Category Archives: depressing

Things

Let me tell you some things I’m just now figuring out. They’re things I wish I could have known five years ago, but I suppose that’s the point of personal growth or whatever you call this unsettling, slightly raised discoloration. I’m not sure where I’d be had I begun reciting these mantras then, but it’s probably not working at the help desk of the library of the University where I earned my first, “practice” Bachelor’s and am now collecting a second, plus some more debt, all of it a mere 30 glorious minutes through cow shit and unfinished landscape paintings from my childhood abode, where I vacay on weekends to do laundry and resume my high school job because, oh yeah, I’m filthy, stinking poor.

So that brings me to my first Thing, which is sort of rote and tired but still probably isn’t actually heard enough: stop regretting things. As the great (or so I’m told) 20th century philosopher Alan Watts explains in the super-good Her, the “us” that was “we” twenty seconds ago no longer shares that “usdom” that makes “we” “us.” In a more science-y way that I don’t fully grasp, it’s the idea you heard from that dick at work who gets all his trivia from podcasts guest-starring Neil DeGrasse Tyson and feels spiritually liberated from the material plane because he smoked weed twice (everyone knows it happens after four): we are not composed of the same atoms that composed us a minute ago when we thought we had sneaked that fart. Even that fart is an entirely new fart from moment to moment. Every day, we are fresh farts. So don’t be so hard on yourself, because no one was seriously hurt and she’s almost ready to forgive you.

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Feels good, man.

You’ve taken a series of increasingly colder showers, finished that whole six pack of wheat beer by yourself (good job!), and the Council has seen fit to absolve your sins. It’s now safe to proceed to my second Thing, which is actually the primary Thing this post is concerned with, other than the necromancy of this dead, dead blog.

Do rather than watch. Do, create, engage, interact: okay, I know my verbiage is edging dangerously close to a presidential fitness campaign or a corporate PowerPoint slide, but there’s a kernel of truth wedged somewhere between Michelle Obama’s pearly teefers. And this is a painful truth to grapple with for me personally because I love watching. Bad TV, good TV, Netflix, Serious Film, video games, people in and out of their natural habitat. There’s a lot to learn from just hanging back and absorbing information and, as a wealth of blogs and serious criticism suggest, there are new perspectives to be gleaned from all that entertainment we binge on, too. That last assertion is the entire crux of this humble project of mine, after all. There is good work to be done with pop culture.

However, even if pop culture is your work, it shouldn’t be your everything.

Love you, Roger.

Love you, Raw Dog.

I’m overusing the second-person pronoun and, it occurs to me, sounding a little preachy. Let me just ‘fess up like the reverend’s daughter: this is squarely my own problem and any resemblance shared with a problem of yours is unintentional and purely coincidental.

That said, you’re on the internet right now. So.

It’s a sentiment I’ve heard echoed by several creative individuals I respect very much: one mustn’t be defined by consumption. By “consumption,” I don’t mean tuberculosis; in fact, I’d be morbidly curious to see a person defined by tuberculosis.

Go be that.

Before you get real stupid and start licking toilet seats (that’s not even how you contract TB, dummy), consider more productive activities. You know that guy, possibly the same guy from before, who corners you at work and proceeds to summarize the third season of Felicity at you until you’re dead? No one wants to be that guy, primarily because he licks the handicap stall clean at night like a thorough mama cat, but also because of the Felicity thing. That guy is boring. I’ve nearly been that guy, bathroom hangup notwithstanding.

Don’t get comfortable with the same old mediocrity. Try to fail at something new every day.

I’m a work in progress. Am I a writer? Sort of. Game designer? I’ve got a notebook. Every endeavor I’ve pursued in life has spawned infinitely many sub-goals; sometimes it becomes a point of frustration. I feel like the football player who crosses the field by taking half the remaining distance with each attempt. Maybe no one ever “gets there,” to a point where they can sit back and say, “yeah, that’s the final passage of my novel, now I can finally eat that bullet and go to heaven.” That’s mostly because it would be a really weird thing to say before you killed yourself, but it must be at least partially due to the fact that humans invented the concepts of inferiority and jealousy, or maybe dolphins did. We all want to be other people, or have other people, or have what other people have, or have what other people don’t. We’re busy looking at the next guy or girl or dolphin, thinking “what a desirable blowhole, wish I had that blowhole,” thinking “that blowhole will really fill a gap in my life,” committing this fallacy of perceiving life’s possibilities as finite, like a 500 piece puzzle or the radius of a dolphin’s blowhole. Make your own fucking puzzle. Drill your own blowhole. That geyser of blood means you’re livin’, dude! 

