Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Through the Looking Glass

I meant to write about this last year when it was first on, but... well...

We have to talk.

I mean I've left TV to it's own devices recently. The break-up was fairly amicable. I've been spending more time with the Xbox anyway, and every time I tried to catch up with TV, it started screaming at me about people I'd never heard of, playing terrible music at all hours and asking if I wanted to borrow any money. And to be honest, the sex was better elsewhere (*ahem*). It hadn't been the same since I was a teenager, and on the few occasions I could bring myself to turn it on, there was nothing there. The magic had gone.

Wanking metaphors aside, there is something genuinely disconcerting about Gogglebox. It's like someone sat a TV executive in front of news reports about privacy concerns surrounding the new Kinect and unease in the public mind towards the rise of so-called reality TV, and then followed it up with a viewing of Orwell's 1984; then lobotomised them and gave them a piece of paper and a crayon.

The resulting scrawl would doubtlessly have spelled out the show's central premise: Watching people while they're watching TV. That's it Britain, that's your cultural lot. You've gone from Elgar and Richard Curtis to staring slack jawed at someone staring slack jawed back at you. It's like chatroulette without the random stranger nudity, although I'm sure Channel 5 are already working out how to (A) get around that and (B) involve Keith Chegwin.

I mean it's just... It's fucking stupid, alright? TV is an inherently non-interactive medium, and nothing brings it home like this. Staring at people staring at a TV. Does it fulfil some voyeuristic longing to see into the lives of other, so called 'normal' people? Is it because most people sort of suspect that they're not normal, and want a yardstick to measure themselves and their opinions against? Are we just nosey sods?

Unfortunately I'm not going to be able to tune in to this week's episode, but I suspect I've been able to replicate the experience by sticking a mirror in the corner of the room, facing me. Oh look, he's typing on his laptop. Now he's picking his nose. Now he's wailing in abject despair at man's desperate, clawing need to consume inane drivel to fill the void modern life has torn from them. Hilarious!

Friday, 20 September 2013

5 Shocking Ways this Insane Website Doesn't Know what a Rip-Off is

I love, even if sometimes it feels like every one of their titles came from a mad-libs drinking game revolving around the words 'shocking,' 'insane' or 'you didn't know.' At least if that were true, it would explain the liver failure and / or brain damage that went into their recent piece, 17 Insane Movies That Ripped Off From Lesser-Known Films You Didn't Know (I may be paraphrasing a little).

I mean, I get that it's nice to be into pop-culture, and I get that it's interesting when you notice things recurring across the vast swathes of things you've watched. Pointing it out to other people validates the amount of time you've invested into watching movies. And to give the article it's due, there are some great examples of actual theft - the author of Voyage of the Space Beagle settling out of court with 20th Century Fox over Alien, and the similarities between A Fistful of Dollars and Yojimbo.

Beyond that though... I'm sorry, but as insane and shocking as this might sound, the majority of the article doesn't really deal with theft. For instance, #10's revelation about an irresistable force meeting an immovable object fails to take into account it's earlier use as a wrestling meme in the 1980s. #5 just compares some fairly commonly recurring (if a little schmaltzy) lines from a male protagonist to a female one, and #12 is at best an interesting piece of prop spotting.

#2 is probably the low point however, claiming that both Dredd and The Raid ripped off Die Hard because they were both set in a tower block. Do we extend that logic to accusing everything from District 13 to Rec of ripping off Towering Inferno just because they're also set in a tower block?

How far back do you go when accusing films of ripping each other off? Granted, there are shot-for-shot 'homages' going on all the time in movies, but when you stray into the territory of accusing one thing of ripping off another because of thematic similarities, you're straying dangerously close to scratching off the veneer of mass-storytelling completely.

I mean, I'm sure most readers are savvy enough to realise that films have tended to adhere to a fairly standardised three act structure since the late 70s. But beyond that, there is also the discovery that unfortunately, there are only seven basic plots:

  • Overcoming the Monster,
  • Rags to Riches,
  • The Quest,
  • Voyage and Return,
  • Comedy,
  • Tragedy and Rebirth.

'Comedy' being an overall catch-all for those stories which have no other narrative but to make you laugh. So if there are only seven basic plots, how many variants of those plots can there logically be?

I mean, if we're pointing the finger to this extent, surely Cracked needs to be aware of Total Film's list of 50 Great Movies Accused of Being Rip-Offs from July 30th last year, or What Culture's '13 Famous Movies You Didn’t Realise Were Shameless Rip-offs' from August of the same year, or even their own article '7 Classic Movies That Are Shameless Ripoffs' from May this year, by a different author.

