December 12, 2023

Venetian ethnogenesis and its role as the creative hotbed of the Italian peninsula after the fall of the Roman Empire

I've been trying to write up various posts on describing and tracing the history of striking visuals in cinematic history, having been motivated by watching the 1970s TV show The Incredible Hulk -- from what I've seen, easily the best photographed TV show ever made.

It's not as great as the movies from the same time period, since they had long production schedules and could deliberate more over composition (how things are arranged within the frame), unlike a weekly TV show. And perhaps the more talented people went to work in movies instead of TV. But I've been blown away by how vibrant the colors are, and how much contrast in brightness is shown within a single scene (i.e., dark shadows along with bright highlights).

But the iconic look of movies and TV from the second half of the '70s and into the early '80s is for another post. And so is the history of high-contrast visuals within movie history (not so surprising spoiler -- back to D.W. Griffith, in his shorts from the late 1900s, before his features and way before German Expressionism).

Then I thought how far back such a style goes in visual media that are not photography or movies. Naturally I looked into European painting -- Caravaggio, chiaroscuro lighting, that whole phenomenon. But that wasn't what I was seeing in the Hulk TV show -- Caravaggio et al. are using contrasting bright-dark tones for the purposes of rendering 3D volumes within a 2D medium like a painting.

When you see someone's face being half lit up and half in shadow, with the dividing line down the middle, it tells you their face is not flat but protrudes along that line -- that protrusion of features is like a mountain chain that is blocking the light, coming from the direction of the lit-up half, from reaching the other half, leaving it dark. Or using shading to show muscles in full 3D sculptural pseudo-reality.

I'll call this the "sculptural" use of chiaroscuro.

Certainly the classic TV shows and movies of the 1970s employ this form of chiaroscuro -- which can be used to render the 3D volume not only of individual people, but animals, buildings, particular elements of a building (like a column), and other objects that could be placed within the frame.

What makes the Hulk look so striking is not just this form of chiaroscuro, but its use at the total composition level -- breaking up the frame into regions of darker light, and brighter light, often several such regions alternating with each other as a function of distance "into" the frame, or from left-to-right across the frame. That is, not just a simple breaking-up of "left half dark, right half bright" -- even though that, too, is a welcome degree of contrast from a uniformly lit scene that leaves the aesthetic lobe of our brain unstimulated.

I'll call this the "compositional" use of chiaroscuro. Typically, works that use it also use sculptural chiaroscuro for the smaller-scale figures, buildings, etc. within the overall scene. It's taking that for granted, and applying it at a higher scale, and for purely aesthetic purposes, not necessarily for realism (if only our everyday environments always had such striking contrasts in them...).

It is most evident in exterior scenes that involve some kind of landscape -- across such a distance, some regions may be naturally brighter because there's nothing blocking the sunlight from directly striking them, while other regions may be darker due to a building, a large tree or group of trees, a patch of clouds, or some artificial obstruction put there by the movie-makers in order to give some variety to the brightness levels around the landscape.

In still photography, this compositional chiaroscuro is the defining feature of the work of the American pioneer Ansel Adams, and sure enough, that is mostly of landscapes. He used crafty technical tricks after already taking the negative, like "dodging" and "burning" to brighten or darken the targeted regions within the final print, increasing the contrast from what he'd originally shot. Artificial or not, it makes a more striking result, and that's all that matters. As a great artist, he didn't want his audience to suffer from an unstimulated brain.

I doubt any such tricks were applied in post-production for a weekly TV show like the Hulk, and even in feature films, I think it's more used for limited optical effects, not the entire look-and-feel of the movie.

* * *

Well, Caravaggio and others under his influence were not using chiaroscuro compositionally -- at most, it may have been applied to a small intimate space like a room where a half-dozen people are gathered together. And more likely, to a single individual in a portrait, for sculptural purposes.

He was working in Rome circa 1600, and even back when that city was the center of a thriving imperial culture, they did not use chiaroscuro compositionally. Roman frescos use shading to carve a 3D form out of a 2D painting on a wall, but not to create dramatic tension and variety across an entire scene or landscape.

Nor, for that matter, did the more well-funded painting style of Florence. I was really shocked to see how little the big names of the "Italian" Renaissance -- Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael -- used striking brightness changes across a composition. They're way too evenly lit, on the scenic scale, to make an impression on that lobe of our brain.

Their lesser known contemporaries in that region were scarcely any better, although some might have used it once in awhile to experiment, or because that specific patron wanted that kind of look, I don't know.

But to give credit where it's due among the Florentines, Ghirlandaio used chiaroscuro compositionally in his Adoration of the Shepherds (1485), where there are alternating levels of brightness "into" the frame (basically, bright-dark-bright-dark-bright). And across the frame, the right two-thirds is relatively darker, and the left third is brighter -- but this simple scheme has several sub-regions that stand out from that, to make it a more complex rhythm, with the top-left being dark, and the bottom-center being bright, and the distant bright landscape on the right side that is shown through a dark opening.

Partial credit for his Old Man and His Grandson (1490), where a small landscape in what is otherwise a large portrait has varying brightness levels into the distance. Most of this painting uses shading sculpturally (facial features and clothing folds), and even then it's pretty evenly lit, not like Caravaggio.

Raphael's very late Transfiguration (1520) is about as close as the Florentines got to the Venetian level of lighting and coloring. It does have alternating levels of brightness, but they're all explained within the frame -- the light emanating from Jesus, brightening those who have nothing in their way with him, and the earthen mound blocking this light and casting some people in shadow. Not much varying brightness "into" the distance of the landscape either.

Pre-Renaissance Florentines like Cimabue and Giotto also did not use chiaroscuro compositionally.

Although I may be missing the odd work or two by other Florentines, it's clear that compositional chiaroscuro was not a recurring technique for any single artist or school or period in Florence and Central Italy generally. Not the way it was for Ansel Adams.

As far as scenic-level variety in brightness, it's as if the Renaissance in Central Italy was still stuck in the Dark Ages -- or the Roman era, for that matter! Nobody had adopted it as a signature style at any point along the way.

Rather, the main compositional innovation of the Florentines was linear perspective, i.e. how to arrange things within the frame in order to simulate 3D spatial reality. Everyone already knew, and applied the knowledge, that the further away something is, the smaller it appears to our eye, and close-up things appear larger. But working out the precise mathematics of these relationships, to the point of laying out a grid or fabric of space onto the canvas, only took off during the Florentine Renaissance.

This goes along with their use of chiaroscuro primarily for sculptural purposes -- they really wanted the closest possible simulation of 3D reality within a 2D medium.

* * *

This brings us to their main rival during the Renaissance period -- Venice. Not only were they political-military rivals, they practiced opposing cultural movements. What was more important? -- autistically accurate simulation of 3D spatial reality, or the striking use of color and lighting to activate the neurons of the viewer?

This was the war between Florentine "disegno" (drawing) and Venetian "colorito" (coloring, but in the full sense of combining hue, saturation, and brightness). Here is a brief overview, which in an uncanny coincidence, I linked to in an old post nearly 10 years ago to this day, about how girls should choose multicolored patterns for their "tights as pants," if they didn't want the 3D volume of their lower half to be fully rendered by a monochrome pair.

And yet, still relevant -- although girls now wear baggy jeans or sweatpants that don't expose anything, their tops have gone skin-tight and micro-mini, like yoga pants for the torso. If she wants to not fully render the volume of her boobs and nipples, while still taking part in the crop-top and bra-less trends, she can choose one with multicolored patterns that will obscure the precise sculptural details of her figure. So far I've only seen girls with monochrome, usually white, crop-tops or "bras as tops" (similar to "tights as pants"). But if you want that funky-yet-wholesome vibe, go for a multicolored pattern!

Anyway, back to Renaissance "Italy" -- there was no national unification back then, not since the collapse of the Roman Empire. There was a patchwork of rival city-states, some under foreign imperial occupation, but one of them was actually on an expansionist path -- not reaching the level of an empire, though an expanding Great Power nevertheless, akin to Sweden in the 17th C., or Japan in the 19th and early 20th C. That would be the Republic of Venice.

Venetian ethnogenesis begins on the not-quite-so-meta-ethnic frontier between the native Italic peoples of the late Roman Empire, and the invading / migrating hordes of Germanic people during the middle of the 1st millennium. Although the Germanic people gained a foothold over almost all of Northern Italy, under the Kingdom of the Lombards, some Italic people fled to / remained in the inhospitable lagoon communities in Venice. The Lombards were coming from the west, and Venice is nestled right against the eastern coast of the peninsula, so that was the furthest frontier left between the Germanic invaders and the Italic natives.

The difference was pronounced enough -- barbarian migrants vs. more civilized and settled natives, Germanic vs. Italic languages, although the Lombards were Christianized and even Catholicized by the time they took over Northern Italy. So, not quite as intense as if there'd been a major religious difference.

At the same time, Venice had already been occupied by the Byzantine Empire, which used to control much of the Italian peninsula during the mid-1st millennium. They too were foreigners, speaking a different branch of Indo-European (Greek), and yet they were more sedentary and civilized and Mediterranean and in a sense the originators of Christianity as an institution or organized religion. So they were not so foreign to the Venetians, and the latter gladly accepted being a final outpost of the Byzantine sphere of influence, rather than get absorbed into the barbarian Germanic sphere.

This also made them opposed to the Papal States, the rump state left after the Roman Empire collapsed. They were very similar ethnically to the Venetians, but they always pushed for Roman and Papal supremacy, in a sad LARP of their imperial heyday. So, Byzantine sponsorship didn't look too bad for Venice, compared to the alternatives.

Gradually, the feeling of being encircled by the Germanic barbarian kingdoms made the Venetians cohere to such an extent, in common defense against their ethnic nemesis, that they could do some militaristic expanding of their own.

Although not referring to Venetian military expansion, the Florentine Renaissance humanist Petrarch did note how cohesive, communitarian, and solidarity-driven the Venetians were: Venice was "solidly built on marble but standing more solid on a foundation of civil concord." Not the feuding, sniping social climate that would produce literal Machiavellians, like Florence. The guild system, akin to mid-20th-century labor unions, has always been strong in Venice, back to the High Middle Ages. Nothing like getting encircled by invading barbarians, and pinned against the sea-wall, to grow a little solidarity within the community!

* * *

First Venice became more independent from their Byzantine sponsors, as that empire got long in the tooth by the turn of the 2nd millennium. But then the Venetians organized large galleys into a navy that went on to control maritime territory from the nearby Dalmatian coast (across the Adriatic Sea), as far east as Cyprus. And not long after that, they turned toward the Italian mainland and reconquered Northeastern Italy and even parts of Lombardy itself.

