Quick Fix: Don’t Panic

I can be pretty negative around here at times. Cynicism seems to be the rule of the day in politics (“the nation is losing its founding values!!!”), religion (“Armageddon is coming!”), science (climate change) and media (the obsession with apocalypse scenarios). However, I think it’s worth remembering that, in spite of all the cynicism and worry that people spout, we might be living in the best, safest and most exciting period of human history up until now.

Think about it for just a moment. Your odds of dying a violent death are miniscule, and most of us can be expected to live happy and healthy into our 70s. Infant mortality is exceedingly rare. We understand the concept of cleanliness and have eradicated a number of formerly lethal diseases. Worldwide hunger has dropped (although we still have work to do if we want to eradicate it). We have realized that our actions affect the environment and are working to minimize that impact. The world is truly connected. We’re able to empathize with those unlike us. Minorities are finally getting equal rights. Education is on a sharp incline. We understand the workings of the universe and our place in it far better. When you step back and look at all these things, it makes our cynicism about the world going to hell in a hand basket look rather foolish, doesn’t it?

So what’s with all the negativity these days if things are actually as good as they’ve ever been? I think you can actually liken it to the rise and fall of grunge and nu-metal in the 90s and early 2000s. There’s a pretty compelling theory that these musical genres became popular in the post-Soviet era because they offered an outlet for angst when America and other Western nations were at a point of prosperity and felt practically invincible. However, when 9/11 happened and completely shook our society, suddenly we found ourselves with real problems that made our former angst outlets look childish. While I’m not saying that all negativity is unfounded, I do believe that we have a negativity bias and a deep need to complain, even when our complaints are relatively meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

So what is leading to mass negativity? Why are people claiming that the gay marriage ruling in the States is going to bring about God’s wrath? Why are people afraid of ISIS launching organized terror attacks on the West? I think we can break down the sources of negativity into five categories:

  1. Fear-mongering means that more people will pay attention. Human beings have a natural inclination towards negativity. News media, book sellers, apocalyptic preachers, etc all want the widest, easiest, most sustainable audience, so they’ll shill the negative to keep them hooked for a fear of life or death.
  2. Things are changing at a hither-to-unheard-of rate, and people fear change more than anything, and will cling to it irrationally. Just think of the hell that used to happen whenever Facebook would institute a much-needed change, and all the people who whined about bringing back the “old Facebook”, even though they had had the exact same complaints about that Facebook when it replaced the previous version.
  3. The powerful are afraid of losing their power, and so they’ll do whatever they can to incite the masses in order to hang onto their power for as long as possible.
  4. On a related note, the largest, loudest, most powerful demographic – the Baby Boomer generation – are now getting increasingly older and are at the “the world was so much better back in the day” phase as they are no longer marketed towards, and fall behind the times as things continue to change on a yearly basis (eg, trans-awareness just shot up within less than 5 years).
  5. They maybe, just maybe, have a legitimate complaint every once in a while – it’s possible, and actually changing in some ways is why our society has managed to get to where it is now. Considering how quickly things are changing, sometimes these complaints are a valid part of navigating new developments (eg, questions of privacy in social media), other times not so much (eg, CHEMTRAILS!!!).

So hopefully you can try to remember these truths and keep everything in its proper perspective. Don’t feel guilty for enjoying your life and appreciate the profound luck you have in being born in the best time period in human history thus far – and maybe watch the news just a little less.

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Deliberate Inequality

So I was recently reading this article on Polygon about unequal racial representations in gaming, and it got my mind jogging. Oftentimes, when someone calls out a system or representation for being racist/sexist/homophobic/whatever, people less versed in the subject are quick to come out and ask what the big deal is, that the person is looking too far into things, claim that it’s a part of the “creative vision” or that SJWs are trying to censor art (that they agree with, of course), etc. In any case, I believe that some of these responses stem from a misunderstanding of some of the basics of social justice analysis.

