A Bit of the This and That

Because back before Twitter, we had The Flotsam.

Criticism!

ITEM: The internet is a strange place in the sense that yesteryear’s essential visiting becomes today’s forgotten diversion [Homestar Runner, anyone?].  One of those places I used to visit weekly was Zero Punctuation over at Escapist Magazine.  So called because he talked really fast, get it? Somewhere around his GTA4 review I realized I hadn’t heard Yahtzee ever admit that he liked a game, at least not one released in the current generation of consoles [Silent Hill 2 is the only game his opinion has never wavered on].  And I decided that I really didn’t need to spend six minutes every Wednesday listening to yet another angry blogger on the web.

Almost a year later, nary has changed.  He’s still hating away on everything he gets his hands on [well, everything that makes it past Australian customs, anyway]. Even an almost glowing review of Mass Effect 2 had to be pissed on for what he saw as deficiencies in the gameplay. Despite having a well written and plotted story, he doesn’t even give that much of a plus because that’s just what Bioware does, they write good games.  So the absence of a good story makes him shit all over Bayonetta and Borderlands, but the presence of one doesn’t win ME2 any points because he expected it in the first place.  Wow.

This is all symptomatic of a problem I’ve been developing with the idea of fandom in general, and a personality trait I’ve been trying to stamp out of myself for the last few months.  Fandom in all its forms from the sports to comics to gaming combined with the internet to form a giant mech of whingeing, a veritable cottage industry of complaining.  Essentially, you end up with a million sites filled with people who spend 30 hours a week doing nothing but complaining about the thing that they’re supposed to love most.  And I’m no longer able to understand the point. Some would say they’re trying to encourage quality, to draw attention to the things they find deficient in that which they love, but the problem there is that no one’s listening.  All these bloggers and video makers are screaming at a bunch of content consumers who probably already share their opinions on whatever it is they’re bitching about, so you get this Moebius loop of directionless rage going nowhere in particular.  And it contributes nothing. Zero.  Let’s not forget that the angriest of these folks probably went out and bought the product they’re so viciously complaining about, so why would any of the creators give a shit? Complain all you like, they got their money.

This isn’t a call for sunshine and lollipops all the time, to find quality that isn’t there in inferior products. I used to love bitching and complaining about comic books as much as anyone, sometimes I still do. But anymore, I find I’d prefer to ignore the garbage, instead of wallowing in it because it makes me feel smart and superior.  I didn’t need to watch a single frame of Jersey Shore to know it was something I could live without, I don’t need to read or make blogs validating that opinion. I knew from the demo that Bayonetta would give me a neural disorder, I don’t need to listen to Yahtzee yell about it for five minutes as he tries to beat his personal best ‘dick joke/minute’ record.

ITEM: The Guardian has been approaching authors recently, asking them to contribute ten rules to the aspirants among us. The original article appears to have become an ongoing series on the Guardian website, which was promptly added to my Google reader [hail Google, lord and master]. Some fine highlights:

  • You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine. [Margaret Atwood]
  • Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg “horse”, “ran”, “said”. [Roddy Doyle]
  • Only bad writers think that their work is really good. [Anne Enright]
  • Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer’s a good idea. Don’t have children. [Richard Ford]
  • The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can’t deal with this you needn’t apply. [Will Self]
  • Stop feeling sorry for yourself. [Colm Toibin]

ITEM: Join me in adding Galleycat’s collection of the finest 140-character book criticism on Twitter to your feeds.

ITEM: I’ve been a strong proponent of remix culture for a number of years, and generally side on the Doctorownian side of things when it comes to matters of copyright and fair use.  Yet I knew I would be confused and conflicted when this inevitability came to pass: Helene Hegemann, the 17-year-old author of the award winning novel ‘Axolotl Roadkill’, has been accused of lifting entire pages of the book from a lesser known novel.  Not notable, people get caught out there for plagiarism all the time.  What is notable is Hegemann’s defiant attitude in the face of these criticisms, claiming the lifted passages were a form literary mixing: ““There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,” said Hegemann in a statement.

I acknowledge a certain hypocrisy by being chaffed over Hegemann’s attitude, but I do think there’s a difference between this situation and others that I’ve celebrated  in the past.  When you listen to any of Girl Talk’s albums, which are completely illegal in a copyright sense, you know as a listener where the parts used to create the new whole came from. Oh, there’s the drum break from ‘In the Air Tonight’ followed by Busta Rhymes rapping over the intro to ‘Every Little Thing She Does is Magic’ by The Police.  But when an author like Hegemann CTRL-X/V’s whole passages of a book without any indication that they came from somewhere else, that’s shady.

Now, I still think Hegemann or anyone else shouldn’t be prohibited by some outdated and misguided law from taking other source materials to make something new and exciting [the whole point of the epigraph, a tradition dating back to the 1700s if not longer is to use the thoughts of others to advance your thematic agenda] I just want those that do it to do so with a little more reverence.  The best remixes are the ones done in part to pay respect to the source material.  Hegemann’s unattributed usage comes off as little more than midnight thievery and laziness [this from somone who hasn’t read the book, mind you, and likely won’t now] both of which are not traits worth celebrating.  Chalk this one up to the impetuousness of youth.

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