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Also, here, I’m not a doctor but I have a few rolls of Charmin Ultra soaked in Windex and you can just jam those up there and I think pray to a god. Next time, get that done professionally. I know a dude who flunked out of veterinary school and likes to look at small animals from the inside-out in his treefort. He built it last year. It is pretty sick. And slightly unstable because this dude’s no carpenter, but he can tell you absolutely everything about Felicity, including Keri Russell’s current home address.

Maybe you’re a failed dolphin, but at least you tried. What’s important is that you keep the dream of self-inflicted, transhumanistic mutilation burning inside. 

I’ll keep writing.

Hold the Whipped Cream: Feeling Good About Feel Bad Fiction

Due to the oh-so-timely nature of single/hand/clap’s triannual posts, pop culture bits of the here and now are subject to be spoiled at any time. Unless the spoilery feature in question is inspired by wheat beer, however, I’ll try my best to offer a warning. This is that. If you haven’t seen last Sunday’s Game of Thrones episode “The Rains of Castamere” and don’t truck with that study about spoiled stories being more enjoyable, I would recommend coming back later. Please, come back.

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No, but for real, though? Really?

This week in internet rage, once-mild-mannered Walgreens cashiers throughout the Midwest leveled pyroclasmic paragraphs at Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, hoping their sweaty words might banish his corporeal and ethereal forms from the extant realm. Of course, these are folks, like me, who hadn’t read the books and as a result lacked the hindsight and conditioned, Zen-level self-restraint of readers who had no doubt drafted the same livid letters on Windows ME, a dozen years earlier. I get it. I was gutted, too. The red wedding of “The Rains of Castamere” gives the show’s fans about as much quarter as it spares for its blindsided guests. It’s going to take a lot of Tide to save those tablecloths.

If you sense a shade of twisted glee in my words, you’re not mistaken. Fiction without misfortune is a game of Twister without sexual tension. Discomfort, grief, and pain provide the bursts of euphoria that many readers, viewers, and video game players, myself included, continue to chase in their pop culture diet. “The Rains of Castamere” is one of only a handful of wedding episodes I’ll defend to Internet Death (this season’s hard-earned Parks and Rec union being another). I don’t donate hours upon hours upon hours of my life to make-believe bullshit just to experience fleeting happiness spurred by a protagonist’s easy achievement. Success in fiction is the necessary relief of tension before plot can resume. Stories need conflict like Batman needs Joker, like Maher needs Coulter; otherwise, where’s the beef?

Okay, so I hope Bill Maher isn’t Batman; forgive the squeaky metaphor.

My favorite part of David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, outstripping Trent Reznor’s grinding compositions and James Bond’s best performance since that time he went gambling, is the trailer. As the camera creeps toward an icy manse, propelled by Reznor’s torturous static, the tagline boldly asserts itself as “THE FEEL BAD MOVIE OF CHRISTMAS.” Okay, we’ve all seen a handful of other films that are arguably feel-worse: Stoker and Sucker Punch both come to mind for two completely different reasons (guess which one I hate). Considering books, the selection of spirit-eroding fair expands to an incalculable list. For a novel to be considered Real Literature, an element of Total Bummer seems mandatory. When the commercial yang of Real Literature has the Happy Ending covered from every sun-soaked angle, however, a reprieve in the shade is refreshing.

Ooh, I hope it's a wedding! (screenshot courtesy of Chad Concelmo and Destructoid)

Ooh, I hope it’s a wedding! Mother 3, a prime example of storytelling laced with heartbreak.(screenshot courtesy of Chad Concelmo and Destructoid)

I’m not a sadist. I’m not fixated on the battered adjectives “dark” and “mature.” I don’t obsess over the character studies of Neon Genesis Evangelion or blare Smashing Pumpkins in my black bedroom with a skip-protected Sony Walkman. In my experience, however, the day-to-day of a human being doesn’t feature much closure. The tidy, satisfying, “agreeable” narrative is a human invention, born out of a distinct lack of poetic justice on Earth. To support that claim, here’s a repulsive anecdote plucked straight from my own, pathetic day-to-day. It’s no red wedding, but it’ll do just fine.

