Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Craft Beer Kerfuffle

About a month ago now, during the Super Bowl, a very dubious decision was made by someone you'd have actually expected to remain conservative in the matter. I'm not talking about Pete Carroll's completely fucking boneheaded decision at the end of that game that doomed us to hear the word "dynasty" continually revolving around a franchise that has benefited to the utmost from opposing coaches making boneheaded decisions and blind eyes turned to rule enforcement for fourteen years now.  No, that "huh" inducing accolade went to Budweiser, the self-titled "King of Beers," deciding to spend four million dollars to deride the Fastest Growing Aspect of its Industry because, I don't know, there's pretentious people? At the least it was hypocritical, because during that SAME week that they decided to throw down that gauntlet on taste they were finalizing the purchase of Seattle Craft Brewery Elysian (who ironically have produced a "Peach Pumpkin Ale" as an example craft brew derided in that Super Bowl Ad) adding them to the list of craft brewery acquisitions they've made over the past few years such as Chicago's Goose Island and Long Island's own Blue Point. But what I don't get is what would actually prompt such an "attack" I guess is the word given it was deliberately aimed in a high traffic area for people's eye holes to absorb. Was it a cynical, dying grasp to energize a group of people that grew up on nothing but suds contained by that red crown and don't understand what that aspect of the beer industry is (probably), or the people who have lackadaisically tried craft brews and don't get what the hubbub is about (most definitely), or are craft beer drinking folks just that annoying they were worth dedicating several million dollars toward dissing on world wide television while also trying desperately to get their sales (yes and no)?

Let's get this out of the way now: As someone with a closet full of Imperial Stouts and Bourbon Barrel-Aged that and a couple six packs of fresh IPAs I can wholeheartedly say that you have to be a little pretentious to be into craft beer. In fact, the word "into" related to the word beer itself always seems to be a little weird on its own because beer since Prohibition has essentially been pigeonholed into a basic idea of what it is, mainly because since that era it has only been a smattering of companies such as Budweiser manufacturing the stuff. We're used to Wine and Bourbon enthusiasts, all with their own level of prevention toward those liquids and how they were prepared and stored, but to a large chunk of the populace the idea of a beer that isn't you standard "Premium Lager." As one of links above show, it's been a dramatic shift to this new industry in just the past fifteen years and what it presents to all sorts of drinkers, casual or otherwise, is a bit of a culture shock; and I can't help but wonder how much of this "blow back" that would not only incite a commercial like this but also get the rank and file to like it and share it to death on social media stems from this dramatic shift.

But I also know it has a lot to do with the people who imbibe in these craft brews because, well, I am one, I've seen them, and I know they can be assholes, just like anyone who dubs themselves an "enthusiast" about a recreational endeavor can end up finding themselves. That commercial - obnoxious as it was in most aspects - was right though; craft beer drinkers can be self-absorbed in their brews to the point where it seems like they are trying to divine the mysteries of the universe out of what's in their glass (always pour your beer in a glass people!) all while sporting bushy beards and full sleeve tattoos and jeans tighter than should be allowed by law on the men. And that's where I think this whole thing begins to crumble because, quite frankly, if you're going to judge any hobby by its most haughty of participants, then fuck it, you may as well make your time killing activity zapping ants with a magnifying glass; and I'd still wager there's going to be some megalomaniac fuck with a super pimped out magnifier that laughs at how plain and boring your insect ignition tool is in comparison.

"It's brewed for drinking, not dissecting" is one of the trademark phrases of that (more that I talk about it) childish ad and that's a load of bullshit. Everything is made for dissecting, again it's just to the extremes. By that logic food is just meant for eating so shove any piece of sustenance down your gullet you can and just absorb the nutrients, watch whatever is put on the television right in front of you right that minute and never bother to see if something more your tastes is on another channel and don't, by god don't, ever attempt to listen to any radio station but the Top 40 Hits because there's nothing else worthwhile out there to beat on your ear drums. To debate the level of enjoyment one can get out of their spare time filler is absolutely futile, but to point out their arrogance in the matter, well, there Budweiser has a point. When it comes to a passion everyone has a point where enthusiasm transforms into an unbearable pretentiousness. I think it's okay to wear a little pretension on your sleeve as in my opinion it and pride about what you're expressing your loyalty to can be somewhat interchangeable to a debatable degree, but no one likes an utter dipshit in the matter. Except for when they do...

We're just a week removed from the annual Hollywood wankfest that is the Oscars and, per usual, people ate it up. They pissed and moaned about it being boring or uninteresting or out of touch but, like always, everyone stayed up until midnight and commentated on the winners and losers and the pomp and circumstance of it all as they waited to see what was hailed as the highest artistic endeavor in all the landscape of one of the most popular forms of entertainment on the planet. Last I checked inflammatory ragebeast Gordon Ramsey was still making popular television programs about yelling at people trying to make better food, as well as their being an entire network dedicated to that craft. And those wine and bourbon types I mentioned earlier can be every bit as pompous about their grape quality and barrel types used in the aging process as any craft beer person can be with their noses in their glasses trying to detect a certain kind of hop or whatever the fuck, and for the most part those people get a pass for being a special class of alcohol drinker. So is this bite back against craft beer by those who don't drink it or run companies that are watching their market share be torn into by it just because of the ostentatiousness of those who drink it or because it's just, y'know, beer?

