Monday, 30 December 2013

Top 6 Albums Of 2013

2013 was certainly a weird year for me in terms of music. More and more I grew distant from the more "mainstream" crowd, but I didn't necessarily sink into the Bandcamp scene as well as I probably should have in the year. To be fair, I've mostly stuck around Breakbit, since it is my favorite place to go to for music. Even then, I suppose I don't truly represent what other Breakbit fans enjoy, so this list doesn't really represent a certain category of music enthuthiasts. No, rather, this list is simply what I enjoyed listening to the most from what I could get in the year. Without further ado, here's my picks in no particular order.

DR777's REAL

DR777 has constantly proved himself to be the most idiosyncratic among the most bizarre and experimental electronic music makers, and REAL is no exception. Here, he has managed to strengthen his sound, which is a weird combination of gritty hip-hop beats combined with relaxing sources. All the music sounds like they've been jolted with extra energy, as it progresses with a great sense of rhythm and style. You feel yourself moving to and fro' with each song, particularly the ones that have a calm opening. His choice of sources and the way he mangles with them is still as unique as ever, especially in songs like Real, Drop and Son. They just ooze with that feeling of being caught between having a good time and finding yourself stuck in a dream that's being controlled by someone else. This is probably the best album out there for people who want a YTP experience without those pesky visuals.

Vaervaf's Legshells

If there is one thing that I know for certain about Vaervaf is that he is nothing like I've ever seen before. His music certainly reflects that since it defies any sort of structure that one would expect from music. To say that Vaervaf is a Dadaist musician would both be accurate and completely crazy. For one, I'm not sure if one can really take his work so seriously to call it a subversion of standard music. And two, his music is not filled with hate against the medium. Rather, it is something that resembles a cult, lulling you into a sense of comfort, but also reaching itself under your skin. It is filled with love, but it's the kind of love that a victim gets for their captor once they've been with them for so long. The songs have an ability to possess you with it's violent glitch-like noises and it's soothing breaks that slowly slip into a cacophany of utter confusion. Also, the vocals just add to the cryptic nature that makes this such a fascinating listen. This album is simply a great example of the dissonance one feels when they see a work that makes no sense at all, yet manage to understand it with a great sense of depth.

Glue70's Points Of Interest

As I've said before, I owe a lot to glue70 when it comes to my tastes of music. What I failed to mention was that I also owe him a great deal of thanks for being something that I can look to when I feel as though I've lost faith in music. Points Of Interest shows me just how much passion can go into a single album, and just how much love a person can have for their craft. You can sense it in songs like Casin, Highway Broken and Quiet Mary Talking as they flow by with pinpoint accuracy. They simply sound like glue70 took his time to put all the pieces together properly. It's magnificent how he manages to combine older techniques with a newer flow, creating his own take on retro electronic music. The best part about this album is its simplicity. It's not trying to do anything extremely complicated, it is simply a well-made work that one can sit back and enjoy. With that, it succeeds because it doesn't distract itself and it strives to do its damn best to achieve its goal.

Eddache's Only Man

Now, this is an artist that I'm not really aware of...well not as much the previous three. I didn't really know what to think of this album considering Eddache's other works. On the one hand, it had promise since Bioshock is brimming with atmosphere. On the other, Eddache's mostly been associated with a more "upbeat" sort of attitude, especially considering what he works on. With that said, this album really does a great deal of justice to the game. He picks the right audio clips and the right times to play them, setting the mood properly. Masterpiece for example, shows the broken mind of Sander Cohen as well as his elaborate showmanship. The Bloody King is another great one, as it perfectly sums up the tour de force that is Andrew Ryan. The manipulation of the music is simply sublime, not only accentuating the emotions but also being able to create something of his own. Like glue70, it's a very basic concept, but the execution is done so well, it's a treat to hear.

chris†††'s frasierwave / Saint Pepsi's WORLD TOUR

Frasierwave and WORLD TOUR are a great summary of how my musical tastes were in 2013. That is to say, this was the year that I caught onto this movement called "vaporwave". I don't know why I got to this so late, but I'm glad it's still trucking through. It was incredibly hard to pick one or the other, so I decided to pick both of them because they captured different sides of the movement really well. I got into frasierwave earlier in the year, and I absolutely enjoyed chris†††'s style of glitchy edits and how he created an unreal setting with sources using such simple moves. It felt like there was something beyond the twisting of the music, something hidden, but I was too overwhelmed with the thoughts that came up that I ended up frozen, simply taking the work as if it were some elaborate painting. It really did feel like I was sitting in a nice, well-furbished psychologist's office with schizophrenia as the radio crooned by, with the development of the sound mirroring the analysis of one's psyche. Where frasierwave was more artistic, WORLD TOUR was able to feel more...I guess "mainstream". That is to say that it was more fitting to have this play for a crowd. SAINT PEPSI is able to make the elements of vaporwave work really well in a dance setting. Sometimes it feels like it's a new type of disco, since he's able to make the song bounce with the same groove. Other times, the slow and dragged out feeling of the music makes it play out like a modern slow dance. Both of them are two wonderful albums from two wonderful artists, and I thank them for introducing me to vaporwave.

Monday, 14 October 2013

An Interview With Jacob D. Seslek By Andrew Nonimus

(Artist's rendition of a man who looks similar to Jacob D. Seslek)

Good day, ladies and gentlemen. I am here today to talk to you about one of literary's greatest belated underground achievements. As you are aware about, Jacob D. Seslek was rushed to the hospital after having a heart-attack and died shortly afterwards. Seslek was known for having tenacity in the writing world, having 15 novels under his belt along with 20 collections of short shories, ranging from 15 to 30 per collection. His topics were usually varied such as his science-fiction western piece Forty Soldiers In Saturn, his satirical horror short series Cthulhu In Congress and his steampunk quantum picaresque antinovel Ticking Sideways In Paris. Since then, his most recent book The Man Who Shot Himself Backwards has been receiving countless accolades, being named "a new modern classic", and is currently being created into a movie starring Nicholas Kim Coppola as the lead protagonist. After reading over his acclaimed masterpiece for the seventh time, I remembered that I had met with the man for an interview. In fact, I was one of the only few, if not the only interviewer that managed to talk to him before he passed away. For your consideration, I give you an interview with Jacob D. Seslek.

Thank you for being able to talk to me on such short notice.

Huh? Who the hell are you?

I'm here to interview you, Mr. Seslek.

What, right here? Don't you think that's a bit stupid?

Now, now, I'm the one who supposed to be asking you the questions.

I get that, but can't this wait?

I feel that it would be better for the both of us if we did it right now.

Ugh, fine. Waiter, get my friend here the cheapest thing on the menu and a glass of tap water.

You sure know how to treat your guests.

You're lucky that I could even afford that, buster.

So, please tell me a little about yourself.

Well, alright. I was born in Oxnard, California on August 2, 1966.

Ah, you have the same date as James Baldwin and the year of J. J Abrams. Interesting how both seem to have some influence in your work.

I don't know much about either one of them, but okay. I grew up in a suburb, knew a lot of the people around the area. My best friends were Roderigo and Jerome, we played a lot of basketball and eventually played a little bit of NES when we were older. I had a few girlfriends in high school but nothing really stable. My parents were your typical sort, you know, kind but a pain in the ass when they needed to be. My old man would sometimes be a bit more of a pain, but without him I wouldn't be where I am now.

Fascinating. Did your father's abuse factor into when you wrote about the first boss of the protagonist in The Man Who Shot Himself Backwards who would belittle him but eventually give him a substantial paycheck at the end of each week?

Not really, but now that you mention it, I guess so. There's not much else to that piece of sh-

What about when you spoke about the challenges that races had to face with breaking through society's stigmas, particularly with the friends of the protagonist struggling so hard to achieve their goals?

My friends just had a little trouble with their goals. Roderigo really wanted to get good grades, and Jerome wanted to work with the community. I don't see what so crazy about that.

How about the impact that one of the love interests has on the protagonist, sending him into a spiral of excessive consumerism when he ultimately fails to be with her? I particularly liked the line "he felt as if all that was left was a hollow chamber filled with cold pieces that shattered when he held onto them" before he descends into madness. mean when he had to restock his fridge after he broke up with her? I was just talking about ice in that scene.

