Monday, March 31, 2008

Of Rock Band and rock bands

Actual conversation I had last night at Central, a Toronto bar that has a semi-weekly Xbox 'Rock Band' night every Sunday.

Doorman: It's a $5 cover.
Neil: Oh? What's going on?
D: We have a band from Scandinavia, and a band--
N: Oh, I was checking to see if they were playing Rock Band tonight. (mimes hitting the buttons)
D: (somewhat confused) Well, there's still one more band.
N: (sheepishly) Uh, no, I meant, uh, the game.
D: Oh, the... right, the game. (smirks)
N: Yeah...

Did it ever occur to the developers of Rock Band that these kind of things might happen? Awkward.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Michael Cera's Precious Little Life

Rarely do I blog about anything that is breaking or could properly be called 'news'; this is an exception. Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) appears to finally be moving forward with his adaptation of Brian Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim comic book series, and we know this because he's cast his Scott - the always so awkward and adorable Michael Cera (Arrested Development, Superbad... if i honestly have to describe who he is, then you probably don't like the same things i do and are wasting your time reading this).

The film will apparently be called Scott Pilgrim's Little Life, which is a slight modification of the title of the first book in the series. (Why excise 'Precious', though? Scott's preciousness, like Michael Cera's, is probably the most likable thing about him.) All we really know to this point is that the title role has been cast and I have to say that, while I love (George) Michael (Bluth) Cera, the casting choice is too obvious. Cera is perfect - beloved by the same sorts of indie hipster doofuses that Scott represents and, to top it off, from the same hometown - and I suppose that they can't really go wrong with a match that looks this right.

But casting the perfect match can be both right and boring. I'm hard pressed to figure out how, having read the books and followed Michael Cera in everything he's done for the last 5 years or so, this film could possibly surprise me. Or, for that matter, why Michael Cera would want to a slightly dimmer, slightly super-powered version of the same character he's been doing for years.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Matt Fraction on the X-Men!

It's been a long time since I've made any comics-related posts, but this'll be a short one. From Comic Book Resources:

"Ed Brubaker will co-write 'Uncanny X-Men' with [Matt] Fraction starting on issue #500. Greg Land and new Marvel exclusive Terry Dodson will rotate art chores. 'Stuff explodes, everybody has lots of sex, and then everybody dies. And the team moves to San Francisco,' Fraction said. That may have been a joke."

Fraction doing the X-Men? If it's half as good as his work on this, then it'll still be the best reading on Uncanny X-Men since Pierre Trudeau was last in Parliament*. And if you've never read Fraction's Casanova, you can find a free (and legal) copy of it online here.

*1984, for those of you who aren't Canadian. Or who are, but don't particularly know or care about who has been PM and when.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

China, the Olympics, and political games

There's been a lot of talk recently about whether athletes should boycott the Beijing Olympics, in light of the recent protests/riots and an army crackdown that's seen between 16 (the Chinese government's number) and 80 (the Tibetan government-in-exile's number) Tibetans killed. The talk won't lead anywhere, of course - if China's human rights record wasn't bad enough to deny them the Olympics in the first place, then drawing more attention to what we already know certainly isn't going to convert anyone when it's too late to shift the games to a new location.

But I found this interesting (as reported in the Toronto Star) - it's a quote that comes from the CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, Chris Rudge, and it seems rather indicative of the international sports community's response to the controversy:

"I think particularly to use the athletes who have made so many sacrifices, to use them as pawns in a game that is politically, idealistically and socially very complicated would be unfortunate. I don't think we can ask one constituency, which are a force for good, to stand up and act on everyone's behalf."

Too bad it doesn't work that way. In fact, I'd say that it's a myopic* argument that takes as its premise that international sports is somehow disconnected from international politics. Sure, he's right to say that boycotts are part of a 'political game' - but so is participation. As ostensible participants in China's Olympic games, the athletes and their countries - Canada included - have unavoidably become tacit supporters of the Chinese government and their actions. But how that has escaped the notice of so many people - including the people responsible for international sports policy - is beyond me.

*I had originally written "idiotic", but decided that "myopic" is likely more accurate. And prettier to read.

* * *

Update: At least France's foreign minister,
Bernard Kouchner, is honest about how politics play in the decision to compete in the Beijing Olympics. Depressing, but honest:

"When you're dealing in international relations with countries as important as China, obviously when you make economic decisions it's sometimes at the expense of human rights," he added. "That's elementary realism.''

Monday, March 17, 2008

The 'new' social network and netiquette

An acquaintance of mine, Kate, who's doing a grad degree in Internet Studies, has written a number of blog entries about Facebook and the way that it's changing our perceptions of internet socializing and expectations of privacy. She also makes various mentions of how it's altered expectations with regard to who is deserving of being a 'friend' on these networks.

Among other things, Kate writes that "suddenly, everyone’s grandmother, boss and ex boyfriend was using facebook and wanted to be your friend". Most interestingly for me, she - among many others, I should point out - also notes that it's now considered rude to refuse a friend request on Facebook from just about anyone. That guy that you only kinda knew in Grade 8 and haven't seen since? The girl from high school who you didn't even remember? A co-worker you don't particularly like? You can only decline them at the risk of looking like a jerk - which you will inevitably hear about, since you almost definitely have a half-dozen or more friends in common. It's like we're all captains of a schoolyard dodgeball game, picking teams from the kids along the fence and dreading that awkward moment when someone gets picked last.

This is in stark contrast to previous social networking apps - Friendster, Livejournal, etc. I can remember getting a Livejournal account in 2002 (I think) and my old roommate explained that he didn't want to lj-friend me - and it wasn't a weird, uncommon, or unexpected sort of thing to say. There was some expectation of privacy with these things - an expectation that's totally disappeared in the latest generation of social networks. Now I have my grandma and my parents on my Facebook.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Why I like 'Stuff White People Like'

By now, you've probably seen Stuff White People Like, a hilarious send-up of hipster/urban, upwardly-mobile and aspiring-upwardly-mobile
-basement (mostly male) white folks between 18 and 35 and their sense of self-satisfaction and intellectual superiority. (I added the link to the side of my blog exactly 9 days ago, but I'm
not mentioning that for your information so much as to impress you with how I knew about it before you did.) If you haven't, click on that link.

What's emerged in a number of the responses, of course, is how particular the author's sense of whiteness is - my specificity in the last paragraph, for instance, has a certain ridiculousness but also encapsulates their target subject (and target audience) perfectly. For instance, from the entry on '#84 T-Shirts':

"It is also imperative to understand that faux vintage shirts (”Getting Lucky in Kentucky”) are completely unacceptable. They are beloved by the wrong kind of white people, and must be avoided at all costs."

While this "wrong kind of white people" is implicitly present throughout the list, they're only mentioned explicitly in the rare entry. This makes sense since they are, within both the logic of this list and, I would argue, hegemonic racial logic on the whole, not white - or, at best, off-white. In Bobby Noble's first book, he argues that "whiteness often emerges as a distinct racial identity when it can be identified as somehow primitive or inhuman". I would suggest that there's a bit of a critical slippage between white people (in the general sense) and whiteness (in the theoretical sense) in this quote - that the whiteness Noble describes is actually the off-whiteness of certain white people that I described above. I think this is what Noble is getting at when he subsequently says that "[t]o see a white as a white rather than as just 'another person' that white needs to be marked out as different from those white who observe him/her". This sort of work is most often subtly (and effectively) accomplished through the denigration of the "wrong kind of white people" as 'white trash', the invocation of 'taste' or 'class' (in both the economic and cultural respects), or any number of similar variants. Stuff White People Like manages, in its hyperbolic way, to be quite revealing of these mechanisms.

