So, one dumb thing is Roko’s Basilisk. It’s the dumb rationality obsessed nerd thing where the odds of us being in a computer simulation are less good than us being in reality, so we should give money to a loser who promises to build AI god.
The flip side of Roko’s Basilisk is a slightly different yet still dumb bit called Pascal’s Mugging. The idea is that you meet a mugger on the street who demands your wallet. He doesn’t have a gun or anything, so you could easily just walk away. But then, he promises that if you give him your wallet today, he’ll come back tomorrow with twice as much money to give back to you.
Now, anyone with any life experience would understand, intuitively, that this man is never coming back. There is a 0% chance he will return and double your money.
But, there is a certain type of person who would think, what are the odds of him coming back with the money? Pretty low. And so the mugger offers an “even better” deal: he’ll come back with three times the money. Not good enough? How about ten times? How about a hundred? And, when the number promised gets big enough, it becomes “rational” to give the man your wallet, because what if he really does come back with $20 million, and all you lost was $20 for a day? You’d feel pretty stupid if someone else got rich, wouldn’t you?
Much like Pascal’s famous wager, the cost of being wrong is too high, so one may as well become a Christian/give the guy your wallet.
The problem being that a 0% chance remains 0%, even if he says he’ll come back with the contents of the Fort Knox. It doesn’t change things.
But what does one do with that certain strain of contrarianism that says, no, you’re the dumb one for not handing your wallet over? What does one do about those who are invested deeply in the sunk cost of waiting, like Estragon and Vladimir, for a man who is never going to come? Is there a sweet spot of grifting where the promised return on investment is just enough to be tempting but not raise any suspicion? Will a non-sucker actually purchase that ape picture from you for anything resembling the price you paid for it? Is this yet another example of Hamann’s famous dictum that one should look upon logical proofs the way a well-bred girl looks upon a love letter?
Consider this word: Omni-Potent. Omni, meaning all or of all things. Potent, meaning having great power, influence, or effect. This is not simply “very powerful” or “extremely powerful”. This is all powerful. Unlimited. Unbounded. Possessing absolute agency. Non-dependent.
Any being which is not omnipotent is not worthy of being called God. It may be a powerful spirit, an emergent phenomenon, a vast intelligence, may even be worthy of worship in some fashion, but as it lacks that crucial aspect which God would possess, it would not be right to call them God in any non-hyperbolic sense.
A second proposition: Logic is a limit.
Logic implies contingency. A is A. A therefore B, B therefore C, thus, A therefore C. There is no creativity nor alternative. Not A therefore Not C. Logic demands consistency. Logic creates a situation in which it cannot be otherwise. There is causality: Why C? Because A. This is a simplicity that children understand, and which students copy down carefully to remember long enough to be tested on. It is the foundation of Science, that when one does an action, under particular conditions, then another action occurs. One flips the switch from Off to On, and the light illuminates the room. If it does not, then there is something amiss: a broken wire, a shorted circuit, a broken lightbulb, trouble in the city’s power grid… It is not the case that, given all the right conditions, that the circuit will complete, but the light will not illuminate. The problem can be diagnosed, understood, fixed.
Another proposition: to be limited is not to be omnipotent.
Things obey logic. Our world is explicable and understandable. Effects have causes, even if we cannot ferret out the cause. It could not be otherwise. We have made mistakes, but there is an underlying superstructure to existence which causes things to make other things happen. No choice is involved; If A, then B, then C. Switch to the On position, circuit is completed, the filament burns bright within its vacuum.
Again, it could not be otherwise.
Consider the schoolboy paradox: could God microwave a burrito so hot that even he could not eat it? A simple linguistic trick dating back to at least the Ancient Greeks. “All Cretans are Liars” says the Cretan Epimenides. “This statement is False.” Is it easy to make a mess of logic using words.
But what it misses is that God is beyond Logic. How could it be otherwise? What limit could Logic impose on that which is Omnipotent? Could we truly call something Omnipotent if it still needed to obey causality or contingency? Just as a very large number is not Infinity, regardless of how large that number might be, no being which is not trans-logical or a-contingent could truly be called God, regardless of whatever powers it might display.
When I was a small child, I was deathly afraid of the Hamburgler.
For some reason, that striped, masked, bizarre fellow just disturbed my child self. I can’t place exactly why. I had other fears, of course. Certain clowns, moths, the dark, being alone and lost… all pretty common things. Like most children of my era, I was raised on a steady diet of Sesame Street (1969-Present), Mr. Rogers, The Muppets, and other edutainment programs. I’m not going to pretend that these were bad things, either. I learned a lot about self-confidence, tolerance, numbers and letters, friendship, and other important aspects of socialization that are necessary for being a human in modern society. Nor did my (at the time) stay-at-home mother leave me isolated in front of the TV; I received much love and attention from both of my parents as well.
But there was something strange about the Hamburgler that bothered me on a deep level when I was a kid. The McDonaldland characters were superficially similar to those of the Children’s Television Workshop (I had not encountered Sid and Marty Krofft yet), led by Ronald the clown, with his friends Grimace, Mayor McCheese, Officer Big Mac, and the rest. Yet, you didn’t learn anything from them. They had adventures, certainly, but they all revolved around acquiring McDonald’s food. The surface was there, but the depth was not. I would learn, when I was much much older, to think of this as the second stage of Jean Baudrillard’s simulacra, where the copy is a perverted image of the original.