I think that many people believe that racism et al are only actually worthy of being pointed out if examples of them were done deliberately with malicious intent. For example, my father complains about how the media seems to always be complaining about racism in regards to police activity or their representation in Hollywood, and yet would quite likely stand up for someone if somebody was slinging racial slurs at them in public and discriminating against them in an obvious manner. People like him probably find these “smaller issue” social justice concerns to be extremely frivilous, get burnt out from hearing them all the time and definitely do not consider themselves racist. Unfortunately, due to a lack of interest or education on the subject, they are missing the underlying, unconscious issues in society which are contributing to the lingering of racism/sexism/etc. This often means that people concerned with social equality need to be concerned not so much with the less-common and clearly unacceptable examples of deliberate racism, but moreso with the unintentional examples.

Honestly, I find that deliberate examples of inequality are potentially less offensive than the unintentional, ingrained ones where people don’t even realize that they’re being potentially offensive. To link back to the start of the article, think about how big budget video games and movies rarely feature a hero who is a white, a male and a power fantasy of some sort. Think of how Assassin’s Creed: Unity ditched the option to play as a female assassin, claiming that they didn’t have the development time or budget to do it (which was promptly revealed to be a bullshit excuse, they just didn’t prioritize the female audience). Another good example is in Warhammer 40,000. Every couple months, someone comes onto the Dakka Dakka forums and asks where all the non-whites are in 40k. The simple answer is that there ARE other races in the Warhammer universe, and there are a handful of examples of them in 40k art, but it has literally not even occurred to the painters to paint any of their soldiers non-white. Honestly, I fell into the same trap with my 40k armies. When I was growing up, it never even occurred to me to paint any of my Space Wolves anything other than white. When I started an Imperial Guard army years later, I still didn’t think to paint them anything other than white for quite some time, until one of those Dakka Dakka topics pointed out the issue. We all have our own blind spots where we don’t even realize that we’re missing out on a chance at equality, or at least to make a conscious artistic decision one way or the other.

This is why the Bechdel test is so crazy – women rarely speak to one another about something other than a man because of the way that the screenplay is written. When 2 women speak, they have to advance the plot in some way by the very nature of the narrative. However, the fact that most movies fail the Bechdel test really shows how marginalized women are in movies, and that they aren’t generally the ones who the movie really cares for. It shows that women are not prioritized in the scripts, nor are they generally the focus, and generally serve as little more than plot convenience, especially when they speak to one another (because rarely do they bother to have 2 real women characters with any agency). My friend and I were watching the 1998 Godzilla, which isn’t an overtly sexist film by any means. However, we were commenting on it the whole time, when halfway through I was suddenly struck by the realization that the film had bombed the Bechdel test. There were only a couple scenes in the whole movie which featured two women talking to one another, and they spent all of them talking about a guy as the focal point to set up the love story subplot. It really illustrates where the film’s real focus is, and the fact that it’s so common is distressing (and let’s not even mention the 2014 Godzilla, which doesn’t even feature a single scene with more than one woman in it with a speaking role… this is a frighteningly common reality in movies).

What about deliberate examples of inequality though? The Witcher 3 is getting taken to task for apparent sexism in the game (although I’ll admit, Feminist Frequency does not have the best track record of picking good, clear examples). I haven’t played The Witcher 3 unfortunately, so I can’t comment, but one complaint that sounds valid is that the game features a lot of gendered insults when you play as a female character (or when they’re around at least… again, haven’t played it). Moral judgments about it aside, can we at least agree that having such marked differences in the insults directed at male and female characters is sexist? How odd would it be if enemies taunted your male game hero by saying they were weak, had a small dick, couldn’t pleasure their partner, or threatened to sexually assault them if they fail? Unfortunately, this is a strangely common trope for women in video games: quite a long time ago I wrote about Lollipop Chainsaw, a game I actually rather enjoyed, but lamented how the enemies will frequently call the protagonist a “bitch”, “slut” and threaten to violently sexually assault her. This also apparently happens all the time when you play as Catwoman in Batman: Arkham City – there’s a 6 minute video on Youtube of nothing but the instances where enemies hurl gendered insults at her, which is kind of insane. On the more positive end of the scale, I recently replayed the Tomb Raider reboot on PS4 and, despite the island being inhabited by violent, insane, foul-mouthed sailors, I didn’t find the game any less “realistic” for not having them sling gendered insults at Lara all the time. Rather, they simply act as if she was any other badass running around kicking their asses, and shout out her actions (“she’s flanking us!”) rather than taunts.