When did you start writing?

I was doing that since I was in 9th grade. I really grew to be fascinated by all those authors, from Bradbury to Fitzgerald, so I went along with it. Sure as hell was better than anything else that I had in least that's what I like to thin-

Is that the reason that The Man Who Shot Himself Backwards came to be, as a statement of resentment over a corporate position?

What? No! Having a desk job is aw-

Awful, I know. It's so powerful how you portray such a message, particularly with the protagonist waking up in a bed soaked by whiskey, turning the alarm away as he catches a faint reflection of what he's become. do know that he was hosting a party and someone spilled it on there? Plus, anyone waking up after such a crazy night isn't gonna have fun listening to that alarm.

Then how do you explain the reflection?

Someone drew dicks on his face, that's not something you want to stare at.

Wasn't that supposed to signify his possible bisexual nature?

How in the world did you come up with such a conclusion?!

The way the protagonist talks to his African-American friend alludes to this a lot

He saves the guy's life! Maybe it's a bit too much, but you treat the guy that does this with a shitload of respect. There is nothing else to it!

Isn't that counter-intuitive to your progressive message of the inclusion of the world and breaking away from the norm? Or were you using such an approach to deliver an inverted message as biting satire?

Oh god, the fucking book is just about a guy who has a few bad days working at a cubicle! We all have shitty work weeks!

Why do you hold such an aggressive attitude with the public?

Are you being serious right now? You think I'm fucking J.D Salinger here?

Well, clearly you must have it if you're treating me with such scorn.

I'm treating you with such scorn because you're wasting my time about a book I wrote so I could pay my goddamn rent. I spent two, maybe three weeks shitting this out, whilst the rest of my work ends up in the back of libraries. Where's any discussion about Silent Segregations,  a book dealing with urban racism? How about a little praise for the stories in Clutter In Blotters where I spent months making sense of trips I had on LSD. Or about The Fist With An Eye, the epic where people are stuck in modern retellings of Mayan myths? Do you know how much fucking research I had to connect Xbalanque to a man who watches CCTV? No, of course not. But you know what, I wouldn't mind that so much if you at least got what The Man Who Shot Himself Backwards was really about.

You mean to tell me that there is an alternate interpretation of a story you wrote?

Goddamn it, it was about striving forward, even if shit looks bad. At first I called the book that because it was cool, but then when I wrote the end, it made sense. Instead of the gun killing him, it just threw him back to the wall. And when he is knocked back, he sees his tie and sighs, looking to the ceiling, realizing that eventually it would be all right. Sure, his acts almost got him fired, but he still had good times and he recognizes that.

I thought that scene was him finding how inevitable it was for him to escape a career he hated and having to eventually march for-

Shut up! Look, I don't know why you came here, but I hope that neither you nor The Man Who Shot Himself Backwards become household names.

(This interview was conducted by the Pulitzer-Prize winning literary critic, Andrew Nonimus)

Friday, 20 September 2013

Breaking The Bits - Bye-Product And His Bi-Product

Hello and welcome once again to another Breaking The Bits, a very poorly maintained series of blogs talking about my favorite independent label. Today, I've decided to talk about an artist that I've grown to enjoy from Breakbit. That being Bye-Product. Bye-Product is another interesting character. I happened to know about Bye-Product by his EP, Biohazard. It was a relatively nice EP, it had a very alien feeling to it that I've now begun to admire and expect from musicians. I particularly found myself enjoying The World Is A Dark Sea not only for it's poetic title but for its poetic feeling. The song embodied the title perfectly and it really makes me happy to see a song that fits its title so tightly like that. I'll admit that I didn't think much else of him, not because I didn't like his work, but because other artists grabbed my interest and I hadn't seen much else of him at the site, save from his guest appearances on other albums. Then I decided to search him again and found that there was a lot more that he was willing to offer on his Bandcamp. It's also interesting to note that I found out that he actually has a lot of aliases, in fact Bye-Product isn't his main alias. As much as I enjoy his work, there was one in particular that really got my attention. Before I get to that, let's talk a little more about his music.

Now, like many artists on Breakbit, Bye-Product has the ability to make experimentation seem entertaining as the different choices and styles really add into the bizarre nature that draws me in as a listener. Each of these artists, I feel takes their experimentation in a different path of expression. mrSimon and glue70, for example, goes about experimentation as trying to combine the old with the new whilst being his own, with mrSimon leaning more on the nostalgic side where as glue70 goes for the new age approach. Orangy and Vaervaf care more about their own path and define themselves idiosyncratically with Orangy breaking the barriers between genres and Vaervaf destroying genres in general. Whilst each of these artists have the tendency to dip in with ideas that others put forward, they still maintain their image. That's all fine and dandy, but where exactly does this manage to relate to Bye-Product? Bye-Product, I believe, is sort of the man that tries it all and goes with his own path, still unsure of what holds forward to him. When you hear his music, you know there's something going for it, but it's a journey for both of them. It takes bits of what his world has and allows him to create something else out of it, much like how an artist should. The way he does it though it what makes him stand out.

The Chapter Albums (2011)

The Chapter Albums consist of three entries, Life, Death and Love, specifically in that order. All the subjects that are in the titles share the fact that they are very expansive material and widely talked about among others. Each cover shows an object that is covered completely by darkness, with Life being a man in a cap under two spotlights, Death being an out of focus full moon probably hidden behind something made of glass and Love having a disco ball covered with blue lights. I do like that feel, it adds a lot more mystery to the albums themselves and connects them all in a clever way. If I may go a bit farther with this, I think it represents how we seem to always be aware of these aspects in our minds but that in the grand scheme of it all, it's completely surrounded by ambiguity and is never given the proper answer. I find it perplexing that Death wouldn't be the end, but rather Love. I suppose it's to purposeful break the usual order or perhaps that Bye-Product just had them in that order arbitrarily.

Life is a very unfocused album in the sense that you wouldn't really think it's that tied to the subject matter. Each song seems to encompass something different than the last. You first have Fade In, which is just a drum solo edited weirdly and then it goes to Just Run Away From Here, which is aptly fitting because it sounds like a song you would play as you're running away. Then you have Nite Ride which is more softer, but then it moves to Accidents which is more trippy and somewhat unsettling in a good way instead of Bruse which seems more fitting to follow Nite Ride. I'm not sure what I can say about And An Era Ended, it's not sounding like the title and it's not evoking any real emotion. It does sound well though. It concludes with Cry Out Memories which is a fitting ending, since it leaves you puzzled but also intrigued. In fact, that's how the album can be described. Oddly, it's quite fitting to what life is. Confusing, but interesting.

Death is a little more structured, as most of the songs are tie-in more into what death can be. Underground, for example, sounds like the last bit before it all ends, which is odd since it's the beginning, but the end song Heart Falure echoes the same emotions only a lot more powerfully and somewhat subversive. Heart Falure sounds as if it's it's an attempt to bring Life back in, with the sounds of a more calmer and beautiful melody seeping in as it progresses until the slowdown indicates that it is staying back to the original theme. Car Accident could also be considered another "moment before death" tune as it shows the frantic energy of someone encountering a terrible death. Died is another track that's worth mentioning to the relation to the title because it seems to almost sound like the reaction that others have with someone dying, questioning fate in general. The other songs like Eighteen, Teenager Hipsters Like Me, Stab In The Dark don't really seem to make that much sense relating to the title. All sound good, each holding some sort of catchy beat that later gets altered, but none really take in the title. I could maybe argue the case for Teenager Hipsters Like Me perhaps mirroring the feel of how people think about the afterlife with it at first seeming like a clear answer but then turning into a barrage of unclear noise, but the rest not so much. It's still a solid album.

