Neon Dream #13: 川井憲次 – Making of Cyborg


I can’t say that any entertainment franchise has given me more cause to think than Ghost in the Shell. It presents a mid-21st century post-apocalyptic earth in which society has more or less stabilized. Events revolve around Public Security Section 9, a counter-terrorism agency focused on investigating cyberterrorism, which is rather interesting because the original manga by Masamune Shirow launched in 1989, before cyberterrorism actually existed (or the modern internet, for that matter). Throughout their investigations, the team deals with the social and philosophical issues that arise in an age where society is fully integrated across a world-wide network and technology has been integrated directly into the body, rendering people intimately vulnerable to hacks and computer viruses.

I am as guilty as most of having never read the original manga. I became acquainted with Shirow’s world through Ghost in the Shell (1995) and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004), both directed by Mamoru Oshii, and the 2002 anime series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, by Kenji Kamiyama. While the two directors take rather different aesthetic approaches–the movies present Section 9 as a harsh, disenchanted unit in a somewhat dystopian world, whereas the television series is lively and a bit cartoonish–both remain dedicated to questioning the impact of highly integrated technology.

Stand Alone Complex lies much closer to the root of my music series, because some of the key issues it tackles have since arisen online in the real world. Everyone is well familiar with the use of V for Vendetta-styled Guy Fawkes masks in protests originating from the internet, but there is a decent chance you have also caught a glimpse of an odd blue smiley face among the rabble. The Laughing Man image originates from Stand Alone Complex, where it functions as a mask employed anonymously by individuals taking public action independently of each other. At first, an advocate for social justice uses it to disguise himself while committing a ‘terrorist’ act, but the image quickly overreaches his motives. Others commit unrelated political sabotage under the guise. Corporations employ it to discredit their competitors. Pranksters use it as a sort of meme, forming the shape with chairs on a rooftop and cutting it into a field as a crop circle, for instance. The image has no concrete meaning, and everyone who uses it essentially ‘stands alone’, but the public perceive the Laughing Man as a single individual.

The actual anime gives a fairly shallow interpretation of this. The creator of the image, Aoi, explains that he never intended the mask to become a social phenomenon, and that its arbitrary usage dislodged the image from its original meaning. He sums this up by asking “Who knew that copies could still be produced despite the absence of an originator?” The ‘profoundness’ of this ties back to a long history of bad philosophy which assumes that signs have universal objective meaning in some sort of fundamental way which mystically transcends subjectivity of the mind. Basically, certain Greek ideas saw a resurgence of popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, probably as a consequence of high society’s fascination with antiquities at the time. The plethora of ready-at-hand counterexamples to these archaic notions provided easy meat for countless grad students to earn their PhDs, so long as they did not throw the baby out with the bath water and ruin the game for everybody else.

But I digress. While the intended idea behind “Stand Alone Complex” is a bit naive, the Laughing Man does represent a unique sort of game that can only be played in the information age. To the public, the Laughing Man was a single individual, or at most a closely coordinated group, but the participants knew better. They knew that there was no real ‘Laughing Man’, but their independent actions were performed under the expectation that they would be written into ‘his’ public profile. The game was exclusive; you had to be aware of the mask in order to dawn it. The game also had rules; an action totally out of line with the Laughing Man’s pattern of behavior would be perceived as a fraud. (You could not, for instance, reveal the truth behind the Laughing Man.) By playing, you added a little piece of yourself to the puzzle, and it might slowly assimilate you in turn.

Ghost in the Shell has remained a uniquely relevant franchise in science fiction because it got so many ideas right. In 1989, at a time when internet was still a novelty of college libraries, the manga offered a world of total connectivity, where every human and device belonged to a global network. In 2002, Stand Alone Complex introduced the Laughing Man, and shortly afterwards the real world knew an equivalent. Whether this bodes well for the franchise’s dabblings into cyborg technology, only time can tell, but history has certainly made an inherently fascinating fictional world all the more compelling. In the Ghost in the Shell universe, science has fully bridged the gap between computers and neural systems, allowing electronic implants to directly convert wireless digital information into stimuli compatible with the senses. The average citizen possesses visual augmentations which allow them to directly browse the internet via voice command. More complex technology delves deeper, creating a sort of sixth sense whereby users can engage a network through thought command. Some individuals, especially accident victims with the means to afford it, might have their entire bodies replaced by neurally triggered machine components.

The 1995 Ghost in the Shell film gets especially creative in tackling this–enough that it became the chief inspiration for The Matrix four years later. It revolves around brain-mapping technology and its implications regarding sentience and identity. From the start of the film, the ability to copy and read brain data appears to be common. Presumably, these digital copies would remain stagnant until encoded back into a neural network, but as the government develops better software for interpreting and editing the massive content at its disposal, funny things start to happen. The software gains a sort of temporary sentience while performing its complex tasks, and eventually it uploads itself to a cyborg body in an act of self-preservation. This new entity possesses the capacity to read other augmented brains and incorporate them into its internal network. At least, that is how I’ve interpreted it. The movie does leave a lot to the imagination. Perhaps it is recycled from earlier science fiction, and far-fetched besides–I wouldn’t really know–but Ghost in the Shell presents it all as if it were right around the corner, not lost in a distant galaxy of Star Trek.

Ghost in the Shell is so steeped in ideas that it’s a wonder I don’t forget it is a collection of animations, not a book series. Stand Alone Complex is presented as rather typical–and relatively forgettable–anime, but the 1995 movie definitely denies dismissal. It is a real work of art. The city is dirty and a bit washed-out without feeling downright destitute; the masses still lead normal lives. Emptiness expands upward; the characters are perpetually surrounded by massive, sort of dusty-looking structures that feel vacant despite signs of life. The music is simultaneously vast and minimalistic. Generally, the artistic direction projects a feeling that the protagonists are isolated–cut off from the massive world surrounding them–perhaps by the knowledge they possess.

