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Archive: August 2004

We3’s Cages

I didn’t get to be among the first to write about We3 #1 because I was thinking about other things, about focalization and whether it’s a technique particularly well-suited to comics. I hoped I could tie that in to my talk about We3, but I’m not sure I can, so focalization will have to wait until later. However, all that thinking about focalization got me thinking about perspective, which is at the core of both art and story in We3.

Specifically almost everything is claustrophobic, a word Marc Singer used as well, with tightly packed panels on many pages and very few full shots of anyone. Humans are viewed in part from the animals’ perspectives, not caring whether the head or face is caught in any given shot, and this is highlighted by the focus on Roseanne Berry’s kind face and eyes, which show up more than others’. Panels and perspectives are always limited not just by the edges of the characters’ visions but by the rigid boundaries of their very lives. The scientists running the We3 program exist in a world as regimented and oppressive and limiting as the metal bodysuits of their animal subjects. This is the kind of secret work no one is allowed to talk about because it doesn’t officially exist, except that as David Fiore notes, the work itself is alive and sentient, able to speak (albeit hesitantly) of its history and suffering.

David also thinks there is a moment of deluded, contested freedom at the end, in the final full-page image, which he considers an homage to the Hudson River School. Maybe, but I think it’s more than that. I can’t imagine a Hudson River School painting that looks down a hill this way; they were totally concerned with light and looking up and out. Instead I wonder if perhaps the painting is what the arriving helicopters see, looking out into the pristine light and seeing (or not seeing?) the shining green hills beneath them. The animals, our heroes, are locked within the painting still, mostly out of view, hidden under this veneer of assumed tranquility.

So where is the freedom? I said almost everything is claustrophobic, but perhaps what’s more interesting about it is that no one actually seems to feel claustrophobic on the inside. They’ve all been trained to know their boundaries, to accept the little parcels of themselves. But there are breaks, cracks. In the first, violent full-page image, an image no one could ever really see, we see the one way to be free, to be unconstrained, to have nothing holding you together anymore. And then we find out that for We3 the expectation is that the only way to be decommissioned, to be out of the metal suits once and for all is to be out of everything forever. Is death the Great Escape?

Roseanne Berry seems to think so, allowing her charges freedom in an action she hopes will bring her death and thus redemption for what she has done to them and, in the process, to herself. David Allison considers her attitude “unnerving,” but it occurs at a crisis point, at the moment where freedom is being defined. As We3 charge past her and she waits for the release of death, they choose instead a moment of freedom and focalization outside this binary between death and captivity. For one moment in the whole book, the animals soar across an amazingly starry sky and they understand freedom and their relationship to it as being equivalent to this stark, heroic, fleeting pose. By the time they reach the woods, their freedom has been limited because their individual desires surface, because they are no longer a sleek unit, but for that one moment they have become everything they dreamed of being.

After that brilliant dream, they fall to reality, and they are caught in a mesh of new limitations, the restrictions enforced by the humans (and animals) who seek them and the restrictions they will find when they reach the end of their own abilities and interests and willingness to keep pushing at the boundaries, breaking through the fences. We readers sympathize with We3 because they’ve been so deeply wronged, because they’re such adorable mass murderers, because we can easily put them in our categories of what it means to be a dog, a cat, a rabbit. I assume they will defy these expectations, or at least push up against the edges, but at their cores, that’s what they are, limited both by what they are and what they’ve been forced to be but willing to push for something else. And maybe that’s what makes them sympathetic, because we’re all fallen and yet looking for something else, looking for a home even when we know there is No Home. It still seems better than death/complacency.

Comment Spam

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Brief History Of Linux (#13)
Wanted: Eunuchs programmers

Everything you know about the creation of the Unix operating system is wrong. We have uncovered the truth: Unix was a conspiracy hatched by Ritchie and Thompson to thwart the AT&T monopoly that they worked for. The system, code-named EUNUCHS (Electronic UNtrustworthy User-Condemning Horrible System), was horribly conceived, just as they had planned.

The OS, quickly renamed to a more respectable “Unix,” was adopted first by Ma Bell????????s Patent Department and then by the rest of the monopoly. AT&T saw an inexpensive, multi-user, portable operating system that it had all rights to; the authors, however, saw a horrible, multi-crashing system that the Evil Ma Bell Empire would become hopelessly dependent on. AT&T would go bankrupt trying to maintain the system and eventually collapse.

That didn????????t happen. Ritchie and Thompson were too talented to create a crappy operating system; no matter how hard they tried the system was too good. Their last ditch effort to sabotage the system by recoding it obfuscated C was unsuccessful. Before long Unix spread outside of Bell Labs and their conspiracy collapsed.

Amazingly crazy animal photos

Amazingly crazy animal photos: beautiful but weird farm animals and owners

Via: Jeffrey Radcliffe

26 August 2004 by Rose | Permalink | Comments disabled

The Manchurian Candidates 2: Corporations

Part two of a two(?)-part post. See The Manchurian Candidates 1: Communists. Yesterday was John Frankenheimer’s 1962 The Manchurian Candidate, today is Jonathan Demme’s 2004 version.

First of all, a question. Does anybody know what year the new movie takes place? Rose is convinced she saw a “2008″ somewhere in the movie, but I did not and assumed the year was 2004. When the events of the movie occur is important. The 1962 Candidate is set in 1956, making it alternate history. It’s not about what is happening or what will happen, but about what might have happened. The movie’s concern is not paranoid speculation about Communist plots, but criticism of that paranoia.

I wrote yesterday that the movie validates McCarthyist fear even as it criticizes it—except that the validation is subverted by the fact that the object of fear is created through manipulation of fear. The alternate history further subverts. If the movie were set in the future, there would be room for speculation as to the possibility of a real Communist plot. But set in the past (or the present time, creating an alternate present), the movie explicitly discourages such speculation by emphasizing the fictionality of the threat. You can still speculate about possible Communist plots, certainly, but the alternate history is a subtle warning that speculation isn’t the point.

The 1962 Candidate, set in 1956, is about a Communist conspiracy that manipulates anti-Commie fear to turn a fictional threat of Commie infiltration into a real threat. The 2004 Candidate is about a plot to manipulate fear that’s going on now, in the real world. The United States government is manipulating public fear and insecurity, for good or ill, to promote the War on Terror(ism). (This isn’t a new tactic for the governments—in fact, it’s exactly what Senator McCarthy was doing.) If the movie is set in 2004, it’s metaphorically about that manipulation of fear. If it’s set in 2008, it enters the scary realm of possibility. The movie’s residence in the realm of implausibility does little to soften its speculative power. Rogue government officials and corporate officers are probably not going to be endorsing a science-fictional mind-controlled candidate in the 2008 elections—but people with power are capable of inventing, and have actually and will continue to invent, more viable and no less drastic conspiracies.

The modern equivalent of Commies would be Islamic terrorists (although planting sleepers in the White House isn’t really their style), but the new movie abandons the old movie’s specter of an outside threat. Terrorism is a constant present in the movie, but never a direct one. There are news reports of terrorist attacks, orange and red terror(ism) alerts, the familiar political debate of security against outsider terrorist vs. civil liberties for American citizens—but there are no terrorists or terrorist attacks. The terrorists are phantoms, much less substantial than the fear of terrorism. The old Candidate is resolutely anti-Communist even as it criticizes McCarthyism, but the new movie focuses its critique solely on current American political rhetoric. (An absence of anti-terrorist sentiment is not the same as implicit approval of terrorism.)

The older movie is at least a little optimistic, letting rationalism and democracy save the day as Ben Marco breaks his brainwashing and breaks out Raymond Shaw as well. It’s not a great victory for America—the government would probably have fallen to the Commies if not for Raymond’s desperate intervention—but it’s more than the new movie offers. Frank Sinatra’s Ben Marco is basically a good guy who seems to be going crazy for a while but manages to pull himself together and convince his Army superiors about the Commie conspiracy. Denzel Washington’s Ben seems to begin along the same trajectory, but he never pulls out of the descent into madness—he never manages to convince the Army, and most of the people who believe either disappear or turn out to be working for the other side. Delp seems to be Ben’s friend, but he used to work for Manchurian International making brain implants. And after Delp helps Ben recover his hidden memories, Delp disappears—did the conspiracy get rid of him, or was he working for them all along, Ben’s recovery of his memories merely part of their plan? Rosie seems to be helping Ben—but why is she helping? (More on Rosie below.) Ben seems to be the only character in the story definitely not in on the conspiracy—until that scene in the classroom on election day, when Raymond asks him why he never wondered if the conspiracy knew he was going to discover the truth. What if Ben’s discovery of the truth and attempts to convince people of it are only another part of the conspiracy’s byzantine plot? Frank Sinatra saved us from the Communists, but now there’s nobody to save us from ourselves.

The Rosie subplot in the new movie may be the most brilliant evocation of conspiracy-theory paranoia I’ve seen on film. Janet Leigh’s Rosie is intriguing and worrying, but Kimberly Elise’s is downright scary. This Rosie is definitely spying on Ben—she works for the FBI. She seems to be trying to protect him. Why? The obvious answer is that she was sent to keep an eye on him after the Army decided he was unstable and dangerous to Raymond, and that she gradually becomes convinced that Ben is right about the conspiracy and decides to help him defeat it or at least protect him from it. The Manchurian Candidate is the sort of movie that makes you distrust anything that can be described as the “obvious” answer, especially if the obvious answer makes somebody seem trustworthy. Rosie is as untrustworthy as any character in the movie, but the disturbing thing about her is that her allegiance is genuinely unknowable. Her actions make it look superficially like she’s working against the conspiracy or at least doesn’t know it exists—she never does anything that makes her obviously a conspirator. She never even does anything that might arouse suspicion. But she also never does anything that can’t be interpreted as benefiting the conspiracy. Why does she shoot but not kill Ben after he assassinates Raymond and Eleanor Shaw? Was it an panicked impulse reaction, or was she trying to make it look like he’d been killed? For whose benefit? Why does she erase all records of his being in the building where the assassination took place? Is she simply protecting him from the consequences of the murders he was brainwashed into committing (or hiding him from the remnants of the conspiracy), or is she covering up for the conspiracy? Who’s really in charge of the investigation of the secret brainwashing hospital at the end of the movie?

The new The Manchurian Candidate isn’t exactly pessimistic. It doesn’t preclude the older Candidate’s guardedly optimistic ending, but it doesn’t offer the luxury of security as the older movie does. After all, Eleanor Shaw is the movie’s foremost proponent of security.

The Manchurian Candidates 1: Communists

Roger Ebert, in his review of Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate, writes, “To compare Demme’s version with Frankenheimer’s is sort of irrelevant.” This is a ridiculous statement. As J.W. Hastings pointed out when somebody asked him why on Earth he was comparing apples and oranges J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert Howard, “I firmly believe that it is not only okay but a critic’s duty to compare apples and oranges.” Indeed. Of course, John Frankenheimer’s and Demme’s movies aren’t like apples and orange, they’re more like—oranges and grapefruits? At any rate, they’re both based on the same novel by Richard Condon, they have similar plots, they engage related political themes in very different political climates. What’s not to compare?

If Frankheimer’s Candidate has a flaw, it’s that it seems to want to criticize McCarthyism even as it validates McCarthyism’s worst nightmares of Communist infiltration. The movie conjures a paranoid fantasy of Cold War politics in which there don’t seem to be any genuinely Communist politicians in the U.S. government, but there is at least one who’s married to a Communist. Senator Johnny Iselin, a bold caricature of Senator Joseph McCarthy, is a drunken buffoon easily controlled by his wife Eleanor, who is the American handler for a brainwashed Soviet sleeper agent planted in the United States. The sleeper happens to be Eleanor’s son Raymond Shaw. The plan: get Senator Iselin on the ballot as the vice-presidential candidate, then send Raymond to the convention to assassinate presidential candidate Ben Arthur, leaving Iselin to ride a wave of freedom-loving hysteria right into the Oval Office, where he will be controlled by the Communists through Eleanor. (Except that Eleanor, upon learning her own son is the assassin, vows to avenge her son and destroy her Communist allies who destroyed her son.) This ridiculous plan would have gone off smoothly if not for the intervention of Major Ben Marco, who was leader of Raymond’s platoon during the Korean War and who, when the platoon was captured and taken to Manchuria for brainwashing, was instructed to award Raymond the Congressional Medal of Honor (part of the plan to make Raymond’s stepfather Senator Iselin look like a good vice-presidential candidate). Ben, plagued by nightmares—a ladies’ gardening club meeting mixed surreally with a meeting of Russian and Chinese military leaders in which a Chinese doctor does Freudian brainwashing/hypnotism on Marco and his platoon—figures something must be wrong. At first he fails to convince his Army commanders anything but that he’s going insane, but he eventually convinces them he’s onto something and an investigation of Raymond begins. Ben tries to unhypnotize Raymond, thinks he must have failed when Raymond disappears on a mission with instructions from his evil mother—only to discover, to his relief and horror, that he had succeeded in breaking Raymond free, but that Raymond decided the only way to stop the Commie plot was to assassinate his mother and Johnny Iselin himself. He explains to Ben, “You couldn’t have stopped them, the army couldn’t have stopped them—so I had to.” Then he shoots himself. Not a happy ending, but at least a victory for the good guys, such as they are. The movie suggests that the United States is vulnerable to Communist infiltration—not least because hysterical fearmongers like McCarthy make it easier for infiltrators to manipulate the public—but that there are a few good people willing and able to stand up and fight back for America.

I said that if the movie has a flaw, it’s the simultaneous criticism and validation of McCarthyism. This isn’t quite a flaw, but it is a little weak. If the Commies had been capable of orchestrating and nearly carrying off such an intricate plot to seize control of the White House, Joe McCarthy would have had reason to be worried. On the other hand, the movie makes a good point that those who wish to take power unscrupulously could easily adopt McCarthyist tactics to cultivate public fear and manipulate political paranoia to their advantage.

The good guys win in the end, but there’s one worrying thread left untied at the end: Rosie, Ben’s weirdo girlfriend he meets on a train. The common theory to explain Rosie’s strange behavior is, maybe Ben has also been brainwashed to receive post-hypnotic instructions, and Rosie speaks to him in code to trigger instructions. The biggest problem with the theory is that, if it’s right, Ben’s hypnotic triggers are nothing at all like Raymond’s. Raymond always responds to a suggestion to play Solitaire, and the sight of the Queen of Diamonds (a symbol associated with his mother by way of a massive oedipal complex) puts him in a receiving state where he obeys any command he hears. Rosie’s dialogue with Ben is much more complex, and Ben never enters a trance state as does Raymond. There is one tenuous coincidence which seems to support the theory: The first thing Rosie says to Ben when they meet on the train is, “Maryland is a beautiful state.” Ben replies by pointing out that they’re in currently in Delaware—why would Rosie mention Maryland? Later in the movie, Raymond and his love Josie fly overnight from New York to Maryland to get married. Why go to Maryland? Ben is waiting to arrest Raymond when they return, and Josie informs Ben they’ve just returned from Maryland. Raymond ended up marrying Josie after years of estrangement only because his mother invited her to a party. Is this some absurdly convoluted subplot put in motion by Eleanor Iselin? Get Raymond and Josie married and then hypnotically command Ben to believe that the power of love may cure Raymond of his brainwashing? The idea is even more implausible than the rest of the movie, but it’s the sort of paranoid speculation the movie seems to encourage. Nevertheless, nothing more than paranoid speculation ever comes of it. Ben tells Rosie everything he plans to do—she could easily have prevented him from helping Raymond. Rosie may very well be Ben’s handler, but there’s no indication that Ben can be controlled as Raymond can.

Eleanor Iselin (and Johnny, unwittingly) are apparently the only Americans involved in the Communist conspiracy. If the conspiracy remains intact after their deaths, that fact remains buried deep in the movie’s subtext. More likely, this plot has been defeated. (But will there be more?)

Browse Happy

Browse Happy: Download a good web browser today.

23 August 2004 by Steven | Permalink | Comments disabled

“Rating: Awesome”

I was going to start this post by asserting that I haven’t followed more illustrious bloggers into hiatus because I had gotten tired of writing, but only because of a total lack of time, not to mention technology meltdowns that have been resolved at least in the past week. But then I realized that there is even more too it than that. Basically since the beginning of the Peiratikos blog, my interest in comics has been waning. Occasionally there’s a Seaguy to perk me up, but I mostly stick with it because I like talking with Steven about things we’ve both read and because I enjoy some of my fellow writers in the blogosphere and because it’s good practice to be writing. But I was uninspired and missing blogging only in that I felt some guilt about not keeping up with it. Then last week I got some sort of flu and was stuck in bed and ended up reading something that changed all of that. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, reading Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life by Bryan O’Malley was something of a conversion experience.

I agree with Steven about the contents of the book, though I don’t necessarily endorse quoting of Foreigner lyrics. Scott is a relentlessly self-absorbed 23-year-old Romantic musician in a nonsexual relationship with 17-year-old Chinese-Canadian Knives Chau who forsakes her (kinda) for the literal girl of his dreams, super-cool American rollerblading delivery girl Ramona Flowers. But there’s more to it than that. For one thing, the art is amazingly cute, unique manga-ish flatly layered yet static black-and-white scenes. It’s cute, very cute. I know I said that already, but I emphasize because I might have avoided it for fear of cuteness had Steven not pushed for it, because I’m afraid that cute stories can’t live up to my cuteness standards, whereas ugly stories tend to be fine at staying ugly. But what’s more impressive is that Scott is such a likable hero even while his faults are all totally evident. It’s clear why his bandmates are charmed with Scott (and also why Kim can see through him) and why his roommate Wallace tolerates his general helplessness. He’s endearingly self-assured, unquestioningly sure that he’s the hero of his own narrative.

So there I was, 24 and not in a band but soaking in the bath, trying to open my sinuses, feeling frumpy and unfriendly, and Scott Pilgrim managed to get through anyway. I don’t know what more to say than that it was charmingly written, with a feel of both real affection and real communication that is rare in comics. Scott Pilgrim made me wonder what ever became of all the bands I hung out with back in high school, when I was a high-strung non-physical Catholic school girl not unlike Knives. I assume many of them think of themselves in the same inflated terms Scott Pilgrim would use to assess his own life, but somehow this is much easier to tolerate in a fictional character than it would be in my old circle of friends if we hadn’t all drifted in our own directions. The funniest line is not, as Steven erroneously believes, Scott’s lack of knowledge about’s web address, but that when major characters get ratings (whether as to hotness or just general goodness is unclear) Scott’s 19-year-old sister is rated “‘T’ for Teen.”

And obviously I successfully coerced Steven into reading Scott Pilgrim, meaning that I got an email on my first day back to work saying “Not only is everything grammatical and spelled correctly, it’s intelligent, witty, pomo playful.” That first part is almost the most essential in my book, as I think everyone is right to refuse to take comics seriously as long as comics writers (/artists/letterers) are unwilling to write properly and get their writing edited before going to press. (Most recently, this meant fury at Peter David or whichever Captain Marvel staffer couldn’t bother to do a quick search to realize that Anne Heche is an Anne-with-an-E. Seriously, people, this is the easiest stuff ever, and it makes you look like morons and makes me despise you. Trust me on this.) At any rate, Scott Pilgrim is seriously well-written, funny and poignant and self-aware, smart without being at all pretentious, full of goofy banalities without being stupid. It was a little depressing to see how young Bryan Lee O’Malley is, but I’m ok with the idea that I’m not going to accomplish much, so it’s not a competition. At any rate, he’s clearly very talented, an excellent storyteller with a good ear for dialogue and an eye for the details that matter. I look forward to seeing the next installment of Scott Pilgrim’s life (and we have to wait ’til 2005??) and whatever else he’ll be creating after.

Cell Phone Users Are Finding God

Cell Phone Users Are Finding God: "From Muslims who use their phones to point them toward Mecca, to Roman Catholics who collect text messages from the Vatican, religious observers across the globe are turning to their cell phones for aid and inspiration in practicing their faith."

19 August 2004 by Steven | Permalink | Comments disabled

Don’t Copy That Floppy

Don’t Copy That Floppy: Anti-piracy rap propaganda of the early 1990s.

Via: Mark Pilgrim
See also: “Don’t Copy That Floppy” lyrics

17 August 2004 by Steven | Permalink | Comments disabled

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life vol. 1

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life vol. 1, written and drawn by Bryan Lee O’Malley, is a lovely book. It does not, however, have page numbers. Boo! You should read it anyway, though. You should read this PDF preview.

I’m not a fighter I’m a lover
but if you run
better run for cover

Scott, are you a lover or a fighter?” asks Young Neil. “He’s totally both, but he won’t admit it,” says Stephen Stills. Scott answers both, “Hey! I’m not just both! I’m so much more!”

Lover. Fighter. Rock Star. Hero. And So Much More. This is Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life.

Alan David Doane writes in his review of Scott Pilgrim:

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life is, among other things, a story about the dumb things guys do in their 20s, and the complicated minefield that is the relationship tapestry of any group of people, but especially, again, those in their hormone-soaked early adult years.

Scott Pilgrim’s irresponsibility comes from a romanticism that seems inspired more by video games and rock ‘n’ roll than by Byron. Scott celebrates love and heroism, and he embraces his own individuality to the point of annoying his friends. He has no connection to reality. He obsesses over his romantic fantasies, but he can’t figure out that the URL for is When his brilliant plan to lure the delivery girl of his dreams to his door is thwarted by’s inability to deliver CDs within minutes of his ordering them online, he flies into a rage. Reality for Scott is a half-glimpsed mystery that continuously thwarts his attempts to escape it, but he seems to have managed for 23 years to avoid facing it, with little consequence. He’s a freeloader with no job prospects, but he’s collected a group of friends willing to support him as he pursues his own romantic individuality.

His strategy in life is to elevate banal experience into narratives of romance and heroism, as in his story about meeting Knives Chau on the bus. Knives is on the bus being badgered about boyfriends by her mother, she drops her books, Scott helps her pick them up and tells her, “Hey… don’t worry about it.” Hardly gripping stuff (Scott’s friends are unimpressed), but the art—especially the final shot of Scott, filling three quarters of the page, the point of view tilted and slightly below Scott for extra dynamism—makes the story look exciting.

Scott Pilgrim meets Knives

“Scott Pilgrim is dating a high schooler!”

Knives Chau is an ideal “girlfriend” for Scott. He doesn’t want sex or even kissing. Knives is still deep in the teenage world of ridiculous complex webs of (quasi)romantic relationships in yearbook class become epics of love and betrayal. She totally buys Scott’s rock-hero image—the first time she hears his band play, her eyes acquire a starry, almost zombielike glassiness of pure adoration. Her infatuation with Scott’s heroic self-image makes her a threat. Scott loves her because she tells him stories and because she adores him, but that adoration means their relationship is in constant crisis. They hover on the edge of a first kiss, neither falling over or stepping back, and that’s how Scott likes it—he certainly doesn’t seem interested in taking the relationship to the next level. There’s the danger that Knives will, but it must seem to Scott like a safe danger, since Knives is embarrassed even to hold hands and seems simply to enjoy the attention of an older man. But her obsession with the band looks dangerously like taking it to the next level, which is confirmed when Knives shoves the relationship into physicality.

Scott Pilgrim Kissing

The kiss is complicated by the recent entrance of Ramona Flowers into Scott’s life.

Ramona Flowers is the girl of Scott’s dreams. She rollerblades through a subspace highway which takes a route through Scott’s brain as she delivers packages for Through no fault of his own, as a side effect of subspace travel, he gets totally obsessed with Ramona as she glides through his every dream.

Ramona Flowers is another ideal girlfriend for Scott. Unlike poor Knives, Ramona appeals to Scott’s sexual appetite as well as his romance. She turns his life into a music video/video game, complete with ridiculous mythic backstory about seven evil ex-boyfriends Scott must defeat to win her. Knives has only her high-school stories and her adoration. Ramona isn’t as impressed with Scott’s idiosyncracies, but her appearance in Scott’s life skyrockets him into his own precious fantasy world.

He’s a juke box hero, got stars in his eyes
Yeah a juke box hero, stars in his eyes

The book starts out looking like slice-of-life, but Scott’s precious little life overpowers the naturalistic storytelling and replaces it with a narrative inspired by the (post)modern heroic romances of rock stars and video games. Can he get away with that? What are the limits of his romanticism? What’ll happen with Knives? Will Scott ever face the consequences of his insistence on being the hero of whatever story he finds himself in? Will he end up an evil ex-boyfriend himself?