Love is a great conclusion because it does embody it's title very well with each entry. Warmth and Love Box have the tenderness of love down to a tee, Hot Jaz and Lush Lips get the friendly nature that helps in a relationship, Paranoid Love and Do The Right Thing capture the feeling of the thoughts that go by the minds of those who are in love and Sexual Favor is a somewhat psychedelic tune relating to the art of making love. Each song has it's own way of being soft and pleasant, leaving a nice feeling as you go through each track. It has it's moments of mood-breaking, particularly with Paranoid Love and Do The Right Thing, but it's nothing too striking. It's funny that this album isn't as vague with the motions as the other two, but perhaps it draws from a more simplistic, idealistic view of love. Yet, that approach makes the album work and sound organic.

Religion (2011)

Much like Life, Religion is somewhat unfocused, but unlike Life, Religion has a lot more songs and doesn't completely let the shift in mood from it's tracks detract from the title of the album. There are a good amount that fit with the title of religion particularly Feild Trip to Heven, πano, Raptured, WHAT'S THE GOOD WORD, Good Lord, Demonic Possession and Call Me Jesus (both this one and (George's [of The Brother's In Shit] "I KNEW JESUS BEFORE HE WENT MAINSTREAM" Mix) in particular). Those are the ones that usually capture more of the spirit of religious music, with epic choruses or somber samples encompassing the music. Mostly throughout the album, there is heavy reference to Christianity (though there is also a mix of others done with more subtlety), and judging by the hidden track, most of the music is meant as sort of a jab towards religion. It's hard to say whether it's done in good fun, or done with some other intent, perhaps to denounce it.

On the one hand, it's tossed around as if it's nothing and manages to be unfitting to titles like Sex Drugs and Allah which sounds more like a experimental mix and Jesus Is Pretty Gangster not really taking in either the Jesus part or the gangster part. Hell, there's just random songs like Bruce Springsteen (which sounds like harmonica lounge music) and Dubstep Shit that don't really have anything to do with the subject. At the same time, the songs sound like they're taking in the ideas of religious music and adapting it to a more modern setting, whilst at the same time, changing it with other techniques. It could also be that it's more of a deconstruction considering the aggressive tone of some of the songs, but it's hard to say for sure. It does feel like it's asking a lot of questions towards it, whatever those are I'm not certain of. It's got a lot of remixes in it too, which are done pretty well and generally speaking it's a memorable album.

Star (2012)

Star is much like Love in that there is a better focus based on the title. According to the info that is on the Bandcamp to this album, it is basically a compilation of different artists's and mashed together in a new and incomprehensible manner. So it's safe to say that the reason that it's called Star is because the songs that it samples are from very famous musicians rather than go with something a little more abstractly conceptual like his other works. There isn't really much else to dig deep into with this album in terms of  "meaning", and that's fine. What it does, it does well, and that's rearranging bits and pieces of other songs into something new and catchy. My favorites are Awards Lost, George Clooney and Blockbuster with each of them having a good sense of the energy that the want to channel and flowing well. It's decent enough and I think it would be a good album to start with if you want to get into his work.

chris††† (2013)

Now, there is a lot more of Bye-Product I can talk about. Gil, Dad's Camera, '98, .GIF, stab something, Cordless Soul Machine, and I'm sure there's some other stuff I missed. But I want to focus on chris††† because it was the one that made me enjoy Bye-Product's work the most. It is quite possibly some of the best surrealism music that I've heard, because it just manages to take similar sounds and tamper with them so majestically. It shows how strong Bye-Product's experimentation can go because it creates that atmosphere where you are not to expect anything and simply take in the mood. Every song really feels like a developed story that takes you somewhere and you don't know where that exactly is. Songs like blind lie, LUV and ビジネスウィーク sound like they might have a point, but you never try to focus where or not it means something more of if there really is a point, you just enjoy how the broken/altered record sound that resonates in the music takes you over. The addition of the album covers and the weird titles makes the music that much more cryptic. There may be some sort of a key that could reveal more of what it all means, it sure is framed in such a manner that it makes it seem as though something is greater at play, but you as the listener will never know for sure. It is the perfect representation of what Bye-Product is all about, an artist who embodies the confusing beauty and the hectic complexity of what our world is all about.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Let's Talk About The Animation/Live-Action Crossover

I'm going on record on here to tell you that my absolute favorite movie in the whole wide world is Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It may not be the very best film and it may be partly due to nostalgia clouding my judgment, but I still think that it holds a close place in my being as both a person and as a "creator". Whilst I would love to enjoy gushing about the movie as a whole, I would instead like to gush to you about what the movie is categorized to be, an animation/live-action crossover. What Who Framed Roger Rabbit managed to do was turn a simple special effect gimmick into a selling point for a story.  Back then, when you thought that cartoons and people were going to be in the same place, all you could think of was some Disney schmultz (ironic that I say that) or Gene Kelly in a sailor suit dancing with Jerry. It was never thought to be anything more than that. Who Framed Roger Rabbit put forward a concept of putting the skill of the brush with the skill of the flesh together as one whole structure and trying to cement concepts from both worlds so that they could gel together in a narrative instead of leaving to simple suspension of disbelief. That's not to say that the two being more mixed together wasn't happening back then. If one recounts The Three Caballeros, Donald Duck and two other feathered friends go about with more realistic fellows and senoritas. While I do find myself liking the movie, it wasn't done right. You knew that when you saw the drawings with the live-action, it didn't feel like the two were truly in sync. The premise didn't help since it wasn't very cemented and focused more on silly visuals.

Now it is true that the last bit does apply partially to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but it had a point to why it did what it did. What made it so great wasn't that it was doing something new with such a combination but that it was doing something new with the way that they combined the live-action with the animation. The animation along with the live-action served to build up an atmosphere rather that one or the other being some sort of way to transition or serve as an effect. In the world, the animated characters which they call toons are considered actors and work on cartoons which is basically their movie/TV deals. Right there you see a role that is given to the animated portions and how it relates with the rest of the world around them. It also gives a sort of indication as to what the animated characters are capable as it gives you insight on how they function in the world. They're basically indestructible (which is why they're great for the slapstick) but when presented to a mixture of paint thinners and removers, they can be killed. In a very subtle way, they're giving the animation a biology to it and they indicate why it's there. The realism of how the toons were in the world certainly helped to drive this further as it shows that the animation is rooted in the story rather than a simple set piece. That sort of an animation/live-action crossover is brilliant and leads to an ample amount of possibilities. The problem? Well, it hasn't been that explored. 

Why could it be? Is it because of cost and tools? Well, if I believe that James Cameron can make Avatar (which is a CGI pseudo-version of the concept) with the amount of money that he did, I don't doubt that there is a possibility that the cost could maybe be overlooked. It's more within the interest of others in the concept. Sure, it could be an affordable venture to make the film, but is it going to get its money back? Most likely not. Only people interested in this sort of thing are losers like me. CGI animation, if it wanted to, could work as an animated/live-action crossover, but it's more used to add details or make things fly out without having to pay for the thing and the explosives to make it fly out (remember, you want to make your money back and more for a profit). So if say we wanted more traditional animation, then we might as well just shoot ourselves now. Not many people are thinking that the venture is worth it since people are forgetting now what that means. That's not to say there isn't a market for it, but it's very limited. With CGI though, we could have it looking more traditional and Flash also serves to be closer to that department. Both pose some problems, but it is capable to make the effect and make it work. Either way, there needs to be interest and it seems like there isn't. I can't say why, maybe it's the scarcity of seeing something rooted with the label of "animation/live-action crossover". It could also be of the troubles that two particular films made to the idea.

The first one is the R-rated wreck of Cool World. As much as I don't like this movie, the one thing that I'll give it credit for is adultizing cartoons. Ralph Bakshi being able to add more grit into animated movies is something that is to be respected considering every single flick that happens to be animated always falls into the "family-friendly" category. It did also have some interesting concepts, even if they sound stupid, such as a toon (or in the context of the movie, a doodle) having sex with a human and what would that bring as well as the extension of an artist's imagination when he/she sees it fully realized. The problem that was faced as with most bombs of Bakshi is that it was a very forced and clumsily handled insertion of the adult material. The logic that came from the world was not centered well enough and when animation would appear it was more so distracting in either its use or consistency. Now I don't mind that you don't fully see the potential of the effect realized in this movie as you did in WFRR, but the reasoning behind it wasn't clear and it failed to work. And I understand that cartoons don't need to make sense, but if you're going to mature the medium (even if it is a more exploitative way), you have to add more details to it or give more indication that there's no rules instead of staying in this bizarre middle-ground. As such, this movie not only gave the concept a bad name, but also gave the idea of maturing cartoons for the big screen a very slim chance. 

