Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Manhunt for J. Alfred Prufrock

So, this is a silly little thing that I wrote a while back. It's definitely something of a niche piece, but I'm still rather pleased with it. The only place I can think would ever be interested in it would be something like McSweeny's, but sadly they turned it down. So, why not publish it on the blarg?

Anyway, it won't make much sense if you've never read "The Love Song For J. Alfred Prufrock," by T.S. Eliot, so go take a look at that, then come back here, won't you?

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Best/Worst of 2011 #1 is...

If there's been a theme running throughout the Best/Worst of 2011, it's been that each selection tends to be a mixture of entertaining, and horrible. So, if anyone wanted to guess the top spot, the #1 Best/Worst thing of 2011, they would be smart to look for something that is the most entertaining, and simultaneously, the most horrific. And when you come down to it, there's only one entity that could possibly fulfill those requirements:

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Best/Worst of 2011 #2: Paul Christoforo

Okay, now, unless you've been running around in some very specific internet circles, you may not have heard of this guy. Furthermore, the fact that the story I'm about to relate to you broke within the past month does mean that it's fresher in my mind, and might have beaten out a more worthy entry from somewhere down the line in 2011. But... nah. This story is great, and my attempts to explain it to people when it was going down were paltry at best, so rehashing it here means I can elaborate a bit more fully, though I should also add that there are pieces of this story that are still maybe a bit fuzzy.

So. Meet Paul.
This is him. Allegedly. And for the record, I didn't intentionally set out to use the most ridiculous picture of him I could find; it just happens it's hard to find a shot of him that hasn't been memed to death.
Paul runs a little outfit called Ocean Marketing. Ocean Marketing's mission in life is a little... let's say "vague," and when I say that Paul "runs" it, I mean more that he "runs it and is the sole employee." This is true as far as I've been able to determine, anyway. Point is, a few months ago, Ocean Marketing was contracted to do PR/customer service for a product called the Avenger, made by a company called N-Control*. And what is the Avenger? I'll let the folks at Kotaku explain:
"The bizarre-looking device straps on to the Xbox 360 controller, increasing the sensitivity of the buttons and triggers in order to allow for rapid, fluid movements. I'm not sure if it looks amazing or ridiculous. If hard-pressed I'd say it looks like an Xbox 360 controller attempting to cosplay."
So, the Avenger is basically something that fits onto an Xbox 360 controller and allows you to pew-pew better. I've also heard it touted as a device that can help disabled gamers, um, game better. Anyway, the Avenger is a new product, and as such, encountered a number of delays as iControl attempted to bring it to market. This didn't stop people from pre-ordering the Avenger, and when iControl/Ocean Marketing stopped providing updates on the devices' progress, people started asking questions. At this point, things... devolved.

I'm not going to give a blow-by-blow of what happened next. Instead, I'm going to invite you all to rumble on over to Penny Arcade. If you don't know what that is, it's okay, just read this and then come back and we'll all discuss it. There's a lot to read there, but it's worth it. Oh, and it has some salty language, so... be careful if that's a thing for you.
The summary: man asks where his controllers are, with an eye on receiving them by Christmas. Paul replies cryptically, then takes a turn for the childish and insulting. Emails are thrown back and forth. The customer then decides to cc: various gaming sites/blogs, along with gaming and internet comic powerhouse Penny Arcade. At one point, Paul, perhaps feeling his oats a little too firmly, declares that he's a super-industry big shot with booths at various gaming conventions, including PAX East, which is run by the folks at... Penny Arcade.

This aggros PA's Mike Krahulik, who chimes in to say that if this guy seriously had PAX East space, he has just kissed it goodbye. Mike, by the by, is one of PA's founders, and is kind of a Big Deal. Paul, unfortunately, does not recognize his name, at least not at first. Instead, Paul turns on Mike, throws out several more bucketfuls of venom, and then finally gets around to Googling the name of the guy he's trashing. Paul is initially contrite, but eventually gets the insult mobile back into full swing, promising to smear Penny Arcade. Mike grabs the entire exchange and puts it up on PA's site, whereupon it goes viral.

