Ohata's "Happy Birthday?"

I'm writing an essay for my Queer Feelings class right now, that's supposed to analyze a piece of art of some kind through the lens of the texts we've read so far. This is distinguished from the Mix Tapes assignments, in which we have to write an essay on a song, through the lens of just one of the texts. 

I'm writing about Shintaro Ohata's "Happy Birthday?," a painting/sculpture of a young girl having a birthday cake alone. It's one of a gorgeous series and I strongly recommend checking out that link and looking through them.

Steven Universe from the top

so I'm still 2 episodes behind on Steven Universe, and am avoiding spoilers, but one of my friends hasn't seen any of the show -- so we're watching it from the pilot on.

There is an amazing amount of foreshadowing throughout this show. Like, in the temple, Steven slides down a scary tunnel that has a moment of pink clouds that he says "isn't too bad." It then leads down to the bubble room, which was just recently shown to be underneath Rose Quartz's room, which is made of pink clouds.

and there's tons of stuff like that. But I'm gonna get back to watching now.

More angst & anxiety, and a brief criticism of Homeland

I feel really annoyed with myself that I've been such a bummer on my blog for the past several days, but I don't have much else to talk about. Right now I'm sitting in the parlor watching Homeland with my dad and playing games on my laptop.

(Homeland is as horrible as the internet has led me to believe -- by which I mean it's a very well-constructed show that has no apparent function other than to promote the belief that any amount of violence or inhumanity is justified in fighting terrorists.)

(I'd write a whole post about that, but all I've seen is chunks of like five episodes in the middle of season 3.)

"The Power of Cheese"

I've been having a lot of conversations about the dairy industry lately, and I keep remembering a commercial from my childhood. It was a commercial for cheese. Not a brand of cheese, just cheese. It was about a politician whose campaign collapsed after he told a small child he didn't like cheese.

This afternoon I remembered that YouTube is a thing. So, here's the commercial I remembered, "The Power of Cheese." 

Jessica Jones is great

I may have binged the new Netflix series "Jessica Jones" this weekend. It's very good. Heads up if you're thinking of watching it: It has basically all of the triggers. If you have PTSD or are otherwise sensitive to any kind of violence, look into that before you pick it up.

Hereafter is spoilerish territory.

I thought it was really interesting how they had moral ambiguity play out in this series, versus in Daredevil. Because Jessica is a way darker character than Matt Murdock, but Murdock's approach still plays out as a lot more ambiguous than Jessica's, because the villain of Jessica Jones, Kilgrave, is so, so much more obviously, vividly evil. Like, Fisk's villainy is a morally horrific approach to political achievement. Kilgrave's villainy is a morally horrific approach to getting whatever he wants with the smallest possible degree of effort.

Idk if I'm going to have more thoughts on this to share later (I should really go through my blog some time for all those posts I ended with "more later" and expand on some) but Jessica Jones definitely gave me a ton to think about, and I am sure I'll end up watching it again.

The Martian, Kindred, and neurodivergence

I saw The Martian last night, with Faith. We're probably going to write up our thoughts on it for Solarpunk Press, but there was one thing that stuck out to me that I want to talk about here. It's the same thing that's been sticking out to me in class discussions about Kindred in Weird Fictions: people without chronic mental health issues are weird.

Here on is going to contain spoilers for both the movie The Martian and the book Kindred.

In a class discussion last week, the professor had us consider the scene where, after being stranded in the 1880s for five years, Kevin (the protagonist's partner) was so frustrated by seeing his typewriter that he smashed it with his fist.

We talked about how massively upset he must be, to cause a reaction that strong. It was a weird conversation to be having, because Kevin's reaction sounded to me like a remarkably restrained management of a mildly bad emotional experience. Being frustrated by everything around you within the first few hours after a five-year-long trauma sounds to me like a tiny, trivial reaction. Kevin was going through an experience I have like twice a year, on a good year. His reaction to literally being stranded out of time was about on par with my reaction, last weekend, to having a stressful class period.

In The Martian, the main character, Mark Watney, copes with having to survive for an anticipated four years alone on an entire planet, using the resources meant to last for a few more weeks, without any reason to hope that he'd get so much as a conversation with another human, for months at minimum.

Being able to survive that seems absurd to me. Not because of the technical challenges, but because Mark Watney seems to have a superhuman capacity for retaining a sense of hope: to the point where he can leverage that hope against the feelings of loneliness and doom that I would have found unbearable within a week.

It occurred to me that a person selected for a Mars mission would necessarily be someone who passed psych evaluations designed to filter for exactly that quality, so it doesn't feel like bullshit in terms of plot. 

In both of these cases, though, I found myself realizing, well into the story, that the characters in the story are neurotypical, and have no chronic mental illnesses, and that means they have access to a set of abilities entirely outside my life experience. I found myself wondering why the creators had chosen to make the protagonists neurotypical, before it occurred to me that they would never have made that choice: if the story isn't about the mental state of the character, they'd never make that a part of it.

I feel like the next beat in this blog post is a sort of call-to-action about the representation of mental illness in media, which is important, but these thoughts are unsorted so I don't have anything clear to say on that front. It's just weird.

Academic hypertext

I mentioned yesterday that wikis are a great format for academic information, and I've been thinking a lot about the formats of academic writing lately. 

