Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Punisher Kills the American Literary Canon

House of the Seven Gables

Francis Stonham is young daguerrotypist staying at the Pyncheon family’s ancestral mansion. While researching the Pyncheon family history, he is haunted by the ghost of Alice, who was driven mad by young Matthew Maule, who was retaliating for the murder of his grandfather on suspicion of witchcraft. Disgusted with the terror wrought by the two families in their dispute over the land on which the house rests, Stoneham crushes Jaffrey's trachea and leaves him twitching helplessly as he demolishes the house with improvised satchel charges.


Captain Castle, on a mad quest for revenge against the white whale that took his leg, hires a crew of whalers under false pretenses. Realizing the danger Castle’s obsession has placed them in, the crew attempts a mutiny. In the ensuing melee, Castle kills Ishmael and Queequeg with a cavalry saber, hurls Starbuck to his death in the unforgiving sea, and drives the remaining crew toward his quarry. The white whale rams the Pequod from beneath, utterly destroying it; ignoring the panicked cries of his crew, Castle hurls himself into the beast’s gullet, where he detonates the suicide vest he invented for the occasion.

House of Mirth

Frannie Bart is a woman of high social standing in New York who rejects several advantageous marriage proposals, holding out for a marriage that is both economically and emotionally fulfilling. When a scandal destroys her reputation, she suffers an escalating series of humiliations, as she’s forced to learn new ways to survive. To that end, she steals a set of love letters from erstwhile suitor Lawrence Selden, and uses them to blackmail the Dorsets and the Trenors, framing Simon Rosedale in the process. Luring them all into Rosedale’s expansive conservatory during a well-attended gala, she opens fire with a Gatling gun, killing the aristocracy of New York at a stroke.

The Great Gatsby

Frank Castle works at a gas station out by the valley of the ashes. When his wife dies in a car wreck caused by some precious New England socialites, he drowns Gatsby in his pool, garrottes Daisy with her own jewelry, crushes Jordan's skull with a golf club, and chases Tom into the valley, where he is caught in a bear trap and left to die under the watchful eyes of T.J.Eckleburg. Nick attempts to flee to his ancestral Midwest, but is killed by an explosive hidden in his valise.

The Sun Also Rises

Depressed and broke, alcoholic veteran Frank Barnes drinks his way through Europe, beside promiscuous divorcee Brett Ashley. Frustrated by a war injury that has left him impotent, and annoyed that Brett keeps sleeping with his friends, Frank drinks himself blind and unleashes a herd of bulls onto the streets of Pamplona. Thousands are killed.

As I Lay Dying

With the death of matriarch Addie Bundren, her children attempt to honor her wishes by burying her in Jefferson. The journey is a long and tumultuous one, and the family is repeatedly waylaid by flooding, injuries, and unintended pregnancies. Meanwhile, Addie’s corpse is rotting in its coffin, and attracting a great deal of attention. Frustrated with his family’s inability to communicate clearly with one another, Addie’s son Frank locks the whole family, coffin and all, in a barn, which he then sets ablaze.

White Noise

Frank Castle kills many, many people in a college town. Everyone is too preoccupied with the inevitability of their own deaths to notice.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Community 1.02: Spanish 101

I am, like most of you, a creature of language, more fundamentally made of words than water. It was the main component of my skillset as a kid, perhaps to my detriment, but it only seemed to extend as far as English. Two years of Latin in elementary school, a brief Spanish sting in middle school, some French during my off-year, an abysmal French follow-up in undergrad, and finally two successful semesters of Japanese to fill out FAU's language requirement have left me with a pleasant awareness of a few other languages, but nothing like actual competence. Bilingualism is thus, with apologies to Ta-Nehisi Coates, something of a superpower, something consistently just a little beyond my ken.

So I've done a lot of terrible, intro-level conversations. They have a kind of thudding rhythm, loudly declaring themselves to be the products of language instruction, as opposed to language. When you're asked to write your own--when writing is what you do with the time you're not spending being popular or well-adjusted--it's easy to overthink them. There's probably a lesson there: do the work and get the fuck out. Or maybe it's the opposite of a lesson. Maybe it's my personal Ezekiel 25:17.

