I Read a Book: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed


by Keidra Chaney

I’ve been thinking a lot in the past couple of years about the pitfalls of living a public life on social media and the scrutiny (or, sometimes, danger) that comes with sharing one’s opinions in a public forum. A lot of it comes from observing the fallout as people that I know — some friends, colleagues, strangers, even some people I’m not too close with, but most of them writers — become targets of online harassment, usually for publicly stating their opinions about some issue connected to racial and/or gender equality. Sometimes it’s as abstract as a gendered or racial insult, other times it’s specific and targeted: a threat of lynching or rape, doxxing, etc. It’s frightening and chilling to watch, and in the past couple of years in particular, I’ve become much more selective and closed off in my actions and my intent to share online, even as I applaud the bravery of my colleagues who continue on, some of them mining the depths of their own personal trauma, to make a broader point about issues of race and gender online and off.

At the same time, I’ve cringed a number of times as I’ve witnessed the cycle of Twitter outrage over issues large and small online, as some random Twitter user is publicly raked over the coals by thousands of people for some random comment or off-color joke they thought they were making to a small group of friends online. Sometimes the statement is truly abhorrent, say for example the college baseball player who called 13 year old Little League wunderkind Mo’ne Davis a “slut.”

Other times it’s simply a comedy or errors, where someone’s sarcasm or dry wit is misunderstood by masses and a person is publicly humiliated for a comment taken completely out of context, like the guy who saw Neil Degrasse Tyson on the subway and called him a “dumbass nerd” (It really was a joke.) Either way, the cycle of public outrage on Twitter does happen about every eight to 14 hours and you can be guaranteed that as long as there are no dead celebrities to publicly mourn, someone’s being publicly called out for a perceived or actual misdeed by a few hundred people.

Sometimes the ramifications are severe, like the college baseball player, who was suspended, other times it’s not. Michael Hale, the “dumbass nerd” guy had his mentions overrun by angry nerds for a few days, He wrote a blog post about it on Gawker, I bet he made enough to pay for a nice meal for himself at a Brooklyn brewpub. If you’re a high profile person of color or a woman on Twitter, or both, you don’t necessarily need a lightning-rod viral tweet to bring people in your Twitter mentions calling you a “nigger” or a “cunt” pretty much daily.

All of this to say, if you’re a media professional and/or highly active on social media, Jon Ronson’s latest book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed won’t be a revelation to you. You probably know about the book already and may have watched many of Ronson’s “case studies” as they unfolded online: disgraced author Jonah Lehrer, Justine Sacco of #hasjustinelandedyet fame, and the complicated issue of “Donglegate” which I’ll get into more detail about later. You’ve probably experienced some level of the social media shame cycle (hopefully not personally) and you probably have some thoughts about the book even before you’ve read it.

I know I did. I’ve actually enjoyed Ronson’s past work, I’ve read essays and articles from him before, I enjoyed his film “Frank.” I figured there was a chance he could pull off the kind of critical analysis that the topic of online shaming deserves. Whether or not he succeeded, I guess, depends on how one defines online shaming and what one thinks the worst possible outcomes of being targeted and shamed online could possibly be. For Ronson, it was clear that for him the worst possible outcome was the possibility of losing one’s reputation, status, or employment. This was the common narrative in many of the stories in “Shamed”: Whether it was Lehrer, whose plagiarism damaged his own career as a pop-psychology speaker and guru, or Sacco, whose off-color tweets about Africa and AIDS deep-sixed her New York PR career, or “Donglegate” the controversy that led to the firings of both Richards and “Hank” the software developer whose puerile joke was called out on Twitter by her.

Ronson is a not a social psychologist or sociologist, but he is a talented wordsmith and empathetic storyteller. I believe he intended to write “Shamed” with the intent of telling the stories of those impacted by online shaming and those who take part. Unfortunately he undermines his own attempts to place this topic into a broader analysis of online culture by wrongly conflating the embarrassment of shaming with the fear of online harassment.

Most of Ronson’s examples in “Shamed” revolved around those whose professional reputations were damaged online. But if you belong to any kind of marginalized group online (a woman, a person of color, trans, etc.) you may also be acutely aware that shame is but one part of the risk of living a public life online. Being personally attacked, or having your safety (or the safety of your family) threatened. And while all such threats may not be “credible,” I don’t know any people who have ever been threatened with violence who have waited around to find out if their harasser was serious about carrying it through.

The professional risks that stem from any kind of online fallout are arguably much greater for marginalized people in any profession. They are compounded for anyone who makes any public statement or criticism about race or gender discrimination (or even discomfort) in their profession. The examples put forward by Ronson are an example of this, though likely not his intent. Donglegate left “Hank” without a career for several months, but he eventually got another job. Meanwhile, Adria Richards was essentially frozen out of her own profession in addition to being threatened with threats of rape and violence by strangers online.

I came into reading the book bracing myself for Ronson’s analysis of Donglegate, which I followed closely when it happened a couple of years ago. (Full disclosure: I was on a panel with Adria Richards, the woman of color at the center of Donglegate, a few years ago, and I admire her work. As a woman who has existed on the periphery of the startup/tech conference scene for years, and never felt particularly comfortable or welcome, the fallout of Donglegate and how it affected her career weighed heavily on me.)

“Shamed” would be skewed towards a putting forward a particular “party line” among some journalists about the so-called “toxic” nature of social media. Articles like Michelle Goldberg’s “Toxic Twitter Wars” piece in The Nation or Jonathan Chait’s New York magazine article put forth the idea that online “mobs” (primarily women or people of color) have the collective power and influence online to destroy the professional reputations of well-meaning people with presumably false accusations of racism, sexism, etc.

Ronson doesn’t say these things explicitly in “Shamed,” but he tells his stories from that very perspective, one that positions those on the periphery of the media and tech industries (women, people of color, freelancers, social media participants/”hashtag activists”) as mere interlopers. It’s an incredibly myopic view that fails to acknowledge the structural power dynamics (whether its race, or gender, class, professional connections, etc.) that ultimately protects media professionals like Sacco and Lehrer but not the so-called “shamers” of social media.

That’s a bigger story than “Shamed” could ever tell, however. It’s a story that goes far beyond the personal narratives of social media relationships and gets to the heart of how disruptive social technology has been to traditional media (yet not disruptive enough to topple the institutional structures that keep marginalized people out.) Frankly, Ronson isn’t the person to write this book but I doubt the people most qualified to do so will be getting book deals any time soon.

As-I-Play XCOM: The Chamber (Part Eight)


by Kristin Bezio

So having finally got Moira fully upgraded in Psionics and everything else, I click on the fun purple button (Gallup Chamber) and start a mission which the game warns me I can’t go back from, so my soldiers had better all be healed and all my research done.

Research is maxed, rooms are maxed, Foundry is maxed, and all my soldiers are healthy, I mentally stack my squad: Moira (Irish Sniper, psionic) if the purple ball doesn’t kill her, Susan (American Sniper) if it does; Septic (Iranian Assault, psionic); Angel (Israeli Support); Voodoo (Belgian Support); Aya (Palestinian Lady Heavy, psionic); and David (Canadian Heavy, psionic).

I hit the button. I get a cutscene narrated by the German Scientist Lady who babbles about what I’ve done. Moira walks up to the ball, escorted by two soldiers, American and German (not mine, as I do not have an American dude). She puts her hands on the ball, and a bunch of alien weirdness flashes by (like Shepard’s Prothean flashes in Mass Effect, for those of you who’ve played it), then one of the Ethereal aliens decides that it can speak English: “YOU have succeeded where we have failed.”

Cuz that’s not creepy.

And now I don’t trust Moira as far as I can throw her. Great. I have a kickass sniper with fully upgraded abilities and psionics and I’m convinced that she’s going to murder me in my sleep. She also has a new psionic power entitled “Rift,” which seems rather… apocalyptic.


Let’s do this.