If Sesame Street is of the first stage, a reflection of profound reality, a distilled essence of humanity portrayed by puppets and humans, then McDonaldland is its dark reflection: simple consumerism dressed up in Sid and Marty Krofft suits. It still reflects aspects of reality — we struggle to feed ourselves everyday, the acquisition of food being, along with shelter, one of the most basic of human drives –, but it is transformed into a playful jaunt where burglars and monsters can be stopped simply by “catching” them, rather than, for example, violent conflicts for farmland or disputes over the ethical treatments of animals and workers.
The Evil Grimace, everyone knows,
is round and purple and has big toes.
He carries shakes in every hand,
as he scurries through McDonaldland.
More on this in a moment.
One well known side effect of repeated exposure to something is desensitization — when we experience something over and over again, it has less of an impact on us, it becomes more familiar.
Horror movies of the goreporn genre, for example, can be distilled down to one core film that came out in 1971: Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes, a film that, after viewing, makes most horror movies seem tame by comparison. The film is simply footage of autopsies, carried out slowly and methodically in a Pittsburgh mortuary by doctors. There is no need for jump cuts, splashes of blood across walls, screaming women stalked by large men with knives… Instead, there’s the silent workmanship of a trained medical expert simply doing their job, however gory and disgusting it might be. Another is the minimalist Elephant (1989) by Alan Clarke and Danny Boyle — a series of 18 murders carried out without dialogue or context, giving action and crime viewers “exactly what they want”.
So, if purity won’t achieve the desired effect on jaded viewers, what is required is something a bit different, something more subtle, some way to enter into the desired effect through unexpected means. This has worked very well with the genre of “Action-Comedy” typified by the Marvel superhero franchise, where exciting fights and massive explosions are bookended with sight gags and knowing meta-humor about the absurdity of the situation. Unlike, say, Ghostbusters (1984), a comedy that has action elements towards the end but is mostly word play and sight gags, the action-comedy takes what would be a serious film (be it Dirty Harry (1971) or any of the recent DC superhero films), and makes the main characters tell jokes and quips constantly (The recent Marvel films, the entire oeuvre of Joss Whedon). If the jokes begin to lag, simply blow something up. Rinse and repeat. It’s a winning and successful formula, and I don’t mean to sound flippant or dismissive. There are some really excellent movies in this genre. It’s a pairing that works.
And by pairing children’s TV and horror, Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared, excels as well.
By using the appearance and structure of a familiar and comforting children’s program, it lures the viewer into lowering their guard, into wondering what, exactly, is going to happen. Each episode has a structure — the characters are put into a situation, a singing “teacher” appears to show them about a concept, the concept is not explained, and the show begins to break down while the characters are tortured both mentally and physically — but the overall product is something much more strange and unusual than a “monster of the week” sort of production.
But before we delve into DHMIS further, one more thing we need to discuss first.
One theory that has always intrigued me is the connection between the Muppets and Gnosticism. Advanced by the always wonderful Geoff Klock, it states, basically, that the Muppet movies are a perfect expression of the beliefs of the ancient Christian sect. The Muppets are not treated as different from humans in any noticeable way, yet they instantly recognize one another, especially in The Muppet Movie (1979). To quote Dr. Klock:
The main thing that stuck me was the ending of the first movie. Kermit has traveled from the swamp to Hollywood picking up muppets along the way, finally getting to the office of Orson Wells’ Lew Lords, who gives them the “standard rich and famous contract.” The next scene is the muppets themselves making their movie, which is the movie we have just finished watching, with cardboard sets. The film could have ended there, and if it had the point would have been that their hard work paid off, and that they found friends and became successful so you should follow your dreams and so on.
But it does not end like that. It ends as Gonzo floats up high on the movie set and crashes into the cardboard rainbow which falls and breaks the whole set and then the ceiling explodes opening up a huge hole — and a REAL rainbow comes through. There is a close-up of Kermit singing which backs out so that you see all the muppets, then backs out some more so we see a host of Jim Henson creations all bathed in the light of the rainbow. This ending is quite different because it identifies the rainbow light of the imagination (which Shelley uses at the end of Adonais) as an otherworldly force, something emphasized by the fact that the rainbow lights characters that are beyond the scope of the film — this is not the imagination of Kermit or the muppets, but of their creator.
(And THE Creator — remember that the rainbow is figured in the bible as the sign from God after the flood, his promise that he will not destroy the world again.)
The other major film to exploring Gnosticism to come out “recently” is The Matrix (1999), in which our protagonist Keanu Reeves learns that reality is nothing more than a simulation, and that humanity is under the control of a gigantic network of computers who run a simulation that their minds live inside.
Notably for us, Reeves and his companions travel from the “real” world to that of the simulation via telephone.
So, given all that, Why shouldn’t you hug me? Why am I scared?
We are given multiple glimpses of a world behind the camera in the various episodes: in the first, before the world breaks down thanks to creativity, we see a 3D model of the characters and their world being filmed, before they are transformed into larger caricatures of themselves. In the second, we learn that Yellow Guy’s father, Roy, is a computer. In the third, we are introduced to a false god who eats the Earth (“gravel”), demands name changes, and makes his followers forget everything they know, except for love. In the fourth, the computer draws them inside himself, repeatedly exposing Red Guy to the illusion that is the world, and allowing him to follow a red cord, leading to a “realistic” version of the first episode. He isn’t invited to the party, however, and his head explodes from the new knowledge he has acquired. In the fifth, Duck repeatedly answers a ringing phone, exposing himself to the world of the operating theatre, where he is dissected and eaten by large cans, while Yellow Guy is taught about food and healthy eating, eventually eating Duck, who was also not invited to the party. In the last, we are exposed to dreams, Red Guy in the “real world,” and meet the big machine that controls everything.
