So I’m going to shut up relatively quickly today because the link I’m giving you guys DOES NOT. Which makes it sound like it’s going to be a slog but it isn’t because it’s split up into 17 fairly short sections as it discusses the genius of The Avengers at a length I was not comfortable doing. Obviously I’m not trying to argue that movie was Citizen Kane or anything but, as I tried to explain when it came out, there’s something so structurally satisfying about watching a film with that many moving parts that’s such a model of narrative efficiency. There’s nothing wasted in that movie, even the smallest background jokes pay off later in immensely satisfying ways. I found in rewatching it while reading these that a line I thought was just a throwaway explanation to help with the suspension of disbelief was actually foreshadowing the new Captain America movie. Thematically the movie isn’t really revolutionizing anything but structurally it’s practically the new Die Hard in its ability to use every part of the storytelling buffalo.
Hey so let me give you a handy sentence you can use to sound cool when talking about TV because everybody’s going to be saying it in a few months. “Tatiana Maslany is giving the most amazing performance on TV.” Here, I’ll even help you out with the hard part: tot-tee-ahna mahs-lah-nee. Why is everybody going to be saying that? Because from what I can see of the press push this is the season a lot of people are actually going to bother to watch Orphan Black instead of just me and Patton Oswalt and on Orphan Black Tatiana Maslany is giving the most amazing performance on TV. She plays the lead, all eight versions (so far) of her in a show about clones that is part sci-fi thriller, part cop show, part serial killer drama, part suburban critique and part feminist action show. She’s all of those parts. Sometimes she’s one of those parts having to cross over and pretend to be a natural fit in one of those other parts. She does an amazing job doing all of those things. Around episode 4 or 5 you genuinely start to forget it’s the same person playing all of these rolls. I found an interview asking her if the lead clone Sarah’s male love interest Paul or the lesbian scientist clone Cosmia’s female love interest Delphine is a better kisser and it genuinely hadn’t occurred to me that she was in a position to answer that question. She’s so good you guys. She’s so good I’ve decided to be a 17 year old again and actually get angry that genre fiction basically never has a chance at the acting Emmy categories.
It’s probably good that Maslany is so fantastic though since it grounds Orphan Black while its plotting often threatens to careen over some sort of metaphorical plotting cliff, killing all involved. I read an interview where the show’s creator says they take plotting inspiration from Breaking Bad and it shows. Both can often feel like events are spiraling out of control in ways the protagonist couldn’t possibly manage just to show how cool it is when the protagonist manages to rein shit in. Of course this works better in the more realistic universe of Breaking Bad where there are clearly established rules for what can and can’t happen. That tone can read more like “Jesus, what the fuck is even happening?” when you’re dealing with biotech conspiracies and clones and some weird religious cult.
That’s not to say the show is bad or that Maslany is the only reason to watch it (Sarah’s gay foster brother Felix easily qualifies as another amazing reason, especially once he starts hanging out with the other clones) it’s just to say that in order to go from a good show to a great show there are a few aspects and a few actors that need to get on her level.
Still though, give her all the Emmys, Jesus Christ.
If you want to get started watching Orphan Black The first season is a relatively short 10 episodes, all available for free on Amazon Prime (though tragically not Netflix as of my last check) and if you hadn’t caught the news that the second season has started the premiere is available for free on BBC America’s Website
Let us now praise superficially ridiculous narratives. In fact, let’s spend a whole week doing it since I think I’ve got five of these stored up at this point. And let’s start with Adventure Time since it started it’s sixth season this evening and last week The Awl published a full 10,000 word look at what makes the show so great. !0,000 word treatises by somebody other than me about fictional works I like are going to be a bit of a fixture this week.
Like everything else published by The Awl that story periodically disappears up its own ass in a desperate attempt to show you how smart it is but when it isn’t trying nearly so hard it gets at some really amazing truths around the show. It explores just how deep the themes the show explores have gotten and how wide the scope of the program has become.
I mean this is a show targeted at kids aged six to eleven and tonight’s episode (and oh my GOD the spoilers you guys) featured the protagonist’s arm getting RIPPED OFF in a desperate attempt to hold on to his father in a tragic loss of limb that’s been foreshadowed for literally half the show’s run (every alternative version of Finn we’ve ever seen has been missing his right arm) right after he confronts and defeats a universal avatar of death that explains that you can NEVER ESCAPE THE END OF ALL THINGS.
Six to eleven year olds!