In their eastward expansion, they wound up fighting in the First Crusade in the Levant, where their elite must have gotten a further dose of higher asabiya from an even more intense meta-ethnic frontier -- the Seljuk Turks were Muslim, Turkic rather than Indo-European, were a mighty empire rather than a patchwork of fiefdoms like the Lombards, and were fighting to the death rather than leaving the Venetians alone in their little corner of land. At the same time, the Seljuks never came close to invading Venice, so this did not heighten their sense of needing to band together for collective self-defense like the Germanic invasion of Italy did.

The main period of Venetian expansion, beyond the nearby Dalmatian coast -- that is, from 1200 to 1500 -- seems to coincide with a lull in the growth of empires in the region, or their decline and collapse. Although the Byzantines had been past their peak for centuries by then, the Fourth Crusade circa 1200 more or less finished them off, before the nascent Ottoman Empire dealt Constantinople the coup de grace a few centuries later. And Venice took a leading part in the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, carrying off immense wealth from their former sponsors.

With the Byzantines effectively wiped out as a Mediterranean power, the Arab invasions also long gone, the Vikings long gone, the Frankish Empire long gone, who else was there to check the expansion of Venice? France was a growing empire, but was oriented more toward unifying France, then the Hundred Years War with England, and maybe getting a piece of Northwest Italy. But they weren't in Venice. The Spaniards, ditto. In 1200, the German Empire wouldn't even begin for another 300 years, nor was the Holy Roman Empire a bona fide empire yet, as it would become under the Austrian imperial era. The various Turkic and Mongol empires were stopped in Eastern Europe, before crossing the Alps down into Venice.

And for much of this time, the Ottomans were only beginning to conquer Anatolia and Thrace, and some of that they were mired in their integrative civil war (Ottoman Interregnum). They did eventually unify and dominate the Eastern Mediterranean by the 1500s, and almost immediately the Venetian Republic went into stagnation, then decline, ultimately becoming absorbed into the Austrian Empire's sphere of influence circa 1800.

This highlights what I've said earlier about Sweden in the 17th C, Japan around the turn of the 20th C, and Alexander the Great -- these bouts of insane expansion are mainly due to the sorry state of their neighbors at the time, who are mired in civil war, imperial collapse, etc.

For Sweden, their neighbors were bogged down in the Thirty Years War, and the Reformation and wars of religion before that. After that was over, and once they met an enemy no longer mired in civil war -- Russia during the Great Northern War -- Sweden went away as a Great Power.

For Japan, the Joseon Dynasty was collapsing in Korea, and the Qing Dynasty / Empire in China was also collapsing, not to mention the moribund Euro empires that had colonial holdings in East Asia. Once they ran into an expanding empire not mired in civil war -- America during the Midcentury -- it was over for their expansion.

For Alexander, it was the collapse of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, and his "empire" did not last beyond his own death.

* * *

What did the Venetians do with their rising levels of cohesion, to match their geographic expansion, and sense that they were a special people? Why, cultural innovation! How else are they going to let themselves and others know that they're a new people, not just descendants of the Roman Empire, and not like other Italic peoples, e.g. those residing in Central or Northwest Italy (let alone the South).

In music, they pioneered the Venetian polychoral style, where groups of musicians and singers were physically separated into different wings, and accordingly developed more of a "working-against" and alternating style, when multiple voices are present. This paved the way for the Baroque era, through the pioneering German composer Heinrich Schutz, who worked in Venice.

In the dramatic arts, they invented the commedia dell'arte, where masked and sometimes dancing performers play stock character roles in performances that are partly scripted but also improvised.

In architecture, they did not innovate very much, but kept going with their Venetian take on the Gothic trend (originally from France during the Capetian expansion). Notably, they did *not* take up the Ancient Roman or Greco LARP that their Florentine and Roman contemporaries did. Oddly enough, Palladio was a Venetian, but found very little success in his home city or region -- only abroad, especially in the British Empire and its later American off-shoot, both of whom were big-time into Roman LARP-ing as a way to legitimate their nascent empires (i.e., they were not upstarts or arrivistes, but inheritors of an ancient civilization).

But more than anything else, Venice invented the use of compositional chiaroscuro. Not just "in the medium of painting" -- ancient and Medieval mosaics did not use it either. Nor did cave paintings. As a recurring stylistic feature, it was totally new! And it was the trademark of the Venetian school, which is usually known for their use of bold hues, vibrant saturation, and glowing brightness of colors.

But just about every expanding empire loves its bold, rich, vibrant colors -- and every declining and collapsing empire turns toward a pastel, drained, and grayed-out palette. Once the cohesion leaves, so does the sense of special purpose -- and with that, the will to live a vibrant cultural life. Might as well go gray. So the Venetians were not unique in using bold, vibrant, glowing colors. Unique within Italy, perhaps, due to no other expanding states there. But not unique within Europe or the Near East of that period, where multiple empires were expanding and very fond of bold vibrant colors (back to Gothic stained glass for France and England).

What did make them unique was compositional chiaroscuro, something that has been inherited into the American imperial visual style, from Ansel Adams landscapes to '70s Hollywood cinematography.

The revolutionary Giovanni Bellini already began developing this style in his St. Jerome in the Desert, and Agony in the Garden (1450s), a subject also painted by his brother-in-law Andrea Mantegna around the same time, also using chiaroscuro compositionally. It reached its height by the end of the century, in his St. Francis in Ecstasy (1480) and Holy Allegory (1490s). The striking contrast of dark-bright all around the frame is self-evident in the latter, so let's explore its subtler use in the former.

Of course there is sculptural use of chiaroscuro to render his facial features, the shape of individual boulders in the rockface, the branch posts, etc. But there are also shadows cast on the ground or other surface -- which do not render a 3D volume at all, but add to the contrast in bright vs. dark within the frame.

Then there's the variation in brightness around the landscape -- dark at the near section of the rockface, then bright on the middle of the top row of stones, before darkening somewhat again on the left / far stone along the top, more muted levels where the donkey is, dark at the next level back where there's vegetation, then brighter where the small town is, darker going up the hill, before reaching a bright reversal on the castle at the top, and even the sky has a brighter lower half and darker upper half.

Why does the brightness level change in this rhythmic way? No natural reason! Maybe there's a large building casting a huge shadow where it's dark, or a huge expanse of clouds. But it's not clearly motivated by the physics of the scene. It just looks too cool to do it any other way! Contrast, variety, stimulation, excitement, rhythm, dynamism -- that's what our brain wants, and he's giving it to us! Call it poetic, dramatic, stylistic, whatever -- but it's not coming from physics or mathematics like some other uses of shadow.

This would become a Venetian trademark after Bellini. See Giorgione's Adoration of the Shepherds (1505), Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne (1520), Bonifazio Veronese's Adoration of the Shepherds (1520s), Palma Vecchio's Diana and Callisto (1520s), Paolo Veronese's Deposition of Christ (1540s), Jacopo Bassano's Adoration of the Kings (1540s), and Tintoretto's Christ at the Sea of Galilee (1575).

Compositional chiaroscuro would also become a fixture of other imperial styles, including Spanish (El Greco's View of Toledo ca. 1600), French (most Poussin landscapes, e.g. with Orpheus and Eurydice ca. 1650), and not to mention it too many times, American (Ansel Adams). Not so much in Russian painting, aside from some Neoclassical painters of the first half of the 1800s (this shows it is not an "Eastern" thing that Venice got from being more oriented toward the Byzantine Empire than the Papal States, once upon a time). But as a thriving, enduring aesthetic phenomenon, it all began in the Venetian Renaissance, as the most cohesive people in the Italian peninsula sought a way to distinguish themselves stylistically from their feuding and Ancient LARP-ing compatriots.

This greater level of cohesion, as well as stylistic distinctiveness (at least, since the Ancient period), must be what makes Venice so much more romantic and sought-after and thought-about, compared to other places in Italy that are no slouches in the art-and-history department. Assuming you don't want to indulge in Caesar LARP-ing, Venice is the place for the most vibrant culture in the Italian peninsula after the Crisis of the Third Century. It may not even be right to call it the place for "Italian" culture, or the cultural leader of "Italy" -- it's Venetian culture, not "Italian". Most importantly, their Renaissance did not owe to economic factors like new riches, but ethnogenetic ones -- being encircled by strange barbarian invaders, as well as facing off against religious rivals from a mighty empire in the Holy Land.

November 13, 2023

Thoughts on Hardcore (1979) by Schrader: Manic Pixie Dream Girls, thriller vs. action "rescue" movies, and complex / useful vs. simple / superfluous violence and nudity

I wrote another post in the comments section on an unrelated topic, which I'll copy-paste into a new post, because search engines don't see comments, only the main body of posts. In case someone is looking for insights into this movie.

* * *

Hardcore by Paul Schrader has a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in it. A quirky, corporeal, free spirit with an earthly guardian angel role to play vis-a-vis the protagonist, who is a down-on-his-luck sad sack (divorced dad of a daughter who's run away). They form an odd-couple partnership.

She nurses him back to health, keeps him sane, guides him through hell, and keeps him on the right track to achieve his loftiest goals, including winning over or winning back a girl -- not the MPDG herself, who as usual does not end up with him in the end, nor even a romantic interest (i.e. his estranged ex-wife). But *does* help unite him with his daughter.

The movie came out in 1979, during the restless phase of the 15-year excitement cycle ('75-'79 in this case), when the MPDG type proper comes out.

The character, Niki, is played by an actress (Season Hubley) who was born in the manic phase of the cycle (1951, during the '50-'54 manic phase), like most other MPDGs. As shown in her topless scenes, she is a butt girl rather than a boob girl, just like most other MPDGs. Height varies a lot among the type, and she's 5'5 fwiw.

I knew while watching the movie that she'd be born in a manic phase, and I was right!

Sidebar: there's a "doomed MPDG" type in Frenzy by Hitchcock, recalling this post about Michelle from Frantic by Polanski. That post also contains links to earlier entries in my MPDG series, which began in 2019, tying it into my series on the 15-year cultural excitement cycle, which I began in 2017 (and has its own category tag in the blog's sidebar, unlike MPDG's).

Frenzy was made in '72, during the vulnerable phase of '70-'74, like Frantic ('88, during the '85-89 vulnerable phase). So she doesn't quite get to play the full guardian angel role for the down-on-his-luck sad-sack protag.

In fact (spoilers), she winds up getting killed in the process of trying to help the protag realize his lofty goals.

Still, I knew that like Emmanuelle Seigner, she must've been born during a manic phase -- at least that much of this type stays true to the proper MPDG role that comes out during a restless phase. And sure enough, the actress who plays Babs (Anna Massey) was born in 1937, during the '35-39 manic phase.

Niki, the MPDG, is the stand-out character in Hardcore. Still thinking about her the day after viewing, she made a real impression, and without a theatrical or melodramatic performance either.

George C. Scott's character, the father in search of his teenage runaway daughter, is too literally Puritan to give the audience much of an emotional opening to connect and empathize with. He bottles everything up for 99% of the time, and lets it explode during the other 1% -- but unless you're also a Dutch Calvinist Midwesterner, for whom this is normal and expected behavior, it can be hard to connect with.