It's not to say it killed the idea dead in the water. When WB had to revamp one of their greatest franchises they figured why not add that guy from the Mummy, Dharma from Dharma and Greg and that guy who'd go on to remake the Pink Panther into the mix? That would go on to be Looney Tunes: Back In Action. I know that there was another WB revamp that involved those wacky toons meeting humans, but I don't speak of Space Jam here. Why? Well, Space Jam, while a fun movie, was terrible and centered more on a gimmick rather than being a satire. Looney Tunes: Back In Action was more of the opposite, basically mocking spy films, sci-fi and the Looney Tunes themselves. It also managed to have similar effects to WFRR, allowing for greater comedy to flow from it. If there was any film that could be considered as the follow up to the best animated/live-action crossover, it'd have to be this one. So...with that said...why did it flop? Was it competition? Well I guess, The Matrix Revolutions and Elf is a tough cookie to beat. But I think the greater issue came less with the idea and more with the presentation. The voice actors behind the toons did fine, the animation did fine, but the live-action portion seemed lukewarm. I'm not just saying that to rip on Brendan...well I kind of am, but even a guy as animated as Steve Martin didn't seem to be at his all when doing the film. That and I guess maybe it could have gone further. Less cultural references and more mocking of the genres would have worked for its benefit. If it doesn't manage to make it's money back, there's not much chance that Hollywood will do the same...

With both of these films being able to bring something to the table by one being more adult and another one using the animation to aid with parody, what they seem to have lacked is a better presentation and dedication. Don't get me wrong, the people that were working on both films seemed to have put a substantial amount of effort into the work. Or at the very least the animators did. The writers, actors and directors (to an extent) perhaps could have used more effort by structuring the worlds better. It really requires more attention to detail than one would think when you mix the two. Sure, it's easy to have something animated be superimposed on something real, but for it to have a point and a purpose takes time. WFRR knew that and tried to clean up the details as best as it could and keep consistent with what occurred in the world. It didn't side-track itself too much with the zany effects, it rather conserved that for when it was necessary for a joke or building the environment. Cool World did it in a drive-by manner and while in some cases that works, it doesn't help when you do it all the time. If you do that, you might as well make a mindless cartoon. Instead of simply spitting out references, it allowed for the references to be more built into the narrative. It also managed to satirize better by building both the parts that it could subvert for humor but maintain for drama and atmosphere. It might have been hard for Looney Tunes to do that, but What's Opera, Doc? managed to do that. If there isn't that sort of attention provided to the film, it loses the chance to be something truly great, and in this sort of genre, truly great is the minimum to break even. 

To fix this from an industrial standpoint obviously requires people to care both from the viewing aspect to the creating aspect. Real passion and energy helps to make this work. Even if people are that dedicated, it wouldn't hurt too much to find ways to cut costs. I'm not sure how that would work out, would it mean there's less action so that less cash is put towards how to create the effect that the cartoons are there in real life? Would it have to require a cheaper animation tool? Would you just need to hire a few actors? I'm not sure which one to go to, but if you find a way to reduce costs, breaking even becomes less of a stretch. Another way that it could do better is to make it more original. Rather than associate the animation with a famous brand like the Smurfs or Garfield, it should try to be more independent. This rings very true with CGI because a good chunk of those cartoons just look bizarre in 3D. That really seems to be the only major parts that could help it from the technical standpoint. We might have to wait a few years for this to take effect (if anyone was listening to this), and obviously the build-up to this idea will also take time. 

With all of that said, I'd like to tap into concepts that the animation/live-action crossovers could tap into. As stated above, there is the maturing of the animation allowing for the production to be more adult and being able to use animation as an extension of the satire (which also kind of happened with Enchanted, so don't say I didn't bring it up) along with the idea that the animation is a realized version of the imagination of one character. I'd like to tap into the last one because I don't think that Cool World really did what it should have with the concept. Art is a way to convey current emotion and to lose oneselves in their own fictional paradise. It also serves as a gateway to how one's mind works. Having the animation being able to exaggerate the emotions or ideas that the character holds true allows for them to analyze them and see if they are proper. It could also be a way of the character confronting the fears dead on or being absorbed in the madness that is caused by what the animation brings forth. The animation itself could also be more centered around the story. Most animation is considered very childish, goofy and silly, so having the animation try to become more serious with the world or try to bring more of the light-heartedness to a se-oh...well WFRR did it but it could be done in many other ways and lead to many other results. Filling in the details leads to a great amount of possibilities and there's probably more that are in store if one prods further (such as the animation being able to consume the reality of the person, the nature of the animation and the live action pretty much represent the same world in different ways, the animation changing as the world changes, etc.). 

I know that for a fact, very few people that are willing to carry this out into the film industry are going to do so. I'll be surprised/glad if any of them have come across this and actually say something about what I've written here. What I do know is that the idea of mixing animation with live-action can be much more than a gimmick. It has the potential to span out into the territory of great art and can reveal a lot of parts of humanity in a new and interesting light. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was proof of that and while Cool World and Looney Tunes Back In Action had it flaws, it showed that it could carry out those ideas and develop them to something greater. Both animation and live action film making require a lot of creativity, artistry and passion for them to succeed and to see both of them side by side, sharing that energy and putting it to the fullest that it can is something that I want to see again because it's beautiful to see it. It says to the audience that there is something more to the film than merely drawings over film. It says to them that both can make an experience and they can make it well. That one must maintain their imagination and use it in any way it can to help themselves. Maybe I'm just a fool to be overthinking this. Considering that there's such a thing as Smurfs 2...I most likely am. 

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

How Did Kevin James Get A Career?

Often there are questions in life that can be answered by embarking on a journey. It could be one of one's self, it could be a road trip where you encounter alien women or it could just be surfing the net constantly until the answer pops up by pressing "I'm feeling lucky" on Google. This is sort of all three, because this a question that has challenged many a mind. Sure, many have had difficulty figuring out the meaning of our existence, but their search of spirituality being able to provide meaning whilst also analyzing the known universes' wonders is somewhat pleasant, even if one comes to a grim conclusion. Mainly because it doesn't involve your mind feeling as though it's about to explode with the mere thought of realizing such an idea is plausible let alone delving deeper to understand it. I've worked with many good friends who once they've pondered this question, they've gone without sleep, without food and on the extreme cases, without water, wishing that something would come out and give them a sign that they would be graced with an answer, or at the very least a clue. Some have gone off the deep end, killing others and themselves, turning into twitching trainwrecks and cutting themselves to write messages of help with their own blood so that their adamant obsession with such a riddle will be cured. Nevertheless, I feel like I can take on this task because I have what remains of my fallen comrades and I am desensitized enough to take up such a mind-shattering perplexfest-of-a-question as this one. It won't be easy, but I don't have much of a choice on the matter, because my mind will not cease to dawn on the idea. So I sat down, looked at myself on the reflection of the computer and said:

How did Kevin James get a career?

First, before you go any further, don't repeat the phrase too much. This has been known to lead to spontaneous combustion, so make sure you're near any body of water if you're going to think about it. Even if you don't know who this man is, it's dangerous to say it. Still, I believe that I should inform you about who he is and show you his career growth to showcase why it would be asinine for one to think that he'd have one. Kevin James or as he's originally known as, Kevin George Knipfing, is a New York loveable lummox of a man who started his "career" as a comedian. A stand up comedian no less. Now, as is typical of stand up comedians, you're supposed to stand up in front of an audience and tell jokes to them in the hopes that you hear a wave of laughter coming towards you. That's the sign you're doing something right in the business. With Kevin James, you see some of his act and you think to yourself, "Hmm...I don't really see why I should be laughing". He's not downright grating mind you, at least not yet. As a comedian, he's more like a wannabe Chris Farley, both in the style and appearance, but even that's being a bit generous. Take a look at one of his stand up bits. You see he has a sense of energy resonating with him, but his content seems to be mixed in direction. The delivery feels unfocused and as if he's trying to be someone else. Not only that, but if you listen to the audience, they sound like they're humoring him more than genuinely laughing at his jokes.

