Philip Pullman – The Golden Compass (Review)


I was going to write how Pullman doesn’t fall to the bad tropes of Epic Fantasy. There are no pages dedicated solely to what food is being served. There are no hundred details that can only be useful in a crossword puzzle. Not everything is being described, only what is needed to set the mood. Saying something is not as bad as terrible crap though, is not much of a compliment.

Reading this again, there was a scene that nailed down what Pullman does best. Two side characters are having a debate, and Pullman makes both of them sound right. He managed to display two opposing views without degenerating one to a straw man, and they weren’t discussing just whether to bake the potatoes or make french fries. This extends to how, no matter how strange things get, nothing is portrayed as “That other, strange thing”.

It’s easy enough to see how the gyptians turn from these funny people into a culture as rich and interesting as the scholars of Oxford. While the bears do remain a bit undeveloped (He passes it off as ‘enigmatic’, but I’m not sure it cuts it), they are still displayed as serious sentient beings, not just slightly smarter animals. The best is when he portays his adult characters. Although they are seen as scary, alien and not having a single clue by Main Character, Pullman writes enough scenes to show us their point of view. The most telling one is at the end, where two important characters who are seen as pretty awful are given a scene to show them as more than two megalomaniacs. It’s a scene that tells us that just like children, they have their own ambitions, fears and passions. Mrs. Coulter is still the bad guy, but Pullman showed me it’s just a part of her character, not her whole.

His treatment of violence is also, by far, one of the more mature ones. Violence is not seen as sensational, and it’s ‘shocking’ not for how cool it is but how devastating it is. There are various descriptions of wounds and gore, and they always read like nasty stuff, even if the bad guy is wounded. There’s a very bloody character death that in any other book, we’d be encouraged to be happy about. The good guy won! The bad guy is getting dismembered! Only there is no joy in the ritual of plucking a heart and eating it. The frank and blunt description makes it sound ugly and sad, not glorious.

I wish this maturity also made it to the plot structure. Although it’s devoid of bullshit, the plot consists of Lyra moving from one place to another, with NPC’s telling her where to go to next, or offering her a ride to the next act. She’s given a little more to do than the protagonist in Diablo II, and she occasionally makes her own choices, but all she tends to do is keep moving.

It’s a shame because Pullman had a pretty good character in Lyra. Any criticism of her that she’s not a very unpleasant person misses the point. She’s supposed to be flawed. Children are flawed, and can be pricks. Her character shows, if anything, how well Pullman understands children. They get into stupid rivalries for the sake of it. They exaggerate already scary stories just to spook each other. Some things hold their curiousity and make them obsessed. Other things bore them to death. They view adults both as people to admire and people to fear, and they view some people as just ‘wicked’.

Most of the character moments though are in the beginning, where there’s less of getting to the Final Stage, and more of just exploring and doing side quests. There’s also a prophecy thing that doesn’t contribute anything whatsoever to the story. Lyra’s specialness of learning to read the aleithometer is good enough to make others take her seriously. It’s not like a skill Pullman landed on her, either. I kept forgetting about this prophecy thing, because Lyra kept making choices and doing things out of her own volition. Maybe it makes sense in the next books. In this one, though, it’s an attempt to give a motive to a character who already has one.

The Golden Compass avoids most of the cliches everyone hates about fantasy, and is more mature than not just children’s literature, but than a lot of adult literature. Children will enjoy its weird characters and busy journey, but there’s more to it, even if a good chunk is some unrealized potential due to a dull structure. I read this again becaue I put off reading the last one for too long, and it was even better the second time around.

3 Armored Bears out of 5

Anaconda vs. All About That Bass or: Go, Fat Girl, Go!

When I saw the boring video for Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”, I felt like this weird activity of shaking ass while giving me Rambo stares was somehow supposed to be feminist. I wasn’t a wrong. Plenty of people thought the same, and were serious. All of these people missed the point. A girl called Meghan also had an ’empowering’ song too, with a music video that contained very little skin and a really big guy.

This is all about the message in the songs, not about the musical quality. As a musical piece, “Anaconda” is terrible. It’s a pop song devoid of hooks and a rap song devoid of actual rapping. It’s more of a bad spoken word track. Coil have poppier stuff than this.