The article also explores the creative environment that even lets a show like this exist and one of the things the article never explicitly states but that finally crystalized for me reading it is just how narratively unique Adventure Time has become over its run. A show that started out simple enough you could reduce it down to a parody of children’s cartoons has now evolved into the most effective blending of serialized storytelling and the anthology show I’ve yet seen on television and most of that is thanks to an expansive universe that trusts its audience to pick up the rules as it goes along. Fully half of the episodes in the show’s 5th season features someone other than the show’s two leads as its protagonist and though the show seems to be bringing Finn and Jake back to the fore at the start of season 6 so that Finn can explore his relationship with a father he never knew he had the overall season seems like it’s going to be sticking to that quasi-anthology-show format.
As the article says, “Going through a great Adventure Time episode is like getting into a video game for the first time and not knowing the rules of the universe, and fumbling through until, at a certain point, you’re playing the game without even [having realized] you’ve started.” Todd VanDerWerff has a quote (and for all I know he stole it but it’s extremely useful so who cares) that great television teaches you how to watch it. That’s hard enough on a show like Mad Men that’s organized itself like a thematically cohesive short story collection and has to teach you to “read it” but for a show like Adventure Time that might be a parody of a Dungeons and Dragons adventure utilizing only B and C list members of Adventure Time’s cast one week and a domestic drama about the relationship problems of a pig and a weird green elephant the next it’s downright amazing.
It’s a talent it shares with the best runs of NBC’s Community but it has a commitment to accepting different voices that a control freak (and I say that mostly with love) like Dan Harmon could never manage. Not only does Pendleton Ward let various storyboard artists go off and tell their own stories in whatever part of his universe thy feel like exploring that week he straight up just finds animators he likes and hands them an episode to do whatever the fuck they want no matter how weird. And it gets weird. Adventure Time manages to situate you on a wholly different point of view to its universe each week and it manages to do it AND tell a complete story with an 11 minute running time. It’s a format I expect to see an HBO show take on in about 5 years and once somebody uses it to explore murder or the drug trade or really unnecessarily explicit rape scenes I’m sure critics everywhere will hail it as the future of television but it’s here, right now, and (due respect to Kiernan Shipka) producing the single best commentary on childhood I’ve ever seen on television.
I feel like in singing the praises of LA yesterday I was maybe unnecessarily harsh on New York by proxy. I mean the BLDGblog post reverses the usual ordering of great american cities to the point where CHICAGO beats it and that just seems unnecessarily cruel.
New York’s the only city I’ve ever had to have a bad breakup with. San Francisco was a largely amicable separation. Sure we still talked shit about each other and still do really but things largely moved forward as best they could. Leaving Georgia wasn’t a breakup so much as the third act of Misery. There’s something about New York though where it never has as much of a psychic hold on you as when you leave. The feeling New York naturally gives you, where you forget there even is a rest of the world to go to sometimes, amps up to 11. The exact details vary from person to person but pretty much everybody I know who’s left has said some variation on the same thing: that in some fundamentally different way from other cities New York DOESN’T WANT YOU TO LET YOU LEAVE.
So, naturally, I’ve been kinda down on the town ever since I realized I was mostly likely never going to call it home again and kinda moved on. It’s hard to feel superior to New York, a town that will pretty much always be anthropomorphized as the quarterback or the head cheerleader depending on your orientation, but you can figure out it was never a good match for you or a lot of people and there’s a sort of zen superiority in that.
Wow, that was a lot of talking shit about New York in my explanation of why I talk shit about New York too much. Point is, even though I think me and New York pretty much have our theme song mapped out already that doesn’t mean I can’t make my peace with the place and I think part of that means seeing it in a fundamentally different way the way you kind of have to with your exes.
So let’s literalize that process because as a Buffy fan I’m contractually obligated to literalize all metaphors. Like let’s look at the city by drone and consider how different New York appears to be at 10, 100 and 1000 feet since these three videos seem to be fascinated with the city at very different heights and the higher you go the more imposing the place seems. At 10 feet it feels constantly alive with motion in a way it doesn’t even at ground level where you’re kinda busy not knocking into anybody. At 100 feet it seems kinda quaint, you sorta realize how small of a town New York really is on a grand cosmic scale but then somehow at 1000 feet the whole place seems gigantic, just row after row of buildings that show no evident sign of life, like a recording of what aliens will find if they show up reasonably soon after we wipe ourselves out. (Man tonight’s entry got DARK. Note: watch Hannibal AFTER I write OTP.)