I guess, for now, I'm just going to assume it's "just a little bit" of each of those things. As I said before, beer to the vast majority of people has been what it has been for decades now because that's just how things settled out post-Prohibition. Stuff like Bud and Coors with its "Banquet Beer" and so on are what your daddy and your daddy's daddy drank and that's just the way it has always been, except that we just recently got back to the amount of breweries there were in this country pre-the dark ages that were Prohibition. And because of that beer has pretty much been for years the thing you drink to get your shitface on, not the thing you drink to savor. And that's absolutely fine and probably where the line gets drawn on all these airs of pretension across all items I've mentioned up until now and beyond; these things are what you make of them. If you only care about alcohol as a means to get your warble warble on, then so be it. I personally feel like you may be doing a disservice  for yourself by not finding something tastier to imbibe on in that wubwubwub escape but at the same time why waste the money if sensory deprivation is your end hope? I don't drink for that anymore therefore I don't drink like that anymore but I get the sentiment, but I still think there's plenty of opportunity for casual sampling of something new for those (possibly rare) times people just want a drink to have a random drink and maybe find something more pleasing to your body and senses than just "well, this is alcohol." And if not, oh well, carry on as you were and leave the other stuff to the beard bearers.

I think we as a people enjoy things that are crafted by others with a passion for making said items, we just have a low tolerance for those nefarious "really into" people when our enjoyment emphasis is of a significantly different priority of theirs. Recently I just watched Jon Favreau's "Chef" and for a cute little movie it had a lot of spark and love to it. Every scene where he rolled up his sleeves to create some culinary delight I got a tinge of joy because I love seeing that level of enthusiasm in creating something. I'm not so much a creator but I delight in what people craft and I like to try to introduce that something to other people and see if it is also their bag. That's why I think that this anti-craft beer sentiment is a little misplaced on the minor yet vocal snobs of the stuff rather than the drinks themselves.

Sometimes there are complete douchnozzles who completely ruin those experiences by making you feel like your dumb or not "with it" for not getting the same level of inflated nirvana they are deriving from those products and that fucking sucks because they're being narrow-minded in their supposed open-mindedness by not realize everyone has their taste ranges. I personally think Budweiser is generic, acrid swill, and I will say that no problem when someone asks for my opinion on the stuff but if that's your thing because all you care about in drinking is the end result, so be it my friend. But if your adherence to that substance is simply because "that's the way it's always been for you" then you probably owe it to yourself to branch out a bit and ignore those who would make you feel dumb for being a novice. And if you've tried some craft brews and have not found any that jive, as someone who has drank literally hundreds of the things I can say, well, that shit happens (because despite what the snobs may verbosely tout, some of the stuff being made is definitely more for masochists than dabblers) but at least you tried and hopefully you do some more and find something more your speed because there is just such a huge variety of flavors and types out there already and its growing exponentially and wants to find you a place at the brewpub bar. Don't believe me? Well, what if I told you that the biggest beer producer out there spent $4 million on an advertisement trying to badmouth an aspect of their industry they also just spent tens of millions of dollars desperately trying to get into? You'd probably reason out that that company was scared of people's opinions changing on them and I bet its more the new thing they continue to shell out money on acquiring as fast as they can than the same stuff they continue to spend millions on trying to assure you it will always taste the same.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fire the Comic Book Community

Hello to all my fellow comic book fans and fellow enthusiasts of all things geek. I am here today to let you in on a little public service announcement: You all suck. Seriously, it's true. Highly generalized (I'm sure a lot of you are actually pretty dandy folks), but still filled with true. You have become monstrous and parasitic with all of your fervor and it would almost be hilarious if it all had not reached the disgusting levels that it has. Your continual desire to be constantly outraged at the things you profess to love borders on a level of masochism that even I - a master of the S&M arts of tearing down the things he professes to derive enjoyment from - tip my hat at your screaming self-importance with your claims of "fandom" as you rally against essentially everything that goes on in our little, fantasy world.  I'd almost feel more contempt for you if it wasn't being overwhelmed my pity when I realize that, at the end of the day, this is mostly being aimed at how grown men and women write fictional characters (or direct fictional characters brought to life on film) and how absurd and petty a notion that is in reality. 

I'll pull back on my vitriol a bit now to at least say this: I get it. If but just on a base level of attachment I understand some of the "concern" of how these imaginary beings we grow up with and that exert some influence on our development are handled by the people that shape them for our current consumption and sculpting of the next generation. Hell, just before I decided I've had enough of this #firerickremender bullshit to start moving my fingers across the board to make this post, I was drafting up a piece where I wanted to talk about how I feel a little "out of the loop" given the way a lot of the publishing lines are drawn these days. Regardless, I understand the comfort of continuing to read about characters that have been with us all our lives on the page and the thrill of watching them on the big screen, shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of our fellow nerds that gleefully (or even begrudgingly) plopped down fifteen bucks for a ticket that helps justify our misspent youths. With that said, you fuckers need to get a hold of yourselves and grow up a little bit; some of you a lot bit. 