Anyway, “Anaconda” is not about the beauty of being ‘full’. She mentions about how guys like “something they can grab” and not “bony”, but somehow everyone in her music video has an hourglass figure. Tits and ass, especially the ass are everywhere. The ‘hourglass figure’ doesn’t mean thin. It means that the ass and the tits are much bigger compared to the waist. This is what’s considered the most attractive body type. Guys talk more about ass and tits than how thin some girls are.

The lack of ‘male gaze’ means nothing. Men or no men doesn’t make them any less sexually suggestive. The music video doesn’t have guys staring at her ass, but I’m encouraged to stare at it. Is there any other reason for showing so much? They may pose as amazons, work out and not smile, but this is just another fetish. Some people get turned on by tough girls, and what Minaj is doing is catering to those whose fetish is tough girls. A chainmail bikini won’t suddenly make you strong, and doing facial expressions like Rambo won’t make it any less of a fetish. At least Nicky Da B wasn’t serious, and that video had a bigger variety of asses plus an androgynus rapper.

Even its lyrics fall to stereotypes. All Minaj is doing is give a voice to the female MRA’s claim to fight – the kind that relies on looks to get money and doesn’t have much more than that. She doesn’t explore this trope or subvert it. She talks about how much she gained because of her ass, namely money and clothes. The only people who are shocked are people who find any sexual expression shocking.

Then comes Meghan’s song, which is a whole different thing.

Unlike Minaj, there is little to no sexualization in the music video. Meghan doesn’t even show cleavage. The lyrics are a longer and less vulgar of Mr. Exquire’s line, “Big belly, still take my shirt off like Nelly”. There are no hourglass figures. Meghan is trying to look pretty, but in the same way male singers will also try to look good in music videos. She doesn’t present her body as sexually appealing and doesn’t encourages us to look at it. She cuts that crap so we’ll focus on the words.

Reading all this, I feel bad for writing so much about women’s bodies in an article about music. This shows you how effective Minaj’s and Meghan’s “feminism”. Isn’t feminism’s aim to let women function outside of their gender? In all of these songs, the looks are considered good because men like them. In “Anaconda”, Nicki tells us men like something they could grab. Meghan’s mom tells her boys want some booty to hold at night. In the end, there isn’t much straying from the status quo. Nicki and Meghan just insist that men like hourglass figure/’chubby’ better. It’s the same message that Jason Derulo has.

None of that is actual expression. Sexual expression is Missy Elliot wanting a guy who can keep going, Lilly Allen getting annoyed at crappy sex, Peaches’ sexual aggression or Goldfrapp’s tenderness. Each of these women expresses her sexual experiences or tastes without the politics. Perhaps the biggest problem is that we turn sex into a political thing, and suddenly how many kilos we carry or what we do in bed becomes just as important as war and global warming.

This doesn’t mean women shouldn’t talk about women’s issues. I think feminism is still relevant today and there’s plenty of misogyny going on. “If you’re X, then I’m Y” though, is not the way to respond to a problem. The problem is not that thin is considered beautiful and ‘chubby’ is considered hideous. The problem is we pay so much attention to the shape.

Beatport Chart Review #1

This EDM thing is pretty big. There a lot of festivals where people gather together to listen to music and perhaps take drugs. Since major artists rarely release full-lengths – Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Martin Garrix and Nicky Romery from DJ Mag’s Top 100 don’t even have an album in the works. So, I’ll just go over the whole Beatport chart in order to determine whether everything is bad or most of it is bad.

Chart according to 21/12/2014

1. R3hab & KSHMAR – Karate
Is this Melbourne Bounce? The melody in the drop is nice, but the sound is too boring. I heard this horn thing too much. At least Big Room utilized different sounds. I also first thought the drop repeated itself three times. It’s too monotonous for its own good. Decent fodder for a DJ set, but nothing much.

2. Dusky – Yoohoo
Deep House at #2. That’s nice. Are they playing this stuff for the same crowds who want to see Avicii? Anyway, the drums are great. Four minutes into this, and all I can think about are the drums. Perhaps it has something to do with the other elements lacking. There’s a vocal simple that doesn’t do anything, aside from telling me that I call it love. The bassline just goes along with the drums. The piano in the middle adds some warmth which is a nice contrast to the cold drums. When it finally finds cool ambient noises it decides to cut back and end. Perhaps not worth the full six minutes, but it was pretty banging.