So I launch the Temple Ship mission, and as my team hops off the ship, the creepy alien voice starts talking in Moira’s head. Turns out – yes, kids, my favorite trope ever – she’s the most Special Special to ever Special. Or at least I’ve made her that way. The alien blathers on and on about how fantastic it is that they’ve finally found an “enduring form” (how flattering) that can fight and survive and has fantastic mental powers!

Yes, I know that this particular character isn’t all that special, which is why I’m not more annoyed about the trope. I’m aware that it is, in fact, that the human race, the great accident of evolution, that is the most Special Species to Ever Special. Human exceptionalism for the win.

As a good friend would say, le sigh. I’m not big into stories that talk about exceptional people/animals/species. I’m not really into the whole Chosen One thing, and while this isn’t strictly Chosen One, it is all about how amazingly awesome humans are.

Now okay, yes, humans are pretty awesome. We’re highly evolved, capable of industry and invention, and we’ve managed to conquer our planet and tame its plants and animals, at least mostly. But let’s face it, we’re also pretty stupid. I’m a teacher, and as much as I do actually love my students, they remind me of human ignorance on a almost daily basis (through no fault of their own – and they are working to eliminate that ignorance, which is great). Humanity as a whole, as filtered through the news and on gaming sites especially, is a bunch of hate-filled, violent, raving idiots. If we’re the pinnacle of evolution, then I pity the rest of the universe.

But for the sake of the narrative of XCOM: Enemy Unknown I can live with the Magic Wonderfulness that is Humanity. At least this is (I hope) the last mission, so I don’t have to hear how Special my species is for too long.

So the squad heads into a very Mass Effect-looking ship area (reminds me of the ship at the end of ME2 on which Shepard & Co. first recruit Legion) and the voice proceeds to go through a catalog of enemy types and why they suck. First the little guys, then the mind-control little guy (yay for Mindshield!) who does not possess Aya. Then the Cyberdisks and their irritating best buddies, the Drones. Then the Floaters. Then the purple ones (don’t remember what they’re called, but the ones that make humans into zombies).

The team summarily dispatches them all as the Alien Overlord Voice babbles about how excited it is that it has found the apotheosis of… whatever. I’m starting to get paranoid, so I set up my squad with Overwatch trying to put them in cover relative to Forward, but also relative to Moira.

A little break, then some Thin Men. I like shooting those, despite the fact that the extremely satisfying explosion they make when they die is toxic. It’s also kinda sparkly. My squad kills them.

So here I admit that Aya seems to be suffering from a bug. She’s had an extra little alien-head indicator on her HUD the whole time, with a 0% chance of hitting, that locates an enemy deep inside the ship. I didn’t know if it was a random alien, or if she’d somehow gotten attached to the final boss Ethereal or something, but I used her as a compass. Maybe that’s cheating, but since it’s a pretty straight shot into the ship, I kinda don’t feel bad about it.

As it turns out, she’d latched onto one of the Muton tank critters (the red one that chases whoever shot it last). I found a room full of the green ones and one red one, but I actually got to have Septic use Mind Control on it. That was fun. I hadn’t used that power before.

Next up, Septopods, otherwise known as mini-Imperial Walkers. The Alien Voice is getting creepier. When one of the Septopods hits David (doesn’t kill him, mind you), it talks about how the “New One’s kin fall.” Um. Okay. No, but thanks for trying. Then, when the ’Pods are both dead, it begins to talk about how the New One is worthy of its tests, and how it’s going to usher in a new age and all that sort of blather.

Riiiiiiight. Clearly its plan from the beginning was to “test” an ideal new SuperSpecies using human DNA. It totally meant to do this from the beginning.

A couple more Heavy Mutons, summarily dispatched (I like that phrase today), and moving forward. The squad then discovers a doorway with a narrow hallway, which screams “FINAL BATTLE” like nobody’s business. Yippee (please read with sarcasm).

Here’s something else to know about me. I hate boss fights. Hate them. Boss fights end up being one of two things: 1) stupid and anticlimactic, like BioShock and, I’m told, Fable II; or 2) unbearably irritating because they are idiotically difficult and/or tedious, like Dragon Age: Origins. Given the style of gameplay in XCOM, I’m betting for #2, if only because that’s the one I will hate more.

Three Ethereals? And two Heavy Mutons? Definitely #2. It is at this point that I decide this will likely take me more hours than I have before I turn into a pumpkin. Save game, come back to it later.

Yes, I’m that kind of a mean person. Don’t worry, after you wait a little bit, you can hear me bitch all about the final boss fight, whatever odd or screwed up cutscene is at the end, and then give you my overall impressions of the game. But this post is plenty long enough and it’s time for bed.

As-I-Play XCOM: Girl Fight (Seven)


by Kristin Bezio

So since I now know about the Valkyries achievement (play a mission with all women), I had to get it. What I learned is that playing with two snipers (Moira and Susan) is annoying, and I really really wish I’d had another Heavy (I have one female Heavy, and she’s great, but I need two of her). So it was difficult, especially since ALL THE ALIENS decided to come out and play at the same time, and made more so by the fact that my women are all Assault (Septic and a newbie whose name I don’t remember) and Sniper, with only one Support (Voodoo) and one Lady Heavy (also don’t remember her name, but it starts with an A). Ugh. I got the achievement, but not having my preferred class-distribution definitely made it rougher.

Cue tangent

In the process of trying to look up names for these posts, I discovered (without a lot of difficulty, which should tell you just how very little I actually knew about this game before going into it) that the mixture of classes, countries, names, nicknames, and genders come out of a HUGE database that the game mixes together pretty much arbitrarily. Some of my characters have really memorable names – my Heavy Axel Weiss (but I can’t remember his nickname) from Germany, for instance, and Support Camille Van Damme, “Voodoo” – and some have memorable nicknames – Septic – and some I just can’t keep straight. I know my Support Hitch is named Jean and is from France, but I can’t remember his last name. David is a Psionic Canadian Heavy, but otherwise I don’t remember his nick- or last name. Susan Armstrong is an American Sniper, but her nickname escapes me, too. Carlos Delgado is the Heavy from Argentina who was the only survivor of the first mission, but I can’t remember his nickname, either.

I also have Dioppe the Sniper who is from Nigeria, another Sniper from Japan, and some other people – a guy from the UK, a guy from Russia, a guy from Ukraine, a Support from Israel, and a smattering of other people whose names and countries of origin I can’t recall, including my Lady Heavy whose name starts with an A… but that’s all I’ve got on her.

I do, however, think that this is kinda cool. I’d hate to see it happen with a game that has a more significant narrative, because that would really mess with conversations about who did what and when (the thought of every character in Mass Effect or Dragon Age having different names for different people would make talking about it a nightmare), but in a game like XCOM where the actual people don’t really matter outside of an individual game, it’s neat to have different combinations. I haven’t been customizing any of them, simply because I don’t have any reason to, but I know that’s something a lot of people like to do.

I do customize my RPG characters – my Shepard (after a disastrous several hours of trying to make her look like me) is customized, my Hawke is customized (and I have both fem/Lady and man/Man versions of each), my Skyrim character is an orc… I normally like customizing my player-characters. I even derive amusement from custom clothing/armor in RPGs.

But I just don’t care about customizing the soldiers in XCOM, I think because I actually feel more attached to them if they come with a name and nationality. It makes them more like real people – people with backstories that I, as their XO, would probably never hear, but which they have nevertheless. The combinations of names and nicknames also seem – even though I know they don’t – to give each soldier a personality.

I imagine Susan Armstrong as no-nonsense and perpetually irritated with everyone who can’t make a shot when their percentage chance is over 50% (mostly because she makes almost everything I ask her to). Voodoo is sassy and likes to go clubbing and play pranks on Septic, mostly because she knows Septic has a secret sense of humor she never shows and is also getting really freaked out by aliens because they keep possessing her (it’s happened on three separate missions now). Axel is… well, his name is Axel Weiss and he’s a German Heavy, so you can probably figure out his “personality.” Jean – Hitch – I imagine as gay, but butch – not quite a “bear” in the stereotypical sense, but more cismale than not. Carlos likes futbol and beer and hanging out with the guys. Dioppe doesn’t talk to anyone else and wants to go home (hence the crying) because he wasn’t really given a choice about joining the military. David is from a family of career military and grew up hunting. Moira likes to hang out with Carlos and Axel. (No, I haven’t really spent much time pondering this – I’m pretty much making it up on the spot based on what I think about them when I remember their names.)