Quite frankly, outrage is too easy these days because all it takes is some schmuck with a mad on and a keyboard (huzzah, I realize I could be a hypocrite here!) and the right wave of bored people who want to yell at each other via our bandwidth tubes. There's outrage over a football team name. Outrage over what some dumb, racist fat broad with a butter fetish said over two decades ago. Outrage over how tiny the girl they cast to play Wonder Woman is and how it doesn't seem like she's bulking up enough. Context is also a lost fucking art form it seems as well. What of those three things I just mentioned doesn't seem like the other? Not that discussions on all of these subjects don't have their own merits given the right forums, platitudes, and implications in a vacuum. That football team name could be offensive to a lot of people whose ancestors were brutalized as this country grew; maybe we should talk about it and see if that should still be a thing? Tons of Fun with a Southern Drawl said some dumb, ignorant stuff but it was years ago, raised in a culture where that shit is, sadly, not uncommon but she has a pretty broad following so maybe we should hold her accountable to the point of her losing her primary source of income? I don't know, that's some pretty damn grey area there if you ask me. It warrants talking about for sure but I think on a lower scale because, overall, I don't think her career really matters all much in the grand scheme of things but we should all take the time to discuss personal accountability and how it can affect our careers now that our lives are just that much more out there thanks to social media.

That third example though, seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you people?

We're throwing outrage at a girl who was handed a job, now has to and will do it to her best ability (assuming she's as professional as you would hope someone on that particular level is), but doesn't live up to your standards of the fictional being she is getting paid to portray, even though you have yet to see her attempt at the character? Outrage over the sole production photo of Henry Cavill back in the Superman costume and how dour it looks. Continued outrage over Ben Affleck as the Batman and the guy from the social network being Lex Luthor. Outrage, outrage, outrage!! over a movie you will all spend money on anyway and that in ten years will just remember as that thing you may or may not have enjoyed for two and a half hours of your life and wonder what they'll be doing with the reboot or who they will cast as any of those characters I just named this time around. And that will be followed with more outrage, because why not, unless maybe by the grace of god aliens will have invaded the Earth and we'll have more important things to worry about than movie adaptions (and I pledge my fealty to you here and now oh wonderfully dome-headed ones).

And, to reiterate, I understand this on that primal basis. These things hold a dear place in our hearts. I spend several hours a week typing up pieces about these characters and books for a pretty popular website (that is even renowned for being @$$holes about this shit, huzzah again!) and have spent plenty of time in forums weighing the pros and cons of these character turns and editorial directions and on and on. When an adaptation of a character you identify with sucks it's a bit of a downer because we have all invested so much into this hobby and art form over the years. But you also know what? Every time it sucks it's going to be all right because, regardless of current status quo's and regimes, there's always the old material we hold dear and always the potential for new material in the future that will reignite our fondness for those properties. I don't want to say we should not debate and discuss, or voice excitement and disappointment, but that the clamor should always have a context and a conscious.

But, because we can't fucking have nice things, instead we decided to call for a prominent writer's head on a pike because, well, the O-word.

#FireRickRemender was quite possibly the dumbest thing I woke up to this week, and I follow sports and politics pretty heavily. Because someone who doesn't know how to follow along with a comic book assumed a character that, even though she just announced she was in her twenties (and yes, I get a lot of this involved time jumping shenanigans and we saw a lot of her in her teens, but still, CONTEXT PEOPLE!!), was still assumed to really be in her teens and banged The Falcon and they were all "ew" about it. And, because the Internet loves some outrage and hash tagging fucking everything, some supposed journalists for places like The Examiner and whatnot, who also don't apparently understand context (and, really, the fucking Examiner is covering this shit now?) decided to run with that flag as soon as it was raised. So because statutory rape that didn't really happen but is TOTALLY KIND OF IMPLIED if you read it the way you want to was a thing,  part of the community decided to call for a man's livelihood. Given the ridiculousness of these claims I'm going to put forth one of my own right now: The person who started this really didn't get the statutory part mixed up, they're just racist and felt icky seeing sex aftermath between a tiny white girl and a large, muscular black man. See how easy this shit is? And a not insignificant portion of comic book readers went straight for their Disqus generated guillotines and their insipid hashtags and demanded a man's head. For a group of people raised on reading books with characters whose main purposes were to teach acceptance and tolerance, we apparently love our witch hunts. And as hypocritical as even I may have been over the years with some of my pieces, this nonsense (at least within the confines of our community) is at a FOX News playbook level of amateurishness.

There are things we should always discuss as a community and how we want to present ourselves. Maybe we should discuss how, now that comics are way more mainstream, that they may have gotten too "adult" even with material like this in the first place, since it's going to be kids like we used to be when we first got hooked and that will continue these stories beyond us. When Orson Scott Card was penned in to write Superman stories, that was a real debate we should have had, because an UNMISTAKABLY and VOCALLY intolerant person was about to become the mouth piece of the most tolerant character possibly in the history of fiction was a real discussion point. Should it have cost him the job though? I have my opinions on that and so do you and we should all discuss them rationally. The "Women in Refrigerators" movement, as it documented for years, showed there was an unhealthy trend showing up in our comics and we needed to have a frank conversation about how it, as a primarily male driven industry, needed to start presenting itself to the female world. I personally think we are infinitely better now that we have had that discussion and hope we can have more like it as the community grows and the industry evolves.

