29 November 2013

Don't Beg For Laughs

This is in response to recent events involving a DeviantART user named "CustomSaga" referring to a character-based interview journal on a roleplaying group as, "The sort of thing autistic people come up with." After being banned from the group for his remark, he proceeded to whine on his own journal about the issue, as well as a few other vaguely-substantiated straw men about the goings-on in the group. I called him out on his choice of words, and he proceeded to defend his right to say whatever he wanted and use whatever terminology he wanted as a point of criticism with no reproach whatsoever. He basically felt that his skepticism of the group's project was so compelling in and of itself, he could phrase it in a totally immature, insensitive, and inarticulate manner and it would not paint him as anything less than a civil critic inviting a mature discussion.  
During the torrent of backpedaling and "context mongering," if that's a term, the word "joke" came up toward the tail end of the discussion, used in such a manner as to imply he may well have had no sense of humor or any understanding of how telling jokes is supposed to work. 

The late George Carlin once said, "Even rape can be funny." and, in principle, I agree with that sentiment completely. If my saying that is making your blood boil or getting your head all-a-shakin' over it, I understand completely and don't blame you for it. However, I'd like you to read that sentence again, emphasizing the words "CAN" and "PRINCIPLE." As an artist, I believe that boundaries and rules are made to be pushed, bent, and even broken. This applies to comedy as well. It's not uncommon to see one comedian met with a standing ovation for the same reason another may get booed off stage for telling a similar joke. I've seen one comedian build an entire routine about the sorts of tactics terrorists should be using instead of bombings and hijackings, the audience eating out of his hand the entire time, while another cannot even get past his opening line of, "You know what I love about terrorists?" without the entire house calling for blood. 

Why one routine got cheers while another got jeers can generally be chalked up to luck and timing. Some crowds are a little more forgiving of having their buttons pushed than others, some subjects are best left to simmer a bit before the roasting can begin, and what separates a good comedian from a bad one is how they handle being dealt that bad hand. Stand-Up Comedy was once described by the late Mitch Hedburg as, "the noble profession of convincing a roomful of strangers that you're funny." going on to mention that you can't please everyone all the time. The fact is, barring any open mic night at a local gig, by the time you see a comedian perform on stage, they've gone through their routine dozens, if not hundreds or even thousands, of times before to a variety of crowds in a plethora of venues. During this time, jokes are either refined or dropped altogether. 

Sometimes, you tell a joke, and it doesn't go over well. Either people don't get it, or worse, they don't think it's funny. At this point, any good comedian knows that quite possibly the worst course of action to take is to defend the joke and insist on its brilliance and edginess. Sure, sometimes a quick quip or well-worded jab can bring an audience back from the edge of the Great Booing Chasm, but the general rule of thumb is that if the audience doesn't laugh the first time, it's because you didn't tell the joke right. As such, explaining it, defending it, and insisting on its merits will never win back that lost first laugh. Not only do those people get booed off stage, but their future in the profession is non-existent. 

There was a post on Facebook some time ago that illustrates this perfectly. It was a panel from a comic wherein iconic supersonic crime-fighter The Flash exposits the extent of his exceptional acceleration by describing occurrences that can only be observed in the space of an attosecond. The rest of the post explained exactly what an attosecond is. Informal definition: there are more attoseconds in the time it takes to say the word "attosecond" than there are grains of sand on all the earth's beaches. One of the comments to this post was, "Dude could rape a b---- and she wouldn't even know it!" 

As you might imagine, quite a few people were offended by this remark. I wasn't offended by it personally, per se, but that's not to knock everyone else who called him out on what he said as sexist and insensitive. They'd every right to be offended, though it seemed more people simply didn't find the joke funny. I thought, "Dude went for the low-hanging fruit. Whatever. Swing and a miss." and that could have been the end of it. Some people got mad, some people didn't laugh, a few clever folks satirically pointed out the logistics of such an event occurring (friction, combustion, and all that), and the joke was generally received as being in poor taste. 

Except that wasn't the end of it, because the idiot who laid that egg felt he was entitled to a laugh, and damned if he wasn't going to leave the discussion without changing at least one mind that his joke was the funniest thing in existence. The point is, him apologizing for the joke may have been unnecessary (courteous, but unnecessary), yet defending it and insisting himself beyond criticism for it puts him well beyond what even the sincerest apology would make amends for. I shouldn't have to explain the limitations of freedom of speech any more than I should have to explain how unrealistic and downright naive it is to insist every joke told receive the same equally positive reaction. 