Seriously, though, it you didn't read it before, go read it-- no... experience it.

I love watching the Internet explode at someone. It's awesome in the original sense of the word, that is, it's awe-inspiring but also a little bit scary. It's like watching a lion take down a gazelle, then the lion is in turn consumed by a swarm of flesh-eating locusts. It's the internet at its most Serious Business-y, and when it gets pointed at the right target... it's messy, and glorious.

Paul Christoforo was the right target.
What happened subsequently is a little hard to parse; as is the case with viral experiences, it immediately exploded in several directions at once. But here are some good bullet-points:
  • It was quickly discovered that this wasn't Paul's first run-in with someone about the Avenger.
  • Internet hive-mind Reddit caught wind that much of the content of the Ocean Marketing was plagarized**.
  • Kotaku did a little digging and came up with evidence that Christoforo might be juicing (or at least, juiced in the past, allegedly).
  • Oh, also it was discovered that Christoforo has dabbled in domestic abuse (allegedly).
  • Bombarded, Christoforo jumped from Twitter handle to Twitter handle. He started the day @OceanMarketting [sic], then abandoned that and moved to @oceanstratagy [sic, again], then abandoned that in favor of @OceanDeepBlueSea . Where is he now? I've no idea, but the twitter account linked to on the Ocean Marketing home page? Is still the original @OceanMarketting, which has since been taken over by an indie game advocate.
  • N-Control severed all ties with Christoforo, and hired a new PR rep, who gave the money quote, "there isn’t a bus big enough for me to throw Paul Christoforo under."
  • Pretty much everyone else who Christoforo name-dropped as friends or colleagues chimed in to say they never had anything to do with him. Christoforo responded somewhat predictably.
  • Christoforo eventually reached back out to Mike Krahulik, asking him to "make it stop," which is something that Krahulik was no longer able (or willing, perhaps) to do. Christoforo did give an apology to Mike, one that Mike didn't exactly buy.
  • Christoforo also sent an apology to the initial customer. At this point, everything should have been over, right? Wrong.
  • Christoforo started giving interviews in which he attempted to paint himself as the victim of the mean ol' internet.
  • And as a final garnish on the fail cake, Christoforo initially refused to turn over control of N-Control's email addresses and social media pages. He eventually relented; one imagines that a good lawyer finally got through to him, but ya never know.
Rarely is the concept of Best/Worst defined in a single individual, but that's what we get in Paul Christoforo. The hubris, the complete insanity, the phrases that were instantly memed... it is Best/Worst personified.

*N-Control is the name I've seen used all over the web, save for that Kotaku article. So... I dunno.
**-This particular link is one of the best summations I've found of the whole mess. You can probably skip all of my bullshit and just read that.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Best/Worst of 2011 #3: Occupy Wall Street

I’m risking a lot of liberal cred with this pick. Then again, wait until we get to #1 in this list. Anyway, the Occupy movement. There is quite a lot about the Occupy Movement that could be considered Best. The resolve showed by the occupiers in the face of unrelenting shittyness from the Man. From raids of dubious legality in New York, to outright brutality in Oakland, it’s clear that the Occupy movement has rattled some chains high up in the nation’s political system. What started as a general call to hang out has become a legitimate player in the political process.

Then, you have the ingenuity and community spirit involved in setting up some of the larger Occupy encampments. Things like the Mic Check—a way to disseminate complex ideas through a large group of people without using amplification, and without it turning into a huge game of telephone.
"I think she said 'Blessed are the cheesemakers.'"
And finally, without the Occupy movement, you wouldn’t have one of the all-time Best sequences:
  1. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit decides to write “Ripped from the Headlines” episode about Occupy movement.
  2. Law & Order: SVU builds fake Occupy camp as its set… in a public park.
  3. Real Occupy protesters occupy fake Occupy camp.
  4. Real NYPD cops raze fake Occupy camp, send both real & fake Occupii to the winds.
Yes, this all happened. Great success!