#FireRickRemender was not a discussion. It was one person's misconstrued distaste turned into a hunt for page clicks by others who were just looking for an excuse to write something attention grabbing,  even as just a roundabout way to knock down Remender himself a peg for not liking his work or what he's currently doing the character of Captain America himself. And you know what? At least there's some merit that last aspect because of that attachment I have talked about several times now. If you think a current take on a character is not doing that character justice or seems out of place, talk about it. Or bear it out and hope the next guy or gal (and there will be a next one shortly in today's industry) will be more your style. But demonizing for the sake of demonizing will get us nowhere. Look at our political climate today. If you do not have a factual point for your crusade to rally around, all you are going to do is entrench the other party. And as far as that is concerned, don't think you scumbags whose response to these trumped up allegations were the standard assortment of "I hope you get raped!" and "Let's personally hunt this person down for that thing they said online" aren't an exceptional level of sub-human that I am ashamed to sit amongst in those theaters at those film releases. If you are able to even insinuate that nonsense in base "it's the Internet so I'm not accountable!" snark form then you have no claim to any of that emotional fan attachment to these characters in the slightest. Because the first step in showing your dedication and fandom to these characters is stand up for the ideals that they shaped in you over the years as you became the human that you are today. And if what you have become is capable of such corrosiveness, then you have no right to this community, or any collaboration of human beings for that matter. You stand alone in your own pool of bile.

And now that I've spent too much time talking about what is wrong with Comic Books, I'm going to go back to reading them and reminding myself what's right about them. I would encourage you all to do the same and continue to come together in rejoicing over how awesome "Guardians of the Galaxy" looks so far. Cheers...

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Shut Up and Like What You Fucking Like

I have officially decided I am a tired man. Tired for many things in general - our political climate, the selfishness I think we're all exposed to daily, physically and self-inflictedly given how I run myself ragged in a normal week - but I am mostly fatigued because the more I look around it seems like we cannot bother to enjoy things. More specifically, we cannot enjoy our things because there are other evil and despicable people bothering to take solace in things that aren't the same things we like! Sometimes, even worse, they try to like the same things but are doing it years after we did and now that it's become more "mainstream"!! The horror, the horror, etc, etc. And I, as a retired "King Jackhole of Caring Way Too Fucking Much About Experiences Other People Were Having" whilst I was in my mid-twenties am here to say an emphatic "Who gives a fuck?!" It may be in some abysmally inane way the zeitgeist of the times with our constant barrage of social networking and Internet forums and comments page upon comments page to be continually jacked into what people are doing with their free time (I am also guilty of this in a "I need to check into this thing I'm doing on an app so people can ask me about it if they want feedback because I love giving feedback on stuff I enjoy!!! mannerism) but it needs to stop. When your enjoyment of a piece of art/entertainment/media or what have you is being compromised by people putting their relaxation efforts into something you deem of a "lesser quality," then it is way more likely than not you are one who needs a shifting of priorities, not this waste of human flesh who needs raped for their fandom that you speak of (assuming you speak of it in standard, spiteful Internet vernacular).

As I just said, I say all of this and speak of its truthiness (and, holy fuck, I just realized that word did not autocorrect as I typed it and that is pretty great) because I've been there. I am a consumer of things. It is what I do. When I finally bear down on trying to reach that mythical "relaxed" state I usually do it through artistic media endeavors. I buy at least fifty different comic book titles a month. I read anywhere from a dozen to twice that in novels a year. I keep tabs on probably fifteen different television shows, play upwards of twenty video game releases a year and on and on and on. Essentially, when I finally  do bother to wind down I like to do so by disappearing in what other people create because I respect and appreciate what creative people do to lighten up and/or inspire this world. Unfortunately, this did not used to be the case because I, as a frustrated and angrier version of my current self, was for some fucksakingly moronic reason frustrated and angry that people liked "bad" forms of media, unlike everything I liked which was, of course, the pinnacle of the medium because I just knew that much more.

Basically, I was an asshole. Not to be confused with @$$hole, which I definitely am, but has its own connotation that is probably more misunderstood than it deserves to be these days. See my last posting from months ago about my thoughts on being a critic in relation to what I'm typing here now. Anyway...

I'm bothering to type all this because of that fatigue I alluded to earlier. Because, try as I might to not be "jacked in" to social media 24/7, I am on it enough and exposed to a solid amount of material written about the matter to see that, for some reason and after years of being the "shunned people" geeks have now turned on each other. Now that we live in an era where hallowed pieces of the perennially loser stuff like "The Lord of the Rings" and properties like Batman, Superman, and the Avengers are featured in movies that make more than half the nations of the world, all that has really developed instead of a "Yay, all this stuff I enjoy is perpetuating! I should enjoy this while it lasts!" sense of pride is a pissing match between who is "more geek." A culture that has traditionally been bullied is now the bully amongst themselves. Girls apparently enjoy Doctor Who now (and may or may not have been lured in by David Tennant being absolutely dreamy) and that is an affront to the geek culture of "WE ARE THE SHUNNED AND LONELY" that everyone brazenly wore while getting stuffed in lockers all the while. Get over yourselves, all of you. You all sound like that "Murica for Muricans!" exclusivist crowd, that proudly totes an attitude of "fuck you, you can't enjoy the wonderful things we have because we're scared it'll impact our lives even though it really won't at all" and revels in its elitist shunning. And, really, who wants to be in the same grouping as Arizonans?

