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Sunday, May 22, 2016

"We're Still Friends Right?" Fanfictional Trauma and Captain America: Civil War

"Forty million readers follow the Gumps. ... If I could prove it I would say there are exactly 16,847,915 3/4 people writing to Sidney Smith, care of the Chicago Tribune, with suggestions as to what he should do with the Gumps next. And inasmuch as most of us take the Gumps seriously and expect to have our suggestions followed, the problem of these suggestions is a real one, after all."
--William Fleming French, describing an example of the problem of fannish engagement for newspaper comic The Gumps, quoted in Jared Gardner's Projections
There are really only two places you can have the villain of one major franchise sing a song from another major franchise. One of those places is in fanfiction.

But hold that thought while we talk about this image from Age of Ultron and what it can tell us about Captain America: Civil War.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Just Peachy: Homestuck, Act 6, and Difficulty

==> Storming the Ivory Tower Writer: Fondly Observe Libations

You, which is to say I, observe your, which is to say my, IMMACULATE DOMAIN, containing my IMMACULATE CHAIR and IMMACULATE SELF. You (read: I) have cleared away all those EXTRA SAM KEEPERS which were clogging up the joint, repaired the roof that's been busted for SEVERAL YEARS, and finally gotten some NICE WINE which you (still me) are currently fondly regarding.

You (I) have achieved the absolute apex of God Tier powers, which includes among other things fixing roofs, ushering extraneous versions of people gently but firmly out of the narrative so they don't clutter up things for the real, true versions, and to make absolute pronouncements with assured certainty, which everyone will accept automatically you're sure (which is to say I am sure).

==> StIT Writer: Demonstrate Abilities.

Act 6 and Act 7 do a much better job of addressing and resolving character arcs than [s] Cascade does.

Boom. See that?

Staggering in its radical brilliance but fundamentally undeniable in its accuracy.

(Sam Keeper): What? You can't just say something like that and pat yourself on the back! There's loads of stuff you'd have to explain to make that make sense to people.

==> StIT Writer: Ignore Unwelcome Intrusion

(Sam Keeper): Are you listening to me? You're leaving out so much important information, like even ignoring the fact that you haven't explained why you're even MAKING that comparison, the comparison is only interesting if you talk about a bunch of other stuff that Act 6 is doing. I mean yeah the whole act is basically about experiencing difficulty and working through that difficulty rather than expecting flashy magical solutions, and that APPLIES to this comparison, but the comparison really isn't interesting unless you talk about all that stuff first!

(Sam Keeper): In fact, even people that seem to agree with me that the end of Homestuck was pretty great take as given the idea that [s] Cascade resolved a load of stuff, and they position [s] Act 7 in opposition to this.

(Sam Keeper): Look, just, fill people in a bit! Act 6 is difficult but that difficulty is really interesting and worth talking about, so let's talk about it!

==> StIT Writer: Indulge This Walking Narrative Cul-De-Sac

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Homestuck, Destiny, and why Social Constructs are Bullshit

==> StIT Reader: Survey The Mayhem

You enter the pub to find that things are EVEN WORSE THAN USUAL. Most notably, there seem to be MANY SAM KEEPERS. This is a terrible development, you think to yourself. And you are correct. One Sam Keeper was already just about all that you could handle. This is ENTIRELY TOO MANY SAM KEEPERS.

The most agitated looking of the Sam Keepers is PONTIFICATING ABOUT SOME BULLSHIT.

==> StIT Reader: Listen to pontification

Sam Keeper: Oh god, who could have possibly predicted that my extremely nebulously defined and possibly totally bullshit powers as the mythic Page of Paper could have caused so many problems? All the jumping I've done recently between various places has just created all these weird, kind of creepy alternate versions of myself, and now the whole blog is stuck under some mountain... I'll never finish my epic quest at this point and grow up to be a Well Adjusted Adult! And I have this whole article to write about how totally perfect and unassailable every aspect of Troll culture is! What the heck am I going to do???

==> StIT Reader: Offer to listen to Keeper's excellent theories about quadrant shipping

Hell no. Keeper made her bed and she can sleep in it. Or more specifically she stole your chair and she can sit in it. Yeah, that metaphor scans, kinda. Anyway it's probably just Keeper's intractable destiny to fuck everything up forever.

Hold on, though, it looks like one of the other Keepers has something to say.

==> Sam Coper: Sort this mess out

Sam Coper: You know Alternian culture is bullshit though right?

Sam Keeper: What the heck? Who are you?