Contrast with Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, written by Paul Schrader just a few years earlier. His extensive monologue voiceovers open up his mind to the audience, not to mention his more "tell it like it is, nothing held back, no BS" back-East behavior, which lets him pour his thoughts and feelings out even in the presence of other characters, whether socially appropriate or not. It may feel like wincingly tip-toe-ing through a seedy motel entrance, but it's still an opening for the audience to connect with his mind.

That's where the MPDG comes to the rescue in Hardcore. This type is always on a rescue mission of some kind, but here it's not just within the narrative, helping him achieve his goals and rise out of the depths he's currently in -- it's to chip away at his Puritan exterior on behalf of the audience, who can finally see what's really going on inside and connect.

Only the earthy prostitute and occasional porno actress can get him to drop his guard -- her sharing of her good-vibes hippie-dippie Venusian religion prompts him to explain the tenets of his Calvinist religion, in a way that he'd never opened up about before. He and his religion come off more sympathetically after this, since he's not thundering down a sermon to her, just matter-of-factly explaining it to her like he's a Sunday School teacher and she's a new student. She (and we) may not resonate with it, but it's not off-putting either.

Her playful teasing gets him to use sexually profane slang ("sucking off"), contrary to his buttoned-up usual speech.

But most of all, she's the only one whose attentive and nurturing behavior gets him to open up about where his wife is in the whole family picture. (Before he simply lied and said she was dead, not estranged / divorced and living in some God-forsaken place back East.) It's a nice small-scale cathartic moment for him, to have a sympathetic shoulder to lean on, so that he doesn't keep bottling everything up until it explodes in an aimless counter-productive rage.

Nice spin on the typical MPDG formula of coaxing a wary sad sack out of his shell, to liven up his lifestyle. Usually it means the guy leads a boring ho-hum routine, but still in a relatable way and allowing us to empathize with him (the security of routine, can't get hurt if you don't risk much exposure, etc.). But in Hardcore, he's so bottled-up and seething that her coaxing him out of his shell is necessary to make him relatable to the audience.

Great attention to detail in the costume design, too, where she's wearing a t-shirt that simply has the word "SniFF" printed on it. Believable as a novelty t-shirt, but emphasizing that she's an earthy / sensual type, not necessarily a smell fetishist (in which case the shirt would be a deep inhaling "SNIFFFFF") -- just curious and exploring the world through the corporeal senses, rather than intellect and reason and logic and argument. Sniff, sniff, sniff...

Not something a Puritan would have printed on their shirt. The right small detail can go a long way toward cementing their odd-couple relationship, and her corporeality vs. his cerebral / spiritual approach.

Season Hubley gives a nice physical performance in her poses as well. At first, she's shown as a typical stripper / prostitute, casually taking off her top and spreading her legs akimbo, high-heeled shoes kicking right up against the glass partition in the peep-show booth. Meant to be salacious and provocative, like anyone who sells sex for a living -- emotionally checked-out from the situation, not like a trusted confidante.

But by the time they form their unlikely partnership and have bonded somewhat, her pose changes completely. Head bowed somewhat in humility, cocked to the side in curiosity, leg raised on one side while sitting down to convey an air of opened-up, informal relaxation -- the right tone for a confidante to create, if she wants the other side to let their guard down -- rather than stiff, stern judgement that he'd be used to in a setting where he's confessing about what's gone wrong in his life.

More images here.

Reminder that in Taxi Driver, the MPDG is not Jodie Foster's character Iris -- she represents the lofty goal that the down-in-the-dumps protag is striving to reach (saving her from a life on the streets).

And she's not born during a manic phase, but a restless phase, which produces the wild-child type (1962, during the '60-'64 restless phase). True to that type, she comes across as numb and glib about her wild-child teen runaway prostitute lifestyle. She does wear a boho costume, but that just shows that the MPDG is not about costume, but the role she plays in the narrative.

She does provoke the ho-hum protag -- but more for the sake of provocation, shocking a square, to convince herself that she's cool and hip, unlike him. Not to chip away at his exterior, to get him to drop his guard, so she can nurture him and rescue him from the depths, so that he can achieve his goals in life.

Rather, the MPDG is Betsy, played by Cybill Shepherd, who naturally enough was born during a manic phase (1950). She's not a wild-child who provokes for the fun of it all. She views him as an intriguing social-emotional rehab project for her to work on, nurture, and encourage, so that he can walk on his own again and accomplish greater things than what he's currently mired in.

She's the one who the protag literally describes as an angel descending, the one who inspires him to let his guard down, take a chance on opening up and connecting to other people (including women), even if he takes that too far due to his rusty social skills from having been isolated and alienated for so long.

But by the end of the movie, when she rides in his cab again, they clearly have no hard feelings, and in fact smile knowingly at each other, as though she were the one who started him off on his quest toward rescuing Iris and cleaning up the scum from the city in his own humble way. Very tender and endearing final moment, even if (as usual) the MPDG and the protag do not wind up as a couple. Her rehab project has turned out a success, and the guy who recuperated due to her intervention is grateful for her support and encouragement that began the process of rising out of the depths.

And of course Taxi Driver came out during a restless phase, 1976.

Last thought on Niki from Hardcore. Her getting the protag to drop his guard and open up serves a further narrative purpose -- turns out, the daughter ran away and joined the seedy porno world on her own, because she felt her father was too emotionally distant, cold, judgemental, and driving her friends away as potential bad influences. She ran away to find someone who would befriend her, however parasitically.

When he finally tracks her down, she's reluctant to go back to the same family environment that repulsed her in the first place. So the father has to open up, be vulnerable, and show that he's at least aware that his bottled-up Puritan behavior was responsible, while still asking her to understand that he does love her but never felt comfortable showing it.

He's been changed by the MPDG's rehab process, and he's now able to prove that to the girl that represents his lofty goals (rescuing his daughter from the streets at least, ideally bringing her back home). She wouldn't have believed him if he'd shown up thundering a Puritanical sermon against her, or coldly listing the consequences of her actions, etc. That would've been more of the same, and she wouldn't have decided there was anything worth returning to.

But now able to open up, confess in a sympathetic way, ask for forgiveness again in a sympathetic way, showing a positive catharsis -- not merely on a blind revenge mission against the men she hooked up with -- he convinces her that life will be different, more socially and emotionally supportive, connected, and warm back home. So she decides to go back with him after all, thanks to the MPDG's decision to take him as an intriguing rehab project, acting as his earthly guardian angel when institutions (the church, the police, his own family) could not save him.

Heh, Peter Boyle's character in Hardcore is similar to an MPDG, although from the male camaraderie angle, not the female nurturer angle.

He's a bit boho and unconventional himself, earthy and sensory-based (as well as logical, being a P.I.). Opens up, holds nothing back, no-BS, hoping some of that attitude will rub off on the bottled-up Puritan protag, who he refers to as "pilgrim" -- not just referencing his Puritanical religion, but conveying his awareness that the protag is on a kind of quest or journey, and needing a guide such as himself.

And he doesn't take on the father's case just for the money -- it's also to protect the protag, like a surrogate patriarch (whereas the MPDG is more maternal and nurturing). He guides him along the way to achieve his lofty goals, steering him through the hellish depths so he doesn't remain mired there forever.

He plays a similar role toward Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, as the supportive, concerned, and advice-giving Wizard. Not as central in the narrative, nor as helpful, but still in the same mold.

And sure enough, Peter Boyle was born during a manic phase (1935). The suite of traits that females pick up from imprinting on such a phase, are also picked up by their male cohorts -- they just get expressed in a more masculine instead of feminine manner. But still very similar to each other.


Noirish thrillers like Hardcore and Frantic create more narrative tension than action-oriented takes on the "rescue a family member" story like Commando and Taken.

In the action movies, the main theme is revenge, and we know from the outset that the family member will be rescued, in good health, and the rescuer will survive as well. The tension is not put into the narrative, but into the overcoming of various obstacles in the protag's way -- we know he's going to overcome them, but who specifically are they, what settings are they located in, how exactly does he eliminate one or the other threat, the precise way in which he's going to execute the main villain.

In the thriller movies, we don't even know if he's going to find the family member, let alone will they be alive and in good health or want to return with him. We don't know whether their fate remains undisclosed, and if the protag is going to resign himself to losing her after an ultimately fruitless search, maybe taking revenge on the most likely culprits or maybe just calling it quits altogether in order to maintain some sanity. He's not an unstoppable juggernaut, which is more relatable to the audience, whereas the action revenge movies are more about a fantasy of power.

Having to sift through masses of people, rather than quickly narrowing down who the abductors are, adds to the narrative tension, setting up a sense of hopelessness -- and that opens the door to the role of a guide for the protag, which is not really crucial in the action movies, where he's a one-man army. Maybe the guide is a surrogate patriarch, or an MPDG proper, or a doomed MPDG. But some kind of earthly guardian angel to guide the protag through the depths of hell, in order for him to rise above it and achieve his goals.

So it's not just more tension in the plot, but also in the character dynamics, for the thrillers.

Thrillers do feature violence, sex, action, and sometimes vindication or revenge -- but they all serve a purpose for the plot, sense of place, and characterization. Whereas in an action movie, we know roughly how it ends from the beginning, and they strike us as more superfluous and just giving us what we want to indulge in as a guilty pleasure.

For example, there's a totally pointless T&A scene in Commando (it was the '80s), where the protag chases one of the bad guys into a motel, and in their struggle they break into the room of a nude couple that had been bumping uglies, unaware of the plot of the movie.

In Taken, the kidnapped daughter is shown in her underwear and then topless, while she's on display in a white slavery market by the villains. That may anger the audience, but not the protag, who isn't witnessing any of it.

In Hardcore, the porno that the daughter appears in is witnessed by the protag (after being tracked down by the P.I.), causing him to break down, and add to his determination to save his daughter. It makes the nude scene more poignant and gut-wrenching and anti-pornographic, rather than voyeuristic (which is how the scene in Taken comes off).

There are seductive nude scenes in Hardcore, however, like when the protag first converses with Niki in the peep-show booth. Not the most erotic performance of all time, but still titillating and a bit sensual, rather than enraging or depressing and anti-pornographic. It adds to the complexity of tone in a thriller rather than a straightforward action movie.

Hardcore also uses nudity in portraying the making of porno movies, whereby it all comes off as choreographed, orchestrated, mechanical, and therefore artificial, fake, and not sensual and seductive.

It's not enraging or depressing like the ones where the runaway daughter is performing and being witnessed by the father after the fact. Nor is it titillating like Niki's bantering peep-show booth performance. Maybe not *anti*-pornographic -- merely not pornographic. Showing the behind-the-scenes process of shooting the scene, dispelling the fantasy, conveying a tone of hollowness or numbness.

Complex tone.

