Extra Lives 01/16/21

I started reading Tom Bissell’s Extra Lives last night. It’s a compelling read, and I blasted through the Fallout 3 and Resident Evil chapters, forcing my eyes to stay open. Bissell’s style can occasionally be a bit up its own ass, but it feels nice to read a writer somehow…unpretentiously up his own ass?

What it’s about: Tom’s addiction to video games. More than that, it attempts to address what it is about video games that is unique from a storytelling perspective. Here’s the article from The Guardian (now ten years old) about GTA IV and cocaine addiction that got me interested in the book in the first place.

Bissell asks some compelling questions about Fallout: why, in a world that is so painstakingly rendered, is the dialogue so stilted, so corny? He wouldn’t make exceptions for this if he was watching a film. Is the interactive element of the game so compelling that we are willing to forgive? He brings up a similar point regarding Resident Evil, the original game for the Playstation. The opening cutscene…we all remember how silly that was.

I have a thought about this that I’d like to flesh out at a later time, but it deals with David Lynch’s hyperreal dialogue and video game narrative clunkiness. My thought is that, whether the developers realize it or not, it’s not a bug, but a feature. A part of that “vivid and sustained dream” I’ve been going on about.

Until then, I’ll leave you with a quote from the Fallout chapter that I loved:

“Storytelling…does not belong to film any more than it belongs to the novel. Film, novels, and video games are separate economies in which storytelling is the currency.”

See you tomorrow!

Placing Focus 01/15/21

Actually, fuck it. I will keep going. Thanks to Jay for this incredible link, which helped me organize exactly what I’m trying to do here.

And besides, I woke up feeling like I needed to blog about something.

As some of you may know, I got off of Twitter about a month and a half ago. December 4, 2020 to be exact. Since then I have dipped back in for weekly peeks. The way it works, is I google four or five names that I find interesting (usually right-wing people) and go through their tweets. The whole process takes about a half hour or so.

I can already feel some of your hackles raising up. Why do you only go to Twitter to look at right-wing points of view?

Well, because I get the left side of things from my daily life. My wife tells me about what’s going on during the car rides home from work. When I go to pick up my lunch gyro, the old woman behind the counter has lib news on, going full blast. All my friends are libs, pretty much. I see it. I get that side.

I also find it more interesting to engage with the side that is clearly losing. They lost the presidency, they lost the support of corporations, they are losing the culture war. There’s something to be gained by attempting to understand how the losers frame their loss.

It goes, so broadly it might be worthless, like this: the government is attempting to gain full control over the rest of the population. They want you dependent on them, atomized from your family, eating processed food, your will completely sapped by nonstop Netflix and Xbox. “The government,” in this case, should be understood as lib politicians, woke corporations (read: all of them), and social media platforms. They are doing this by stifling any dissent, and labeling people “white supremacists” when they question the current dominant narrative.

The issue, of course, is that there is plenty of white supremacist thought sprinkled throughout this right-wing discourse. You find it here and there in these profiles, the mask slipping every once in a while, the anti-Semitism rearing its head. In some accounts it’s more blatant: you have spinning Sonnenrads over pictures of idyllic Hyperborean homes, you have Hitler speeches set to hardcore techno, you have anime avatars posting the n-word over and over and over.

Accounts that are largely not problematic sure do seem to follow plenty of accounts that are. Is this implicit approval of the Nazi content on those pages? Frankly, I don’t have it in me: I can’t say one way or the other. It brings me back to the Twitter purges I’d see back in the horror days of doomscrolling: friends telling friends to dump friends because those problematic friends liked a tweet from someone who once had a problematic guest on their podcast, etc. The bloodline of the movement, ironically enough, must be pure.

Back to the losers, though: like I said, they’ve lost the election(s), they’ve lost the propaganda war, they’ve lost the culture war. They lost, and in the coming years, they’re only going to lose harder. If you think about it, they’ve kind of been losing for quite some time now.