Then if we want to pull back even further here’s the traffic pattern of every Citi Bike ride for 48 hours. It’s a stripped down view of everything you can know about one very specific part of city life and it makes you kinda feel like God in the same kinda boring way Sim City games do. Suddenly I want to write a whole non-fiction book that’s interviewing people who ride Citi Bike at 3 in the morning. Are they all just 22 year olds that can stay out that late drunk or do some of them have like…jobs? But what I love about that video is that there are bumps in activity but it’s really a kind of relative term. It’s not like there’s a bike “rush hour” so much as a very basic question: is more than a 10th of the population of New York awake? Well then Citi Bike rides are going FUCKING INSANE.
Woah hey I just hilariously remembered I didn’t have one of these queued up for the day. I even had a whole conversation with Suzan earlier about how she’s liking the new kinda more casual direction OTP is taking and instead of using that as a reminder that I should probably, you know, write Other Ten Percent I was like “cool. I can just be super casual about this” and then I forgot to do it. I’m great.
I did find, totally by accident a post I wanted to talk about though because for some strange reason somebody on Twitter posted a BLDGblog post from 2007 that’s basically the best case I’ve ever seen made for Los Angeles. I’ve been casually making this case to people individually for the past like, year, though not quite in these terms and what I love about it is how much it turns what most people consider LA’s traditional area of weakness into a strength.
LA doesn’t really give a shit who you are and in a lot of ways that’s depressing but as this article points out it’s also freeing because it means nobody really stops you from doing…basically whatever you want. And that’s especially fun since LA actually cares very deeply about WHAT YOU DO in a way that New York never really manages. In fact, on some very deep level New York CANNOT STOP giving a fuck about who you are. Are you rich? Powerful? Famous for doing something twenty years ago? Feel free to come to New York where you will never lack for people telling you how great you are for things you’ve already done.
Or come to LA where you can basically create the greatest movie of all time and be forgotten three years later if the sequel doesn’t work out. Each of those options is a very special hell for a specific type of person but all told I think I kinda prefer the one where all that matters is the most recent thing I wrote. It’s going to work out way better when I stop writing things that suck.
Oh hey guys I’ve got to go do some other stuff this afternoon-evening but I figured I’d check in and see if things are still weird now that we live in a world where cameras are cheap and basically omnipresent.
Yep, turns out it’s still weird as hell out there and people are now taking selfies of themselves with drones. Also “idea on the cusp of becoming a thing” is a great phrase and I totally plan on stealing it.
Drone selfies aren’t even the super weird thing though because there’s also this plan to use your old cellphones to constantly monitor out your window for metrics on how busy your street is and MAN I am so angry I didn’t think of that. Not for like, the startup money, because I have nowhere near the technical skill to pull that plan off, but just so I could have written it into something before it actually became a thing in the real world. Also I am maybe going to see how much they off for the view out our window which would give them a VERY clear idea of traffic patterns in one very specific part of LA.
Anyway that’s all to say that cameras are kinda so weird and creepy now that a book of photographs of organisms that have been alive for thousands of years seems positively quaint in comparison. I still kinda want it though.
Let’s play America’s favorite gameshow “This thing is like this other thing and I’m still working out the specifics but I think there’s something deep about that but also maybe not so sorry if this fizzles out.” It’s a lot like family feud really.
Anyway, hi I just sat down and watched somebody beat all of Half-Life in 20 minutes and was fascinated to watch the ENTIRE thing. I’d actually seen it linked around in a lot of places and finally looked at it when it showed up on Facebook. Speed running a video game doesn’t usually show up on my Facebook wall because most speed runs are kinda deathly boring. They’re either watching a person play a videogame without making any mistakes or watching them exploit glitches in the game you didn’t know existed so everything just kinda freaks out and lets you skip tons of the game both of which get boring fast.
I get why this one’s been picked up all over the place though because this one though has a nice narrative arc to it. It starts off relatively calmly with a player who’s just sort of jumping to his set destination as fast as possible then, around the three minute mark it ramps up in intensity and he starts using explosions and other tricks to acrobatically propel himself into tiny doors and vents and whatever point far in the distance he’s supposed to be advancing toward. Then, around the 10 minute mark it ramps up AGAIN and starts being totally insane. The glitching out stuff begins as he jumps outside the boundaries of the world and gets pulled back in having skipped a fair amount of the content of the game. It’s that slow ratcheting up of the intensity from a normal game into just this random barrage of jumps where you can’t imagine how somebody discovered them in the first place that I want to talk about and try to relate to other stuff.