A few days ago, I drove past the local strip mall and settled at a stop sign. A young woman standing at the sizzling street corner grabbed my attention. Her clothing–a brown knit cap, a green hoodie, dark jeans– struck me as somewhat insensible given the weather, the humidity being one step above swamp and one step below Swamp Thing’s anus. She pivoted her ragged cardboard sign, a prop of hardship nearly as iconic as the plaid knapsack and bindle, to appeal to passing traffic, to appeal directly to me. I only read as far as “Out of —–” until I was overcome with a volatile mixture of shame and selfishness that pinned my eyes to the intersection ahead.

Some psychological defense mechanism buried in the reptilian region of my shitty psyche prompted the following rationalizations:

She might be a crook. She just wants money. I could be robbed. Even if she doesn’t rob me, she’ll probably just waste my twenty bucks. 

Causeless suspicion gave way to an inflated sense of futility.

I could give her less but then I’d have to go all the way to the ATM (a whole quarter-mile away). Anyway, there really isn’t any room for me to pull over (except for the nearly empty Arby’s parking lot on the corner) and I don’t have time to talk to her (the iced coffee I had left for being the far more urgent matter).

And then, because it was inevitable, the washing of my hands entirely:

Someone else will come along.

Deep down, I knew she wasn’t a thief. If I had actually suspected her, I wouldn’t have arrived at the weak conclusion that her knight would come along with his twenty bucks and fulfill the destiny bequeathed unto him and certainly not me. I wrote that happy ending as a psychological tool, a rusted shovel to bury the nagging, inconvenient truth in its tiny coffin.

So I kept driving, obviously. My glance only wavered toward the rear view mirror a few times on that long stretch of road between Sonic and my secret shame. Once I tasted the needless cream whipped atop my deliberately chilled, chocolate-flavored coffee, I had nearly forgiven myself for my valiant failure. Then, I turned back onto Washington.

Is she still there? Oh, please let her not be.

She was, of course. As I approached that contentious corner, a spontaneous burst of neurosis froze my hands to the wheel and my foot to the pedal. I drifted on for three blocks, detouring. She probably hadn’t even noticed me pass; thank god for that. I’d have felt way worse if she’d made eye contact or if, like, I’d spotted a single, tiny tear crawling down her cheek. Or if she slowly mouthed “why” and fell to her knees in my rear view. Good thing I didn’t look.

You want whipped cream on that? You do, right? Of course you do. What? Under your fingernails? I'll get the pliers. And more WHIPPED CREAM.

You want whipped cream on that? You do, right? Of course you do. What? Under your fingernails? I’ll get the pliers. And more WHIPPED CREAM.

Back at my lot, I rattled a coffee-bereft Sonic cup and peered in at the remaining pile of ice, unrecognizable as such having been completely transformed by whipped cream.

Maybe they won’t know it’s just frozen water if we fucking murder it underneath this sugary cow shit. 

My left leg dangled from the car door, not ready to commit to pavement.

I should go back.

I spent about fifteen minutes deliberating, swinging my foot like a pendulum, weighing my guilt against my willingness to be inconvenienced.

I should do it. I’m going to do it.

As I doubled back to satisfy my conscience, a Hallmark Original Movie premiered inside my head, without commercial interruption. I was already doing it.

I smile as I see her leaning against the stop sign, still doing her thing. She wipes beads of exhaustion from her brow until the sweat overwhelms her hands, runs down her face, from the creases of her hazel eyes. I coyly slip into Arby’s and emerge after five short minutes, carrying a large sweet tea.

“I hope you like sweet tea,” I say sheepishly as I approach with drink outstretched. It’s a funny thing to say because that’s exactly what I brought. My joke isn’t lost on her.

“Doesn’t look like I have much of a choice,” she laughs, flashing her whites. Somehow the single gold tooth only enhances her charm. She’s a tramp with a heart of gold and a tooth to boot. I hold her bindle while she accepts.

Voracious, she empties the cup in moments and pries open the lid to scoop out whipped cream. While we chat, she swirls gobs of the stuff onto her finger and into her mouth. I’m tantalized by a speck of white hitching a ride on her dimpled chin. Soon, I can’t resist the temptation to dab gently at the cream with a thumb. I’m surprised; I had no romantic intention, just an unwavering sense of humanism and a few bucks to lend, but now it seems that my measly twenty dollars is the least pressing matter on both of our minds. Her false tooth testifies with a sensual glint. Using my opposite thumb I tap her button nose affectionately while the same hand’s pinkie finger tucks a few adorable strands of dirty blonde hair behind her ear, with some effort. As I lean in to impart her with a taste of my altruism,

she crosses her eyes,

grunts like a caveman,

and takes a frothy dump, right on the dry grass.