While gendered insults are undeniably sexist just by definition (male characters get generic taunts, female characters are taunted based on their gender), that isn’t to say that this is something that needs to be eliminated necessarily. I’m wondering if the point that Sarkseesan is trying to make (and the one she tries to make whenever she picks a really questionable example) is simply pointing this out to bring awareness to this potential issue in gaming, rather than saying “This is bad and needs to be eliminated from gaming RIGHT NOW.” If anything, it is more likely stopping devs from taking this sort of thing for granted and trying to get them to be more deliberate when they utilize gendered insults and female characters – is being beaten down and shamed for their gender key to the experience that the devs want to give the player when playing as a female character?

One common mistake that inexperienced writers make is when they try to make their story “mature”, they tend to overcompensate and just saturate it in misery, rape and constant violence. This causes the plot to be completely forgotten or overshadowed, and the acts themselves to feel meaningless. The fix, of course, is for the writer to be more deliberate with the use of mature themes, so that they have the impact that they SHOULD have. Rape, sexism and the like can be used in fiction effectively, but artists should be very deliberate when doing so and do it with the expectation of some potential backlash.

Like, in Season 6 can we finally get to a storyline other than “Who is going to try to rape Sansa this year?”

For example, I hardly want to call myself a great writer, but this deliberate inequality is something I have tried to take into account with my own sci-fi novel I have been working on. It takes place around a thousand years after humanity undergoes a biological revolution and colonizes the galaxy. Racism and sexism aren’t totally dead, but they are significantly diminished because the fearful have turned their attention towards bio-engineered organisms. As a result, women and men (of various races) hold equally prominent positions within the civilian and military structures without people having to comment on it. Homo/trans-phobia is also considered a non-issue in the universe of the story. One major character is bisexual and hated by basically everyone, but no one even thinks to belittle him for his “queerness”. When deliberate inequality is brought up, it is done to show characterization, not just because I decreed that this story featuring six foot spiders and space magic has to be “realistic”. This is not pressuring me to conform to diversity, this is making my story far more interesting and opening up more avenues for creativity than if I stuck to my own narrow “vision”.

People seem to assume that criticism is an attempt at censorship (a misunderstanding which helped kickstart the whole GamerGate movement…). They claim that criticizing media for just fitting with the status quo and featuring “realistic” examples of sexism/racism/etc is an attack on the creative rights of the artist. However, I think that criticism should be seen more as an attempt at artistic improvement. By pointing out examples of inequality, critics are effectively saying “this art would be improved if the female characters weren’t such a flat plot device, consider making them more interesting in the future, because it will enrich the narrative”, or “I would enjoy this more if they weren’t calling the female protagonist a ‘slut’ or ‘whore’ all the time, this is grating for me because I hear these sorts of insults get hurled at my sex all the time”. The artist is free to accept or dismiss that criticism however they wish, but if they dismiss it then they shouldn’t expect not to be criticized for it.

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IC2S Playlist Update 24/06/2015

As you have probably noticed, I have found some time to start writing again, thankfully. It’s not so much that I have gotten more time, but moreso that I just decided to nut up and shut up, and just clamp down to get some of the stuff I wanted to write down. I still have a couple articles in the pipeline so hopefully I can stay reasonably active in the meantime.

First up this week is “Murderer” by Impending Doom from their album Baptized in Filth. I have been wanting to put up some Impending Doom for quite a while, but haven’t really gotten around to doing so. This is due in part to whoever is in charge of putting their music on Spotify, because they have done a piss-poor job of it. Only 3 of their albums are up on Spotify… two of which suck (in my opinion), and one of which is good… but appears on Spotify twice for some reason. Even worse, their two best albums are completely absent, with only a couple of tracks from them included from the Killing Floor 2 soundtrack. That kerfuffle aside, “Murderer” is a pretty awesome song. Impending Doom have to be simultaneously one of the most relentlessly heaviest bands I have ever heard, while remaining eminently listenable in the process (to show how fine that line is, I can’t stand the more guttural death growls on their first couple albums). It’s also worth noting that they’re a Christian band, which is pretty obvious when you actually listen to the lyrics, but also seemingly insane considering how dark and heavy their music is.