3. Michael Caflan – Treasured Soul
Beatport lists this simply as house. The drums in the beginning bang, and I love the vocal sample. The warm soft sounds in the drop made me cringe, but the piano and the chopped vocals make up for it. It used them to create rhythm, not these warm synths. I think this is what Knife Party tried to make with “DIMH”, but they missed the point.

4. Ed Sheeran – Don’t (Don Diablo)
Fuck a build-up! No, seriously, it starts with the vocal sample and then there’s a drop. I can live with that. The vocals suit the BPM, and the drop uses sounds that would make someone re-make this as a big room track. It’s like as if someone merged Diamond Pistol’s “Wrecker” with Michael Caflan’s track. Pretty good.

5. Maceo Plex & Gabriel Ananda – Solitary Daze
I don’t think this song is finished. It sounds like Dubnobasswithmyheadman-era Underworld, but it goes nowhere during its seven minute voyage. The ambiance is great, but by the time the fifth minute rolls around you’re hearing the exact same thing with almost no variation. It’s a shame, because that part they repeat is great, but few things are so good they can repeat themselves for seven minutes without changing.

6. Royskopp – Sordid Affair (Maceo Plex Remix)
Hello again! This one sounds more like Orbital, and unlike the previous track he gets what makes this style work. It uses melody not to create rhythm, but to create a dreamlike atmosphere. Melody is always more powerful in dance music when it’s pushed in the back, and changes as the drop goes on. The buildup/drop structure doesn’t really suit this style. It should be one continues thing, but I can forgive that. The most fully realized track here yet.

7. Natema – Everybody Does
Everything you need in a dance track here. There’s a great bassline and good vocals, and it keeps bringing new sounds all throughout its length. There’s a guitar that comes and goes, and sounds video games think belongs to radars. This one sounds like the work of a band who should have an album out.

8. Tom Swoon & Stadium feat. Rico & Miella – Ghost
There are big, dramatic drums in the beginning. I think the drop is going be either heavy or life-affirming. The vocals are leftover Afrojack and try to make me think this is actually very, very serious. How do people react to this at festivals? Do they all start reflecting about their past one night stands? The female singer has a much better melody and a much better voice. The drop was probably – here it comes – ghost-produced by Avicii. I hope DKS will use the female vocals and make a better remix.

9. Axwell ^ Ingrosso – Something New
I’m glad they put the “^” in their name, but it doesn’t excuse this crap. Here come more utterly serious and sincere singing and lyrics from a bad self-help book. It doesn’t express happiness. It’s faux-positive, saying a lot of pretty, inoffensive things. It’s boring, and there’s nothing here that creates rhythm. The drop is more of that Avicii crap. You can’t dance to this. This is why people think White People Can’t Dance.

10. MEM – Ecco (Ummet Ozcan Edit)
Does MEM stand for “Middle East Massacre”? Anyway, we’re back to starting with some great drums, and I wouldn’t mind a few more seconds of that build-up. The synth stabs at the chorus remind me a bit of Melbourne Bounce, but the drums sound more like Deep House. This weird fusion works. An acoustic guitar appears after the first drop, which makes zero sense in the context of the song even though the melody is pretty. The melody also doesn’t sound that bad when the synth plays it. The second drop repeats the first, but I can live with that.

Neil Gaiman – American Gods [Review]


It’s been a while since I read a terrible book, the kind where I have to stop reading because the author just wrote something so asinine. I can’t believe this is the same author of Stardust. Both books are trying something similar by playing on folklore, only Stardust gets it, and American Gods just does one stupid mistake after another. Stardust relates the myths to human experience,American Gods is concerned with a bunch of super-beings whose struggles bear little resemblance to human lives.

The story itself is not great. The actual events consist of running around and talking to people. This is because Gaiman has no real story and he wants to show off the research he has done. Everything is written like a cheap thriller without the energy. Cliched sentences are all over the place. Paragraphs are dedicated to what may or may not happen. Pseudo-omniscient third person narrative, switching points of view because everything has to be told. The main character is passive and does things in order for us to have eyes to look at things, and because Gaiman had no better way to move the story along. He later almost develops this passivity. There’s a moment where someone comments on that trait, and a crucial scene at the ending. All of this has very little bearing on the plot and doesn’t take it to a different direction. Main Character also suddenly changes his behavior because it’s good for the plot. There is no deep psychology for the main character. Gaiman pulls a reason out of an ass at the end, but it was easy to guess it because it’s the most immediate reason, the one that requires little thought. It’s also a reason out of the character’s control. It’s not exactly a psychological trait, and Shadow could have said “Hey, cool story, but I don’t care”. That revelation, in of itself, does not explain the sudden change.

