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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.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The Corniness Is The Point

As celebrities sell out to NFT schemes, mutual hostility with the skeptics boils over. How can we keep our heads as cryptoart now achieves a seemingly impossible level of corniness?

I want to make a point about celebrities, and the NFTs they've gravitated toward, and the astoundingly bad grace with which they've received criticism, but I have to do it in a very specific way so that you and I both can survive it. There's this mechanic in Bloodborne where just being around certain entities makes you "frenzied". As long as you're near them, your frenzy meter goes up. When it reaches the top, your head goes pop. Like, your head literally explodes in a fountain of blood. This is how reading about NFTs has started to make me feel, but with head explosions traded out for me saying shit that gets me banned from Twitter.


A hot sauce company is running a promotion where if you use their app to send them photos of chicken bones they will give you "bonecoin". (Bonecoin, as far as I can tell, is not a "real" cryptocurrency and isn't really pretending to be one, though it's a bit of a stretch to call it a "parody", as you'll see in a second.) Once you've sent bone pics (and no doubt a bunch of user data the company can sell onward) to enter the bone zone, you'll have a chance to win an NFT from the company.

The NFT as far as I can tell is very real, and looks like this:


That was rough!

I struggled for a whole morning to get the basics of this summarized. I finally managed to type it all up by administering a kind of soothing sedative. Namely, every time I felt my frenzy meter fill up, I went and looked at a bunch of drawings and prints by Kathe Kollwitz, hands down one of my absolute favorite artists and a personal inspiration. Here's one, entitled The Young Couple:

It's really helpful to remember what like, actual art looks like, isn't it? Look at the delicacy of the strokes on the young woman's face. Look how it contrasts with the rough expressionism of the wallpaper. How the wrinkles of the pillows one moment seem stunningly naturalistic, the next become an abstract pattern across the bottom of the image.


Eric Andre is most known for his surreal, avant garde late night show on Adult Swim, which frequently features the set being destroyed, inscrutable non-conversations replacing expected interviews, and awkward pauses. This avant garde comedian, apparently inspired to provide us with a perfect dictionary definition example of "Selling Out", enthusiastically promoted the aforementioned hot sauce "edible NFT" on his instagram. Oh, right, the NFTs will come with an "edible" version. It's an "eNFT". Sure. Anyway, people reacted predictably by lambasting him, and he fired back by... doubling down and minting his own NFT. It looks like this:

Wowie zowie.

Ok here's a Kathe Kollwitz self portrait that made me gasp when I saw it:

It's the lighting mainly that gets me, the way the shadowed face is almost a perfectly silhouetted profile but there's these little areas she lets just a bit of the paper show through to suggest light glancing off the eyelid. She can do so much with so little. God damn. Kollwitz's self portraits are always a delight to me because she makes no attempt to aestheticize or conventionally feminize herself. She depicts herself as an aging mother, as a worker, a weathered figure. The style of her work, the textured approach she takes to drawing, emphasises her political alignment with the oppressed classes. But there's also a confidence to her work here. It's textured, but not overworked. A few rough strokes are all she needs to define her pale hair. And I think there is a confidence to her pose as well... but one of the marvelous things about her work is that I can imagine other psychological reactions to the image as parsed through the viewer's own background and perspective.

It's almost redundant at this point to say that the Eric Andre NFT is corny garbage. We can all see it, so why'd he do it? Increasingly I gravitate towards a simple explanation for why all these celebs seem to promote specifically some of the daftest looking cryptoart: The Corniness Is The Point. Take a look at how Andre responded to criticism on his instagram:

This is whiny. It's corny. It's the whining of someone who has won in all meaningful respects but--and this is the critical thing--is mad that we don't all suck him off about it too. It's obviously facile as a response: at least a car takes you from one place to another place, whereas a hot wings NFT burns a bunch of energy so that a hot wings company can pivot to being a speculative asset company. But god it's also just such a tantrum. I'll do Andre one better than disparaging his critics as "14 year olds": this is toddler shit. Eric Andre is forever more to be understood as a bitch baby.

The hell of it is: it doesn't matter what I think, and he knows it. He's laughing all the way to the bank! In fact, the very point and essence of the art is to tell everyone that he knows exactly how little our opinion matters, to rub our faces in it. The corniness is the point.

Man this sucks to be thinking and writing and probably reading about. Check out this really good fan art for the show Revue Starlight:

I love this piece. I love the composition, I love the border, I love the characterization of the various girls, and above all else I love the strobe effect of the character Nana shown in multiple poses. It's kind of hard to explain why without giving away an awful lot about Revue Starlight, but even without getting into the symbolism of Nana in particular being sort of over-abundant within the image, or the expression on her face as she sets the timer on the camera vs the expression she turns to her friends, or the daffodils (a symbol of hope and renewal... and of narcissism?)... what a cool visual! What a great way of conveying motion and expression and character using comic techniques within a compressed area. I really like this on just a technical level and want to play with this technique in my own comics at some point.

From what I've seen, Revue Starlight's fan art scene is pretty exciting. There's a lot of this kind of playing around, a wide diversity of styles... it feels good at least to observe from a distance. Revue Starlight certainly as a franchise has gone out of its way to feed the fan art scene. I don't play the mobile gacha game myself but my friend Taz of Homestuck Explained fame does and he's passed on to me that there's a mindbending array of character costumes in the game. I mean, it makes sense: the whole show is built around auditions within a Takarazuka Revue style all female academy of performance. But my god dressing [redacted] and [redacted] as the Beauty and the Beast? Fantastic choice.