Whatever. Find your own meaning. The series has landed, which brings us to "Spanish 101," written by Dan Harmon and directed by Joe Russo.

Once again the dean establishes the scene, this time on the PA. A tiny hint of the future Dean Dangerous, but he's still baking. Jeff snags an illicit parking space, while the study group awaits his entry, having already established him as their Charismatic Leader. Abed hints at his Abeditity by engaging in some meta-badinage with himself, and Britta foreshadows herself by complaining to the others. "You are obsessing over someone who doesn't give you a second thought," she says. "Meanwhile, in Guatemala, journalists are being killed by their own government." "Spoilers!" admonishes Abed. Britta does her best to mollify him, diplomatically: "Real stories? They don't have spoilers." She asks with not a small amount of condescension,  "You understand that TV and real life are different, right?" Jeff returns, rolling a Fonz vibe, and deftly brushes Britta's concerns aside. He's brought an empty binder, which Annie happily fills with copies of her notes, showing a somewhat unseemly level of satisfaction.

Jeff hands Britta another card, this time celebrating the 2-week anniversary of his horrible first impression. Britta tells Jeff that she's immune to his bullshit, but he shouldn't be exploiting the innocents in the others in the study group. She leaves in a cloud of indignant condescension; Pierce approaches Jeff and aggressively advises him, "You can't pursue people so desperately, it kind of creeps them out." Meanwhile, Annie and Shirley want to know more about Guatemala, as they're eager to get into the spirit and protest. Britta barely knows what she's talking about, but she does her best. 90% of everything is confidence, and Britta doesn't have it.

The episode and the recap take a queer turn here. The narrative is bifurcating into a standard A-B plot. The Britta-Shirley-Annie plot is introduced first, but the Jeff-Pierce plot gets the payoff. Of course, the real resolution of the episode is progress on the mytharc plot of Jeff trying to nail Britta. At any rate, I'm tempted to take these two separately. Perhaps I will.

Britta, as established earlier, doesn't know much about Guatemala, but cares enough to feel that she ought to know more, and it's this guilt that overflows into condemnation of the group. Annie and Shirley are eager to learn more, less out of concern for the freedom of the Guatemalan press than out of a desire to act out a college-like experience. Annie wants to perform being a college student to feel older, more worldly, and tougher; Shirley wants to perform being a college student to feel younger, less domestic, and more rebellious. They have different ideas--Annie suggests a candlelight vigil "like lesbians do on the news," while Shirley opts for baking brownies. It's a party. We'll get back to them.

The other plot takes us into Spanish 101, and Senor Chang, the chaotic evil dark prince of Greendale. This is the first I ever saw of the show, a free preview of that show some LJ folk were talking about. The clip is available here (sadly, no embed). The Man With the Star-Burns makes his first appearance before Chang dismisses the class: "Hands! 90% of Spanish." Crucially, homework is assigned: students are to pair off and perform conversations using short phrases from unit 1. Pairs are determined randomly via cards under the students' desks; Jeff bribes Abed to pair with Britta, but she foils his effort by swapping with Pierce.

Back in the study room, Pierce's backstory as the heir of a moist towelette empire is introduced. Apparently it's not far off from Chevy Chase's real life backstory. Similarly, both Chevy and Pierce are widely agreed to be insufferable assholes. Jeff and Pierce begin work on the homework. Pierce brings out scotch, demonstrating an desperate intent to make it a long evening of male bonding; Jeff, creeped out, wants to do the damn assignment and leave.

Outside, Annie and Shirley have put on quite a jaunty protest. Starburns appears again, once more aggrieved. As dance begins to spontaneously break out, Britta objects to the frivolity. Losing her temper, she describes the protest as "tacky and lame." Over her stammered apologies, Shirley accuses her of using fringe politics to make herself sound interesting but not wanting to be involved. "I do things," she says in her defense. "I went to...I don't do anything. What can I do?" Annie and Shirley offer to let her help.

Back in the study room, Jeff and Pierce have "something incredibly long and very confusing and a little homophobic and really, really, specifically, surprisingly, and gratuitously critical of Israel." He adds,"The only thing not included in this epic are the five phrases required to get me a passing grade." Troy and Abed pop in to remind them of the other plot, and remind us what doing the damn assignment looks like. Frustrated, Jeff blows up at Pierce, and bails to go hang with Britta.

