I tried to read the first book of the Hunger Games series awhile back, and although I thought it was well-written and had a good setting, it was hard for me to get into it because it was fairly predictable.  I’m sure that’s partially because it was written for a younger audience, but I think it also is a just a little too cliche filled.  I’m not saying it’s bad.  It’s a decent book, but I pretty much knew where it was going from a very early point.  This is a problem I have with a lot of dystopian fiction–it all seems cut from the same cloth.

You know, I had an idea for a dystopian movie once.  It would be set at an undefined place and time, in a country where a totalitarian, fascist government had taken over.  The main character would be some kind of violent goon for the government who went around suppressing all dissenters.  And the whole film would present him as the hero–he’d be played by a “leading man”, the camera angles would present him heroically–the whole film would seemingly approve of the dystopian society.  Then, at the end, there would be some kind of title card or something telling the audience that this was a propaganda film approved by the fictional government, perhaps even detailing some of the techniques involved.

The point of this would be to pull the rug out from under the audience; see how many of them would have found themselves being subtly seduced into rooting for the main character–and the society he represents–by the film’s technique.  The “plot twist” would actually be a test to see how much people would start to buy into something awful because of good cinematography. Then they would have to re-evaluate what they had just watched.

The trouble is, this is more of a science experiment than an entertainment movie.  The trick of the movie is that usually, in dystopian stories, the protagonist begins to question his society, and through him, the audience is told about the society’s problems. (e.g. Winston Smith in 1984, Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451)  There would be none of that in this movie.  He’d be 100% behind the society, and looking to maintain it.  It would be kind of like 1984 from O’Brien’s perspective.

The thing about my idea–and I’m not saying it’s a good idea–is that it plays with the tropes of the dystopian genre.  Dystopian stories give the audience some character they can turn to to see the dystopia’s flaws; or at least the “tone” of the piece, or the “voice” of the narrative give it away.  Here, there are no societal outcasts or anything like that for people to turn to. (The main character takes care of that.)  I thought this up largely from noticing that every dystopian story seems to rely on the same devices, and that makes them pretty predictable.

So, as some readers may know, I’m a big fan of Ross Scott’s Machinima Series Freeman’s Mind.  In the latest episode, there’s a bit where he says something about “it’s 20 degrees cooler here”.  This fairly innocuous line got people in the YouTube comments quite excited–admittedly, YouTube commenters are fairly easy to excite–and ultimately it turned out that was because they thought it was a reference to something called “My Little Pony“.

If you’re like me, you wondered “What is ‘My Little Pony?’, and you went and found out that it’s a cartoon show about colorful ponies.  Then you wondered “why are so many people watching Freeman’s Mind also so knowledgeable about that show?”  You wouldn’t think there would be much overlap between a series about ponies with names like “Pinkie Pie” and a series about a foul-mouthed, paranoid scientist fighting extra-dimensional aliens in the midst of a military cover-up.

But, turns out there is something of a fan cult of “My Little Pony” among 18-34 year old men.  They are apparently called “bronies”, and… well, I guess, just read about it.  According to the Wikipedia page, there is a fan fiction based on these ponies entitled “Fallout: Equestria”, which apparently combines the Fallout games–which are rather dark, to put it mildly, with said colorful ponies.

All-righty, then…

To my mind, this is kind of weird.  I just don’t how else to say it.  That said, objectively speaking, it’s not really that different from being a “Trekkie” or what have you, and fan sub-cultures always look weird from the outside.  I don’t get it, but whatever.

Now, since gender stereotypes are involved here, there’s naturally a political component to this.  And Kurt Schlichter at the conservative site Big Hollywood writes about just how dreadful this pony stuff really is, and he makes sure to explain why being a Star Trek nerd, in his opinion, is not at all the same thing.

First of all, I don’t buy into that too much.  Whether you watch Kirk or Twilight Sparkle, whether you give yourself Vulcan ears or a colorful pony mask to go to your convention of similarly-dressed enthusiasts, you are ultimately just a very devoted fan of some TV series.  It doesn’t say all that much about you, really.  (Freddie DeBoer could probably do this point more justice than I can.)

And the other thing is, like I said in the beginning, a lot of these fans are also fans of action and war video games with guns, explosions, and all the other stuff stereotypically “masculine” entertainment is supposed to entail.  I think this video sums up their tastes well:

It’s not like these people aren’t into all the stereotypical stuff as well.  I think that kind of reinforces my point that you can only tell so much about a person from what games/TV shows/movies etc. that they watch.

