Wednesday, July 15, 2009

tv tropes

Spent a good hour or so this morning thoroughly enjoying TV Tropes. A web-wiki written in a (dare I say) refreshingly casual style, on all manner of narrative conventions that tend to define our modern age entertainment products. While at first glance, you might think that a perusal of TV Tropes will only fill you with a deeper sense of cynicism and repugnance at the industry status quo - further reading may allow you to appreciate the archetypal aspects of tropes, and how they serve as brutally efficient but necessary mirrors of our own absurd nature.

Hot Librarian is a fun place to start, and be aware that the joy is in the examples, especially esoteric ones from the late '80's that few (but you) remember. "Theora in Max Headroom." Ha! I remember.

Hot Scientist (not to be confused with Horny Scientist) is also amusing:

"Incidentally, the character that caused a few things to gel in this troper's head and inspire me to put this trope in the wiki in the first place was "Dr." Cataline Stone in the film Shark Attack 3: Megalodon, a film of such constant, royal stupidity that "the day would quake to look on."

I do not know this "Megalodon"... yet.

Just going through the list of Plot tropes may dizzy you.

  • Anticlimactic Parent
  • Badass in Distress
  • Captured Super Entity
  • Doorstop Baby
  • Faustian Rebellion
  • Inadequate Inheritor
  • Macho Disaster Expedition
And so on. I suspect we all could place at least one TV episode/film into every one of these categories with just a little thought.

"Science is Useless" caught my eye:

"In a competition of science and technology versus simple hard work, science and technology will almost invariably lose. See, science finds an easier, faster way to achieve something and is therefore cheating and far less honorable than honest sweat and effort. Thus, no matter how much a scientist researches, experiments and innovates, he will never achieve what someone else can with good old practice and hard work.

This trope works because 1) hardly anyone in the audience knows much about science, and 2) people are always eager to believe that anything they don't understand couldn't possibly be important....

...Very much related to Dumb Is Good and Rock Beats Laser. Might somehow be related to Reed Richards Is Useless. See also the physical equivalents Technician Versus Performer (where The Gift overcomes intense training) and Good Old Fisticuffs (where simple fists beats flashy kicks).

Further, there are two different flavors of this trope. If the point is to stress the importance of hard work, then the technological/scientific opponent is presented as an intimidating Goliath that the plucky underdog must struggle to overcome... But if the point is, instead, to deride technology or science as unworthy of human effort and manly men, the opponent is presented as a total joke and the hard worker wins easily. A Straw Man propaganda story. Also, what this trope consistently forgets is that science is hard work, requiring considerable intelligence, as well as lengthy and difficult procedures to create anything useful. Yet rarely or never the hard work of the science-user is shown or screen in relation to the plain old guts."

(BTW - The Reed Richards is Useless entry is amazing.)

I also enjoy the amusing connections between tropes that the contributors have attempted to integrate whenever possible.

From Attack of the Killer Whatevers: "A caveat: if it's a killer animal, there's about a 70% chance that it'll also be giant. If it grows too large, it becomes Attack Of The 50 Foot Whatever."

Worth browsing.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

crush the castle

Some silly fun. If in need of a brief time-waster today, visit Armor Games and play their satisfying little flash game, Crush the Castle. You fire a trebuchet to knock down a "castle" wall and kill the foolish mannequins within.

Firing your ammunition is as simple as 2 mouse-clicks - one to get the trebuchet swinging, a second to release. Click too early and your shot will go straight up, doing nothing. Too late and it crashes harmlessly into the ground. But time things right and you'll see those castle walls crumble and hear the delicious screams of the kings and ladies-in-waiting within. Some oddly gratifying physics occur. There are 24 castles to conquer and most are a simple matter - but a few are quite vexing and will require repeated attempts. This bugger (#24) still has my number:

You wouldn't think to look at it, but it's a damn pain to kill that maiden on the 1st floor.

Playing this has reminded me of the classic children's "boardgame" (circa 1983), Crossbows and Catapults. Remember this one?

It certainly was an appealing package - a game where you were supposed to play rough with your toys and knock down your sibling's castle. But, as I recall, there just weren't enough pieces in a single box to make it truly satisfying - and what parent was willing to invest in 2 of these things just so their kid could build taller walls to tumble?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


“Who is man? Is he a rational animal? If he is, then the goals can ultimately be achieved. If he is not, then there is little point in making the effort. All the evidence of history suggests that man is indeed a rational animal but with a near infinite capacity for folly. His history seems largely a halting, but persistent, effort to raise his reason above his animality. He draws blueprints for utopia, but never quite gets it built. In the end he plugs away obstinately with the only building material really ever at hand: his own part-comic, part-tragic, part-cussed, but part-glorious nature.”

"What makes us omniscient? Have we a record of omniscience? We are the strongest nation in the world today. I do not believe that we should ever apply that economic, political, and military power unilaterally. If we had followed that rule in Vietnam, we wouldn't have been there. None of our allies supported us. Not Japan, not Germany, not Britain or France. If we can't persuade nations with comparable values of the merit of our cause, we'd better reexamine our reasoning."

