The second season of 30 Rock (a perennial favorite of the Yesterday’s Salad staff) ends with Tracy Morgan’s character creating the ultimate distraction: a seamless meld of video games and pornography.  The creation of the game is depicted in a pitch-perfect homage to the film Amadeus, with Tracy working frenetically into the night, as his co-worker, Frank, looks on in despair a la the jealous Salieri.  When Frank attempts to dissuade Tracy, he explains that it is impossible to create a porn video game because of a phenomenon known as the uncanny valley.

The uncanny valley is a metaphor for how people’s affinity toward computer-generated characters follows a parabolic curve (much like a valley).  A computer-generated character that looks nothing like a person, such as an animated car, will not make a viewer feel much of anything.  Much as we might be fond of our cars, an animated car is just an object.  However, if the computer generated car had great big eyes and a smile, we would have much less trouble relating to it.  The more the character looks like a real person, the more alive it seems.  Yet, there is a point at which the limitations of the animation start to appear, representing the bottom of the uncanny valley.  After this point, as the animators try to make the character look more human, the character becomes progressively more unreal, and we feel much less sympathy (and perhaps, more than a little creeped out).

What this means for a hypothetical sex video game is that any attempt to make the game’s characters realistic enough to be arousing will instead make them incongruous enough to be repulsive.  Unless your audience has a fetish for cartoon characters (a small audience in the U.S.), or has a fetish for being repulsed (which may violate the principle of entailment in this situation), this is not great a recipe for commercial viability. Within the context of 30 Rock, this explanation is meant humorously, but it is essentially the prevailing theory for why there aren’t more video games about (or even featuring) sex, while there are plenty of games featuring violence, whether cartoonish or quasi-realistic.

A good example of this theory in practice is found in the game Dragon Age: Origins.  Dragon Age is an epic fantasy in the vein of the Lord of the Rings, and tasks the player with defending their kingdom against a horde of demon-like creatures.  As anyone familiar with the general setting might expect, there is a fair amount of fighting (against both demon and human alike), and it is decently violent.  With fast pacing and fairly realistic graphics, the combat is both dramatic and fun.  To the game’s credit, there is a very rich backstory and well-developed characters, and the larger part of the game is spent talking and politicking amongst them.  Thanks to quite a bit of cleverly-written dialogue (leavened with some innuendo), this part of the game is even more fun than the combat, and is often moving.

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Blog stats are always depressing. Posts that make serious statements on the world around get little traffic, while those that are entirely inconsequential and happen to mention porn stars or cartoon redheads get loads of traffic (see here if you’re interested in la royaume des gros seins, Brandy Taylor, and here for posts about her cartoon counterpart, Jessica Rabbit).

Yet knowing this didn’t quite prepare me for the fact that the top post on YS today is Mandrake’s “2008 Watch: Why Barack Obama Will Not Be President,” a humor piece written about a year ago. There’s nothing serious about the piece, it’s more an assemblage of witticisms and not-quite witticisms. Nor is there anything topical about it; the jokes are a year old, and it’s premise is bunk.

Of course, that doesn’t stop people from googling “Barack Obama is not president,” or “obama not president,” and being sent here. I’m really not sure what these people expect to find. I don’t have proof that he’s not president, nor do I think that proof exists. On the contrary.

I love conspiracy theories. But even if you don’t believe he’s eligible to be president, he was still inaugurated. And even if today was nothing but simulacra, it was pretty good simulacra, at least third order, to the point where it doesn’t matter any more. The reality and fictionality of this situation would have merged and he’d still be our president. No, not even YS at our most Baudrillardian will endorse an Obama not president hypothesis.

So for those hoping to make YS an imagined community of Obama denialdom: sorry. He is our president and hopefully will be for a long time.

jean-baudrillard.jpgThe Other, by him/self, cannot hope to comprehend the confluence between media and expectation.  As noted phenom and phenomenon Tom Brady was and was not in possession of the “pigskin,” a transient construction of history and sport, revolving between the role of athletics and the genealogy of the elliptical sphere come from cow and pig bladder.  While “passing averages” and “interceptions” may be considered tentative interpretations, there exists no cogent, phallogocentric conception of how the man from San Mateo “set the record for the longest consecutive win streak in NFL history” without critically transcending our ideal of otherness, and in the same breath, managed to diminish the New England Patriots’ ur-definition of “winningest.”  Perhaps we can understand this most simply by comprehending that Most problems, like answers, have finite resolutions. The basis for these resolutions contain many of the ambiguities which conditional man daily struggles with. Accordingly, most problematic solutions are fallible. Mercifully, all else fails; conversely, hope lies in a myriad of polemics. . . .