November 8, 2023

After non-Halloween October, skipping right to New Year's Eve, eliminating Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Christmas, as American imperial collapse wipes out its major holidays

It snowed a bit on Halloween (i.e. Oct 31, not "The Saturday Before Oct 31"), and the workers in the thrift store at the time broke out with "Are you kidding me???" and even a reference to it already being Christmas. I thought that was jumping the gun a bit -- don't we still have Thanksgiving and/or Black Friday in the way?

But that proved to be symptomatic of a larger trend this year, in which people are paying no mind, and presumably no effort or activity, to Thanksgiving, Black Friday, or even the once-mighty Christmas. As far as they're concerned, after Halloween the next milestone holiday is New Year's Eve.

I noticed both Mumei and Irys independently speaking this way during some of their recent streams, off-handedly mentioning "Wow, I can't believe the year is almost over / It's almost 2024". I assume others are as well, but these are two I tune into frequently enough to hear what's on their mind.

So I used google to search reddit for the phrase "almost 2024," and indeed there are lots of comments to that effect, with the vast majority from October (and now into November). Curiously, they didn't all hit after The Saturday Before Halloween, when the energy for that holiday would've begun dissipating. There are plenty from earlier in the month, as though they were ignoring Halloween as well, and heading straight for New Year's Eve.

Well, that ignoring of Halloween manifested all over the place this year, as I described in a series of comments to the last post, beginning here. Halloween spirit was dead throughout the entire month, in radical contrast to just a few years ago when all the stuff would've gone up at the start of the month or earlier.

Now that we've seen Halloween not-happen, we can also easily see that Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Christmas will not-happen this year either.

Thanksgiving has become weakened and parasitized by Black Friday since the 2000s, to the point where Thanksgiving had become debased into Black Friday Eve, and the real excitement and emotional investment was for the anti-social shopping free-for-all on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I covered that over the 2010s.

I also commented in the past few years how even Black Friday has died. When you think of those videos or Drudge live-blogging the chaos, that was only from the late 2000s and 2010s. When the vulnerable phase of the 15-year excitement cycle had set in, from 2015-'19, it was already pretty tame compared to the previous manic phase, 2010-'14, when most of those intense Black Fridays occurred.

But by now, the holiday is completely dead, and it is not restoring any energy back to Thanksgiving -- everything is being wiped out together.

But surely Christmas will still stand! Nope. I remember how non-eventful it was last year, possibly the least emotional Christmas in world history. It will pass with even less activity this year, with a rising number of people ignoring it altogether to build up suspense for New Year's Eve instead.

In a series of comments beginning here, I explained the point behind celebrating holidays on fixed calendar days, rather than wimping out and celebrating them only on weekends. Weekends are expected times for cutting loose, whereas major holidays require turning over the usual order of things -- for a brief time -- and that includes celebrating them on weekdays, when people usually go to school or work.

I noted that only New Year's Eve has a built-in defense against the Millennial anti-American culture-destroyers who canceled Halloween in favor of The Saturday Before Halloween. The suspense leading up to a holiday is even more relevant to New Year's Eve because there's a literal countdown on that night until the new calendar year begins.

It's difficult to shift all that suspense and excitement to some night before New Year's Eve, since the contradiction is too glaring between celebrating a new year and everyone knowing the actual countdown is still days away.

Likewise if they tried to shift it to some night after, the suspense will already have dissipated. So, its celebration is much more sticky to its calendar date, despite lamewad Millennials who would love nothing more than to celebrate it on The Saturday Before New Year's Eve.

Labor Day and Memorial Day stopped being real holidays awhile ago. July Fourth keeps getting weaker and ho-hum. Easter might as well not exist, and ditto for Valentine's Day. With the elimination only beginning now of Halloween, Thanksgiving / Black Friday, and Christmas, that leaves New Year's Eve as the only holiday that Americans will celebrate as a major, big deal, FOMO kind of holiday.

In no previous year did we start getting itchy to discuss the wrapping up of the year, the beginning of a new year, how crazy time flies, what we're going to resolve to do differently, etc. -- in October. That literally began in 2023.

But it has all the hallmarks of the earlier destruction of holidays. Remember when Christmas stuff, energy, thoughts, feelings, etc., began happening before Thanksgiving / Black Friday, eventually going up at the start of November?

Which is what happened this year as well, right after Oct 31, the Halloween candy got replaced -- and not by autumnal or harvest or Thanksgiving-related things like candy corn, caramel apples, or pumpkin-themed stuff (indeed, pumpkin spice latte coffee has already been dumped into the clearance section in the supermarkets). Rather, it got immediately replaced with Christmas candy.

If only New Year's Eve had some sweets associated with it, *that* would have gone up on Nov 1 this year, bypassing Christmas candy entirely. But then, maybe that's the direction our moribund culture is headed toward, repurposing all sweets from Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, which are scarcely celebrated anymore, into a New Year's Eve smorgasbord of sweets.

The new rationale will be similar to Carnival / Mardi Gras -- one final binge on stuff that's bad for you, before purging and purifying and rebuilding in the new year, tying it into the existing tradition of New Year's resolutions (which is similar to giving things up for Lent -- and people adhere to them just as long).

Maybe we will fold the trick-or-treating / masquerade tradition back into the New Year holiday, which is where it ultimately began, before American culture shifted it to Halloween, to distinguish ourselves from our European -- and even Indo-European -- relatives.

Who can say what precise form these changes will take? All I know is our culture is evaporating right before our very eyes, as the social cohesion that upheld our mega-society has entered terminal decline, now that its raison d'etre -- uniting against a common meta-ethnic nemesis (mainly the Indians and later Mexicans) -- has unraveled.

October 8, 2023

Seven (1995) as the origin of Puritanical torture porn, not Saw (2004)

Continuing on the theme of disgust vs. fear in horror, the origin is really Seven from 1995, not Saw from 2004. Maybe you'd say it's a bridge between two eras or styles, since it could be a noir-ish suspenseful crime thriller without the gross-out scenes. But so many of the defining torture porn tropes are already there:

Disgusting rather than dangerous or violent scenes. Horror / thriller used to do the opposite -- depict the chase and violent act, but not show the disgusting gory result. Sometimes both were shown, but rarely only the gory result without the dangerous / violent / fear-inducing act.

Only disgusting, not even potentially violent, scenes -- like cockroaches showing up where there's a dead body (which doesn't even need to have died in a violent manner to trigger cockroaches showing up).

The main negative physiological reaction in the audience shifting from elevated / pounding heart-rate, sweating, etc., to the gag reflex.

Degradation, corruption, debasement, and humiliation of victims, which does not need to accompany violence, danger, and fear. Deliberately spoiling and contaminating and staining their purity. Contaminated purity involves the emotion of disgust, not fear. So this reinforces or compounds the literal contaminated purity (i.e., the disfigured body) with figurative disgust (at the person's dignity being degraded in such a way).

The shift toward sadism in the villain, rather than psychopathy (meaning, lack of empathy or remorse, and/or a psychic break with reality), revenge, anger, opportunism, etc., which could induce a person to violence -- but not toward the humiliating and debasing behavior they show toward victims.

Villain is a self-appointed moral crusader who wants to shock the normies out of their complacency, and instigate a grand purification, which will put grand meaning back into our humdrum dull existence.

Puritanical focus on vindictive punishment of sin, rather than on preventing it through cautionary tales about how seductive and tempting and sensorily pleasing sin can be. We never see the seductive side of pigging out on tasty food, of lazing around the house and procrastinating at work, of getting your brains fucked out by a hot lover, and so on and so forth.

In fact, the Puritanism goes further in assigning a lustful motive to a prostitute, rather than a woman who is obviously having sex for money. It should have been a promiscuous / nymphomaniac party girl -- but to self-appointed moral crusaders, prostitutes are just having their cake and eating it too. Ditto for their view of girls who have sex on camera, even though they typically aren't that into it and are just faking it long enough to collect their easy money.

Director David Fincher did a better job in The Game of just two years later, at creating the disturbing mood of being targeted by someone who's toying around with you in a probably malevolent way, potentially roping others into the job -- who you were first inclined to trust, all in order to shock a comfortable normie out of his complacency and security, to make him take bold actions that will provide Existentialist meaning to his otherwise humdrum life.

And all without appealing to disgust, which would have gotten in the way of all the suspense, danger, violence, and fear.

October 3, 2023

Why are puzzle video games most immune to the cult of ugliness & crappiness? And horror the most susceptible? And why are there puzzles in horror games?

There's a puzzle game that's trending among Japanese streamers, in the same rough family as Tetris, with very kawaii graphics (fruit pieces with emoji faces). It's currently only available in Japan, and was created there.

(I can't easily find pictures of it because "suika game" and "watermelon game" bring up older unrelated games of the same name. But search YouTube for "suika game" and you'll find not only pictures, but videos of how it's played.)

A cutesy-looking game being made and going viral in Japan is no surprise -- aside from the late '90s and early 2000s, they have largely been immune to the cult of ugliness and crappiness that is plaguing the West during the declining phase of the American Empire (torture porn movies of the 2000s, related video games of the 2010s, and so on).

Mumei and Mori have streamed the game on the English-speaking side of Hololive, but we'll have to see if it catches on as popularly as it has in Japan.

I was trying to think of an alternative game that *would* go viral in the empire-collapsing West, due to its ugly and crappy nature... but not only could I not think of anything recent, I don't think there is a single game in the entire history of the puzzle genre that is ugly, disgusting, off-putting, uncomfortable, debasing toward the player or toward a streamer's audience, deliberately made to look and play like crap.

They all look nice -- some are on the cutesy side (like today's suika game), some have a more refined look (like the Japanese-made Columns from 1990), but none of them look bad, ugly, crappy, let alone on purpose as part of some self-aware meme appeal.

The worst you can find is one that looks bland and clinical and bordering on a sensory-deprivation chamber, like Portal from 2007 (created in America). But it's still not ugly and crappily made. That game is not pure puzzle, though -- it's also in the "dark sci-fi" genre, and as we'll see, the closer to horror, the more susceptible it is to ugliness and crappiness.

It's not just the visuals that are pleasant in puzzle games, though -- they also have pleasing, sometimes catchy background music and sound-effects. While the arcade release of Lode Runner in 1984 did have primitive background music, the ancestors of the trend for background music in puzzle games are both from 1989 -- Tetris on the Game Boy and the Nintendo (created in Russia), and the Adventures of Lolo series for the Nintendo (created in Japan). Both of those remain some of my favorite games, and I occasionally play them despite hardly playing games at all after my 20s.

Speaking of the refined and glossy look of Columns, it reinforces this in its soundtrack, whose composer created not 1, not 2, but count 'em, 3 pieces to choose from, inspired by Baroque / Classical music.

Pretty much every puzzle game has a soundtrack, including today's suika game, which is light, inoffensive elevator music. To be a great puzzle game, it would need a musical update with something catchy and melodic like Tetris or Columns.

