The Worst Filing System Known To Humans

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Reload the Canons!

This series of articles is an attempt to play through The Canon of videogames: your Metroids, your Marios, your Zeldas, your Pokemons, that kind of thing.

Except I'm not playing the original games. Instead, I'm playing only remakes, remixes, and weird fan projects. This is the canon of games as seen through the eyes of fans, and I'm going to treat fan games as what they are: legitimate works of art in their own right that deserve our analysis and respect.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Five Relics from the Ruins of the Year

So let's be real here for a moment: 2014 was a shitty year. Maybe not for all of us but certainly the zeitgeist on social media seems to be such that a lot of us had a real lousy time of it. There's plenty of reasons why that might be the case, of course. The pervading sense of an inescapable hellmouth born of capitalist excess opening beneath us, for example, might tend to accentuate and emphasize other setbacks in our lives. Debacles such as the psychotic hate campaign "Gamergate" might makes us feel as though the fires of all-consuming reactionary fury will never be quenched. For many of us, the holidays mean a return to homes where our radicalism is unwelcome... and neither, for some of us, are our true selves. The bad news just keeps rolling in, and I don't know that I really know of anyone who's doing stellar as the year hobbles to an end.

But look, the way I see it is we've got to find something to encourage us and one of the best ways we can do that is by reflecting on what few things went right this year. And rather than talking about specific points of policy that were implemented or political victories, I want to talk about intellectual victories--victories in the sense that something new and exciting was created despite the pressures that stifle creativity and the amnesiac social order that keeps us reinventing the wheel year after year or locking ourselves in the same cyclical debates.

In the interests of providing maybe a few small flickers of hope I want to talk today about a few of the most productive, successful, innovative, or exciting discussions that I either participated in or witnessed over the course of this year.

Why talk about ideas? Well, for one thing, I think it's more interesting than just talking about best products of the year--best art, best movies, best music, best games... all of these lists emphasize individual acts of creation, which is fine, but doesn't say a lot about the field of creative production as a whole. Jim Sterling of the Jimquisition did a countdown of the 10 worst games of the year, for example, and the individual games chosen and what order they were in was, to my mind, far less interesting than his discussion of how difficult it was this year to narrow down the list to just ten (another sign of how shitty this year has been by every possible metric, perhaps). This commentary on the state of games as a whole is more interesting than the elevation or degradation of one particular product.

Furthermore, the discussion of individual policy decisions is fine and dandy but doesn't really shed light on the long-term underlying structures by which policy is generated. It's these understructures that I'm more interested in here: how do we construct spaces and discourses that can generate radical change?

Social media is at best a testing bed for radical new discourses that break free from traditions and assumptions to bring forth something new.

What follows is a list of the top four ideas that bounced around on social media this year that most woke me up, got me thinking, got me excited, and, ultimately, got me writing again after my lengthy hiatus this fall.

Happy New Year, everyone. Let's beat the shit out of 2015 until it gives us what we want.

5: The Confessional Nature of "Privilege"

One of the more interesting self-critiques of Tumblr culture this year came from the Tumblr Left's deconstruction of a lot of the discourse on "privilege"--the notion of particular groups having systemic advantages and associated blindness towards those systemic advantages due to patriarchal white supremacist capitalism and its many variations. The way things progressed, from my perspective as an outside observer, folks started noticing the way "privilege" as a concept has turned into a politics of personal confession rather than a radical politics of systemic analysis.

Why is the post I linked to above calling this specifically a neoliberal phenomenon? Well, because neoliberalism emphasizes the individual, and that's kind of where "privilege" as a concept has ended up. Even if you don't agree that the Patriarchy or White Supremacy are anti-capitalist concepts (though historically speaking they are certainly closely associated with anti-capitalist politics) it's easy to see how the social media ritual of listing ones privileges and identities acts as a kind of litany for absolution, a way of sanctifying oneself in the eyes of the public by way of affecting a posture of hyperawareness of your own identity and position in society. The emphasis is upon you personally as a collection of identities rather than the system itself.

This manifests itself in a call-out culture that labels particular people as problematic, or particular corporate entities as evil, while failing to address the superstructures that have a more sustained and deleterious impact on the oppressed. These leftist critiques of privilege expose the way this superstructure is hidden--or hides itself--in plain sight and avoids serious challenge. By seeing the way this mode of analysis has outlived its usefulness or become distorted, we can perhaps focus more clearly on this hidden superstructure.

What New Stuff Does It Do?

The thing I find interesting and productive with this idea is that it allows us to maybe move past some of the horrifying circular arguments that people have been rehashing for years ABOUT identity politics without totally jettisoning the concept of identity itself or the concept of identity-based structural oppression. The latter options seem like non-starters to me, but it's clear we need to push forward somehow.

