Thursday, 18 April 2019

Playlist for the Dead World

No one is united

There are a few other blogs out there that post about how music affects how they write. Some post what goes through their head when typing out an action scene or maybe what might play in the movie version of their work. This can be fun for some, but that's not quite how I picture music when it goes through my brain, or when I write.

That isn't to say music isn't fun, one of my favorite bands is the Stray Cats, after all. But because of the strange situations I found myself in during my life my views on it began to change.

When I was a younger dumber kid I used to travel at least three hours a day and all I had was my CD player and at one point, regrettably, an iPod (that's a long story I will not go into) to keep me company as I walked, rode both buses, and took the good old underground transit to get to my destination. About all I was missing was a ride on a train and plane to complete the set. Nonetheless it was a very isolating experience riding alone in a crowd through the city.

But what music helped me do was pull me out of my comfort zone as someone trying to ignore the world around me. Trapped in a moving cell it gave me little choice but to pay attention. I hated the world, didn't like my life situation, wasn't fond of people, and was a general edgelord moron. Eventually, in what seemed like pure chance at the time, music did change my life. It opened a crack and allowed me to face some of the worst aspects of my situation and the modern world and finally made me grow up.

This isn't the goofy teenager in high school trying to listen to the coolest and toughest music I could to stand out, or the boy who mimicked the radio and really wanted to fit in. I began to understand just how powerful music could be in a way that matters.

And I'll be upfront about it: my music of choice was never really metal. I know there are a lot of metalheads who come by here, and I do admit that I like some myself, but it's never been my music of choice. For one, the satanism was embarrassing for me even back as an agnostic. It was either pathetic Boomer-ish "I hate you, Dad!" slop or hipster-style irony which is even more cringe-worthy. Of course not all metal is like that but the other issue I have is that the music is constantly loud and the instrument variety is lacking outside of the occasional keyboard. My issue with listening to most metal albums is that I get bored rather fast.

That's just my very peculiar taste talking. It can be very invigorating to listen to.

There are a few bands that did directly affect in that being trapped alone on a moving prison cell full of bodies and dealing with some heavy stuff in my life allowed me time to think. And no, political songs didn't do it for me. Neither did rant songs about religion or specific issues that align with a political party ticket. If Jello Biafra's voice didn't make me want to smash my head against the bus window his try-hard lyrics would. Milo Auckerman did what he did with a better voice and lyrics that hit a lot closer to home. You can relate to others by still being yourself and not having to force a viewpoint down the listener's throat. Message fiction can exist in music, too.

Case in point, one of the first songs that really affected me, and I think many people a generation older than me was this one.

Are you satisfied?

It's not a love song. It's not about drugs. It's not even really a rant. It's Paul Westerberg talking about his life without giving any details about it. This was released back in the '80s long before I heard it and back at a time when most people thought the world was looking up and getting better. But he say something different.

I didn't know much about the band when I heard that album, which is still one of my favorites. I didn't know that Westerberg is a Catholic*, that Bob Stinson had a drug problem and OD'd only a decade later, or that the band was a staunchly traditionalist rock band that hated MTV, music videos, and even CDs. I didn't know that the band was ignored by radio because of their abrasive sound and uncomfortable lyrics that cut deep in ways pop listeners didn't like at the time. They did this without shoving anything down the listener's throat.

"Are you satisfied?" is a lyric that hits lot harder than "Are you experienced?" but one is a lot more uncomfortable for radio to advertise than the other is. It is not an easy song to listen to if your insides are a mess. Something not there on the surface amidst the glam of a better era.

To be sure, I only think rock music does this. Rap is either party music or political rants and tired whining about the streets. Metal is either loud triumphant declarations or lame satanism. Jazz is meant for you focus purely on the sound, same as Classical. Modern pop music is fluff meant to empower the listener with lies about being special in a world where drinking yourself to death and being a slut amidst a sea of hedonists is a way to find meaning. Rock music can engage in all those as well, but you don't see many groups that try to find a bit more to life beyond the surface. Few take advantage of what they have.

Marshall McLuhan called rock the music of the city with its loud and distracting sounds, and that's how it represents modernism so well. When modernism has been such a failure it is up to rock musicians to portray it as it is. And some do it, and do it quite well.

Is it someone who looks down from above? With a view of the rain

Urge Overkill was another band that had that sort of affect on me. During my music hipster phase I consumed much terrible junk that I was told was great but actually wasn't at all. Amidst that torrential downpour of mediocrity I stumbled across UO right in the middle of it.

Their history is strange. They started themselves as a hipster indie band that was an ironic goof on the excesses of '70s rock. As a result their first two albums are pretty much trash with few highlights. A bunch of noise, winking, and posturing. But eventually their desire to be real and genuine pushed them forward out of the indie scene (and pissing off a lot of people who deserved it, like Steve Albini) and forming a proper sound. Their first major label album, Saturation, was a genuine rock n roll record with clever lyrics that had no problem skewering excess and hedonism. It did this while still providing plenty of pop hooks. The song Positive Bleeding, for instance, is about being so liberal and free that you can choose when you want to bleed and die and how wondrous that fact is. Nonetheless, the album is still their most popular and quite excellent.

However, it was their second major label release (and for many years, their last album) Exit the Dragon that really did a number on me.

After the success of Saturation in the early 90s when alternative rock was at its commercial and quality peak, the band fell victim to its own success. They became what they were originally parodying. Drug problems, drinking into blackouts, and crushing depression nearly killed them all. Now they understood exactly what they were making fun of and it wasn't as funny as they thought.

What happened was that they put out Exit the Dragon in 1995 right at the end of the alternative explosion, really signalling the end of the genre. The album is completely unlike anything they did before. It starts with the first track acknowledging the existence of evil and ends with the final track about death and ascending to the afterlife. The album is a journey through rock bottom and clawing out and reaching at the other-side at the end and finding hope in what comes next. This is not something Nirvana or their peers could ever write. I enjoyed the album so much I even wrote a post on it a few years ago.

But the album is not very comfortable, despite its sound being their most accessible, both of which contribute it not being as liked by their hardcore fans. There are a few jokes here such as Need Some Air poking fun at the writer's own paranoia and crushing fear of the modern world, but there are no more parodies. There's no satire. Evil exists and it wants to kill you. Until you accept that you will never escape the pits of despair or a world that cares nothing for you. It goes without saying that the album did have an effect on me as someone like me.

At the same time I discovered the second (and best) Violent Femmes album, Hallowed Ground. While the band was mostly a jokey bunch of wiseguys having fun writing songs about girls and teenage stuff, their second album is about death by sin and choking pressure of the evil of the world. It was nothing like anything else they ever did before or since. Outside of one track being about girls (which honestly does not fit here) there is nothing that the band is known for. And yet it is their most powerful work without question.

I was so glad when I died

Of course because of this unpleasantness, the album is routinely ignored. The above song is never even included in any of their compilations despite being their best track. There is a bit of a pattern with the music in this post.

It was Kurt Cobain who made "darker" music more acceptable, though he did so the John W. Campbell way of stripping out the Gothic, the soul of the rage against the modern age and replacing it with a hollow facsimile of what came before. In this case he took out the justified anger, the rich sounds, and unique song writing or a deeper tradition, and replaced it with his bleak hopelessness, sick fetishes, and generic pop punk sound. He made rage corporately approved. It's no coincidence that every band inspired by them is garbage. Cobain made for a good pet rebel in making others think he stood for something righteous. That's what the labels wanted you to think and they cashed in big on you being unsatisfied.