If he continued to try in the field and actually grew to be more resonant in the comedy industry, maybe it would have sufficed that he would have what he has now. But he moreso seemed to jump into trying to do something on TV. That something being cameo in a few episodes Everybody Loves Raymond as Kevin and as a "character" named Doug Heffernan. Here we start to see why asking yourself "how did Kevin James get a career" is volatile. See, in the history of sitcoms, there's one that people often consider to be the pinnacle of below-mediocrity, and that is Everybody Loves Raymond. Why? Is it because it uses the age-old "idiot/ugly/fat guy gets smoking hot girl" trope? Is it because the characters are generally unlikeable? Perhaps it's because the only seemingly entertaining actor in the show is sidelined to being a bootlicking ball of envy? Well aside from all of them it's because the show lacks anything funny at all and abused the canned laughter tactic terribly much before the times of Big Bang Theory. It also seemed to kill the careers of the main cast, including the lead character, who decided to sell his soul to Blue Sky Studios so that his mediocrity could be entirely immortalized in ice. To imagine that Kevin James would be in such a production and still be a name that we'd know today is much more than a mere miracle. It's a conspiracy. For you see, instead of his career going nowhere and him perhaps trying to improve his standup to become credibly entertaining, he got a vague spin-off to that show called The King Of Queens. And by vague spinoff I mean that Doug Heffernan was in two episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond and he's apparently the lead in The King Of Queens.

Maybe I'm being harsh here, after all, when one makes the leap from stand up to sitcom, perhaps they do better. Jerry Seinfeld is great in standup, but in his eponymous show, he made comedy gold. Kevin James could possibly offer the same, can't he? I mean, he has Jerry Stiller, one of the actors in the Seinfeld show in his cast. Well, I'm sorry to report that The King Of Queens was nothing more than another "fat-husband-hot-wife" sitcom. I don't use this term to mean that all sitcoms that have a fat husband and an attractive wife turn out to be nothing more than lazy, terrible writing. I wouldn't even go as far to say that most of them do so. As much as it pains me to admit this, According To Jim had its fair share of amusing moments. It's just that there's a select amount of them (oddly enough one of them being According To Jim) that exemplify the terrible aspects of this set-up, and King Of Queens shows it in its most boring and lackluster of ways. Kevin James plays as a manchild for most of the time, and the wife is probably dealing with him more as a child than an actual partner, which makes the feeling of romance very contrived and incredibly wrong. That sliver of the possible comedic appeal he could have had as a stand up is thrown away at the very sight of this show. If his career died after the show, that would have been fine. Yes, he still had a semblance of a career, but it's short lived. There's many short fuse careers in entertainment. Unfortunately, he got into films.

His early career in films is nothing to really glimmer at, but once I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry hit the scene, there was something glaringly wrong about his rising star. In that, it rose alongside Adam Sandler at the time when he started to throw away any semblance of talent he harbored in exchange for killing brain cells and aspiring talents. Kevin James not only became worse with his comedy, but he also stooped down to the levels on Sandler (who by the way, basically ruined the original script of the film with his brand of "humor", so much to the point that one of the writers almost wanted to Alan Smithee his way out of the production). Much to the chagrin of audiences with sensible tastes in entertainment, this actually topped #1 in the box office and got some contrarian critics to call it a modern classic and hold it up to Brokeback Mountain. Yes, a movie with more gay stereotypes than an episode of Will and Grace and a yellowface Rob Schneider is being considered on par with Brokeback Mountain. What's worse is that Kevin James continued to live in films, with the so-so You Don't Mess With The Zohan, the "all-hope-is-lost" Paul Blart: Mall Cop, the homicide of comedy known as Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2, and his magnum opus of Zookeeper, where more of the comedy came out of people doing loops of the trailer instead of the film actually being funny.

So, if we were to look at this sanely, we'd see that his quality throughout his career has been abysmal and it should have been detached a long, long time ago. Yet it still lives, as if some sort of dark magic is keeping it alive. The question that I pose still remains unanswered, how did he get a career? If one considered how his career has maintained itself in the latter years (aka, right now), we'd be privy to say that Sandler is the one that has supported his trainwreck. It's not an absurd conclusion to come up with as Sandler has made maintaining on the entertainment scene by doing nothing but pure garbage seem like a fine art and most of James's "successes" in film do have Sandler sewn in through one means over the other. I don't think that's really what occurring here, because if that's the case, I'd have to believe that all the other imbeciles that were in Grown Ups are under the debt of Sandler as well, and they seem to be fairing fine. Besides, why would Sandler focus his energy on trying to ruin something that was never substantial enough to be ruined? With Dana Carvey, there was a funny beating heart inside of him that he could rip out and swallow. Kevin James has a beating heart, but it doesn't glow with the shine of comedy that is ripe for the massacring. It's more trying desperately to continue working even though it just wants to stop so that it no longer has to deal with the jokes that harbor in his talentless vessel of a body. In which case, what could be the cause of his success?

I recently searched both Kevin and James on Google as I was told to by one of my friends in the nuthouse. As I looked around, I found both names belonged to saints. Not only that, but both these saints were big with the concept of asceticism. Basically this meant that they wouldn't have any sexual activity or drink alcohol as they embark on a quest to find inner peace through spirituality. St. Kevin seemed to be the more radical version of this as in a folk song, he's claimed to have drowned a woman that was coming on to him, although that could just be the Irish trying to make another shanty for a night out at the pub. He was also known to live as a hermit, living amongst nature, sometimes sleeping on rocks and having little to eat, slowly gaining followers. St. James, on the other hand, was called James The Just and was one of the people that saw the risen Christ and was important to the Christians in Jerusalem. At first, this meant absolutely nothing to me, when I associated it to Kevin James. Both of these saints were devout in their religion (as any saint should be), and they have standards. Kevin James is nothing short of the antithesis of this. As I looked, I couldn't find anything else that could connect. I tried to tie Kevin Kline with James James, but there was no way that Otto West in A Fish Called Wanda could have anything to do with the man who wrote the Welsh national anthem. The only one that made the most sense was this connection, and even then, I found myself doubting the correlation.

Weeks went by where the only thing I'd eat was cardboard and invisible steak dinners served by my rabbit friend named Harvey, and I felt that soon I would be joining my friends in the looney bin. It was only until I slept for the first time in 20 days that it came to me in a dream. All I saw was that good-for-nothing hack praying in front of an Indian priest with a ying yang necklace. It was there that it came to me like a ton of bricks, which is pretty much how I felt after I woke up from that dream. As I took two full containers worth of Advil, I saw why Kevin James got lucky and won the lottery of being able to make money with no effort at all and getting a smoking gal to boot. Asceticism relies that a person undergoes certain conditions to achieve enlightenment and be whole in mind, body and soul. This is related to Buddhism and Hinduism. Both of these religions believe in the idea of karma; you do good, you receive good in return. It's very evident that if both did enough to be considered saints, they would obtain some sort of reward in return. Considering that both of these saints had to go through hardships, with Kevin having to overly-minimize his lifestyle and restrain from any sexual desire, and James having to be in charge of the Christians and the council in Jerusalem of all places, it would be expected that their reward should be ultimate enlightenment and standing alongside God to fully soak in the answer to all of the mysteries in the universe. In Hinduism though, the belief is that when one dies, they are reincarnated, and connecting itself with karma, if they do good, they are reincarnated as something better. So therefore their lifestyle that is much less demanding and their rewards are given to them more easily. What more could exemplify that as none other than Kevin James?!