The only puzzle games without soundtracks were made for home computers, where the creators might have thought the user wouldn't have a sophisticated enough set-up to play melodic music, or not enough memory on the disk to hold a musical score (in the '80s). Or where the point was to create a mindless diversion -- respectful of office-space noise levels -- instead of a well-rounded aesthetic experience (like Minesweeper or Solitaire or Taipei / Mahjong from the '90s Windows days).

The sound effects and audio levels in puzzle games are also pleasing, not an anti-aesthetic "ear rape" that is rampant in horror games. That term is very appropriate, since it highlights the reliance on disgust, debasement, and humiliation rather than fear, danger, and violence as the basic emotion and tone in the horror genre across all media since the 2000s.

In fact, as many streams as I've seen from the series of Amnesia, Outlast, Dead by Daylight, and Phasmophobia, along with the lesser single-entry horror games of the 2010s and '20s, I can't remember the music at all. Their Wikipedia pages do list composers, but don't mention the music in the body of the article, unlike Tetris or Columns, which are games you can still remember from the music alone, without the graphics.

Horror movies also used to have memorable soundtracks, even in the West -- before the decline and collapse of the American Empire. Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Exorcist, The Omen, the Argento thrillers, you name it.

Horror video games used to as well, whether Western ones like Doom / Doom II or Japanese ones like Clock Tower (the 1995 JP-only game).

Portal is one of the few puzzle games without a true soundtrack, but vague non-musical atmospheric sounds instead, not very detectable at the time or memorable after. It has that dark sci-fi / horror influence, which resulted in the non-soundtrack that it has, compared to every other puzzle game.

* * *

So why are puzzle games so immune to the cult of ugliness? And why are horror and other dArK sPoOkY genres so susceptible to it? Puzzles appeal mostly to our sense of reason, not any of the various emotions.

And since the cult of ugliness relies so heavily on disgust, an emotion, it is completely at odds with the puzzle genre, which doesn't allow any of the emotions to enter into it. Well, other than the occasional bout of anger, but that is incidental, not fundamental -- puzzle games are not designed to piss you off throughout the game and elevate your rage levels as a necessary part of the experience.

Why horror among the non-puzzle genres? Because there is a natural entry-point for disgust in horror, namely gore. Horror is fundamentally about violence, danger, and fear, but the outcome of such threats may incidentally lead to gore and disgusting things. On the non-gory side are the thrillers, where disgust has little room to get its foot in the door. Thrillers can be slick, glamorous, seductive things, even if there is an occasional fleeting bit of gore, like the giallos from Italy in the '70s and '80s, or Basic Instinct from pre-collapse America.

But when horror gets ugly, gory, and disgusting, it prevents itself from becoming slick, glamorous, or seductive. It will also not have a great soundtrack, if gore is the main point. It is choosing to wallow in debasing crappiness, across all aspects of its production.

And if the horror genre becomes dominated by disgusting rather than frightening things, as it has since the 2000s, it will automatically become part of the cult of ugliness. Things that are dangerous and violent are not necessarily debasing, corrupting, and humiliating -- but things that are disgusting are. Ugly / crappy and disgusting / humiliating are a natural fit for each other.

* * *

There's a reason why horror is so over-represented among the B-movies, "worst movies ever made," etc., and why a more cerebral / rational genre like police-procedural or mystery are not. In fact, comedies and romances are not common among worst-ever movies either. They do have an emotional appeal, but it's to positive rather than negative emotions, so disgust has no way to worm its way into the work.

I don't just mean "movies that fall flat," but as in crappy and shoddy production values and technical processes. Rom-coms are never made that terribly, whether naively or on purpose for brown-nosing points with the irony crew. Their makers want to make something uplifting, and the audience wants to be lifted up -- the opposite of tolerating or preferring to wallow in shoddy ugliness.

I reject the claims by the cult of ugliness that one appeal of such garbage is feeling superior to the makers, the schadenfreude or point-and-laugh appeal. First of all, that would be admitting to being a midwit, having to punch down on a midget and thereby confessing to being tiny yourself. While some members of the cult may be midwits, others are not, and nobody would want to brag about being a midwit anyway.

The main reason is all of the fall-flat rom-coms out there that they could point and laugh at. They could sneer at the sappiness, make fun of the corny dialog, point out how illogical some of the plot devices are that put these two in the same place at the same time, ridicule the implausible mismatch between the homely looks of the female protag and the wealthy / desirable status of the male love interest, and so on and so forth.

Somehow, though, the cult of ugliness avoids the rom-com genre like the plague. It's because on a technical level, they're competently made, at worst bland and inoffensive. But they're never ugly, and never shoddily made.

Therefore, it's the ugliness and the crappiness that the cult members truly fixate on and demand -- not a sense of aesthetic superiority. If they enjoy pointing and laughing at ugly crap, it can only be because they see themselves in that, they do not like themselves, and they are externalizing their self-loathing by pointing and laughing at someone else's ugly crap. They are kindred spirits with the makers of ugly crap, not hostile enemies or disdainful superiors.

* * *

One of the most bizarre developments in video games that I've noticed from watching streams is the intrusion of "puzzles" into horror games. Puzzles are cerebral, horror is visceral and emotional -- they contradict each other, right?

Well, sometimes they can operate independently of each other, neither interfering with the other. This approach was used in Twin Peaks, where there is a standard by-the-book criminal investigation, along with a paralogical style like throwing rocks at bottles while reading out suspects' names or heeding the messages of characters from one's dreams. The two styles work in tandem, creating a richer and beyond-the-ordinary experience.

But in horror video games, typically the cerebral component interferes with the emotional horror component, e.g. the player cannot progress away from the villain without solving a math problem first. Forget tripping over your shoelaces while fleeing through the woods, or trying to start a car engine that doesn't want to turn over -- the main obstacle in today's horror is a balancing an equation!

This has been true at least since Amnesia: the Dark Descent in 2010, and the less influential Penumbra series by the same makers from 2007. It borrows directly from Myst (American, early '90s), but that was not supposed to be an emotional, let alone action or horror, kind of game, whose heart-racing pace a puzzle would have halted.

Amnesia is a stain on Sweden's cultural record, which has so much going for it due to Minecraft of the same time, but maybe it's cuz the former creators are from the low-trust / non-standard-dialect region of the country, Malmo. There's a ton of garbage horror games from Montreal (like Outlast and Dead by Daylight), in the low-trust, non-standard-dialect region of Canada.

Then there are the non-puzzle puzzles, which are really just arbitrary and cryptic passwords, which are not solved through reasoning of any kind. You need to use a certain item in a certain place, but discovering this match is done through trial-and-error, and finding the location of the item is also trial-and-error. Maybe another character tells you the info -- typically through a blogpost-long "note" that they conveniently left lying around for no reason other than to unknowingly help you out -- but finding this character / note is done through trial-and-error as well.

These are more like clues used in a mystery -- they narrow down the number of branches in the decision tree, which does reduce some of the uncertainty about whodunnit and what to do next. But that still makes you roam around randomly until you chance upon the crucial person or location or item. Unlike clues in a mystery, however, you don't use reasoning to start your hunt -- as opposed to interviewing the close associates of a murder victim, rather than people from the city at random, or people on the other side of the world. You just roam around at random until you chance upon it.

These cryptic, arbitrary, random searches do not counteract the emotional tone with a cerebral / rational tone, like the true puzzles do. But they still grind the action to a halt. If it were a thriller, such blind exploration could be used to build tension and instill fear in the player, if the killer could be waiting in the area you want to explore.

But when the point is disgust, gore, and humiliation, you are never given a way to attack the villain. It's all about hide-and-seek, because humiliation and debasement and corruption require a power imbalance, as in hide-and-seek, rather than two peers squaring off against each other (as in a generic FPS or fighting game). If horror is about violence, danger, and fear, it could very well involve two closely matched rivals.

When the gameplay becomes a hide-and-seek simulator, the tension comes from that power imbalance itself -- does the killer sense me nearby, is he already chasing me, can I manage to get away before he kills me? If he catches you, the tension ends when you're killed and have to re-start the level. If you escape his chase, the tension ends until the next time he senses you.

So, the point of the cryptic random search for a "puzzle"-solving item, is not really to solve the puzzle itself, as far as building tension goes. It is to give you some flimsy reason to have to wander near the killer, so that he can sense you and start chasing you, which is where the tension actually comes from.

This is why these games never feel realistic enough to be truly frightening -- in real life, you'd simply GTFO, and leave the killer behind. Why do you remain trapped in the same area as him? Because leaving the location requires an arbitrary item which is cryptically placed inside the location, so you can't just leave as usual. It's like a prison, and you need to find where the warden's office is, so you can get his keys or press a button or discover the password to open the gates, but there are enemies on the loose who can pick you off on your way to the warden's office.

Outside of a literal prison, though, these security obstacles and their cryptic solutions are unmotivated. So what actually plausible scenario does this resemble -- being trapped in a building with someone who far outclasses you, and your only choice is to play hide-and-seek long enough until you miraculously get out, but more likely are going to get gruesomely and repeatedly killed along the way?

It's really more like an ancient gladiator arena mixed with a Medieval torture dungeon. But in true humiliating fashion, you have no weapons -- not even David's slingshot. You have been placed there by the sadistic game creators, for their own warped amusement (and any viewing audience who identifies with them), and perhaps for your own warped enjoyment (or the part of the audience who identifies with you), if you masochisticly enjoy being humiliated and degraded by disgusting things with no way to stop it.

There is always a pervasive tone of creepy molestation in these games, rather than just some maniac being on the loose and wanting to kill everyone in his path, like a rabid dog. A rabid dog doesn't want to humiliate and degrade its victims. This kind of horror is specifically about disgust, and barely disguised S&M fetishes (without seductive sexuality, of course -- that would offend the Puritanical morality of self-appointed inquisitors torturing their victims, so it's sublimated into sexless violence and corporal punishment instead).

"Solving puzzles" in these games, then, is not like hunting for clues to solve a mystery, or using reasoning to solve a puzzle. It's like finding yourself in the torture dungeon, and your sadistic inquisitors telling you there's a safe-word you can use to get out -- but they won't tell you what it is, and you have to risk further degradation by groping around blindly for it, while an all-powerful disgusting monster lurks around the places it could be written down.

This is the same amoral, empathy-lacking, remorseless psychopathic mind that enjoys torturing animals. But in true Buffalo Bill fashion, they probably treat animals better than people anyway, in a uniquely anti-social and people-hating way.

It's no surprise that these "solve a cryptic puzzle or you'll be tortured to death by a sadistic inquisitor" elements began in the torture porn movies of the 2000s, beginning with Saw from 2004. Well, you need the key to escape, but you can't walk far enough to the key cuz your leg is shackled, but there's a hacksaw nearby you can use to cut off your foot and solve the puzzle! It's not cerebral or rational to solve, and it's not a "decipher the encryption" attack on passwords. It's just sadism and torture and disgusting humiliation.