You bombed. 
Move on. 

28 November 2013

For Sale: Bumper Pool Table, Overused

The title is a joke, partly-based on the purported Hemingway story, and also a nod to my friend Oogle's most recent DeviantART journal being posted in haste to bump a larger journal off her front page. 
While working on a larger, triptych form of When They Fold Space, as well as a version after that which will be a somewhat even longer form, I was looking up Twitter novels. I'd stumbled upon them a long time ago while looking up an author I'd almost forgotten about whom I'd first heard of thanks to a paperback hand-me-down. 
Clare Bell had written a book called Tomorrow's Sphinx, a very interesting book about a cheetah with weird markings that, sadly, I never got around to delving into past the first half-chapter. Eventually, the book was lost in one of several moves, possibly sold off in an oversight, and forgotten. Many years later, I'm looking through Pokemon fan art while compiling a Top 5 list for my Tumblr, and happen upon Umbreon, which has a notably Egyptian styling in terms of color and markings. It made me think of that book. It led me to wonder just what happened to Mrs. Bell. I'd never seen her name elsewhere apart from that one book; it made me wonder if she was a one-hit wonder. 
For starters and to her credit, she's not a one-hit wonder; there's a whole series of books apparently more well-known and much-loved by her fans than Tomorrow's Sphinx. While it's true her activity in literary fields has dwindled a bit, it's not for the sake of resting on laurels. Not only is she building electric cars, but whole solar and hydroelectric systems for green living, and she's been doing that since before the term "green" was in vogue. More interestingly, she embraced Twitter as a way to connect with her amazingly patient fanbase by giving them a new installment in the Ratha series via tweets
Some of you may be laughing at that idea, especially if you've spent any real time on Twitter (and I love the service, flaws and all). It's true, the 140 character-at-a-time structure can be a little hard to work with. It probably reminds some of you of old videogames, where a sentence leaves you hanging only to reveal there was only one word left, with a long and awkward pause before it. It's really something you paradoxically have to plan meticulously in advance for yet be extremely malleable about. It seems like something poets would be better equipped to approach, except that poetry is all about syllables, and 140 characters doesn't give nearly as much leeway in establishing rhythm and flow as you might think. Despite a fair amount of good tips out there on how to approach it, as well as a few good examples of making it work, this may be a medium not suitable for the English language. It makes me think of Tommy Tiernan's remark about how the English language doesn't suit his soul, like it's this giant wall between him and his audience, with profanity as his chisel. 

The people who seem to get the most out of Twitter as a new form of modern literature, on the whole, are the Japanese. I remember hearing a story on NPR about people in Japan tweeting reactions and thoughts to the recent earthquake. At one point, the interviewer interrupted the recitation to confirm it was actually a tweet, not only because of how eloquent it was, but how long it seemed. The reader retorted, rather cleverly, that while 140 characters can be fairly limiting for English or Spanish or French, it's no problem for a language like Japanese where most words and even some phrases can be expressed in a single character, a Kanji. 

It's also worth noting that many Kanji, being borrowed from Chinese, have double-meanings. 

Think about it. 

22 November 2013

Dig UP, Stupid!

Roleplaying group on DeviantART starts a character-based interview journal project wherein featured characters can receive random questions from other users, which are then answered in character. 
This "person" comes along, comments on the first of these interview journals (not the one announcing the project) and calls it, "the sort of thing autistic people come up with." He is immediately banned from the group for what I would hope are obvious reasons and after an attempt to play the "free speech card" despite quite obviously not understanding that the right to speak doesn't guarantee you the right to be respected for your belief. 
He then writes a journal accusing the group of promoting art theft because a work that misappropriated something of his was submitted there (which is like accusing the Post Office of terrorism because those anthrax-envelopes were sent through them). Is it even worth mentioning he never filed an art theft report against the person who took his art because he considers such an act childish? 

UPDATE: The journal in question was later edited, its entire body of text deleted and replaced with "REDACTED." There was also another journal entry (posted after this one) given the same treatment. It's uncertain whether or not that was a "REDACTED" statement from the start or if he attempted digging himself a deeper hole. For the record, redaction is not quite the same as a retraction, and neither of those automatically qualify as apologies. Of course, if he thinks asking an administrator of a website to take action against an offending user is childish and immature, he probably regards apologizing for making ignorant statements and especially defending them as a form of castration. 

17 November 2013

A Little Verklempt... DISCUSS!