If we truly think about it, his comedy has always been light-hearted and he's always had that sensibility of innocence and purity to him, much like the saints have. Sure, he participates in crass comedies and he's incredibly childish, but in truth, no matter how hate-filled someone makes a hyperbole directed to Kevin James, his bad movies have really never harmed anyone. In its own way, Zookeeper shows the principles of St. Kevin as he befriends the animals that are around him. St. Kevin is also redeemed for his celibacy and fasting by being able to become a glutton and getting it on with Steffiana de la Cruz enough to have three kids. Where does St. James come in to the mix? Well, if you watch Barnyard, you'll find that it shows the story of a cow (voiced by Kevin James, no doubt) eventually accepting responsibility and leading the animals in a barn after his father died. Not only does this sound like it might be Animal Farm for kids mixed with a bit of The Lion King, but it alludes to how St. James eventually became a bishop and gained prominence in the Christian religion. Only in St. James's case, it didn't involve coyotes or actors feeling ashamed after being in such a production. Where as St. James had to work hard to lead people that followed his religion properly and make critical decisions that would either serve him well or doom him forever, Kevin James doesn't have to worry about the implications of his choices as they seem to not have any setbacks to them at all. So the next time you find yourself cursing the name of Kevin James and finding yourself frustrated that he has a career, his past lives, he was a saint. And they need a reward for all the troubles they've had to endure.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Five Ways Bioshock And Animal Crossing New Leaf Are Related


Ah, video games. It sure is a fun pass-time for us isn't it? We do enjoy entering into another universe and partaking in different tasks to receive some sort of satisfaction or enjoyment out of the things that we are designed to do. From jumping up platforms to rotating pieces into place to shooting countless hordes of baddies, it's all a ton of fun that we simply enjoy soaking up. Recently I have come across two games that have been taking up a great amount of my attention. Well, it's actually three, but I didn't know I was going to get Scribblenauts Unlimited as a gift. The two that I'm referring to are the ones in the title, no duh. As I kept playing each game, bouncing from surviving in a dystopian underwater city torn apart by rampant objectivism to  running around a colorful, bouncy town bustling with talking animals and currency in the form of bells, I started to find myself connected the two together to certain aspects. It could be that perhaps these two games share something similar to them that we are not aware of. Now, I know what you're thinking, how can a shooter with old-timey music be anything at all like a life simulator where you can get pieces of furniture in the form of a leaf? Well, goddamn it, I found a few things that might prove my insane concept to be semi-plausible. Sure, I could be pulling out some stuff out of my ass, but if some guy can say that all the Pixar films are taking place in the same time period (save for Brave), then I can do something of this caliber as well.

5. The economy is entirely up to your tampering

We have this thing called an economy. Supposedly it's keeping everything in order in terms of our finances. Odd, considering most economies nowadays are basically going down the shitter, but in the world of video games we can escape the harsh reality of finding it hard to purchase more video games by clinging on to the few we got and playing them ad nauseum. Another brilliant thing that games allow us to do is not worry about the true complexity that goes with tampering or managing an economy. Geopolitics, graphs, currency exchanges? Forget that, every pixelated wonderland that we go to keeps everything running like the world in the 20s, with no depression to break the good times away. least not an economical depression. Thankfully, in these games you have the ability to mend the economy to your favor, so that you can reap more of the benefits. And by god, it's sure is nice to be able to be more control of your finances. Video games almost manage to give that beautiful illusion that you're the 1% sometimes. Ahhhh...oh right the list!

So how do both of them carry out the way to swindle yourself from some economic benefits? Well, for starters, both of them involve you being able to tamper with prices that are set in the particular universe. In Bioshock, there's a straight-forward way to do this, which involves simply hacking into machines and having them reduce the price for you. This is the only and also problematic way to get lower prices because if you don't hack the machine properly, you are hurt. Animal Crossing New Leaf, on the other hand, allows you to barter with certain citizens to have them reduce the price for you. There's also being able to enact an ordinance that allows your town to be more wealthy which increases the prices of what people sell you, but also gives you more money when you sell something to them. Not to mention that you can put something for sale as cheap or as expensive as you want in the Re-Tail store. A trade system is also evident in both universes since you will have to do fetch quests for people to obtain new items that can help you. Sometimes they fair out well, other times...not so much. But with the bad, you can always turn it around and make it a good. Whether it's selling something you don't want in ACNL or robbing bodies in Bioshock. The differences in both games is that Bioshock has a more personal "every-man-for-himself" economic strategy which means that you have to look out for number one and use your own cunning to find ways to make the best of the economic climate while ACNL has you more in control of the economy and more outlets to reap its benefits.

4. You have to scavenge to survive and be cautious of what's around you. 

Whilst there is a semblance of an economy verging in both worlds, there is no doubt that you need to do a hell of a lot of work to enjoy it properly. I mean, sure, I made it sound like a cake walk, and in some senses it is. But that's when you get with the handling of the money and doing financial tasks. When it comes to finding ways to obtain the money or something that can help you get money, you have to be very cautious. Every corner that you see, you have to analyze it carefully. You have to clean it out of anything that it could possess, for anything that you find could eventually aid you. If you're not careful, you could get something that could mildly annoy you or mean complete disaster. There's a whole slew of objects out there that are destined to ruin your day and make it difficult for you to enjoy spending your currency as frivolously as a teenage girl in an American Apparel store. So you have to keep one eye on your wallet, and another on your ass.

Perhaps for some of you it seems simple to associate Bioshock as following this practice. After all, you rob desks, safes, boxes, corpses of people you kill, corpses of people you haven't killed but probably would have if it you were confronted with them alive and many more for money, health, potions, tools and so on and so forth. Sometimes you just find them lying about and take them before anyone else can. You find random booze that you drink and depending on how careful you are, this booze could be useful to you or it would have been a waste of your functional liver. Then if you have enough money from all the dead bodies you've robbed, you can go to a vending machine and either buy some more helpful items or hack the machine and then buy those helpful items. Also, as you walk along, you have to be careful of security cameras or other scavengers or otherwise you'll be broken like a chocolate bar being shared by two really hungry survivors. How in the hell does this compare to a place where you're the freakin' mayor?

Well, the thing is that in ACNL, you can't just wire all of the town's bell revenue and put it in your pockets. No, like everyone else in the world, you gotta do something to get the money. Not to mention, you'll be owing a lot of debts to a raccoon by the name of Tom Nook. So, unless you want to suffer a horrible fate or every person in middle class America, you gotta go out there and get yourself some bells. You first have to get/buy tools such as a net, a shovel, a fishing rod and a watering can. Once you have that, you catch bugs and fish, dig up fossils, break rocks with your shovel or hit the rock, hoping that money will spontaneously come out of it and shake trees to get fruit and other things out of them. Once you do all that, you then sell them to the Re-Tail shop for some bells. Then you have to go pay Tom Nook by an ATM sort of device and once that's done, it's off to another debt for a bigger house. Oh and if you think that's just simply all fine and dandy, you have to consider the risk of pitfall seeds, scorpions, spiders and maybe the odd mosquito. That and then townsfolk will want to sell you shit you may not want to buy and you have to make public works projects to make them happy, which sucks out some of your bells if you feel like helping the cause...which you should to get others to help as well. Luckily, you can go to an island and capture some more special bugs and fish, but you have to pay a guy named Kapp'n a few hundred bells to go there. And even then , you can only take 40 items back to your town to sell them.

So basically what I'm saying here is that in each game you have objects of desire that aid you in your journey by either means of protection or economy, there are things that you can use but aren't the greatest of benefits, you have threats that you must evade and/or overcome and that you might have to do meticulous tasks in order to reap a greater benefit. Perhaps in ACNL, you don't get as drastic of a blow as in Bioshock since you can save your bells at that ATM device I was talking about earlier and hardly ever get your bells stolen unless you buy something from Redd. To be fair though, even in the Bioshock you have Vita-Chambers that bring you back to life, and depending on how you're playing it, it doesn't deal that much of a critical blow to you. Plus, both do share the biggest threat of them all...bees!

3. The cuter denizens are the most helpful

There's a saying that goes "Beware the cute ones". I don't know who said it but they basically meant that if you see someone that looks innocent and charming, you should be wary of their motives or actions. For it could simply be a facade that is trying to snag you into something much more sinister and catastrophic. In this case, that's not really what's going on. The people that look at you and instantly give you diabetes are the ones that have the insulin to help you back to your normal self. So, you always want to be on the look-out for them in case you're in trouble.