That was the early '90s when record companies tried to cash-in on the fall of the modern world by slapping a flannel dressing on it, throwing in some generic rage, and manufacturing nihilism for the youth without the cure for a decade. Soul Asylum even wrote a song about it. Chart topper, of course.

This post isn't about those bands. This is about those who weren't content with just sneering and rolling in the sty as if it didn't affect them. After the '80s there were a few groups that managed to strike at something outside the acceptable target zone. If it wasn't about killing yourself through hopelessness it was about killing yourself through hedonism or blaming certain political or religious groups for their troubles thereby missing the mark. There was no hope of escape from this self-fulfilling trap. But a handful did break the mold.

Newer bands of the '90s such as Blur or the Hives managed to write songs that went a bit beyond the typical pleasure-seeker or misery porn tropes. The former helped jump Britpop as a reaction to the slimy pit of rock music at the time, though that eventually went full hedonist in response by decade's end. The latter aided in kickstarting the garage rock revival a decade later though label interference prevented them in really putting out as much as they could have. As a result I don't think either band really had as much success as they could have (though the former was very popular in their native land) with Blur's most famous piece being known as the "Woo Hoo" song.

It was almost a parody of what they were.

This isn't to say fast paced fun songs can't give similar experiences beyond throwaway thrills. For instance I was into Green Day before they became a political mouthpiece, though most of the "punk" movement lost their way at the time, as well. Then when political parties exchanged the world was just fine again! Funny how that worked. All you need for inner peace is to vote right. So simple!

Once these bands betrayed their rage as being from a political party and religious group instead of a signs of the times I instantly lost respect in them. They missed the forest for the leaves. The songs that reach far past political party lines to strike at the heart of the issue to unite groups are the most powerful. You are more than what you vote for or against. A slogan is a sentence, not a way of life. I thought these bands knew this.

Those who reached for more could still do it within the bounds of a fast-paced pop nugget.

Anyway, I ain't got no place else to go

I'm choking on the silence and I want to scream out

Say something. Say something else.

She was still awake

Doomsday visions of commies and queers

Can't control the state I'm in: go back in line and repeat it again

If any of that sounds depressing to you it's because it should. This is supposed to be the Blues: where Rock came from. A way to deal with the grime of a world soaked in sin by a cathartic expression of noise. This is what made the music click so well with an audience who understood things aren't as they were meant to be.

The world is a mess and things as they are remain utterly hopeless. It will never satisfy or be good enough. It's a wasteland. Things are bad and they're getting worse. Those who create a career playing a secular music style will have to face the fact that there is nothing waiting at the next bus stop and eventually you will run out of gas stranded in a desert with people you don't know. Perhaps being trapped in such a unique situation allowed me the grace of understanding it in a way my thick skull would allow it to sink in.

None of these bands are saying any of those messages are good things. In fact, they all agree that things are terrible. This is the most honest way to portray a purely material existence. For a rock band they are tasked with singing and writing songs about the world around them and connecting with us in the audience. Were they honest they would either have to sing songs about sex and drugs and pretend that is all to live for or they would have to face the fact that none of that really means anything at the end of the day. You're going to need something more, or you're going to begin looking at nooses to wear.

Raging against suicide culture is the most moral thing to do. That might be why those bands all helped me through tough times while those like Cobain and his ilk in the corporate approved pack only made me sick. It was also probably why no bands with that more honest message were ever given any radio play.

I think you can trace this to pop culture's treatment of rock music itself. While mergers and payola ultimately killed rock in the mid to late '90s I think there was more to it. The '70s was filled with fun music about hot girls and having a blast with the guys, but by the '90s Gen X was out into the world they and were being too honest with the state of things. They didn't want to sing songs about the wonders of heroin or whisky or whores when the world was burning down around them and no one appeared to notice the flames. As someone in Gen Y who saw things getting worse and worse and didn't see any hope, I related to what they were putting down. Perhaps a bit too much.

Then when Nu Metal and Bubblegum pop filled the airwaves as if plastering over unsightly holes in the drywall with trash like N*Sync trying to put the genie back in the bottle most of us finally lost the last shred of hope. This really was a dead end. The record labels pounced and purged the bad thinkers and that is why gangsta crap and build-a-bear pop straight out of 1998 is still all the mainstream labels put out to this day. They want you locked in a cage with despair and hedonism. Can't let pesky truth get in the door.

Now rock music is a memory, pop music has remained unchanged since 1998, and the industry is still trying to pass out sugar-coated cockroaches and garbage to an audience that has long since walked away.

As I write this I do remember the attitude of music fans being rather dour throughout the '00s. To this day I have never met anyone who didn't grow up in that miserable time ever seeing that decade as anything good. Especially in regards to music. Most of my music choices during that time came from the '80s and '90s with a few choice pre-Beatles bands for good measure. Did audiences tune out because music stopped being honest and began being used as social brainwashing instead? A perusal of your average pop "hit" these days would easily answer that question.

Go to sleep, wake up, have fun, then go to sleep again. Work sucks, right? Well maybe that one night stand will fix that itch. But don't worry because the weekend is just ahead and you can have all the junk you can jam into your body then. Don't think about it and just keep smiling.

This isn't a way to say that fun music does not have its place. It absolutely does. Music from before the British Invasion did this quite well. There's nothing wrong with escapism at all, but the pop music of today isn't escapism. It's delusion. A way to paint over the cracks while glorifying what caused them in the first place and encouraging deeper fractures. It isn't meant to raise anyone, but to keep them down and asleep at the wheel. It is music for a dying society.

True escapism in music is from those who aim for higher things. Raging against death is noble, but so is celebrating life. And life is about more than going through the motions in order to be able to afford a coffin when you're dead. The love of true romance, of better days, and of the big questions, is worth your time. That is what pop music does best, and hasn't in decades. Might be hard to get across with the same group of corporate-approved songwriters for every single song and from singers who are completely without original thought or ambitions.

I can give you examples of exciting, lighter music meant to lift the audience. There is plenty of it, even if it doesn't feel like it these days. There is a way to be honest and uplifting without having to rage at the way things are. But no one knows how to do it these days.

Something calls to me, I know

Will I not pass the test?

I think I know some things we never outgrow

This is where we're coming from, and we're not the only ones

This was a bizarre post meant to highlight how music can affect writers in ways beyond plot or character ideas, but in how it can shake you awake and inspire in whole other unexpected ways. I've been big into music since I was a kid, and although the candy-coated Boomer stuff of the mid-'60s and early-'70s has long since fallen out of favor with me I am amazed at how powerful music can still be.

Inspiration is not an easily quantifiable thing. I don't listen to a song and get inspired to write a story. I listen to a song and it gets me down a mental track that allows me to have inspiration. Though I suppose this works with any piece of art. As it should be. Art is a conversation, after all. We're all speaking to each other here, no one is in a void. No matter how much the record companies wish it were so: no one listens to music to indulge their vices--they do it to connect with others.

We aren't a bunch of strangers alone in a crowd hoping to just get through the day so we can get to the next one. We watch shows and movies about others struggling to get through far worse than what we do. We listen to music hoping to be inspired to greater heights beyond these. We hope and we dream to escape the wasteland.

Who knows what sounds we're dying to hear that we just can't yet imagine? There's much more to experience. It's going to be grand, and satisfying.

Now it's time to fill up all the cracks inside of me

*Interview here. I recommend reading it for a glance at what Rock was at the time, and how some music critics were. For instance, the '90s music critic hatred of hot blooded rock n roll is alive and well with the dismissal of their very influential early albums as "unexceptional" only in recent years to rate them up there with their classics. Nonetheless it is a good interview that touches on good questions and subjects.