I had another song slotted into this place, but I literally had a last minute change of plans when Disturbed decided to blow our minds with an unexpected annihilation of their hiatus and new music debut. As a result, the second song this week is “The Vengeful One” by Disturbed, from their forthcoming album, Immortalized… and like I said a couple weeks ago, I’m already all aboard the hype train. I’m digging the song, but it doesn’t feel like a major departure from any of their previous works… maybe just a slight refinement like Asylum was if anything. That’s a little disappointing considering that we had to wait 4 years for new music, but I love their sound as it is anyway, so I’d be lying if I said I was truly bummed.

Also – holy shit. P.O.D.’s The Awakening and Immortalized are going to be dropping on THE EXACT SAME DAY. I might need to get a new change of pants on the 21st. Plus August also marks the release of Sovereign Council’s Laniakea, so it’s gonna be an epic month for me in music!!!

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Two Wrongs: The Desire to Repay Evil With Evil

So the other day I was on my lunch break and one of the people I sit with mentioned that an imprisoned child rapist was gang raped by 20 cell mates, stitched back up, and then had his stitches torn back up so he could be gang raped again. Just everything about this story left me horrified and disgusted, but I think I ended up even more disgusted when the person who told me the story said “Good, he got what he deserved.” When I replied that they didn’t deserve that, they replied that they should get worse, because they did the worst thing you can do. This was probably just a throw-away moment in her day, but it has stuck with me and left me really troubled for a number of reasons.

Look, I’m gonna make a controversial statement here: child rape is bad. However, that doesn’t mean that this guy deserved to be brutally gang raped. NO ONE deserves to get raped. It’s the whole reason why we consider it to be bad in the first place. And just because he violated this principle in such an awful way still doesn’t mean that he deserves to have his basic human decency taken away as well. I have a hard time wrapping my head around how a perfectly normal person can say that this was a good thing. I mean, I think that they probably aren’t really thinking about the implications of what they are saying, because if they are then that’s a really screwed up outlook on life. When I was younger and far more conservative, I might have agreed with their sentiments, but I didn’t even view criminals as real human beings in a sense, nor would I have actually examined what I was advocating. I mean, think about what you’re saying: you’re claiming that it is good for a person to be forcibly gang raped until they are left bloodied, and then thrown back to the wolves immediately after being given medical care to be gang raped again. You’re saying that it is good for someone to suffer so severely. You’re saying that it’s good to make a conscious decision to commit an act of brutality on someone in a really sadistic, torturous manner to maximize suffering.

Society does not get better by the principle of an eye-for-an-eye. Violence only breeds more violence. I’m obviously letting my own faith and sense of morality shine through here, but c’mon… there’s a reason why vigilantism is illegal, why revenge isn’t a free pass to commit crime and why religions have been drilling in the idea of forgiveness as the height of morality for millenia. Awful stuff like this doesn’t solve anything or fix the fact that a child was raped and killed. A proper legal system will determine the punishment this man should receive, and any retribution beyond that should be dealt with as if the man were totally innocent as far as I’m concerned. I’m extremely curious to see how this story would be received by feminists, Christians and especially Men’s Rights Activists (since one of their few valid goals is seeking the elimination of prison rape)… I might have to take this story to Reddit to get a general consensus, but my suspicion is that they will all be pretty evenly split between disgust and gleeful retribution, since this comes across more as a personal morality litmus test than a group signifier.