In this scenario, it's more plain to see that ACNL is the one that shines through. You have a great deal of citizens in your town that have very adowable features on them. They can give you items for free or provide fetch-quests that gladfully reward you. If you talk to them, you get more information about the world that you live in and you can use those tips to help you out further on your aimless quest. Then there's of course Isabelle...who the fanbase as declared as basically hands down, the cutest friggin' thing you've ever seen. By that logic, I guess she really does a lot for you. You'd be pretty much right, for she is the one that tells you how satisfied your citizens are, allows you to change the town flag and the town tune, and even helps you create public works projects. Truly, she is the one that you can count on to have the greatest of times in the realms of the game. What mirrors that in Bioshock? Why the Little Sisters of course!

While not as plentiful as the citizens of ACNL, the Little Sisters are the precious little bundles of joy that you will need to survive in the hell sinkhole known as Rapture. This time, there's more effort that goes into obtaining the reward than simply just talking to someone and finding something that they want (although to be fair, some of your citizens to ask for OUTRAGEOUS things). See, if you want your Little Sister, you'll have to take down the Big Daddies that protect them. They ain't no walk in the park, as their attacks pack quite the punch. You have to be damn sure you have everything that you need in order to take them down. Then once you have the Little Sister you have the choice of harvesting them or rescuing them. Much like in Animal Crossing, if you do the dignified act, you get rewarded for it. You get a good amount of Adam that you can spend on power ups and if you rescue three in a row, you receive a present. At the same time, you can also be a heartless fiend and harvest them, taking away a lot of Adam that you can use for more power ups. The only thing you obtain from cruelty in ACNL is moderate amusement at the reactions of your citizens.

2. You have an illusion of choice

If there's one thing that we like to have...or if you want to be edgy, believe that we have, it's the idea of free choice. We can decide whether or not we want to spend our money and if we want to spend our money, we can look at an array of options and pick the one that suits our needs. It's something that some of us may not appreciate once our options are robbed from us and we're forced to walk a narrow line. In games, for the general sense, you're basically walking that line, hoping that you finally reach the end and get what you want. Occasionally there are games where you have the compass pointing in any direction that you desire, although they usually have moments where they throw your ass down and demand you follow with what they say. Then there are the games that make it seem like you have a compass, but the more you play the game, the more you see how broken your compass is, and how it only points into one direction.

Each title has their own way of chaining you to a wall as you venture into the toy-box of the possibilities. Bioshock, for instance, forces you to follow a man by the name of Atlas. He's your guide and asks if you would kindly help him reunite him with your family. Once you find that the ruler of Rapture, Andrew Ryan, has killed his family, he then makes you go to Ryan and forces you to kill him. It's made very evident that you're bound to Atlas's whims when Ryan gives you the infamous "A Man Chooses, A Slave Obeys" speech and you end up doing what Atlas wants you to do in the first place. Sure, you have the choice of harming or saving the Little Sisters; yes, you can find a dozen different ways to get rid of scavengers or get by security systems and no doubt you can combine your different abilities to best suit your situation, but in the end, you are subject to the voice of Atlas. Anything he says, you go with it. You can try to ignore his pleas, but you don't progress anywhere. You just stay where you are, like a sitting goose.

ACNL has the same sort of premise, only it presents it in a more bizarre manner. You are forced into your position as a mayor. When you arrive into town, you're magically given this authority position. At first, it sounds fun. Being in a town where you're magically declared the ruler? What's not to love! You still have the ability to do whatever you want. If you want to dig holes around the place, go fishing, talk to people, walk around aimlessly, you have the right to do so. With that said, the debt that has been thrown on your head by the Nooks still looms and you can't avoid not paying it. Same goes for your responsibilities as mayor. You will have to find things for other people, you will have to initiate public works projects. If you want the admiration and the cool features, you will have to be the servant to this town. Distract yourself all you want, you can't avoid that you are bound to the town, like the devil is to the souls of sinners.

1. The world is under an oppressive ruler

Yes, you heard me right. This is the most critical aspect that shows that these two games are related in their own bizarre way. In both of these realities, the person who is in charge of everything is nothing short of a fiend. They hold all power and are able to do anything it takes to assert their dominance. Few voices oppose them, and the ones that do can be silenced in mere seconds. There's not really much else I can say about what this entails as it's already self-explanatory, but trust me, it gets a whole lot more convoluted the more we look into the dictators that are in control of the world.

First, who are the kings in both worlds? In Bioshock, it's Andrew Ryan, the man they call "the Bloody King of Rapture" with a dream of creating Eden underwater. In ACNL, it's you. You might think that perhaps you're not as evil as you think, but if you really think about it, you accept the role of mayor, despite knowing how bizarre the opportunity is. You don't do the respectable decision and refuse the offer or tell them to hold the election, you roll with the idea. How do each of these rulers enforce their power to the citizens? With Ryan, he sends minions after you, rigs areas to assure your demise and constantly threatens you the more and more you try to foil him. You, on the other hand, enact ordinances that the town must follow once the proper paperwork are done, hit people with nets, tell Isabelle about any "problematic citizens" to which she promptly deals with, trap them with holes that you dig around them and force them to buy your belongings at the Re-Tail shop. Some might do them all and even more, while others would do two of things above, either way, you do something to show that you're in charge. Both also are supposed to be ruling the land for as long as your lives give for, but the chilling reality is that the one who really rules the world isn't's someone much more powerful.

See, in the worlds of Rapture and (insert your town name here), there lives someone in the shadows who truly asserts the power and uses you. Frank Fontaine (aka Atlas) is the man that truly controls Rapture. In the tapes that you find, it's made clear to most citizens that the one who really is in charge of the city isn't Ryan, but Fontaine, who has manipulated a great deal of people to follow him and challenge Ryan to becoming the ruler. All along he uses you with the trigger phrase of "would you kindly", causing you to do everything he says, which is why you can't do much else other than follow with what he has to say. Once you kill Ryan off, Fontaine reveals himself and admits that he has been using you for his longest con ever. How about ACNL? Why, it's Tom Nook! While much more benevolent than Fontaine, Nook still has you knee deep in debt and has more money than you since he's in the real estate business and has his children helping him by having them open up a shop that you have to go into if you want to receive certain critical items. Even though people don't rebel against you and hardly even consider Tom to be the real owner of the town, you can see it in their eyes that they aren't truly afraid of you, but rather the raccoon that could kick them out at any given moment due to mortgages.

So there you have it! Now, if you'll excuse me...I'm gonna see if there's some hilariously bizarre fanfiction that has this crossover and possibly do a dramatic reading of it for my own amusement.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Or Well! - When National Security Meets Totalitarianism

It seems that the world that we live in is entering a phase of complete and utter fear. Not only from terrorists, outside enemy forces, nature, semi-threatening co-workers, and various phobias to speak of, but from ourselves. Mainly, when I say ourselves, I mean the government. It's bizarre to think that we are worried of an establishment that is supposed to be working for our benefit, but we've often seen that their words are hiding a greater agenda. An agenda that could be fueled by some other selfish need. At times they merely cover up what lies behind closed doors, other times they don't even follow with what they originally say. So it's hard to tell when what they do is in our best interest or is in their best interest. With the issue of security on the minds of many, especially in times when attacks in national soil can come without much warning, it's safe to say that we've tried as much as we could to stay secure. The government swore to us that it would keep the bad guys at bay and it made promises to increase security. We were fine with that back then because we were scared. It came with its hassles like not being able to bring certain things on a plane and getting awkward patdowns, but we (somewhat) adjusted to it. Now, with the reveal of PRISM having been in effect for a while, we realize that perhaps we might have surrendered too much in the heat of passion. Except the problem with that is that we didn't willingly give the government the power. The government asserted the power on it's own. That, in turn, has caused a whole slew of problems.