Cube, a horror movie from 1997, is also about being kidnapped and locked in a dangerous place, with puzzles to solve in order to escape. But the environment is not ugly and disgusting like a torture dungeon. It does not have gritty low-budget cinematography. And the puzzles are genuine reasoning puzzles, along with what we'd call platforming skills in video games. But not cryptic blind searches with disgusting rape-y monsters waiting for you.

That movie never caught on like the torture porn movies did, because it naively thought "What if we took a nerdy approach to horror seriously?" Turns out, people don't want actual puzzles that are solved by reasoning, and tests of physical coordination to navigate. They just want to see sadists torture innocent people, and the puzzle thing is just window dressing. In the Cube movie, it was the "kidnapped by sadists" that was the window dressing.

October 1, 2023

Portrayals of Hell: empathetic, seductive, cautious vs. callous, disgusting, vindictive (the Nether from Minecraft as an example)

Blogger's comment function is on the fritz again (for me anyway), so I'll start another new post for a topic I began exploring in the comments section of the previous post.

Maybe the algorithm is trying to boost engagement by making me make new posts rather than add comments to existing posts, who knows?

* * *

The Nether in Minecraft is another great example of portraying a non-cutesy look-and-feel-and-sound, within an otherwise kawaii game. It looks like Hell! Not in a gritty and ugly way, but in a sublime and striking and dangerous way.

"Waterfalls" and pools made of lava, dark caverns, undead monsters, striking chiaroscuro lighting from the lava / cavern environment... way cooler than most horror landscapes from the 2010s, in video games or movies and TV. More like a hellscape from British Romantic painter John Martin, in 8-bit pixelated form.

Not to mention the danger of the lava -- one touch and you could not only die but lose all your items.

Speaking of zombies being shoehorned into places they don't belong, this happened in Minecraft as well, with the Zombie and somewhat the Creeper enemies. It was from the early 2010s, at the peak of the zombie apocalypse trend, so zombies made their way into Minecraft of all places -- which is mostly about Medieval fantasy, ancient mythology, etc., like Zelda. They're out of place in such a world, but that's how strong the zombie revival was in the early 2010s.

The aversion to Minecraft among the cult of ugliness is not only due to its kawaii side, but to its striking Hellish side as well -- because that is also a feast for the eyes. It's not sense-numbing, boring, or disgusting, so even the not-so-cute side of the game will not satisfy the crusaders for crappiness.

In fact, the Nether is part of the tradition of making Hell seductive and cool, not to glorify it morally, but to convey how tempting it is, and the danger of falling for its appeal. If it were repulsive to the senses, it would not tempt anyone, and pose no threat to anyone.

The warm yellow and orange tones of the lava, the rich chocolate-y browns of the rocks, the dim mood lighting -- with some warm glowing accent lighting -- it's like being wrapped up in a great big cozy '70s earth-tones afghan blanket!

All sorts of nooks and crannies, as well as open spaces, pique your curiosity and make you want to explore like a tourist in a national cave park.

There's no cold blue fluorescent lighting, no wide-open spaces with nowhere to hide, no desaturated grimy color palette -- in short, the opposite of the sensory-deprivation torture-chamber anti-aesthetics pushed by the cult of ugliness.

That Puritanical approach to Hell is more concerned with moralism -- with punishing sinners through disgusting vile tortures, instead of showing some empathy by conveying how tempting and sumptuous Hell is, in order to caution people ahead of time, before they sin. Preventing, rather than punishing, sin.

The Nether is part of the empathetic warning, not the callous punishment, tradition in the portrayal of Hell.

September 23, 2023

Re: Minecraft skins, buggy video game releases

Blogger's comment function is temporarily down for me at least, so I'm putting this response to another comment in a standalone post, just to get it out for now. Will probably delete this post later when the comment can be put in the comments section as it's supposed to.

* * *

Minecraft offers re-skins, but you can't change the proportions. You can't make a lardass, an emaciated anorexic, someone with short stubby legs but looong torso, narrow shoulders and wide waist, etc.

And because the resolution is so low and pixelated, it's hard to give the facial features a warped and unnatural proportion / arrangement.

Minecraft skins amount to playing dress-up with clothing, not making them look like freaks of nature.

As for buggy launches of American video games, that goes for everything these days.

English-language streamers are famous for "EN scuff" or the "EN curse" -- delaying / canceling streams, game not installed at all or improperly while already going live, audio problems, etc. Some of it is on the streamer, some of it is on the Western ISP.

That's not really cult of ugliness, more like negligence -- same for those buggy initial releases of video games. That's not deliberately to make it unpleasant for the audience, but part of negligence and lack of caring about what they do, so things fall into disrepair, instead of being deliberately made to be ugly or weird.

July 17, 2023

Waterfalls as a uniquely American feature of geo-identity, including portrayals of paradise, here and abroad

In the comments starting here I mentioned America's distinctive focus on illustration as its main static -- and later, animated -- visual portrayal medium, and then went on to look at how the portrayal of landscapes changes over the lifespan of an empire's culture. First it's Edenic, then much later as stagnation is nearing, that vision becomes problematized, and finally it just gets plain ol' drab and ugly and boring as imperial collapse approaches and arrives. There's a survey in the comments on the history of French imperial visual art, from the Late Medieval era up through the early 20th-C collapse of their empire.

This all began in my search for the origins of the Edenic landscapes of the classical era of video games -- the '80s and most of the '90s, when they were 2D and took their cues from the history of illustration and cartoons, rather than trying to imitate photography or cinematography (with the fatal switch to 3D rendering).

The blue skies, verdant vegetation, and warm colors on the ground -- yellow, orange, tan, beige, something other than just brown or gray -- are all part of the Edenic landscapes of earlier empires in other parts of the world, albeit when they were still expanding or plateau-ing, not yet in the final crisis and then collapse stages.

And yet there's something uniquely American about our vision of paradise, aside from technical aspects of composition, line, lighting, and so on. Just on the level of content, what is being portrayed, we have a unique geomorphic feature that no one else does, as part of our defining collective identity -- waterfalls!

I never really noticed it before, because it's hard to notice an absence of something. But surveying tons of Euro landscape paintings or miniature illustrations, there's nary a waterfall to be found. Whereas in the American cultural sphere, which later included some of our client states like Japan, it's hard to avoid the presence of waterfalls.

The only major exceptions I found in European painting are those of Jacob van Ruisdael, the greatest landscape painter of the Dutch Golden Age (mid-1600s), such as this one. Still, his waterfalls are pretty small compared to those of the American tradition, usually under 10 feet in drop. And however much he influenced later painters, the inclusion (let alone ubiquity) of waterfalls did not make it into the Euro tradition.

Then there is the single location, portrayed by numerous painters, of the cascades at Tivoli, near Rome. See this gallery of images. However, most of these painters are not Italian, let alone Roman -- they are mainly by French and Germans. So it does not contribute to their national identity, and they did not bring back their fascination with these particular waterfalls to their homeland, where they could have gone out trekking for local ones in order to bolster their Romantic nationalist sense of place. Also, they appear far too late in the imperial lifespan -- mainly from the mid-1700s to the mid-1800s -- to be fundamental to their nation's identities, which began forming in the Late Medieval and Renaissance eras, several centuries earlier.

Also during that period, and also by a German traveling outside his homeland, Goethe wrote a poem where a waterfall is central to the symbolism, "Gesang der Geister uber den Wassern", inspired by a trip to Switzerland where he beheld the Staubbach Falls. Although it is an impressive waterfall, with a nearly 1,000-foot drop, he seems to be the only major figure to write about them, and does not seem to have started a trend for writing about waterfalls, either as part of a naturalistic portrayal of country settings or as a figurative symbol for the human condition. For some reason, waterfalls just cannot catch on within the broader group of creators or the audience, in the history of European empires.

In fact, the Staubbach Falls were first memorialized in oil on canvas by an American painter, Albert Bierstadt of the Hudson River School, around 1865. (He was born in Germany, but moved to America at 1 year old, and spent almost his entire life in America.) He was the premier landscape painter of the American West in the mid-to-late 1800s, as American ethnogenesis began to really hit its stride, in the wake of our integrative civil war.

He portrayed Nevada Falls, Multnomah Falls, Yellowstone Falls, the Falls of St. Anthony, Minnehaha Falls, Vernal Falls, a Rocky Mountain waterfall, Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite, whose valley he referred to as the Garden of Eden... you get the idea (image search "albert bierstadt waterfall" for a longer list of examples). He must have painted every waterfall he came across during his westward trek across the frontier. More than any other single individual, he is responsible for placing the waterfall in our visual tradition of what the American landscape looks like, and for making waterfalls a necessary element of unspoiled paradise for Americans.

As an aside, I avoid using terms like "Elysian" or "Arcadian" in the American context, as those are too specific to the Euro empires of the Early Modern era, as part of their imagined Ancient Greek origins. "Eden" and "paradise" are both Near / Middle Eastern, which America looks to more than Greece or Rome for its imagined origins. Using "Elysian" or "Arcadian" in America would be a fatal Euro-LARP, unmasking the not-so-American nature of back-Easterners.

Here is another, later example from the Hudson River School, by Thomas Moran:

One of America's greatest illustrators, Maxfield Parrish, included a major waterfall in his famous 1930 work of the same name, and as part of a 1959 work during his landscape period.

On the popular painting side, Bob Ross painted a number of waterfalls over the years on The Joy of Painting, including "Waterfall Wonder" in 1988. Thomas Kinkade painted many as well, including "Mountain Paradise" in 2006.

In television, the end of the opening credits for Twin Peaks (from the early 1990s) features an iconic aerial shot of the roaring Snoqualmie Falls, near Seattle, but standing in for the entire all-American landscape.

Adding to the pre-historic Edenic feel of the landscape of Jurassic Park, which was filmed on location in Hawaii, are several shots of the Manawaiopuna Falls. Hiding behind a waterfall is a key plot point in Last of the Mohicans (set 100 years before the Hudson River School's vistas, but still placing waterfalls as part of America's original and defining landscape). Both of these movies are also from the early '90s.

In the early talkie film era, Tarzan Finds a Son (1939) features waterfalls as part of its pre-historic present landscape. Perhaps earlier entries in the series include them as well, but this was the easiest example I found. The Disney portrayal from 1999 also has a major waterfall. Tarzan was created by the highly influential American myth-maker Edgar Rice Burroughs, also a major figure in the obsession with Mars and outer-space adventures.

Although Tarzan is a British orphan growing up in Africa, he's more of a stand-in for America -- an off-shoot of the British Empire, finding its own way in a more primitive world, while still in the present day. And much like the vogue for the Tivoli cascades from 1750-1850, there was a vogue for the noble savage in Europe during that time, by the same crowd -- but they never created their own national alter ego out of one, like America did with Tarzan. By the time the Euros became enamored of noble savages, their national identities had already been constructed over several centuries, whereas American ethnogenesis was just getting kickstarted around the turn of the 20th century.