Relevant excerpt:

Do you think growing up Catholic affected your songwriting at all?
I suppose it did, because it affected my life. It affects my way of thinking and everything. I mean, I’m still a religious person. I believe in God, although I never sit down to write “God” songs. I have my belief, and my faith, and I keep it private. But I try to live right and treat people fairly, so I suppose that comes through in the music.

I had a feeling most of the later and post-Cobain punk, rock, and grunge acts were missing something he had. Not one of them could write about social decay like he has then turn around and write a cheeky track about a cute cashier or a long song someone he saw once on a sky-way. None of them can make a bright and big hard rocking song like this:

I think big once in a while

Full lyrics for this one, because they're needed:

Yeah, kid, it's a-really hip 
With plenty of flash and you know it 
Yeah, dad, you're rocking real bad 
Don't break your neck when you fall down laughing 
Donna, wanna, Donna 

Yeah, I know I look like hell 
I smoke and I drink and I'm feeling swell 
Yeah, I hear you think it's hip 
But Rock don't give a single shit 

Yeah, man, it's a-hip, you know what I'm saying 
It's a-hip, you know what I'm saying, and I hear it
My heart aches, it's a-looking for a lolly
Looking for a dolly, can't you hear it? 
Wanna be something, wanna be anything!

Yeah, I know I feel this way 
But I ain't gonna never change 
Yeah, I hear, I think, I know 
Rock don't give a shit, you know 

You're my favorite thing 
You're my favorite thing 
Bar nothing! 

I think big once in a while

And without that love Rock is dead.

For now.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Saturday Morning Sundown

One small loss of the modern age I've always been interested in is the death of the Saturday morning cartoon. For over half a century they have lingered in the memories of just about everyone alive in the western world as part of some long ago age that will never return. But nobody talks about them beyond nostalgic musings. The problem with that is they require a deeper look than that. I don't think it's clear exactly why they do not exist anymore, and it is important why they do not.

Ten years ago I could have been safe in assuming that anyone reading this would know what I'm talking about, but just like the mall, arcades, and rock music, this is another part of twentieth century culture that Gen Z has never truly experienced. They've been gone for a long, long time. It's a bit hard to believe but it's been nearly two decades. This is another tiny piece of culture lost to the mists of modernism.

But the question has always been to ask why they are gone. Why were they executed, buried, and forgotten? Because everyone knows they did not die a natural death, but no one will talk about why that is.

There are no books on this topic despite the plentiful material that is sitting out there. Regrettably, despite the nostalgia obsession of Millennials and youth glorification of the Boomers, no one has deemed it suitable to chronicle this phenomenon that towered over the childhoods of multiple generations of children before being take apart and forgotten. That is strange. There are a handful of books and articles about sharing memories of lost youth peppered with comments from Boomers about how the '60s (of course) were the Golden Age of Saturday morning cartoons or general summaries of the four decades of the practice at its peak from the late '60s to the end of the '90s. But that is all. There is no in depth look at where they came from or why they are gone.

For the interest of being fair to anyone who might read this I should first define what I'm talking about.

Saturday morning cartoons were not just cartoons made to air on Saturday mornings but entire blocks the major networks formed in order to grab kids' attention and hold them while their parents slept in or got ready for the day ahead. It was a prime focus for them. Every major network back in the day had a block, not always with the same title through the years, for their programming that competed for the majority share of ratings both for advertisers and for the attentions of kids. In other words Saturday mornings were the domain of children. Just like with the mall and arcades this completed their triumvirate of childhood past-times for those who grew up in the second half of the twentieth century.

It wasn't just profit and toy sales that made them important. These blocks also helped preserve works that would otherwise be forgotten.

Cartoon blocks kept the old Warner Bros. and MGM movie shorts alive thereby keeping Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry in the public consciousness years after they would have otherwise been lost and forgotten. Reruns of old series were given new reprieve and found wider audiences. That canard about kids not liking to view older works was a blatant lie back in the day. Before the '00s kids would watch anything as long as it was good. Daffy Duck, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Adam West Batman, it didn't matter what it was or what era it had been made in. They watched them all if they were good. This preservation of the past is routinely ignored these days but no one ever questions why it has shifted to the vague and unprovable "kids don't like old stuff." No one questions it even though it is observably false.

Best of all this created prime creative ground for fresh ideas and up and coming creators to come around and make something new. Shows that would never have otherwise existed were brought to life in this highly competitive area. There were new ones every week and season. Constant creativity. Kids had their pick of whatever they wanted to watch and there was a lot to choose from. In essence, the Saturday morning block was the Golden Age of western cartoons. This is inarguable, if ignored by hacks today.

It was a perfect storm for everyone. Advertisers and networks had prime audience material and kids had something to occupy their Saturday mornings (and a reason to not sleep in!) to look forward to on their big day off. After a hard week in their chain-gang schools it was nice to have something to look forward to. It worked out for decades.

But of course this was the western world in the 20th century. Once something successful exists there has to be someone to come in and ruin it for everyone else. Someone had to destroy it. And that is exactly what happened.

In the 1960s a group calling themselves The Action for Children's Television (ACT) was formed by Peggy Charren to fill this void. She did not like commercialism, violence, or anti-social behavior, in cartoons and wanted more educational programming instead. To do this she shoved her nose in and forced companies and the government to listen to her very special demands and alter the industry to her whims. ACT was the PMRC of cartoons but worse in that it ended up killing its medium in the end. She crusaded for decades with her vague quest to protect the children from escapism and fun.

But it wouldn't be an activist without clear bias. She was against censorship for adults and was for more sexual content on television. This woman's views on censorship were hypocritical at best.
Peggy Charren, head of Action for Children's Television, said the decision was chilling. "Too often, we try to protect children by doing in free speech," Ms. Charren said. "Indecency to some people might be sex education, and that's the problem. 
"Who defines indecency? The censors define it."
Rules for thee and not for me. Adults should be able to watch pornography on mainstream television but children can't watch a hero shoot a villain with a gun. Sex can be educating but violence can't be. This is how the world was supposed to work in her mind. And busybodies listened to her.

For those who don't get it, because I still see such arguments today, there is a difference between portrayals of violence in stories as opposed to sex. One is useful and the other never is. Violence is a fact of life that exists in stories to show that some threats cannot be solved with hand-holding and positive thoughts by the campfire and allows confrontations between heroes and villains to hit fever pitch. Nudity mostly exists in stories because the producer wants an excuse to masturbate and not look like a pervert. One has far more story potential than the other.

This is not to say that violence cannot go too far. Gore is rarely used correctly in most stories and should never be used for children as they do not need to see it to get the point of any story across. In a more complicated adult yarn it might have its place for effectiveness as they are more mature and able to understand the intensity. There is also nothing wrong with looking at an attractive person dressed sexily in a story for adults but explicit sex itself is never necessary. This should be obvious. Kids don't ever benefit from any sexual content in their stories. It says something about which of the two prudes such as Charren were more obsessed with ejecting from entertainment.

Clown world has been with us a long time.

As you can tell, throughout the twentieth century there was a push for more degenerate material on television for general audiences. The Rural Purge in the early 1970s was specifically created for social engineering purposes in making the city look cool and hip and the country to look antiquated and stupid. Of course crude sex jokes and racier plot lines soon followed. Ratings drops weren't far behind as were fractured audiences which continued on to this day. Note that there has never been any "Urban Purge" to date despite this failure. That's what happens when you create something intended to split the base.