I mean, nothing demonstrates how dead in the water the concept of "privilege" is as much as the infighting nascent in the queer community that's reproduced itself in this generation via, among other things, lesbians and bisexuals sniping at each other over who has the greater level of privilege. And while analysis of the co-opting of black spaces by white activists benefits from an analysis of privilege, analysis of things like the school to prison pipeline benefits more from an understanding of the ways institutions strengthen and reproduce themselves while bending discourse to serve their ends. In this sense, the ideas that this critique may lead to are not themselves new, but analysis of "privilege" as an idea colonized by individualist, neoliberal conceptions of justice helps to close off some of the nonproductive arguments we've been having so that we can go back to having more interesting ones.

Where Can We Go With It?

There's some interesting stuff coming out of academia that notes the dead-end nature of identity politics and attempts to forge a new politics that can account for identity, systematic oppression, and difference without sliding into the nonsense of ideologies like "post-feminism." In particular there's a lot of interest, from what I've seen, in destabilizing identities as a way of challenging institutions that depend upon static identities. Some of that might be of use here.

Otherwise, this critique seems like it has potential but is currently kind of nascent, and as I'm not myself a sociologist but a media theorist I'm not totally sure where it might go in the future. I recommend checking out thepeoplesfriend on Tumblr, as he's my vector for most of this information and he seems particularly interested in exploring where we might go with this critique.

4: Decentralized Fiction Networks

"If you don't like it, make something yourself." It's a cliche of media critique online, and a tired one at that, usually levelled at those who object to the lazy monoculture of contemporary popular culture.

Nevertheless, people seem to be taking the message to heart as never before on social media. Over the course of this year I've seen an outpouring of decentralized creativity that fills some of these gaps. What happens usually is this:

  1. Someone will make a post of some sort lamenting the lack of particular story types or character types, or suggesting a new story idea
  2. Other folks will grab onto that idea and spin out original characters that meet the prompt
  3. Still more people will take those characters and begin expanding on their stories and personalities
  4. Before you know it, there's an entire network of semi-canonical interpretations of the original idea that can be read and explored and added to
The attitude seems to be that ideas are meant to be shared and while "queer dragons" doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting greenlit without having all its interesting bits lopped off by some focus group of slack-jawed 20something white bros or their aged-up executive equivalents we can collectively call them forth in a flurry of undirected creative energy.

What New Stuff Does It Do?

This is less an idea than it is a zeitgeist, a sense that concepts and characters can be dropped into the public domain and offered for use to the betterment of all, and that these kernel concepts can be expanded on by anyone with a will to create. Given the way the public domain has been pillaged by intellectual monopolists over the last century, the need for such a seismic shift in the zeitgeist has perhaps never been more pointed.

And it seems surprisingly consistent in its success, once an idea reaches a certain threshold of popularity. My favorite in all of this is the queer reinterpretations of dragons, and in doing research for this article I happened to find this post that I reblogged earlier this year. The post suggests dragons kidnap princesses in order to teach them how to protect themselves... and in order to eventually turn them into dragons. Out of curiosity I swung through the tags to see if anyone had actually answered with a story. Sure enough, someone had. The remarkable regularity of this sort of experience suggests to me that we've hit some sort of critical mass here of creative energy and frustration with the tedium of revising existing properties into something that more fully resembles our collective needs.

Where Can We Go With It?

The core will to create and ideology of revitalizing the public domain is here, I think, but what is lacking is sustainability and ease of communication. There's no particularly good way on Tumblr to find posts that grow and develop in productive ways, for example, and I can't imagine carrying something like this out on Twitter. As such, it's important that we develop archival instincts--instincts about what to preserve, how to preserve it, and how to circulate materials. It's easy to lose track of interesting and promising materials; it's very easy to let even initially exciting projects die off and be forgotten.

As such, the big task with these sorts of projects is going to be finding ways to maintain their distributed or decentralized nature while still ultimately producing larger, more complex, and long-lasting end products. While I think there's lots to be said for finding ways to convert these ideas into publishable products, it's the extension of the decentralized creative zeitgeist into something more robust that has me really excited.

3: Consent Culture Utopia

On August 29th my friend araneamagica made a post that read simply "how is consent culture going to prepare us for situations where we do not realize until later that we are misjudging our own boundaries". Four months and 1400 notes later we haven't come to any definitive conclusions but the ensuing discussion, which fae has tagged "Consent Discussion" and I've tagged "Consent Culture Utopia," is one of the most productive ones I've had all year, as well as one of the most personally vital.