This loss of innocence is inevitable. Childhood is a precious time in which all sorts of horrible things are happening, but the child is, usually, only superficially aware of them at best. Responsibilities like rent, work, taxes, relationships… These usually don’t exist. This period will look idyllic in retrospect, even though going by the actual evidence, the world will be as horrible as it always was. There’s always an unspoken “the adults took care of the problems, so I could just relax and play” in these reminiscences. We try to delay this realization as long as possible, because it hurts when it happens.
And this is why, for me, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared works. By pairing the soft and comfortable world of children’s television with the horror that is losing innocence, we can revisit, however briefly, that terrifying liminal space between childhood innocence and adult responsibility. When one is still watching cartoons and playing with toys, but also needs to learn proper nutrition (rather than just eating what tastes good) and computer programming (to stay competitive in today’s modern world), even if the latter things make almost no sense. (It should be little surprise that by spending too much time digging deep into the computer, Red Guy loses his innocence first. The internet is a terrifying place.)
The Gnostic Muppets present this ultimate horror in Muppets Take Manhattan (1984) as Kermit being transformed into “Phil”, a boring frog who works at an advertising firm alongside other frogs that dress and act just like him. Unlike the cool, fun jobs that Kermit’s friends get all over the country, Phil is barely a Muppet. Thankfully for him, it doesn’t stick, and his friends recognize him as he taps out a song with his spoon at the diner. Not so for Red Guy, whose “dancing file” is met not with disapproval or disdain, but with disinterest, and whose attempts to sing and dance are simply boring to the rest of the adults. He isn’t a cool rebel or agitating alternative we, the audience, can root for as he pulls the other adults out of their workaday lives. He’s just sad. He doesn’t have a cohort of special people who will embrace him. The closest he has is his old friend’s dad, Roy, who shows Red Guy that while it may be too late for him and his friends, he can at least improve things for the next generation.
And this, for me at least, stands in contrast to the complacency and desensitization that allows me to watch a much more violent and grotesque film like Dogtooth (2009) or Suicide Club (2002) and laugh at the absurdity of the situations. When the point of the media is to get a catchy song stuck in your head while reflecting on the incomprehensibility of adult life from a child’s perspective, it tends to linger longer and deeper than the surface level depictions of the horrible. As awful as, for example, being tortured by an evil doctor would be (as depicted in so many movies), how much worse to meditate on a horror that was already inflicted upon you?
The small ship is being pursued from the rebel base, and has emerged from the asteroid field. The larger ship is pursuing it. The small ship, in defiance of all known tactics, suddenly turns and engages the large ship, charging directly at the bridge, flying within feet of the viewing window and causing the bridge officers to flinch for fear that they will crash!
And then, the ship is gone.
“They can’t have disappeared,” the Captain says. “No ship that small has a cloaking device!”
And, of course, the smaller ship doesn’t. They’ve simply attached themselves to the larger ship, and plan on floating away with the waste dump before the larger ship makes its jump into hyperspace.
One brief line of dialogue in The Empire Strikes Back, and it becomes canon that cloaking devices are incredibly difficult and clunky things in the Star Wars universe. We are to take Captain Needa as an authority on the subject because there are no other mentions of cloaking devices in the films.
The idea that Needa could be wrong, might not have time to read all the trade magazines, might not be an expert… These thoughts do not cross a certain type of person’s mind.
The team is working on a game about Darth Maul. They have been having problems making their game jive with the movies — Maul loses his legs in the upcoming film, it turns out, and they don’t want him to becomes a robot spider. They are asked to sum up the game in a few simple statements, rather than an a bunch of jargon and plotlines. Finally, they are granted an audience with George Lucas.
There are rules for talking to George Lucas about Star Wars. Number one: don’t tell him “No.” Number two: don’t mention the name “Starkiller”. And number three, the most important, the one that will end you: “Don’t tell George how the Force works.”
Lucas is excited about the new game — he wants Maul to team up with Maul’s distaff counterpart, Darth Talon, and have the two of them crashing about the galaxy like the characters from a buddy cop movie. He cites Burn Notice and The Godfather as possible inspirations. He pushes together two statues of the characters. “They’re friends!” he says.
But Maul and Talon are separated by 170 years of fiction. They never lived in the same time period.
Clearly, in a science fantasy world with faster than light space travel, cloning, and an order of magical knights fighting their evil counter parts with laser swords, there is no possible way for these two characters to meet. A direct descant, for example, A cryostasis tube. A cloning tank.
We must stick to the canon.
Later, in the comics (which are, for reasons, less true than the films), we will discover that Darth Maul’s ship does, in fact, possess a cloaking device. His ship is small, around the same size or smaller than the Millennium Falcon.
Is this a problem? Of course not. It can be easily written off as the decline in technical ability between Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) and Star Wars (1977), much in the same way that pottery quality declined as the Roman Empire did. The story comes first, and if Maul’s ship needs a cloaking device for the story to move forward, then it has one.
