Posts tagged ‘culture’

June 30, 2016

#114) Movie review: “Atari: Game Over”

It’s the stuff of geek legend, especially among geeks who grew up in the 1980s. In the summer of 1982, Atari is seeing its domination of the home video game market faltering. The U.S. economy is slow and stores are being flooded with low-quality games. Atari has already taken lumps over the 2600 console’s poorly received version of the arcade mega-hit PacMan, so they need to come up with something big. Feeding on the success of the Raiders of the Lost Ark game, they opt to license another movie for a tie-in: the blockbuster “E.T.” Negotiations for the rights take longer than expected. With the deadline for a holiday season release approaching, game designer Howard Warshaw has only five weeks to complete “E.T.” – compared to a typical time frame of six months. The result is a product that is not only disappointing but also cited as the cause for the subsequent collapse in the video game market. In the wake of the “E.T.” disaster, millions of the unsold and returned cartridges are buried in the New Mexico desert.

Or are they?

“Atari: Game Over” (currently streaming on Netflix and available on Youtube) examines this rumor, weaving two narratives: a flashback of the rise and fall of Atari and indeed all video games between Pong and Nintendo and a present-day (2014) account of geek pilgrims lobbying the city of Alamogordo for permission to excavate the land fill and vet out the legend.

In judging such a specialized film the key question is: will it appeal to those who don’t have particular interest in the subject? In this case…probably. “Atari: Game Over” is short  (66 minutes) and engaging enough that almost anyone can find it appealing. Long story short: you shouldn’t have to beg your girlfriend to watch it with you, especially if you’ve recently sat through a romcom with her.

Director Zak Penn, noted for writing several scripts for Marvel superhero movies and for a documentary about the Loch Ness Monster, clearly has affection for the subject matter and the film plays more as a nonfiction feature than as a documentary. While there ultimately is a little more cheerleading and back-patting than necessary, the film moves at a good pace, providing engaging detail without getting too bogged down in particulars. Howard Warshaw could be seen as the protagonist. As a 25-year old he achieved acclaim with “Yar’s Revenge”, one of Atari’s most popular and well-received games. He also designed the successful “Raiders” but “E.T.” not only hurt his beloved company but sullied his reputation as well. After the demise of Atari, Warshaw moved from one industry to another, never finding the same excitement and purpose, never able to shake his attachment to the doomed game. Atari founder Nolan Bushnell and xBox co-creator Seamus Blackley are among those who provide commentary and historical context. Robert Rentschler and Susie Galea (respectively the former and current mayors of Alamogordo) and waste disposal expert Joe Lewandowski are among the players in the present-day excavation.

The two storylines build to a climax on April 26th, 2014. In what has been described as “geek Woodstock”, gamers from far and wide come to witness the dig. One shows up in a deLorean; many are wearing T-shirts of classic Atari games such as “Pitfall!” and “Space Invaders.” The shovels start digging. Will the games be found? Will they be intact? What if the chemicals from the cartridges begat a bunch of radioactive pigs? Will the gathering of gamers mean redemption for Warshaw?

We love to build up and tear down and when something survives that process, be it a movie, book, song or game, it earns a special place in geek culture. Not only did “E.T.” not deserve its reputation but it also brought people together in  way that a game that was simply mediocre wouldn’t have. Ultimately, Penn is no more concerned with the results of the dig as he is with showing how the game became a touchstone for a generation and telling a story of redemption and affection for the past. As Raiford Guins, a professor of culture and technology says in the film, “I would still rather play Atari’s E.T. than any Call of Duty.”

January 2, 2015

#89) Language court: the D-Theory verdicts on 2015’s Banished Words

I hope your take-away from this hack is that you need to curate the skill set to be a good foodie, Bae.

Every year, Lake Superior State University releases a list of words or expressions that should be “banished from Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.” In keeping with this blog’s ongoing theme of devoting far too much time and energy to trivial issues while ignoring significant ones, I am proud to present the D-Theory Verdicts on each list item from the 2015 list. Court is now in session, the honorable judge D-Lock presiding.

“BAE”

Charges: Used both as shorthand for “Before Anything Else” and as a term of endearment (contraction of “Babe”).

Verdict: Guilty. While the court has not personally found this word to be over-used or annoying, it certainly has the potential to be. The preemptive guilty verdict has numerous precedents, in which the list has accurately predicted the rise of a word’s over-use several years out (see  “____ is the new ____” making the 2008 list.)

“POLAR VORTEX”

Charges: Requiring twice as many syllables as its synonym, “Winter.”

Verdict: Not guilty. This one will run itself out.

