More Noise on Bandcamp – A New Duke Bike Rider EP

The ease of digital recording has made it fun to collaborate with yourself.

All of these were made on Garageband, which is to say, they’re me on Guitar and bass, with drum fills borrowed. The exception is the opener, “Do Another One, Dad” which was just a series of fills created with the AuxyPro app on my phone, then transferred to Soundcloud and then Bandcamp.

I’ll probably do more of these, as it encourages me to actually learn and practice my instruments. Let’s face it, practicing is boring, and I’m the sort that won’t do it unless there’s a goal to work towards. I realize these are basic, and not examples of great songwriting, but I had fun with them.

Brutalism’s Anti-Aesthetic.

In Ruskin’s On Art and Life, discussion of the features of Gothic archtecture lead to a passage nicely prophetic:

From these facts, we may gather generally that monotony is, and ought to be, in itself painful to us, just as darkness is; that an architecture which is altogether monotonous is a dead architecture; and of those who love it, it may truly be said, “they love darkness rather than light”

John Ruskin, “On Art and Life” pg. 35

My immediate thought, jotted down in my Bullet Journal (where I have a couple “Notes On Ruskin” pages), was “the perfect condemnation of the Brutalist style”. Brutalism is certainly given to monotony, to an almost deliberate exclusion of the kind of varied detail that Gothic or even Deco goes in for. It’s perhaps the most 20th-Century style, appearing in the immediate postwar era. One associates it with Mid-Century scenes, apartment blocks, government offices, and the like. It’s been left behind in favor of loopy Deconstructionist styles and has very few defenders. Bashing it is a favorite activity of aesthetes and faux-aesthetes, especially on the cultural Right.

But let’s consider that any style is trying to create an effect, as I said the other day. What effect does Brutalism create?

I perceive a few:

  1. The experience of sublime power, in the manner of the Pyramids or other monumental construction,
  2. The eradication of any concept of unnecessary adornment. The beauty of the building would be in its grandeur and in its function, nothing else. This is Bauhaus logic taken to extreme.

These are my takes, of course, but I think them readily evident in the style. Now, note how the first of these is actually trying to say something, to express something real, and the second, isn’t. So the first rises to the level of an aesthetic, by our previous definitions, and the second seems more of an anti-aesthetic, a negation.

These are not new observations. What I find interesting is that Brutalism’s positive aesthetic seems to provoke the more intense dislike. Detractors of the style associate it with totalitarianism, noting the enthusiasm for it in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. One can hardly dispute this intimidating effect. And the anti-aesthetic means that we have nothing else to soften or diminish that effect. It’s a massive stone block, and nothing else.

With nothing to catch the eye, nothing to engage, it quickly becomes a void on the imagination, a bore. It doesn’t even seem to reach skyward so much as take up space. That is why people dislike it so intensely. They strike our eyes like the black monolith in 2001.

Yet, this isn’t an alien power cube. This was a building, designed by humans, for humans to work and live in. We must retain that fact as we examine the whys and wherefores of it. The desire for simplicity and power are not alien to humans. Brutalism evokes both. We may criticize it for its Modernist excesses, for its unintended dwarfing of human spirits. But the error is never all there is.

On Dorks and Spirits

My last post, about the slapfight between William Shatner and RLM fans, contained a passage perhaps intemperate:

More to the point, I think people who do fill their house with junk and go to such conventions are spiritually depleted dorks. Am I still a fan?

It seems I let my rhetoric get away with me. This won’t stand up to objective analysis. Am I saying everyone who has a Funko Pop, or has ever been to ComicCon, has something wrong with their soul?

Let me concede: no, that isn’t true. It’s obviously not true. It’s not true according to the point I was making, that fandoms are not automata, but contain multitudes. There isn’t anything wrong, in itself, with collecting things, or going to events where things you collect can be purchased.

And you don’t need me to tell you that. I’m not the Pope of Fandom, and this blog is not my Index Expurgatorius. I wouldn’t want that job, and if it existed, I would rebel against it. I’d rather be the Martin Luther of Fandom.

My personal tastes are what they are, and while I understand (and engage in) collecting media that can be read, viewed, heard, or otherwise experienced – consuming art – I will continue to dislike the modern practice of people identifying themselves with what they enjoy consuming. That’s the problem I have with “fandom”, as a thing. It elevates consumption of media to a social identity.

Obviously, this exists on a gradient. I’m not going to become the John Calvin of Fandom, demanding that you destroy your icons. That would make me a prig, and the universe would be justified in telling me to shove a hand-glazed statuette of IronMan in the most convenient orifice.

But consider this:

Now, I’m on record as disliking almost every decision Lucasfilm has made over the last quarter century. If “the fans” are in revolt against Lusasfilm, it’s entirely Lucasfilm’s fault. SW fandom was low-drama and chill until George Lucas started treating the universe like a rented mule in the 90’s.