It seems to me that the central conflict in academic writing is the tension between providing enough information that someone who came to the text to learn can find their footing in it, and leaving enough out that it's not an intolerable slog for anyone already reasonably familiar with the subject. Some writers do a better job of navigating this than others -- and some prioritize different hypothetical audiences than others.*

There are all sorts of strategies for dealing with this. Footnotes and endnotes can nest extraneous information that might either be essential to someone who isn't familiar but boring to an expert, or extraneous nonsense to a novice but interesting to an expert. Some writers spend huge stretches of time exhaustively covering everything they can think of, anticipating that the reader will just skim past once they get the idea. Some include appendices, charts, supplementary material, etc.

But with a printed work, it always boils down to a single fundamental problem: in the end, there can only be one text. What's printed is printed, and it's up to the reader to learn how to interact with that text. The author has to decide who to optimize for, and how to give the readers on either side of that optimization the tools to make the piece work for them.

Hypertext has the capacity to deal with this problem. Works could be made intricately variable -- not in a choose-your-own-adventure way, but in a choose-your-own-depth way.

I'm imagining a slider at the top of the page, that says "Jargon level." There's a check box next to it that says "Highlight," and a drop-down that says "Advanced." Slide Jargon back and forth, and the text substitutes sections of dense jargon with much longer segments fully explicating** them. Click highlight, and all the words, lines and paragraphs that either have changed or could be changed light up. Hover over the highlighted entries and it could show you what they would be substituted with -- so if you want to see the jargon in context but need to keep checking, it'll always be right there; and if you want to read the expanded version and know what jargon you're missing out on, you can see that, too.

Under "Advanced," you could select substitutions from a list: say you struggle with the word "Explicate" but otherwise pretty much get the jargon, you can just turn on the expanded version of that word. Or say you have a word or phrase that you frequently mess up that doesn't have a programmed alternate version: you can type that right into your copy of the book. "Ambiguated" could become "Made ambiguous," if  you struggle with that kind of verb form. "1.8 billion" could get a parenthetical phrase after it saying "(1,800 million)" and "9 trillion" could get "(9,000,000 million)," if you struggle keeping track of large numbers' relationships to each other.

You could set up favorites, or download other people's favorites. You could get modified versions of old texts, that let you dip your toes into the complexity of the original while providing a fluid safety net to toss you a line when you need it. You could read versions of texts that are prepped to let you know that the words in a particular part means something different in the context than you expect them to, like in legal texts or very old things.

You could get books that have your trigger warnings in them, so you can brace yourself right before the relevant scene, without having to put that alert in the book for everyone who doesn't share your triggers. 

This direct, hands-on access to the structure of the text could make academic writing massively more accessible. It could also help make it more collaborative, if the authors let their books take on a life of their own.

Vitally this doesn't ever have to harm the integrity of the original text. You could always have a setting somewhere that says "Author preferred," that gives you the version of the text the author feels best represents their view. That might be the one with all the jargon -- but I bet pretty often it would be the one with the jargon followed by the explication, because if you're going to have a version that counts as the truest one, why not the one where you get to say "This is exactly what I meant by..."

And I would imagine it would always be obvious, when manipulating the text, whether you're applying filters that came with the book or filters you brought in from elsewhere. 

Ooh, and imagine having these in really introductory classes? Like, being handed an original Shakespeare in seventh grade, masked over to the point of being a basic, middle school level summary? Imagine being a curious kid with an interesting assignment, and being able to start clicking away at the settings, revealing layer after layer of increasing depth. Imagine being able to see, right in front of you, in your half-a-page worksheet, the whole academic landscape underlying it.

Being able to control how the text reveals itself to you means you can make yourself maximally comfortable in the text, and it means you can make yourself feel safe and confident in your ability to approach it. Furthermore, it gives you a strong, tangible sense of the degree of abstraction you're working with: because if you don't understand the core material, it helps to be able to find out the nature of that non-understanding. The summaries and explanations can help you articulate your confusion even if they can't resolve that confusion for you. 

This is probably my least clear, most convoluted post in a long time. I think I might try and rewrite it with some hypertextual elements soon.

*That is to say, a text that is inaccessible to non-experts is not automatically badly written, although that's a whole other topic that's worth attention on its own. My use of the word "accessible" in this parenthetical is deeply ambiguous.

** "Explicating" is an example of a word that would change if you slid the jargon slider on this blog post. It means to break apart and explain a piece of media that was written in a way that is clear to someone who's accustomed to the corresponding background information, but unclear to people outside that group.

Hampedia: Hampshire's wiki

My college has a wiki! It's pretty cool. It's also not super maintained, though: most of the pages I've seen are pretty out of date.

I've tried to get into Wikipedia, as in editing, but it's pretty intimidating. There are a lot of people there who seem to have a much better idea of what they're doing. But a local wiki feels much more accessible to me: notoriety has a much lower bar, if it exists as a requirement at all; I have direct access to the sources for a lot of the information (like, I filled out the QCA Game Night page today while at QCA Game Night and talking to the person who runs it); and I know way more of the stuff in the first place.

Also, a wiki is such an amazing format for gathering information at a college. In a system based entirely on citations (the internet/hypertext) it's probably the thing most based on citations.

I'm hoping to be able to get involved in revitalizing the wiki this semester. I will update on that if/when I get to do it.