The score Kenji Kawai (川井憲次) crafted for Ghost in the Shell ranks among the best soundtracks I’ve ever encountered. Without it, the film might easily unravel. The plot really does take a lot of creative liberties. What amount of entertainment value could convince people to open up their brains to potential hacking? Or, if they are doing it to maintain memory backups, why is a brain hack so devastating? Can’t you just resume from your last save? Why would a hacker go to the trouble of replacing an entire memory system in the first place, if they could just encode an impulse into an existing one? To these questions, I say “shhhh!”, because Kawai has so utterly convinced me that my cyborg brain will be shipping in from Japan any day now. The music shrouds the film in imminent mystery. It is a moment of quiet awe, before the very foundations of human experience become uprooted and replaced by a higher state of computer-enhanced perception.

‘Interesting’ nerd note on Kawai: while the majority of his discography appears in anime and film, he is credited with arranging the TurboGrafx-16 port of Sorcerian, one of Yuzo Koshiro and Takahito Abe’s better 1980s NEC PC-8801 projects. I am pretty excited to dig that one up. Aren’t you? …Bueller?

Neon Dream #1: Maserati – Inventions


On a bit of a lark, I posted an article last week about some of my odd experiences as a kid on the internet in the 90s. That got me listening to a bunch of music that has no obvious connection to the things I wrote about. My metal choices became more industrial. I fired up the Lost in Translation soundtrack for the first time in ages. I fell in love with vaporwave’s sardonic spin on muzak and smooth jazz… Hey, this sounds like an excuse to post a music series!

90s internet was obsessed with fantasy and science fiction. “Nerds” were more likely to be online. (My family got dial-up because my mother was a computer programmer.) Free online gaming was dominated by MUDs and forum RPGs, as they were well suited for text-based environments and stemmed from a long tradition. Most of all, it was the easiest place for that demographic to congregate. (Why do we have Sports Bars but not Dungeon Masters’ Taverns?) If you came to the internet enjoying console RPGs, you might well leave loving anime and Dungeons & Dragons, too, and sharing an odd obsession with that island off the east coast of Asia that gave us so much of it. Japan was an exotic world full of technologically advanced cities, as I imagined it, and its number one export for me was high-tech fiction.

That is how I came to engage futuristic universes like Akira and Ghost in the Shell. Japan brought cyberpunk into the mainstream for my generation. (It was years before I watched Blade Runner.) The internet was the new frontier of technology, so the genre sort of resonated with the medium through which I encountered it. Ghost in the Shell in particular asked a lot of relevant questions regarding how technology impacted identity. On the internet, anonymity was a sort of virtue, and that always fascinated me. I also saw, as time went by, a lot of commonalities between the internet and cyberpunk’s dystopian societies. Corporate monopolies replaced niche vendors. Advertising expanded wildly, still all in-your-face pop-up adds pushing pornography and all-you-can-eat, 0%-down, free trial chances to become an instant winner. Forums became overcrowded, scaling up from hundreds of active users to tens of thousands. Screen names ceased to provide even temporary identification as people no longer bothered looking at them. Copycat conformity and superficial cheap thrills dominated where people had once engaged each other with thought and imagination.

In both cyberpunk and the internet, you had an acknowledged gap between the corporate world and the masses. In Final Fantasy VII, for instance, Midgar’s dark, towering inner city emitted a filth of neon commercial sleaze and ill-earned luxury that opposed the sunshine and suffering warmth of its dilapidated ghettos. This disparity was clear, both to the player and to Midgar’s fictional inhabitants. The antagonists were balding, broad-wasted businessmen and corporate gangsters. The heroes toppled the system through sabotage, creating a ripple effect that rocked the masses and–not so much in FF7, but definitely elsewhere–turned them against their corporate overlords. The fact that capitalism felt evil or sleazy, both online and in the fiction, proved awareness of the gap. If the system was working properly, the masses would willingly accept their position and not eye commercialism warily or respond to tremors beneath. There would be no vulnerability–no means to revolution–and subsequently, in a lot of these stories, nothing to drive the plot forward.

The gap emerged in fiction because it made for an interesting story. It emerged in real life because the internet simply hadn’t been reigned in yet. Corporations were still scrambling to keep up with rapidly changing demands emanating from an unregulated hive mind. In both cases, the appeal was a sense of empowerment. Anonymity within an unstable system enabled anyone, theoretically, to mastermind changes in behavior of the masses and then slip back into the shadows. It was a utopian dystopia. It was too easy.

Today’s social media, integrated subliminal advertising, and tailor-made instant-gratification entertainment indicate a highly functional, invulnerable corporate society. The internet is a bleak, soulless place where people narrate their artificial lives to the wind, proudly displaying every ounce of their shallow identities. You might grasp the banality for a moment and try to spread the word, but open ears are hard to come by, and before you seek them you just have to watch this Youtube video about the 10 craziest moments in… something. C’est la vie.

But that is why internet and the 90s makes me reflect nostalgically on sweaty used car dealers in crooked toupees; Tokyo as an exotic, futuristic world; Groomed corporate elites snorting cocaine on their private jets; Sleazy, shameless advertising; Revolutions begun by untraceable, nameless figures in archaic chatrooms; The machine consuming itself and collapsing into anarchy; Most of all, the freedom to roam a vast, incomprehensible urban landscape without consequence.

Maserati are a post-rock band from the music capital of the southeast: Athens, Georgia. “Inventions” appears on their 2007 release, Inventions for the New Season (which I always thought was a really awkward title). Their line-up at the time included the late Jerry Fuchs, who was involved in a lot of significant acts before his tragic death: !!!, MSTRKRFT, LCD Soundsystem.

This song found its way into my mix as a result of my brief foray into RPGMaker. I got it in my head to make a cyberpunk RPG based loosely around a collaborative story that I took part in back on the Nintendo.com forums in ’98. Futuristic tile sets were pretty hard to come by, and I turned to music to set the tone of the game. I put “Inventions” to work when the player finished up the introduction sequence and became free to explore. The song captured for me the feeling of walking along the massive streets of a futuristic city in the dead of night.