The conversation revolves around ways in which we ignore or misidentify our impressions, fool ourselves into entering sexual situations where we are uncomfortable, follow damaging scripts because we don't have better ones, dramatically misread our partners, communicate poorly, and end up uncomfortable, distraught, or deeply hurt. It is a challenge to consent culture in the sense that consent discourses treat an "enthusiastic yes" as a thing unambiguous to both the receiver of consent and the giver. It also highlights the lack of a nuanced understanding of how we can respond to the fallout from misjudging our own boundaries, of the reasons why we might enthusiastically consent to sex that we aren't actively interested in, of the ways in which we can parse out where our boundaries lie, of the way two people can simultaneously feel powerless or submissive in a situation, of the way different communication styles can come into conflict, and many other related ideas.

Really, when you get right down to it, it highlights how totally barren our discourse on these matters really is, and if the responses to these conversations are anything to go by, it's an absence that many people are feeling.

My approach to the conversation is this: in Consent Culture Utopia, in the world that Consent Culture and Sex Positivity are trying to build, how are these grey areas navigated, negotiated, and if possible prevented from ever becoming a problem in the first place?

What New Stuff Does It Do?

The main progress in the conversation seems to be coming from the injection of ideas from BDSM culture about negotiation, maybes, yellow lights vs red lights, and self knowledge. The most important idea nascent in the discussions might be the notion that there are circumstances where an interaction can't be placed within a binaristic system of victim/victimizer and that people might hurt each other simultaneously, hurt themselves accidentally, or might be hurt by systems and discourses rather than individuals. The throughline here seems to be that this discourse can provide ways of thinking about sex that go beyond the politically important but pretty inarticulate current consent culture/sex positive discourse.

It also provides a critique of sex positivity that sidesteps the bullshit formulations of the Sex Negative and Anti-BDSM crowd, who as far as I can tell are worse than useless in most of these scenarios. Like, it seems obvious to me that the current discourse needs to be critiqued but going full on reactionary doesn't seem to be the way to do it. Rather, I'd like to see more analysis of, for example, the way discourses on being good at sex place the quality of "goodness" in the realm of the physical rather than privileging things such as self-knowledge.

Where Can We Go With It?

Forward, mainly. This is a straightforward case where the direction we're going in is the direction of more talking, more sharing of information and experiences (within the limits obviously of what people are comfortable with), more batting about of new ideas, and more input from diverse theoretical frameworks. This is an important discussion that I think needs to continue, and the only way this idea can grow into a broader useful framework is if we keep working at it.

2: Parafanfiction

While less important, maybe, than some of the other entries on the list, and overlapping somewhat with entry number 5, Parafanfiction, for folks that have been following me on here and on Tumblr, is something that really caught my imagination this year. I wrote an article about it many months ago but just for a quick refresher:

  • Parafiction is art that depends on temporarily hoaxing the audience, then revealing the hoax for a particular effect or political purpose
  • Fanfiction is art created in response to other art, often a new spin on something or a reworking of canon materials for a particular purpose
  • Parafanfiction, then, is fanfiction that depends on its status as a hoax--it's fanfiction that lacks an original source, that responds to something that doesn't actually exist.
In its most interesting form, I think it highlights the absence at its heart, revealing a frustration or a lack that is unfulfilled.

What New Stuff Does It Do?

Parafanfiction does a lot of the same stuff that decentralized creative networks do as far as encouraging people to build in the gaps left by corporate art and pop culture, but it's sort of a weird, creepy, basement dwelling cousin to that entry in that it never actually fully fills in the absence but just sort of circles around it endlessly, accumulating materials like a hermit crab's shell. As Alternate History is to History, Parafanfiction is to Art History, an alternate account of time that generates artifacts and archives but can't ever fully take over the main timeline... unless, like Orbis Tertius, people become so obsessed with the idea that the fictional reality overtakes our own and Earth becomes Tlon at last.

Where Can We Go With It?

I think I covered this fairly well in my original article on the subject but to summarize here briefly, I think we have yet to see Parafanfiction reach the height of its potential as a tool for the critique of media. There's a few artists who've done great work using parafiction to challenge preconceptions on a mass scale but I'd love to see the semi-professionals of my generation take a stab at this.

The most interesting potential might be in fusing parafanfictional methodologies with something like the Magic: Expanded Multiverse, where materials are entered into a canon by review and the project slowly grows beyond its roots. Unlike the Expanded Multiverse, such a project would center not upon an existing piece of art or fiction but would attempt to reconstruct or add to a fiction that never was. Something like that could be the answer to some of the possibilities I raised in Idea 5.

1: Ferguson, Black Lives Matter, and Real-Time Distributed Journalism

Once again, I've already written a bit about Ferguson and the way in which the protests have become the center of a debate about the way in which images are used, and I want to write more in the future about the way it invites a reconsideration of public space, but the thing that has consistently astonished me during the past few months is the way that the traditional sources of reporting and news have proven themselves monumentally incompetent compared with the new journalism methodologies of social media.