Look, I get having pride in your hobbyist jaunts. And I get poking fun at terrible things because, well, terrible things need not exist. In a world where we have instant access to literally any music you could want to hear from dozens and dozens of entry points, Justin Bieber should be a no name, let alone the biggest name. But, the rub is, there's people that enjoy that and it sucks they have no taste but, eh, that's their thing. Where you show your pride is by guiding them into a new hobby or better versions of it, not excluding them because you were there first when it wasn't cool.  Yeah, Bieber blows, probably literally, whatever, move that person into some classic crooners like Sinatra or the King. "The Twilight Saga" is a terribly written pile of vacuous drivel that probably sent womankind back decades as teen girls everywhere are shown it's okay to pine over whip thin boys with no personality while making no decisions for themselves, and yes, it sucks that's a billion dollar movie franchise, but that just means there's a lot of younger ladies out there (I say their soccer moms that also love this shit are too far gone to be saved but who knows) to be led to NetFlix and some "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" where they can get a better version of that romance with a female lead that's not Malibu Stacying the young, female audience.

And it goes without saying at this point but fandom is definitely one of those "we're all in this together" deals. Your hobby may be fucking quilting images of the Golden Girls in different time periods for all I know but if that's your passion then by all means delve deep. I have a closetful of beer that would satiate any two human beings let alone some jackass such as myself that is too busy being dainty about his waistline to fully enjoy it and I've got shelves full of enough dead tree that I'm probably responsible for a clearcut forest. But I've met some good people that way who just want what we all want, something to help us relax, something to be passionate about, something to bring us together and something that may even be a future for us by producing it ourselves and for fellow fans to put their dollars toward. If it's not hurting anyone, if it's not lowering the population's collective IQ with its inanity, and if it's bringing us all together, then why bother with the vitriol brought about on all these newcomers and open-minded can-I-join-in's? Oh, because it makes you less special for being their first. Piss-fucking-off.

Because that's the downside to fandom isn't it? At some point, if you've dug too deep, you're stuck in that hole. When all you do is live for a thing you become tied into that on a core level. If someone tries to love that same item then they're taking it away from you right? Your combined love can't possibly occupy the same space otherwise it all gets too big and POP! no more thing to sink your time, money, and energy into.

Or you could just get over yourself.

It's a big world out there and 99.9% of it is just trying to get by and artistic endeavors such as these are how we all accomplish this goal. Trust me, as someone with enough responsibilities to drown a politician and who never gets out into the world to be shoulder to shoulder with his comrades in liking things, it's nice to enjoy it all together. You make friends, you share experiences, you find like ground and find new things to focus your energies on and to inspire you in different ways than you were being so before. You could also lose yourself into your self-righteousness and wise anonymous rape threats on people for sharing a different opinion than yours on a piece of art fiction too, but what kind of pencil-dicked, no social grace having, still wets the bed at night because no one including their parents ever fucking liked them piece of shit would do something as lowlife as that? So go with the open and shared experience thing, trust me.

You've got nothing to prove about being "geek enough" and the most virtuous of those that wear that moniker are the ones who bring more into the fold so they can get the same joy out of these hobbies, not those that not only shun the newcomers but do so in the vilest of manners. Those people don't actually enjoy anything but their own self-indignation and we've fought too long to show the world all this cool stuff we like and that they could like as well to let them drag us back down into the Sarlak-like pits of social exile from which we climbed the past few decades. We can do and become better, just like all these pieces of created inspiration that exist for the express purpose of guiding us nudge us to achieve. Cheers...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Critic Conundrum

There once was a time where I naively thought I would crank out one of these a month, maybe three every two months or so if I happened to find the free minutes. Sadly, almost a couple months straight of fifty hour work weeks, a month dealing with a sinus infection, and just wear and tear in general showed me the error of my ways. This happened to the point where this piece - a dissection of my time as a comic book "critic" and something I've had in mind for a long time now and figured would be a compliment to the sad, sad passing of Roger Ebert - just kind of went on the back burner for a few months. The reason why this really came to the forefront is that Mr. Ebert was really one of the very few (if not only) persons in the field of criticism that defied the usual "shooing" away by people with the "what do the critics know?" line of dismissal. It has always be my experience over the years that no one ever trusts what the critics have to say on a matter of media entertainment, until that viewpoint actually happens to coincide with their pre-and-post conceived notions of whatever piece of media they are going to or have consumed. At the end of the day, when it comes to the idea of the "critic" all that person is is a mouthpiece for an opinion, and the only opinion about something, anything, that matters in the end is that of the person who is forming that opinion. Therefore, when people get told that the generalized, disembodied voice of "The Critics" either liked the same thing they did or hated it, those same people either give faint praise to the verdict in a "of course they did, it's a good ___" manner, or further dismiss it as yet another blunder from a bunch of hypocrites who have (typically) never created anything in their lives passing judgment on something they have no business commenting about. And, honestly and truly, I completely agree with these lines of reasoning, as someone who could be labeled a critic given my experience, that what I say should not have any effect on your opinion and your experiences and that I probably am a bit of a hypocrite being someone who places commentary on pieces of art without creating it myself. Put on your shocked faces people, the ride is about to begin...

