Harbingers

As you may have gathered from some of my past writing, I’m a big Neal Stephenson fan. He is one of my favorite authors. I was discussing with Marco the other day how when reading, say, the fifth Harry Potter book,  it felt like Rowling’s editor needed to step in and convince JK to tighten it up a bit. But with Stephenson, even when he’s plowing into a chapter-long tangent, you don’t mind, because he takes you interesting places. That’s not to say that Rowling is not a talented writer, but the voice that Stephenson writes with is just on a different, more stylistic level. His sometimes indulgent asides are what make him so much fun.

I’d like to talk about a concept of punishment he puts forth in his novel Anathem. It’s called the Book. A brief primer: Anathem takes place in a world similar to our own, but where scholars live a quasi-monastic life of simple means behind the walls of big stone concents, cut off from the rest of society for a period of one, ten, 100 or 1000 years. This separation allows the “avout,” as they are called, to dedicate their lives to scholarly work without distraction or interruption. While there are your typical chores and kitchen duty that can be assigned to reprimand bad behavior, there is also the Book. When an avout needs sterner discipline, the administrators can “throw the Book” at them.

The idea of the Book, as the main character Erasmas explains it, is to punish the mind of the wayward avout. It’s 12 chapters long, filled with inane, inaccurate and possibly insane content that must be memorized and tested against. Imagine a mathematician being forced to learn and apply false proofs, or a writer who must memorize incorrect definitions. The Book is designed to poison the mind, taking a sledgehammer to the foundations of an avout’s critical thinking and logical faculties. And each chapter is exponentially harder than the one before. In the novel, it’s said that only 3 men ever completed all 12 chapters, which took a lifetime, and they were all thoroughly insane when they finished. That the avout have dedicated themselves to learning makes it all the more heinous a punishment to them, as they are forced to corrupt their minds and waste their time working counter to their own life’s work.

One example Erasmas gives is a chapter full of nursery rhymes that almost, but do not quite rhyme. Another is five pages of the digits of Pi. In the novel, he is assigned the first five chapters as penance, which takes him several weeks to complete. And the idea is that, if you get in trouble again, you could get assigned even more. It is suggested that going higher can permanently damage one’s ability to process and organize information effectively.

I mention all this as prelude to my latest movie review:

this is the end, my friend

Surely, if the Book were real, Chapter 6 would be the shooting script to Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon. And the less said further the better.

–Benjie

blackberry, i love you but you’re bringing me down

you know, i’m a normal girl. nothing too crazy, like having a cat farm as i’ll never have children. i have a boyfriend, he’s mad cute and likes me!!! i don’t talk to myself in public. often. ok, that’s a lie, but i’m pretty balanced. but i have a special relationship that i just can’t hide.

oooh yeah gurl, work that shit

her name is blackberry curve, and we’ve been together two years now. two special years. we’ve had our ups and downs, you know, like everyone else. but she keeps me connected, mostly. i look out for her too. i get her insurance and even clothe her in boring little gel covers. you know, in case i drop her all crunk like. but when she slips out of that cover….damn!

i wish that we could talk about it, but there, that's the problem

it’s a sleek phone! it is! i hear other peeps talking about their texting machines; iphone, androids, misc machines out there. yeah, that’s all great for you. it is. but i’ve gotten to know this thing, and change is hard. you get this shiny pretty thing, never bothering to read all the pamphlets and watch the tapes. this BB and i have gotten to know each other. she takes my photos, sends my facebook updates, tweets my nonsense, and deletes my shitty spam email. she’s been an important part of my life!!! there’s few humans i would trust with those tasks, but i trust her!

dare i? no...no, maybe she isn't good enough to have my last name.

so here we are, at contract renewal time. i put a lot of faith in you, but like all old models, you’re breaking down. not what you used to be. it’s like the relationship that just starts to fall apart. i don’t get texts because you won’t get off your fat ass and receive them. you put your needs ahead of mine, always needing charging and self absorbed things like that. i pay your bills! keep you looking good! hate to go all janet, but what have you done for me lately??? she can’t blame me for having that wandering eye….ooooOOOooooyeah!

sound of silver talk to me. makes you want to feel like a teenager.

it’s not to say i don’t believe that someone can find eternal and committed love. i do, it exists, i think? jonathan franzen wrote a little piece about something similar recently. it touched the unfeelingness that i and a lot of people had been feeling. ever since these little devices/angels from heaven had been introduced to our lives. the disconnect of connection. the like of ourselves when others *like* us. “we like the mirror and the mirror likes us.” this is a topic that’s been covered-ish. what did i mostly take from this article? franzen had a blackberry!! my literary idol shares my love, but is also a bird watcher…so there’s that.

so this isn’t a decision to take lightly, obviously. she’s meant a lot to me. sadly though, there’s a ton of the twist, but we’re fresh out of shout….to be continued….

This post didn’t live up to the hype

So August Bravo tweets at me last night: “super 8 didn’t live up to my expectations but was still pretty good.”