On the Old Internet, I was Destined for Greatness


My childhood heroes all had the first name “NOA”. They were the living, breathing avatars of Nintendo of America. And Nintendo was God, for all practical purposes. But like Jesus, they were simultaneously divine and human. NOAPaul was a tough guy. A real street thug, with a tongue ring and everything. NOATravis, he was your boyband jock. Oh, the envy. And NOAAmy… did you know that she played Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger? I did. Imagine it: a girl who played RPGs.

One day, I was going to be a Nintendo Power Cyberjock too. It was my highest aspiration. Forget astronauts and fire fighters. If Paul and Travis could become Nintendo of America, so could I. And maybe I would make Amy my wife, though she was a withering old spinster of 24.

At 11 years old, I was dedicated to my future career. To become a professional avatar of Nintendo, you had to really know your facts. I was already on the right track, because I owned all 84 issues of Nintendo Power magazine. The knowledge was at my fingertips, but it was vast… so I decided to cheat.

I booted up my Gateway 2000 386/25–it was mine in practice, since my mother finished college–and I headed straight to WordPerfect. If I could quickly search a game name and know exactly which issue and page to check for information… A month later, I possessed a complete index of the entire Nintendo Power catalog. And you thought you were a lame kid.

But there I was, equipped for battle. Ask me about a game. I dare you. I had it down to a science. I could look up a relevant article and spit out an answer within a minute, and Nintendo of America would never know that I cheated. They would think I was just that good. I sent in my job application right then and there, along with a crayola masterpiece of Samus Aran battling Ridley.

I didn’t get the job, but that was probably for the best, since we did not actually subscribe to dial-up internet for another six months and “Cyberjocks” worked online. A minor technicality. Still, I kept Nintendo Power Issue 84 close at hand.

The fame. The glory. The honor.


*Section removed due to copyright issues. They were compressed scans of an out of print magazine spread welcoming you to the Nintendo Loud House with some amazingly dorky-looking staff members striking a pose.*

<(‘-‘<) ^( ‘-‘ )^ (>’-‘)> ^( ‘-‘ )^ <(‘-‘<) ^( ‘-‘ )^ (>’-‘)>

My first actual experience on http://www.nintendo.com, some time in 1996, was overwhelming. I had waited so long for this. Line by line, the pixels of that jpeg unfurled in slow motion. “Nintendo Power Source”. “Welcome to www.nintendo.com”. I was there. And it was wonderful.

Nintendo.com was a disorganized sea of information that you could spend all day exploring (especially on a 14.4k modem). There was a frame up top filled with totally nondescript or misleading images that would link you to different parts of the site, and each of those sections had its own upper frame of links. They could take you anywhere. The internet had no rules yet, you see. For instance, there was a really buried subsection called the “N-List” that linked all kinds of random fan sites totally unmoderated by Nintendo, mostly hosted on Geocities. As a consequence, through Nintendo.com you discovered such wonders as this flattering photo of the founder of popular present-day gaming website RPGamer:

(Sorry.)

Ultimately though, I went to the Loud House. That was where the NOA gods resided. To get there, I had to travel underground, down an elevator shaft that consisted of scrolling really far in a narrow frame to the left. If I thought the main site enormous, the Loud House was madness. They had a proto-forum–everyone still called them bulletin board systems then, though it was not an authentic BBS–where topics appeared in a single endless list set to a fire-engine red background with the texture of an aluminum tool box. Damn was it beautiful.

I knew there had to be at least a few dozen RPG fans out there besides myself and NOAAmy, but I never predicted this. The realization that I could be a part of a secret society of hundreds of Square(soft) aficionados must have waylaid my dreams of working for Nintendo for a time, because I don’t remember doing anything but theorycrafting Final Fantasy III (sic) for the next few months. I would spend every school bus ride studying my official players guide, looking for minute typographical errors that could be exploded into radical theories to share with my peers. I actually killed 4,000 dinosaurs in that forest near the Veldt in the false hope of resurrecting General Leo.

<(‘-‘<) ^( ‘-‘ )^ (>’-‘)> ^( ‘-‘ )^ <(‘-‘<) ^( ‘-‘ )^ (>’-‘)>

Eventually the forums changed, and so did I. They became more manageable and subdivided into “boards”. Me, I became 12, and that meant responsibility. I couldn’t just be another anonymous Joe researching Final Fantasy VI anymore, aging in obscurity as fame and fortune passed me by. I needed to get back to my dreams, and that required becoming involved in the social community. So I did what anyone would have done back then to turn the page: I changed my name.

That was a principle of the Old Internet that runs totally counter to modern social media culture and may have culminated with 4chan and the birth of Anonymous–the hactivist organization that never actually existed yet frequented headline news throughout 2008. You were really empowered to dictate how a community perceived you. You could completely ‘reset’ your identity at the click of a button, experimenting with different personas until you found one that jived with the community. Nintendo Power even encouraged this behavior in Issue 72:

So died BobaFett207, and a new entity dove into the RPGs board with a mission to earn the unrivaled respect and adoration of its citizens. (His mom also lifted the half hour limit on web browsing, so he actually had time to read replies and stuff.)

<(‘-‘<) ^( ‘-‘ )^ (>’-‘)> ^( ‘-‘ )^ <(‘-‘<) ^( ‘-‘ )^ (>’-‘)>

What I found was appalling. My plans were immediately surmounted by a more pressing issue. The release of Final Fantasy VII was rapidly approaching, and people were actually discussing the Playstation.

The Playstation. The Sony Playstation, in what would one day be my Nintendo kingdom. These were the filthy traitors who planned to endorse Squaresoft’s debauchery, and they had to be destroyed. I charged head-first, furious and uncaring of the consequences. “JERK!” “IDIOT!” “HOW COULD U!” I let the hatred flow through me, channeling it into dozens of single-sentence replies, until a thread title appeared that gave me pause. It said “ATTN: SHADOW 4000”. That was me! Registered only one day, and my new identity was already known to the community! The post, no doubt, would praise me for my heroic defense of truth and the Nintendo 64.

It did. This was where, in retrospect, things got weird. I wasn’t banned by a forum moderator, or even told to shut up. No, I was invited to join the NES Knights–a legion of warriors who, like me, vowed to fight against the evils of the Sony Playstation. I was promptly recruited and informed that we were at war with the Freedom Knights, who had organized to defend forum-goers’ rights to enjoy non-Nintendo products.