She was gone. The street corner had been vacated.

As fantasy disintegrated, disappointment faded into a vapid smile.

Someone else came along. That’s great.

After pulling into Arby’s and ordering a large sweet tea, I counted the change.

Damn.

I’d had to break that twenty.

Schoolhouse Rock tells us that Necessity is (literally) the mother of Invention. With fiction, that’s true in a couple of ways. The sunny tales we tell our children, those were invented of the necessity to explain a reality so incomprehensible and frightening in its totality that it needed to be divided into verdant meadows and creaking forests. The grass of the idyllic meadow is soft and inviting; provocative fairies and vaccinated animals drink from dinky acorn tea cups and recline against La-Z-Boy mushrooms. There will always be time for excursions to the meadows, but be wary: the tea cups brim with high fructose corn syrup. A protracted visit will leave you fattened, sluggish, and entirely devoured.

Pictured: Labyrinth, a film ostensibly intended for children.

Pictured: Labyrinth, a film ostensibly intended for children.

If you can crawl away, do so. Pull yourself up, careful not to tip over, and let that momentum carry you stumbling into the sanctuary of the abyssal forest. The sun of the meadow cannot penetrate the forest’s thick canvas. Slivers of light skip across the suggestions of a world primordial. Your eyes slowly adjust to the hue of obsidian. Rustling leaves are drowned in the ringing of ears are drowned in perfect silence. The thrill of fear urges your limbs forward.

George R.R. Martin’s squat outline leans against a mossy rock. He lives here, apparently, and listens as the trees whisper tragedies. You wave but he evades eye contact and turns his head affectedly. He’s thinking of killing someone. You attempt to conceal your bruised ego with a cool-looking shrug before carrying on.

The forest can never be fully learned. Its trees uproot and shift with each visit. However, the mementos you return with are precious. They inspire further exploration. As you continue, you note that the forest has another constant: this land is at an incline.

You ascend into new darkness, pioneering the black, and begin to feel good about feeling so bad.

Yeah. Just don’t kill Arya.

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Project Silverscreen NEO: Stoker

Although the true nature of Project Silverscreen is the subject of heated discussion among web historians, most scholars can agree that it was almost certainly a feature of this very blog and was likely focused loosely on classic film. Unfortunately, since the last entry was recently dated a frightening 36 billion Tweets old, a fresh re-branding has been prescribed and will be carried out posthaste.

This is Project Silverscreen NEO.

Preface Postface: As Stoker is relatively new and I am relatively kind, this review avoids explicit spoilers. However, for the interest of discussion, some plot details are inevitable.

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Stoker is:
Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman

Do people change?

Fictional ones do, at least. Fiction is so brimming with hero journeys and three act lives that a pop culture consumer might start to buy into the idea. Maybe the extra self-reflection awards some journeymen with deep, corrective insight; in my experience, though, comparisons with the reductive growth of calculated protagonists lead only to pangs of dissatisfaction and romantically-distorted expectations. Sugar helps the medicine go down, but it is increasingly difficult to detect a trace of medicine in the power fantasies and manic pixie dream diets today’s film audiences are trough-fed.

Stoker is an overdose. In the cold dialogue and colder performances, one immediately tastes the bitter hint of a movie that shouldn’t work. In Stoker, characters crave violence (and, fair warning, carnally: the movie might have been renamed Stroker, as the film’s school bully keenly suggests) and yet this violence is not fetishized or padded with exaggeration. In Stoker, there are no characters that serve as moral ciphers. In Stoker, there is only a chilling absence where the protagonist should be. It’s fucking nuts, then, that Stoker is not only a fascinating study of sociopathy but a riveting film in its own right.