Now that we’re largely just mopping up this thing, here is where I’d like to see the next culture war go: I’d like to see a laser-like focus on wealth inequality, health care for all, the end of ICE, and greater protections for immigrants. I’d like to see politicians held to account for their actions. The squabbling that we recently saw on both sides of the aisle over whether or not people whose income was destroyed through no fault of their own deserved checks is a perfect example. Everyone involved in that stalemate needs to be held to account. Doesn’t matter if they’re your fave or not.

I’d like to see less celebrity and pundit worship. I’d like to see less dogmatism when it comes to the progressive narrative. These are largely cosmetic. They are a waste of time.

But more importantly (and most difficultly) I’d like to see a little mercy for the losers. Specifically the ones without any real power. I’m not talking the Republican fucks who’d tell you to rot if you can’t pay for your health insurance. I’m talking about the real losers here, the ones who lost not just culturally, but materially. They are a community that has been just as fucked by the system as most poor progressives that I know. Their families have been torn apart by outsourced jobs and opioid addiction. They are killing themselves at an exponential rate every year. They can be mean-spirited, bigoted people, but unless you personally are willing to pull the trigger, I don’t think that they deserve to die.

Conversely, I don’t think they have the right to kill us, so stay safe out there. The truly psychotic wing of this party is going to be highly volatile in the coming months. Just keep in mind they’re a minority of a side that already lost, and please stay safe.

What do we do? I heard about a popular podcast second-hand. They were talking about the storming of the Capitol, and the host felt let down. “I wanted to see bodies in the streets,” he says. He wanted to see them dead.

Once we win, how do we choose to wield our power? Now that our “enemies” have their faces in the mud, do we keep pressing the boot down? Do we exterminate them like cockroaches? What about their families? Should we round them up? Put them in camps? How far are you willing to go to really make sure that every last trace of racist or bigoted behavior is wiped off the face of the earth? I know what some of you might say, and it creeps me out.

This might seem hyperbolic. I often see thoughts like this dismissed on Twitter, in a very 280-character type of way. These tweets do numbers. It’s a thing. But really, think about it: if you were dictator of the world, what would you do? Because there actually are dictators of the world. And they’re listening to what you think. You’re the winner, you have the buying power, you have the numbers. They’ll listen.

Do we really start to do some soul-searching about how our narrative celebrates corporate power, about how our politicians continue to dangle health-care in front of our faces like a carrot, about how our consumption of tech is complicit in actual children dying in African cobalt mines? We won. We have the power. Do we start looking inward? Or do we wake up every day and get online to hunt a new Nazi, or maybe not a Nazi per se, but definitely someone who said something foul. We can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Life is too short. Where do we put our energy?

What’s it gonna be?

Different Schedule 01/14/21

All right, so I have blogged every day for the past forty-five days or so, and I think I am now going to shift to blogging every two to four days. I’ll still be writing these blogs, but I’m going to spend a bit more time on the content. I’m worrying that a lot of this, while great writing practice, isn’t getting to the meat of the issues that I’m interested in communicating. That requires a bit of depth.

Also, hearing from me every day has got to get a little annoying, right?

Back soon with actual quality content.

New Podcast 01/13/21

The wonderful and talented Lucas Mangum invited myself and Kelby Losack to appear on his new podcast, White Trash Occult. We’ve already recorded a second episode, so this may become a regular thing. I get to hang out with my buddies for an hour, dissect a music video for its occult symbolism, and joke around. It’s a lot of fun. And I don’t have to do a bunch of work in order to participate for once, which is always nice.

On the first episode, we get into Jay-Z’s video for “On to the Next One,” possibly when Jay was at the height of his Illuminati romance.

Check it out, and make sure to subscribe to Lucas’s channel!

Vivid and Sustained Dream 01/12/21

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jordan Harper’s newsletter, which you should all subscribe to.

Jordan is the author of She Rides Shotgun, a fast-paced crime thriller that won the Edgar. It’s about a father/daughter bank robbing duo on the run from some nasty people. It’s pulp, it’s fun. Jordan’s an Ellroy disciple, so you know the prose is tight and mean.

The newsletter is packed full of excellent, actionable advice for getting things down on paper today. I particularly like the bits about writing it down first, then worrying about making it good, and having beginner’s mind.