But consider the mindset it takes to interpret corporate rumor as Proof of Victory. Who does that? Who pours through Mark Hamill’s anodyne public statements like they’re Samizdata from the Underground Resistance? Who has this much energy for this? Why?

There’s a difference between critiquing art and raging about it. An ocean of YouTube videos saying “The Last Jedi Stinks Like an Outhouse Under a Bridge, and Here’s Why” will not raise a single eyebrow from me. That’s a human encountering art, and rises to the level of argument.

But that’s all it is. George Lucas didn’t rape your childhoods. Kathleen Kennedy is not a monster from the deep. Star Wars being bled out like a Passover lamb is unfortunate, but it doesn’t cry out to Heaven for vengeance. Dial it the fuck back.

By the same token, people who don’t like things that you like are not heretics. Criticism can be argued with, but dismissing it with banal rhetorical tropes (blah blah fat blah blah parents basement blah blah incel) is just you trying to control who gets to sit at your table, and what color they wear on Wednesdays. And in case you haven’t noticed, it doesn’t work.

The fact of these behaviors is a sign of devotion, and I’m sorry, but I question devotion to this kind of object. I understand it, and have experienced it. But I don’t think it’s reasonable or healthy. I think it reflects a spiritual lack. I think it’s turning everything into a war of Us and Them, the definitions of which change daily.

Being a fan is fine on its own. It doesn’t need a dom.

William Shatner, Red Letter Media, and What Everyone Gets Wrong About Fandom

Never meet your heroes.

I’ve mentioned Red Letter Media before. They’re a YouTube channel that discusses film in a serious way, but with lots of jokes – spoonfuls of sugar to make the medicine go down. They’re different from most cinema nerds on YouTube in that they’ve actually undergone the process of making movies themselves – schlocky B-movies, that they themselves do not take seriously. But they’ve done it. They have some understanding of what it involves, so they talk about the nuts and bolts, which for a layman is an education.

Their infamous 70-minute review of The Phantom Menace taught a whole generation why the prequels weren’t working. Yes, they’ve savaged the Disney films as well. They especially made fun of Rogue One, which is the one everyone seems to love. They’re fair-minded and upfront about their perspectives.

They also do a MST3K-ish panel discussion of bad movies, called Best of the Worst, and they’ve had other creatives on as guest stars. Schlock ninja filmmaker Len Kabasinski has been on a couple of times, as has comic artist Freddie Williams, screenwriter Max Landis (before he got cancelled), comedian Patton Oswalt, and Macaulay Culkin, who’s practically a regular at this point.

I mention all of this because they’re a growing brand that is gaining widespread awareness. They hit 1 million YouTube subscribers recently. People have heard of them. Now, two of the three RLM stakeholders (Mike Stoklasa, Jay Bauman, and Rich Evans) are big Star Trek fans (I’m not going to call them Trekkies, for reasons that will become clear later). They talk about Star Trek a lot. They’re critical of the Next Generation movies, but love the show. They have nuanced criticisms of the recent film reboots. They do not like the more recent Star Trek Series, such as Discovery and Picard. But they stood up for one of the least-liked Trek movies, the 1979 Star Trek: The Motion Picture – a movie I’ve been wont to dismiss as “two hours of blue stuff”.

These two trends explain why RLM fans may have gotten it into their heads that William Shatner might become a guest on their show. They never invited him, but it became a meme anyway. This is an important point I’m going to come back to later.

Now I’m going to let Mike and Jay explain what happened next:

If you don’t want to spare the 20 minutes, Shatner got tired of being bugged on Twitter by RLM fans to be on the show. He was polite at first, if a bit shakey on the definition of “podcast” (which is fine, as “podcast” has a shakey definition). Then he started being less polite, then he started casually dismissing the RLM crew, watching tiny snippets of their videos and picking nits. This being Twitter, the volume increased, until the RLM guys had to stop what they were actually doing to announce that this was all a tempest in a teapot and it should all go away. Mike ends with the words “Leave him alone, because I just can’t take Captain Kirk pulling up pictures of me on The Nerd Crew (a satirical show they do) set, and calling me a moron. I just can’t take it.”

That should have been the end of it, but it wasn’t. That video came on Thursday, (July 23rd). Yesterday (July 27th), Shatner unloaded both barrels at the RLM guys with a Medium.com article called “The Toxic Empires of Egoligarchies“. If you’re having a hard time getting past the title, I’ll summarize it for you: Shatner didn’t watch the video, even though he used pieces of it, and brings in GamerGate and a host of screencaps to prove that… RLM sent its fans on Twitter to harass him.

In William Shatner’s mind, this is the only possible explanation. Three guys from Milwaukee have a zombie horde of fans that they can turn on and off like tap water. That’s how fandom works.