Pro amicitia

November 8, 2007

Many times, it has indeed been said, that I speak too much of the great and glorious days of times past, in which there were men of unquestionable character, hard moral fortitude, repressed Freudian desires, and the means to withstand all the vices which the world was able to throw at them. While I think this not an unreasonable attempt, the particular flavor of current audiences seems to now allude me, I find myself, Me, the Ciceronian, entrapped in my own meshes of words which lead me to the conclusion, that neither basketball, nor rhetoric, nor censuring the pursuits of overly soft men is it of any advantage of any sort to me, instead, allow me rather to regale you with a brief description of current events and news, to be concise, a History of My Times and those directly Contemporaneous.  But one might say, and one most wise, might indeed say that the things of which I speak are of great moral benefit to them, for indeed I speak not merely for my own enjoyment, but to produce in all you most wise and awesome readers and commentators the sorts of moral virtues which may indeed be beyond reproach. Fear not wise men, against whom the vices of modernity have not yet triumphed. Let us together, join as one to bring back the pristine state of purity that so characterized the latter days, where ancient and good right, looked forward to times made pure by simplicity, more strong and courageous foes to conquer, and lacking of sophistry and artistry which have so come to characterize our very thoughts and actions, in particular, when one could plunge hands into the deep and lovely fertile soil of Italy, as yet made not more rich by the blood of Italians. You may think I have too long spoken, yet I come now at last to the crux of my point. O ye foolish heirs of the Roman power in our land, why do ye kill each other? Why does blood run red in the streets, in the restaurants, in the cars, and at the gas station? Has enough blood been not yet shed, do you not read of the terrible wars our folk have brought against each other? Indeed, I must protest in the strongest terms, that still you and your capos continue to fight for the paltry scraps of little things, heirs to the great and glorious goodness of the republic, indeed, all may yet be good for you here, even though you speak the half bastardized native tongue, now fully gone! O Italians, I call upon you to unite, to train your weapons upon the barbaroi, to make great the promise of all that was ever of manly strength and virility and strength in our land. Why fight and die upon the streets, one for something small, the other for something even less? Allow not the heavy friendships which characterized our darkest age, and carried away all into the abyss of placid Augustanity once more lead to our own destruction. Rather, let there be peace among all the Roman race, and let not the unholy gore of Remus run once more through alien streets.

When I was a kid, my mother sometimes dragged me to clothing and department stores at the mall. She dragged my brother by a rope.

I remember being less than excited about this, but I remember also eventually abandoning whatever tantrum I had on the roll-out and settling for ice cream promises and the comfort of a nearby chair – situated in some corner of whatever store we were at when said tantrum started. I had always assumed the chairs were for kids like me, kids who needed a place to sit and pout, or sit and whine, while we waited for The Ice Cream Dream to come true.

Later in life (today) I realized that those chairs weren’t really put there for kids. Sure, they worked for kids. A little butt is still a butt. Although a clothing rack is not a place for taking off your harness and pants (oh brother!)

The point is that I never really realized until today (maybe because I had been a bachelor ((biter-of-the lady-eyes)) for so long, until recently) what those chairs in clothing or department stores really represented: a conciliatory gesture, made on the part of the store, towards your everyday, tag-along boyfriend.

I should point out, before she reads it and bites my ears, that girlfriend of ibiteyoureyes is very kind and fair when it comes to shopping. I know she fights the urge to “do those extra three laps” when I am with her. And I appreciate it. The half an hour or so of browsing that I end up having to wait through if and when we shop is absolutely nothing compared to what other women (like cousin of ibiteyoureyes!) can do to a man and his patience in a mall, store, or shopping center.