Sam Coper: I'm you, but way, way calmer. Way calmer. Jesus buddy. I'm the you that actually learned to cope with things instead of doing an acrobatic fucking pirouette off the handle every time something goes wrong. And also I figured out that I can make this God Tier outfit have a cool skirt and shit, look at it!

Anyway, for real though, Alternian culture is bullshit, and so is your destiny, and that's... actually kind of a huge theme within the comic.

Sam Keeper: Ok, look, you're gonna have to break this one down for me a bit more.

Sam Coper: With pleasure.

See, Homestuck, among many other things, reveals that lots of stuff we think is natural or an inescapable fact of reality is actually a social and historical construct! And in fact, Homestuck shows that our identities might be a lot more free and fluid than we think.

==> StIT Reader: Try to understand.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Neighquiem for a Dream book release!

I am thrilled to announce that Neighquiem for a Dream has been fully released.

Containing all my articles on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and one all new exclusive article, this book charts the early promise of the show and its fandom, all the way to its slide into ignominy and disaster!

Starting with one of the first articles that put me on the (admittedly fairly small) map as a blogger, this collection covers a long history of StIT articles and is accompanied by brand new commentary exclusive to this collection. Additionally, an exclusive article appearing only in this collection, "Trans Night Mare," examines the recent episode Brotherhooves Social and what its use of the transphobic "Man in a Dress" trope represents from my perspective as someone who began my gender transition alongside the growth of MLP's popularity.

Neighquiem for a Dream is available as a full PDF collection to $5 subscribers to the Storming the Ivory Tower Patreon, but you can also access the text, including the exclusive bonus article, at lower reward tiers:


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Fandoms Are Not Your PR Department: Lexa, The 100, and Fan Exploitation

TW for antiblack and homophobic violence

Last week The 100 returned to the air with a bang. Specifically, the bang of a gun being fired point blank into the head of a handcuffed and kneeling black man.

Last week I posted my article on the death of lesbian character Lexa and its narrative failures to the subreddit for The 100. It was promptly deleted, I assume because it falls under “soapboxing,” one of the many, many apparently forbidden forms of discourse on that particular subreddit’s bafflingly extensive yet conspicuously noncomprehensive list of rules.

One of these events is, of course, far more culturally significant than the other, but what I want to argue this week is that they form, together, parts of a larger assemblage that is The 100 as cultural phenomenon. And it’s an assemblage that deserves to be looked at, because I think it can help us understand some of the major problems in fandom spaces today, and maybe offer some solutions.

The notion linking these things actually comes from the Variety article on Lexa’s death that I also referenced last week. It’s a significant article because it represents a wider cultural acknowledgment of the harmful way that writers and directors exploit vulnerable members of their fanbases.

While I appreciate what the Variety article is doing, however, I’m a little leery of the way this issue has been presented. To my mind, the presentation seems to emphasize in particular the economic cost of not making fans happy, and while I understand why it’s tempting to make the argument from that standpoint, I’m also not super comfortable with the way it positions fannish activities as existing to economically support studios--existing as a part of corporate PR divisions, essentially. It seems like the argument is that if you just understand how to make use of your fans better, you can continue making money off them.

To me, though, this doesn’t actually challenge the dynamics of exploitation. Instead, it merely asks for a kinder, gentler form of exploitation.

To understand that, though, let’s talk a little bit about cultural context.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Bad Execution: How Lexa's Death on The 100 Fails on its Own Terms

The 100 is a show on CW, but it’s pretty ok despite that. It’s actually deep as opposed to weirdly pseudo-deep like you get on a show like The Flash, it has some cool things going on narratively, a pretty diverse cast… good stuff, really.

Until recently, when the showrunners managed to piss away a lot of the good will they gained over the last few years in truly spectacular fashion by manipulating their queer fanbase in the name of hyping up a storyline that only sort of works on its own terms. I want to set aside, at least until next week when I’ll be roasting some people on a spit, the question of the wider social media interactions that have led to fans of The 100 and queer fans in general proclaiming that we deserve better. That’s important stuff, but not what I want to talk about this week.

Pictured: a symbolic representation of the iceberg that this particular titanic smashed into at full fucking speed

No, this week I want to come at the issue of The 100 and its missteps from the perspective of story structure. I’m particularly interested in that approach because as recently as nine days ago head writer Jason Rothenberg was still informing a sycophantic pop press that while he may have misjudged the social media dynamics at play here, ultimately he “stands by the story.” What I want to really dig into is how the writers of The 100 could have misjudged their story so badly, and why, despite their hopes that they could transcend a lengthy history of homophobic tropes, the story fails purely on its own terms.

Before we get to any of that, we need to explore just what a “Clexa” is.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

But Nobody Gamed: Undertale vs The Difficulty Discourse In Gaming

Well look I'm sure you can play a browser game with a controller if you just TRY harder to-

Oh, welcome back! My good friend Vivian James and I were about to play Undertale! Why is Vivian James here again you ask? Well, it's simple, really. I want to talk about difficulty, and as a True Hardcore Gamer Vivian has lots of experience with difficult games.

But Undertale is difficult in a way that a lot of True Hardcore Gamers seem to hate, and even resent. Some of this is because of the queer and female and queer female characters... some of this is because they just hate anything popular on Tumblr... but a lot of it is because these guys just for some reason can't get over how difficult this game is. Not mechanically, I mean. No, they can't get over how difficult it is affectively--how difficult it is on a visceral emotional level. And they really, really seem to hate how challenging it is when it comes to typical game content!

For this reason, a lot of gamers seem to have denounced the game entirely.

Vivian, as a hardcore gamer, what do you think of this attitude?

You don't think so?


And like the last two games we discussed, Undertale offers a particular kind of horror experience that's outside the realm of the typical horror game, a kind of horror that assaults the player directly. Tonight I want to talk about this element of Undertale, why it's important, and just what it means that so many of the people who consider themselves True Hardcore Gamers, the same people, perhaps, that would like to see themselves as Vivian James's comrades in arms, hate the way this game challenges them.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

And All Shall Be Well: Fallen London and The Allure of the Un-Fun

and all shall be well and all shall be [munch slurp chomp] shall be well and [gulp crunch gurgle] all manner of things shOH HELLO FRIEND I didn’t see you there. I was just so absorbed in my meal. I’ve been so ravenous lately. So hungry. Like I’ll never be full ever again. Let me light some more candles, we need more candles don’t you think? More light.

That’s better. Ah, it’s actually fitting that you should catch me at my supper! Because tonight I want to talk about a game called Fallen London, and a particularly frustrating piece of content within the game. I want to talk a little bit, too, about our idea of “fun” in games and how a game experience designed to make the player miserable fits into our ideas about what a game is.

Why should this be relevant to my meal, you ask?

Well, eating upsetting things seems to be a major theme in Fallen London and its companion game Sunless Sea, in which you may (will) end up eating the crew of your boat. It fits with the setting’s overall cosmic horror aesthetic. Consuming things that lead to you becoming less and less human is a pretty fascinating running idea for a game trying to do cosmic horror effectively, particularly since so much cosmic horror has traditionally involved glimpsing the unspeakable. It adds a whole new sense to the mix and all the horror of taking something into yourself that slowly changes you into something less (or more) than human.

And this is nowhere more apparent than in the currently-on-hiatus storyline called Seeking Mr Eaten’s Name. Yes, “Eaten.” It’s in this content, I think, that we can see purely refined one of the most interesting aspects of Fallen London: the game gives you the opportunity to do things that are bad for you, things that will result in a negative gameplay experience, which the game clearly spells out as bad for you... and then you do them anyway. This is a fascinating horror experience and, like the experience offered in The Last Of Us, presents a kind of game difficulty outside of what we’ve culturally accepted as valid for games. It’s a kind of difficulty that simply isn’t fun.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Horror After Humans: Beautiful Landscapes and Difficult Affect in The Last Of Us

Well look I know that rattling the controller around to charge the flashlight feels distracting but I’m sure if you just let yourself get used to the motion controls--Ah! You’re here! Excellent! We were just about to start playing a game!

Who’s we?

Oh, just you, me, and my friend, fellow trans feminist Vivian James!

She's wearing her Genderqueer Flag hoodie it's very stylish
I decided to invite James over because I wanted to talk about difficult games, and she’s, well, a bit of a difficulty junky. Vivian James is a hardcore gamer, and she and I share an interest in games that really push your limits. It seemed natural that she should help us play The Last Of Us.

What, you don’t think The Last Of Us is that difficult? I suppose if you’re just looking at gameplay… but what about the dark and affecting storyline? What about the hard decisions the game forces you to make, or the perhaps unsatisfying and even frustrating ending?

No, tonight we’re interested in a different kind of difficulty than a difficult puzzle or difficult boss battle or difficult timed jump. In fact, I’m particularly interested in talking about one of the most difficult things in The Last Of Us. Difficult to explain, at least.

To properly explore that, I think what we need is a change of scenery to something more fitting for a horror experience. Something like…

The bleak and desolate wasteland known as the New Jersey Pine Barrens!
Ah, that’s better! What, you don’t think this is a proper setting for a horror game? Well that’s convenient, because it’s the difficulty that comes from setting a horror game in such a beautiful landscape that we’re going to discuss tonight!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Stars Are Never Sleeping: David Bowie's Last Albums and Cosmic Horror

You arrive at the pub to find it strangely transformed. Not the gaping hole providing you with a view of the tempestuous heart of Jupiter's great red spot, no, that was already there. The dim lighting is new though, as is the giant, dripping candle standing on the table... and is that David Bowie on the screen over there? It is, it's a music video from that album he put out right before he died! Just what is going on here?

Sensing another dire misadventure, you begin to edge out the door. But Abraxas the Hideous Armchair Rat and Lord Humongous block your way! Curses.

Your captor looks up from your chair and claps their hands together happily. "Ah, you're here!" they say cheerfully. "Finally, the ritual can begin! But first, let's talk about David Bowie and the use of weird horror tropes in his albums. I think that will help to clarify what's going on here...

I had a dream the other night about David Bowie.

It wasn’t as exciting as it sounds. He was giving me an art critique. Not… not what I hoped from a David Bowie dream, frankly. Particularly since he didn’t like my painting very much.

But the thing was that within the dream I knew that David Bowie had died, but there he was, still telling me with sadness in his eyes that my paintings just weren’t very good. And my rationalization of this within the dream was that the reality of David Bowie’s death had yet to reach this part of the world, this backwater in which I live (Canada). The news of his death preceded the gravitational wave of its reality--news traveling faster than the sluggish transmutations of matter.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Let's Read Theory: Jane Bennett's Vibrant Matter

Jane Bennett argues in Vibrant Matter that things--matter, objects, energy, processes--can be just as active politically as humans.

In this special podcast series, I try to explain the basics of Bennett's arguments for this "vital materialism" and then explore some of the ways that it might be used by us. The series consists of a bunch of chapter-by-chapter summaries and responses and one big overview podcast that summarizes and responds to the book as a whole.

This podcast is designed for people unfamiliar with the weird, wild world of Theory--I'm trying to take Jane Bennett's ideas and translate them so that people outside of academia can understand and work with them. If you find this podcast useful, let me know you like it and I may add this as a new regular feature of Storming the Ivory Tower! (If you hate it, let me know that as well, and I won't add it as a new regular feature!)

This post indexes each chapter by chapter summary and the final podcast.

Chapters 1 and 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Let's Read Theory! Summary Podcast

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Contrived Conflict: Supergirl Still Isn't Feminist!

Supergirl doesn't have conflicts that matter.

Supergirl instead, as I mentioned in my last article, has manufactured conflict. My issue with the show is basically...

Well, actually, my issue with the show is stuff like the ha ha I'm not a lesbian no homo gag in the pilot episode. Stuff that's just fucking inexcusable in 2K16, basically. But while that stuff is sort of, I suppose, death by a thousand cuts, it's not the kind of thing I can dig into for a full article. It's more like... listicle material. Top 50 things I Loathe About Supergirl. That sort of thing. Or, you know, something suitable for angry liveblogging.

Character conflict, though, is juicy and interesting and something we can dig into more deeply.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Announcing: Neighquiem for a Dream--A StIT Collection

Coming Soon from Storming the Ivory Tower:Neighquiem for a Dream

Containing all my articles on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and one all new exclusive article, this collection charts the early promise of the show and its fandom, all the way to its slide into ignominy and disaster!

Starting with one of the first articles that put me on the (admittedly fairly small) map as a blogger, this collection covers a long history of StIT articles and will be accompanied by brand new commentary exclusive to this collection. Additionally, the brand new article will explore the recent episode Brotherhooves Social and what its use of the transphobic "Man in a Dress" trope represents from my perspective as someone who began my gender transition alongside the growth of MLP's popularity.

Neighquiem for a Dream will be available as a full PDF collection to $5 subscribers to the Storming the Ivory Tower Patreon, but you can also access the text, including the exclusive bonus article, at lower reward tiers:

$2.00 per article: View the images produced for this collection 
$3.00 per article: Access the audio version of the bonus article
$5.00 per article: Access the full collection in PDF form