It makes it matter more if and when they die because I’ll never know those stories (I’m not going to anyway, but the illusion is still there). So even though I like the idea of making my soldiers customizable in this game, I don’t actually do it, and I prefer it that way… even if I can’t remember their names or always identify their national flags (yes, I know it says what country they’re from in their little barracks biographies, but I’m not going to look them up every time).

End tangent

My normal load-out is one Sniper (either Moira or Susan, since Dioppe screams and cries every other time), one Assault (not always Septic, although she is fabulous), two Support (combination Voodoo, Hitch, and my new guy from Israel, who is also Psionic), and two Heavy (Axel, David, Carlos, and/or my lady Heavy, who I’m training). I pretty much ignore everyone else. Once I get Lady Heavy and the Israeli New Guy (I’m blanking on his name and I’m not restarting the game to figure it out) trained up, I’ll maybe bring in more rookies. But I just can’t use Dioppe. He cries too much.

Speaking of Moira, German Scientist Lady babbled something during a cutscene about Moira being able to use the glowing purple ball thing that I picked up from one of the crashes a few hours (days, in game time) ago. This means that I want Moira to be as leveled up as I can get her, in both rank and Psionics. So Moira and I are now best buddies.

In the mean time, I’ve done ALL THE RESEARCH, using both the science team and the Foundry, and I’ve found all the Psionics in my barracks. I know I can hire more humans, but I don’t NEED more humans. Maybe I’ll start getting a few new ones to see if I can’t build a fully Psionic squad (I only have five of them, and it seems a pity not to have the full set of six).

I also feel like I should take the robot things out more often. I’ve done it a few times, but they’re just like another Assault, so I don’t really have a particular attachment to them, and they can’t level up skills (unless I’m missing something), so I don’t really feel like they’re all that useful. I guess they can’t “die,” really, although they can get destroyed. I can have one of my Support people repair them (like I can have them hack drones, but I don’t ever get close enough to the drones to do that… I shoot them from afar instead).

So I’m sort of back to the grinding stage – waiting to get Moira and my other Psionics leveled up enough to use the purple ball. I mean, they CAN use it now, but it seems like a good idea to maximize their potential before I hit the big shiny button.

I’ve already gotten panic down to the bottom level in all the countries. Pretty much permanently, as far as I can tell, which makes me a little mad about Argentina, but I’m not going to go back all the way to the beginning (and I lost Argentina really early) just to get them to play along. I have also now mastered the fine art of shooting down UFOs. So… yeah. Kinda boring for the most part, even though the missions themselves are challenging.

As-I-Play XCOM: Hold Your Fire! ( Part Six)


by Kristin Bezio

So after spending a good long time failing repeatedly to take down UFOs with my Demon and Raptor ships (and then being yelled at by the Council for failing, despite having the ENTIRE PLANET at a level one panic – again, except Argentina, who quit), I FINALLY brought one down and was able to go kill things at it.

I also researched the Psionic Lab, and have been methodically testing my soldiers for mental abilities – and was rather amused that my first positive subject turned out to be my Iranian female Assault, Septic, who pretty much pwns everything on the field when I take her with me. One more thing for her to kill stuff with. Also, the cutscene where she was all “I’m superhuman!” (not literally – she doesn’t talk) was pretty cool.

I haven’t managed to progress any of my Psionics (Septic, my Canadian Heavy, and an Irish sniper named Moira) beyond the first skill, but it’s still kinda cool.

I immediately happen upon the next major plot mission – a UFO landing with a nasty alien called an Ethereal. This critter can possess people (and man, was it upsetting when it possessed Septic, who seriously messed up my squad while I desperately tried to keep them from killing her), and it can also reflect back (some) plasma and laser weapons, but not explosive damage or bullets.

This was the first of its kind, so of course I sent Carlos (the Heavy Argentine) after it with the arc stun weapon. And my highly skilled team killed it. So I reloaded. AND THEY KILLED IT AGAIN.

Here’s the thing about stunning aliens. It doesn’t really work very well unless their health is three or less, so you have to do quite a bit of damage to an Ethereal to get it down there. AND when you stun it, you have to sneak up behind it and STAND RIGHT NEXT TO IT in order to do so. So I have Carlos in Ghost armor sneaking around in corners with a stunner waiting for his teammates to damage the stupid thing enough to stun it while Septic tries to murder them and Moira panics and then shoots her and does 9+ damage.

The other problem is that my squad is so upgraded at this point that managing weapons is really hard – the grenade says it does 5 damage, and the Ethereal has 8 left, but with the bonuses David the Psionic Canadian Heavy has, he throws the grenade and it does 9 and kills it. Or Moira shoots at it with a 7 damage plasma rifle and a 35% chance, and crits it and kills it with 12. Or Camille “Voodoo” Van Damme shoots it with a plasma gun and misses completely, and then it has 14 left and my only option is David’s rocket which is supposed to do 10 and does 17.

I reloaded a lot, because I really wanted to catch the damn thing alive.

The husband suggested hitting it. But I didn’t choose the melee power for either David or Carlos, so I CAN’T EVEN PUNCH IT. I ended up taking two full turns picking at it with standard pistols at 1 and 2 hit points at a time, letting Septic shoot Moira (not dead, but still), and letting the Ethereal mind-shoot both Carlos and Septic (when I got her back) down to two health. But the minute it was down to three hit points, Carlos zapped it. Finally.

I will not be catching any more of them alive. That was a pain in the ass. Shoot to kill from here on out.

Oh, and there’s also a BIG GIANT SHIP hovering over Rio de Janero. I should probably do something about that.

Out of the Background: Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, Part II


 by Kristin Bezio

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our new readers. If you want to comment or share this, do so knowing Kristin is a feminist AND a game critic AND a game player AND an academic, so this is a critical analysis, because The Learned Fangirl’s tagline is “a critical look at pop culture and technology”!

This is part two of Sarkeesian’s “Women as Background Decoration” trope video. One of the primary complaints people had about the last one (Part I) was that “Women as Background Decoration” isn’t a trope. Let me just clear that up – yes, it is. A trope is any sustained metaphor or theme that appears repeatedly in cultural works. “Women as Background Decoration” may not have appeared in your high school English textbook, but it is a sustained theme in film, television, literature, and videogames, so yes, kids, it is a trope. Moving on.

As a reminder, in this particular series, Sarkeesian uses the term NPSO – Non-Playable Sex Object – to refer to characters whose primary or sole purpose in the game is to be a sexualized object for the pleasure or horror of the player or other characters in the game. The tavern wench or stripper in the background of a scene is the “standard” NPSO, although there are many other versions of NPSOs in games (and other visual media).

One of Sarkeesian’s primary issues with NPSOs is that they are often the victims of sexual and/or domestic violence and exist solely for the purpose of being victimized within the narrative and/or gameplay. NPSOs differ from Damsels (the subject of her first series) in that NPSOs are not victims to be rescued, but to be discarded or simply treated as “set dressing.”

She focuses first on a sub-trope, the “Drop Dead Gorgeous” trope, in which dead women (or women portrayed as dead) are displayed as beautiful or sexualized (as in L.A. Noire and Hitman promotional materials). As I mentioned in response to the last series, I think promotional materials should probably be kept out of this series (although they could have their own analysis), since the developers often have little to no say about them. But this trope appears in the games, too, where the mise en scene (the way the scene is established or “set” through the use of art and digital artifacts) in many games also contains the “bodies” of dead women, some of them (Hitman: Absolution and Mafia II) scantily clothed and provocatively posed.