So, yes, there’s a lot of Best involved with Occupy Wall Street… but this is Best/Worst. Now, you might assume that the worst would clearly be represented by the violent crackdowns to the movement, or by certain police organizations going “what 1st amendment?” in regards to journalists attempting to cover raids, or even right down to the NYPD for destroying the Zucotti Park library and then lying about it. All of those things are very distinctly Worst. But what’s really the Worst is that the Occupy Movement was designed from the get-go to accomplish nothing.
"What do we want? Something! When do we want it? Now!"

Yup, you heard me. Look, the movement has been around for how long, now? And what has it achieved? Not a whole hell of a lot, right? Right. Now, I will throw OWS a bone in that the legislative party you might expect to take up action in this situation (Congress) is currently enjoying Confederate money-levels of uselessness. 
But even if Congress did decide “Hey, let’s write some laws that OWS would like,” they probably wouldn’t be able to do it. Why? Because no one knows what Occupy Wall Street wants. Sure, they have some generalities—enhance and enforce regulation of various Wall Street firms, halt the erosion of the middle class, etc., but there have been no specifics. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the movement has been vehemently opposed to appointing any leaders. That’s not really a Worst thing in and of itself, however the fact is, having everyone be able to speak for the OWS means that its voice will never be coherent. Second, the movement has said that they don’t want to make any demands, because ‘only terrorists give demands.’

A person can demand something they feel is within their rights, without being labeled a terrorist. You know what gets you labeled a terrorist? When you “demand” those rights by blowing shit up, or by otherwise attempting to make your point through sheer violence. If you’re not doing that, feel free to demand away! Why, you know what recently-spawned political movement absolutely does not hesitate before demanding things?
Absolutely it’s the Tea Party. While the edges of the Tea Party are definitively frayed, the core message is easy to take away: Tea Partiers want to repeal Obama’s Health Care Act, and to reduce government spending drastically with an eye on paying off the federal debt. You may not agree with their message (Spoiler: I don’t!), but at least you know the message.
It not always a good thing to know, of course.
Occupy Wall Street’s message, by contrast, seems to be something along the lines of “We want change but you’re going to have to guess what it is, and we’re not leaving until you do.” Um, good luck with that. Heck, even if you don’t want to give “demands,” I don’t see anyone holding you back from making concrete “suggestions.” Something along the lines of “We might like it if you took Sarbanes-Oxley a step further, or maybe if you stopped letting corporations pour oceans of money into our elections by doing something about Citizens United. Maybe you could work on that, for a start.”

We’re running long, so I won’t get into another of my OWS pet peeves (for those of you keeping score, it’s that having a college or university in it does not automatically mean that your town should be occupied). Instead, I’ll sum up: for having the Best intentions, but the Worst execution, Occupy Wall Street was an easy pick for the Best/Worst of 2011.

Tomorrow: we shift from a large movement, to a single guy whose Best/Worst value looms large.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Best/Worst of 2011 #4: NBC

Man, remember when NBC was good at stuff? Had I done this list last year, I’m fairly certain these guys would’ve been on it, for the fiasco that was the Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien affair. This year, they’re on it because of comedy.
Well, intentional comedy.

NBC is weird. In the past couple of years, they’ve decided that programs like Outsourced and Whitney are things that the American public was clamoring for. Also, they put a program on the air about a superhero who had a fancy cape? I’m not really sure what that was about. I mean, it wasn’t considered a comedy, but I think it’s indicative of NBC’s decision-making process, namely, “let’s throw some shit on the screen and hope something sticks.”
"We're going to run this forty hours a week, guys."

At the same time, NBC has continued to nurture an under-appreciated gem in its Thursday night comedy lineup. In the past few years, said lineup has featured The Office, Parks & Recreation, Community, and 30 Rock. Granted, one of those shows probably needs to be mercy-killed at the moment, but still. How do you not win with that lineup? First of all, I’m not sure when the last time was that those four shows were all on the schedule at the same time. To be fair, that’s not always NBC’s fault (30 Rock wasn’t on the air this fall in part due to Tina Fey’s pregnancy). But when you have four really good-to-great shows, you should do everything you can to get them going at the same time.

Instead, NBC is moving 30 Rock back into the rotation, and shelving Community (and doing a bunch of other stuff to its schedule, but these are the important moves for our purposes). Part of the reason is ratings-related, yes, and that speaks to a broader point about why we don’t have nice things, but focusing back on NBC—right now, they own two of the best network comedies on the air. Heck, I’d argue that they’re among the best comedies on TV, period. These are Community and Parks & Recreation. They’re not very similar, outside of the fact that they both employ excellent ensemble casts, but they’re both great. And they’re both adored by the Internet (n.b.- you might want to let that first link load for a while). You know, the Internet, where all the young people are? But instead of using Internet adoration to build up a following for the network, NBC is dicking those shows, and their fanbases, around.

It comes down to branding. The big broadcast networks never had to worry about such things; they were the only stores in town, period. When Fox came along, they needed a way to distinguish itself, so they featured programming that was hip and edgy. That's been watered down a lot since they first showed up, but it's still what sets Fox apart from everyone else.
Well, that and dicking Joss Whedon around.
Allow me to make a completely obvious statement that has been made hundreds of times by now: the television scene has only gotten more and more fractured since then. Each channel tries to position itself in its own niche, though those niches manage to shift around a bit as time passes.
Original mission: programming for history nerds. Current mission: conspiracy theories and WWII.
Network television channels need their niches, too. I’d argue that CBS has already figured this out, positioning themselves as the home for broadly-pleasing television. Fox is still edgy and sexy and all that. CW is television for angsty teens, and so on. NBC, on the other hand, continue to show that they are the network that Just Doesn’t Get It. And as long as they don't get it, they won't understand that when they have quality programming, they should move mountains to get people to watch it. This approach doesn't always work (see: Arrested Development), but it's better than bumping Community because by God, Whitney needs to stay on the air.

Yes, NBC, because you can't recognize a good thing when you have it, you're the Worst.

Tomorrow: the #3 choice could use a shower. Among other things.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Best/Worst of 2011 #5: Dream Teams

2011 was a bad year for Dream Teams. Okay, this actually is a bit of a conceptual spill-over from 2010, when the Miami Heat became one of the most polarizing franchises in sports history by adding LeBron James and Chris Bosh to its roster.
"This is gonna work, right guys? Right?"
Part of what rankled people was the megalomaniacal aspect of how the Heat came together; not just LeBron’s “The Decision,” but the fact that the introduction press conference for James and Bosh played out more like a post-Finals celebration, and the fact that LeBron guaranteed an absurd number of championships for the team.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Best/Worst of 2011: Honorable Mentions

Every year around this time, media of all kinds come together to spew forth various lists of the things they deem Best and Worst of the past 12 months. These lists are invariably broken into various categories—Movies! Books! Guys named Dave!—and you could probably wade deep into January in reading all of them. However, there is one niche in the proverbial market that I have yet to see tapped: the Best/Worst list. This doesn’t mean a list of both the Best and the Worst things of this particular orbit, rather it means a list of things that simultaneously exhibit qualities of being Best/Worst. For example: eating ice cream = the Best! Getting stung by a bee = the Worst! Getting stung by a bee while eating ice cream = Best/Worst! You get the idea.

Over the next five days, I'll be listing the five Best/Worst things of 2011. Some caveats: most of what I’m about to cover here has already been covered at length by people who are a) paid to cover it for a living, and b) smarter than I am. So with those grains of salt in place, let’s get to it, by listing some honorable mentions.