But a few things really stand out to me.

The first is this, which you can find on Jordan’s “spirit board” for his new novel: “IT’S A DREAM. IT’S A WORLD BIGGER AND BRIGHTER AND PULPIER THAN OURS.”

The idea of a “vivid and sustained dream” is the piece of the puzzle I’ve been looking for. I’ve been trying to put my finger on what’s been missing from my own books. Every time I sit down to write them, I feel like I lose steam. The problem is, of course, that I’m breaking the dream. I’m worrying too much about the characters, the plotting, etc. What I need to focus on is keeping the dream alive.

Love it or hate it, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Too Old to Die Young is a vivid and sustained dream. Remember, Jordan never said anything about other people necessarily having to be interested in your dream, or to stay aboard for the whole ride if it gets boring (I loved the show, by the way).

Another example is a game I picked up at the Gamestop only 7 years after it was released: Grand Theft Auto V.

I bought Red Dead Redemption II at the same time, and while that is a beautiful and immersive experience…

…I keep coming back to GTA. It’s pulpy, it’s nasty, it’s colorful. It moves quickly, there are fewer consequences for your actions, and there are these great, subtle flourishes on the radio or in the dialogue that add just the right level of immersion to the whole experience. It is, I think, one of the best art experiences I’ve had in a hot minute.

From a video game! Who’d have thought?

It is a vivid and sustained dream, and it never lets up. When you’re in its world, it is attempting to entertain you at every turn.

There’s something to take from that, I think.

Is it possible that modern novels are a bit…boring?

Much to think about.

Panopticon 01/11/21

A friend of mine has a saying that could not be more relevant for what we’re currently living through:

“You have to kill the cop in your heart.”

Now look at these screenshots from Reddit. Snitch alert!

This kind of thing creeps me out. I know that there are lots of comparisons flying around about “censorship” and what have you, but this is probably the closest I have seen to the Soviet whisper networks of the Stalin era. Neighbors turning in neighbors (they were having a party!), family members informing on other family members (they went to the Capitol!), etc. etc. You read this history, which is not even a hundred years old, and you think in your naievity that it could never happen here, in your life.

And then you realize that people are people. They will turn you in. They will let you die in jail. The scariest part is they’ll sleep like a baby at night.

We keep doubling down on this shit. No one is willing to give an inch. Here’s something to think about:

We live in a surveillance state. We’re never getting rid of that. We live in a police state. We’re probably never getting rid of that.

This is the final piece of the puzzle. The panopticon. Once we start sending our neighbors and friends and family to jail for thinking differently than us, it’s all over.

It is probably already all over.

It will be fun to watch.

Back to Games 01/10/21

So yesterday I finally got back into gaming. I’ve been playing Switch for a year or so now, on and off. Mostly Dark Souls and Super Meat Boy.

Years ago, my brother in law gave me an Xbox One. I never turned it on for whatever reason. Yesterday I had a hankering to play Red Dead Redemption II. I was about to buy a PS4, when I remembered that I had the Xbox. So I went and bought the game.

So, since I didn’t turn it on for seven years, there were hours of updates to put on the system before I could play. Then, RDR2 started loading. It takes about an hour and a half. I bought it used, so the second disc didn’t work. Then I installed Grand Theft Auto V.

Holy shit. What a game this is. I love how cartoonish and violent it is. I’d played part 4 about ten years ago. I had forgotten how irreverent and ugly the series was. I had so much fun driving around this city, getting into trouble.

I’ll have more thoughts on that later.

Oh, and by the way. I forgot to save my file. Had to start over today.

Conspiracy 01/09/21

Yarvin has been playing a blinder of late. Although I think, drunk on the absurdity of this moment (and more than likely a little scotch), he becomes somewhat incoherent around his second 4,000 word blog post. Still, if you’re following me and not reading these Yarvin pieces, I’d recommend doing so. He doesn’t have all the answers, but I think he has a brilliant insight into several missing pieces.