What I liked about this particular discussion is that Sarkeesian makes a point of including male as well as female bodies. She points out that the dead men in most of these games are typically fully clothed and not posed provocatively. Similarly, male victims of violence are rarely sexualized, while many female victims in these games are explicitly sexual – often prostitutes (there are a lot of prostitutes in videogames).

The counterargument might be that the narrative or context of the games – for instance, in BioShock II, the scenes she chooses are in a bordello – dictates the type of clothing and poses for the characters. However, the choice of scene and setting, as well as the fact that women even outside the bordello tend to be more scantily clad than the men in full suits, is not foisted on the developers; they have the power to not include a brothel, and by choosing it, they create the opportunity for sexualization. Furthermore, even if a strip club is an appropriate location, there is no law that states that a stripper cannot be killed in her street clothes or in a robe – the choice to sexualize her corpse is a deliberate play on titillation… and is often a cheap excuse for bad narrative or gameplay.

Sarkeesian also addresses cut-scenes, over which the developer has exclusive control (and the player does not). It’s important to remember that these are not women important to the narrative – the “Dead Wife/Girlfriend as Motive” trope is different – even if the player has the chance to interact with them (as in Red Dead Redemption, in which the player can buy a prostitute for $200 to keep her from being beaten, although she will be killed by her pimp later in the narrative). These are women whose purpose is to be victims or sex objects or both – they serve little or no purpose to the narrative.

(Side note – God of War III is now my least favorite game ever, despite never having played it. “I didn’t do it… but I wish I did”?! What the ever-loving hell were the developers thinking? I played God of War and God of War II and I really liked them – but I’m sorry, having a half-naked chained princess act as a literal doorstop until the gate crushes and mangles her body and then GIVING YOU AN ACHIEVEMENT FOR LOOKING AT IT?! Not okay. So not okay.)

Sarkeesian says that “violence against women is essentially used as a set piece to establish or punctuate the seedy atmosphere of crime and chaos” in the game’s fictional universe. In many of the instances she describes, this is true, but I think that the intention of many of these scenes goes beyond that. These victimized women are designed to encourage the player to save them – to feel empathy for them or to condemn the group or individuals involved, what Sarkeesian calls “a lazy shorthand for evil,” and an attempt to “justify the excessive violence required by the player in these games.” As such, it is more than simply “set dressing”; rather, the idea that the player might be fighting against those who perpetrate such crimes (although that is not really the case in GTAV, admittedly) seeks to make active use of images of violence in order to appeal to the player’s sense of humanity or decency.

She points out that “There is a difference between replicating something and critiquing it. It’s not enough to simply represent misery as miserable and exploitation as exploitative. Reproduction is not in and of itself a critical commentary. A critique must actually center on characters exploring, challenging, or changing oppressive social systems.” This is true, but I think that Sarkeesian doesn’t give all of the games depicted in this episode their due. Dishonored, for instance, is the last game the audience sees before Sarkeesian addresses this point. I would argue that Dishonored is making commentary – not explicitly (or only) about women being victimized by their social situation, but about the apathy that permeates the society of Dunwall. The tragedy of Dishonored is the apathy against which the player (as Corvo) is fighting throughout the game, either surreptitiously or violently. The game doesn’t show the end result, but the atmospheric change from Emily’s ascension to the throne (provided the player installs her as Empress) and the fact that Emily herself is in the position of authority suggests a renewal of hope in the otherwise thoroughly despondent city.

In this case, I think the problem the series has is that of the warped critical lens; when you’re only looking through the glasses of sexism and misogyny, all you see is sexism and misogyny. This is reinforced when the vast majority of what you’re seeing is in fact sexism and misogyny, but in the case of Dishonored (and possibly some other games here, as I’m not familiar with all of them), I think some of the subtlety was lost in the viewing. (This is not to say there isn’t sexism in Dishonored – there is, but it’s of a lesser degree than Sarkeesian gives it credit for in my estimation, and is certainly less than GTAV or L.A. Noire).

I’m also not sure that “sanitize” is the right word for what these games are doing to violence against women – perhaps “normalize,” but not “sanitize.” The violence in these games isn’t clean, it isn’t easy to watch, and deliberately so. She is correct, however, when she says that these games don’t typically grant sexual violence the “gravity and respect” that the topic deserves. She offers PaPo & Yo as an example of domestic violence dealt with appropriately, one that presents it from the viewpoint of the victim which also gives that victim agency and legitimizes, rather than dismissing, their experience.

She also very rightly points out that “realism” and “historical accuracy” are completely ludicrous excuses for the depiction of sexual and domestic violence or NPSOs, particularly in science fiction and fantasy games, and makes the very valid argument that even if such fictional worlds contain violence, they can do so in a critical and condemnatory light.

One thing Sarkeesian doesn’t say is that the problem is that such repeated and often graphic violence has become a trope – it is so commonplace that it is the sign not of sophisticated emotional depth, but of lazy storytelling. Having an “innocent” (and women are often telegraphed as innocents, even when they are simultaneously sexualized… although the virgin/whore trope is a completely different animal that needs dealing with at some point) be victimized by the “bad guys” is a sure-fire way to cause the player to react against them – to “save” or get revenge for the victim. It’s effective, yes, which is why it appears so often in media (including videogames), but it’s lazy.

And not only is it a sign of weak storytelling, it perpetuates the idea that women are “natural victims,” whether this provokes the audience to sympathy or callousness. The repetition of sexual violence against women creates an ingrained sense in the audience that sexualized violence – even if they have no interest in participating – is normal and commonplace. The ultimate result of such repetition is not that it turns players into abusers, but that it causes them to be less likely to respond to more “minor” cases of sexism and harassment – a consequence that Sarkeesian herself has felt all too clearly.

Furthermore, the player’s role as potential savoir of these women establishes a different set of problems, known to the internet at large as “white knighting,” or the idea that men can save women in return for some sort of positive (often presumably sexual) reward. This idea that women can “owe” men for having “saved” them from an assailant (whether physical or virtual) is as problematic as the presumption of victimhood in the first place (although different). It creates the opportunity for extended victimization if the “white knight” retaliates for not being “appropriately rewarded,” and it also creates and perpetuates the negative “white knight” stereotype that keeps other men from intervening in problematic situations.

These sorts of presumptions also leads directly to the rape culture – as Sarkeesian explains late in the episode – that permeates our society. It creates, she says, the impression that rape is committed by evil strangers in dark alleys, rather than the reality – that most women are raped by people they know, in places they visit on a regular basis. It also creates the problem epitomized by such real world men as Elliot Roger, who expected women to have sex with him simply because he was not a rapist or abuser.

My final issue with this particular episode is that it seems to suffer from the very symptoms that it derides in the games: excessive depiction of violence against women, deployed here for shock value, which is much the same as its use in (many of) the games to begin with. Certainly, one has to present the evidence to make an argument, and Sarkeesian wouldn’t be able to make her point without the use of some scenes of graphic and gratuitous violence against female NPSOs, but “Part II” suffers even more so than the earlier episodes from the catalogue effect; there are so many clips of prostitutes being beaten and stabbed by the 15-minute-mark that the viewer all but tunes out what Sarkeesian is saying. The shock value dissipates and becomes a low-level disgust that fails to carry the point and instead only becomes a litany of excess.

The other day, I saw a tweet which suggested that Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series was on par with peer-reviewed academic work, and I cringed. I then resisted the urge to reply and say “No, no it isn’t.” Here’s why. I don’t think that this series is on par with academically rigorous criticism – not by a long shot – and I would quite frankly be embarrassed to see an article written at this level of depth and discourse. However, Sarkeesian isn’t creating academic criticism – she’s creating a series of web videos designed to address the average game-playing human without, presumably, an academic degree, and as such, her series has come a very long way since the first episode of “Damsels in Distress.” It’s shaping into a good series for a wide audience that presents a solid base argument that should be the launching point for other, more comprehensive discussions.