On another note, the victims’ reaction to the recent Charleston shooting has shown a really powerful example of how we should respond to injustice. When faced with the man who had killed their friends and families, a man who was fueled by pure hatred, they forgave him. Dealing out revenge may be cathartic, but it is ultimately shallow, selfish and doesn’t bring any real justice to the world. Repaying evil with mercy is a truly inspirational act and makes the world a better place, helping to undo some of the evil which was initially perpetrated. As David Wong put it so eloquently, the rape of a rapist doesn’t cancel the other out, it just means that there’s more rapes in the world, and ultimately means that “rape” wins. Just try to remember that the next time you feel wronged – you can get some temporary personal satisfaction, or you can make the world just a little bit nicer.

I know which one I’ll try to live out.

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Christian Media Industries Part II: Movies & Video Games

So in my previous post on Christian media industries, I ended up covering a lot of ground and a lot of different facets of the subject. However, I unfortunately covered so much ground that I skimmed over some stuff that I wanted to mention when I first conceptualized that article, and before it ballooned out of my control and turned from an overview into my concerns with Christian media. I’ll probably turn this into a small series, I already have a Part III outlined that I would like to write about. So with that in mind, we’re going to dive back into the surprisingly interesting world of Christian media industries…

When I first sat down to write about Christian media, I had intended to dedicate a section each to both Christian movies and video games, but I ended up cutting this out because I had a bunch of other things I wanted to mention instead. Previously I had said that “many Christian artists actually want to reach out to the broader culture, but their message doesn’t get the needed reach” due to the insulated marketing of the Christian media. This principle doesn’t really seem to apply to Christian movies or video games for the most part – almost all of them seem to be completely and exclusively marketed towards the Christian audience. The reason for this should be pretty simple: even low-budget movies and video games are very likely going to be more expensive to produce than books or music. This means that the risks that the producers are taking on are going to be substantially more compared to other segments of the Christian media. Considering that they are already cutting down on their potential audience with their low production and marketing budgets and Christian themes, it makes basically no sense for producers to market to the general public, especially if they want to turn a profit. The Christian market is, after all, rather large and potentially quite lucrative.

Low budgets and basically non-existent marketing campaigns have proven to be a good strategy for the Christian movie and video game industry, since Christians have basically proven that they will buy anything, quality be damned, as long as it has a Christian label slapped on it. There’s a reason why even major studios, such as Fox, have their own Christian division (specifically, an evangelical-targeted division). Hell, even The Asylum (the most notoriously parasitic, profit-focused studio out there) has a Christian division, and it’s not because they’re trying to push their sense of morality on anyone – this is the same studio that creates “mockbusters” and softcore porn, because it’s the most efficient way for them to get money. It has been proven time and again that producers can choose to invest so little in a Christian movie that they are basically guaranteed to turn a small profit, because many Christians don’t seem to be very discerning about the quality of their media, as long as it has the “right” message (hence why utter shit like Bibleman is able to get made and get God knows how many sequels).

Video games have a more difficult time on this front though. Video games are hugely expensive to produce and tend to take huge teams to actually see them through. As a result, the ones that do exist are generally made by parasitic publishers who are just looking to make a quick buck off a low-quality game, or are made on shoe-string budgets by well-meaning (but potentially crazy) people who drown the product in an obtuse level of preachiness to justify the expense. They also tend to be really derivative: on the best end of the scale, you get Guitar Praise, which is basically Guitar Hero with Christian rock music, and on the worst end, you get stuff like Bible Adventures (I actually used to play this game in my childhood… all I really remember is that it controlled horrendously and the art is pretty awful for a NES game). Games that try to do something different, like Left Behind: Eternal Forces, are hamstrung by their low budgets and get plagued with technical issues (not to mention that Eternal Forces has been mired in controversy, even if its gameplay wasn’t a buggy mess). Luckily for Christian video game publishers, parents who buy Christian games tend to not be very discerning about the quality of the game, so many of these games are able to scrape back their budgets.