I earned my first stripes when the PSX Invaders came to town. They were a band of ruffians that would show up every few weeks and ravage the RPGs board by posting hundreds of threads titled “N64 SUX”, “PSX 4 LIFE”, etc. Certain that I could stop the incessant barrage of spam posts, I set a clever trap. “ATTN: PSX INVADERS” the thread title ran, and when they clicked it… BAM! “***FIRE LANCE X***” As I am sure you expected, this worked phenomenally. Two invaders stopped spamming and engaged me with their own barrage of attacks. I parried them as best I could, while fellow forum-goers engaged them similarly in other threads. The battle was long and bloody, but we were victorious.

<(‘-‘<) ^( ‘-‘ )^ (>’-‘)> ^( ‘-‘ )^ <(‘-‘<) ^( ‘-‘ )^ (>’-‘)>

I had found my true calling. Every evening, after school, I would log on to the Loud House RPGs board and train with my allies or engage rival groups. I even started my own, which amassed over 100 members. This was clearly my best route to becoming an official Nintendo-employed Cyberjock… while that dream lasted. It all came crashing down on Thanksgiving Day 1997. Nintendo deleted the Loud House.

And in its place, they created NSider. NSider was ugly, stupid, and it featured Diddy Kong instead of Fulgore.

>

Worst of all, by far, they renamed my precious board “Other RPGs”. Other! Lesser! Inconsequential! And why? The only reasonable explanation was to emphasize the Zelda board. Practically in tears, I called my RPGs brothers to arms. The Zelda board must pay. That war would last for weeks, because the Zelda board was well organized under the Zelda Alliance. (This same game had been going on there all along, despite there being almost no overlap in users.)

<(‘-‘<) ^( ‘-‘ )^ (>’-‘)> ^( ‘-‘ )^ <(‘-‘<) ^( ‘-‘ )^ (>’-‘)>

As it turned out, the game was not just an RPGs board thing or a Nintendo.com thing, but a common trend throughout the internet. As we transitioned away from NSider to Geocities and forum hosts like VantageNet and InsideTheWeb, we encountered more of the same everywhere. It was as if thousands of kids were dumped into an empty field and told: “Play. No one is watching.” You will never find a Wayback Machine record of the bizarre, seemingly pandemic consequences, but if you were socially engaged in the 90s internet before high school, you probably belonged to some sort of guild.

I tended to see a change in people when they got to be 13 or 14, and the game for them might transition into an interactive story. These were shared universe worlds in which participants would write a collaborative fiction story through their individual characters’ perspectives. It wasn’t RP, but rather a real (poorly written and highly derivative) novel, and it could go on for years. The one that began on the Loud House RPGs board amassed thousands of pages (which were archived). Alternatively, the game would evolve into cyberbullying. Account security was non-existent and cracking tools were a dime a dozen on Yahoo!. A lot of sites also used forms to password protect their content, and the redirect link was usually embedded right in the HTML code. As a high school freshman, you were too “mature” to pretend you were a wizard anymore, so you pretended you were a 1337 hacker instead. It was not uncommon to see a Geocities site vanish over night, replaced by “Conquered by” so-and-so. My first email address got hijacked. It was actually kind of stressful.

But that was the 90s internet as I remember it. …Am I supposed to inject some sort of closing point or moral here?

Clint Eastwood’s Chair


Politics constitute an indomitable itch for those of us inclined to discuss them. This is not a post about politics. This is a post about Clint Eastwood’s chair.

Clint Eastwood’s chair was first made known to me at about 3:30 this afternoon. I know, I’m behind the times. At my ripe old age of 27 it’s hard to keep up with the world. But I made that perilous journey to youtube, and with, I am proud to say, no great difficulty, I procured a mouse cursor in a blank textbox, from whence my journey began.

Arriving at my destination, and bearing witness the public oration there displayed, I found myself not at all befuddled or amused by an old man’s rant. Quite the contrary, I thought it a reasonably clever comedy sketch in consideration of his age, chuckled at his tongue-in-cheek endorsement (which amounted to little more than a ‘lesser of two evils’ vote), and felt inclined to comment on his behalf. Then my troubles set in.

I was caught off guard. The text below the video bombarded me like an artillery barrage, every 10 seconds a new string of demented rambling surpassing all of my direst expectations for the video at hand:

“LOL do you just make shit up? California well off? LOL just keep making shit up your boy will gone in November.” (kEMCO2)

“YOU’RE PROBABLY A LOSER SITTING IN YOUR MOTHER’S BASEMENT WATCHING FADING POSTERS OF OBAMA WAITING FOR YOUR NEXT WELFARE CHECK.” (Chloe Smith)

“You’re an idiot. You’re going to get old to you moron. Old age has nothing to do with dementia. People become deranged at 35, look at your hero Obama, he is as stupid as they get.” (DonDraperism)

“Ask the ones that OUR military freed and saved! Your a pansy and have no clue! Your part of the reason we’re in the shape we are!” (bessedchevy20)

“LOL. congratz u have been brainwashed” (bobilo95)

And I realized something.

I realized something terrible.

My internet was gone.

It was gone. It was dead. The shroud tailor measured it for a deep six holiday.

I didn’t believe it at first. I panicked, frantically hammering out search terms into Google, but no relief was in sight. I turned to Gogloom, dear old friend, but its springs too had run dry; IRC, my last vestige of hope, failed me.

And I thought maybe, just maybe, this tragic loss and the verbal assault upon Clint Eastwood’s chair were somehow related.

I was born and raised on the internet. I remember when we first got dial-up in 1996. I passed the tender age of 11 sharing insightful comments much akin to those I experienced today, only geared to my youthful interests. “LOL u dont even know ff3 is rly ff6 and u wasted $200 on a PSX even tho ff7s gonna suck NINTENDO FOR LIFE” Ah, such fond memories. A prodigy no doubt, I learned quickly to curb my intellectual idioms to placate the masses, adapting to the drudgery of coherent English in my teenage years and beyond. Was it some cruel twist of fate that now finds me linguistically isolated from the very internet users for whom I learned to converse? All I wanted to do was talk about Clint Eastwood’s chair.