Yes, I pick these videos apart, focus on single instances like her dismissal of Dishonored’s criticism of despair or the princess in God of War III, but overall, I think that the work Sarkeesian is doing is valuable on multiple levels. First, she’s introducing difficult and complex theoretical concepts from feminist criticism to people with little or no exposure to them. Second, she’s raising awareness about the negative impact of sexism in popular culture media, including videogames. Third, she’s trying to elevate the discourse we use to talk about gender in gaming, and she’s succeeding; this video is far and away more thoughtful than her early videos, and it’s doing a much better job of pointing out why things are bad and what they can do right.

In short, Sarkeesian has done what many academics and critics hope to do: she’s managed to start a conversation – in which I am now participating – where she isn’t all right, but she definitely isn’t all wrong.

Where’s Gamora? Hey Marvel, if you make it – WE WILL BUY IT


By Vivian Obarskiguardians-of-the-galaxy-gamora

It’s getting to be that time of the year again — aka the most wonderful time of the year for most parents. Many of us are heading out to get school supplies, backpacks and new clothes in anticipation of another fall when the kids head back to school.

So it wasn’t unusual for my daughter and I to embark on this mission. As usual, there were the theme backpacks — Avengers, Transformers, My Little Pony, Disney Princesses, Guardians of the Galaxy. And sadly, what wasn’t unusual was this outcry from both me and the kid:


Now, the kid and I aren’t alone in this cry. Shortly after Guardians of the Galaxy showed up in theaters, a lot of people noticed and wrote about the lack of Gamora (and Nebula) in the merchandise. Shirts and backpacks prominently feature Star-Lord, Drax, Rocket Raccoon and Groot, but none of the deadliest woman in the galaxy. True, there are Gamora and Nebula action figures, but those are the more collectable than the type that could be found in a child’s toy box (or what I would have hanging around my computer to amuse me). The amount of stuff for Gamora — who is a member of the team and not a sexy lamp — in proportion to her male counterparts is well, not surprising for me, but annoying as hell.

Make no mistake, I still love the movie, but I feel like Marvel is missing out on a major merchandising opportunity by not giving Gamora and Nebula the same amount of attention as their male counterparts. There is a huge market and demand for the women of Marvel (one of my friends’ has a daughter who adores Black Widow and probably would wear ALL THE BLACK WIDOW STUFF if it was available), but there’s not even a supply for the demand.

I suppose that this is another symptom to the problem of lack of representation in Marvel films (which are wonderful and great to watch). Kevin Feige saying Marvel has no plans to release a female-led superhero movie nor has a Black Panther movie been scheduled and the Marvel movie calendar goes to 2017.

In this day and age, it seems like an antiquated notion to erase the female characters from the merchandising. Forty-four percent of the GOTG audience opening weekend were women, according to exit polls. So why not cater to that audience, given the well-documented evidence of their buying power? I’m not saying we need soft pink and roses and glittery t-shirts (but I’ll admit a Groot in a flower crown may pique my interest). What I am saying — throw us some t-shirts with Gamora lines on them. Give us backpacks and fun looking messenger bags so we can tote around our comic books and action figures. Give my daughter a cool looking Gamora t-shirt that will go with her Rainbow Dash one.

The audience is huge. We have money. Give us something to buy.

And while we’re at it — can we get a dancing baby Groot in flowerpot that doesn’t come with the $360 action figure set? Some of us can’t afford that stuff, but we want our own Groot to boogie with.

As-I-Play XCOM: Reboot – Post Three


By Kristin Bezio

Well, it’s happened. I finally got enough people killed in a fashion that was clearly the product of my own laziness and lack of attention (rather than genuine lack of skill) while eating dinner that I gave up about two hours of gameplay and went back to a previous save.

As the game progresses, there are more aliens, they have better firepower and accuracy, and it’s a lot easier to mistake something for cover when it isn’t. The aliens also start being much better at flanking your units. Here’s the thing about me – I don’t mind when I’m genuinely beaten by another player or a game. I get really annoyed when I’ve just misclicked or am playing half-assedly because I’m also jumping up and down from the computer to help make and then eat dinner and I send one of my units (Axel) to the middle of a field instead of behind a tree stump or rock. Said unit – needless to say – promptly bites it.

So I suppose it’s a good thing I’m not playing Ironman (autosaves so I can’t have any do-overs), although part of me wished that I were so I’d have been playing more carefully. Se la vie.

So I went back a bit in gameplay and actually bothered to pay attention the second time through, but I did learn something. Even if I choose the exact same missions (abductions – I went to Mexico), the actual map to which it sends me seems to be randomly generated, because although both were in forests, they were not the same maps and the downed UFO was in a different place and had a different configuration (same enemy types, though). So that was an interesting tidbit learned from my failure to properly manage Axel the German Tank.

It has also opened the proverbial floodgates. Now that I’ve done the reload-a-save thing once, that means that I’ve “wrecked” the trend, and I’m going to save at every critical point in a mission so that I can consistently keep everyone alive (or at least the useful people). This has the somewhat contradictory consequence of making me slightly more lazy at first, and then more careful so that I only have to play through part of the combat mission twice, instead of three or four times, which irritates me. (Despite my tendency to replay games, I don’t actually like replaying combat, just story, and this game doesn’t have much of a story.)

Otherwise, I’m starting to get a little annoyed by the science and engineering teams. They’re irritating to talk to (so I’m clicking through) and I don’t like that I can’t set up a queue – I have to pick things in order. On the up side, if I abandon research and come back to it later, I don’t lose the progress I’ve already spent on it, so that’s good.

The other thing that I don’t like about research/engineering is that it isn’t terribly transparent what different components or research projects will do. Some of them are stated outright – to launch a satellite I need both the satellite (engineering project) and a satellite uplink (building project) – where others (autopsies especially) are less obvious. I’d like a nice tree to show me which trajectories I want to follow – as well as figure out of I now have some projects that are obsolete. For instance, I’m pretty sure I have weapons and armor that are obsolete, since I’ve built newer ones, but I’m not actually clear if I have armors with different capacities, or if one really is just an upgrade of the other (in which case I’d really like to be able to replace the old with the new and not have the old still hanging about, but whatever). I understand that the new stuff is more expensive, and it’s better to be able to buy the old than not buy anything at all, but it’s still not the clearest upgrade system.

The other event of note that took place recently is that the creepy Illusive-Man-esque XCOM board decided to reprimand me for the first time. In all prior meetings they were happily pleased with me. This time they appreciated my efforts, but hoped I would do better. I’m pretty sure that’s scripted to happen (maybe not), but they were mad that Argentina pulled out of the XCOM project after having hysterics (too high of a panic level). Others who have played tell me that this is what happens if a nation is at full panic at the end of a “month” when the Council has their little chat with me. My response to Argentina’s departure was “Whatever. Their loss.”

Which comes down to one of the things I’ve reiterated throughout this experience. I just don’t care that much about what’s happening in the game. It is a challenge, it is allowing me to pass the hours in an engaged fashion, and I don’t dislike the game, but I’m not really sure “like” is the right word for my relationship to it, either. I don’t look forward to playing XCOM – I don’t dread it, I don’t want to get it over with, but my general thought process is “What am I going to do now? Watch a show? Nah, those are all reruns. Maybe I’ll play some XCOM.” When I play games I really like, I don’t think about it – I want to play them the minute I have the time. I feel about XCOM the way I feel about Bejeweled – it’s a good way to kill the time and keep myself engaged, but (aside from this blog) I don’t really have the drive to do that over anything else.

As-I-Play XCOM: Managing the Team (Part Two)


by Kristin Bezio


As I continue playing, not much seems to be changing in terms of gameplay other than the expected “more aliens” per mission, “different aliens” on missions, and the constant harping of my German scientist who is quite frankly getting a bit annoying.

Managing resources at my base of operations has proven to be more challenging than I initially expected, as I keep running out of whatever currency § happens to be. It’s added a little bit of strategy to this part of the game that would otherwise, I think, but a bit boring. I actually have to think about whether an other fighter jet would be a better investment than a power plant or satellite.