I was talking to my pal Jordan Harper last night about conspiracy theories. He recommended this podcast, and this book about the JFK assassination. Jordan is a smart guy, and much more levelheaded than I am. To my mind, when it comes to the JFK assassination, I don’t actually care what you believe exactly happened. I have a simple question: do you think Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone? Or do you think something funny was going on?

If you answer the former, and you’ve actually seen the evidence (as in the actual documents declassified by the CIA), then you officially have to go through more hoops to assert that there was nothing going on than the conspiracy theorists has to go through to prove the opposite. Occam’s Razor doesn’t mean nothing happened.

Talking to another friend, back when Epstein got killed, this friend is a total hater of conspiracy. He just hates ’em. To his mind, everything can be chalked up to human incompetence. Epstein did hang himself, and yes, the camera did go out at just the right moment so that the on-duty guards couldn’t see anything, etc. It really just happened that way.

That seems…unlikely to me, but who cares? Let’s talk about how these positions can be important to developing a worldview. My issue for the past year or so is that I attributed to malice what could have been attributed to ineptitude. The Great Coup of 2021 definitely helped in that regard, seeing absolute fumbling idiots get to the “final level” of protests and just…stopping. HOWEVER, what I would put to those like my friend who hates conspiracy, that doesn’t mean that evil machinations are never coordinated by large governmental organizations.

What I mean is, don’t forget that when it comes to power, sex, and money, people can be nasty motherfuckers. And don’t even get me started on the CIA.

Look, being “realistic” does NOT mean simply going with the most boring possible answer you can think of. Sometimes people conspire, sometimes life is exciting, and sometime people taze their balls to death.

Anyone know if that one’s true? Seems like a conspiracy to me.

Crows 01/08/20

I bought a Roomba knockoff on Amazon. My dad had given me a $50 gift card, and there was a $70 coupon for it. Came out to a little over $100. What a steal!

I sat on my couch and watched the robot clean for about ten minutes, fascinated. Sweeping the floor is a thing of the past! Then I got bored and came in here to write this blog.

I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to write about, today. I have several thoughts floating around in my head about community building and Justin Murphy’s idea of Reality Forking, but I haven’t thought about it enough to give a good comment on it. It’s fascinating, though, and feels true.

On the subject of things that feel true, Curtis Yarvin once again knocks it out of the park with his latest essay on the Capitol Takeover. I like the blog I wrote yesterday, and I’m happy to see that I’m on a similar wavelength to this guy, although his blog is much longer, smarter, and more dense with historical allegories than mine is. It’s very much worth your time.

I’ve been thinking more about this thing today, so much so that I forgot to devote any of my brainspace to Kanye and Kim getting a divorce. A casualty of the news cycle, I suppose. Anyhow, it occurs to me that if these buffalo-skin-wearing white supremacists and an organization like BLM (or a better, non-corporatized version of it) got together to take on the system, there might actually be something that comes of it.

But what we have here is a Wildling vs. Crow situation. That’s right, I’m going to talk about modern events with a Game of Thrones analogy. I might just be a writer after all.

At the end of the fifth season of GoT (I think), Jon Snow, the main character, is trying to convince his merry band of rapists and murderers to band together with the less-merry group of rapists and murderers “beyond the wall.” These people are wild, and the “Crows” as they’re called are “civilized,” and the two groups have spent centuries slaughtering each other. They hate the Other deeply, and quite frankly don’t give a shit that there is a horde of zombie ice people on their way to destroy humanity. When Jon Snow suggests that the two factions team up, his own people conspire to kill him. Which they do. They stab the dude right through the heart.

There’s a metaphor here that is so on the nose I won’t even elaborate on it. But the point is as such: so long as one side wants to be racist, and the other side wants to keep people from being racist, they’ll never be able to link up and present a real threat to the ruling class, on behalf of their shared interests. Seems like kind of an impossible problem.

And also a very human one. Nobody likes this suggestion. I mean, look at the proof: a fictional character was murdered for it! But it’s one of those harsh “reality” things that sucks, but is still true.

This isn’t even a “both sides” argument. I have a feeling that one side is better than the other (but which side??? I’ll never tell!), but then again one side is naturally, logically, always going to be better, or more virtuous than the other. It’s the rule of having two things: one is going to be better than the other.