This will simply be a quick and off-the-cuff note about a recent change that is getting quite a bit of attention, that being the complete and full overhaul of YouTube's comment system. As someone hardly a blip (no pun intended) on the typical YouTuber's radar, most of my content there barely netting a few hundred views, I can't say I'm drastically affected by this. Also, as someone who rarely leaves comments on videos anyways on account of some rather nasty flame wars that erupt (especially over copyright, a subject near and dear to my heart), the effect from that side of the equation is equally nondescript. Others' reactions, meanwhile, have been anything but lukewarm. 

In short, it's a classic example of something trying to be made more accessible and less constricting for the sake of more detailed and in-depth feedback, only to be abused by a segment of the population who could care less about any of those things. 

I've gone back and forth on how content producers will disable comments on their respective journals and channels. Some time ago, I stopped allowing anonymous comments on my entries, not due to trolls or spam or anything like that, but something surprisingly more annoying: feigned authority. Put simply, if you're going to claim expertise on something, stand by what you say. 

Remember Rob Granito? Neither do I. 

In all seriousness, Granito claimed to have worked as a ghost artist in the comics industry for a number of big names. When a blogger called him out on his lie, by way of being on a first-name basis with the editors at Marvel and DC, none of whom had ever heard of him, a poorly-written comment appeared on the entry from an anonymous user, insisting Granito was "legitomite (sic)." Sure, it's rather hilarious someone would be that delusional, but 

The fact is we could probably go on for hours about all these "gatekeeping" tactics employed when it comes to comments, be it Xark, Atop the Fourth Wall, Go Make Me a Sandwich, or forums on The Spoony Experiment, but one simple fact is constant, regardless of how it may seem otherwise. 
If I see a video on YouTube that I really like and want to talk about it, such as a short film I want to give a scene-by-scene analysis, I could try and fit my remarks into a 500 character comment on YouTube itself, wherein it can be replied to and voted upon by potentially anyone else visiting the video's page, or I can link or embed the video on my Blogger or Tumblr page and avoid the character limit at the expense of making the voting and reply options a tiny bit more obfuscated by comparison. Indeed, this has often been a sort of proposed solution by the likes of Feminist Frequency and Xark for their more civil readers following their respective influxes of trolls and cyber-attacks. Critics have called these moves cop-outs against taking criticism (Want to leave a comment? Jump through this fiery hoop!) or ploys for getting more referral traffic (Want to leave a comment? Be my billboard!). As valid as these criticisms may or may not be, I find it nonetheless funny that so many people take an "Us vs. Them" approach, treating any change in the rules as some sort of unfair handicap. Really, all it's doing is decentralizing the conversation from one in metaphorical earshot of the original post and more public to one on your own personal page with any ensuing discussion being mostly private. To put it another way, you can picket or you can petition. You may have more experience and possibly better luck with one over the other, but the task of making either option work best for you is yours alone. You have only yourself to blame for not being heard or taken seriously. 

In short, no one has taken your right to speak away from you. All that's happening is that you need to exercise those rights a little more responsibly and make the most of what you have. If that feels like defeat or oppression to you, then you probably never took your right to speak all that seriously in the first place, if not had an utterly naive understanding of it. 

10 November 2013

It's a Cereal!

I remember reading the first chapter of this comic in Nintendo Power back in the day. They'd more or less retired Howard & Nester, not to mention by this time I was firmly in Camp SEGA, so Mario & pals were essentially non-factors in my growth as a gamer by then. So, I didn't even know there was so much past that first chapter (thinking that this was simply a teaser for the game, much like a Sonic the Hedgehog comic/ad wedged into an issue of Disney Adventures was), let alone that it would actually be so entertaining and well-made. 

Even if I wasn't really into Nintendo then, I still appreciated the sense of raw, kinetic energy in the comic. I've tried in some of my own work to convey that same sense of, "FEEL THE URGENCY! GRAVITAS! DRAMA!" albeit to little if no avail, though I shall keep trying. 

04 November 2013

Love Stinks

So, I have this friend, this extremely patient, understanding, kind, forgiving, and just downright beautiful friend who made a short text post somewhere (won't say where), and the wording of this post was worded in such a way that the part of my brain that likes to dissect and analyze every single syllable of every single word people say decided to have a little fun and put a little picture in my head. This is that image. 
As far as inside jokes go, this is the equivalent of the doddering old hermit who hasn't left his house in 46 years, as explaining or giving any further context to this joke will likely give this friend (patient, beautiful, all that) resolve to hunt me down, peel my face off with a tin opener, and bury my corpse in a peat bog. In other words, draw your own conclusions.