However…

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Several days over the last week, though not everyday–perhaps suggesting something about the way we organize time–Yesterday’s Salad (a title, I believe to be untranslatable into any languages other than Tagalog, Esperanto, and Cinema, the only real international language) receives the beneficence of dozens of readers searching for Anne Hathaway. And while we’ve mentioned princess Anne many times, the post that actually receives the most Anne Hathaway traffic is this one, Notwithabang…’s unravelling of the JT mystery. I have to say I’m confused. Were the number one Anne Hathaway page on YS to be, “Anne Hathaway, Supercriminal?” or even this posting on her movie Havoc, I could at least understand the relevancy. But the rambling post about JT (a perfomative of JT’s own rambling)? As it stands, I’m incredulous.

What makes this whole affair even more mysterious, nay sordid, is the fact that I can not reduplicate the results. Yesterday’s Salad is not within the first 200 hits on google for “Anne Hathaway” (though, thankfully, we are still number one for “Anne Hathaway extradition”), nor are we even close to the top for “anne hathway BREasts” or “princess of Genovia nipples,” unfamily friendly search terms that are only tangentially related to YS’ Anne related posts. I do hope that someone led here from a search for Ms. Hathaway will explain.

But our moment in the Anne Hathaway limelight does call for some sort of celebration, or at least the parallel phenomenon of commemoration. I answer the call for commemorating, which is in itself the call to mourn the passing of the event–even if the event itself did not occur–into memory. I’d be remiss not to say a few words about the death of Baudrillard. I somehow think he would like my connection with him and Miss Hathaway, the way the celebrity of one gives me the appropriate audience to celebrate another.

The obituary in the times covers most of his major claims, or at least the major claims associated with America, and ironically, although this is endemic to obituaries, serves as a necessary introduction to his work. It is a shame that we are often only introduced to people so intriguing and important at the moment when we can no longer be introduced. The obituary, much shorter than the Times’ piece on Derrida, a piece which acted more as an attack on Derrida than as notice of life in death, ends with the same sort of criticisms the Times published against Derrida:

Like other postmodernists with whom he was often associated (despite their differences), he was frequently criticized as obscure. “If the texts seem incomprehensible, it is for the excellent reason that they mean precisely nothing,” Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont wrote in their 1998 book “Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science.”

As you may have noticed, the Saladeers are divided on the issue of critical theory. I whole-heartedly support it, Notwithabang… hates it, and this whole discussion must be making ibiteyoureyes angry (though what doesn’t). Critical Theory appeals to me as a field, not as a credo. I enjoy reading it and thinking about many of the topics raised by a Baudrillard, a Barthes, a Benjamin, a Beyond the Pleasure Principle, a Bakhtin, or a Benito Santiago (a joke). Criticism fails at precisely the moments Sokal and Bricmont discuss, the moments where critics try to move outside of the humanities and make claims about science or actualia. Baudrillard’s theory that the Gulf War did not take place may be crazy, but the argument behind it, that we live in a world where media images are both so controlled and saturating that it would be possible to fake a war, is worthy of consideration. To me, he has a major point to make about the distancing of wars from the private lives of citizens, a subject also addressed by Benjamin in “The Storyteller”. Consider the great lengths taken by this Bush administration to hide images of caskets in this Gulf War. The government tries to control citizens views on the war by extending the distance of soldiers and citizens. The true monumentality of the Abu Ghraib scandal was that it showed a way around the official lines of communication. Word spread through new technologies and the increasing of voices. It was a belated rebuttal to Baudrillard, if you will.

I also believe that most of Notwithabang…’s hatred of post colonialism stems more from Columbia and people employed there rather than a lot of the field’s claims. There is such a thing as post-Colonial literature in addition to post-Colonialism. Midnight’s Children is written in such a way as to refer to both Indian and British traditions. It’s also in English, the primary tool of colonialism. Post-Colonialism will ultimately prove to be a fleeting field, I’m sure, as its premise is temporally bound.

But to return to a topic at hand, literature is a world without a language of truth, and it is in this world where critical theory is most interesting and effective. There are only readings, and interpretations are a literature as appealing as what inspired it. The Times ended their obituary with Baudrillard himself, and I will co-opt their quote and let him speak here as well.

“What I’m going to write will have less and less chance of being understood,” he said, “but that’s my problem.”