One thing that helps Christian movies to succeed (and also why there has been a growing trend over the past couple of years for there to be one or two “big” Christian movies receiving a wide release) is the concept of word of mouth. Street-level buzz is a key factor that basically every movie wants in order to get maximized profits, but Christian media has it built-in with weekly church gatherings. This is the reason why The Passion of the Christ was such a massive success, why studios can risk a large budget on a mildly-Christian blockbuster such as Evan Almighty or The Chronicles of Narnia* and why we’re seeing more and more movies like God’s Not Dead and Expelled (low budget, limited theatrical release movies aimed squarely at the Christian market) – churches basically provide free advertising whenever a Christian movie gets any sort of theatrical release. This follows the social marketing principle of influencers, where you get market to a few key members in a group, who will in turn market to a wider audience with far more effectiveness than a traditional advertising campaign could accomplish. This was demonstrated quite effectively when church pastors were calling on their congregations to go see The Passion of the Christ, or when Sunday school leaders were putting up posters for Evan Almighty or The Chronicles of Narnia (not to mention that a large number of churches are going to buy up copies of the movies for their libraries).

Aside from the costs involved, I would argue that the second biggest issue with Christian movies and video games is the lack of talent involved. Unlike Christian musicians, there is no system built in to most churches which fosters movie making or programming talent, so these kinds of artists will have to search elsewhere to develop. Furthermore, those who do have talent will likely be turned off of the Christian media industry anyway due to the very limited number of opportunities and the industry’s notoriously awful reputation. Any who do stick around will probably find their talents stifled by creative restriction, shoestring budgets and those with significantly less talent.

Even when there is a modicum of talent, there still tend to be some major issues which keep Christian movies from achieving any sort of mainstream recognition. I would argue that the Kendrick brothers are probably the most talented Christian filmmakers out there at the moment, but they still get poor-to-mixed reviews… and for good reason. They can shoot a movie quite professionally, but their films struggle in most other departments due to a lack of talent elsewhere. First of all, their films usually feature amateur actors, which is really problematic because all of their films are dramas – arguably the genre which depends the most on good acting to succeed. Secondly, their scripts tend to be weak, relying really heavily on cliche, tropes and literal “deus” ex machina to solve the conflicts, with basically no subtlety whatsoever. Most egregiously though, their movies are RIDICULOUSLY PREACHY. As one review stated about their film, Fireproof, it “stops becoming relatable to us all and only to the already, or easily, indoctrinated.” I remember that when I saw Facing the Giants I thought it was pretty good, but lamented that you could never show this to a non-believer because it was clearly made for the already-converted, preaching about how good God is to us in basically every scene. Hell, it honestly even becomes grating to those who already believe – I get it, already, do we have to grind the film to a halt every 5 minutes to remind us that God is where our strength comes from? Bloody hell, some subtlety would instantly take the Kendrick brothers to higher places.

As you can probably see, Christian movies and video games have the rawest deal in the Christian media industry. Christian books and music have an easier time succeeding due to the lower costs involved and the fact that the church itself helps to foster their development, but movies and video games are basically left to the desperate faithful trying to get out their message, or predatory studios looking to make a quick buck off the undiscerning masses. With the recent high-profile disaster that was the Left Behind remake stinking up theaters, I can’t see this trend changing any time soon, unfortunately… However, I do have some hope with the increasingly growing indie development scene potentially producing some great Christian media which doesn’t seek to pander to the evangelical market, but rather seeks to portray Christian themes and foster thoughtful spiritual dialogue. One can only hope at least.

*However, they water it down quite a bit so that it still appeals to the masses of course, but play up the Christian elements when marketing it to the church.

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IC2S Playlist Update 17/06/2015

So… unfortunately this work assignment looks like it’ll be going on for another week at least, but hopefully not much longer than that. I have a couple articles started that I just need to have some time to think over and sit down with, so hopefully they’ll see the light of day soon…

First up this week is “the Patriot” by Countless Thousands, from their album We’re Just Really Excited to Be Here. I was exposed to Countless Thousands from the Unpopular Opinion Podcast, since the lead singer is a friend of Adam Tod Brown. They’re sort of an indie-rock/alternative band, and while I’m ambivalent to most of their stuff, some of it is just fantastic. I wish they had “Gang Fight” on Spotify, but “the Patriot” is great in its own right. It’s really catchy, with some excellent musicianship and vocals. It’s also an extremely scathing criticism of overbearing, self-righteous neo-nationalists who lord their national superiority over others, without actually putting anything on the line in the process… and if that’s not an IC2S-worthy song, then I don’t know what is.