Whether you like having more sexually explicit shows is a bit beyond the point. That is an argument worth having and discussing, but all of those in favor of more open portrayals of sex and drugs for adults on major networks at the time were also against portrayals of violence and commercialism in any forms in programming for kids. Kids should be kept in a hermetically sealed bubble prison and adults should be walking the red light district every time they leave the house. This act of talking out of both sides of their mouths is what led to the confused mess western culture is in now.

And for those of us who grew up with those cartoons . . . they were tame, even at the time. Compared to a network series like Miami Vice in cartoons like G.I. Joe conflicts are positively pacifistic. Compared to a comedy like All in the Family cartoons like Muppet Babies and its pop culture comedy was wholesome for the whole family. If anything the Saturday morning cartoons already offered healthy alternatives for those that didn't want that hardcore (for the time) content in their material. It all looks antiquated now because the push for more extreme content never stopped. This helped destroy any continuity in visual culture and the arts. But for the time their quest was asinine. There really wasn't anything to complain about on a moral level. But instead busybodies like Charren insisted that adults be served under-cooked sloppy junk food at a burlesque house and children sanitized and carefully manufactured pills served without any dessert in their locked rooms.

All to make a better and more free world, of course. What a bang up job that ended up being.

It didn't make any sense, but Boomers rewarded her regardless by giving her a Trustees award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1989 and passing an act named after her group to censor children's cartoons in 1990. This eventually spread to killing the form dead by the decade's end. And of course they gave her a Peabody in 1991 for anyone who ever thought that award was worth anything. Because of this she disbanded her group in 1992 after getting everything she ever wanted.

She also received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995 from Bill Clinton. All for taking freedoms away from networks, advertisers, and children. Yes, from the same administration whose members helped to spearhead the PMRC. You can't make this up.

In fact, this was one of the times even classic Simpsons got it wrong:

Those pushing forward educational cartoons and censoring what kids wanted were members of ACT who were rewarded for the deeds by Bill Clinton's administration, the same one certain hack Simpsons writers in a commentary track insisted was one of the greatest presidents ever. Yes, the man who helped to murder their medium was one they look up to without a hint of self-awareness. The straw-man in the above clip is just that. It's simply not reality and Peggy Charren had no problem with degeneracy at all.

From the above:
"The activist, ignoring the surveyed facts of a substantial increase in children's programming, lacking congressional approval or court precedent," Quello says, "are playing the emotional 'C' - the children's card - for all it's worth. From a First Amendment perspective, they're dealing from the bottom of the deck."
Won't somebody please think of the children, indeed. The Simpsons didn't even realize who they were parodying with that one.

Swing and a miss, fellas.

This was after the 1980s was basically spent as a war-ground between Ronald Reagan and his chairman of the Federal Commission Mark Fowler against Charren's group because the former dictated that the marketplace should decide which children shows live or die and the latter decided the kids should be forced to watch only what was good for them. Of course she would be the one to decide what that entailed. She was the one arguing for good citizen propaganda while creators were still trying to put out what they wanted despite her interference. If you want to know why the '80s had so many adventure shows that previous decades didn't, this was the reason why. It was the closest they ever got to being able to make them the way they wanted due to audience demand being louder than ever. But it wasn't enough. Several shows were still successfully barred from air by ACT and many more were altered by her group's interference. So much for a group that prided itself on being anti-censorship and has been ignored by free speech champions to this day.

Peggy Charren won despite the people, the creators, and even the law at the time, being against her. She was shouted down and told she wasn't wanted. Subversives never admit defeat, they just sneak in through the back door. ACT succeeded in censoring Saturday morning cartoons entirely by government-mandated morality and the audience and advertisers left. Now they no longer exist.

And look at all those alternatives for kids around now.

What ended up killing Saturday morning cartoon blocks was nothing as obvious as changing trends or demographics, they did after all live for near half a century, but because of moral busybodies and self-proclaimed paragons of justice. You see, cartoons needed to "teach" children and instruct them in the proper ways to be a good citizen and worthwhile human being before becoming porn addicted and drug-addled adults getting drunk every night in the pleasure center. It never made sense, but then it was never meant to. The important part was that they won and you lost.

Peggy Charren led the charge to require cartoons to pass junk educational standards which ended up killing off both audience interest and companies from producing works. No one asked her to do this, and she had no right to do it either. Instead of entertainment cartoons were now required to foist proper education upon their audience to continue their school work into the weekend--the audience's only time away from their glorified prison cells. She took away what they wanted and the elite applauded and rewarded her as she did this heinous act.

Doesn't that sound familiar.

Of course Charren is not the only reason for the downfall of the practice of Saturday morning cartoons, but she led the charge in making them targets and western governments and elites helped her to make it as difficult as possible for them. Once she got in the damage from everything else flowed from there. Saturday morning cartoons still otherwise exist in other countries such as Japan, after all. Heck, because of her interference Japan had free reign over the rest of the world to import their uninfected anime which have long since overtaken those from the west. Want to know why anime has taken over while western cartoons died? You can thank Charren for that.

Many production companies and brands were dead by the end of the '90s, but few were able to come up after them due to these new restrictions she imposed. They turned to other avenues such as first run syndication and after school blocks. Eventually these blocks had to go away to make room for more profitable endeavors thanks to junk standards and practices weighing them down. Kids were the ones who missed out.

By the mid-00s Saturday morning cartoons were completely dead. Even afternoon blocks such as Fox Kids or The Disney Afternoon didn't make it through the '90s. The only networks that still aired cartoons on Saturday mornings were cable networks like Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network, both of which did not put anywhere near the focus the major networks did and are now shells of what they once were. Now there are no blocks remaining for kids to watch or get excited for. This is the end result of ACT's crusade.

The problem with looking back is not that you get trapped in a prison of nostalgia but that you start to see familiar patterns at work used to take apart good things that should still be around today. The nostalgia charge is a smokescreen for those in the Cult of the New pretending that things are better than they ever were and that the only reason one would ever want to look back would be to live in the past. They do not possess the means to self-reflect on anything. Don't live in the past! Things are better than ever! You're only looking back because you can't handle the wonderful future you live in now. You're afraid of change!

This couldn't be further from the truth.

There's a reason Gen X are overly cynical, Gen Y are overly nihilistic, and Millennials were taught to never look back and are incapable of doing so outside of empty novelty. How much has to be lost before it can be admitted that maybe a wrong was made turn somewhere? Even in this little sandbox of western youth no one is willing to admit that it should not have been filled in and paved over for an empty lot leaving the kids with nowhere to play. No one asks why and therefore nothing improves.

Instead we play definition games because we no longer have a shared vision of truth and are all acting in our own interests instead of working together. It's all just a bunch of individuals screaming at each other and using their muscle to get what they want and everyone else be damned. It will take more than getting the right individual in charge to fix this mess but a whole revamp in the way we see things. No more downhill slide. That's going to require a level of self-reflection we aren't currently capable of.

Nonetheless, it never should have gotten this far in the first place.

After Charren died there was not one piece written to charge her with what she did. No criticism, no reevaluation, and no reflection. Sure she might not have been John Money, but what she did had no positive affect on the state of the world. We are worse off due to what she did. But I suppose you can't expect much from journalists or the media these days. These are the same people that rushed to throw teenagers wearing red hats under the bus and gleefully insulted Norma McCorvey when she died due to her views. These people are not on your side. Expect worse things down the road due to their behavior. Covering up the past is only a part of it.

