Monday, September 14, 2015

A Living Thing Come to Light - Lovecraft, Pluto, and the Blending of Science and Art

Originally written & published in audio form on Episode 57 of A Podcast [ , ] For All Intents and Purposes. The included audio excerpt from "The Whisperer in the Darkness" was read by Dudley Knight for KPKV Radio. The closing music was "Uncertainty" by Reber Clark from his album, At the Mountains of Madness - Sketches for the H. P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast. Originally published in print at LongJohnComic.com.

“Those wild hills are surely the outpost of a frightful cosmic race––as I doubt all the less since reading that a new ninth planet has been glimpsed beyond Neptune, just as those influences have said it would be glimpsed. Astronomers, with a hideous appropriateness they little suspect, have named this thing ‘Pluto’. I feel, beyond question, that it is nothing less than nighted Yuggoth––and I shiver when I try to figure out the real reason why its monstrous denizens wish it to be known in this way at this especial time. I vainly try to assure myself that these daemoniac creatures are not gradually leading up to some new policy hurtful to the earth and its normal inhabitants. … Sometimes I fear what the years will bring, especially since that new planet Pluto has been so curiously discovered.”
-H. P. Lovecraft, from “The Whisperer In the Darkness

What made H. P. Lovecraft a “good” writer was not his ability, no doubt. Mechanically, he was not particularly skilled beyond a firm grasp on a large, archaic vocabulary. What made him great was that his main interests––possibly even beyond that of weird fiction––were not creative in the aesthetic sense at all. When he wasn’t writing, he was an amateur––though incredibly capable––historian, architecture enthusiast, and (most importantly, I would argue) astronomer. The differential between Lovecraft’s juvenilia and mature writings is how he expresses the knowledge he acquired through severe practice and process. In his youth, his writing tended to focus on the aggregation and expression of this knowledge in the form of almanac entries, newspaper editorials, etc. As an adult, he instead used this knowledge as a foundation for his fiction, which guided rather than instructed the reader. It’s the same principle that guides writers like Kim Stanley RobinsonDavid Brin, and Cormac McCarthy. (David Brin basically instructed me to do as much when I e-mailed him about writing early in the days of the internet...I am an apologist for The Postman.) All of these writers embody and benefit from the mixture between creativity and science, and it’s something I think should be emphasized more in today’s scientific––and artistic––climate.
Not perfect. Not terrible. It's D. Bethel approved (especially the first hour).
Not perfect. Not terrible. It's D. Bethel approved (especially the first hour).

Monday, September 07, 2015

The Preterite Present: Netflix's Daredevil and the Language of Binge-Watching

This was originally written and recorded for Episode 52 of my weekly nerd/geek podcast, A Podcast [ , ] For All Intents and Purposes. This version is revised and expanded, however, and was originally published in print at LongJohnComic.com.

Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are in the process of revolutionizing television and, frankly, it’s a welcome uprising. Their respective models vary slightly, but it all revolves around a bedrock concept: consume media how you want. Netflix kind of led the charge on this by offering full seasons of shows to stream creating the “binge effect” of which our society is fully in the throes. Knowing that was how people consumed content on their service, it only made sense that their original content would follow suit. This is, however, where the seams start to show and this wave of new, binge-possible content is immediately dead upon arrival because of the very nature of its release.

A recent, high-profile, and celebrated original show on Netflix was the high-interest Daredevil, which the industry earmarked as being Marvel’s (and Netflix’s, to an extent) next big gamble. Perhaps not surprisingly, given both the track record of Marvel and Netflix, reviews have been stellar (at least in nerdy quadrants), but the language of a few of the reviews surprised me quite a bit.
Daredevil
Drawn for no good reason.
One particular review referred to the show in the preterite––making statements similar to: “Netflix’s Daredevil was a show that made a lot of bold choices,” for example (though not an actual quote)––using past tense language to discuss a show which had only just premiered a few days before. Normally, a review taking place that close to the debut of a show would be full of hopeful or, at the very least, circumspect language––looking forward to what the show could bring––but Daredevil and shows like it may be changing the way we speak about television. Sadly, I can’t find this review to refer to, but, according to the implied sentiment, because Daredevil’s entire season could, technically, be watched in one go on the day of its release, then it only follows that the season is over, since that is when we constitute the end of a television season: when all episodes have been released and consumed. Something that was much more organic with regard to audience consumption and participation––happening week to week over the course of almost a half-year in some cases––is now instantly begun and completed.

With the full order of episodes dropping at the same time, what this means is that a season is “over” as soon as it’s released (though, of course, it’ll take at least 13 tv hours to watch, but that’s not the point). This is, of course, one cause of the binge effect because the requirement for water cooler talk is much increased from what it used to be with the week-to-week release schedule. I find it strange that with this greater workload comes a shorter shelf life: doing more for less, basically.

While the use of the past tense in the article could have been accidental, it is iterative of this changing climate with regard to how we approach streaming television. If we follow the ideas set forth by the language philosopher, J. L. Austin (concisely delivered in his wonderful book, How to Do Things With Words), in that language itself is performative––that is the words we say can create action just by speaking or writing them (for example, saying “I promise to…” do something in a sense creates the action of doing whatever it was you promised to do), then even the accidental use of the past tense to describe a new show is telling (but for what it’s worth, the use the past tense in the article wasn’t accidental). Even if it’s not how we think––even if it’s not how we will think––of this new mode of television, what’s new is that we can think of television this way, which is endemic of the culture at large and how we consume information.

In a sense, this binge-style of writing and presentation seems to be pushing television into realms previously occupied by novels or movies: a singular experience, usually done in one (or a few) sittings. While I don’t think this is a lamentable shift, it is an unexpected one as it speaks to the new purpose that television has in our lives. Televised storytelling is maturing and people are paying attention and want more out of their tv shows. No longer is it the reliable weeknight distraction that it used to be––to tune in and turn off the brain, so to speak––it has become a worthy medium for art and expression, even if it is meant to be consumed faster than ever before and is––through the lens of critical discussion––over as soon as it starts.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Mind in the Gutters: Tom Dell'Aringa's Rock & Tin

“Mind in the Gutters” is a space for D. Bethel to discuss specific comics without any particular relevance or connection to Long John itself. This discussion covers Tom Dell'Aringa's webcomic-first graphic novel, Rock & Tin.

The science fiction genre, despite being a fractal comprising infinite subgenres, has the benefit of providing creators with a toolset to tell meaningful stories about society through the lens of speculative fiction, where we can fantasize about what the world could be, should be, or––if we want to frighten ourselves––will be without proper intervention. It allows people to build a huge world (or galaxy, or universe) in which a genuinely human story can be told, even if it doesn't use humans to do it.
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