Back in high-school I used to play Dance Dance Revolution a lot. Technically I played a far superior rip off of DDR called “Pump it Up” where the panels were diagonal instead of orthogonal but if people really wanted 800 words on that distinction I’d still be writing tech journalism on the regular. Point is I played this game that involved stomping on panels on the ground in time with things on a screen and I was okay at it but never that great. Most of my friends were better than me but in a way where I could sit there and watch what they were doing and process it all but couldn’t actually make my body do the same thing. Then there were people who would come into the arcade and do this which was a whole different thing where I couldn’t even make sense of what I was supposed to be doing. And I became fascinated by the distinction between mastery that was sensical but beyond your grasp and mastery that just seemed utterly chaotic.
Obviously it’s all just a continuum and if I’d kept obsessively playing DDR for years and years I’d have eventually gotten to the point where the stuff that guy’s doing wasn’t just nonsense to me anymore and then, eventually, I’d get to the point where I could actually do that but I still make a big thing out of that distinction for some reason. And I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that mastery curve illustrated more purely than in this OTHER thing that I saw on Facebook yesterday where there’s a whole video that lets you practice the Busta Rhymes verse in Look at Me Now at increasing speed starting at like 50% of the original song. That video, besides letting me know part of that verse actually DOES devolve into him just going dadadadada and isn’t a sign I’m developing a hearing problem, does a better job of pinpointing your exact point on a mastery curve better than most actually education we’ve received in our lives. There is a specific BPM where you will top out on being able to mouth along with the words in time and you can just practice it over and over again until you progress to the next level.
Whatever that whole thing’s probably only deep to me. If you’d rather do anything than think about whatever the hell I was just talking about all day Here’s like 20,000 words on the SF housing crisis that explains as clearly as I’ve ever seen what is and isn’t tech culture’s fault in that whole clusterfuck and how the whole city’s doomed…that last part’s never explicitly stated but around the 12,000 word mark it becomes the very clear subtext.
I apologize this is going out so late you guys. It’s technically Tuesday for the east coast crew but honestly I just…haven’t found something to write about for OTP since last Thursday. I figured the run through my RSS reader this morning would find me something but nothing really popped up that caught my eye. Same for Twitter, Facebook…everything. There was interesting stuff but nothing I really thought I could build 500-1000 words around. Same with TV. Hannibal and Good Wife and Bob’s Burgers were all good this weekend but not in a way that really demanded a long essay about it.
So ummmmm what’s up with you guys? You been having fun lately? Any good books I should know about. I’ve been watching Cheers which I never really liked much as a kid and man did it ever invent the modern sitcom. Like not just the Sam and Diane stuff which is actually kinda boring but just the staging and the beats and the way everybody goes on an emotional journey without learning a very special lesson.
I dunno you guys, I thought that could be the basis for an entry but that didn’t work either. Maybe I just have a set amount of words in me and I’ve been using too many of them on writing fiction since I said that thing about antagonizing AIs last Thursday? Let’s read the wikipedia entry on Transhumanism so we can figure out how to do it right.
Thank you and welcome to the Other Ten Percent corrections section.
Other Ten Percent discussed Hannibal last Friday but only realized on Sunday the insightful thing they were trying to say about Pushing Daisies and Hannibal is that both shows walk right up to the line between comedy and tragedy that would totally disrupt their reality without ever actually crossing it and that kind of daring brinksmanship shoes that Bryan Fuller has a total mastery over tone most show runners can’t even imagine. We regret wasting your time with a paragraph that was almost that good but not quite.
Other Ten Percent intended to use its discussion of running time in media as a jumping off point to talk about the alternative cut of the Anchor Man movies, how these cuts give some of the bits more time to breathe and become appropriately weird like a 12:50 SNL sketch as discussed in that NY Magazine article, and how we would watch alternative cuts of several other things whose running times dictate clamping down on weirdness just to see what happens. We regret just kinda giving up on that post.
In other Ten Percent 4/3/14 I stated that Other Ten Percent had been purchased by Buzzfeed. This was incorrect. We have been purchased by Pets.com which, like Buzzfeed, sounds like an online pet supply store but also actually is one. We apologize for the confusion.