The absurdity of claiming, in the face of no evidence, in the face of all contrary evidence, that the RLM guys signaled their fans to harass Shatner staggers the imagination. The entire pretentious diatribe (truly an accomplishment for Medium, a platform that specializes in transmogrifying peoples’ shower thoughts into “essays”) has enough circular reasoning in it to flatten a trailer park.

William Shatner knows better than this. William Shatner has had to deal with his own fans being out of control. So has George Lucas. So has everybody who has a fandom. Fandoms (oh, I how I loathe that word) are not armies, sent out into the world like digital stosstruppen to do their master’s bidding. If they were, then Red Letter Media, which is based on fans being critical of product, couldn’t possibly exist. Fans are human beings, and act along the gradient of human behavior. Some of them will be monsters, and some saints.

I’ve been a Star Wars fan since I was small. I’ve never gone to a fan convention. I’ve never bought a lightsaber or any other Star Wars paraphanelia. The only T-Shirts I have were given to me as Father’s Day gifts. I sold my old box of Star Wars toys at a yard sale for $5. More to the point, I think people who do fill their house with junk and go to such conventions are spiritually depleted dorks. Am I still a fan?

Art is a worthy topic of discussion. That’s why I have articles about Star Wars on this blog. But art is meant to be enjoyed, considered, and critiqued, not worshipped. Liking something is not a substitute for an identity. The RLM guys get that, which is why I watch their YouTube channel.

But I would never bother an octogenarian actor on Twitter to be on their show. I don’t understand why anyone would. I think doing that is just brainless schoolyard trolling, of the kind that makes Twitter nothing more than a blood-pressure surge device. Anyone who bugged William Shatner about a YouTube channel he’s never heard of is a waste of a rational soul. There’s no reason for it; you didn’t achieve your goal, and you manufactured the phoniest kind of drama in a world that is filled with real-life, actual drama. You are shrieking gibbons flinging poop and bits of half-chewed berries at the gravestone of our culture.

Now ask me: am I still a fan?

Go ahead, ask me.

Aesthetics as Performance: Tanner Guzy’s “The Appearance of Power”

I began reading this book some months ago, out of my growing general interest in aesthetics as such. In earlier posts, I’ve lamented how aesthetics became an academic sophistry rather than a practical philosophy, after spotting Tanner Guzy on Twitter, this seemed just the right tonic. I’ve always been a man who dresses himself and buys his own clothes. This struck me as one of the great privileges of adulthood: unless your job requires a uniform, no one gets to tell you what to wear unless you let them. Male professional dress has certain strictures, but within those strictures are variety and expression.

“Expression” is the key word. Style is a performance, and regardless of what we’re wearing, we’re communicating our sense of self and how we expect the world to relate to us. Clothes create expectation. They reflect your perception of your status and role in the world.

Women tend to understand this more easily, as non-verbal communication has always been a female area of comfort (and anxiety). Men tend to regard it with suspicion, as the ambiguity of NVC raises suspicions of deception. The mistrust of the statement “clothes make the man” lies here. The aspirational part of style cannot be discounted. One need only be reminded of the actor George Hamilton arriving in Hollywood without a contract, spending his last penny on a tux and a limousine, and crashing a premiere. It’s the flip side of “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” When dress is communication, it can be a lie.

But again, whenever you put clothes on, you’re already expressing who you are and where you consider that you belong. And once you get past this point, doing so intentionally becomes obvious.

In the sense that clothing is something that is put on and replaced, dressing remains a performance. But dressing well is also an expression, and a specific expression of you, as you are and as you see yourself. Understanding this spares us the worry that dressing well is somehow unmanly. Paradoxically, we can avoid that worry by being even more nonverbal. Giving off the impression that you dress well effortlessly, without giving a second thought to it, certainly without making any noise about it, silently conveys mastery, another word Guzy uses quite seriously. Physical, social, and financial mastery, among others, can be attested to in dress.

None of this is new. Armies and Aristocrats have always known the importance of appearance. Democratic ages have differing styles, but not an absence of style. Therefore, the conscious study of how style works will be to any man’s benefit, without the risk of becoming a false, dandified version of himself (Guzy spends some time varying Rugged, Refined, and Rakish style archetypes).

Drawing back from this, we note something central to Aesthetics: the conveyance of an idea, or more properly, the creation of an effect. The very point of literature, film, and the other arts is how we respond to them. Very often in film the important thing is less what a character is saying or doing than the visual framework under which you observe it. To craft that framework is to create an emotional effect. The great directors are known for how they build their visual frameworks. Many of them have a particular signature – Kubrick’s grand broad shots, Hitchcock’s feverish close-ups, etc. These individuated styles stem from learning and mastering the craft.