It made me wonder, why do we go through life judging things based on our expectations? Obviously, there are a lot of low-level heuristic reasons for this in terms of everyday brain processing. But why do we do this for movies, books, events, personal experiences? It’s tempting to say this is a modern age phenomenon. That we didn’t do this before the internet. I mean, did people in Colonial America really walk around saying “man, that play didn’t live up to my expectations. The town cryer totally over-hyped it”? But I’m hesitant. Any time you start thinking that anything new is happening in society, you’re probably going to be wrong. Just ask the lorites. Still, the internet has a way of amplifying the echo chamber in ways that didn’t used to be possible.

The first time I can remember this sort of “didn’t live up to the hype” attitude permeating culture was when the Seinfeld finalé aired. Not that this didn’t happen beforehand, but this is when I started to notice. So Much Hype, they would all say, and the show had Failed To Live Up To It. Soon, this way of thinking seemed to spread to practically any form of entertainment or news event. Y2K? Overhyped! Star Wars Prequel? Didn’t meet my expectations. New Franzen book? HYPED! And so on.

But why does hype matter? Why do we go through life with the need to judge entertainment and events against our expectations? Why is it no longer sufficient to just say “I thought X was okay, but not great.”

The answer probably lies somewhere is the middle of modern internet shared culture, man’s fear of being made a fool, and the apparent need for everyone to have an opinion about everything. I guess it’s easier to talk about yourself and what you wanted from something rather than to articulate a critical viewpoint on it.
I would just posit this: it’s no way to live. Stop thinking about the hype. Ignore the hype. Don’t worry about whether your expectations are too high or too low, because in the end, nobody cares what you thought you would think, and you shouldn’t either. Just take it as it comes. (editor’s note: that’s what she said)

I really liked Super 8. Not a perfect movie by any means. Not a classic. And that’s okay. I can’t even remember the last time I saw a movie like this. Visual storytelling! Steady pacing! Kids who act like kids, not precocious one-liner machines or dead weight! People call this Spielbergian, but I feel like this is a disservice to both Spielberg and JJ Abrams. There was a time, lets call it “the 80s,” when this is what tons of movies looked like. They weren’t just a handful of CGI set pieces strung together by the weakest of scripts with lowest common denominator humor. Sure, maybe the idea wouldn’t be that groundbreaking or original, but at least they made some movies that weren’t remakes, reboots, sequels or adaptations back then. I miss this kind of movie. There should be more like it.

Also, Elle Fanning is ridiculously good in this. Worth seeing it just for her. Star-making.

This is what August Bravo thought. (editor’s note: no, we don’t know what he’s talking about either.)

August Bravo: Ok, I’ll get this off my chest first. The teaser for Super 8 had me really excited to see this movie. JJ Abrams could literally touch my bowel movement and make it into art, so I knew this would be an astonishing movie with some mediocre(ha) special effects.

The great thing about a teaser, especially like the one for Super 8 which I thought was just a working title, is that they say nothing. Ideas are populating your mind.

Naturally, I’m thinking Cthulhu.

Naturally, I’m wrong. How much is this guy going to fuck with us(me)? It’s cool, because it was still very awesome. Not as awesome as I’m thinking in my head because teasers let the mind wander. While most aren’t this broad, people can’t help but think of things beyond their imagination. Why else release a teaser trailer? Because they don’t have enough content to fill a whole trailer? Well yeah, probably. But they want to give the audience a ride. They want their expectations to be high.

And then with the full trailer, they want to smash all your Cthulhu-loving dreams and just show you it’s a movie about some kids with a camera. Albeit, still a very very good movie, with a very meaningful(aliens!!) plot. But audiences expect nothing and something. And I’m sorry that with Abrams I expect everything.

So what if it wasn’t Cthulhu, I still thought it would be something more. Yeah, it would have been cornier if it was more about (spoiler alert!) aliens, rather than having it very down to Earth. But I’m into bad movies. I think expectations are what get the movie going, the audience going. I’ll end it with this. Don’t put practically nothing in your teaser if you don’t want me to dream big.

As far as expectations go, I set mine at an all-time low and I’m generally never disappointed. Generally.

Straight up.

Apropos of nothing…

…it’s been a rough week, kids.

And I’m really fucking ready for the weekend. How about you?

Michael Fucking Caine.

This is Michael Caine:

This is his twitter account.

This is how Michael Caine talks:

This is a great Michael Caine impression:

And this is Michael Caine giving you a masterclass on how to fucking act in a movie:

Also:

“Melody Williams, that’s a geography teacher. Melody Pond’s a superhero.”

Last week was a hell of a cliffhanger and the start of a massive call to arms. This week we discover that the answer to the question “Where is the worst place in the universe to be standing?” is easily found out when you kidnap Amy Pond. A baby is born, a baby is kidnapped, a trap is sprung, some old friends return for the first time, we finally discover who River Song is, and this week on Doctor Who we discover that a battle can be lost and won simultaneously and that demons run when “A Good Man Goes To War.”

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