Still…something to think about. As long as you want to use the apparatus of the state to crush your enemy, you’ll never have the numbers to crush the state. And they’ll continue to pretend they care about you with empty press releases and slick ad campaigns, all the while refusing to bail you out of the economic misery they caused, all while facilitating the largest upward transfer of wealth in human history. It’s true, look it up.

It’s kind of an “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” thing. Easy for me to say. I edit books in a small house in a small liberal town in otherwise red Oklahoma.

What can you do?

Freedom 01/07/20

Coming to you live from the Capitol! Just kidding.

This is breaking news as I’m writing this, but a bunch of Trump supporters stormed the gates of the capital, overcoming what has to be the weakest the security force you could imagine for a literal place where laws are made. That’s America for you: everything is expensive, and nothing works.

Within the hour I’d received a text from my Trump-loving dad, who linked to an article PROVING beyond a SHADOW OF A DOUBT that the Trump forces that made their way into our most hallowed halls of whatever were actually…wait for it…Antifa.

I felt the most overwhelming fart noise rising up from my guts. “Who cares?” I said to myself, staring out the window at the gentle January rain. “Who…fuckin’…cares?”

What difference does it make if Antifa infiltrated the Stop the Steal gang? I mean, the CIA definitely did, but that’s because that’s what they do. There are moles everywhere! But seriously, what difference does this make in the narrative?

What difference does it make to be correct about something, let alone correct about it first?

The takes rolled in hot and heavy. I don’t have Twitter anymore, but my friends sure do, and as if they can sense that there is a being in their midst who isn’t consumed with 24/7 rage, they send me screenshots. I can’t stop them. It’s fine.

On the one hand, you have folks mad that the media isn’t calling these people white supremacists. I have no idea if they are or not, but really, I ask again: what difference does it make? Everybody who thinks they’re white supremacists believes before they even saw the tweet, and everyone who doesn’t, well, doesn’t. The needle is moved not even a little. When it comes time to switch out the President for an even older, more-broken-down model, the switch will happen no matter whether Trump pees his pants and stomps his feet or not. Although that would be funny.

On the other hand, you have people who really want to “Stop the Steal,” which is hilarious. You live paycheck to paycheck, you have no health care, the rich put their money to work making more of it while you sell your dialysis machine on Facebook Marketplace…bro, the “steal” has been going on for as long as I’ve been alive.

I saw a meme going around of Bane in the Batman movie. He’s holding Ben Rothelsberger’s head in his hands, and in big impact font, it says DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE IN CHARGE? There’s a misspelling in there somewhere, but who am I to point that out? I don’t even remember the actor’s name. He was good in The Place Beyond the Pines, though. Anyway, the Bane thing is, in my estimation, the one good thing that comes out of all of this. If people want to storm the Capitol, they should do that. At least they’re not succumbing to what Kierkegaard (I think) called “the dizzyness of freedom.”

Going full Bane-mode means accepting consequences (maybe). A lot of these people will go to jail, presumably for a long time. However, they jumped off that cliff. That’s something that all Americans, myself included, find themselves too scared to do: to truly make a free decision.

In this case, I guess I’m using “free” as a synonym for “something that will fuck you up, but that you believe in enough to do.” Technically they didn’t get to the point they’re at any more freely than I did when my latest Amazon package showed up. The Roomba is nice, btw.

The American refrain is that “things are fucked up and the government should do something about it,” as though the government has actually ever really done anything about anything that matters since the Civil Rights era. Maybe gay marriage? That one was good, although if you ask some gay people, it sucks. People’s mileage varies on everything.

I remember when the shutdowns first started, and I felt worried that people would lose their jobs, kill themselves, not get important treatments for “non-essential” things like cancer, starve, or get addicted to opioids. The left, which is more compassionate than you and don’t you ever question that or they will fucking kill you, essentially said “well, the government should make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Do you guys…know how the American government works? It’s a rock and a hard place, sure, but don’t pass the buck! Make your decisions boldly. Submit to the dizzyness of freedom, the scariness of making a choice that has a downside. They all do.