Shakespeare is writing a new play to impress the Queen. She has seen his latest plays about the fellows who used to hold her position, Henry IV and V and adores the buffoonish knight Sir John Falstaff. She asks him to write play in which Falstaff falls in love. This sort of side story is not uncommon . Knowing which side his bread is buttered on, Shakespeare does just this.
The Merry Wives of Windsor makes very little effort to fit into the world of Henry IV. Aside from a single offhanded reference to Prince Hal and Poins, which would set the play in the early 15th century, everything else about it places the play in the late 16th-early 17th Elizabethan period.
This time traveling doesn’t matter, because Falstaff is a fictional character. It matters no more how he is still alive 200 years later than it does how many children Lady Macbeth has. The point is to entertain the Queen.
 The game is cancelled. Lucas is blamed, for some reason. The Clone Wars TV show has no problem introducing both Maul and his brother, the wonderfully named Savage Oppress, into the program.
 For example, the 12th century Book of the Dun Cow contains a bit of fan fiction entitled Serglige Con Culainn, wherein our hero Cu Cuchulain travels to a different universe, has adventures, and then returns home and drinks a magic potion that causes him to forget all the events that just happened in the story, including sleeping with the author’s OC. We can tell it’s fan fiction because the author’s handwriting is different from those of the Cu Culainn stories earlier in the book, and, based on the orthography and word choices, it was composed a hundred or more years after the original writings.
 See also, clocks ringing in Julius Caesar, Cleopatra inviting Charmain to play billiards in Antony and Cleopatra, Trojan champion Hector talking about Aristotle in Troilus and Cressida, Puck talking about guns in A Midsummer Night’s Dream…
For a certain generation, The Transformers: The Movie (1986) is a traumatic and horrible experience that defined childhood forever.
Consider the opening:
We are in space. An eerie, haunting theme plays as, from between two suns, a distant object approaches. It grows closer, and we see it is a large grey sphere, surrounded by spikes, and surmounted by yellow support struts. Two massive yellow claws protrude from its front, surrounding an “eye” of some sorts. It passes by the camera, giving us a close up look at its surface: technologically advanced, covered in crevices and sensors that we know not the purpose of. We see the view from inside, a planet in view from the “eye”, as various scientific/biological processes occur around. A thought occurs: we have never been inside a transformer, have we?
Zoom in on the planet: a metallic paradise. (Is it Cybertron? a young child’s mind asks, grasping for explanation as to how to connect this to Transformers.) A planet of robots, in any case. The music is still wrong, incorrect, despite the happy tunes playing on someone’s radio. Child robots run past on a promenade while older ones conduct experiments. We see the children run past in the back corridor as older, elderly scientist robots walk down a hall, conversing. These robots look like Transformers, but they aren’t. There’s something just wrong about them. The scientists enter a laboratory where an even older robot is conducting an experiment. They deliver some vials of multicolored chemicals (this is how we, as children, know they are scientists: they pour vials of chemicals together). Then, the vials begin to shake on the table. Is it an earthquake?
No. It is Unicron.
Equipment is smashed as its gravitational pull starts to destroy the planet. Just as we saw the planet from above, now we see Unicron from below, on a computer screen. The robots know what’s coming, and they are terrified. The “eye” begins to project a beam, we see the scientists react in horror, and then we truly see how large Unicron is. It is bigger than the entire planet. Its pincer claws dig into the sides, and it begins to eat. The robots run for their lives as roads are scraped up, buildings are smashed, and everything begins to ascend upwards in the unholy light. One robots yells that they need to get to their ships, but even this is futile, as the ships are quickly sucked back into Unicron’s devouring maw. Only one escapes. The other, however, we follow on its journey through Unicron’s digestive system, a comical munching noise in stark contrast to the horror we are witnessing on the screen. The planet and its inhabitants are turned into a grey slurry. Motors and servos whirr with electrical pulses. Nerves glow with life. Unicron glows bright with life.
There is no sign of the planet. There is only Unicron. We pan away.
Two minutes and forty seconds of pure horror. Then right into Lion’s upbeat 80s metal cover of The Transformer‘s theme.
What the hell just happened?
Right after this, we’re treated to a very long battle that consists mainly of killing nearly every named character from the series in gruesome and horrible ways, culminating in the tragic death of Optimus Prime, shot in the back by Megatron. For those who complain that there are no stakes in the fights between robots, no one ever dies, nothing ever changes… Well, here you go. You’ve gotten what you asked for. The lases blasts don’t miss this time.
There’s more to the movie, but, suffice to say, at this point it feels more like a film directed by Takashi Miike or a depressed Yoshiyuki Tomino. Whoever had the idea to make Transformers: The Movie into a Grand Guignol just might have forgotten that their target audience was between the ages of six to ten.
Watching Optimus Prime die was, for a certain generation, our first introduction to real death and religion. As melodramatic as it might seem to some eyes, it never fails to make me cry on a rewatch. It had my partner staring at the screen, mouth agape, unbelieving at the prospect of watching a robot die on an operating table, surrounded by his friends and companions, all of whom are reacting to his death in various ways (grief, guilt, anger, resignation…), slowly fading from bright primary colors to a dull gunmetal gray, and passing along the heart and soul of the Autobot movement to another primary colored robot who denies that he is capable of carrying on the legacy.