There is one salvageable part in the extended ending (Which goes way after the books run out of steam) when a mystery that appeared halfway through is solved. The conclusion and the scenes are pretty interesting, and if Gaiman wrote a straightforward thriller set in a small American town he’d have more access. He could have been explored his subject better, and relate this God business to actual human lives. This is the only time he does that. Later, a non-existent story arc gets an unimportant closure, where Gaiman tells us a lot of details and personal history of a character that appears for five pages. The plot would’ve changed little if this was removed

I could forgive the non-existent story if the ideas here were worth it. American Gods doesn’t pretend to be a story-centric novel anyway, but the whole premise it relies on falls flat. The war is, supposedly, between polytheism and technology, but were they ever at war? By the time the Industrial Revolution came around, monotheism ruled the west. Somehow, nobody from Judaism, Christianity or Islam makes an appearance. A few people do mention Jesus, and there’s a scene with some Arabic guys, but it goes nowhere. Thinking of it now, I have no idea what that scene with the Arabic people meant within the context of the story. Does anyone know of a pantheon that was common in what is now Islamic territories?

The idea of a “God” is also very vague. His modern gods include Media, Computers, and some people called Mr. Town, Mr. Stone, Mr. Wood, and like that. What does believing in these mean? They all exist, but when does the simply using ends and the worshiping starts? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have gods representing ideas like right-wing, left-wing, capitalism, communism, veganism, feminism, and other such ideas, which are truly abstract? It could even add an interesting dynamic where, while all of these are very modern, they also don’t agree with each other on everything. Oh look, here’s a much cooler premise – follow a bunch of characters representing these ideologies, who have to survive together despite their disagreements. Doesn’t sound that original, but much better than having a passive guy running around with Odin to show off Gaiman’s research.

He says some things about how Americans (Oh! Look at all these fat and stupid people!) switch gods frequently. Let’s forget that the book can’t decides what a god is. What is wrong with the zeitgeist constantly changing? In fact, it’s a good thing. Progress is change. We haven’t reached a utopia yet, and we’ll probably never will, so why not try to change? Not every change is good, obviously, but changing is the only way to improve. The gods probably feel pretty bad about it, but they exist only in the context of the novel. There is no explanation about why “a land bad for gods” is bad for humanity. This brings up another thing: American Gods is one of those novels that are detached from the human experience, where fantasy is not used to mirror or say something about humanity but is used to curl up in it.

The worse is the random bits of shitty writing. Very early, Gaiman tells us Columbus didn’t really discover America. He might as well have said, “This is for ignorant people who barely read the paper”. A character kisses Shadow out of nowhere. The same character goes off before on a monologue which has brackets in it. Nobody speaks with brackets. Digressions are something else. Schrodinger’s Cat gets mentioned for the sole purpose of, “Look! Science can be so cool!” and “Cats! Cats!”.

More offensive was the way the grieving of one character was treated. There’s a death early in the book which affects a few characters. One of them vanishes, only to reappear later in a very convenient way to move the plot from A to B. Said character’s action are framed as vile, and she gets called a ‘cunt’. I don’t want to spoil, but that tragic event isn’t going to make angels out of anyone, and if you’re considering her limited point of view, plus all her grief, her reaction is perfectly reasonable. It may harm our hero, but I can’t hate her. In her world, she’s the main character, not him.

No story, premise that makes little sense, attempts to comment on real life that mean nothing and some very bad writing. This doesn’t sound the guy who made Stardust. I had no idea what happened here. I remember choosing to read American Pastoral instead of this, to ‘get it out of the way’ because this seemed more fun. How wrong I was.