If style is an art – and what else would we call it? – then it can be learned, crafted, and mastered. I would recommend reading Guzy’s book to any man, as it has some beginning practical advice as well the argument of this point I have touched upon. Then you can begin the process of mastering your own sense of style, and become in a quiet way an artist of your own life.

The Grand Deletion

My initial plan was to make changes to this site subtly, but visual issues with the theme required a new look, and when combined with the scale of the changes I’ve made on social media, that became more appropriate. So, in brief, let me relate what’s happening:

  • My Tumblr blogs are deleted. Every Damn CD is hereby inactive. I’m going back to listening to my music instead of reviewing it.
  • My Podcast, Thumbs Down/Thumbs Up, is undergoing changes. When I decide on a new format, I’m going to post it here, instead of through Podbean. The Shallow & Pedantic Podcast will continue without changes.
  • An ancient blog project, The Teacher’s Dictionary, which withered on the vine, has finally been executed. I may revive it in another form later on.
  • My Facebook Author page has also been deleted. It was more of a firewall than anything else, and my Facebook no longer requires a firewall. Posts will continue to be shared on my normal Facebook page.

Other things, of no interest to anyone here, have likewise gone the wayside. Whatever merit they had, they did not achieve the success I wanted. Reading Cam Newton’s Deep Work (a book I recommend) has made me consider concentration rather than multiplicity as the thing most needed in a blog. A million cross-postings are of no value if I cannot drive the traffic here.

I’ve been through these changes periodically in my long history of blogging; reaching for the new in order to combat the frustration of feeling like you’re shouting into a void. What I haven’t done is get the right content under the eyes of the right readers. Hence, quantity must take a back seat to quality. Nothing else matters.

Thus, what I intend as the final form of this web site, and my career as a blogger. I’m making this statement publicly, as a promise to hold myself to. This is a blog about writing, about content creation, and about aesthetics thereunto pertaining. Beauty is truth, and truth, beauty. And all that cal.

Read on, friends.

Quick Review: Doctor Sleep

I had planned to try and view this prior to recording our most recent Shallow & Pedantic podcast, but didn’t get around to it. Nevertheless, with the absorption of all things Shining, it was bound to happen. So we grabbed it at the library and gave it a watch.

Sequels are a delicate business. In order to have any hope of being worthy of the original, it must have more story to tell (Empire Strikes Back), or at any rate build upon the universe without breaking the spirit of it (Back to the Future, Part 2). Unnecessary sequels transform a movie into a slog of repetition, slowly bleeding the point away (The Hangover).

As a sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep largely succeeds in this. It helps that, as with Trainspotting 2, a sequel novel existed to draw from. Exploring how grown-up Dan Torrance deals with the legacy of his traumatic childhood isn’t boring (and as with Trainspotting 2, Ewan McGregor is good in the lead role. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen him do recently). The world of Doctor Sleep builds on that of the first story without repeating it.

Until it does repeat it. Because the Kubrick film of The Shining veered so hard away from the King novel (do check out our aforementioned podcast for a discussion of how hard), a movie attempting as it must to be a sequel to both has to take us back to the Overlook Hotel. We have to have Tub Lady and Grady and “Come Play With Us Danny”. We have to have the Hedge Maze. We have to see Danny sitting at the bar, just like Jack did.

And because of that, we’re forced into an ending that was borrowed from the first novel, which frankly misses the point. I won’t spoil it for you, but it commits the Prime Sequel Sin of Undercutting the First Story. In movie logic, the ending makes sense. But I would have preferred something different, even if that violated what has become convention.

It’s a shame, because there’s a good movie in here, that had it stuck the landing, could have deservedly gone on to cult status. As it stands, though, all work and no play makes Dan a cliche.

Shallow & Pedantic 4: We All Shine On

This went up on the Patreon last week for subscribers, and went up on iTunes and Spotify not long after. It a podcast in theme of earlier episodes: exploring the gulf between a novel and its film adapation (in this case, The Shining) and what it is that Horror does. There’s some loud mike action in the early part of the episode: we were recording through masks and Mike brought his a little too close. But that evens out after the first stinger.

We All Shine On Shallow & Pedantic

A discussion of the bifurcation of The Shining into the King novel and the Kubrick film, both of which work despite the intentional differences between them. Ongoing discussion of the needs of literature vs. the needs of film.We also chat a bit about new things for Unnamed Journal and Shallow & Pedantic in general.
  1. We All Shine On
  2. Mike Gets the Good Mike
  3. The Philosophy of Horror
  4. Graphic Novels Should Not Be Movies

Now would be a good time to repost that Patreon link. There’s a new issue of Unnamed Journal out this month, and the way to get it is to be a subscriber ($1 a month) or buy it direct from our Gumroad. More on this in the coming days.