“HACK”

Charges: Over-use and misuse.

Verdict: Not guilty. Like “Polar Vortex”, this one has the good fortune of being listed at the peak of its popularity and will likely fade, or at least become less ubiquitous, in ’15 and beyond. Additionally, unintentionally humorous uses of the word (“Marriage hacks”) offset the annoyance it brings.

“SKILL SET”

Charges: Adding an extra word (“set”) that doesn’t change or amplify the first word (“skill”).

Verdict: Not guilty. The prosecution presented a weak argument, proving that while this phrase may be somewhat mundane, attempts to rephrase it usually tend to be awkward.

“SWAG”

Charges: Being a “shapeless, meaningless word…with no real depth.”

Verdict: Not guilty; this one is harmless enough and will probably run its course before long.

“FOODIE”

Charges: Being a synonym of “Everybody.” After all, who doesn’t like to eat?

Verdict: Guilty. While it may once have implied a sort of connoisseurship, nowadays with anyone being able to label themselves a foodie, the term has lost its meaning. (See also: Curate/Curated)

“CURATE/CURATED”

Charges: Being a pretentious synonym for “Collected.”

Verdict: Guilty. The problem is that, unlike, say, “Cra-Cra”, people often use this word without realizing how it makes them sound. As Alex Williams puts it in this article, “Among designers, disc jockeys, club promoters, bloggers and thrift-store owners, curate is code for ‘I have a discerning eye and great taste.’”

“CRA-CRA” (See also: Cray-Cray)

Charges: Self-explanatory.

Verdict: Guilty.

“FRIEND-RAISING”

Charges: “The word suggests that we develop relationships not for the simple value of the person we call ‘friend’…but that we instead develop these relationships out of some sort of expectation of a monetary reward.”

Verdict: Not guilty. The court had to Google this one so it can’t be too ubiquitous. Besides, the court has been on both sides of the friend-raising equation too many times to deny the validity of the concept.

“ENHANCED INTERROGATION”

Charges: Being a “shameful euphemism for torture.”

Verdict: Guilty. Like most attempts to appease, this one won’t make people on either side of the issue happy.

“TAKE-AWAY”

Charges: Over-use.

Verdict: Not guilty. Like “Skill set”, this term may be over-used by people who want to sound trendy, but while there may be different ways to word the concept, are “lesson” and “moral” really any better?

“-NATION”

Charges: Over-use and misuse.

Verdict: Not guilty; not worth getting upset over. When a bunch of sports fans call themselves “(Team name) Nation”, it’s all in good fun. That said, there are certain teams for whom the “Nation” tag has more of a pedigree (Red Sox) and some for which it seems a little out of place (also see: Artichoke Nation.)

What say you?

December 30, 2013

#68) 14 Expressions I’d like to see retired for ’14

Three years ago, Lake Superior State University added “viral” and “epic” to their list of banished words.  At the risk of sounding like Lynne (“Eats, Shoots & Leaves”) Truss, I’ll put out my own list for 2014.  I’ll admit that this is a first world problem (a phrase which  might, along with FOMO, go on my 2015 list if I make one but doesn’t bug me enough to make this year’s cut) but I simply find these idioms, well, for lack of a better term, annoying.  Some of them don’t actually refer to the written or spoken word but to memes (see #13).  Without further ado:

#1) “….Said no one ever.”  This will still seem fresh and hip in 2014, said no one ever.

#2) “….Wait for it….” The problem is that most of the time “it” isn’t worth the wait.

#3) Putting. A. Period. After. Every. Word.

#4) “Wait, what?” I’ll admit that most people probably don’t find this expression nearly as annoying as I do.  In further disclosure I should probably say that the root of my annoyance with this phrase probably lies in having had it used on me by someone who’s checked out of one of my rants and is trying to find their way back in out of politeness.

#5) “Who knew?” This is another whose annoyance factor is somewhat hard to explain, so I’ll just leave it at this: my blog, my rules.

#6) “…Not so much.”  Only Borat is allowed to say this, just like he’s the only one who’s still allowed to still tell “NOT!” jokes.

#7) The word “Classy” has two, and only two, syllables.

#8) “(Bygone year) called; it wants its ____ back.”  I thought this one was already laid to rest until I saw it on a billboard.  I forget what product the advertisement was for and was thinking about trying to look it up but I don’t want to give them the free press.

#9) “I know, right?”  In my defense, I’m not the only blogger who has placed this on a list of expressions that should be laid to rest.  (See #2 on this list.)

#10) Any graphic using a witty comment and Gene Wilder.

#11) Any cartoon showing Batman bitch-slapping someone.