Much has been made of the errors social media makes in passing information, but those critiques notably come from corporate media sources who are, themselves, slow to correct their mistakes, belligerent in the face of criticism, irresponsible in their characterization of events, and fundamentally unaccountable to anyone but themselves! The lessons of the last four months are not that social media will whip itself into a frenzy over anything but that corporate media will remain stolid and dumb in the face of horrific crimes and will respond to critique by digging in their heels and refusing to question their methodologies. This is the arrogance of the Educated Journalist class who emerge from college with seemingly all sense of muckraking daring sanded out of them by an idea of ethics that refuses differentiation or nuance in favor of a slack-jawed pandering to moderation in all things.

In contrast, the masses have shown themselves to be better journalists than these professionals, far better at differentiating between fact and fiction, and far more sceptical and incisive than they are ever given credit for by a corporate media system that holds us all in disdain.

What New Stuff Does It Do?

It actually does journalism, for one fucking thing! If we can measure the success of an ideology by its predictive power--a dangerous proposition but one worth at least considering in this case--then the citizen journalists who immediately began picking apart the events in Ferguson are far more successful than the corporate media who sought to sweep the whole thing under the rug. It was not corporate media but activists who exposed, again and again, the abuses, conspiracies, incompetencies, and foul evils of the Ferguson police, the Saint Louis police, and police forces across the nation. The news that Bob McCulloch deliberately introduced to the grand jury witnesses that he knew were lying comes as no shock to anyone who has been following social media's journalism, but it's no wonder that corporate media still finds the revelations shocking: CNN, for example, even in the face of indisputable evidence of odious incompetence still mumbles awkwardly for pages and pages, unable to come to any useful conclusions about anything whatsoever.

Where Can We Go With It?

What the citizen journalists and activists of social media lack is institutional support. If Tumblr can blacklist the entire Ferguson tag and delete posts with impunity, if the government can treat bloggers as something other than journalists protected by the First Amendment (whatever that's worth in an age where an ostensibly liberal president crushes whistleblowers under his heel at seemingly every step), if corporate media can slander these activists without repercussion, and if the information passed around social media can't be screamed to those not tapped into social media, well, this revolution in journalism cannot be sustained.

I'm not sure how exactly one would accomplish these things, though tearing down the decaying institutions of corporate media by whatever means comes to hand seems like a good first start, but this seems like a key revolutionary project of the new year.

Don't Let The Door Hit You On The Way Out

There's a lot to hope for in the new year, as I think this list shows, but there's also a lot to be done. The ideas here are inspiring and exciting because they are new, but their newness does not equal sustainability and only by talking about and working with these ideas continually can they become a useful and productive structure.

In the new year I'm hoping and planning to get back into writing regularly. As you can see, Storming the Ivory Tower has undergone some major changes in its layout, positive changes I hope, and now that I've wrangled the code and site format more into order I'll be returning to posting as well, whenever I can drag myself away from my thesis. (It turns out that writing a whole thesis tends to drain one of the will to spit out 3000-5000 words of pop cultural analysis each week. Whodathunk?) 

I've got exciting ideas, several half written articles, plans for more ways I can screw with the format of the blog and experiment further with what I'm doing here, but who knows what the new year holds. All I can do, in the end, is hope that I can pull it all off. And with you all to help me... I probably will.

Now join me in a rousing chorus to send off the last year:

FUCK 2014!

And good riddance!

Support me on Patreon! Follow for updates, random thoughts, artwork, and news about articles. As always, you can e-mail me at KeeperofManyNames@gmail.comCircle me on Google+ at you liked this piece please share it on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Reddit, Equestria Daily, Xanga, MySpace, or whathaveyou, and leave some thoughts in the comments below.

1 comment:

  1. This list is actually very fascinating, and as you said, in being different from the generic lists of individual creative acts it becomes much more interesting.
    I'm not involved in any decentralized fiction networks besides what I've seen pass by on Tumblr, but I do think that a more effective format for such networks would be a forum structure. A good forum would A) give a specific place for a story to be found, B) could have a tiered or otherwise networked system of organization to connect relating stories and C) would allow for easy addition to a story. On the other hand, doing such a thing would make the network more insular than if it is scrolling through another social media network because people need to specifically seek out the forum rather than finding it on their dash. The only middle ground I could think of for that would be a new posting format on tumblr or some other social media that facilitates such a structure and simultaneously reveals it to millions of others who don't necessarily contribute, or some integrated way of instantly posting the results of a forum to one's tumblr, with links to the website, though that could cause problems. I do think this second idea is more attainable than tumblr adding support for this because tumblr itself has been becoming less than responsive to its users as of late.


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