The fact of the matter is the internet no longer functions as an outlet for sharing free thought. Oh, I am “sharing” my thoughts here, with the four or five of you who happen to read this, but should you choose to respond you will do so in the form of a comment, in reply to my post which I moderate. I am in charge here, and that means I am not really intimately engaging with anyone. These WordPress blogs completely lack an equal playing field for discussion, but they’re ideal for sharing one’s opinion with the wind. We’re all special. We all have a voice. Here’s mine.

That’s the state of WordPress. That’s the state of Facebook. That’s the state of Twitter, I suppose. I don’t use the latter two, frankly because the notion of making an isolated personal statement bores me save on rare occasions such as these. I post here because all of my previous outlets have slowly withered away. Are new outlets out there? I suppose there’s 4chan. The launch of /r9k/ encompasses some of my fondest memories of the internet, specifically due to the brief period of intellectual discussion it spawned. Coincidentally coinciding with the launch of Project Chanology, it generated countless debates on the political and social impacts of anonymity and collective thought, perhaps culminating in a collective realization of and expansion upon the notion of Stand Alone Complex (Ghost in the Shell). We were each participants, debating and trolling in turn, in the very social experiment we were conducting. It was a grand culmination of everything I loved about the internet in the 1990s and 2000s, but it was indeed a culmination–an end–because complacency and the totality of its form of anonymity rendered it non-sustainable. I remember acknowledging that at the time, and feeling as though my online world was passing away even as it stood resplendent in its most accomplished form.

And so it did. It took me four years to admit it, but the internet is dead. The pathways and connections through which such experiments as /r9k/ emerged as hubs for collective contemplation (a great majority of us, myself included, were not active 4chan members, and that fact was pivotal to elements of the discussion) dried up into defunct forums and dead irc channels. Our mutual file-sharing ties, the final tether, were severed by delayed but decisive corporate rationality headed by the likes of Apple and Netflix. The generation-spanning cultivation of anonymity was wiped clean and even culturally discredited by Facebook, with present-day internet users lavishly emblazoning their identity upon all electronic activity. The collective internet mind dispersed into relegated pockets. I am now an individual, and I despise that fact.

I wanted to talk about Clint Eastwood’s chair, but I couldn’t. I could tell a few people about it. I’m not really doing so at the moment, but I could. I could also scream at the wall, as so many youtube users of voting age are doing right now. And indeed, they’re relatively anonymous. Chloe Smith and blessedchevy20 will certainly never know that I read their banter, and, though I could probably trace down their thorough identities with easy today, apathy preserves them. But they aren’t engaging anything. Their ‘thoughts’, if what they wrote even amounts to thinking, involved not but petty rebuttals to the most recent of 12,000 comments, by now surely buried behind thousands more. The /r9k/ ideal, of thoughtful engagement under the shroud of total anonymity, was short-lived. Perhaps it carries on in some diminished form. But the long-sustained anonymous community is what we’ve truly lost. The modestly sized forum; the casual irc channel; the self-contained communities where one could engage under independent but locally consistent identities: it’s their loss that we now suffer.

Would so many adults scream at the wall if they had any alternative? In an age where everyone has access to the internet, would we be so simultaneously excitable and yet devoid of well-formed opinions if we had any means of discussion? I can talk here and hope you hear me. I can shout on youtube knowing you won’t. In neither medium am I well positioned to receive an intelligible response by an identity in equal social standing. You’re either on my turf or in the combat zone with barely time to breathe before taking aim. And even if the spirit of youtube calmed down a bit, what can you meaningfully say in 500 characters?

I don’t want to talk about Clint Eastwood’s chair anymore. I was going to say some silly crap about a metaphor for lack of political leadership that would sound corny as hell but would spark up some discussion. But I can’t do that here, because as an editor I’m in charge and that means I have to maintain boundaries. And there’s no point in doing it anywhere else. I guess I’ll just go back to playing Warcraft, maybe discuss the new expertise cap or auction house inflation. In the absence of loosely-moderated discussion boards and public chats those seem to be the approachable topics we have left on the internet.

What If Lisa Marie Was In Charge of the Golden Raspberry Awards


If you’re following the Awards ceremony, you know that two major events are coming up next week.  On Tuesday, the Oscar nominations will be announced.  But before that, on Monday, the Golden Raspberry Award nominations will be announced.  For 32 years, the Golden Raspberries have been honoring the worst films of the year and they’ve always served as a nice counterpoint to the self-congratulatory nature of the Academy Awards.

Now, on Monday night, I’ll be posting what I would nominate if I was in charge of the Oscars but first, I’d like to show you what I’d nominate if I was solely responsible for making the Golden Raspberry nominations.

Now before anyone leaves me any pissy comments, these are not predictions.  I know that these are not the actual nominations.  I know that the actual Golden Raspberry nominations will probably look a lot different.  These are just my individual picks.

(My “winners” are listed in bold print.)

Worst Picture

Anonymous

The Conspirator

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

The Rum Diary

Straw Dogs

Worst Actor

Daniel Craig in Dream House, Cowboys and Aliens, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Aaron Eckhardt in Battle: Los Angeles

James Marsden in Straw Dogs

James McAvoy in The Conspirator

Brandon Routh in Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Worst Actress

Kate Bosworth in Straw Dogs

Anita Briem in Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Claire Foy in Season of the Witch

Brit Marling in Another Earth

Sara Paxton in Shark Night: 3-D

Worst Supporting Actor

Paul Giamatti in The Ides of March

Mel Gibson (as the Beaver) in The Beaver

Sir Derek Jacobi in Anonymous

Giovanni Ribisi in The Rum Diary

James Woods in Straw Dogs

Worst Supporting Actress

Jennifer Ehle in Contagion

Amber Heard in The Rum Diary

Willa Holland in Straw Dogs

Vanessa Redgrave in Anonymous

Oliva Wilde in Cowboys and Aliens

Worst Director

Roland Emmerich for Anonymous

Rod Lurie for Straw Dogs

Kevin Munroe for Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Robert Redford for The Conspirator

Bruce Robinson for The Rum Diary

Worst Screenplay

Anonymous, written by John Orloff.