Let’s get my problems with the movie out of the way; there are two. First, the film is top-heavy with clumsy, expository exchanges that sound about as natural as an Emo Philips joke. India is supposedly attune to details and sounds that others overlook, but the idea that housemaids and caretakers walk around spouting Information like JRPG NPCs is difficult for me to reconcile with the rest of the movie, which is subtle, suggestive, symbolic, and nowhere near as jarringly loud these two points of contention. The second of said points is Stoker’s high school “bullying” scenes, which seem to have been culled almost entirely from Nickelodeon’s Doug. In one scene, the school’s head bully shouts blatant rape threats while sitting behind India in art class and capturing her crude likeness in a nude sketch. The teacher, somehow oblivious to the first 90% of the bully’s extreme abuse, responds to the hubbub with the verbal equivalent of a slap on the wrist; the scene ends. The extent of the school authorities’ absolute terror under this kid’s reign becomes clear in the second “bullying” scene, in which Head Bully makes a few more rape jokes while perched on a discarded armchair throne (one of four or five which are inexplicably sitting on the grass near the sidewalk that India uses as a detour on this particular school day). He’s presented as a secondary school sultan or, alternatively, a Heathcliff villain. His jokes (which are about as sophisticated as you’d expect from a cow-licked, adolescent shit) didn’t offend my sensibilities, but the ridiculous, cartoonish representation of bullying did; it’s lifted straight from an after-school special, sans rape-related content. Maybe these blunt scenes are meant to reflect India’s heightened senses; whatever the case, they simply do not match the measured confidence with which the remainder of the film is conveyed.

There. I’m done bitching.

Criticisms aside, the majority of Stoker is gorgeously composed and very much in line with director Park Chan-wook’s filmography. Certain shots and transitions in Stoker are every bit as striking as the best scenes from his Vengeance trilogy. On the surface, Stoker fits right in: it even features the breathless two-act construction of many of Park’s films, leaving the audience disoriented and unable to calculate how many minutes are left until the resolution in Act Three allows them to expectorate Acts One and Two into the nearest porcelain bowl. However, like an icebox with something sinister resting beneath the Chunky Monkey, India’s story is frostbitten to its core.

stokericebox

In previous Park films, we meet good people who are forced into nasty situations. “Sympathy” commands an equal share opposite “Vengeance.” On a broader level, it’s commonly accepted that a palatable movie requires someone the audience can get behind, or else the film must punish the shit out of those unruly, fictional bastards until they redeem themselves on their death beds. Stoker absolutely refutes such a narrative while remaining completely watchable (for those of solid constitution), maybe even enjoyable or cathartic. Park’s New England mansion is inhabited by disassociated personalities who shock and disgust in their defiance to change for the better. India does not see herself as one person, but rather as a stalk of wheat arrested by the wind. There is a girl for every angle of her face; each change in her environment creates another India and destroys the last. Stoker’s is a curiously Zen-like representation of sociopathy, a meditation on the result of Self absolution. The concept of India as one comprehensive being does not exist. Consequently, she only feels responsibility toward Newton’s third law. She is almost purely reactive.

India’s actions are told in a boggling, recursive fashion. Pieces of the film’s plot are pressed flush into place only to be yanked later and jammed elsewhere. You’ll spend as much time hashing out Stoker’s particulars after the credits as you will deciphering India’s muted expressions during the movie. Revealing scenes force the viewer to return to previous events and expand the initially elided account.

It’s not just the storytelling: every element of Stoker is duplicitous. The characters, India, her mother Eve, and psychotic charmer Uncle Charlie, flip like dynamic billboards. The direction moves like a magic eye puzzle, driven by clever transitions and juxtapositions. The dreamlike composition is sometimes symmetrical, sometimes starkly contrasting. The plot, to reiterate, doubles back on itself in mystifying contortions like Ouroboros or an advanced chapter of the Kama Sutra.

stokerumbrella

Perhaps Stoker warns against the dangers of expectations. India loses herself in letters, books, memories of her father, and detaches from a tragic reality until she discovers her criteria for happiness has been disturbingly and permanently altered. We watch romantic comedies and underdog tales and our expectations are skewed to demand marked character growth, three clean acts, and a happy ending to boot. Then again, by attempting to extract a simple lesson I might be missing the point entirely. Maybe, like India the loving daughter, the point does not exist.

Here’s what I do know: during my sophomore year at university, I was enrolled in a class dedicated to the reading and writing of the “personal essay.” I did honest work in that class. I wrote about depression and personal ghosts, or at least the figments I then mistook for phantoms. My best essay, however, ends with a sunny spin. There is the classic implication of real “corner-turning” and the uplifting promise of a “lesson learned.” I’d like to be able to defend the essay’s final paragraph and say that it wasn’t just manipulative artifice. I’d like to say I’ve changed, that I’m different now.

I can say that my professor loved it.

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If you, unlike that professor probably, dug Stoker, check out Chan-wook Park’s trilogy of excellent thrillers: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy,  and (my personal favorite) Lady Vengeance. If you didn’t dig Stoker and are probably a much happier person for it, watch them anyway. Take your medicine, it’s good for you.