PRISM, as we know, has been monitoring our Skype calls, our chat logs, our emails...basically anything that we usually use the internet for. And there's a facility somewhere that harvests all this information. Surprisingly enough, it's still smaller the the amount of porn there is in the world. Joking aside, they have a grand pile of our information without our permission and they're sifting through it, bit by bit, until they find something incriminating. Even though that's quite the stack to sift through, it's still a bit troubling that there might be something in there that relates to us that the government can be aware about. Perhaps we're not one with anything illegal to hide and there is nothing that truly incriminates us, but at the same time there's the issue of them manipulating the information in a manner that it plays against us. After all, context is important. Matters are more confusing when you consider that the way they target people might be arbitrary considering that the accuracy rate for foreignness is 51%. We have been given information to suggest that the common person isn't going to completely under review of terrorism and that no one really is getting targeted, but the power that can be exerted by the program can still be abused one way or the other. It becomes more subjective if one would put their faith in the government or not. The main issue though, is still again, that they put forth this initiative without us knowing about it.

See, if we were aware of what happened, this wouldn't have the media making a huge scandal over the whistleblower and the policy itself. If anything, that scandal would have happened when people were debating on whether or not to push forward the proposal. We'd be accepting the fact that the government would be spying on us then because we let it pass. It still might be unsettling for others, but at least the whole public is aware of it. The mere concept that this was pushed without us having knowledge of it creates more alarm than what the PRISM program has to offer, but it doesn't make matters better that what the program's directive is to invade our private lives for the "sake of security". What they have done with PRISM shows that the government is not concerned with the voice of the people. If they're not focused on the people that they're supposed to represent, then they're more invested in their own needs, and most of the time a government desires power and control. Governments who make it their goal to desire power and control are pretty much around everywhere, even in the more benevolent and structured of societies, but when it's the primary goal and they're blatantly projecting this out to the world, that's when the problem ensues, because it's when it shows that the leaders of the nation are following a more barbaric and tyrannical method of governing. To put it shortly, this is the first step towards totalitarianism.

It's not that we weren't warned by others that the government was really part of something much more despicable and twisted. Various conspiracy theorists have claimed that we were being watched in secret and that there is an illusion of "freedom" in our government. The reveal of PRISM has proven both of these concepts right, and it's sort of painful to see that what we once scoffed as a ludicrous paranoia has turned into a frightening reality. The reality is that when it comes to certain conspiracies, there is a valid point of that the government has been keeping certain matters in secrecy and not informing us properly about the events. While I am certainly not a "truther", I can't deny that it is peculiar that the US government would disclose information about an event that was supposed to be an outside attack. You'd think that the details would be a bit more available. At the same time, one can argue that it's disclosed because there's still more that needed to be clarified until a full, 99.99% factual report on the incident was made. It is also a matter of national security, and those matters should be kept private. Ironic considering that currently national security is taking away the privacy that we have. Despite the counter-argument that I presented above, knowing the secrecy that comes with national tragedies with the addition of PRISM, it is reasonable to see that perhaps the fear that the government is not playing fair with the people and that we are nearly closer to becoming a neon-sign of totalitarianism. One could say that perhaps the idea that this Orwellian nightmare is inconceivable in the modern day, but perhaps if we look elsewhere we could see that it is not that far-fetched.

There are many places where certain freedoms have been dismantled and a vast majority of people have been oppressed by powerful forces, but none exemplify the concept of complete control that the government of North Korea. North Korea has held an iron middle finger up to the world when Kim Il-Sung came into power with the policy of juche, that made the nation more reliant on promoting its own strength. His shaping of the nation glorified him to god-hood, and he has successfully altered history and writing so that it follows his favor. The only other people that revel in his glory are his children, and they have pushed the policy of juche further by emphasizing the military more and creating nuclear weapons. The nation is a police state, and there is no slandering of the great leader. A great of the people there are unaware of words that could register in their mind to insult the leader, which could either be due to the success of the propaganda created or the fear that there are government agents always nearby, assuring that they follow through with the sole agenda of the nation. North Korea has shown that the ideas of totalitarianism can take root and lead to incredibly devastating effects, so is it possible that the US may follow under this trap? On the one hand, more and more seems to point that the US is capable of enforcing total control and has exerted governmental power in a more unruly manner. But what about the size of the nation? North Korea succeeds in creating this haven for the Kims because it is a proper size for such a control to take effect. The US is larger than North Korea, therefore perhaps such a control would be near impossible. That is counteracted by the mere existence of PRISM though, so perhaps it could happen. The real importance isn't whether or not it is feasible, but rather if it will happen.

When PRISM came out, many reactions were triggered, but the only ones that matter for this to happen are those that are in seats of power such as the Senate. Some were displeased with PRISM, others thought it was a proper proposal and some even claimed that further protocol must be made to improve national security. Obama seemed to welcome the debate that would come from the reveal of PRISM, although concerning some of his commentary (particularly the one about not having 100% security and 100% privacy but we'll get to that later), it seems that he's more on the defense of PRISM, which makes sense if he wasn't going to remove the proposal that was initiated in Bush's term. It's also interesting to note that he seems to be describing the program as if it isn't as intrusive as we would think it to be, but when the program relies on looking on personal information, it's hard to take that truly into consideration. Plus, we come again to the point that this was kept secret from a great deal of people. So, it's very difficult to say what the likelihood of totalitarianism in the US taking effect is when you have representatives that are divided on the issue and a leader that is not removing the program that is causing alarm and describing said program in semi-contradictory ways, but is welcoming conversation based around it. Ultimately, if it were to happen, there would have to be a domino effect that leads to more freedoms being stripped away from the people, which then would bring up the question of whether or not people would revolt. That really depends on what is being taken away from them and who you're referring to. After all, we all choose our own battles. If it's going to happen any time soon, I very much doubt it. People are still able to have free debate and revolution is happening at the snap of injustice.

Although, I do want to talk about this issue of security vs privacy because it is a critical component of this issue. In the modern world there have been advancements. And with these advancements we are capable to be more secure as well as more vulnerable. One step forward, one step back. With the countless outlets that have been created for the sake of social interaction, those fields have provided us to be more open about ourselves and to edit our perception so that we can hide what really lies behind the screen. We have used devices less as a means to transport something to one another but as our own haven that harbors a great deal of our personal information and we don't want anyone to take advantage of this information. With that said, that personal information coming from other sources could have been essential to stopping something terrible from happening. Think about it, if your store is robbed, you'll have security cameras installed so that you will be more secure when another robbery happens. It will keep away others from robbing the store if they are aware that cameras are watching them. At the same time, the owner has the ability to do something illegal and destroy any footage that could incriminate them. Ultimately, it comes down to circumstances. If you haven't been robbed, you worry more about privacy than security because you want to keep your actions personal. If you have been robbed, you worry about security more than privacy because it's security that ensures that you can have privacy. As with all good things, balance is important, and with an issue so complex as this one, that might be problematic.

Even with the likelihood of totalitarianism taking hold in the near future in a country like the US being relatively low, the issue of PRISM is still a very important one. It's also conflicting because we desire both the security that we are protected in case of an attack and the ability to leave certain bits of information private. Should the government be given the right to look at our information, if that's how they have located/captured greater threats? Can we confide that they can look at our information and not use it against us, whether it be distortion of the facts, selling it to advertisers or using it for other terrible purposes? These questions are very much relevant and should still be the subject of conversation. Such a proposal does bring upon its own benefits to national security, but it also provides a great sacrifice and detriment to the rights that we try to uphold. Ultimately the problem of PRISM isn't so much in what it offers but in how it was introduced. Whether or not it will do any good is irrelevant when the program that we speak of wasn't something that is being currently discussed in Senate on some bill but rather an initiative that was secretly put into place. It could have been an interesting discussion that could have taken place when Obama took office, because then, it would at least show that he is willing to bring light to an issue that is of great importance to the public and have them decide in good conscious whether or not to use the program and how to use it. Instead, we had to have someone leak this information publicly and have everyone go on a panic-frenzy because of what occurred. That, to me, is what insults me more than the policy in question, because it shows that they don't care about your voice and are willing to violate the law for their own favor. It may not fully be 1984 as some may imagine it to be, but it doesn't make it any less despicable.