Monday, July 6, 2009

the ecstatic & rising down

For me, discovering a real high-quality hip hop album feels like finding a twenty dollar bill on the sidewalk. It doesn't happen nearly often enough as I wish it would, but when it does I want to throw a party. So I've been living it up lately, thoroughly enjoying both Mos Def's recent release The Ecstatic and The Roots' 2008 release Rising Down. Both are jammed with creative samples, thoughtful lyrics, and addictive beats. Ultimately, what I respect most about these guys is that they're consistently trying to convince their audience to face up to reality and initiate positive change. Of course, the origins of hip hop are themselves rooted in self-analysis of one's position and neighborhood, but since the late 80's far too much hip hop has chosen to instead promote fantasy and materialism, exploiting their audience instead of inspiring them. Sadly, hearing Mos Def or Black Thought rap about blacks killing themselves periodically sounds like a broken record - the very fact that this continues to be such a central issue in the hop hop community suggests that the problem is depressingly intractable. But at least these guys are reaching out to the youth with some kind of knowledge. If you consider the messages that young, disenfranchised black (and brown) men and women receive on a daily basis, you'd be hard pressed to hear the positive ones in the drowning miasma of advertising, debasement, and hate.

While nothing Mos Def produces from this point on will likely compare to his 1999 solo debut, Black on Both Sides, with The Ecstatic he at least shrugs off the disheartening mediocrity of The New Danger (2004) and True Magic (2006). It is a return to form. His rhyming and rapping are superlative. The album is characterized by a number of tracks that contain Middle Eastern themes and musical styles. On "Auditorium," the infamous Slick Rick joins him in a rap about life & times in the modern age, including our ongoing war in Iraq:

quiet storm vital form pen pushed it right across
mind is a vital force, high level right across
shoulders the lions raw voice is the siren
i swing round ring out and bring down the tyrant
shocked a small act could knock a giant lopsided
the world is so dangerous there's no need for fightin
suttins tryna hide like the struggle wont find em
and the sun bust through the clouds to clearly remind him
everywhere penthouse pavement and curb
cradle to the grave talk'll lead you on a shell
universal ghetto life holla black you know it well

As always, Mos Def is 100% positivity and I love him for it. The opening line of "Priority" might as well be his creed: "Top priority: peace before everything, God before anything, love before anything, real before everything, home before anyplace, shoot before anything, style and state radiate love power slay the hate."

"Quiet Dog Bite Hard" has such a slamming beat it deserves a YouTube link and a listen:

"Revelations" feels like it could have come right from Black on Both Sides, Mos Def quietly preaching black pride and humility to God on a thoroughly old-school track. And the producers and guest artists involved make an impressive list:

1. Supermagic (prod. by Oh No)
2. Twilight Speedball (prod. by Chad Hugo)
3. Auditorium (feat. Slick Rick) (prod. by Madlib)
4. Wahid (prod. by Madlib)
5. Priority (prod. by Preservation)
6. Quiet Dog (prod. by Preservation)
7. Life In Marvelous Times (prod. by Mr. Flash)
8. The Embassy (prod. by Mr. Flash)
9. No Hay Nada Mas (prod. by Preservation)
10. Pistola (prod. by Oh No)
11. Pretty Dancer (prod. by Madlib)
12. Workers Camp (prod. by Mr. Flash)
13. Revelations (prod. by Madlib)
14. Roses (feat. Georgia Anne Muldrow) (prod. by Georgia Anne Muldrow )
15. History (feat. Talib Kweli) (prod. by J Dilla)
16. Casa Bey (Arranged by Mos Def and Preservation)

Like Mos Def, The Roots have thankfully focused their prodigious talent on producing socially-conscious hip hop layered onto danceable beats. For whatever reason (most likely not enough listening), I didn't take to their 2006 release Game Theory, but look no further than Things Fall Apart (1999) and Phrenology (2002) for solid gateway albums into The Roots' universe. Rising Down is equal to the task. Feel free to ignore the somewhat disturbing, largely ironic "Birthday Girl" and indulge in the social criticism that defines the remainder of the album.

Just a sample, from "I will not apologize"

Yo, a revolution's what it's smelling like, it ain't going be televised
Governments is hellified, taking cake and selling pies
I ain't got a crust or crumb, to get some I'd be well obliged
Murder is comodified, felon for the second time
Never was I into chasing trouble I was followed by
Facing trouble with no alibi, had to swallow pride
Vilified, victimized, penalized, criticized
Ran into some people that's surprised I was still alive
Look into my daughter's eyes, wonder how can I provide
Got to get from A to B but how can I afford to drive?
Messed around, tried to get a job and wasn't qualified
Had to see a pal of mine, got to get the lightning rod
Now I'm in the black Impala looking for the dollar sign
Palms get the itching man I got to get the calamine
Before I fall behind, guess the grind will be my 9 to 5
I will not be conquered by, I will not apologize

Mos Def joins on the title track to help introduce the album, just so you know what kind of journey this thing will take you on. Not every track is a killer but The Roots are always worth a close listen.

1. The Pow Wow (Intro)
2. Rising Down
3. Get Busy
4. @ 15
5. 75 Bars (Reconstruction)
6. (Up Theme) Becoming Unwritten
7. Criminal
8. I Will Not Apologize
9. I Can’t Help It
10. Singing Man
11. (Up Theme) Unwritten
12. Lost Desire
13. The Show
14. Rising Up
15. Birthday Girl