Secondly we have “This Goes Out to You” by P.O.D., from their upcoming album The Awakening. I was actually going to institute a playlist “rule” this week where we don’t repeat songs by the same artist within a 6 week time frame unless something special happens… of course, then suddenly P.O.D. dropped this single on Spotify on the very day I had decided to go forward with that announcement.

In any case though, this definitely feels how you would expect a “first single” to – it’s energetic, radio-friendly and lyrically simple, but it’s still quite catchy. Musically, it seems to be hewing close to Murdered Love, so that’s a good sign, since it was their best album in quite some time, and I would expect the album itself to actually be heavier than this would have you believe (eg, think Korn’s single “Never, Never” from The Paradigm Shift, which sounded nothing like the rest of the album, thankfully). Plus, it’s a nice shout-out to the fans who have stuck with P.O.D. over the years. The only thing I could have done without for the playlist is the end bit… what do you call it? An epilogue? The transition? Whatever it is, I could have done without it for a single track – I’m sure it’ll be fine on the album itself, but when you’re listening to it at the end of a single track within a diverse playlist, it’s kind of annoying (not to mention that Tim’s voice is rather annoying already).

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IC2S Playlist Update 10/06/2015 + Stannis Rant

Normally I’d try to make this little intro as short as possible just out of obligation, but this week I’m going to rant a little bit about Game of Thrones… so SPOILERS if you haven’t seen Season 5 Episode 9, in which case I’d recommend skipping down past the album art…

So, if you know me personally, then you’d know that I really like Stannis Baratheon. He’s probably not the ideal ruler in Westeros, or even have a snowball’s chance in hell to pull through to the end (because, believe it or not, Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire tends to be rather predictable). However, he is a great character and the only one with a truly legitimate claim to the throne thanks to the right of a popularly-accepted conquest. He is the most righteous man in Westeros, and always tries to do the honourable thing (although Melisandre does cause his moral center to shift a bit on occasion).

However, Game of Thrones just screwed him up so spectacularly that it has me fuming at the show: with little provocation, Stannis went and burned his own daughter, Shireen, alive in order to offer her as a sacrifice to R’hllor. Don’t get me wrong – I think everyone knew that Shireen was going to die this season (because, again, GoT is rather predictable). However, I take issue with how it was presented, because it made absolutely no sense, turned Stannis into a big idiot and basically made his storyline going forward almost pointless. The only way I could see him killing Shireen was if Ramsay’s troops had fatally injured her, at which point Stannis would decide to make the most of an awful situation… but of course, this doesn’t happen and he basically does it with little justification.

First of all, Stannis loves his daughter above all else, and she’s basically the only person he actually feels any love for at all. That said, Stannis believes that he is Azor Ahai reborn, and a key part of that prophecy involves the hero sacrificing the person closest to him in order to save the world from eternal darkness. As a result, I’m not even opposed to the idea of Stannis sacrificing Shireen, because she obviously would have to be sacrificed if he wanted to follow the prophecy. Unfortunately, GoT tends to cut these sorts of contextual details out of the storyline, so in the show Stannis basically kills Shireen because he’s in a bit of desperation. Book Stannis basically says “screw this snow” and forces his troops to march through it regardless, which is the Stannis-ethos in a nutshell (remember, he also refused to surrender during the Siege of Storm’s End, even when all the food ran out and his troops were having to cannibalize each other to survive, and has been described as one who will “break before he bends”). Also, remember that he agonized about killing a bastard who he cared little for in order to acquire king’s blood, so you’re telling me that he’ll suddenly make the decision to kill his own daughter, his only heir, on a whim? Why wouldn’t he just take a bit of her blood like he did with Edric Storm/Gendry?