It also manages to prevent white people from turning invisible once the passing blow is made at off-white and non-white people. Numerous critical race scholars have noted that whiteness is characterized by an invisibility - it is, contradictorily, so hypervisible that it assumes normality and a taken-for-grantedness, and so escapes notice as a race or color. A number of my white friends have admitted a certain ambivalence or discomfort with the site that they simply can't articulate, and my guess would be that some of that discomfort relates to the blog's refusal to let whiteness remain invisible and to scrutinize its taken-for-grantedness. As far as subversive gestures go, this isn't a grand one - but it's a start.

Two related but not entirely connected notes:

-One of the most amusing features of every entry is the section that tells off/non-white people how, in understanding why white people like the given item, they can turn the situation to their advantage. Often, interestingly, this advice would have the effect of rendering those same mechanisms of white privilege invisible once more - to the white person, anyway - since they encourage affirming whiteness or
assuaging white guilt. Sure, the knowing off/non-white person isn't fooled, but were they ever fooled?

It's also been interesting to see how many of my non-white friends are troubled by their resemblance to the white person that the blog interpellates - with respect to both the implied white subject and the implied (white) reader. Whiteness is, after all, a concept and a label for a field of racialized social power, and not actually a reference to an essentialized body or type of skin. That's no clearer than when someone who identifies as non-white realizes that s/he is, according to the website, white as a daisy.

Monday, March 03, 2008

How to "win" an internet debate when you're wrong

I recently involved myself (as I'm apt to do) in a totally absurd argument about artistic genius, social influence, and individual effort over at (Yes, the familiar cliché about having to post message after message because "Someone is wrong on the internet!" does apply.) It basically amounted to someone claiming that, for example, Harry Potter is the creation of an individual genius that transcends issues of influence and cultural antecedents, and two others of us arguing that it's absolutely insipid to claim that Rowling acted in a vacuum and that Harry Potter could not have existed if, for example, Tolkien had never written Lord of the Rings. To anyone with a modicum of knowledge of social or cultural theory, this is hardly revolutionary - at its simplest level, our ability to communicate relies on our use of a symbolic order that precedes and exceeds us, and within which we are constantly acting and being acted upon.

To this other debater, though, this is an opportunity to invoke some of the stupidest and most underhanded means of declaring victory in an internet debate. So my issue isn't so much with this particular argument as it is with the sorts of strategies that she deployed in order to fake a "win". This list is incomplete (feel free to propose new items), but succinctly sums up the unfortunate turn that this discussion took in the past 24 hours or so:

1. The common sense victory - Reduce your position to an unfair, but totally undeniable, truism and assert that your opponent's disagreement with you equals a rejection of the truism. (For instance, assert that you're just supporting the artist, whose craft requires hard work and dedication (the truism), and that anyone who doubts the "wholly individual" genius of an artist lacks respect for that artist's enormous efforts.)

2. The moral victory - Announce that you're walking away from the debate. (Bonus points for returning because you just couldn't let your opponent continue to get it wrong.)*

3. The victory in absentia - Mock one of your opponents in a forum that is restricted or to which s/he doesn't have access, but to which you know a number of other participants in the forum have access and will be able to witness your victory dance. (Bonus points for classiness if 3 follows directly after 2.)

4. The lowest-common denominator victory - If all else fails, play the intellectual laziness card by suggesting that your opponents' efforts to refute your argument - via various appeals to textual authority, social theory, and lived human experience, as well as their need to correct your theoretical errors - and refusal to agree with you is evidence of irrationality and a closed-mind. (This is especially effective if your opponent is right.)

5. The ad-hominem victory - Ignore all the arguments and poke fun at your opponent with a non sequitur or other incomprehensible and ostensibly humorous gesture in order to emphasize that while his/her seriousness is surely derived from insecurity and anxiety, you are so comfortable in the truth of your opinion that you can openly joke about it. (Although I'm lost on exactly what this one is supposed to accomplish and how it could fool anyone.)

It's incredibly difficult to do any of this offline - or, at least, to do without someone calling you on it immediately - but all too common online. And this is why I sometimes hate the internet.

*I am, of course, occasionally guilty of engaging in this one myself.