In the past Other Ten Percent has repeatedly made the same dumb joke about how all the money poured into using computer aided recognition to do live VFX probably could have been used to cure cancer and so it’s bad or whatever but now this happened so it turns out that stuff’s kinda cool. We regret repeating that bit at people’s parties a lot when everybody was just trying to discuss sports or whatever.
Earlier this week Other Ten Percent provided complete spoilers for the end of Captain America: the Winter Soldier but failed to spoil the ending to the classic Twilight Zone episode To Serve Man. To Serve Man is a cookbook and the aliens are going to eat us. Other Ten Percent regrets that you’d have to use wikipedia or watch one of those sci-fi channel marathons to find that out.
We also made a big thing out of spoiler warnings being dumb just a day after we refused to spoil Hannibal. We regret how obvious that made our hypocrisy especially since the whole thing about spoilers being dumb was a pretty good bit.
Other Ten Percent has failed to mention that Matt Berninger, lead singer of The National has been making the rounds on several comedy podcasts despite several Other Ten Percent readers being super huge National fans. Like, almost as big of a fan as every comedy podcast host apparently is. Other Ten Percent just kinda skips over comedy podcasts unless Paul F. Tompkins is a guest these days. However, Berninger was really really good on The Pete Holmes Show so we’re now just assuming he was also good on Comedy Bang Bang so our bad. We regret the error but not nearly as much as Matt Berninger regrets basically everything because judging by his music that dude basically breathes regret like oxygen.
So hey there’s a big new design/tech think piece up that everybody’s talking about! This time it’s talking about various strategies we’ve developed for coping with a world where algorithms are vaguely inscrutable to us and where humanity isn’t always the prime mover in our own decision making process. It even provides a proposed solution through the power of design!
Of course I don’t actually like the proposed solution that much, not because I don’t think it would work. The point about how you can make an algorithm where the base motivations are transparent even if the whole decision-making apparatus isn’t is especially solid. I think I oppose it because I…I kinda like the decisions that tech makes being inscrutable to me? I mean obviously not on a direct interaction by interaction basis. I yell at Siri as much as anybody and I think it is time to give up “technology as magic” as a design aesthetic.
But I also think binding machine intelligence to never be inscrutable to human understanding gets us a BORING techno-utopian future. One where everybody is some sort of code-ninja equivalent of a warrior poet making intelligent decisions around technology at all times. It’s the future where the issues of class tech brings up are solved by just making EVERYBODY a successful coder because wouldn’t a whole world of Silicon Valley be great? And ugh, no. No it would not.
Instead I find myself fixated on the three paths suggested for adapting to a world with empowered machine intelligences and I’m fascinated by the idea of being a direct antagonist to one. I mean it’s by far the least fleshed out path in the essay, there’s exactly one example and i’m not clear why CV Dazzle couldn’t just as easily be seen as a negotiation strategy but the very fact that I can’t think of a good example of it makes me want it to be a thing SO, SO badly.
I’m seriously struggling to even find a good FICTIONAL model for the behavior. Asimov’s robot short stories, which mostly weren’t stories so much as logic puzzles around the three laws of robotic that had an unusually large amount of character dialogue, had the occasional attempt at opposing A.I. but mostly it was stupid blind protesting or Ludite destruction. There was basically no attempt to use an understanding the peculiarities of how robots thought to destroy them because, of course, as far as Asimov was concerned that was no distinction between Artificial and real intelligence except for one of degree. Machines thought just like humans they just had more processing power to throw at the problem.
You could also make an argument for Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother series where a bunch of teenagers use DIY tech to fuck with the security state but that was mostly just using better tech to fuck with the PEOPLE running the security state and not directly trying to antagonize an algorithm. Wait, no, one exception: at one point the characters start copying and pasting people’s transit cards onto each other to screw with the security state’s ability to get meta-data on where people are entering and exiting the transit system.
But now that we seem to be slowly writing more and more fiction where we’ve got AI but it behaves more like an alien intelligence than a human one I can’t believe we’re not getting more fiction about attempts to antagonize those intelligences. Even Person of Interest which is well beyond the curve of even most written sci-fi on this stuff, just has oppositional forces screw with the A.I. by shutting off video feeds strategically which is kinda the most boring line of attack on a strong A.I. that has access to all digital information everywhere. Why not flood the thing with absurd amounts of false information? Or falsify people’s consumer data to create weird patterns in their meta-data to screw up Wal-Marts supplying algorithm so they lose millions of dollars shipping things to the wrong parts of the country? Or…actually screw this today’s entry is long enough and I gotta go write up some of this as fiction.