This stuff Rush Limbaugh’s saying about the villain in the new Batman movie is just goofy.  I’m sure the name similarities will be fodder for political cartoonists, but what can you do?  Remember this, Limbaugh?

Why did Romney’s company have such a stupid name, anyway?  I know it’s spelled differently, but “bane”  means “a person or thing that ruins or spoils”.  Who names their company anything like that?  If I had a company, I wouldn’t name it “kanser”.

And, on the topic of Batman and politics, I just can’t resist posting this clip that made the rounds in 2008.  Make what comparisons you like:

In Hollywood, they can’t just *suspend* disbelief, they have to have it leaping out of a helicopter while being shot at.

Via J.E. Sawyer, another good example of how real life is NOT like action movies.  I remember that Cracked did a great article about this sort of thing once.  No wonder we have a “gun culture” in this country; our movies depict them as having magical powers!

It reminds me of the movie Last Action Hero.  A lot of people hated it, but personally I thought it was brilliant.  If you haven’t seen it, what happens is: Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a generic action movie hero in a movie-within-the-movie.  Then he gets magically transported into the “real” world, and is confused when all the stuff he did in the movie world doesn’t work.  Like, there’s a scene where he shoots at a car the bad guys are in, and is shocked when it doesn’t explode.

Still, that’s why people watch movies: to see stuff that doesn’t happen.

The way he announces it is priceless.  It’s too bad he never won an Academy Award for any of his outstanding performances.  (He did win an honorary one.)  He’s one of the greatest actors ever.

Everyone remembers his awesome performance in Lawrence of Arabia–as well they should–but in my opinion, his greatest performance was in a truly bizarre film called The Ruling Class.  It’s one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen–funny, disgusting, thought-provoking, somewhat blasphemous, and kind of campy all at once.  I can see hating it or loving it, but either way O’Toole’s performance in it is incredible. (Incidentally, Carolyn Seymour, a voice actress in many famous video games like Mass Effect and KotOR, also appears in this movie.)

Ah, well.  Nearly all his performances are great–if you’ve never seen him in anything, you really should.

I was reading about this upcoming sci-fi movie starring Tom Cruise called Oblivion.  The IMDb synopsis says:

A court martial sends a veteran soldier to a distant planet, where he is to destroy the remains of an alien race. The arrival of an unexpected traveler causes him to question what he knows about the planet, his mission, and himself.

Hmm.  That sounds a bit like the plot of what I consider the most overrated movie of all time, Avatar.  Also like Avatar, this thing seems to share a name with another, totally unrelated franchise.

Of course, people say the idea for Avatar was itself stolen from Edgar Rice Burroughs, or some British comic book, or Dances with Wolves.  I wouldn’t say “stolen”, exactly; but it’s an age-old plot.

The plot of Avatar is:

  • Guy is sent by military to deal with exotic natives to help pursue military’s interests.
  • Guy becomes sympathetic to natives.
  • Guy rebels against military, helping natives.

This is, in broad strokes, also the plot of one of my favorite movies, Lawrence of Arabia.  The difference is in how it’s done–compare the character of General Allenby in Lawrence with Colonel Hambone from Avatar.  (Okay, so that’s not his name.  But it should have been.)

This is so often the case with fiction.  Another example:

“A video game about someone who causes tremendous damage to a planet, and must then face the consequences of that action.”

This could be describing either Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords or Tonic Trouble.  The former I consider to be the greatest game ever made; a masterpiece of storytelling and characterization, complete with a philosophical depth more powerful than any other work of fiction I have seen.  The latter is about a purple cartoon alien who fights mutant tomatoes.  “The Devil is in the details”, as they say.

Zaphodb2002 pointed out in a comment on this post that if you just give a synopsis of the most basic points, so many great works don’t sound all that impressive.  It is, as he said, how the story is told.

G4TV has compiled a list of the top 100 video games.  Really, it was far from right of them to do that without consulting me.  I would have put KotOR II in the top spot, just for starters.  And frankly, I thought the list generally placed too much value on historically significant games.  Yes, Pong was indeed a major milestone for gaming, but I refuse to believe that it has anything to offer players that any tennis sim made in the last three console generations cannot.