Here's my blast of honest to goodness when it comes to what I do, what I do being roughly 1,000 words a week about a new comic book I read in the previous seven days, the occasional creator interview (that I up front always admit to being terrible at) and sometimes a podcast or an article handing out imaginary awards to people ungodly levels more talented than I wish I could ever be: You should never listen to a word I say because I have no clue the amount of work, effort, technique, etc etc that goes into making one of these pieces of media as, yes, I have never made one of my own. Here's where the self-deprecating worm turns though, because maybe, just maybe, you should at least entertain my opining, even just a tad, because I absorb a metric fuckton of this material and because of this tend to believe that over the years have developed a feel for a "good" piece of work after years of doing this, and continually hold myself to a high standard of breaking down the work in (hopefully, oh god how do I hope) constructive and entertaining ways each week in order to help not form an opinion in post-consumption mode by my readers, but to help you catch a whiff of a plot that you may find intriguing, or a character type that you enjoy, or a backdrop you could use more of in your habits, and on and on. And sometimes, yes the ever present sometimes, this also precludes steering you, the reader and potential purchaser, away from an item on the shelf. I do no do this out of spite, or malice, or bias; I do this because sometimes I read a comic and feel it has flaws and that, at least at the current time, these flaws are detrimental to an experience that you will have to pay hard earned money to derive for yourself and I wish to save you the time and money, both resources I promise I will do my mediocre damnedest to find a worthier venture to spend them toward.

I guess my case, sadly, sadly, have mercy on my soul comes down to "I read/play/watch a lot of shit" and "I try really hard to tell you how good/bad all this shit I read/play/watch ends up being." The first part is irrelevant because we all consume media these days given our culture and our thirst for escapism; it's just all degrees to which we go to sate our appetites, mine being at the high end of the spectrum. The second part, though, is really what differentiates us in all our life aspects, not just in what we choose to drop our discretionary income upon. Like I stat-dropped before, I probably put 1,000 words of effort into each of my AICN column contributions and, to continue the excitement train of numbers going, probably put in, eh, call it 45 pieces a year. Keep those calculators out for a bit longer and tab that up by the, fuck, I think it's eight years now I've been at the gig and I have roughly 360,000 words dissecting my weekly habits for our readership under my belt. A quick Google search tells me that's about four, average-sized novels of me professing what I think and hoping against futility that anyone gives two tugs. Alas, I hope they do, because I like to think that despite being a filthy hypocrite who hasn't made anything for and of myself (except, apparently, enough words on the Internet to drown a digital kindergarten) that I've honed my writing and analysis skills all these years and have relevant things for everyone to read. I hope that I'm at least competent in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of these works, that I can breakdown what it is in front of me that I think makes it work, why these items are special and worthy of attention, and that I'm even a bit of a futurist in that I can see why these aspects are going to continue to develop in ways that make the work in question something to keep on the reading pile. Sadly, sometimes the opposite conclusion is the one I have to bring to the readers, but that's why I angle to be as properly analytical as I can: Constructive criticism can still be worthwhile, even if it is coming from a produce-nothing hypocrite.

There's also one underlying purpose that writing these pieces should be accomplishing - and this is my real fear beyond being hoping I'm insightful and descriptive enough - and that's to be 1,000 words of weekly entertainment. Yes, I want to help people decide what is and is not worthwhile of their dollars (And here's a dirty little secret kiddies, of course I want to pimp books that gear toward MY tastes and MY opinions because I want to see more comics on the shelf that I want to buy. Power of the press yo) but if I happen to fail in that mission I at least hope to make you chuckle a few times and maybe see a greater point about the medium or draw attention to a trend or any of other things a well written column of any sort should strive to accomplish. I don't want to be seen as some stuffy, snarky asshole raining his not-so-witticisms on the world (again, yes, we're called @$$holes but that's not really what we ALL do) because I've seen those columns and they're as pathetic as the people crying out for attention from behind their keyboards because they know they can capitalize on fanboy/girl schadenfreude. Does it feel good to come up with a super-sharp line about a book's deficiencies? Sure, it's always nice to insert something clever to be remembered by and referenced to in your piece. Should it be pointed out when a piece of anything is deriding or blatantly insulting their audience, especially in the world of comics and their yearly "you'll fucking buy it despite the quality and you know it" event comics to the point of raining a little vitriol on them? Yeah, then it's part of the job then, to "fight back" on the part of your audience. Overall, though, the name of the game is constructive criticism and public service and any good critic should always be honing their craft so they can help others build theirs.