Still Clapping

One Nerd’s Harrowing Tale

wereback

So- it’s been a while. The disparity between this blog’s date and the date of the previous post is a little embarrassing. Not that I should be embarrassed; you, physically and spiritually attractive, theoretical reader, and I, we both know that single/hand/clap is mostly therapeutic and wholly self-serving. When I shattered that aged Yoohoo against single/hand/clap on the first day of her maiden voyage, I did not intend for the vessel to be so easily lost amidst the roiling eddies of the World Wide Web. I had hoped for new soil to piss on, deeper navels in which to gaze- maybe a few friendly ears or one ear or just my mother.

Hi, mom.

“Hey, how about you indulge some more?” A heckler shouts. I invented him because I am my own worst enemy.

“Buy deeper navels at half-price!” The bot doesn’t come from my psyche but it does offer deep cuts.

I began writing under single/hand/clap for the explicit purpose of indulgence. It’s my own, nerdy way to interface with the pop culture I adore while maintaining a (self) convincing facade of writerly productivity.  Somewhere between departure and the Island of Deepest Navels, I began to focus excessively on the “productivity” part. Eventually, I spent more time worrying about regularity (not a standard concern for a young man) instead of writing regularly. Self-renewing mind traps are sort of a specialty of mine; unfortunately neurosis is a hard sell for mainstream audiences.

Well, reader, theoretical or not, you’re the captive audience for my misery. I’m Cathy “Master Class” Bates and you’re front and center for a surge of literary onanism.

Too gross?

Point is, I’ve done a lot of thinking regarding the fate of single/hand/clap and I find myself unwilling to jump ship just yet. The content will remain more or less the same: one day, heavy-handed film impressions; the next week, a meandering discussion of obscure fiction tropes; three more blood moons and just maybe you’ll find stumble upon a protracted exploration of the intertextuality between William Blake and a cartoon program for children and struggling adults with English degrees.

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If you like that sort of thing, great. Maybe leave a comment. If not, I’d be glad to direct you to a variety of top ten lists or slideshows elsewhere.

The narcissism is in the name: single/hand/clap is my little police state.*

*It’s also a ship, the Cathy Bates thriller Misery, and the concept of self-pleasuring, if you’re counting every tossed-off analogy.**

**Oh, so you’re that guy, reader?

Questions about Pokémon: Blue Version

  1. Do the different versions represent alternate universes? Are these Red and Blue versions only a sliver on the vast rainbow of existence?
    1. Does each version represent a reality in which urban development endangered the habitats of variable species?
    2. If so, are humans the true Pocket Monsters?
  2. How do Potions work? They just spray on your Pokémon and somehow heal burnt, cut and frost-bitten flesh? Do they sting?
    1. How does a move named “Guillotine” cause only fainting? Perhaps Pokémon necks are especially resilient.
  3. How do Pokémon die, anyway? They obviously do: there’s an entire memorial tower dedicated to Pokémon corpses.
    1. Does everything become a Ghastly? Do humans become Ghost Pokémon if they lead really shitty lives?
      1. There is obviously some set of spiritual beliefs held by the people of Kanto. What is it? How do skeptics feel about the apparently confirmed existence of the paranormal?
  4. If Pikachu is the Mouse Pokémon, does that imply the existence of regular animals in Kanto? How can Pokémon be named after animals from our reality if those same animals didn’t at one point exist? Are there a bunch of normal animals hanging out in Kanto that everyone just ignores because they don’t shoot lightning?
    1. Are Pokémon an invasive species that killed all the regular animals by shooting lightning at them, probably?
  5. How do TMs and HMs work? So they’re compact discs? Are they DVDs? Do they fit into a portable DVD player and play instructional videos on how to use Fire Blast? Who is making these discs (Silph Co., probably?)?
  6. How are Pokémon converted into digital media? What is their file type? Do they retain virtual awareness? How does time pass inside a PC? Is it like Narnia? Do Pokémon live entire lives inside of Bill’s PC?
    1. A common question: what goes on inside a Pokéball? How does that work? If certain Pokémon enjoy certain types of balls more than others, does that mean that a regular Pokéball is sort of like a low-rent apartment?
  7. Why are Pokémon trainers in Pewter City so much worse than trainers in Fuschia? Was it providence that you just so happened to begin your journey in the perfect place to accommodate an ideal difficulty curve?
  8. Why doesn’t Team Rocket just shoot you with a gun? Aren’t they criminals?
    1. Did the existence of lethal creatures discourage military development? Do guns even exist? War?
  9. Why did it take three years for the sun to set in Kanto? Did everyone just shuffle around in a sleep-deprived daze spouting instructional information before that? Is nighttime a technological innovation in the Pokémon world?
    1. How can there be a Pokémon Daycare if there’s no distinction between night and day in the first place?
  10. Why is Kanto’s infrastructure so shitty? City limits are marked by gigantic Duplo blocks, transportation is restricted by a hegemony of HMs (which seem to be in scarce quantity) and vital trade routes are completely shut down by obese Pokémon and obstinate security guards (whose thirsts, however mighty, should not impede public good).
    1. Did Kanto lift an Isolationist policy between the first and second set of games? Where did that passage to Johto come from?
      1. A lot of change occurred in Kanto between Pokemons Blue/Red and Gold/Silver. Industrial revolutions are usually spurred by an initial discovery or innovation. Was there an influx of technology inherited from Johto? The gulf in technological sophistication between Kanto and Johto is enough to fuel a study of its own.
  11. Is Oak omniscient? More likely, has he bugged your Pokédex? How does he know when you’re attempting to ride a bike indoors? Why is it any of his business where you ride your own damn bike?
    1. Where do you keep that bike? In your backpack?
  12. If the Pokédex is already pre-loaded with a complete catalog of information on every Pokémon, why is it even necessary to “catch ’em all”? Is Professor Oak pulling your dick?
    1. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps the Pokédex is a highly sophisticated piece of technology that observes and instantly records data on a Pokémon the moment you catch it. That seems doubtful, though.
  13. Why were you ever friends with Gary?
    1. Is it possible that you did something to deserve his loathing? Think.
      1. It’s probably your fault.
  14. Why does the population of Kanto suffer from a severe combination of tunnel vision and nearsightedness?
    1. Maybe it’s an unforeseen effect of Potion waste in the water system?
    2. Alternatively, maybe strict social norms are in place which prohibit breaking one’s line of vision.
  15. How do I get Mew?