I feel a little bit ambivalent about this. Gacha games are objectively built upon what ultimately are predatory structures... but it's also funding art. Art that is... about a predatory system of magical competition between talented girls. Hmmm... It's a complicated bargain with the devil, making art under capitalism. Why, within that context, do we as artists keep making art? Why do we as viewers of art keep seeking it out? For Revue Starlight, the motivation seems to be to explore a story about a particular set of characters from a number of angles, and the adopting of stage personae in the context of the game and various other media properties affords the audience more perspectives (the fan art does as well).

For Frank's Wild Years Hot Sauce the motivation seems to be "because you hogs will eat it up, you'll love it no matter how shitty it is."

For Eric Andre's "non flushable turd", the motivation seems to be spite: "because you hogs will eat it up, you'll buy it no matter how much or even because of how mad people are at how shitty it is."

This is kind of the understanding that I've arrived at with this sort of awful cod Banksy and Beeplecore artwork. It sucks, everyone knows it sucks, the people selling it sucks, and part of the artistic experience is the fact that it's gonna sell, for $10,000 in the case of Andre's turd, whether you like it or not.

Maybe I've made an error in my analysis, in fact. I thought that the wretched quality of NFT art could be explained by its material conditions. Probably, to a large extent, it still can. But what I missed was the increasing development of a backlash to the backlash, a deep and visceral identification forming on the part of the celebrities and posters and tech weirdos pushing nfts with the awfulness of their art. BD McClay described the past decade memorably as a decade of sore losers, and the wheezing 20s seem to be carrying the spirit forward with gusto. It's not enough that winners should win--decisively, crushingly--because for now at least, until twitter just starts drone striking non-blue-checks, we can periodically remind these winners that they haven't won our hearts. The mean spirited shit-tier crudity of NFT art slots perfectly into psyches that have been driven completely mad by this state of play. As dril, the poet laureate of the internet, put it: "go ahead. keep screaming "Shut The Fuck Up " at me. it only makes my opinions Worse". Now, those opinions are a speculative asset class, and the worse they get the better an investment they become.

Congratulations to all the corny sellout celebrities. You did it. You found a way to take dadaism and finally fully rehabilitate it for capitalism.

I have to wonder, are you like... happy about that? You don't SEEM happy. And hey, look, fair game, I'm not happy either, and I'm exactly what you think I am: a loser. maybe we're both unhappy but at least YOU'RE an unhappy WINNER! Good job, you did it!

On the other hand, though, I can, if I try really hard, remember that there's a world of art outside of posting, one that I really care a lot about in fact. I'm not sure that exists, for the sellouts. I'm not sure you can pivot back from hawking NFTs to appreciating real art, which I hope I've made clear by my esoteric selection of examples has nothing to do with upholding canons or choice of medium or presence/absence of anime girls.

And hey, we won't be participating in a giant scam economy other than the ones we're forced by threat of homelessness and starvation to participate in, which you can't say for franks red hot. No, live by the scam, die by the scam, I'm "sorry" to say. There's a whole alleged service on the ethereum blockchain that lets you buy essentially a blue check for the blockchain. It's creatively called Ethereum Name Service (ENS), and a major player in the "distributed" model UN that "governs" the project just got outed as a deranged catholic fascist (and by outed I guess I mean just kept posting about his views openly only someone finally googled the guy). On the one hand a bunch of the other fantasy congress delegates have voted that he should step down but on the other hand it seems like they're having trouble persuading people who I guess bought votes and assigned them to this guy to pay enough attention to change their support to other delegates. What can one say but lol. Anyway, the point of all this is that this service, which does, again, blue check identity verification for the anonymous blockchain in a way that is totally decentralized and answers to no authority, has a token on it for "franksredhot". This token appears to be owned by... you know, some guy. Just some dude. There's a bunch of similar tokens for companies like google and amazon, all also owned by just, guys. I don't know if franks red hot cares that some dude is squatting on their trademark, but the fact that he is, and the fact that it COULD cause problems for this company (trademarks are protect it or lose it), is very very funny to me. These people can strut and jeer and shove our faces in how vapid and ughly their fake speculative "art" is all the want, but they're the ones who have to rub elbows with all the other grifter dipshits and freaks, while we get to hang out here, on the outside, just a bunch of losers, talking about actual art.

Maybe we can call that a win for our side, at least.

This Has Been

The Corniness Is The Point

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Feels Dumb Man: I Really, Really Hated The Pepe The Frog Documentary

"Feels Good Man" reveals a lot about how Pepe the Frog and its creator Matt Furie suck... accidentally. When faced with that inconvenient truth, the film and its audience will go to astonishing lengths to pretend our cultural grift economy is doing just fine.

The NFT's Aura, or, Why Is NFT Art So Ugly?

NFT art is bad for the environment, and bad for artists, but critics and supporters of NFT art are both missing a key fact: it's also just bad art. Whether Beeple or Bugmeyer, it's time the stars of the NFT revolution experienced some real art criticism.

1 comment:

  1. The whole thing reminds me of the comics crash of the 90's, where people bought up comics in absurd numbers solely for the hopes of selling at a profit later. As such, quality and coherent writing fell by the wayside in favor of gimmicks like chrome covers and holograms. It nearly killed the industry as well.


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