We follow him out as he grabs a candle, then bribes a kid to give him the sign he's holding. He stands near Britta, who opens her tape and apologizes for being too harsh. "I'm not perfect." A very drunk Pierce stumbles out and screams at Jeff, revealing his professed insincerity. He snags on a passing candle and bursts into flame, running off into the night.

In class the next morning, the group exchanges concerns about Pierce's behavior, but Britta defends him, saying that he's lonely and wants respect in the group: "I think he's spent his whole life looking out for himself, and he would trade it all for a shot at some kind of family."

Chang explains that Pierce has filled him on on their team's dissolution, and offers to give Jeff a C and let Pierce go alone. Jeff refuses: "Pierce, I understand if you don’t want to be my friend. But this thing we’ve created is bigger than the both of us and it deserves to be done right." What follows is something special, and the moment when I began to understand why my friends were so dead-set on getting me to watch this show. Set to the gently cathartic strings of Aimee Mann's "Wise Up," a slow-motion montage shows Jeff and Pierce engaging in an epic, highly offensive, and wildly incomprehensible exploration of the human condition across race, time, and Jewishness. And robots. As the end of the first "real" episode, it sets the tone for what the show is going to be best at: wholly inappropriate, but entirely legitimate emotional response. The presentation is, diegetically, every bit as awful as we'd imagine--it's unclear, from the blocking, who gets the F and who gets the F-minus--but Jeff is giving it everything he has, maybe for Pierce, maybe for Britta, maybe for the group that only Britta and Abed can see right now. Perhaps he doesn't know why he's doing it. Perhaps he doesn't need to.

The moment passes. In the hallway, Britta congratulates Jeff on an authentically selfless act. "How do you know I didn’t do it just to get a shot at you?" he asks. Because after that clusterfuck, "no woman in that class would ever be able to look at you as a viable sexual candidate ever again." Momentarily at a loss for words, Jeff hangs back and watches her leave; Pierce catches up to him, throws an arm over his shoulder, and shares his wisdom.

Finally, another piece in the gentle balance of delights that is Community falls into place with the end tag. The end tags are where Troy and Abed, the adorably co-dependent Bert and Ernie of Greendale, do their best work, and I'll not belabor it by describing it.

First Appearances
  • Starburns, the patron saint of Greendale.
  • The Spanish Rap in particular, and the end tag in general. As related to this show. They didn't invent it or anything.
  • While they've only begun to plumb its depths, the Troy-and-Abed bromance can be seen in its infancy.
  • Shirley's inappropriate tendency to respond to any situation with baking.
  • Insecure!Britta, a welcome change from trophy goddess of the pilot.
  • Pierce's quasi-paternal relationship with the fatherless Jeff, which will be a major focus of seasons two and three.
  • Also, sperm.
  • "Dos Conquistadores," obvi.
  • The Spanish Rap, equally obvi.
  • "Why do you teach Spanish?
What Have We Learned?

"Things like this will ultimately bring us together as an unlikely family."

Native American History Exhibit

Monday, June 2, 2014

Comfort Food Gaming

Hey, everyone, I'm looking into the feasibility of writing a Thing about comfort food gaming. Before going further, some general thoughts on what seems to categorize the practice:

  • Recovering the feeling of play when you're too tired, scattered, or stressed to handle novelty.
  • The appeal to nostalgia, either the specific experiences you had with the game in question or what was going on in your life while having said experiences.
  • The appeal to achievement, revisiting games you've taught yourself to autopilot.
  • Completism, the desire to "once and for all" finish a text you've already "finished" by most reasonable standards. Predominantly associated with open-world games, which constantly provide "excuses" to keep playing.
  • Perfectionism, the desire to use hard-won knowledge of the system to moonwalk though things that had previously been difficult.
I've written briefly about my comfort food gaming staples: Final Fantasy Tactics, Quest for Glory, the entire DS-mononucleosis library. I'll presumably be writing about them in some more detail. In a desperate bid to avoid that, how about you? What old games can you not seem to stop replaying, even though you probably "should" be playing something new? Has the behavior changed as you've aged? You have aged, right? Are you Fae or what?

This will look really dumb if there aren't any comments, so, y'know, get on that.