The truth is, there is a big difference between repetition and inspiration. History repeats itself, and so the events that inspire the minds of writers will similarly repeat themselves - we just have worldwide cultural access to those events. More people seeing those events means more people being inspired by them in their writing, and eventually, cultural output seems to have all these eerie underlying synchronicities.

It's OK to take an overarching theme and set it in a new light. It's fine to look at a previously used setting and try and do something new with it. It's obviously not OK to take the events, universe or movie poster and just change the names then sell it on, but then there's a fine line of ambiguity in exactly how close is 'too close.'

It just seems to me that this article is really reaching in trying to find similarities. Oh, and a lot of their 'lesser well-known' films aren't really that lesser well known. But apart from that, it was almost as interesting as this concluding paragraph is bad.


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Ornstein and Smuff?

Here's a thought.

Dark Souls is a Japanese game, as I've already pointed out.

What I want to know is this: One of the bosses is named 'Smough.' In Japanese TKatakana, it's a similar pronounciation, coming out as 'Sumou,' which makes sense because he's a huge guy with a habit of flattening you.

However, someone sat down and decided to translate his name using one of the most ambiguous spellings in the English language, namely the 'ough' suffix. This is problematic, because it creates numerous possibilities as to it's pronounciation. For instance, it could be Smough as in 'dough', making it closer to the original Japanese Katakana. But if you were just looking at the word without taking into account its Japanese origins, you could equally pronounce it as in 'plough', making it more like 'Smow.' Or, you could go for the guttural hard 'h' sound in Germanic and Hebrew languages, or even pronounce it like the dragon in the Hobbit, and call him Smaug.

Personally I prefer to pronounce it as in 'rough,' because the idea of a hammer-wielding giant calling himself Smuff tickles me in a way few prostitutes can these days.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Accidental Conspiracies

I don't think that our world is ruled by a dark cabal moving behind the scenes of every major decision that rules the world. As it happens, I think the truth is far scarier - I think we are rudderless and drifting along based solely on the frantic splashing of whichever group in our proverbial lifeboat is flailing the hardest.

Conspiracies are a tricky business. It's very easy to see them in the world around us; to see greedy corporations working to keep the little man down, to see liberal bias in the media, and to suspect some draconian conclave of trying to shut down the internet and limit our freedom of expression.

But what if that illusion of a co-ordinated effort is nothing more than the accumulation of many small acts of self interest? Corporations do not talk to each other. But they do talk to congress in the form of lobbyists, and those lobbyists will push whatever is in the interest of corporate bodies to push. And when those lobbyists all push congress or parliament in the same direction, we see a change in the law that serves the corporations. Not through a co-ordinated effort, but through multiple acts of self interest by people with the same goals.

Journalists tend now to be university educated (or at least clown school, in the case of Fox News), and the bias of universities has always fallen towards liberalism. Institutes which don't have a liberal leaning don't tend to teach the most challenging and controversial materials, which means the journalists don't learn by example from well written, challenging prose. In turn, they tend not to be the ones winning awards for writing touching, heartfelt and moving pieces, because that shit is all touchy-feely crap. And so the top journalists all seem (suspiciously) to be of a liberal bias.

As far as things like ACTA, SOPA and PIPA are concerned, I think that it's pressure as mentioned in the first example - Congress and parliament are only moved to create harmful and misinformed laws because the only information they're receiving is biased. There are now many companies who's focus is the resale of information, and having that information openly accessible to the public is harmful to them. Numerous interests campaign for the limitation of information - to protect the children, to protect against terrorism, to stamp out unseemly websites.

But the appearance of a conspiracy is an accident, and diverts from the real cause of the harm to the freedom of the internet - ignorance. Information is twisted to suit the needs of each individual, but when viewed overall it gives a cumulatively skewed worldview that parliamentarians then act upon. And unfortunately, a lot of the sites attempting to fight back are seen as having an 'agenda,' and are devalued or ignored completely because of it.

I personally find it a more frightening idea that there is no overall guiding hand. With nobody in charge, there is no accountability, only a sea of shrugs and people saying they're 'not the only one doing it,' as though that somehow absolves them of guilt. With no guiding hand, the cumulative effect of tiny shifts in information bias can be that the resulting push could head in any direction. And as the movement builds momentum, if it strays into dangerous territory there is no figurehead to rein it in.

In short, saying that a movement is not a conspiracy doesn't make it any better.