“What the fuck did I just watch?” she said.
“A movie for six to ten year olds,” I replied.
The truth of the matter, of course, is simply that there was a new toy line coming out, and they needed to clear out the old stock. Who could sell the ultra cool and hip new Rodimus Prime when you’ve still got Optimus clogging up the shelves? There was no thinking about the film’s legacy post 1986, or how it would look to kids watching it in ’89 or ’95 or even 2019, long after all of those toys had become collector’s items. It simply existed to bridge the gap between TV seasons, and the reaction to it from both fans and parents resulted in some quick additions to G.I. Joe: the Movie (1987) to make it clear that Duke isn’t dead, he’s simply in an off-screen coma, even though he was intended to die in the original script.
So, what does is it mean for a generation of young people to have their heroes killed off so that a company can introduce a new toyline, and, in the process, demonstrate that God is killable?
Because, make no mistake, there was no climactic storytelling arc happening here, no grand ending planned from the beginning. This was just sweeping the old toys off the table so they could sell you new ones. We got to watch Robot Dad die so that Capitalism could function. It’s little wonder so many of them paid attention, and are getting into socialism now.
And Unicron? Well, he’s the closest thing we see to God ever on Transformers. Gigantic on a scale we can hardly believe, powerful beyond conception, transforms into a robot devil…
(This one has been in the queue for a while, and I figure I should get this out before the TV show starts up and everyone starts in with their retrospectives.)
Just finished The Invisibles in its nice fat trade paperback editions, and, well, perhaps you had to be there.
I mean, I’m reading this comic out of context. It’s twenty years on, and the world is a very different place than it was in 1999. I’m reading it in four big collected volumes, rather than in individual issues that I waited for with baited breath, with all the reading lists and letter columns and live forums to discuss the book as it came out. I’m thirty five, and not sixteen and encountering these concepts for the very first time. I’d read bits and pieces over the years, but this was the first time I actually sat down and read the whole thing, covers to covers, every word, every panel.
And, really, this book simply isn’t very good, is it?
Like, on a structural level, parts of it are clever, I suppose. There’s some inter-cutting, some interesting character design, and, as always, Morrison is very good at describing horrific things, but, there’s really very little of substance to the book if you know what the words he’s using mean.
Take “homeopathic” for instance. This means “Water”. It’s a garbage term. It’s pseudoscience that’s been widely discredited, exposed as a fraud, can be demonstrably shown to contain nothing of value, and is basically just a load of crock. People knew better a hundred years ago. And yet, I’m supposed to be wow’d by the idea of a homeopathic computer injection time machine. That… That doesn’t actually mean anything. That’s just words strung together to sound clever. For all it’s purpose in the narrative, Morrison could have just written “time machine” and the text would be no different. They’re cool sounding, but ultimately meaningless adjectives.
Or “holographic”. There was a big to do over the idea that our world was simply the holographic reflection of a 4D space on a black hole or some such something; it doesn’t actually matter. The point is that there’s an actual scientific idea, which is really quite interesting/boring (depending on how much you like math) when investigated thoroughly, and then there’s the whole “We’re just living in a simulation” thing that Morrison wants us to think he’s clever for using, because Magick-Science, and it… Again, it just doesn’t hang together. It’s lousy dialogue that sounds like it’s saying something, but doesn’t really mean anything. It doesn’t advance the plot. It doesn’t establish characterization in a positive way.
All this sort of thing does is tell me that our heroes are easily duped morons of the sort taken by frauds like Wakefield, Geller, and Trudeau. People who don’t bother to think critically. I’ve read about Jacques Benveniste’s faked water memory experiments and Masaru Emoto’s weird emotional water, you know, the kind of experiments that no one else can get to work, or that prove you can transmit data over a phone line? I know all about the faked Lovecraft magic stuff, because I hung out with Lovecraft scholar Dan Harms for years back in school… You know who’s big into this stuff? Gwyneth Paltrow. She sells magical healing vagina stones for $75 a pop. Rich white women in their 40s eat this shit up.
And blah blah blah consensual reality 4th Dimensional time dislocation transwarps the universal reality inoculation against the Eldritch demonic forces herd mentality onto the unawakened masses of proletariat Johnsons masters thesis to expand the consciousness of the beyond uniforce hundred handed men thinking hundred brained thoughts beyond what you find in your cereal box reality expand the system to smash the systems of rebelled rebellion and establish a new context for brand new youth exchange of idea space system world machine ghostsSee? It’s easy. It takes about five minutes to throw down a bunch of meaningless words and let the reader put them together.
This would be fine if Morrison had something to say. If there was a grander point to the narrative than “We’re all in this together” and “Love one another” and “Stop war so we can go explore space” and “Support corporate overlords, not the government”. But when there’s so little to the story and so little to the characters, it’s difficult to not be let down when it all builds up to shonen anime style “Aha! See, you thought you were behind me, but actually, I am behind you!”, but, you know, psychic and magickal.