I’m also starting to have trouble managing the panic levels in some countries. The first nation to lose its proverbial shit was the US, which is probably what would actually happen if there were an alien invasion in real life, but it’s mostly because of that first mission where I didn’t go to Dallas (oops). I’ve also allowed Africa to get a little bit more out of control than I’d like, if only because putting a satellite in Russia earns me more money than putting it in South Africa, and I need the money (see previous point).

I’ve also now started losing squad members – I’ve gotten three killed so far, the man from the UK, the woman from China, and another dude from the Czech Republic (I think – my flag identification skills aren’t that great). I’ve also actually been surprised by the squad members who have proven to be invaluable. The woman from the US is my go-to sniper, the dude from Argentina is my anchor Heavy, my Support is a nice man from Germany (named Axel), but my best squad member, hands down, is an Iranian woman whose nickname is “Septic” who, as it turns out, gets really lucky with her grenade throws and low percentage shots a lot of the time.

I’ve been going out of my way to try to rotate rookies into my squad (which I’ve upgraded to be six rather than four) so that if I get them killed I don’t have to take an entire rookie squad with me the next time. But it’s really tempting to just keep with my Argentina/Germany/Iran/US/France/Nigeria power-team. The problem with rookies is that they’re the most likely to get killed (looking at you, Czech) or panic (China) and freak out on me, rendering themselves useless and more likely to get shot for a turn or two.

But aside from having some squad members whose abilities are nice to have in combat, I don’t really care whether they live or die. Yes, their abilities are nice to have (as they get promoted, they gain additional skills), but I don’t actually care about THEM. They don’t talk much (other than to say things like “I’m pinned down!” when being shot at), and they don’t have personalities to speak of, so I don’t get attached to them as characters, only as mechanical tools. I think that’s probably why I think of them as their countries (since they all have names and once they have combat experience, nicknames, too) – they’re tools, not people.

I’m not sure whether I’d want them to be, either. The point of the combat in XCOM, as far as I can tell, is to manage your tactical abilities and combat maneuvers against enemies that aren’t always predictable (new aliens move in different ways, like the annoying half-robot ones that more-or-less teleport). Thus far, it seems like the point is to make the player feel the stress of having to make impossible decisions. For instance, do I let this fighter be destroyed in order to try to destroy a UFO or do I abort? Which abduction do I attend to, since there are three but I can only go to one? Does loyalty or practicality take precedence as I choose my team or choose which nation to help? Do I save money or resources in case a disaster happens, or do I spend it to try to deal with the disaster better, knowing that I’m taking a risk while my team is working on the problems? Do I upgrade my weapons and armor in hopes of protecting my squad, or do I do the mission sooner?

The purpose isn’t to make us – as the disembodied Commander – feel for each member of our team, as it is in BioWare games. The purpose is to make us do the math, calculate advantages and disadvantages to using this team, giving that squad member experience, or allowing a UFO to attack a nation rather than send out a fighter that’s certain to be destroyed. It’s about making the hard choices without involving emotions.

Could XCOM have included emotions? Sure. They could have made us care about our squad, given them personalities and narratives, which would make the fact that some of them have to die all the more horrible. But I don’t think people would play a game whose purpose is to make us feel horrible about ourselves throughout the whole process. I think the apathy with which we treat the squad members is perhaps a more “realistic” depiction of how distant commanders make tactical decisions. It’s more about strategy and less about the “human” element, although some of that can’t help but creep in.

It teaches us that distance can sometimes be a good thing, because distance enables us to be more efficient, more successful. To take risks that can pay off in a big way that we might not take if we felt for the people involved. But it’s also a really good argument to play XCOM Iron Man style. There aren’t any do-overs in life. If you make a bad choice, if you get unlucky (because the success or failure of shots in combat are based on probabilities, not on certainty), things go south. Equipment gets damaged or destroyed. People get hurt, or die. Consequences, even though digital, are more real when you can’t go back.

The Continuing Influence of Weird Al on Law, Especially Copyright Law


by Raizel Liebler

weirdalandfozzieConsidering Weird Al has his first #1 album on the Billboard charts, many have taken this as an opportunity to do a retrospective on his career. But outside of his musical and parodic impact, he has also had an impact on law. This isn’t so strange – this album is the last one in his contractually obligated series with the record company he’s been with since 1984. He’s also talked about the difference between his rights as an artist – and those of his record company – considering he can’t even put his own videos on his own YouTube channel without them being pulled off due to ContentID.

So I think it is important to look over Weird Al’s impact on law — especially how all us use Weird Al’s work as a shorthand for everything from lighthearted parodies to the ubiquity of licensing music. The way that he goes about his creations through licensing rather than relying on fair use has been used as justification to limit fair use – under the assumption that all artists are willing to license their works – even if the new product makes fun of them.

Weird Al or his works have been cited by a large number of legal scholars in almost seventy-five law review articles over the years, including in at least six articles by at least three of the top 30 IP scholars — Mark Lemley (Mark Lemley & Stacey Dogan, Parody as Brand, 47 U.C.D. L. Rev. 473, 503 (2013); Mark Lemley, Should a Licensing Market Require Licensing, 70 Law & Contemp. Probs. 185, 191 (2007)); Jonathan Zittrain (Jonathan Zittrain, Privacy 2.0, 2008 U. Chi. Legal F. 65, 83 (2008)) and Rebecca Tushnet (Rebecca Tushnet, Payment in Credit: Copyright Law and Subcultural Creativity, 70 Law & Contemp. Probs. 135, 161 (2007); Rebecca Tushnet, My Fair Ladies: Sex, Gender, and Fair Use in Copyright,  15 Am. U. J. Gender Soc. Pol’y & L. 273, 297 (2007); Bruce P. Keller & Rebecca Tushnet, Even More Parodic than the Real Thing: Parody Lawsuits Revisited, 94 Trademark Rep. 979, 985, 996, 997 (2004)) and many others, including Kembrew McLeod & Peter DiCola, Non-Infringing Uses in Digital Sampling: The Role of Fair Use and the De Minimis Threshold in Sample Clearance Reform, 17 Deakin L. Rev. 321, 329 (2012).

But his influence isn’t just in rocking the possibly non-existent borderline between parody and satire – let alone tribute, takeoff, and more, but has been cited in law reviews to talk about topic from racial profiling (Nancy Leong, The Open Road and the Traffic Stop: Narratives and Counter-Narratives of the American Dream, 64 Fla. L. Rev. 305 (2012)) to the RIAA (Vincent J. Galluzzo, When Now Known or Later Developed Fails Its Purpose: How P2P Litigation Has Turned the Distribution Right Upside-Down,  61 Fla. L. Rev. 1165 (2009)) to defining what goes into Spam – the meat product (Pamela C. Chalk, A Pig by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet, 12 J. Contemp. Legal Issues 340 (2001)).

The first law review citation to Weird Al I was able to find was this 1987 article: Kenneth J. Nunnenkamp, Musical Parody: Derivative Use or Fair Use?, 7 Loy. Ent. L.J. 299 (1987).  Nunnenkamp mentions how “Like A Surgeon” uses the entire musical score of Madonna’s “Like A Virgin”, but that he licenses use of the songs used in his parodies (302). Oh, and “Weird Al[‘s]… humorous remakes of popular songs should hardly be a fair use simply because they criticize something, especially when one considers the possible detriment such a song, if unauthorized, could have on the marketability of the original.” (320).