Furthermore, this move has basically made Stannis into a gigantic idiot. First of all, taking his wife and daughter with him on campaign was just an incredibly idiotic and contrived move in the first place. Book-Stannis leaves them with guards at Castle Black in the King’s Tower, which just makes so much more sense (and also means that if she gets burned, there’s a very good chance that Stannis will not give the order and be unaware of it). Secondly, he just lost his Hand of the King and probably a ton of soldiers with this act. The only reason Ser Davos has followed Stannis is because he sees him as the most righteous man in Westeros. Now that he has killed his own daughter (with a certain amount of deception directed towards Davos in the process), he basically has to kill Davos or he’s going to end up getting betrayed for certain. Who knows how Stannis’ troops are going to react to this, although I doubt that watching their lord’s child get burned alive is going to galvanize their spirits all that much… It’s just a stupid situation, and one in which the books handled things SO much better.

Anyway, enough of that, onto this week’s first selection, “Imposter” by Red from their newest album of Beauty and Rage. I really liked Red’s first two albums, but they got perceptibly weaker on their third album, Until We Have Faces. Their fourth album, Release the Panic, was basically generic crap with way too much dubstep influence. After Release the Panic, I basically swore off of following the band, but luckily they seem to have realized their mistakes and have gone back to their roots for of Beauty and Rage. “Imposter” is one of the best songs on the album in my opinion, it’s just a really solid opening track with a very polished sound. It’s nice to see Red getting back into the swing of things, and I hope that they can keep it up for any future endeavours… at which point I might consider myself a fan again.

Secondly, we have “The Game” by Disturbed, from their debut album, The Sickness. I really like Disturbed, having seen them in concert twice now. However, my enthusiasm for them has dulled somewhat since they have gone on hiatus 4 years ago. That said, if they announced tomorrow that they were releasing a new album, I’d be right back on the hype train in an instant. I think that “The Game” is one of their more interesting songs. I take the lyrics one of two ways. On the surface layer, it’s about a girl who stupidly keeps cheating on her boyfriend until it drives him into a murderous rampage. My preferred interpretation (and probably the more likely of the two anyway) is that the boyfriend is an abusive and paranoid asshole who constantly freaks out at his girlfriend who he thinks is a cheating whore, until his insanity drives him to go on a murderous rampage. So, um, yeah… it’s a pretty happy song. Oh, and that’s not even mentioning that it just has a really catch sound to it.

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IC2S Playlist Update 03/06/2015

I have to apologize for the reduced blogging output this past week – I have been temporarily transferred to a different department at work so it has been cutting down on my thinking and writing. I should be done this in a week or two with any luck though, so I will hopefully be putting out stuff other than Playlist updates and Quick Fixes soon enough.

First up this week is “Devil’s Cave” by Sleeping Romance, from their debut album, Enlighten. I believe that a couple months ago I called Sleeping Romance “Evanescence, but slightly more metal and significantly less angsty”, which has to be the most accurate description of the band that there is. They’re a really young symphonic metal band, having only released Enlighten and a single since 2013, but their sound is already shaping up to be quite promising. “Devil’s Cave” is probably their most “metal” song, but it is easily their best as far as I’m concerned, and I hope that they continue to explore this side of their sound more in the future. That wicked guitar solo near the latter-half of the song is particularly noteworthy.

Secondly, we have “Rise of Evil” by Sabaton, from their album Attero Dominatus. As a power metal band, Sabaton is simultaneously silly and epic, and is one of my favourite bands. For the most part, their songs are all based on historical wars (their best album, Carolus Rex, taught me more about the rise and fall of the Swedish empire and European politics than any other educational source before or since). I wasn’t a big fan of them until The Art of War, at which point their musical quality shot up significantly with each successive album. However, I recently decided to go back into their first three albums and found some old gems that I missed the first time I went through. Perhaps the best of these old gems is “Rise of Evil”, a rather disturbing track about the rise of the Nazi government and the days leading up to the second World War. Sabaton have been accused of being neo-Nazis many times in the past, and I kind of wonder if this song has something to do with that… despite the song itself simply stating the facts really obviously condemning Nazism in the title. There is actually an even more tragic companion piece to this song dealing exclusively with the evils of the Holocaust, called “The Final Solution” (from the album Coat of Arms), which I recommend checking out as well if your day was looking just a little too positive.

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