Another Earth, written by Mike Cahill and Brit Marling

The Beaver, written by Kyle Killen

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, written by Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer.

Straw Dogs, written by Rod Lurie.

(That’s right, it’s a tie.)

Worst Screen Couple 

Rhys Ifans and Joeley Richardson in Anonymous

Rhys Ifans and Vanessa Redgrave in Anonymous

Brit Marling and any breathing creature in Another Earth

Mel Gibson and The Beaver in The Beaver

James Marsden and Kate Bosworth in Straw Dogs

Worst Prequel, Sequel, or Remake

Arthur

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Scream 4

Straw Dogs

Transformers 3

Lisa Marie’s 16 Worst Films of 2011


 

Now that 2011 is finally over, we here at the Shattered Lens can finally get around to listing our individual picks for the best and worst of 2011.  Pantsukadasai, Necromoonyeti, Leon Th3 Duke, and Dazzling Erin have already posted some of their picks for the best of 2011 and over the next five days, I’ll be risking your scorn by listing some of my own choices.

I’d like to get things started today by listening my picks for the 16 worst films of 2011.  As always, these choices are mine and mine alone.  So, don’t go harassing Arleigh just because you think Another Earth wasn’t a pretentious and silly film.  Instead, harass me so I can harass you back. 🙂

16) Battle L.A. — It takes a special type of film to make Skyline look like a work of art.

15) Cowboys and Aliens — Meh.  This should have been so much more fun than it actually was.

14) Your Highness — I still love James Franco.

13)  Shark Night 3-D — Another film that should have been a lot more fun.

12) Season of the Witch — The first film I saw in 2011 was also one of the worst.

11) The Ides of March — Hey guys, did you know that politics is a dirty business!?  Oh my God, consider my fragile mind blown.  Thank you for clearing things up, George Clooney!

10) Another Earth — Honestly, Another Earth probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the way that so many of the toadsuckers out there get so superior and condescending whenever they’re telling me that I should love this movie.  If you read the comments under my linked review of the film, you’ll find a very good defence of the film from Leon and then you’ll find a more typical response from some idiot named Naresh Raj Shrestha.  Unfortunately, Naresh seems to be a fair representation of most of the people who take to the Internet to defend this film.  All I can say to those people is “Fuck off, kids.  I’ve got real movies to worry about.”

9) Dream House — Daniel Craig.  Again.

8) Contagion — So.  Boring.

7) The Beaver — So. Stupid.

6) Priest — Yeah, yeah, it’s in 3-D.  Yay.

5) Dylan Dog: Dead of Night — This film sucks just as much as you think it does.

4) The Rum Diary — Is it possible to make a boring movie with one of the exciting movie stars in the world?  Apparently, it is.

3) The Conspirator — Self-important drivel that was released at least four years too late.

2) Straw Dogs — Tell ’em about the Southland, Rod Lurie!

And finally, here’s the worst film of 2011…

1) Anonymous — One thing is for sure.  Whoever wrote Shakespeare’s plays, he was a lot more talented than Roland Emmerich.

Coming up tomorrow: my ten favorite songs of 2011.

Film Review: Anonymous (dir. by Roland Emmerich)


Earlier today, I saw Roland Emmerich’s new film Anonymous and wow.  I don’t even know where to begin with just how thoroughly bad a film Anonymous is.  Yes, I know that this film has gotten good reviews from mainstream sellouts critics like Roger Ebert.  And yes, I heard the old people sitting behind me and Jeff in the theater going, “So, do you think Shakespeare really wrote those plays?” after the movie ended.  I’m aware of all of that and yet, I can only say one thing in response: Anonymous is the worst film of 2011 so far.

In its clumsy and rather smug way, Anonymous attempts to convince us that the plays of William Shakespeare were actually written by a boring nobleman named Edward De Vere (Rhys Ifans, giving a very boring performance).  De Vere, you see, is obsessed with writing but as a member of a noble family, he cannot publicly do anything as lowbrow as publish his plays himself.  So, he pays playwright Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto) to take credit for the plays.  However, Johnson has moral qualms about taking credit for another man’s work.  However, Johnson’s sleazy (and, the film suggest, sociopathic) friend Will Shakespeare (Rafe Spall, who at least appears to be enjoying himself in the role) has no such qualms and, after murdering Christopher Marlowe, Will is soon the most celebrated “writer” in England. Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave, giving a performance so terrible that you know she’ll probably get an Oscar for it) is growing senile and De Vere starts to realize that he can use his literary talents to attempt to determine who will sit on the English throne after Elizabeth dies.

However, before we can even start in on that plot, we have to sit through the film’s opening sequence.  Taking place in the modern day, we watch as actor Derek Jacobi (and not Malcolm McDowell, I’m sad to say) delivers a lecture on why he thinks that Shakespeare didn’t write a word.  His argument basically comes down to the fact that Shakespeare was “the son of a glovemaker” and therefore, how could he have become the world’s greatest writer?  How could he have written about royalty when he himself was a commoner who didn’t go to a prestigious university?  How could he have been a genius when we know so little about his life?  And blah blah blah.  I understand that Jacobi actually frequently gives lectures like the one we hear in this film and I, for one, will make sure never to attend one because, quite frankly, Jacobi comes across like something of a pompous ass here.  It doesn’t help that Emmerich films Jacobi’s lecture in much the same way he filmed the world falling apart in 2012.  Seriously, a boring old man ranting on a stage is still a boring old man regardless of how many times the camera zooms into his boring, old face.