My youth was not perfect and I do not wish to ever go back to it. But by the same token the current generation has nothing I did when I grew up. They objectively have less, and that is not acceptable. For all of Charren's obsession with censorship children can now get exposed to pornography via one bad search term or click and the uncensored adult television she wanted is a disgusting wasteland of bland ideas, ugly desaturated colors, and hopeless themes. Peggy Charren and ACT failed the children she was apparently out to help and instead left them with nothing but a crater of filth where better things once were. There is no possible way I would have ever imagined things being this bad for future kids when I was an eight year old watching Garfield & Friends on CBS back in the day. Now what do they have to look forward to?

The older of us have to emphasize this to those we failed. Nothing we had as children is available to the kids of today. None of it. It was all taken away from them and disposed of before we even realized what happened. And we can't make up for it so easily. The old days are gone, and they aren't coming back.

So talk about it. Write it down. Share it. We can't hope to make anything better until we admit how bad we let things become. It's not hopeless, not yet, but we owe it to those who lost out to show them what they were robbed of and what we lost due to mindless progress. Saturday morning cartoons are just a piece of it. Maybe those coming up can build something even better.

We've got a lot of work to do, and a lot to make up for. This time let's try not to mess it up.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Still Fighting: Sixty Years of Shonen

We talk a lot about forgotten traditions and warped ones, but how about those still holding the line? You would be surprised just how well following a formula that works could hold tight for so long but as those in Generation Y know, Japan had managed it for an absurdly long time. Nowhere is this more obvious than in their most popular export: the shonen story.

In March a milestone was hit for two of Japan's most popular magazines. While much was made about Weekly Shonen Jump reaching its 50th year of creating hits in 2018, this year marks the 60th anniversary for both Weekly Shonen Magazine and Weekly Shonen Sunday. It is hard to imagine from our perspective how a tradition could go for so long. These magazines started well after their format had all but went extinct overseas and yet they are still going to this day and running series that continue to get exposure all over the world. If you know Japanese entertainment then you know at least some of them.

There's that pulp tradition at work. Tales of action adventure never date, aesthetics be damned. No matter how much subversives try they can't stop it.

Weekly Shonen Magazine (WSM) is unique in that it is most known for running sports series such as Ashita no Joe, Ace of Diamond, Baby Steps, and Hajime no Ippo: Fighting Spirit, and romcom/ecchi romps such as Love Hina, School Rumble, Negima! and Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches. It's quite the split, but since Weekly Shonen Jump more or less owns the action genre, WSM managed to capitalize on what they had traditionally missed.

At the same time it did run its fair share of well known classics of the form such as the sf robot action story Cyborg 009, the tokusatsu Kamen Rider, one of the first cyborg comics in 8-Man, the highly subversive and controversial Devilman, the mega popular martial arts comedy Kotaro Makaritoru!, the thug with the heart of goal hit Shonan Junai Gumi and its sequel Great Teacher Onizuka, mystery Kindaichi Case Files, parody of tough guy manga Cromartie High School, and the most recent redeemed bully chronicle A Silent Voice. There is a lot more I could have mentioned that I just didn't get to, but the magazine has lasted for a reason.

In case you were wondering the magazine also ran traditional action shonen action series as well. The most infamous being the late 90s trio of the hired muscle escapades of GetBackers, the fantasy quest Rave Master, and split personality series Samurai Deeper Kyo, all of which are far more well known by their anime adaptions overseas. They were the first to really break WSM's name outside of Japan. But all three pale in popularity to the two more recent action series you've probably heard of named Fairy Tail and Seven Deadly Sins.

While it's not as popular as Weekly Shonen Jump is, you can clearly see how it competed with it for so long. There is something for everyone. The magazine is no slouch in content.

Of course the rise of digital means the physical edition's circulation has dropped in recent years it hasn't stopped the magazine from producing hits. It's still well known in Japan to this day. If anything Weekly Shonen Magazine should be more well known a name overseas than it is. Chances are if you're a consumer of anime you know at least some of what was mentioned above.

It put out many great series still being rediscovered today. See if you can recognize some of these titles!

The other magazine celebrating its 60th anniversary is Weekly Shonen Sunday. Sunday is a bit different than the other two of the Big Three in that its focuses are a bit more niche and catch all for whatever doesn't fit in the other two. Mostly it goes sideways in obscure directions for content. If it's weird or off the wall you are more likely to see it in Sunday.

Despite that strangeness, the reason it is called Sunday is because it is meant to evoke the calm and rest the reader would feel kicking back and relaxing. It actually comes out on Wednesdays. But the emphasis on Sunday tends to make the magazine focus a lot more on slice of life series in between its weirder content.

Because of this core concept Sunday has never been the most popular of the Big Three but has always been in third behind the other two. That said, when Sunday gets a hit it is always a titan. Of the three I liken it the most to that one shelf in the old comic store that always had the weirdest yet most engrossing stuff in the back. Because of this Sunday is overlooked way more than most would figure, especially overseas.

For some bizarre stuff you have Osomatsu-kun, Wonder Three, Blue Submarine No. 6, The Drifting Classroom, Urusei Yatsura, Hono no Tenkosei: Blazing Transfer Student, Detective Conan, Ranma 1/2, Kyo Kara Ore Wa!, Mai the Psychic Girl, Karakuri Circus, Cross Game, and Mermaid Saga. Many of these I would deem classics and I'm certain most readers will have heard of at least some of those.

Their straightforward stuff meshes in well with those. They even ran series by Mitsuru Adachi, quite possibly the most popular sports manga artist with works such as Touch, H2, and Rough. This isn't forgetting Major by Takuta Mitsuda about the life of a boy baseball player who the manga follows towards adulthood. You'll find a little bit of everything in Sunday.

But, of course, it wouldn't be shonen without traditional action series. You can't forget about Tezuka's Dororo, the classic mecha Giant Robo, supernatural buddy action Ushio & Tora, Isekai favorite Inuyasha, the unique mecha Getter Robo, the revolutionary manga version of Mobile Police Patlabor, the ninja action Flame of Recca, pulp adventure favorite Spriggan, monster hunting Ghost Sweeper Mikami, the obscure scientific experiments of Project ARMs, the Pokemon meets Ushio & Tora of Zatch Bell, the weird demon exterminating of Kekkaishi, and the Arabian Nights flavored Magi: the Labyrinth of Magic, just to name a small sample of what Sunday ran. Even their action series are a more on the weird end.

See if you recognize some of them here:

So why make a post on this? After all, certainly anyone interested in anime or manga knows these series. But the answer is obvious. To be sure that there is a place for tradition in entertainment and the arts. 

Too often we're told something is out of date, or antiquated, or even irrelevant, when what they are talking about is aesthetics. Does going back to black and white coloring or 1960s character design make sense? No. But that was not what links all the above series together despite their creation dates, is it? That's just an aesthetic, and not the soul of art.

For instance, when someone says they want new Star Wars, do you think they mean the same plot as the original movie wrapped in a new garb or a fresh plot wrapped in the original's garb? Which one do you think takes more effort? Which one do you think follows closer to a tradition instead of pandering?

How else is new art created then by following old formulas and the artist adding their own stamp to it? That is how you get 60 years of tradition with no end in sight. There is nothing in the western world with that level of commitment as Japan.

WSM and Sunday still run series just as they did back when they started except with more modern art designs (though not always) and different cliches (though, again, not always) and have put out hits for decades. They have managed just fine.

No one in Japan is eager to overturn tradition, and they benefit from it being around. Though the audience has moved to digital and physical is sliding away they are still there and as big as ever. Even overseas audiences have remained since Japan first broke in back in the '80s. Anime and its moe problem aside, manga doesn't have the same issue. It's still cleaning house and giving readers what they've wanted since the beginning.

Where do you see that attitude in western art today?