There is even pre-Campbell law review article dedicated to Weird Al: Charles Sanders & Steven Gordon, Stranger in Parodies: Weird Al and the Law of Musical Satire, 1 Fordham Ent. Media & Intell. Prop. L.F. 11 (1990). The authors analyze Weird Al’s music under the pre-Campbell standard:

“Mr. Yankovic’s ability to rely on the fair use doctrine to excuse the unlicensed uses of the songs and music videos he parodies is extremely doubtful. Application of the “verbatim copying” threshold test would present an insurmountable hurdle to any claim of fair use by Mr. Yankovic. His taking of the full chord structure, melody, and portions of the lyrics of the original underlying musical compositions which he parodies is clearly substantial enough to pre-empt a finding of fair use as a matter of law, regardless of any number of “mitigating” circumstances which might exist. The same is true of his near-verbatim takings of the accompanying music videos which he sometimes parodies along with the song and sound recording. Even assuming that Mr. Yankovic could survive application of the verbatim copying threshold test, and taking into account that there is no reason to suspect he would fail the “nexus” threshold test or run afoul of presumptions concerning obscenity, Mr. Yankovic would still not be able to satisfy the burden of proving fair use.” (35)

But the article talks about why artists might not want to license their compositions to Weird Al and others in purely economic terms:

Weird Al’s substantial market success is responsible for the willingness of copyright owners to grant him permission to parody their musical compositions, and has made it possible for Yankovic to bargain for a lucrative share in the copyright of the parody version of the song. He further surmises that fledgling parodists and comedians are often denied permission to parody by copyright owners who believe the sell-evident risks of damaging the value of their copyright by permitting the parody is not offset by a “guarantee” of financial return which Weird Al can provide.

Despite not being cited with Campbell v. Acuff-Rose, 510 U.S. 569 (1994) – the Supreme Court’s big parody/satire case, Weird Al was referenced by both parties in their briefs regarding how he licenses and pays for his parodies. The Reply Brief for Campbell mentions Weird Al:

Respondent points to the recordings of “Weird Al” Yankovic as examples of music parodies produced pursuant to a license from the copyright holder. … Unlike Petitioners’ parody, however, none of these parodies appear to be critical of the underlying work or recording artist, nor do they comment on any controversial issues, so that the copyright holder would be unlikely to license them. Parody would not long survive as a unique and valuable art form if it were limited to such bland treatment of popular musical works and their themes.

And while Weird Al wasn’t referenced in the Supreme Court decision, he was referred to in the lower court decision in the Sixth Circuit, Acuff-Rose Music v. Campbell, 972 F.2d 1429, 1440 n.3 (1992) where the court refuses to call Weird Al’s songs satire or parody – instead referring to “‘comic’ effort, such as those created by comic musician Weird Al Yankovic.”

But Weird Al also serves as a cultural touchstone in filed briefs in cases in varied subjects. Below are some of my favorites, in the way they assume that the judges (or their clerks) will automatically know of Weird Al’s oeuvre:

In a 2007 Brief by the Texas AFL-CIO to the Texas Supreme Court:

Utilizing the Court’s novel interpretation of the term “perform,” for example, one could hire Madonna or Usher to “perform” at a concert but they could do so fully and completely by hiring Weird Al Yankovic to sing in their stead. Those who hail this decision should, therefore, be careful what they wish for.

In a 2012 Brief to the Ninth Circuit:

This is an example of what does not constitute infringement — i.e., different expression of a very basic idea — in this case, the idea of describing what a mother says to her child. … Such words come from ideas that have found their way into any number of song lyrics and titles, including … “Just whistle while you work, and cheerfully together we can tidy up the place . . . And as you sweep the room . . . .” (from “Snow White’); they are used by artists from Weird Al Yankovic (he commands in his lyrics to “Eat it”: “Don’t want to hear about what kind of food you hate, You won’t get no dessert ‘til you clean off your plate, So eat it, Don’t tell me you’re full, Just eat it, eat it, eat it . . . .”) to Vampire Weekend (in their lyrics to “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” they sing, “Is your bed made? Is your sweater on?”) to name only a few.

Weird Al is America’s equivalent to the parodies in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Though The Looking Glass – where culturally known materials are parodied. Since the 1850s, we’ve forgotten what “You Are Old Father William” refers to, but children still love hearing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Bat for the first time because they understand the reference! So I hope that Weird Al’s songs continue their staying power – though I expect Eat It to be the longest lasting song – even if kids don’t remember Beat It.

Think about the thread that runs through a mashup of the audio of Weird Al’s Handy with the video of Fancy which is an unlicensed music video unlicenced “re-telling” of the movie Clueless (including being filmed in the same high school) which is in turn officially a modern take on the public domain work Emma by Jane Austen. This video highlights our present difficulty in determining where the lines for quoting, allusion, and licensing should be drawn in law and in the larger culture — and it runs all the way from a bizarre double entendre about wood stripping all the way back to the writings of a book published 199 years ago that is still popular today. But watch it while you can kids, because YouTube could pull it at any time!

San Diego Comic Con – Day 2 Recap


by Nicole Keating


What a lovely Friday!

As I write this recap, I’m waiting in the fabled Hall H line for the Saturday panels, thinking back to this Friday morning when I was able to wake up at a luxurious 6am and still make it into the front of the Indigo Ballroom for the Cartoon Network/animation block of panels.

These panels are quickly becoming a staple of my Comic Con experience. Last year, I skipped them for the Game of Thrones panel, and I was disappointed. Not only do these animation-based panels–especially Adult Swim and FX’s Archer–offer laughter and imagination and joy and vulgarity and comedy, but the presenters are all extremely accessible: Archer’s Lucky Yates was in the elevator with me this morning, Venture Bros’ Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick were hangin out at Starbucks, and all three are in staying in my hotel. There’s no pretension and no arrogance. Other than that which comes along with being naturally dope, of course. Like a People Magazine’s “Celebrities! They’re just like us!” in real life!

Plus everyone offers really solid advice on writing, acting, and producing for comedic television, what I’m currently teaching myself to do! So it feels good to hear little bits of encouragement from peeps who’ve been there.

Here are the highlights.

Uncle Grandpa
As the creator of Uncle Grandpa and the voice of the title character, Peter Browngart said “Cartoons can do impossible things.” The sense of the impossible and surreal was certainly evident in all of the materials the UG team brought. From what I saw, the show has a Ren & Stimpy vibe, which was confirmed by a fourth-wall-breaking table read. They revealed some of next season’s special guests–Tone Loc (!!!), Shaq, and Henry Rollins–a fun short from Adventure Time’s Pendleton Ward, and an upcoming comic!

The Clarence panel started with a sizzle reel, which included a sequence at a Chuck-E-Cheez type restaurant where the titular Clarence approaches the ball pit and says, “Put your shoes in the cubby. And then you take a fresh pair.” And he reaches for princess-themed sneakers that light up when he walks. And, yes, I coveted those shoes as a child. Light-up shoes, ball pits, and elementary school…Clarence seems grounded in all these real childhood experiences. They then showed some of next season’s clips as well as some animatics of a Bettie Boop-style episode, displaying an admirably broad variety of animation styles. They finished with a Q&A, and someone nicknaming cast member Tom Kenney Spongecash. I would further suggest Spongecash Coinpants.

What time is it? Adventure Time!
The panel began with the above chant, so we started strong. The panel got better and better, with repeat moderator Tom Kenney slipping in and out of his Ice King voice, the voice actors for Finn and Marceline singing an a capella “Daddy Why Did You Eat My Fries,” and a number of delectable clips. There’s an upcoming Lumpy Space Princess and Marceline episode, a Lemongrab spiritual enlightenment episode, and a Finn-goes-it-alone episode that features some sort of cloud-like guardian (it was animatics, so it was hard to tell, okay?) referring to Jake as “Supple Yellow Dog.”

Fans of the show and the deeply human lessons that it embodies will be thrilled to hear that the land of Ooo will return for a 7th season!!

You should also check out Jeremy Shada’s (Finn) band Makeout Monday, Justin Roiland’s (Lemongrab) new comic Bananaguard Academy, and John DiMaggio’s new documentary on voice acting I Know That Voice.

Venture Brothers
I love Venture Bros panels. They’re irreverent and witty and totally bananas. They’re never moderated, and always have the same three people. I’ll set it up for you: A revved-up, sleep-deprived crowd, no moderator, creators and actors Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick as well as actor James Urbaniak.