A few weeks ago Ryan Davis of the Giant Bombcast crew suddenly passed. This was tragic for all the standard reasons; he was obviously a kind and caring guy, his recent newlywed status, just his younger age in general, and numerous more things he was probably a special guy to know if you happened to be in his world. But it was a loss that myself and I'm sure many more of the regular listeners of that podcast who had not met him felt because of how much his personableness came through each week through our iPods. While he was doing what he did he just carried such an enthusiasm for a mutual interest we all had and had a jovial way of letting the world in on his opinions, whichever way they may fall. For three hours a week, though, it was hard not to feel like you weren't in the room with him and guys (and not to dismiss what those other gentlemen do they have soldiered on in keeping up this same atmosphere despite their loss) just shooting the shit and debating the merits of a geek hobby we all enjoy. That, I feel, is how things are supposed to be done. I may not have always agreed with Davis' assessment of some of the games he discussed (and some of this came down to personal taste, a point I can never nod to enough when it comes to the idea of "judging" a critics verdict) but dammit he drew me in and made me see his points in a witty and entertaining matter, which is what any critic worth their salt should hope to achieve any time they put their thoughts out into the ether. Rest in peace big man.

Look, I know for the most part I'm just another voice on the Internet aka "the most opinionated place ever" and there's a bazillion people that run review sites, podcasts, etc. That does not mean that I don't take the gig seriously and try to be better at it every new thousand words I put into digital print. The "conundrum" I'm talking about in the title is how much people are willing to buy into what my peers and I are selling. As much as people want to take all these words as gospel so they can either use it as justification for their own opinion or to condemn these "no nothing, high horse critics!" on theirs any good critic doing their job is just trying to give relevant information to those who are interested in receiving some. Yeah there's a market for snark, or just plain meanness, and quite frankly those people can kind of go fuck themselves because I guarantee most of them are Rush Limbaughing it: They're in it for the hits. But I genuinely believe that if anyone is "successful" at this gig, whatever that even means in such an era where anyone can put their critical wares out there, they are so because they are the personality that the Ryan Davises are, or they have just that razor sharp insights that Roger Ebert had. And whether you agree with them or not you never feel you wasted your time listening to their three hour podcast or watching them on TV for a half hour a week or taking five minutes to read their thousand words. If I can feel like I've put forth relevant information, provoked a chuckle or two, and (this is the big one) sold someone on a product that I think is great or saved some cash on a subpar effort, then hey, that is not a terrible feeling. Now, if only I could figure out some damn way to get paid for my entertaining and enlightening you animals. A boy can dream... and then overanalyze that bastard and then ramble on and on and editorialize about it and... yeah, I'm done. Cheers...

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Console Conundrum

Literally within the day of my rebooting this piece of Internet paper (which was almost a month ago which, yes, I'm a lazy bastard who never keeps his promises) Sony had a rather lengthy presser that was essentially the "shot heard 'round the world' letting us know the next generation was coming (to any Wii U owners in the house getting ruffled over this line of thought all I have for you is a "that's cute").  For an industry that has had the longest running cycle in its history and a consumer base that seems to becoming more restless as they feel the current product lines becoming a little thin at the least, repetitive with untold sequels at the most, this was really what every one was waiting to happen.  Developers and publishers would now finally be able to start showing off their wares they've been working on ever since they felt the generation was coming to a close and those not already on with Sony would watch the company's pitch as to why they should hop on board. Fans, of course, would finally get to satiate their ravenous appetite for new hardware and finally get a gander at what the next generation would look like (y'know, if they haven't glanced at a PC game in the past 18 months). Basically, it would be a learning experience of advancement in graphical prowess, if Sony was going to go deeper into the gimmick side of things (i.e. "motion" or some other schmancy control scheme), and basically what their open arms approach would be on the business and consumer relations side of things as the industry starts heating up over the next year. Personally, I learned arguably the most valuable lesson about the industry after the conference was over, and that was the video game "fanboys" are now the world's most pathetic group of humans and are a blight on society at large.

Holy shit, I do not think I've actively seen so much forced whining out of a group of humans as I did post-conference for the PS4. The floodgates opened almost immediately, with the "worry worts" worried that Sony was coming for their old game libraries via the exclusion of backwards compatibility and the claims that Sony developed tech to nullify previously owned games (in fairness, they were correct about former and Sony has developed the latter though some analysts believe they will not bother using it). Then came the PC-only gaming crowd to brag about how the graphics on their rigs with $2000 in the latest video cards and cooling systems can already do what was being shown and to also prove once and for all the PCers are the hipsters of the gaming industry and should be stoned with full cans of PBR. Then came the standard affair, Sony fanboys being way too excited about what was there (which, I'll say now that I thought it was a really good conference that had both its pluses and minuses that I'll get to later), the XBots where there to rain vitriol on everything shown and talk about how "their" next console is going to reign supreme again, and the Nintendo guys were still waiting around waiting for Pikmin 3 to FUCKING FINALLY come out. It was all a cavalcade of individuals showing that they do not understand the meaning of the word "objectivity" and that in fact it may have been systematically removed from all their dictionaries.

This is the main conundrum I alluded to in the title in that console makers are now going to have to deal with some of the most entitled, aggravating consumers out there these days. I legitimately feel bad for console developers moving forward because their market is a beast that constantly wants fed and wants their meals catered exactly to each of them, despite their enormous numbers. Part of this is the console maker's fault of course; this past generation more than ever, as the market has exploded, the makers have tried to make their machines all things to all their buyers and done whatever they could to get consumers to latch onto their brand in an era where people use such devices as their status symbols. These buyers need to be tied into everything now via these devices, entertainment apps that let them use their favorite TV/movie watching programs, they need to be tied into their social networks, have the marketplace for the newest games for downloads, have online integration and on and on. And that's fine because that's the way things are; that's where the marketplace is and that's the price of doing business. They also want their backwards compatibility, because that's a thing they had on three consoles ever and it's a travesty of justice that all the stuff gamers bought for a generation are now obsolete; as it has been with almost every single piece of tech down the ages, from 8 track to cassette, VHS to DVD, Laser disc to the trash bin and so on. Never mind that in order to make this happen with the PS4 the architecture would have to be built with two systems of chips in place and would immediately cost upwards of $600/700 to buy, because that's also a no go since the world will end if this system comes out higher than $500, if the outrage of the $599 launch PS3 was any indication.

Alas, because Sony also realizes this is another piece of steak the beast feels it is being withheld from them, they are probably working on a way to bring all those old games to these new systems via the Gaikai streaming program they purchased last year.  But this is where we're at; console makers have been promising their users the world for a generation now (like a bunch of idiots) and now gamers expect the world (because the term "realistic expectations" does not exist in society any more). And this is why I simultaneously would not want to be in anyone's shoes at these gaming companies and why I do not feel any pity for them at the end of the day as the next generation rises on us. I simultaneously feel some old school remorse for Nintendo as their new system flounders after creating what I feel to be a pretty nifty new controller device but have to shake my head at them not learning after the past three years of the Wii's irrelevance that gamers buy consoles to PLAY FUCKING GAMES on them, games being the thing that Nintendo did not bother to bring to the table in five months of Wii U's being on shelves now. I don't pity the decision Microsoft will have to make with its next console as well, as it has the tough decision of how much it will want to push its Kinect tech in the next cycle, the Kinect being either the key to that system's differentiating itself in the market besides whatever online tweaks they make since they're the still the top of the heap in that regard. Really, I don't pity any device maker as the tech industry - mainly since the prevalence of smartphones and tablets has hit - has willingly (stupidly) become makers of items that now have to be all things to all people and those people are definitely out to hold them to that standard.

Oh, yeah, I guess I should actually cover what all Sony said during that two hours as well. Heh. In all honestly, I guess I found it somewhat tedious in its amalgamation of trying to be both kind of an info dump on what the system will do and a business presser in trying to give developers and investors and idea of what they plan in the market and hope to achieve with pushes in social media and whatnot and then also balance pulling in interest from gamers for the event by, y'know, showing some goddamn games. Like the wall these systems may hit in the future, the press conference suffered from trying to be everything to everyone. But, all that said, I did like what I saw even if it was sometimes (understandably) boring. But, hell, I've basically written presentations like this during my MBA classes, I'm shocked it was as packed with interesting stuff as it was on top of all the time spent trying to convince me I care about the "Share" button.  I liked the specs they gave us and appreciate that last minute jump to 8GB of RAM and think that's a good sign Sony plans on being in this next gen for a long while. And I like what we saw on the games front. Yeah, I wasn't exactly excited by some of the properties I saw - never really have any intentions to play another Killzone again and I really wasn't much of a Halo guy so I could care less about the new Bungie product - but what else are they supposed to do when launching a new system? Familiar properties - especially ones like those two projects that are very graphically intense - are pretty key when rolling over into a new generation and I think they balanced things out quite well by announcing some new IPs and delivering on continuing game lines I already love like inFamous.

I will admit though, in full disclosure, is that if I do have any "fanboy allegiance" it lays with Sony right now, so I was not a particularly hard sell on their new unit, as long as they totally didn't cock up this presentation. Yeah, they fucked up royally with the hacking incident almost two years back (the way they held their data AND the bullshit slow way they kindly let us know about it) and the system was pricey, but those have really been the only hiccups in my experience with Sony product since they entered the market back in 1995. I've owned many a Nintendo product and honestly have to admit they just haven't really catered to my interests in gaming experiences for a while (which is fine, they get by just fine with what they do, it's just not usually my swag) and I personally just am not a fan of Microsoft's business model (I'll be damned if I ever find myself ponying up $60 a year for the "right" to play my games on an Internet connection I already pay $60 a month for) and the failure rate this generation was very off putting, even though they made right on the warranty front. Really though, what it comes down to me and console loyalty is games, pure and simple, and I just happen to believe Sony has the best assemblage of In-House studios in the industry right now and that extra hit of three or four system exclusive properties a year makes a big difference for me on top of all the Third-Party ware that hits alongside them. And, to round this out, nothing I saw at this debut for the Playstation 4 led me to believe this not be the case going forward. Now, if Sony comes forward with an announcement they want the same $60 a year Microsoft is getting, I will officially lose hope for gaming at large. I guess we'll see by November. Cheers...