Lists and rankings like this are fun, aren’t they?  Me and a friend of mine were chatting the other day about the top 5 NFL quarterbacks.  It took some hashing out, but we ultimately agreed that Roethlisberger was #3 and Brees #4.  The post-season records speak for themselves.

I am not sure why rankings matter so much, and indeed oftentimes comparisons are simply inane.  Roethlisberger and Brees have no control over most of the factors which determine their success in the play-offs.  (Both of them played very well in defeats last postseason, after all.)  Likewise, how can you really compare Angry Birds and Metal Gear Solid?   They are in different genres, in different styles, on different platforms–comparison is pretty much impossible if you think about it rationally.  But that doesn’t deter me or lots of other people from doing it. (My personal opinion: Angry Birds has no business being in the top 1,000.)

“And have you a pale blue dress on?” “Jane Eyre” illustration by F.H. Townsend. Via Wikipedia

So, it seems Jane Eyre is being re-written as a trashy romance novel.  Or should I say, a trashy romance novel for our time; as I believe the original Jane Eyre was a trashy romance novel by Victorian standards, as indeed are all books that are any good.  But times change, and audiences seem to go less and less for subtlety.

The author of the new version, Eve Sinclair, said:

I think that readers through the ages have appreciated the smouldering sexual chemistry between Jane and Rochester and I have changed very little of Bronte’s original to retell the timeless story of a young girl falling for an unattainable older man and getting out of her depth in a sensual world she cannot control.

Well… it seems like she would have had to change rather a lot of the story, since the plot hinges on Jane not wanting to, ah, “live as Rochester’s wife” without actually being Rochester’s wife.  And that only happens at the end of the book.  And if she didn’t change it much, then… what was the point of this again?

You know, I think this is the same problem I complain about in the horror genre: nothing gets left to the reader’s imagination anymore.

I was watching The Dick Van Dyke Show on TV last night.  The episode I saw was called “The Bad Old Days“.  In a nutshell, it went like this: one of Rob’s colleagues tells him about an article on “the decline of the American male”, and how men are becoming more subservient to their wives.  This worries Rob, who starts to fear that Laura too often tells him what to do.  The episode culminates in a hilarious dream sequence, in which Rob imagines himself as an overbearing, bullying 19th-century-style husband, who makes his wife do all the housework and forces his son to work in a factory.  Of course, Rob wakes up and realizes that this wasn’t such a great way to live, after all.

It’s kind of funny to me, because you often hear this complaint of “feminized” men being subordinated to their wives these days, especially in conservative and “alt-right” circles.  Often, the 1950s and early ’60s are considered the archetype of a more restrictive and socially conservative era, and to some extent the setup of The Dick Van Dyke Show is emblematic of that.  I remember my blogger-friend Thingy contrasting Mary Tyler Moore’s accommodating housewife character on Dick Van Dyke with her independent, single, career-woman character on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the ’70s.

But then, here we have an episode of Dick Van Dyke from 1962 that addresses this same “men are too subservient to their wives” idea.  So, it seems like that idea must have been in the air even back then.  Which, in turn, suggests the possibility that perhaps there is an ever-recurring nostalgia among authoritarian men of every era, that they had it better in, as Rob says, “the bad old days”.

Well, that’s enough sociological musing!  The point is, it was a very funny show.  It does amaze me that the best thing on TV some nights is a show from 50 years ago, but there you have it.

Heh.  So, without realizing it, I kind of predicted the big new feature in Madden 13 when I said sports games should:

Let people choose backstories for their teams, much as they choose them for their characters in certain RPGs. You could have “reigning champs”, “fading band of superstars”, “up-and-coming”, “rebuilding” or “plucky underdogs”,  just for a few examples.

There’s something rather similar for the “Connected Careers” mode in MaddenAccording to Pastapadre:

One new element is the addition of storylines which are present for both coaches and players. For example, when choosing to be a “player”, you’ll also select from options like whether they were a first round draft choice or went undrafted. This not only affects initial ratings and play time but also expectations. Those who start as “undrafted” will have lower expectations and easier goals to achieve but understandably less playing time to do so.

Cool.  However, I’m still done with the whole Madden thing.  I feel like I’ve pretty much mastered it, and the news that there’s not going to be any player editing allowed in the new version really sealed the deal for me. (For crying out loud EA, has Peyton Manning–or indeed, any quarterback–ever worn this facemask?) So, I won’t be getting it this year.  The new physics engine does look cool, though.