This introductory lecture pretty much sets the tone for the entire film to follow and, by screwing this up, Emmerich pretty much screw up everything that follows.  However, Jacobi is not entirely blameless for the film’s failure.  Number one, he delivers the lecture with all the righteous fury of someone talking about something … well, something more relevent than whether Edward De Vere wrote Shakespeare’s plays.  Secondly, Jacobi comes across as if he’s sincerely convinced that he’s telling me something that I haven’t already heard from a high school English teacher, a college creative writing instructor, and a drama professor.  Seriously, guys — the whole idea that some people claim Shakespeare was a fraud is not that mind-blowing.  Thirdly, and most importantly, Jacobi’s main argument seems to primarily be an elitist one.  Shakespeare is not “one of us” so therefore, Shakespeare must be a fraud.  In short, Derek Jacobi comes across as a snob, a bore, and an upper-class twit.  He’s the type of blowhard that you secretly dread will end up moving in next door to you.   I can imagine him now coming over and saying, “Hi, my name’s Derek Jacobi.  Might I borrow some salt and while you get it, I’ll explain why I hate glovemakers so.”

Both the film and Sir Derek George Jacobi reveal next to no regard for the wonders of imagination when they argue that Shakespeare couldn’t have written about royalty because he himself was not of royal blood.  But, I wonder — how hard is it to write about royalty, really?  Is Hamlet really a play about a prince or is it a play about a man who is struggling to maintain his idealism in an increasingly harsh world?  Is Henry V really about royalty or is it about a formerly irresponsible boy who is being forced to grow up?  To take Jacobi’s argument to its logical conclusion, why could Shakespeare not write about royalty but apparently De Vere could write about gravediggers and loan sharks? 

The answer to that question is not to be found in Ifans’ glum, humorless performance.  As played by Rhys Ifans, Edward De Vere is a blank slate who seems to be incapable of the joy and the love of life that is apparent in some of the plays that Jacobi credits him with.  The film’s version of Edward De Vere doesn’t seem to be capable of telling a good joke, let alone writing one.  Yet, we are to believe that he is the author of Much Ado About Nothing?  It’s enough to make you wonder if anyone involved in this film has ever bothered to read Shakespeare or do they just use his work (and a wikipedia-level understanding of British history) as a roadmap for their own conspiracy theories?

Once you get past the whole Shakespeare-as-fraud thing, it’s a bit difficult to really talk about the plot of Anonymous because there really isn’t much of a plot.  There’s a lot of people plotting things and there’s a lot of scenes of distinguished looking men standing in ornate waiting rooms and either whispering or yelling about who deserves to succeed Elizabeth as ruler.  I’m an unapologetic history nerd and I usually love all the soap opera theatrics of British royalty (both past and present) so I should have taken to these scenes like a cat pouncing on a bird but I didn’t.  All of the palace intrigue left me cold and bored, largely because it all just felt as if they were being randomly dropped in from other, better films about the Elizabethan era.  The plot of Anonymous doesn’t so much unfold as it just shows up uninvited and then refuses to go home.

Storywise, Anonymous tells us the following (and yes, these are spoilers):

1) Queen Elizabeth, the so-called “virgin” queen, was apparently something of a slut and had a countless amount of illegitimate children who apparently all ended up living next door to each other as if they were all in the cast of some sort of renaissance sitcom.  “This week on Tyler Perry’s Meet the Tudors…”

2) Her first bastard son was none other than Edward De Vere who several years later — unaware of his true parentage — would become Elizabeth’s lover and would end up impregnating Elizabeth with the Earl of Southampton.  The Earl of Southampton would eventually grow up to become De Vere’s ward though he would never realize that he was also De Vere’s son and half-brother.  (And all together now: Ewwwwww!) 

3) The Earl of Southampton would then go onto to become an ally of the Earl of Essex, yet another one of Elizabeth’s unacknowledged sons and when Essex would attempt to claim his right to succeed to the English throne, De Vere would attempt to aid in his efforts by writing Richard III

4) Oh, and finally, William Shakespeare personally murdered playwright Christopher Marlowe.  In real-life, Marlowe was murdered in 1593.  The film takes place in 1598 so I’m guessing that either the filmmakers are just stupid or else they “embellished” the story in order to give us another reason to hate Shakespeare.  However, seeing as how Emmerich and Rhys Ifan and Derek Jacobi have been out there bragging about how authentic and scrupulous this film is, it’s hard to really forgive the “whole embellishment” argument when they’re essentially accusing Shakespeare of committing a very real crime against a very real contemporary.  It’s especially odd that the film pretty much drops the whole Shakespeare-as-murderer subplot right after bringing it up.  It’s hard not to feel that the filmmakers assumed that nobody would either bother or be smart enough to catch them on this.

Needless to say, this material is all so melodramatic and over-the-top that it should have been great fun, a so-bad-its-good masterpiece of bad dialogue and tacky costumes.  Well, the film is full of bad dialogue and the costumes are tacky but yet, the film itself is never any fun.  The film’s sin isn’t that it’s ludicrous.  No, this film commits the sin of taking itself far too seriously.  This is a film that has fallen in love with its own delusions of adequacy.  In short, this is a film directed by Roland Emmerich.

Indeed, there’s many reasons why Anonymous fails as a film.  John Orloff’s screenplay is ludicrous, the film’s premise is never as interesting as it should be, the film’s version of 16th Century London is so obviously CGI that it resembles nothing less than a commercial for Grand Theft Auto: The Elizabethan Age, and the film is full of overdone performances.  (Vanessa Redgrave might get an Oscar nomination for her performance here but seriously, she’s beyond terrible.)  Ultimately, however, all of the blame must be given to Roland Emmerich.  As a director, he is just so damn literal-minded that he doesn’t seem to be capable of understanding just how stupid this movie truly is.  At first this film might seem like a change of pace for Emmerich but after watching just a few minutes, it quickly becomes apparent that we’re dealing with the same idiot who had arctic wolves running around New York City in The Day After Tomorrow

I’ve seen a few interviews with Emmerich in which he has said that the question of Shakespeare’s authorship is something that “many people don’t want to discuss.”  If I remember correctly, he said the same thing about the Mayan prophecy that the world would end in 2012 and I wouldn’t be surprised if he trotted out that line in regards to climate change back when he did Day After Tomorrow.  Sadly, what Roland Emmerich doesn’t seem to get is that people are willing to discuss all of those topics.  They just don’t want to discuss them with him.

