Spam of the Day: August 31, 2005

Okay, technically this is from Monday, but I didn’t see it in my filter until today.

From: “Bert Sanderson”
Date: Mon, 29 Aug 2005 20:54:51 -0700

Recent Attack forces Highland Authorities to action.

Forensic experts examining the grisly remains of American tourist Tiani Brueggart have now concluded that the forty-one year old Yoga instructor and mother of two had been viciously attacked at her Invermoriston campsite last week by a massive amphibious predator possessing a thirty-eight inch bite span. Marine biologist Zachary Wallace agreed after identifying slide tracks of the animal he estimates at 55-feet long and weighing in excess of 8 tons! “The reality here is that this was not some legendary creature the Highlanders portend to be an extinct plesiosaur, but a very real deepwater predator. The drastic drop in salmon this season has caused this animal to alter its eating habits, and Mrs. Brueggart was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

It continues in this vein, but I’ll spare posting you the entirety of the message. Out of curiosity, and to make sure I wasn’t causing any undue suffering to the relatives of poor Ms. Brueggart, I did a Google search on her name. Rather unsurprisingly, every single site that referenced her name had the exact same sentence: “Still, the recent gruesome death of American tourist Tiani Brueggart, now attributed to the creature, has caused concern among residents.”

As far as spam goes, I’m wasn’t sure what the purpose of this message was. The best I could figure was that they were interested in driving tourist traffic away from Scotland, which led me to believe its only source could be England. However, reading to the bottom of the message indicates that it is in fact an advertisement for a forthcoming novel.

In the continued blurring of PR and reality, some places seem to be reporting this as news (though nothing reputable). As advertising goes, I wonder if it’ll be successful. I wouldn’t normally think that people would buy books that were advertised in spam, but I guess I wouldn’t suspect that people would buy The Da Vinci Code or C1AL1S either, so marketing must count for something. And I suppose this is the most legitimate thing I’ve ever seen advertised in spam. As far as publicity stunts go, it can’t be any worse than communicating with your agent via a voice modulator.

Pax Geekana

As you can see below, Jason has already touched on our experience at PAX. The key word to take away here is, I think, “surreal.” The adulation which Jerry and Mike received when running on to stage was of an intensity usually reserved for rock stars. I suppose you could say they’re the rock stars of online comics, but, well, that seems a little bit silly.

When asked about their celebrity status, Jerry said that on very few occasions did he have any feeling of being famous, and that being famous on the Internet was kind of ridiculous. But PAX was one of the few occasions where it’s suddenly rammed home; being confronted by 2000 people cheering vociferously can certainly have that effect on you, I suppose.

Personally, I was fascinated by the breadth of geeks on display at the convention. Many people talk about how geeks are “in” nowadays, and I think that’s accurate (one of the reasons I believe that although persecution played a part in geek identity for a long time, this is becoming less and less the case). A convention largely based around gaming draws a very particular subgenus of geekery and the “geek chic” crowd was probably underrepresented, but in spite of that, there were plenty of geeks who were not the stereotypical long-haired, acne-ridden, black-clothed, glasses-wearing, socially awkward nerds of yesteryear—your father’s geeks, if you will. I mean, there were geeks that looked like you and me (to be fair, if you are Jason, Tony or Kai, they were you and me)! The proportion of males to females was also surprising. I’d be interested to know the exact figures, but I think we pegged the breakdown at somewhere between 70%:30%-60%:40%. Perhaps that’s high, but the ladies were out in force for certain.

In general, I think we’re seeing a shift to a New Geek Culture (if I may be allowed to capitalize). Elements of it have been bleeding into the mainstream for years, whether it be sci-fi staples like Star Wars, or activities like video gaming. Your average video gamer is almost as likely to be a jock playing Madden as it is to be a geek playing Katamari Damacy. Or vice versa. Whether this means that “Old” Geek Culture is being diluted, I don’t know. I think there will always be a hardcore segment of the geek population that enjoys overclocking, hacking, and role-playing games, but the increase in the casual geek may mean a new wave of the worst kind of persecution: geek-on-geek. Only time will tell.

When Gamers Attack

Dan, Tony, and I got back from visiting Kai in Seattle and attending the Penny Arcade Expo, or “PAX,” and boy, that sure was a surreal experience, though a pleasant one overall. Unless I ever return to the convention, I doubt I will ever again cheer so loudly at a game played on an Atari 7800, see online cartoonists address a crowd from a stage like celebrity comedians, or put an entire canister of seventy-two blue, “lightly carbonated” Bawls mints into my mouth at once. (And even if I do go back, I most certainly won’t do the third again.) Also, I can report with some confidence that people in Seattle are nicer in general than people in the northeast, and that I myself am cold-hearted and unfriendly in comparison.

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Goodbye, Mr. Robinson

I kind of wish I didn’t end up writing about death so much. While doing my daily roundup this morning, I came across the news that Brock Peters had died. You may not know Peters by name, but he’s probably best remembered for his role as Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird, and is one of the reasons I respect that film so much (even though Gregory Peck beat out Peter O’Toole’s performance in Lawrence of Arabia for the Best Actor Oscar that year—oh, to once again have an Oscar battle where your choices are Gregory Peck and Peter O’Toole…). Sci-fi fans may remember Peters’s bit part as Admiral Cartwright in Star Trek IV and Star Trek VI, and his later appearance on Deep Space Nine as Sisko’s father.

But to me, he’ll always be the voice of Darth Vader. Yes, yes, I realize James Earl Jones practically defines the role, but Peters played him through all three Star Wars radio dramas and managed to make the part firmly his own. It’s part of the magic of the radio dramas that different actors could play the roles we’d become so accustomed to, sound completely different, and yet perfectly capture some aspect of the character. John Lithgow’s Yoda is another good example, as is Perry King’s Han Solo.

Vader’s voice is so important, though; it is one of the most recognizable vocal performances in all of storytelling. Peters brought a different kind of approach; his voice is faster, less ponderous than Jones’s slow delivery in the later films, and closer to his performance in A New Hope. There is a quick danger to his voice in the fight scenes that I always found reminiscent of the leaner, more agile Vader shown in early Ralph McQuarrie concept art. Peters’s voice had some of the same rich enunciation behind it that Jones’s did, lending to a Vader who sounded strangely cultured for all of his villainy, but it was also a voice that could drip with contempt. My favorite line delivered by Peters in the entire radio drama trilogy is from the end of Empire. Luke, his hand already severed, is hanging out over the immense core shaft in Cloud City; Vader’s identity as his father is already revealed.

Vader: Come with me Luke, it is the only way this can end.
Luke: No, there’s another. I can jump.
Vader: Is that the wisdom of a Jedi?

The sheer derision that Peters puts in his voice on that line gives me chills. I’m not sure it would have fit with Jones’s performance, but in Peters’s hands, it becomes the ultimate expression of a disdain that somehow still manages to conceal admiration for his son’s courage. The echoes of this reappear in the final scenes of Jedi; as Luke lies, writhing in agony from the Emperor’s assault, Vader must make a choice between his son and the dark side. He chooses to seize the Emperor and cast him into the pit. The Emperor shrieks, reminding Vader that he is his master, to which the Dark Lord, in his final act of redemption, responds: “Darth Vader’s master, but not Anakin Skywalker’s.”

I would have liked to meet Brock Peters and tell him how much I enjoyed his performance. I’m sure he didn’t get a lot of recognition for it, especially following in the footsteps of James Earl Jones. Nonetheless, as with all good actors, he reveals something of himself in his work, and in that small way, I feel that I knew him, though not as well as I would have liked.

What Batman Wouldn’t Do..?

Henry Jenkins says that fans often appropriate popular texts and make them their own, an idea that seems more or less popular in some branches of my discipline. I say that old characters kept alive for merchandising and licensing purposes ought to be reinterpreted by whoever feels like it. DC Comics says (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Give us all your homoerotic Batman paintings or we will sue your ass.”

Technically speaking, I believe that DC probably needs to protect its trademark or else risk losing it. These paintings aren’t just being pulled from gallery walls, though—DC is asking that all unsold paintings be turned over too. Appropriating from popular art to create “fine” art is nothing new, of course, so I wonder how this will pan out. I doubt it will turn into a “War on Fanfic,” but when you think about it, that’s kind of ironic; I can almost guarantee that there are more people who have read (or even written) Batman/Robin erotic fan fiction than people who would have seen those paintings in that gallery had DC not provided them with free publicity…

Sexual Favor, Sort Of

Most bloggers wait until they have a large fan base before asking for help from their readers. I’m not asking for money, help with moving, or votes in an online blog competition, though; actually, I need help acquiring a digital file, so the interweb seemed to be a good place to turn.

Tomorrow night at 11:00 PM eastern/8:00 PM pacific, G4, the video game cable channel, will be airing a special on the history of sexual content in video games. This is strongly related to my academic research, and there is some possibility I’ll be making a documentary related this topic soon. I’m still looking into finding someone to tape this special, but I don’t actually own a VCR. If you have (or know someone who has) a TiVo or other generic PVR device, and also has access to this cable channel, I’d much appreciate if you could grab the show for me and let me know at jason@ this domain. I don’t know what I can offer in return, short of several things I’d do anyway if asked nicely (e.g., providing you with the means to play old arcade games on your computer, sending along cartoons that should never have been cancelled from television, paying for your sandwich at lunch, etc.).

“Cewebrity” Fear Factor

English is great for neologizing. There are few languages in the world that lend themselves as easily to the creation of new words; in French, for example, the somewhat tyrannical L’Académie française carefully monitors the state of the language, creating new words where needed (they are, however, perhaps most famous for their insistence upon keeping Anglicized words out of French; hence “le courriel” instead of “l’email”—though a quick Googlefight shows that “l’email” is trouncing “le courriel” almost 5 to 1—take that, language police!).

Hence, “cewebrity.” What’s funny is I thought myself very clever when I came up with this word about ten minutes ago, in the bathroom (though I feared that perhaps it sounded a little too much like Barbara Walters). Of course, then it occurred to me that I’d better Google it before making outlandish claims of authorship.

Seriously, what would we do without Google?

So, I’m not the first person to come up with the word. However, I am vastly amused that the second entry (after, which is coincidentally run by a guy named Dan, who is probably not me) was another blogger thinking he had come up with the word, only to get smacked down by Google. However, what interested me is that he actually mentions he got 1,290 hits on Google for “cewebrity,” as of September 1, 2004. My search returned 5,450, which clearly shows that use of the term “cewebrity” has more than quadrupled in the space of not-quite a year.

This seems to be one of those words that many people come up with independently, feeling very pleased with themselves, which is kind of ridiculous, because it really only involved the changing of one letter. I now have a window full of tabs linking to uses of “cewebrity,” many of them wondering about its origins. I suppose we’ll have to wait until the OED chimes in.

So what does this mean? Well, clearly, I need to start recording on the web the brilliant things I come up with, so that when the OED goes digging, they will find that I invented them. The problem, of course, being that putting them out on the web makes it easier for people to steal my brilliant thoughts (oh, they’re well worth stealing, trust me). The old security by obscurity problem.

This was originally going to be a post about people who are cewebrities, and what that means, but I’m too far gone on this tangent, so that will have to wait for another time. Also, I refuse to ever use the word “cewebrity” again. There, we’re done.

The Daily Doom: Endless Possibilities, Mer-Man Prince, Whedon Loves Mars

Good morning. It’s Thursday, August 18th, and here’s what’s going on in your world.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled drudgery.

Fun With Words and Musical Genius

Pronunciation: ‘di-d&l-E, ‘did-lE
Function: noun
Etymology: probably alteration of doodly-squat
slang : the least amount : anything at all (“didn’t know diddly-squat about sports”—Sam Toperoff)

Pronunciation: ‘di-tE
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English ditee, from Middle French ditié poem, from past participle of ditier to compose, from Latin dictare to dictate, compose
: an especially simple and unaffected song

Pronunciation: ‘di-dE
Function: proper noun
Etymology: probably alteration of daddy, as in Puff Daddy, P. Diddy
: New stage moniker of rapper/fashion mogul Sean “Puffy” Combs, who is totally insane (“It’s five letters, one word. The name is changed. We made it simpler. We removed the P. The P was getting in between us. We’re entering the age of Diddy.”—Sean Combs)

(Thanks to Dan for the link. I’m now cannibalizing off my own co-blogger for posts. This blog is going places. “You gonna see how I’m gonna navigate you through the journey.”)

What’s in a Game?

When you think about it, Dungeons and Dragons is a lot like fantasy football. Or, more broadly, fantasy role-playing games in general have a lot in common with fantasy sports leagues, so far as I can tell. This seemed like a fairly innocuous observation to me as I reflected on it yesterday morning on the subway. It didn’t occur to me that someone might actually feel threatened by it.

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