The AV crew flubbed these gentlemen’s first entrance music, so they went back and did it again.

“YOOO I tell ya what I want what I really really want,” blared The Spice Girls. Our panelsits enter like a whimsical glam rock trio–Jackson Publick in head-to-toe seersucker, Doc Hammer in a purple plaid suit, both in Ray Bans, followed by Urbaniak in a loud paisley top.

Rather than bore you with a wordy recap, here are my bullet points–NAY exclamation points–of best quotes.

When asked who his ideal panel guests would be, Doc Hammer answered, “The General from the insurance commercials, that Harry Potter Guy, Nelly, and the Cheerios Bee.”

“You committed to your full dandyism.”
“A gentleman does not remove his jacket in public.”
“My sweat stains go down to my elbows.”
“Do you know what prolapse is? …I got real close.”
“Trip them up like so much Columbo.”
“We are big fans of our own television show.”
“We have our heads so far up our own buttholes that we can see what we ate yesterday.”
“I cut my head on a towel.”
“I put sunscreen on to do a panel.”
“I put on deodorant yesterday but didn’t really cause I forgot to take the plastic thing off.”
“Everybody dribbled peepee all at once.”
“Diarrhea was a real killer of great men.”

These three men are hilarious and just the right amount of insane. If you’re ever in San Diego for the convention, you should really try to make it out to see the Venture Bros panel. You won’t be sorry.

I missed some of the next panel to run up to the room and charge my phone, but I made it down in time to see some nice interactions between Jack McBrayer and Robert Smigel. The premise is meta: a stand-up gets his own show. Like Seinfeld or The Wayans. Only this time the stand-up is Triumph, and the history of his career is completely fabricated. There’s promise there, but I don’t know that I’ll go out of my way to watch this show.

Rick & Morty
Breakout hit Rick & Morty had a loud, excited audience. This lil show from Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon got so popular in its first season, and rightly so. The show approaches the world with a sense of limitless possibility, and they embue their viewers with this hope-despite-disaster mentality. For example, Dan Harmon wore a bird costume. It was clearly made of cardboard, duct tape, and craft store feathers (disaster), yet I still wrote “DAN HARMON IS MY GOD NOW” in the margins of my notebook (hope).

I would highly recommend this series, coming out on DVD/BluRay soon. As added incentive Cartoon Network is scattering 22 “The Good Morty” pamphlets (an in-show reference) throughout disc packages, Golden Ticket-style!! There’s also original animatics, a behind-the-scenes documentary, and multiple commentaries per episode.

For aspiring content creators myself, Harmon and Roiland recommend creating something once each month. And not just creating, but also finishing! Then you have created something and don’t spend all your time enmeshed in the energy and frustrations of the creative process.

All in all, an enlightening and entertaining panel!

Mike Tyson Mysteries
Oh man. Just……oh man.

Mike Tyson Mysteries is a cartoon in the grand tradition of old school Hanna Barbara cartoons like Scooby Doo. Mike Tyson solves mysteries with his adopted Korean daughter, a pigeon, and a late-19th century ghost played by Community’s Jim Rash.

Mike Tyson is……..quite a character. He tows the line between appropriate and OMGWUTDIDYOUSAY with the natural skill and threat of danger of a tightrope walker. This calls for another quote list.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Mike Tyson:
On why he decided to do the show: “I’ve never been a cartoon character and I decided to make me a cartoon character.”
On how he differs from his cartoon persona: “I’ve never adopted a Chinese girl.” The character is Korean.
To co-star Jim Rash: “Wait, are you the pigeon?” Jim Rash: “No. I’m the ghost.”
20-Something Audience Member During the Q&A: “Mr. Tyson, I’m a lifelong fan and–” MT: “How can you be a lifelong fan? You’re only 12!” Audience roars with laughter. MT: “Stop, I’m not funny.” Audience member: “You are funny…but I’m 13.”
Lastly, presented without comment: “We need more Mexicans.”

Robot Chicken
True confessions: I’ve been obsessed with Seth Green and Breckin Meyer since tweenhood. I know we’re meant to be BFFs. What can I say? I have a soft spot for dudes who are half a-hole, half charm, and all nerd. The Robot Chicken team is basically my soul mate.


They began by showing us a short special episode dedicated to beloved Strawberry Shortcake-inspired character (and likely one of my upcoming cosplays) Bitch Pudding, voiced by the ineffable Katee Sackhoff. There were questions from the audience that were all answered in the lightheartedly mocking tone of the show itself, including a plea to get the afore-seen Mike Tyson on the show, and then an extra special announcement from the bros. [Seriously, y’all are really bro-y. Invite me to your writers room. I’m also an a-hole, so I’ll fit in, but I’m a lady so QUOTA FILLED!]

Robot Chicken will be collaborating with Team Unicorn, the nerd girl collective headed by Green’s wife Claire Grant. They celebrate cosplay, referential humour, and creativity with a very feminine edge. Unsurprisingly, these ladies are some of my career role models. They will join forces to form MEGAZORD Team Unicorn’s Saturday Action Fun Hour. It’s a throwback to children’s shows of yesteryear, with a live action intro/outro and an animated center. Like a Twinkie!

Bob’s Burgers

I’m new to Bob’s Burgers, but I love every second of this show. The new season starts October 5th, and I’d highly recommend getting caught up before then. It’s so funny. Plus, unlike shows like Family Guy where the humor comes from the family treating each other kinda crappy, the Belcher family at the center of Bob’s Burgers really seems to love each other! The comedy comes instead from the outlandish characterizations provided by the skilled comedians behind the voices, including the likes of H. Jon Benjamin, Eugene Mirman, and Kristen Schaal.

Dan Mintz, one of the writers, voices adolescent daughter and fan favorite Tina, who likes “horses, magic, and boys.” The swag for this panel was a sturdy (made in Canada, so you know it’ll treat you right) Tina mask. That’s me sporting it up above.

Tina also writes erotic friend-fiction. That’s like fan fiction, except you cast your friends. The most exciting announcement for me was the reveal that Tina has contributed a friend-fiction piece to Rookie Magazine. (An online zine masterminded by wunderkind Tavi Gevinson, right now appearing in This Is Our Youth at sweet-home-Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater, Rookie regularly publishes a real-live book version called Yearbook, in which said piece will appear. It’s one of my fave sites and yet another career influence for me, so I of course highly recommend checking it out.)

This friend-fiction piece is an “elaborate Labyrinth fantasy.”

That’s three–count ‘em THREE–of my favorite things combined into ONE THING.

Thank you, Bob’s Burgers.

Thank you.

Okay, kids, it’s the piece de resistance: FX’s spy satire Archer.

Archer has been a television fave of mine for some time, to the point where references to the show bleed into my vernacular. They’re no longer quotes. They’re part of my language, and everyone seems to know what I mean. This show is a standout because of its incredible characters brought to life by skilled animators, hilarious writers, and fearless actors like venerable nerd girl and my lover-though-she-doesn’t-know-it-yet Aisha Tyler.

The Archer panel boasted some of Tyler’s fantastic one-liners: “I looked deep into Josh Hartnett’s eyes, and I almost peed myself just a liiiiiiittle bit.” “I’m an expert at stealing semen. If you go to stealingsemen.org…” I could go on, but why don’t you check out more of Tyler’s work yourself? Not actually on stealingsemen.org. How about on Twitter @aishatyler? Do it. She’s the best.

But wait; there’s more. They announced upcoming special guest voices, like the return of Christian Slater and Fargo’s Allison Tolman.

But wait! There’s more! We got to watch the Season 6 premiere, and it looks like this season has all the action, hilarity, and “PHRASING” of seasons past!

But wait! There’s EVEN MORE! Archer has been renewed for a Season 7! Sing out your praises, nerds!

Thus concludes SDCC Day 2. Aight, I’m outtie! The Hall H line for Saturday’s panels is moving, and I gotta finish this thing before my battery di

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