Certainly not in comic books that are hemorrhaging money while insulting anyone who pines for storytelling and art from the form's peak. Not in video games with AAA lobotomizing gameplay and player choice while insulting customers in their advertisements. Not in the publishing world where authors go on social media to insult customers who voted wrong and then telling them to not buy their work--something a Japanese writer would never do. Western art is sick and in need of cleansing.

A traditionally fresh attitude is something you can only get from the newpub types such as the pulp revolution who are more about forging that patron and artist bond anew and continuing on from where we left off.

Much is said about how anime is the last bastion of entertainment that isn't imploding, but it's really manga (which gets adapted to anime) where the source of that is. And until dying western companies begin invading the east, God forbid, it looks to remain that way for the foreseeable future.

Unlike how the pulp style was abandoned for "respectable" styles that aren't respected by anyone who matters and allowed western entertainment to fall into the rut it is currently in, manga kept its head and went the distance instead. And now it has taken over the worldwide stage.

So there is something we can learn from Japan and its sixty plus years of tradition in the arts. We can learn what we lost, go back and pick it up, and start anew. Until we do Japan will continue to leave everyone in the dust.

We're gonna need quite the revolution to catch back up again, but we can do it. We just have to remember what we lost.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Signal Boost ~ "Hollow City" by Kai Wai Cheah

We've got a live one for you. The next Heroes Unleashed book is here! This is the first in a new series by a Dragon Award nominee and it's quite the story. Hollow City is the story of Adam Song, a superhero cop with a score to settle.

You can get your hands on it here.

The description is as follows:
Six kills in six years.
Super powered cop Adam Song has dedicated his life to the law. In the military and the police force, Adam ruthlessly protects the innocent. 
But this time he’s killed the wrong bad guy. Now the local drug lord’s son is dead, and the boss is out for Adam’s blood. Even his secret identity won’t keep him safe. The police department hangs him out to dry, his years of exemplary service forgotten. Adam must take justice into his own hands to keep his family safe. 
Because Adam is a Song. And Songs take care of their own. No matter the cost. 
When does justice become murder? And just how far will he go to protect his clan? 
Dragon and Hugo Award nominated author Kai Wai Cheah steps onto the superhero scene with his debut Heroes Unleashed novel. His characteristic fast-paced action and attention to detail brings Adam Song and the Chinatown of Hollow City vividly to life. 
What makes a straight-laced hero cop go rogue? Buy the book or read it in Kindle Unlimited today to find out!
You read that right, this is a good 'ol fashion vigilante story. And if you know the author then you know he can deliver on it and then some. Heroes Unleashed is not like any other book universe you've seen, and this book is proof.

From what I've seen the author plans to take this one to some very cool places. You're definitely going to want to follow along.

Have a ball with this one, folks. It's well worth your time.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Romance of the Road ~ An Ode to OutRun

Have you ever wanted to get away from it all? Does the idea of going the distance and seeing what you never have before speak to you? You ever wanted to grab your love and just go for it? Well, you're human, so I would assume so.

But you don't have to save up or find the right girl to take a vacation. There is a game for that. The racing series OutRun might be the most romantic video game series ever made. And I mean romance in the broader, classical sense. There is no game like OutRun even thirty plus years from its release.

They are some of the best games ever made. This is no exaggeration.

If you've never touched this series before for whatever reason then you have missed out. No, it being a racing game is no excuse. Those enraptured in the possibility of life, love, and adventure, are poorer never having played it.

However, I do understand the hesitation. Racing games do have a stigma behind them, much like sports games, which they did not have back in the 80s and 90s. Before they were made for the fanatics they were made for gamers.

I understand. Despite gaming for near three decades at this point, I've never been into racers. Sure, there are kart racers like Mario Kart (Double Dash is the best one) and the occasional oddball like Road Rash or Burnout but as a whole they don't do a whole lot for me and I tend to get bored pretty fast. There is one major exception to the rule and those are Sega racers. Few companies do them better. At the top of that heap sits the OutRun games, which in my opinion are not only the apex of the genre but creator Yu Suzuki's career as well.

I'm not alone in that assessment as there is a whole genre of Retrowave music named after the series even though the last installment in the series was over a decade ago. Heck, here's an entire album based on the game's soundtrack. The adventure and excitement has inspired that many.

OutRun is that good.

Why it succeeds is in its base intent on a conceptual level. OutRun's concept is about the freedom of travel and exploration, seeing distant sights, discovering new paths and strategies for better times and scores, and being romantic with your lady. It's a game about going the distance. You start from the beginning of the map on the first track and when you reach the end you are offered a fork in the road based on difficulty which offers a whole two ways to go. New courses, new sights, and challenge, await your decision on this new adventure. Every time you play OutRun it is a different experience because you have so much freedom.

The game is about wonder, romance, and excitement. Few games nail all three, never mind a racing game.

And no one has ever come close to matching it since.

Unlike a typical racing game, there are no laps in OutRun and there are no other racers. In addition to the branching paths with winding and varied terrain replacing a set loop in a small course, the other racers are replaced with other cars on the road that you need to slip through to get bonus points (how close you are when you pass in later games can give you a slipstream speed boost and even more points based on how close you were when passing which gives a risk/reward incentive in being dangerous to woo your gal) with one exception. Every now and then hot shots will come racing by on the road at top speed, and if you pass them after a set distance you will get a bonus and even more love from your lady. Because no one is faster than you are. You have to prove you're the best dude on the road at the same time you navigate the tricky pathways and deciding where you want to go on your road trip.

Then there's the bright color palette and breezy tunes blasting in your ears while you spin wheels to make distance. So many disparate elements come together to make this racing experience so original and addictive that you just can't imagine why no one has done it again since. Not even by Sega.

As I said, there is nothing like OutRun.

The series started during the original golden age of gaming back in the '80s with its original arcade installment soon brought to home consoles like the Sega Master System and Sega Genesis and it was eventually ported to just about everything under the sun with even console exclusive sequels. Back when gamers had no issue crossing genre lines everything thrived as long as it was good.

However, like most bad decisions Sega made beyond the Genesis, neglect ended up hurting the series just as it had for their other classic series like Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, Shinobi, Comix Zone, and Vectorman, which sent what were once popular series into undeserved obscurity. The 32-bit generation was a mistake. The Saturn and Dreamcast went by with nothing from this very original series and it ended up hurting its visibility in the long run.

Years passed before someone at the company got a clue.

The arcade division of Sega decided that they were going to make a proper arcade sequel and finally got one out in the form of OutRun 2. You see, while Sega's console division had fallen asleep at the wheel, the arcades were still getting games like Golden Axe: Revenge of Death Adder, House of the Dead 4, Virtua Fighter 5, and Virtua Cop 3. They were still banging them out even as the scene was dying overseas. OutRun 2 managed to best all of them by taking the original formula and giving it a face-lift and a shot in the arm with full 3D, more music, even more ways to score points (both in game and with your girl since they are tied!), crazier sights, and more involved tracks. It was even better than the first one.

OutRun 2 was such a big game that its home release had to come out for the beefiest console at the time: the original Xbox. A version with different tracks came out for the PS2, but by this generation racing games had all but fallen out of favor. It simply wasn't noticed. OutRun 2 was a classic, but no one had noticed at the time.

And it was thought that was to be the end of the series.

Years later OutRun 2 got a new downloadable version for the PS3 and Xbox 360 with a hook being for online rivalries, but it eventually got taken down due to licensing problems. I personally had a lot of good times with OutRun Online. Online or not there is much to do without ever getting bored. Over a generation later and there hasn't been anything new in the realm of romantic racing and there probably won't ever be due to the state of the genre and the dying industry. It's a shame, but you get used to it.

It is unfortunate in this age of stale AAA games we've lost so much imagination and excitement in just going out into wide open spaces and taking in the air. Brown desaturated corridors and barren open-world button mashers have replaced the romance of adventure and wonder of something as simple as going on a car trip.

They're not games anymore, they're just time wasters.

You don't need HD graphics, dozens of dollars spent on downloadable content, or hours of padded content to make a classic. The best games of the '80s and '90s prove it. These short games contain endless hours of entertainment and a single run won't even take the player half an hour. That is called masterful game design and it is a dying skill.

We might never get an OutRun 3 for reasons that will never not be incredibly silly, but at the very least the old games still exist. The original and OutRun 2, and all their accompanying spin-offs, are still very much worth playing today. As said many times, there is nothing else like them and probably won't ever be again.

Should you find them you would do well to play them once to the end of the first route, then a second time through another. You will have problems putting down the controller (or steering wheel) if you do. Getting lost in a land of wonder can do that.

Grab your best car and the keys and get out on the road. Who know where you might end up? It is a big world out there after all.

There's nothing you can't outrun.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Waiting in the Wasteland

Have you ever just stopped to think what strange times these are? Think to where the western world was back in 1919, and then today. Not only is our technology so far beyond that era, but the people behind this one are mostly dead and only living on pure momentum. One blackout and things can get very bad very fast. And that's all it could take. The loss of a high-trust society means fracturing is inevitable, and so is decay.

A good example of this rot is the last real community center, the mall.

Hold your horses, I know it sounds stupid to those older than Gen X and younger than Gen Y, but here me out. You might not understand just what has been lost.

This post is slightly out of the scope of this blog, mostly because I use this platform as a way to discuss art and entertainment and its relation to us as people, but the mall does relate to that. It was once the main purveyor and shopping source of consumer products for a period of time in the western world and, simultaneously, was the last place a community could gather and enjoy life. Those old TV shows and movies from the '80s and '90s that presented teenagers hanging out at the mall? That was real, and it did happen.

And now it's gone.

See, the shopping mall is a bit of an anomaly in western culture. It has been mentioned many times in entertainment and by those older as a ridiculous thing with no value. It was criticized for being a bastion of materialism and greed and the highlight of everything wrong with the world at the time in how we care more about loud noises and shiny products over our fellow man. Simultaneously, to those who grew up with have vastly different views. Younger generations recognized the shopping mall as the last bastion of socialization where they could be themselves and commune. To them it was a glorified community center. Both were right about what it was, but time has proven that the latter had the better point and the former clueless as to why.

Humans have always had places to congregate. We're social beings, we love to interact with others and relate to and grow among those we share our spaces with. We're all here together so why not make the best of it? We had places like town squares, church halls, and parks, among other smaller gatherings for just such things. But as time has gone on and we've isolated and fractured ourselves from each other we have lost most of those spaces for (admittedly petty) reasons. In the early 80s when the shopping mall came in it was the last spot where people could congregate over one of their last remaining similarities--that being that everyone needs to buy things. So a place where you can hang out and meet people while you do it? That made sense.

But nothing lasts forever. With the creation and growth of online shopping and stores such as Amazon, the shopping mall is on the way out. For those who primarily used it as a means to buy goods, as the older generations did, this means little. Now you can simply move your spending habits to your credit cards and watch the mail box instead of spending all day walking around a giant building and navigating maze-like structures. Convenient. For the Boomer nothing has changed, in fact their lives are even easier.

For those of us in Gen X and Gen Y it is a different story. It is another piece of our past that is being demolished. We were the only ones who got to use the shopping malls for the other stated purpose. Those growing up now, or in their early twenties, missed out entirely. The '80s and '90s were the peak time for shopping malls, in the '00s the shift had already begun to be made to places such as eBay and Amazon as well as social media. By the time Millennials became teenagers malls had already begun their decline, though they might have experienced a small part of it. Gen Z, on the other hand, missed out. They were given nothing in exchange for losing malls and have no place of congregation to call their own. Social media has taken the place of gatherings, and isolation reigns supreme.

I think this is best experienced in the oddball synth genre, Vaporwave. Specifically the "Mallwave" aspects. Vaporwave itself is a postmodern music genre that uses ideas, motifs, and samples from lost pop culture that forms an eerie time capsule of things that were lost and abandoned. A simultaneous celebration and dirge for the final days of the modern age, it is one of those musical styles that can't help but be chilling no matter what is done with it. Vaporwave hits deep to the bone for those who understand this strange mishmash of ideas and sounds that have long since lost meaning and were discarded, mostly because there has been nothing to replace them. It highlights a buried past in a dying culture that has no future.

Music scenes form and exist to fulfill a hole and a need. Pub Rock and Punk arose when Rock lost its way. Retrowave came about because synth music had lost what people loved about it. Vaporwave exists because social cohesion and community doesn't exist anymore and there is no answer as to what to do about it. Jokes about the "substance" behind the genre aside, it is a pretty hopeless musical style though not entirely by intent.

See, for instance, this:

If you have the time I do suggest watching and listening to such videos as this. I'm not sure if it can affect anyone outside of certain generations, but it does say something without actually saying it. Even if the sound is haunting.

That's more or less what Vaporwave is. A confusing jumbled mess of memories, commercials, and longing, is all that remains of a forgotten era that had hope behind it. Soon enough even that will be gone, too. I suggest reading the comments to the video for maximum effect. The users all instantly understand what is happening.

Another piece of a world that no longer exists is being erased.

I sympathize with the younger generation now. While the mall wasn't perfect, it was something. This an aspect of it that the Boomers never quite got. It was the end of what little community remained for those of us in the West. Now it is completely gone. Arcades, comic shops, computer places, rental spots, music stores, skate shops, the food courts, book stores, movie theaters . . . they're not there anymore. Those in Gen X and Y are the only ones left to remember this at its peak, and more for the positives than the negatives. Because, believe it or not, there are more negatives to losing them than positives.

What's being lost isn't the consumerism. That still exists. Black Friday is still a problem, Amazon sells millions of product every day, people still buy Funko Pops. The old hippie Boomer complaint about the mall has shifted places to where they currently shop. Nothing has changed there.

What has changed is what counted. Now we have a wasteland where the last semblance of community once stood.

Personally I have no nostalgic attraction to the mall itself. The two I visited as a kid are still around, albeit nowhere near as prominent as they were when I was younger. Fewer people go there even at peak hours. You start to wonder where everyone spends their time now. Even in the Christmas season no longer are they ever packed or overflowing with people. Heck, one of the malls doesn't even have a food court anymore. Nonetheless, they are declining fast. It's only a matter of time before they're gone, just as the music stores, arcades, and comic shops are. They'll be gone by 2030. Unless you want to see people you know why would you even go to them now? You can get everything online and usually for better prices. Mostly I went to hang out with friends, to see movies, or to waste time on a slow weekend, and I don't see too many of the kids these days doing any of that there, especially with most of the better spots long gone. As I said, everything was replaced with nothing. There's no reason to go to them now.

Obviously, not being a teenager anymore, I don't really go to the mall anymore. One had a barber that had been in operation since I was a kid until it closed last year. The stores I went in don't exist anymore. Most stores don't even carry the things I want, and haven't in years. They don't have sales on top of it. Even if I wanted to go: what would I do there?

The 20th century is over. Now we live in a decaying 1997 where everything rots away and is replaced with an uncanny valley doppelganger when it outlives its usefulness. In a landscape like this I completely understand why movements such as Vaporwave take off. They know that we will never truly escape this feeling at being stuck on the edge of collapse . . . until it finally happens.

What I want to leave you with is this news story from 1982 back when the mall first became noticed and discussed. It's a long report, but if you are interested in cultural decay and the zombie state we're currently in I do suggest watching it to the end, especially the final seven or so minutes.

We can make it a pop quiz.

Does anything in this report sound familiar to you? Do the older and younger generations' reactions to the mall look familiar to you, and why might that be? Do those quoted in the last seven minutes describe any arguments you see now?

Choice quote:
"Yes, you give up things with progress. You give up . . . I don't know what you give up to tell you the truth! It's a difficult question to answer. I think you gain more than you ever give up."
Isn't it fascinating that this was the mindset for centuries before the 21st century proved it all wrong? He instinctively knows you give things up by mindlessly plowing ahead, but he can't think of what it is. When I look at the broken remains of the malls I think of stupidity such as that quote.

We're still out here in the wasteland, mall or not. Those who remember them fondly rarely if ever talk about what they bought and how much they enjoyed exchanging money for goods and services. It was never really about consumerism or trends, but about filling that growing hole in the depths of our souls that just seems to grow decade after decade and century after century as we singlemindedly dig our way to a future that is looking more and more like a grave. That pit doesn't cease to be just because we spend our money elsewhere now.

And when all of that is gone, when there is no more community, when there is no place left to go. What happens to those without a place to be, without a signpost to guide them, and with no one to speak to? Do they just listen to the warped Vaporwave sounds of past and dying generations in the dark as they shop for new headphones on Amazon?

Is that progress?

We speak of good and bad art a lot, but that is only part of the problem. The deeper issue is that we aren't satisfied with stale bread and broken down circuses to keep us busy and are minds on some fairy tale Shangri-la that we will never reach. Humans know there is more to us than just amusing ourselves to death. But we don't know how to find it anymore.

It is overly dramatic to say the death of malls is a bad thing, but it is indicative of a worse thing. The death of community is the price of progress. We are beginning to lose sense of trust in each other, and I don't think we can get it back. Alienation is the future, as are pills and razor-blades. Prepare for the inevitable.

I once thought as a child that a normal life was aspirational enough. What else could a man need? A family, a job, friends, acquaintances, all form disparate and yet overlapping social circles that allow us to grow as people and form bonds that will help carry you when times get rough. Kids at the time got this. My grandparents' generation were still alive while this was still true.

But that was then.

We don't live in that world anymore, and I really don't know what world we live in now. I shudder to think what world I will die in should I ever reach old age. The 2010s was the decade of rot. Nothing new came about, and nothing will be remembered from it aside from tiny things. The corpse is now stinking up the joint and no one knows how to dig the grave. Just wait for what takes its place in the 2020s.

If people like this are still around maybe there won't be any 2020s:

"No, I never long for the good old days. That's not being progressive. These are the good old days."

You sure got that right, Boomer.

And they are never coming back.

If these are the best days of our lives I'd hate to see the worst ones. Keep an eye on the prices of drain cleaner, we've got a rough one coming. Hold on to someone while you still have someone to hold on to, and here's hoping for the best.

See you next time from the wasteland.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Another Update from the Wasteland

Welcome back to another super-exciting update post. After a series that took a lot of time and energy to put together you might have assumed I would be taking it easy. It isn't entirely wrong. That series of posts did take over two months to cobble together.

Nothing much has changed. I'm still alive.

I'm currently off of social media for the next month and change and focusing on writing and editing stories. One novel is very far down the line and I still want to finish editing another back into shape. I have one more short story to write in order to finally cobble together a short story collection themed around my superhero stories. By the end of April I'm hoping to have a lot of that done and ready for publication later this year. So I need to buckle down and concentrate.

In regards to my other works I can give you a quick sum up.

Gemini Warrior, the first in a series, is complete and at Silver Empire right now. What happens next is up to them. I will update you on when that is out, but as of now I don't know its release date. Nonetheless it is only a matter of time.

I've also gotten some solid ideas for a follow-up (two!) to Grey Cat Blues. I hope to keep them short and punchy like the original, but at the same time I don't know how long it will take me to get to them so I'm not going to go into what they will be about. Nothing is more annoying than teasing a story that takes forever to come out. If you haven't yet read the original book, I highly suggest it! It tells a complete story so you won't be left on any sort of cliffhanger for anything that comes out next. I'm still proud of that one. Those who have read it have left some rave reviews.

I've written a flurry of other short stories that I still have to give the once-over twice to, including one done in the giant robot oeuvre that is much different from modern military fiction or the Gundam mold. Yes, I'm not done with short stories yet. I'm still waiting to hear back on a few other stories I've submitted but have heard nothing back from yet. Again, once I have news I will share it.

This year, as I've mentioned before, is going to be a novel year instead of one focused on short stories. I'm still a little annoyed I didn't get a novel out last year and I want to make up for it this time. Short of real life very probably getting in the way I will have more done.

Outside of that we've just hit season 4 in Cannon Cruisers and I've been getting more and more interested in '80s cinema because of it. Despite the revisionism in what remains of pop culture currently trying to make the decade out to be some new sort of terrible era I'm discovering more and more things storytellers simply aren't allowed to do anymore. Especially when it come to smaller films, the '80s were pretty impressive. For those that want to know we are planning to take the podcast up to season 6 and into the '90s when Cannon closed so we are more than halfway through.

My personal life might be having some changes of its own soon, though to what extent I am still not sure of. That's life. Nonetheless, I will still be writing and posting here regardless. It's what I do.

2018 wasn't the best year, but 2019 is shaping up to be a solid end point for a decade that started off pretty terribly. There's a lot coming down the pipeline that should hopefully make it out in time. I'm going to make sure I get more out there.

And I'm not alone.

I started this blog as an outlet to see if I could understand the growing divide inside and outside the arts and how it got so bad. Turns out there were many factors to that. I think I've gotten past that point, and now I want to focus on bringing it back together again. Throwing out the Fanatics and the True Artists and bringing the creator and customer together for a conversation again is paramount. We're still living in a wasteland separated from the sky, but at least we could try to reach a little higher.

Mainstream culture is still dying, and I don't suspect it will live out the 2020s, but those of us outside of that wheelhouse are still going strong with plenty of energy to spare. The Pulp Revolution is here and it's not going anywhere, folks. We've got the fire.

It is funny that in 2009 I had no hope remaining at all. The ensuing decade of Hollywood's implosion and geek culture becoming a religion also meant that anything was unlikely to change for the better. I wouldn't have considered looking to the past and seeing what we're missing and apply it to what we need today. Collapse was inevitable. Still is. Most of us were just taking what we could get and reluctantly indulging in material that would make us cringe today. The '00s were just a long downhill slide into the mud pit that was the '10s.

Now in 2019 there is no shortage of newpub books, middle market and indie video games, Retrowave music, and a growing number of creators and customers who now know what they are being robbed of coming together to build something far unique. Creators and customers have both had enough. I discovered much new that I didn't expect to. Not to mention the old pulps, games, and movies I missed back in the day help even more. There is a surplus of wondrous escapism and not enough time to go through it all. Who needs what the shambling old relics of corporations are putting out now?

Times really are strange, and they're about to get stranger. Hard to believe where we are now. I can't imagine where we will be in the future. The '10s are just about to end.

Spring's just a little while off, and I can't wait.

Sorry for the shorter post, but there is a lot going on behind the scenes and not just from me. We're going to end this decade off strong, so stick with us.

We're coming for you!