In the medium of video games, waterfalls are so common in games of the classical period that it's easier to name those that do not have one somewhere. Even those that are not meant to evoke Eden or fantastical paradises, such as Contra and Double Dragon II, have prominent waterfall levels. Others set in fantasy worlds feature them as part of their landscape, such as Super Mario Bros. 2, Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Castlevania IV, Secret of Mana, and the pre-historic "dinosaurs and cavemen and volcanoes" world of Bonk's Adventure (a perfect example of the American genesis myth).

In other games, the waterfall conceals a secret object or new location on the other side of it. See the video game section of this page at TV Tropes. It began with the original Legend of Zelda, and has been used repeatedly throughout that series, as well as its latter-day imitators like Tunic from 2022.

A Twitter account, @VGWaterfalls, has cataloged examples as well, although in typical fashion, he claims in this article that the trope goes back to Beowulf and Tolkien. I'll give him credit for at least not committing the gravest of LARP sins -- claiming Ancient Greek or Roman origins (which never materialize) -- but no, there is no waterfall, let alone one with a hidden secret on the other side of it, in Beowulf. Grendel's lair lies in a cavern deep beneath a lake -- and a lake is not the same as a waterfall. It's still, not flowing, horizontal, not vertical, expansive, not concentrated, low to the ground rather than high up in the air... they're not even close.

I don't know what Tolkien reference he has in mind, but he was writing in the mid-20th C, when Britain had come under American cultural influence. There is no British or other European tradition of making waterfalls special and central and mythological. He did get inspiration for Rivendell after a 1911 trip to Switzerland -- the same location that inspired Goethe, in the Bernese Oberland. But by that point, waterfalls -- and the specific waterfall of Staubbach -- had already been memorialized by an American, namely Bierstadt. Let alone by the time he fleshed out that teenage inspiration into a mature work several decades later.

Water slides are an outgrowth of our fondness for waterfalls, a stream of water rushing over a high ledge and plunging into a pool below. Maybe for safety reasons, we need a little solid course underneath us as we take that plunge, but still, it's hard not to see the comparison. Water slides and water parks are, naturally, an American invention from after our integrative civil war -- a topic I've been meaning to explore in-depth (along with amusement parks, carnivals, playgrounds, and other recreational spaces), but I'll just leave it there for now.

The American preference for taking showers over baths is also an outgrowth of our waterfall culture. This practice began in the 1920s in America, and took decades to catch on in Europe, where taking baths is still more popular than in America. Naturally -- their visions of Arcadia, from Claude Lorrain to Henri Matisse, have always featured bathers. To fit our distinct national culture, Americans require our own private waterfall.

A quick image search for "vintage ad waterfall" gives a range of examples from over the years: a 1970s campaign by Kool cigarettes, one from the 2000s by Gillette Venus Divine, another from the '50s by Early Times Kentucky Bourbon, another from the '40s by Coca-Cola, not to mention the tourism ads for Yosemite et al.

International tourism among Americans is heavy on waterfalls as well, especially as we're more focused on the Pacific region, as the end-point of our westward expansion. By the turn of the 3rd millennium, the dream vacation for Americans was going to a tropical paradise like Bali, with its ubiquitous waterfalls -- or, if not internationally, at least to Hawaii, home to the same landscapes. I'm not sure when this craze for visiting foreign waterfalls began, perhaps during the Tiki / South Pacific craze of the 1930s and after.

There are tons more examples within each of these areas of culture, I'm sure, but the point here is not to be comprehensive at that fine-grained level. It's to show how, in a very broad way, waterfalls are a distinct and unique feature of the American collective identity, in contrast to our European predecessors (and their contemporary descendants). Their physical world has falls of lesser and greater sizes, just like ours, but they never treated them in a special ethnos-defining way like we have.

Indeed, Wikipedia's article on waterfalls notes that they have received little attention for study, especially among Europeans, and that most of the entries in the online catalog of global waterfalls are in North America (due to greater interest in them by North Americans, not because we are the only place to have them). Americans: the Waterfall People...

July 5, 2023

"Click Yes Mumeiet" by We the Simps

Been a little while since I wrote a full song tribute to a Hololive gurrrrlll, and I've had Mumei's cover of "Check Yes Juliet" by We the Kings stuck in my head since she sang it recently. I first had her pegged for a Great Lakes gal, due to her love of the harder and darker side of emo, but she has a decent Sun Belt emo side as well, the yearning and anxious side. Such a delightfully surprising mystery for the girl-next-door archetype...

See this earlier post on the geography of emo. ^_^

Original lyrics here.

For those who don't watch vtubers, Mumei fits into the theme of the original by growing up in a confining environment, but can get over her second-guessing and hesitation with a good loving encouraging oomph from her community. It's not exaaaactly like bf + gf, as in the original, but friends and moral support and confidantes, with occasional playful flirtation. We're her outlet for socializing and sanity -- and silliness! :) We just have to navigate the opposing forces that want to keep us from relating to each other this way...

Also, /vt/ is the vtuber board on 4chan, which she's more simpatico with, compared to other vtubers. I don't post there, or anywhere other than this blog, it's just where her most devoted fans hang out.

Pronunciation guide: "save" in "savescumming" drawn out into two syllables, the first stressed ("SAY-ave-SCUM-ing" a la "TURN-ing BACK"). In the bridge, "your LI-mit-ers OFF / as we GET to KNOW". Every syllable stressed in the 3rd and 6th lines of the bridge, as in the original.

* * *

Click yes Mumeiet, are ya winning?
Prechat's loading wheel keeps a-spinning
We won't go, until you press "go live"

Click yes Mumeiet, drop the shitpost
We'll keep spamming hearts to your headphones
There's no savescumming our game tonight

Open the 'Tube (owo owo)
Here's how we moom

Fly owlgirl fly
Don't factory reset
They'll one-guy your heart
If you take all their meds (take all their meds)
Don't priv your art
Don't say we're only a meme
Fly owlgirl fly
Forever we'll be
Moom's /vt/

Click yes Mumeiet, we'll be painting
Pining, posting, yours for the faving
Stream unannounced, and don't ask a poll's advice

Click yes Mumeiet, here's the schedule:
Seven nights of zatsu with Red Bull
They can hide the vods, don't let them hide your smile

Open the 'Tube (owo owo)
Here's how we moom

Fly owlgirl fly
Don't factory reset
They'll one-guy your heart
If you take all their meds (take all their meds)
Don't priv your art
Don't say we're only a meme
Fly owlgirl fly
Forever we'll be
Moom's /vt/

Connecting through the site
Connecting through the site
Endless timeline
Your limiters off
As we get to know
You byte by byte

Fly owlgirl fly
Don't factory reset
They'll one-guy your heart
If you take all their meds (take all their meds)
Don't priv your art
Don't say we're only a meme
Fly owlgirl fly
Forever we'll be
Moom's /vt/
Moom's /vt/
Moom's /vt/

June 29, 2023

Ancient aliens: America's divine intervention genesis myth about civilization and life itself

Having looked at the distinctly American genesis myth of our prehistory -- inhabiting the same land as dinosaurs and missing links, threatened by a volcanic rather than a diluvian apocalypse -- let's look at the other distinctly American genesis myth about our even deeper history. How did life itself ever come to be on Earth? It's actually the same myth regarding the birth of terrestrial civilizations, at a far later stage of our species' history -- being seeded by aliens!

In contrast to the creation myths of most cultures throughout the world and over time, ours does not dwell on the creation of the Earth itself, the stars, sky, oceans, and so on and so forth. You can believe in the Abrahamic universe-creation myth of the Old World, the Big Bang, or whatever else. Those inanimate things are taken for granted. What we really want to know is, how did life begin and get to where we human beings are today? And for us compared to other animals, how did civilized societies begin and get to where they are today?

The myth is not interested in evolution as much as the initial birth from apparent nothingness. Notice that the "cavemen and dinosaurs" myth doesn't say where primates came from -- they're just there, in media res of their drama. And the myth about the origins of life itself doesn't concern itself with any particular species that is present far later on, human or otherwise. Evolution is boring, while creation from nothing is interesting.

This is another stark contrast with the Old World creation myths, where human beings are created in their more-or-less current form (e.g., Adam and Eve). Sometime in the distant past, a creation of some kind occurred -- whether it was creating life where there was none before, or primates where there were only non-primate animals before, or hominids where there were only apes before, or human-like cavemen where there were only missing links before.

Somehow -- it doesn't matter how -- that initial creation led to us here today. We did evolve from earlier forms, but how that happened is irrelevant. How far back does the creation process go? And who if anyone was in charge of the initial creation?

Notice that this creation myth accommodates the 19th-century debates on the evolution of human beings. Not being an Old World culture, we never felt very threatened by the idea that homo sapiens evolved from earlier primate forms, rather than being created as we are now, back in the Garden of Eden, according to Abrahamic myth which took root in Europe during the Middle Ages via Christianization.

We have never had a national church, de jure or de facto (although during the mid-20th C., the United Methodist Church came the closest). Nor, therefore, any hierarchy of national church officials who could enculturate Americans in the Genesis creation myth. And no, contrary to clever-sillies, nothing is a "church" outside of Christianity. Academia is not a church, and the two most popular creation myths held by the general public -- Genesis for Christians, ancient aliens for non-Christians -- have taken deep root *in spite of* constant pressure by the hierarchical officials in the schooling sector to kill them off.

Nor is civic philosophy and dogma a "religion", let alone a "church". Church refers to a Christian institution, in contrast to mosques for Muslims, temples for Buddhists, etc. And all stripes of American civic philosophy and dogma are entirely silent about creation -- of the Earth, of life, of homo sapiens, etc. There's no primeval narrative of how things began, let alone one bringing supernatural or at least more-than-human actors and supervisors into the cast of characters.

And so, because we're not committed to where contemporary human beings came from, we can avoid the whole controversy arising from Darwin, who only says how things evolve once life-forms have existed, not whether or not there is a first created form of life and how that came into being. That controversy vexed all Old World religions, but not ours -- we're so new, we could just build in an agnostic stance regarding evolution at the beginning!

The Mormons -- America's global religion -- are also famously equivocating on evolution, with high officials officially saying don't ask, don't tell, it doesn't matter. What matters is the creation of life, the creation of god-like beings, the creation of civilizations in the New World, the appearance of Jesus in the New World, and so on and so forth. Don't worry about whether or how today's human beings descended from earlier primates.

Our creation myth also avoided the controversy about the Big Bang vs. static universe from the early 20th C., right as our myth was starting to take shape. Ours is not about cosmogenesis, unlike many other major religions and folk cultures, including Christianity. We could already sense that controversy as it was developing, so we built in an agnosticism about it from the outset. Only focus on the creation of life, humans, civilizations -- not the universe itself, stars, planets, and all that other inanimate and non-societal stuff.

* * *

The ancient aliens myth only began -- when else? -- during the 1890s, after our integrative civil war was wrapped up, and our ethnogenesis could get going for real, as in the lifespan of every empire. And where else could it have been born but out West? -- Flagstaff, Arizona, to be exact. Although hailing from a Boston Brahmin family, Percival Lowell used his wealth to build a world-class observatory in Arizona, where viewing conditions would be superior than back East -- but also because it would be more Romantically American to explore the next frontier of outer space, from our defining meta-ethnic frontier out West (against the Indians and later Mexicans).

Although later famous as the site that discovered the ninth planet Pluto, whose existence was predicted by Lowell, it was initially dedicated to the study of Mars -- specifically, what Lowell thought to be its canals. The overview of his vision of Mars can be skimmed in the Conclusion section of his book Mars (1895).

The canal structures suggested that not only was there water on Mars, there was life, it was intelligent, and it was advanced enough technologically, and organized in a socially complex way, as to complete irrigation projects.

If anything, he thought they were more advanced than anything on Earth -- inventing and using technology far beyond our own, and rising above petty partisan politics, to undertake such a planetwide project. He says that human beings are not even the highest of the mammals, putting us in our lower place relative to Martians. And he says Martians and their civilizations are far older than ours, Mars being an older and dying planet. These elements of the narrative are all necessary for the next step, where they intervene in Earthly matters.

He does explicitly state that life on Mars will likely have evolved into different forms from life on Earth, owing to the different environments they're adapting to. But that doesn't contradict a belief that they could have visited us in the past, seeded our civilizations, or even seeded life itself on Earth. It only requires them to have a somewhat different superficial form, and that we were not made entirely in their own image -- rather, at the abstract level of "life-form" or "intelligent life-form" or "civilizational being".

Although Lowell didn't go that far in his non-fiction work, a contemporary of his -- also a popularizing astronomer -- did in an early work of science-fiction, Garrett Serviss' novel Edison's Conquest of Mars (1898). Here, Martians are hostile to Earth, engaged in a War of the Worlds kind of battle with it. During one of their missions to capture slaves from Earth, 9000 years ago, they built the Great Pyramids and the Great Sphinx of Egypt (the Sphinx being made in the image of their leader).

While the Earth-battling Martians hardly resemble the benevolent steward / supervisor gods of later versions of the myth, this is still the beginning of the myth of ancient aliens directly intervening in the course of events on Earth, seeding a major civilization.

And true to our Europe-obscuring identity, Serviss located the ancient alien intervention in Egypt, not even an Indo-European culture like the Greeks, Romans, Celts, etc. That would have been too much of a Euro-LARP, so if it has to be set in the Old World, it must be within the Saharo-Arabian sphere (Egypt, Israel, Mesopotamia, etc.). This was decades before the Egyptian craze of the 1920s -- it's simply the most obvious solution to "Old World civilizational ancestor of America that is not related to Europe". The only others would be from the Far East, and that's too much of a stretch of the imagination, compared to the Fertile Crescent.

If you're an American, and want to learn a dead language to study our civilizational ancestors in the Old World, you want to learn hieroglyphics, cuneiform, or maybe Biblical Hebrew / Aramaic -- not Greek and Latin (back-East Euro-LARP). I'm sure the Saharo-Arabians find this imagined heritage of ours comical -- "you Faranji people come from Europe!" But we are American, and Americans are fundamentally not European, so no, we do not come from Europe. Where else could we have derived from in the civilized Old World? -- China? C'mon, the Fertile Crescent is far more believable than China...

* * *

After the European empires, aside from Russia, bit the dust after WWI, and became occupied by America after WWII, the American myth of ancient aliens began to take root in Europe as well. This process reached maturity by the late '60s, when Erich von Daeniken wrote Chariots of the Gods? It was soon made into a feature-length documentary movie, whose English dub you can watch on YouTube here.

This is far and away the best audio-visual telling of the narrative, with amazing photography, ethnographic portraits, voiceover, and conveying the sublime nature of the archaeological record. It's superior to the more plodding, meandering, and less artistic renditions associated with Rod Serling from the same time period (In Search of Ancient Astronauts, In Search of Ancient Mysteries, and The Outer Space Connection, all available on YouTube as well, but you can stick to the last one, which incorporates the first two).

I think von Daeniken being Swiss was important, since he was not part of a collapsed empire, and was not subject to the hangover effect that had wiped out native cultural innovation in the collapsed Euro empires. Similar to Le Corbusier in architecture, who was a footnote to the American pioneer Frank Lloyd Wright of many decades earlier, yet still more original and influential than the Bauhaus people from Germany and Austria (like Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer).

You can tell how well the Europeans had incorporated the American framework by their avoidance of their own European ancestors. The focus is on ancient Egypt, Israel, Mesopotamia, and New World cultures like the Maya, Tiwanaku, Easter Islanders, and so on. Nothing about China, nothing about Greece or Rome. The book, but not the movie, does include Stonehenge among its examples. Indeed, in the movie there's only a single passing mention of any Indo-European culture -- purported descriptions of ancient astronauts in the Ramayana of the Indo-Aryans.

From the ancient aliens narrative, you'd hardly know that there were people and civilizations in Europe during ancient and Medieval times! But that's unsurprising given its American origin.

Some local adaptations did work in their own history, such as the British movie Quatermass and the Pit (1967), in which contemporary people discover a Martian spaceship in the London Underground from millions of years ago, along with skeletons of primate ancestors just as old, the preserved remains of the insectoid Martians, and the revelation of Martian intervention in the evolution of the hominid lineage on Earth. That could be totally American, but the story also uses this Martian spaceship's effects to explain historical accounts of the devil, spectral phenomena, and other witchy goings-on -- within England, during the Medieval and Early Modern periods.

* * *

How about further back, to the creation of life itself on Earth? This view, strangely titled "directed panspermia", goes back to an American and Soviet collaboration (as in many other areas of 20th-C. culture, the only two empires left standing coincided, both sharing outsider status vis-a-vis the Early Modern Euro empires that defined high culture up until then). Namely, the astronomers Carl Sagan and Iosif Shklovsky, whose 1966 book Intelligent Life in the Universe raised the possibility that extraterrestrial life-forms could have purposefully delivered life to Earth.

Where *those* life-forms are supposed to come from, who knows? And who cares? The genesis myth is only meant to account for the ancestry of us, the story-tellers, and perhaps our fellow animals. Just as we are not interested in cosmogenesis, we aren't interested in whether the alien race that seeded life on Earth was itself seeded by a third alien race, and if there was a prime mover alien race, and so on and so forth.

Likewise, American culture is not really concerned with the other direction of panspermia, whereby we would seed life on other planets. That is about our future, whereas this concept is really to account for our distant past.

For my money, the best telling of this myth is the 1993 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "The Chase" (from the amazing season 6). It's not just a high-concept "what if?" story, but brings to life the excitement of high-stakes archaeological fieldwork, collecting clues, solving puzzles, and trying to stay one step ahead of your competitors in the race to the finish. This version is about the spread of humanoid life, not life in general, but that is to keep the focus on the ultimate subject of narrative interest -- us, not plants or viruses or whatever. If aliens could seed humanoid life, certainly they could send mold spores to other planets as well.

* * *

Redditards, Wiki-brains, and other midwits love to deride the ancient aliens creation myth -- creation of life itself, of humanoids, or of civilization -- as a "pseudoscientific hypothesis" or "conspiracy theory," terms that they never use for Adam & Eve, Noah / the Flood, the World Tree, Persephone and the harvesting cycle, and so on. By now, so many Americans believe, or are at least open to the possibility, of the ancient aliens story, that it cannot be a hypothesis -- common people don't know what a hypothesis is, how to test it, how to analyze results, weigh in on counter-arguments, etc. It's a story that you believe or don't, and science has nothing to do with it.

None of the most popular entries in the genre present the concepts in the manner of a scientific method, experiment, etc. On the surface level, they're trying to make sense of seemingly unbelievable phenomena, while on a deeper level they're trying to connect us with our distant ancestors through narrative, myth, and storytelling. And as such, there's little that "science" can do to push or pull anyone.

Very few people have "beliefs," let alone a system of beliefs. It's not about belief, in the sense of a theory. It's about whether the story gives meaning to that person, not individually, but as part of something larger than themselves -- to their distant ancestors, the chain of transmission up to the present, and the universe beyond our own world. It's more about emotional and social and cultural satisfaction, which nerdy arguments, "data", etc. cannot move one way or the other.

Exactly like Adam & Eve, Noah and the Flood, and other such myths from the Old World. It's just that, as with most clueless back-East academics and media-ites, they deny that America is a different culture from anything in the Old World. But just cuz we're a young civilization, doesn't mean we aren't distinctive, and these various origin myths -- Cavemen and Dinosaurs and Volcanos, Ancient Aliens, and the Book of Mormon -- are all a testament to that. They're as American as burgers and blocky buildings.

The rAtiOnAL SkEPtiCs who think they're smart or insightful for trying to deboonk origin stories involving aliens, are the same who labor fruitlessly to convince Americans that cavemen and dinosaurs never lived at the same time (somebody's never watched the Flintstones), that there was not a worldwide flood that destroyed all life except for Noah's Ark, etc.

The haters' arguments require no math, problem-solving, pattern recognition, specialized knowledge, breadth of knowledge, or anything like that. Any idiot can make them -- and plenty of total numbskulls and ignoramuses do.

What they are is autistic, not able to empathize with normal human beings, who have a deep need for the social / cultural / emotional satisfaction of belonging to something beyond their individual personal private self, across both time and space. Autists have a broken social lobe in their brain, and being incapable of empathy, they project their broken social lobe onto everyone else as well.

"Why would anyone want to feel connected to others across space and time? Nah, they must be making scientific-method claims subject to experimental testing..."

There's a heavy overlap between know-nothing rational skeptics and libertarians, both highly autistic and clueless. Libertarian morality is only about "avoiding harm and fraud", excluding matters of purity, sanctity, and taboo (Jonathan Haidt, The Moral Mind). So when they see a sacred narrative, they don't mind pissing all over it -- not as a vindication for their side of a debate, since there is no debate. They're cluelessly assuming the other side is involved in scientific claim-making, rather than cultural bonding through narrative and myth.

This is why no one regards them as smartypants or intellectuals, who happen to use their big brains for sacrilegious purposes -- they're just clueless midwits or dum-dums. It takes no IQ to piss on something sacred, it's entirely a matter of attitude.

And like typical self-centered semi-children, they pat themselves on the back for how clever they are, when it's only a matter of their attitude, not brainpower or knowledge, which are middling and spoonfed from some online midwit clearinghouse / group chat like Reddit, Wikipedia, etc.

Normal-brained Americans will keep alive the stories of "When dinosaurs towered over cavemen," "When Martians visited ancient Egypt," and the like.