15 Upcoming Films That Are Going To Suck


In just another few days, the summer movie season will end and we’ll enter the fall.  The fall movie season is when all of the prestigious, massively hyped “quality” films are released.  These are the films that everyone is expecting to see remembered at Oscar time.  We expect more out of films released in the Fall and therefore, when a film fails to live up to the expectation of perfection, we are far more quicker to simply damn the whole enterprise by exclaiming, “That sucked!”

Below are 15 upcoming fall films which I think are going to “suck.”  Quite a few of them are “prestige” films though a few of them most definitely are not.  However, they are all films that I fully expect to be disappointed with.

Quick disclaimer: This list is based on only two things, my gut instinct and the advice of my Parker Brothers Ouija Board.  These are my opinions and solely my opinions and they should not be taken as a reflection of the opinions of anyone else involved with this web site.  Got it?  Good, let’s move on to the fun part:

  1. Anonymous (10/28) — Roland Emmerich takes on the burning issue of whether or not Shakespeare actually wrote his plays.  Who cares?  I’m sure this will spark a lot of discussion among people who found The Da Vinci Code to be mind-blowing.
  2. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (12/21) — Deal with it, fanboys.
  3. The Ides of March (10/7) — It’s a political film directed by and starring George Clooney!  Watch out for the smug storm that will surely follow.
  4. Immortals (11/11) — Yes, it will suck but it will still probably be better than Clash of the Titans.
  5. The Iron Lady (12/16) — Bleh. This is one of those movies that they make solely because Meryl Streep needs another Oscar nomination.  Nobody will see the film but everyone will talk about how brilliant Meryl was in it.
  6. J. Edgar (TBA) — So, when was the last time that Clint Eastwood actually directed a movie that you didn’t have to make excuses for?
  7. Mission Impossible — Ghost Protocol (12/21) — Honestly, has there ever been a Mission Impossible film that didn’t suck in one way or another?
  8. Real Steel (10/7) — How do I know this film is going to suck?  Go look up the trailer on YouTube and you can see that little kid go, “You know everything about this fight game!” for yourself. 
  9. Red State (9/23) — A satirical horror film with a political subtext?  Well, let’s just hope they’ve got a great director…
  10. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (12/16)It’s the law of diminished returns.  The better the original, the worse the sequel.  That said, I really hope I’m wrong on this one.  I loved Sherlock Holmes.
  11. Straw Dogs (9/16) — It’s a remake of the old Peckinpah classic except now, it’s a Yankee Blue Stater getting attacked by a bunch of Redneck Red Staters.  Yankee paranoia is so freaking tedious.  Add to that, Straw Dogs has been remade a few million times and never as well as the original.  At least those remakes had the decency to come up with their own name instead of just trying to coast on the credibility of a better film.  This travesty was written, directed, and produced by Rod Lurie.  Shame on you, Rod Lurie.  (Of course, the toadsuckers over at AwardsDaily.com are madly enthused about this film.)
  12. The Three Musketeers (10/21) — Is anybody expecting otherwise?
  13. Tower Heist (11/4)Brett Ratner continues to encourage us to lower our standards with this action-comedy.  The film’s villain is played by Alan Alda and is supposed to be a Bernie Madoff-type so expect a lot of tedious pontificating from rich actors playing poor people.
  14. War Horse (12/28) — This might actually be a good film but, as a result of all of the hype, it’s going to have to be perfect or else it’s going to suck.
  15. W.E. (12/9)Madonna makes her directorial debut with … well, do I really need to go on?

Coming soon: Bleh, Agck, and Yay! (And don’t forget Harry Potter!)


When you go to the movies as much as I do, you realize and very quickly accept that you’re going to end up seeing certain trailers a few thousand times before you actually get to see the film being advertised.  (By this point, I can pretty much recite that trailer for Cowboys and Aliens by heart.)  In the case of a good trailer, this can make an otherwise forgettable film into a must-see event.  And, in the case of a bad trailer, it can literally make you shout out at “Agck!” at the thought of having to sit through it again.

What follows are three trailers that, as of late, I’ve found myself sitting through on multiple occasions.  The first one makes me go “bleh,” the second makes me say “Agck,” and the third inspires a cautious but hopeful little “Yay!”

First off, here’s Page One.  This is one of those trailers that you look at and you think, “Everyone in this trailer is so physically unattractive that this must be a documentary.”  And it  is!

I have a feeling that Page One is going to be widely acclaimed and it’ll probably win awards from the same people who thought the shrill Inside Job was more thought-provoking than Exit From The Gift Shop.  That said, I can’t help but admit that watching this trailer inspires me to say, “Who cares?”  Seriously, yet another documentary where a bunch of old people whine about how they’re no longer relavent?  Yeah, sounds thrilling.

In fact, the prospect of sitting through Page One sounds almost as thrilling as sitting through a movie, made by the same people who gave us 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow,  about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. 

Anonymous, I imagine, will be quite popular with people who found the Da Vinci Code to be a mind-blowing experience.

Luckily, all is not lost.  True, it does appear that we’ve got a lot of Anonymous films in our future, but we’ve also got Another Earth.

I have to admit that, just on the basis of this trailer (which I’ve caught a handful times down at both the Dallas and Plano Angelika theaters), Another Earth is the film that I’m probably most looking forward to seeing (with the exception, of course, of Harry Potter.)   When compared to the self-importance of the trailer for Page One and the almost comical slickness of the trailer for Anonymous, the the low-key aesthetic of the trailer for Another Earth feels almost defiant.

Obviously, there have been many bad films that have had wonderfully effective trailers.  In fact, I’d be willing to say that 75% of most movies actually work better as a 2 minute trailer as opposed to as a 2-hour film.  And some good films have had terrible trailers.

In theory, Page One could turn out to be the greatest documentary since Exit Through The Gift Shop and maybe Anonymous will prove that Roland Emmerich is actually an artist as opposed to just a wealthy pyromaniac.  I certainly hope that’s the case because, believe it or not, I’d much rather sit through a good film than a bad one. 

However, on the basis of trailer alone, of all the upcoming films that don’t feature Harry Potter and Voldermort, Another Earth is the film I’m most looking forward to.

Speaking of which, here’s the 2nd trailer for the film of 2011: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2: