Tommy Ingram's Eclectic Variety Show

How these curiosities would be quite forgot, did not such idle fellows as I am put them down.

Category: TV

The Lebowski Gambit, part 4: The Video Guy II: Electric Boogaloo

Previously…

The video guy redeems himself very slightly by making an interesting point at the beginning of this video.[0:51] He argues that, in a speech about banning certain video games, Hillary Clinton implicitly denies their inherent value by pointing to superficial instrumental values: they can be educational, improve hand-eye coordination, &c. He then argues that Anita Sarkeesian does the same thing.[1:05]

The substance of his point deserves more discussion than I will give it here. I will tentatively allow that this might be what Clinton is up to, but it is unlikely that Sarkeesian—a pop culture critic, whose job it is to believe that pop culture has some inherent importance—is trying to diminish the importance of video games in this way. Indeed, Clinton is trying to ban certain games. Sarkeesian is trying to explore them critically. That difference in context counts for a lot. Read the rest of this entry »

The Lebowski Gambit, part 3: The Video Guy

Previously…

The video guy’s hatchet job of Sarkeesian is in two parts, here and here. Part 1 begins with a childish rhetorical move, and such moves characterize much of its runtime. I will not respond directly to these, as they are beneath contempt.

I had intended to link to specific parts of the video, but my usual method for that (adding ?t=XmXs to the URL) is not working for these videos. This means I have to paraphrase inline, resulting in a lot more “he said she said” than I’d like. I will cite statements from the videos by putting the time at which the statement begins in square brackets like so: [2:30]. Read the rest of this entry »

The Lebowski Gambit part 2: Whiny Guys on The Escapist

Previously…

Well, that was some mighty long groundwork-laying, wasn’t it? I promise I’ll get to the point very soon, but there’s just one more bit of background you might need.

Who is Anita Sarkeesian?

Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist who has created two popular video series on Youtube (Feminist Frequency and Tropes vs. Women) and is working on a third (Tropes vs. Women in Video Games). I watched a couple of her videos when they started appearing in the news recently. They’re not my thing, but they’re well made and have pretty sound analysis (though as always there are things here and there I disagree with). The only complaint you can reasonably make about them is that they’re too basic and never really go beyond the 101 level. However, 101-level stuff often needs restating, and she’s not trying to reinvent the wheel. She’s just trying to provide a feminist voice in a venue where you still don’t have to go far to find neo-Nazis.

When Sarkeesian announced her new series on video games and set up a Kickstarter page to fund it, harassing, misogynistic comments started flowing in. There were death threats, there were rape threats, there were unspeakable things said. Anyone who has spent any time reading feminists on the Internet (as I do now and then) knows that this is fairly common, although it doesn’t usually happen on this scale and this publically. When the story got picked up and amplified, donations to her Kickstarter went through the roof, and as I understand it now her project is quite well-funded. So, bad things happened, but it came to a happy ending, right?

Well, not exactly. You see, the Escapist thread I happened across seemed to be accusing Sarkeesian of being a scam artist. There were very few dissenting voices, and even they made a few concessions to the OP. Among the people who most need to hear Sarkeesian’s message, some really shocking ideas about her are in common currency. My intention here is to mount a defence of Sarkeesian against these people.

More importantly, a twenty-minute, two part video was linked in the OP of that thread. The video is repulsive throughout and at some points so shockingly stupid I could hardly believe what I was hearing. But the video’s maker (hereafter referred to as “the video guy”) would claim to be a serious person, and I feel a certain amount of responsibility to deflate this claim definitively. As the actress said to the bishop, I have a feeling this is going to be a long one. Read the rest of this entry »

The Lebowski Gambit: or, A Matter of Opinion

Over the last few months I’ve written several times about people I’ve referred to as “lily-livered opinion-mongers”—the ones who turn up in the comment threads of negative reviews everywhere and demand that “but that’s just my opinion” be used as a hedge. I feel that it’s time for a long-form statement on the subject, clarifying what this phenomenon is and what’s wrong with it. This is something I’ve always wanted to write, but never gotten around to until just now. As a bonus, I am going to weigh in on the Anita Sarkeesian Kickstarter thing, although that’s going to be in part 2. —TMI

“That’s just your opinion”

The first order of business is to make it clear what I’m talking about. In the movie The Big Lebowski, The Dude and his friends, sitting in the bowling alley and shooting the shit, are interrupted by their arch-rival, Jesus Quintana. The following immortal exchange occurs:

Jesus: Liam and me, we’re gonna fuck you up.

Dude: Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, uh, your opinion, man.

What has happened here? Why is this exchange funny?

Jesus has advanced a proposition. Call it a hypothesis. No, even better, call it an opinion. He says that his team is going to beat the Dude in the bowling tournament.

The Dude responds. He does not agree. But neither does he offer a counter-proposition (“no, actually we will fuck you and Liam up”). Instead, he makes a statement that is epistemologically correct, but irrelevant. Of course it’s Jesus’s opinion. He wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t his opinion. The question is, is Jesus’s opinion right or not? The Dude has given us no reason to believe it is not.

This is all funny because it’s in a context—amateur bowling leagues—where there are objective and uncontroversial ways of determining whose opinion is justified. Compare scores of recent games. Factor in practice time. Or even just wait a week and see who wins. The Dude says “that’s just your opinion” when he could say “our averages for the past dozen games are higher than yours” or something like that.

Unfortunately, outside the artificial realm of sports you’re unlikely to encounter situations that are this cut and dry. That’s where “that’s just your opinion” starts to muddy the waters. It can be, and often is, not just a confused statement, but an attempt to shut down an argument by someone who doesn’t like where it’s going. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s just a show…

I’ve been watching episodes of MST3k lately, as part of a Sunday night movie-and-laundry-folding ritual. They’re not strongly ordered, so you can watch them out of order and see how the show’s character changed over the eleven years of its run. For instance, the first few Joel-hosted seasons had an emphasis on classic B-movies of the 50s and 60s, often in black and white with wooden, indifferent acting (Ed Wood’s movies, Daddy-O, Gamera). Mike’s tenure had a lot of newer films that often involved synth rock and were usually overacted (Space Mutiny, Hobgoblins, The Pumaman).

One of the things you notice, if you immerse yourself in the show, is that you very rarely laugh at the introduction and interludes. In the beginning, the show featured the pre-movie “invention exchange” between Joel and the Mads. Joel was a prop comic and that was the sort of thing he did before his TV career. Mike did them too, at first, but quickly stopped in favour of skits and musical interludes. In these skits, it’s easy to recognize what Chuck Klosterman calls the “form of funny”, but they’re not usually laugh-out-loud affairs, especially Joel’s. Mike was somewhat more energetic as a performer, and Joel’s comic persona had (intentionally, I’ve heard) a bit of the stoner in it.

Still, Joel was the better host. Read the rest of this entry »

RIP Roger Abbott

Air Farce actor Roger Abbott has died. I remember staying up late to see reruns of Royal Canadian Air Farce, and his performances were always a treat. He’ll be missed.

24: A Retrospective

24 has been one of the most interesting shows of the past decade. It was presented in real time, with each season spanning a single day and every episode representing one hour. But this was just a gimmick, something to get us hooked. The real reason 24 became so great was that it was a brilliantly written, tightly-plotted, and exciting show.

24‘s last episode aired yesterday, and we waved goodbye to Jack Bauer and his ever-rotating list of colleagues. Since it started in 2001, it’s been a wild ride, with some euphorically high points and stomach-voidingly low ones, and quite a lot in between. Every minute of it was tense excitement, and at the end of the day our questions were satisfactorily answered, unlike in certain competing shows (ahem). Let’s take a moment to reminisce on the good times and the bad times. Read the rest of this entry »

Serenity: Really Not That Great

Firefly is one of the great failures of modern science fiction. Not because it’s bad–in the show’s half-season run, it never had a real bad episode. It’s a failure because something so good managed to do so poorly commercially. Most of this is undoubtedly Fox’s fault–the algorithm they used to determine the show’s schedule has to this day never been explained. It was relegated to the dread Friday slot, and inconsistently at that. Episodes were aired out of order, and sometimes not at all. Eventually the whole thing was simply canned. After a massive campaign by devout fans, a movie was greenlit: Serenity. As you might expect, it failed in theatres and since then there’s only been Firefly comics. In keeping with the Joss Whedon tradition, the comics have been largely horrible.

I’ve heard it said that Serenity was a great movie, maybe even the greatest sci-fi film ever. Orson Scott Card certainly thinks so, and an SFX magazine poll agrees. Total Sci-Fi Online is more hesitant, ranking it at #88. This is an assessment I can’t agree with. Serenity is certainly a fine way to spend an evening, but as a serious movie, it’s lacking. Read the rest of this entry »

Tropes are not bad: The Parable of the Sculptor

A sculptor laid out his tools in front of a blank block of marble. He closed his eyes and envisioned the finished product. He wanted to carve a bust of Pallas. Why not? They’re all the rage these days, and he could sculpt like no other, creating a truly unrivalled Athena. He set to work carving, and within a few hours he had a beautiful sculpture. He gave it to a museum to display, but they rejected the piece. The letter from the curator said that marble sculptures were tired and cliched. They were looking for pieces carved from new, exciting materials like thorium.

The sculptor, not one to be easily rebuffed, put on his best HAZMAT suit and started carving a new sculpture from thorium. The new sculpture was just like the old one, only with a silvery metallic colour, and the inconvenient habit of causing anyone who directly touched it to grow a third arm. The sculptor sent this one in, too, but received it back with another letter from the curator. This letter, written in very shaky handwriting, said that he liked the artistic statement the sculpture made, but it doesn’t demonstrate new horizons in the craft of sculpting. It uses the same old techniques that everyone’s been using for hundreds of years. The letter suggested that the sculptor try something innovative. Read the rest of this entry »

Once More With Feeling – Great Television?

The general opinion among Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom is that the sixth season is the worst. Beloved characters were twisted and (literally in one case) raped. The show had been very antagonist-driven up to that point, and season six was the only one that didn’t have a “Big Bad”. However, one episode that is usually given as an exception is the musical, Once More With Feeling. It’s true that the episode is a lot of fun, but the song-and-dance format really takes your mind off of the plot and characters. You get so caught up in the music, which is for the most part excellent, that one plain fact gets lost: Once More is not any better than the other season six episodes, and much worse than some of them. Read the rest of this entry »