That sounds too mean, let me try again: there’s a fascinating book by G.I. Gurdjieff called Beezlebub’s Tales to his Grandson. It’s written in a particularly difficult to read style, with deliberately long sentences and confusing paragraph structure, to force the reader to pay attention to the substance of the work. It’s a classic of mystical literature, and one that’s rightly held as one of the foundational texts of the Fourth Way towards enlightenment. Unfortunately for the book, you can skip right past it to the much more readable Meetings with Remarkable Men and Life is Real Only Then, When I Am. BTthG doesn’t contain any special insights that aren’t in the latter two books: Man is “asleep”, and only through conscious effort to pay attention to his surroundings can he be “awake”, the modern world isn’t very suited to the sort of lifestyle necessary to maintain this sort of conscious effort, and you should probably have sex with me, the author, because I am the most amazing man who ever lived. Pretty easy takeaways that you don’t need to slog through 900 pages of the Devil on a spaceship to understand.
The Invisibles is much the same. There are some cool action sequences, but we’re scolded for enjoying violence. There are some interesting art pieces, but we’re scolded for enjoying media. There are some interesting framing devices and timing sequences, but we’re scolded for not paying attention to the moral. There are some cool characters… Wait, no, there aren’t. All of the protagonists are complete shit. We have a young terrorist who we’re supposed to feel bad for when he gets arrested for burning down a library, we have Grant Morrison the super assassin, we have time travelling Amanda Palmer, we have Lady Homicide: Life on the Streets as interpreted by a rich Scottish man, we have every rather offensive trans cliche possible… And I suppose the ending of “They were really all on the same side as the bad guys” is an ending, but not the uplifting and amazing one that Morrison seems to think it is.
You’ve probably noticed by now that the images in the text portion of this post are from the last arc of Nextwave, not The Invisibles. That’s how easy it is to parody this sort of self-serious, over the top, Yay Psuedopopscience-magick! style of writing.
If the book is bringing you pleasure, fantastic. But is it the book itself, or is it the fan community that has emerged from it? The little bits of the narrative that are alright? The ideas that you took and ran with, well beyond anything that was put down on the page?
I’m fully willing to admit that maybe it’s just me. Maybe there’s another book I need to read to understand it all and love it. But that doesn’t say much about the work as a standalone work, does it? I shouldn’t be yawning and wondering when I’m going to get to the good bits when a book is already mostly over, and then saying “Oh, that’s all?” when I finish it. It was The Filth spread out far longer than thirteen issues. It was From Hell, but in the hands of a lesser writer and a rotating cast of artists of varying quality.
Maybe I’ll try again in another decade and see if I find anything different that time around.
Everyone who couldn’t afford the VHS tapes or DVDs eventually got the chance to watch NGE on Adult Swim, where it was presented in a more or less unedited format, and now a days, it is available to anyone with an internet connection and Google. But back in the late 90’s, anime was much harder to come by. You could put your trust in a fan subber, you could shell out the cash to ADV at your local movie store, or you could wait until it was on TV.
We’ve spoken before about the prequel to Evangelion, and it’s entertaining but ultimately unnecessary addition to the enjoyment of NGE as a whole, but now let’s take a look at a road not taken: the Americanized, kid friendly dub of Neon Genesis Evangelion.
This particular unfired bullet was optioned but ultimately not picked up for broadcast by ABC Family Worldwide (later 4Kids Entertainment, after the a complicated situation involving purchases of Fox Kids by both Saban and Disney that we simply don’t have the space to go into here). The basic gist is that Pat Robertson’s International Family Entertainment had bought the license to the “Christian Anime” Neon Genesis Evangelion, sight unseen, in 1995, after Robertson had heard the title as “Genesis Evange-Lion”, as well as a few of the Cross oriented attacks of Sachiel in the first episode, and assuming that it was basically a Christian Voltron.
The license sat gathering dust until the purchase, when some brilliant but anonymous staffer realized what was included in the purchase, and brought it to the attention of animation head Arlo Tedeschi, who pounced on the idea of having a giant robot show in the vein of Robotech, and being unafraid to alter the program and incorporate other shows to fit the length, just as Carl Macek had done with Super Dimension FortressMacross, Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber Mospeada. Unfortunately, when Tedeschi viewed the “pig in a poke” that he had, he realized that it would be difficult to merge the unique “horror mecha” style of Evangelion with any other series he could get his hands on cheaply (other than Nadia of the Blue Water), so he opted to reuse, edit, and otherwise transform the program to fit the bill.
While never actually produced, the in-house documents and the episode notes I was able to scrounge from the dumpster before shredding provide a fascinating insight into the creation process, the very mercenary attitudes towards character creation, and the ways in which editing existing footage can turn a deeply personal and psychological program into an action comedy. Reaching out to Hideaki Anno for comment on the documents, he replied almost too quickly, saying “Terrible idea, but we needed the money. A dog would never work. It has to be a penguin.”
Shawn Benji Isaacs: a brash and hot headed young pilot, our hero is trying his hardest to impress his father, Gary, who was quite the mecha pilot in his own day. Drop all the depressing stuff about hospitals and staring at ceilings, because kids don’t want to watch that. Add in exciting rock music whenever he has his headphones in. A bit of retouching to make him smile more and add in more grunting expressions like he’s really fired up should be possible. We can reuse the interiors of the Unit 01 fight against the toilet paper monster (which should be a bit hit with the kids), because he really gets hot and passionate during that fight.
Ray Anderson: we want a second male lead, so I propose using footage of Toji in his suit from the “Jet Alone” episodes to serve as secondary pilot for unit 00. This will allow an easy rivalry between him and Shawn Benji, with a lot of playful school ground fights, but an overall impression that they are friends despite it all.
Anna Langley: other than dropping all the references to her being German, she should translate over without any difficulty. The angry girl who is maybe in love with the protagonist while he wants nothing to do with her is a stock character everyone will recognize.
Rachel Anderson: as a solution to the Rei Ayanami problem, we turn Rei into the sister that Toji is always talking about. This explains why she is often injured: it’s from the Angel attacks, and hence Ray is angry at the Angels and wants to destroy them completely.
Kevin Allen: a young camera obsessed fellow who is always following around Ray and Shawn Benji, he is the source of much of the footage of the battles that end up on the local news.
Michelle Kennedy: the hip and cute homeroom teacher of our cast, she drives a fast car, is addicted to a special brand of cola (can’t show drinking on a kids show after all), and is responsible for leading the missions that our heroes undertake.
Gary Isaacs: a seemingly cold and distant man who watches from afar, he regularly leaves his son tape recorded messages about how proud he is to have him as a son, and how good a job he’s doing as a pilot, because he has trouble speaking to him directly due to an unresolved trauma in his past.
Most of the other characters simply received name changes (Rita for Ritsuko, though editing out her smoking was going to prove expensive) or were dropped entirely (Lorenz and the Seele Pillars).
Episode One: Attack the Angel Beast! A mash up of the first two NGE episodes, focusing more on the action sequences and dropping any of the hospital related scenes entirely, Benji is picked up from the train station and rushed to his robot, where he immediately gets in and helps the American Army battle the first Dark Angel. Edit out the crosses.
Episode Two: Dark Angel Attack! A mash up of episodes three and four. Benji and Kevin go camping, and talk about how different life was before they had to deal with the Dark Angels. Benji makes a vow to destroy all of them and make his father proud. Kevin wishes that he could be a cool pilot like Benji. The second Dark Angel attacks, and Benji brings both Kevin and Ray along with him as co-pilots, Ray because Benji could use the help, and Kevin so he can live out his dream of being a pilot.
Episode Three: Battle on the Boats! Mostly footage from episode eight. We finally get to meet Benji’s older brother, Ryan (a very cool spy who Anna has a crush on), and Anna, as the US Navy is attacked by the sea dwelling Dark Angel and they battle it back. Add in some dialogue about how we should stop hunting whales and dolphins and this one is in the can.
Episode Four: Volcano! Mostly unchanged episode ten, but edit out the swimsuit scene.
Episode Five: Dance for Victory! Mostly unchanged episode nine, editing out the original bombing of the angel, and adding in more American music for the longer dance sequences to make up for time. Add in a sub plot about how Anna has loved to dance since she was a kid, while Benji has always thought it was stupid. He learns to get over it and discovers that even things he didn’t like at first can be fun.
Episode Six: We’ve Got the Power! Edited version of episode eleven. Altered so that the power outage is directly the fault of the Angel, and there’s an explanation of how electricity works to satisfy some of the educational aspects that we’re supposed to have.
Episodes Seven and Eight: The Undersea Base! Using edited footage from Nadia episodes five, six, and seven, we follow Benji’s younger sister, Nadine, and her friend John as they investigate the origin of the Dark Angels, which all seem to be coming from the ocean. Reveal that the evil Gargoyle has been in charge of the Angels, and sending them forth to attack the city, because he believes that by covering the planet with water, he can stop the destruction of the world’s ecosystem. Nadine is kidnapped.
Episode Nine: The Robot Monster! Edited version of episode seven. Edit together a longer combat sequence, with both Ray and Benji fighting the Jet Alone robot.
Unfortunately, Tedeschi’s notes stop there, and we can only speculate on where he intended the plot to go based on other scribbling in the margins of the typewritten document:
–Benji and Anna love sub plot?
–What to do with Gargoyle at the ending?
–Why does Nadine have a tan and Benji doesn’t?
–Ending of series + last episodes unusable. More Nadia?
–No ONE DIES
–Needs mascot character for stuffed toys — penguin too weird, maybe a dog?
–Have the robots combine into a bigger robot?
–Emphasize that the Angels are just robots and no one gets hurt, except for Ray’s sister’s broken arm. The Casualties of War.
–Work Rita in more? She used to work for Nemo?
–Gary has to be a hero, not the villain — no evil dads on TV
I watched Star Wars with a group of teens, most of whom had never seen it before. Here are some of their questions and remarks:
–Is Yoda in this movie?
–Does anyone read that? (referring to the opening crawl)
–Is this one A New Hope? (we were watching the Silver Screen edition, which doesn’t have Episode IV in the title)
–I love that noise, that’s my favorite noise in all of Star Wars! (referring to the sound of R2D2 getting shot by the Jawas)
–(mockingly) “I was going go to Toshi station to pick up some power converters!”
–Why does he [Luke] whine so much? Dude should just listen to his dad.
–That’s like a snap on repeat (referring to R2D2 showing “Help Me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope!” on repeat.)
–His Dad is Darth Vader! (even the kids who had never seen the movie knew this)
–Oh hell no! (when Wuher tells Artoo and Threepio “We don’t serve their kind!”. It was a black teenager who made the comment)
–Oh shit, they look so fake! (speaking about the aliens in the Mos Eisley cantina. They were in hysterics looking at all the various creatures)
–I know this music! This is in that one game… (The Cantina theme)
–Chewbacca’s my husband!
–That’s so gross! Did you see how his mouth went like…! imitates Greedo’s mouth sucking inward to say “Ya-bocca”
–That dude’s got no chin! (Grand Moff Tarkin)
–The is the lowest energy sword fight I’ve ever seen. (I didn’t point out the pun)
–Isn’t that his sister? (I clarify that we don’t learn that until Return of the Jedi)
–But don’t they have the same last name? (I let them know that Leia’s last name is Organa, not Skywalker, because she was adopted.)
–How do you know so much about Star Wars?
Overall, the kids were rapt throughout. A couple of them were locked to the screen from start to finish, only pausing occasionally to get popcorn but otherwise never breaking eye contact. Even the ones who were normally rambunctious and disruptive were really enjoying themselves. We only had one drive by who just wanted snacks who informed us that “Star Wars is stupid and gay” and the other teens shouted him down as he left. Good gender breakdown, about 60% female to 40% male.
I was watching David Harvey’s excellent lecture series on reading Marx’s DasKapital, and in the introduction, he talks about how he’s done this class for many many years now, and in all sorts of departments, even those you wouldn’t expect to see reading economic and social philosophy. And, he notes, each year he learns something from each class; each one has its own perspective. Even, he says, a literature class in the early 70s that was filled with folks from the comparative literature department at Johns Hopkins who loved Derrida.
They were fascinating, he goes on to say, because unlike with every other time he taught the course, they barely got through the first chapter. They analyzed every word for every possible meaning (“What does he actually mean by value? What does he actually mean by money commodity? What is fetish about?”). They seized on every analogy. They wanted to talk about his language choices. Harvey was really looking forward to talking about the working day and other interesting things, but they didn’t even reach chapter two before the semester was over.
And this struck me as one of the possible reasons why people find deconstruction and post-structuralism and postmodernism and such so infuriating — they won’t let you move on, they won’t let you just make statements and keep going, they won’t let you blithely get away with saying “you know what I mean” or “look, you’re missing the point”, because, well, they don’t, and they aren’t. For them, this is the point. Why did you say that that particular way?
Take, for example, Richard Taylor’s famous 1962 essay Fatalism (simply because it’s fresh in my memory right now). The argument in it is shit. Taylor himself has admitted such. It’s a Schrodinger’s Cat situation, where he wrote the paper to demonstrate the absurdity of it. The paper was written to be disproven, and the fact that people have taken Taylor to be some sort of anti-free will zealot is another absurdity (and demonstrating the truism that no one is really paying attention and no one understands irony, least of all the targets of ironic criticism).
But look at the examples he uses: you’re a ship commander, an admiral, someone with the power to determine whether a war happens or not. Then, you’re a passive observer, just someone who reads the paper. From someone who makes things happen, to someone things happen to. Lovely, but not enough.
One command from an admiral isn’t enough to start or stop a battle. Say that you give the order not to attack, and the enemy attacks anyways. What then? Or, say that the commander gives the order not to attack, and everything is peaceful in the Atlantic that day. But, over in the Gulf of Tonkin, a few submarines fire at a ship, and then there’s that headline, regardless of the individual commander’s actions. Do I or don’t I have free will if it’s multiple people acting on me?
But must Will be imposed by violent means? It’s always battles being ordered, gun barrels being warm after shots are fired.
I’m missing the point, of course. I’m not playing the game by the established rules. I’ve introduced other variables that confound the entire situation. I’m reading the essay like it were a short story. I’m fixating on what would be incidental details to other readers (make it a seamstress completing a dress if the order is given by the customer, or a Captain telling his divers to go searching the wreck they’re excavating that day, and the analogy still holds (headline: “Sunken Treasure Found Off Coast”)). It seems like I’m being an asshole or a pedant, but I’m focusing on what’s interesting and revealing about the paper to me, rather than the somewhat banal parts that can be summed up quickly (it is obvious that we have free will, just not absolutely (“I cannot determine what sort of pitch will be thrown, but I can attempt to hit it to the best of my ability, and even then, cannot determine what the players on the field will do as I run to first”) and the rest is just semantics).
Or is it?
We’ve got a paper loaded with violent imagery that sees the reader cast down from commander to paper reader, all as essentially a joke designed to get other philosophers to disprove fatalism. It intentionally associates the fatalistic viewpoint with militaristic order and control, and then depersonalization and passivity. Why those examples? Why that style of situation?
And I’m just doing this from memory, not even putting in the effort that is usually done by my colleagues.
But why should that scare or annoy you? What are you afraid we might find in your work? Why are you in such a hurry to move on?
What’s worse is that when you try to read anything they’ve done, they don’t even seem particularly interested in deconstruction. Derrida considered it a minor part of his portfolio, and often wondered why it became as big as it did. It was merely one tool in the box — like calling a general contractor a “hammerer” or a “nail gunner”. So after you bust you ass trying to figure out what, exactly, they’re doing and why, it turns out that the method isn’t really even of primary importance to them. They don’t even want to discuss it. It’s trite, passe, something settled long ago, something they’ve heard all before.
Which is what, I suspect, makes it so infuriating — we will seem to argue to the death about nothing at all, only to tell you that we don’t care very much about the argument in the end, while you’ve been pulling out the stops and convincing yourself that that this is a very important point that you must get across, when in truth we’re almost certainly speaking about two different topics entirely, and no one has bothered to slow down and say so.