#12) I wish people used more hashtags on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. #saidnooneever

#13) Meme.

#14) Comparisons of anyone (even Hitler) to Rosa Parks.

In case you were wondering, which I realize you weren’t, I decided to leave “YOLO” off the list because  this shorthand expression for “You Only Live Once” is so ridiculous it’s actually pretty funny.  Furthermore, people often say “YOLO” right before doing something incredibly stupid which may well remove them from the gene pool; thus the phrase may actually make the world a better place.

So there you have it: my pet peeves.  Some people wish for world peace; some for the end of famine.  I wish for this.  If I’ve left out your favorite worn-out expression, let me know.

December 8, 2013

#65) Lorde Have Mercy: Tackling another one of my New Years’ Resolutions

I only have three weeks to finish my New Years’ Resolutions project and one of the items was to “Read at least one article/blog post/etc. that contradicts [my] beliefs.”  I found one putting for the idea that Lorde, a teenager from New Zealand whose real name is Ella Yelich-O’Connor and who has burned up the airwaves with her song “Royals” is the heir apparent to Nirvana.  The article can be found here.

I will concede the following: “Royals” is one of the few new songs I’ve heard recently that sounds different from everything else  and that if I had a teenage daughter I’d sure as hell rather have her see Lorde as a role model than say, Snooki.  However, the comparison between her and Nirvana is, to me, somewhat of a stretch and judging by some of the comments on the article, I’m not the only one.  In truth I’m not a huge Nirvana fan, probably due to timing in that they broke once I had irrevocably entered my jazz snob stage.  When my roommate told me that Cobain killed himself I said, “Who’s Kurt Cobain?”

But I digress.

Before reading the article, the main point on which I disagreed with Powers is: can anybody really be declared the next anyone else on the strength of one song?

Author Ann Powers argues her point vigorously.  She compares Cobain to a Molotov cocktail; Lorde to a virus, alluding to the fact that the former was explosive and the latter is stealthy; also perhaps referencing the modern connotation of the word “viral.”  Powers points out that just as Nirvana and the grunge movement was the antidote to bloated ’80s rock, Lorde is becoming at least to some the answer to “MileyMania.” Powers doesn’t go so far as to predict that Lorde will put New Zealand on the musical map the way Cobain et al did for Seattle, but she does point out that both Cobain and Lorde hail from places outside pop music’s “centers of power.”

Yet, despite her well thought-out case, I must simply agree to disagree with Powers.  At this point we just can’t tell if Lorde will become a leading voice of her generation or a one-hit-wonder.  I also can’t help but feel as if Powers is over thinking the room: at times she seems to want to use Lorde as a prism with which to view the world of 2013, dropping references to “The Hunger Games” and Trayvon Martin, discussing class warfare and other weighty topics.  She almost seems to write too well for her own good.

That said, the article fit my project guidelines nicely.  The best way to understand your own arguments is to learn those of the opposing side and as a purveyor of internet content (who’s overthinking the room now, D-Lock?) I am on the same team as others who do the same, even if our view points differ.  While I still don’t agree with Powers, I defend to the death her right to say that Lorde is the Nirvana of our times.

May 22, 2013

#55) How not to offend people

In my list of New Year’s Resolutions for 2013, I suggested pissing someone off as a possible goal. If you do it, though, don’t use Sergio Garcia as an example.

The Spanish golfer recently got into hot water over a comment about Tiger Woods. Garcia and Woods apparently have never exactly been BFFs.  Garcia didn’t help anyone out, including himself, with his response to a reporter’s question about if he would invite Woods over for dinner to reconcile.

I am not offended that Garcia said, “We will have him around every night.  We will serve fried chicken.”  I do have to ask, did he really need to go there?  To borrow a line from Dr. Laura, who has been known to piss off a few people here and there, did he really need to die on that hill?

Being offensive is a gamble that sometimes pays off.  Right or wrong, when Jewish comedienne Sarah Silverman referred to “the alleged Holocaust”, she got laughs.  She broke a true taboo, and has built her career on that sort of humor.  In Garcia’s case, though, making jokes about black people and fried chicken isn’t breaking a taboo; it’s just old.  Yeah, Lee Ermey did it in “Full Metal Jacket”, but it was part of his character.  Besides, he’s Lee Ermey, he can do whatever he wants.

Tiger Woods isn’t a particularly sympathetic individual; he certainly could have handled the situation with a little more humor.  Perhaps in time, he may learn to laugh at himself; perhaps Garcia may learn to take more calculated gambles when it comes to off-color jokes.  Until then, he serves as a great example of how not to do it.