Nothings adds up: Kanto is a strangely composed, sparsely populated world in which the central phenomenon, the Pokémon themselves, is presented without question. It’s like convincing science fiction.

Ditto

Or perhaps it is science fiction.

From beginning to end, Pokémon  revisits one motif: virtual reality. After an interview with Professor Oak, the player shrinks into an avatar. It’s cute, but what if your new form is more than a simple aesthetic touch? The world outside Pallet Town seems as if it was designed around Red’s success; life’s obstacles fold magically as you sweep the Pokémon League (a feat which absurdly stands as the objectively greatest achievement known to Kantokind) and foil the country’s only criminals. The digital and the biological flirt in a nonsensical fog. Occasionally, however, you are made privy to your fantasy’s underpinnings:  you trade.

The room is clinical, white. You’re unsettled to notice a familiar face sitting opposite the Exchange Module. It’s your own. Suddenly, before you materializes a cable and something called a Game Boy and everything makes sense. Playing Pokémon is to play a game about a player playing a game. You trade Magmar for Electabuzz.

After returning to the lobby of the Pokémon Center, the virtual entity known as Nurse Joy is oblivious to your epiphany. She can’t know that she beholds God.

You fire a knowing glance and mount your bike.

OAK:  PLAYER! This isn’t the time to use that!

You pedal hard.

Project Silverscreen: Requiem for a Dream

According to Webster’s New World Dictionary (1976; the bicentennial edition):

Re•qui•em (rek′wê ∂m, râk’-, rêk’-) n. [ME. < L., acc. of requies, rest (see RE- & QUIET): first word of the Introit in the Latin Mass for the Dead] [also r-] 1. R.C.Ch. a) a Mass for the repose of the soul or souls of a dead person or persons b) a celebration of this c) a musical setting for this 2. any musical service, hymn, or dirge for the repose of the dead 3. a dirgelike song, chant, or poem

You know what it is! …is not the new slogan for Project Silverscreen, a sometimes belated weekly feature that takes a look at a classic film and vaguely nods, but not before displaying some words on your screen. Maybe read them, because someone in 2012 went to the effort of locating and transcribing a physical dictionary for the sake of authenticity.

Stop smiling, ma. It’s not that kind of movie.

No matter where Requiem for a Dream starts, you can be certain it won’t end up anywhere sunny and verdant. The title promises this much. In a twisted way, however, the whole damned ensemble of Darren Aronofsky’s seminal downer does fulfill their deepest wish. Just as last week’s film, The Graduate, ends on a long, pensive look at the ebbing adrenaline of its eloping couple, Requiem lingers on four similar, sequential images. After twenty, largely dialogue-free minutes of escalating horror, an overhead shot resolves each of the four primary characters’ narratives with one idea: at the nadir of their lives, these victims have achieved absolute anesthesia. If you’ll indulge some freshman-level psychoanalysis for a moment (it’s the kind I’m best at), Requiem for a Dream’s ending is a classic return to the womb.

One ideal–freedom from emotional pain and external oppression–is the sanctuary everyone seeks inside and beyond Aronofsky’s film. Sara Goldfarb hopes to find it by earning celebrity, a commodity that she fantasizes will nullify her son’s dismal life and her husband’s death. Harry Goldfarb, his girlfriend Marion and his partner Tyrone have less distance to fall: obligations flit from awareness as soon as they pass out of sight; their only concern is scrounging up the cash to accommodate the next trip. Infantilism, the way our recollection of infancy surfaces within our personality, is the name of the game for the dreamers: drugs are the “good mother” of Freudian theory, a constant embrace that protects them from harsh reality, the “bad mother” of responsibility and hardship, an amalgamation of all their discomfort. Much of Freud’s work has fallen out of favor, but the idea of the “splitting” of the mother, a consequence of traumatic mothering, still resonates. Considering how Freud’s criticism informs the ill motivations of Requiem for a Dream, it’s difficult not to imagine the addicts’ needle as a debilitating teat–maybe on a super cold day.

Jacques Lacan, a psychoanalyst not quite as famous but just as foundational, offers another understanding of infant psychology and, tangentially, the infantile adults of the picture. Lacan presents human development as a journey through several worlds. Lois Tyson, in Critical Theory Today, provides a succinct outline: we are inaugurated in fog, not perceiving where one’s self ends and the exterior world begins; after Lacan’s Mirror Stage (estimated at approximately six to eight months) we develop a sense of self as if examining our physical boundaries in a mirror and the fog begins to lift; the Mirror Stage begins our existence in Lacan’s second world, the Imaginary Order. Tyson describes the Imaginary Order as a “world of fullness,” a complete and satisfying union with the mother where the Desire of the Mother is the single determining factor, the last word in contentedness. The Imaginary Order is, as far as the infant can tell, a perfect existence. It’s our first benchmark for quality of life and, unfortunately, nothing afterward compares. We learn language, we develop meaning; we learn what it means to be separated from perfection forever. The Symbolic Order comes along, mucks everything up and forms the prison from which we’ll try to escape every day of our lives.

We were talking about a movie, right? There’s a whole lot of Lacan in Requiem for a Dream, some bits more blatant than others. Mom is everywhere: Tyrone gazes wistfully at a photograph of his own mother throughout the film; Harry and Marion futilely seek perfect companionship in each other; Sara, Harry’s own forgotten mother, grasps at old times and an old dress which is tinted with the rose color of nostalgia. It’s important to note that Sara also clings to a photo of Harry’s graduation that features Harry, departed husband Seymour, Sara and the red dress; although Sara presents the moment captured in this photograph as the height of her own happiness, the Harry in the photo isn’t smiling. From the moment we are initiated into the Symbolic Order, lack is a fact of life. We are never without that emptiness, even in our best moments.

Requiem for a Dream isn’t a cautionary tale warning against the dangers of drug addiction. Drugs are simply a convenient, universal, modern day substitute for Gatsby’s Daisy (or, more recently, Spike Spiegel of Cowboy Bebop and his Julia). They are the ensemble’s objet petit a, Lacan’s term for, as Tyson puts it, “anything that puts [them] with [their] repressed desire for [their] lost object” (that object being, of course, the mother of the Imaginary Order). The various drugs of Requiem for a Dream are used as opiates to distract from a bleak present and fading future.

Toward the end of Aronofsky’s film, Harry revisits a dream from earlier. He stands on a sunlit pier suspended over blue ocean. It is a rare scene in Requiem, one saturated with light and luscious colors; we know it can’t be real.  Harry casts his eyes toward the pier’s end where Marion waits with back turned. As she turns around, he stumbles back, engulfed in darkness. Marion, the pier, the ocean dissipates. That lack comes creeping back. As our fallen friends assume the fetal position, we get the feeling they have finally earned their permanent place in placebo paradise.

Next up: Chinatown