One pantheon out of five

Calling Out on Thunderf00t’s bullshit

Anita Sarkeesian’s video series, “Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games” is great. It’s like a feminist version of Jerry Mender’s Four Arguments only for video games, and without dismissing the entire medium. Sadly, there are a lot of nonsense out there disguising itself as a ‘response’ of some sort to the video series. Thunderfoot’s is popular. It’s also pretty long and very, very serious.

I can go off like Thunderfoot and start calling him idiot and repeat “Look how ridiculous this is!” without end, but that would be wrong. I would also look ridiculous.

Why Feminism poisons EVERYTHING

The first thing we see is the ‘face of feminist atheism’ throwing a sexist insult at an unnamed male atheist. I call this joke sexist because it deals specifically with the target’s sexuality. I fail to see, however, how this backs up Thunderfoot’s argument. Show me a single feminist who says something stupid, and all I can conclude is that Watson said something really stupid. He later shows more example of ‘bad feminists’, but they don’t hold up. He also says it was directed at the “entire male atheist audience.” Sure, a single insult directed at a single person is an attack on entire audience.

Anita Sarkeesian appears in about 1:23 into the video, and is accused of lying 1:46. His evidence of her lying is one instance where Anita shows a picture of her playing Super Mario, saying she has “been playing game for quite a while”. Then there is a video where she introduces her project, saying, “This is a fandom. I’m not a fan of video games. I had to learn a lot about video games while doing this,” and “I’d love to play video games, but I don’t want to go around shooting people, ripping off people’s heads, that’s gross.”

Playing video games and being a part of the fandom are not the same thing. There are people who listen to the band’s hits, and people who buy merchandise and go to shows. Yes, that means she has less knowledge of video games. That’s why she also she says she needs to learn a lot about them. She drops a lot of names in her videos, so she probably did her learning. As for the second quote, it says Anita isn’t really into the aesthetics of violence. She probably won’t see what’s the big deal with John Woo. That’s okay.

Thunderfoot uses the second quote to ask, “Why does sexism in video games bothers Anita, while violence doesn’t?”. Violence in video games and women in video games are two different issues. Anita focuses on the latter, and her videos never pretend to be some sort of general analysis of all aspects of video games. As I said, it’s Four Arguments, only from a solely feminist perspective. That’s not minimizing other issues. They’re just off topic.

The ‘video games influence people’ topic appears about 3 minutes into it. Thunderfoot’s interprets Anita’s saying (“Video games help shape our society by challenging or reinforcing existing values, beliefs and behaviors”) as: A video game teaches exactly what the character does. His examples: Left 4 Dead teaches people to survive the zombie the apocalypse, Assassin’s Creed teaching people it’s okay to assassinate for the guild, and Call 4 Duty teaches to solve problems using a headshot.

This is not a strawman. This not understanding the basic idea of ‘imagery influence people. If he read serious writers on this topic, like Neil Postman or Jerry Mender he’d know that the influence is not obvioua, monkey-see-monkey-do thing (Sometimes, it is). I admit I have not read all of this, but notice how it refers to “aggressive behavior”, and the final paragraphs, which offer conclusion, do not speak of specific acts (Unlike Thunderfoot), but general aggressive behavior or thoughts. If this is anything to go by, video games do have some sort of effect. I don’t really know what’s with the GTA guy though.

Anita didn’t bring evidence regarding this idea, true, but the purpose of her videos is to analyze women’s representation in video games, not the influence of video games in society. She only talked about the impact on the real world in general terms. Yes, it would’ve been better if she had a study or something, but even great people sometimes make mistakes.

Thunderfoot goes off on the “What’s your priority?” yet again, missing what I pointed above, while using murder statistics to prove “video games have no effect on reality”. I refer to the study I linked to yet again, which talked about “aggresive behavior”, not killing people. Killing people is merely one act of violence. So video games don’t influence the murder statistics, but that’s not it. Also, Anita doesn’t talk about “saving this [Peach from Mario] princess”, she talks about how much this trope appears.

(According to Thunderfoot’s graph, murders had a peak somewhere around after 1990. Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM, and Quake were all released from 1992 to 1996, but no matter).

Around 4:58, I get told that “It would be hard for Anita to play the victim when all she has is not liking these first persons shooters” (Not the exact quote). I don’t see how Anita not liking violent video games somehow makes her argument less valid. Violence against women isn’t the only thing she talks about. Thunderfoot himself shows us she also talks about the damsel in distress.

TIME OFF FOR FUN: A comment by “Cynthia King” criticizes Anita for wearing beauty enhancing products while talking about serialization in video games. By addressing this, Cynthia King distracts us from the much more serious problem: None of Anita’s videos contains a well-placed bass drop.

If Thunderfoot actually paid attention during Anita’s videos, he would know that she’s not on a crusade against FPS games. It takes a while before FPS games even appear.

Anita’s “These games are made by men, for men, and if girls are want to participate they need to shut up.”

This isn’t the best phrasing of that idea, but like I said great people sometimes make mistakes. Anita talks about the exclusion, the whole idea of boys-only. Thunderfoot counters it by going to ‘Games2Girls’, and says that according to her logic that site is sexist because it doesn’t feature a random FPS in the middle of ‘puzzle games for girls’. Let’s forget that he still thinks this is only about FPS’s, but that Anita would probably think that a ‘Games2Girls’ site is also wrong. Never in her videos did she ask for games only for girls. She only asked for games which are not dominated by males, and her examples of what does it right are, among them: Beyond Good and Evil, To The Moon, Papo & Yo. Watch her videos for the details, but the gist of her argument is that these games are only male-targeted, reject the female voice and thus reject a whole audience which is interested in them*.

6:38 – Here comes more of, “She’s a liar because she’s not a real gamer!”

Madonna appears as an example of women who disassociate themselves from feminism because of “those who vocally associate themselves with feminism”. Considering how much bullshit I found in Thunderfoot’s video, I’d say the feminists are doing much better. Watson’s stupid comment is nothing compared to all of this.

There’s more – here comes the examples of why feminism is so bad:

– A woman saying “If you’re not a feminist, then you’re a bigot. There’s nothing in between”. I think she creates her a false dilemma, but I can see her logic. I’d say she’s wrong, but it’s not total bullshit.

– The snippet with the red-haired one is a mess. She seems pissed off, but it’s also implied the guy was interrupting her reading. I have no idea what to make of this. Maybe he really acted like an asshole. Maybe she needs anger management. This says nothing.

– A woman telling me there is a school of art that focuses on the female body parts. No opinion is expressed here. “Focusing on body parts” doesn’t tell me anything. She might as well have said that a lot of party songs are about going to a party and probably find someone to have sex with.

– Anita making a bold statement about women being “oppressed all the time”. Thunderfoot cuts off before giving her a chance to present anything.

– A woman talking about how ‘bitch’ is an insult based on gender. ‘Bitch’ also means female dog, and is used casually when referred to women sometimes not an insult. Female rappers commonly call themselves bitches (Trina had an album “Da Baddest Bitch”). Talking about this word can be a pretty good idea. Nothing wrong here.

– Anita calling something “Choose Your Own Patriarchal Porno Fantasy”. Thunderfoot doesn’t show us what it is. I AM DYING TO KNOW.

Wikipedia makes a wild apperance in 8:20. Feminists claim Wikipedia is biased, and Thunderfoot claims their evidence is that ‘they say so’. No evidence of that appears. What does appear, though, is the “Are Women Weaker Than Man?” thing. I agree women and men are structured differently, but what we do with this difference, and when exactly it is relevant, is what matters.

Dividing the Olympics makes sense, just as dividing wrestling according to weight. I’m not a biology expert, so feel free to tell me more. The Olympics merely acknowledge a difference exists, but not that one is worse than the other, or something.

He dismisses a study (book) solely because it is described as ‘feminist’. I’m serious. The book describes itself as feminist, therefore it is invalid and he will not even bother to read it. The studies he does think are okay talk about a very small part of the human body. Grip and elbow muscles are not the only things that make up strength.

Anita should have brought evidence, true, but even if the premise “Women are generally weaker than men” is true, it wouldn’t undermine Anita’s project (To show how prevalent sexism is in video games, and explain why it’s problematic).

Thunderfoot has more videos against Anita. I watched another one, which was also filled with bullshit, but that’s for a later post. Thunderfoot, like a lot of others who don’t agree with Sarkeesian, completely miss the point. You’d think such a well-thought video series would start an interesting and engaging dialogue. I don’t agree with everything Anita says, but nevertheless she says a lot of interesting things and this sort of critical thinking is what video games need to progress.