January 30, 2023

Imperial European ornateness vs. Block Symphony in American, Russian, and Scandinavian architecture (American ethnogenesis series)

In an earlier post on the rise of realism and naturalism in stage drama, the 3rd section was a brief aside on modern architecture. The same three regions pioneered these two unrelated trends, in order to distinguish their culture from that of the Western European empires who had dominated taste-making for centuries up to that point -- namely, the empires of America and Russia (including its incarnation as the Soviet Union), and the never-imperial region of Scandinavia.

We'll fill in some more details on the outline about architecture, in this and other upcoming posts. But basically, what we call "modern" architecture is really just American and Russian architecture of the 20th century, and the late 19th in America, where it originated in Chicago specifically. I'm focusing on the American strand of this convergent evolution, since we pioneered it. But for the curious, just look up Stalinist architecture or the Seven Sisters skyscrapers in Moscow, and notice how close they look to American Art Deco of the same period.

(Scandinavia played less of a role in the architecture field, but more of a role in the related fields of interior design, furniture, and other manufactured goods. Building lots of huge grandiose structures does require imperial-level wealth, something Scandinavia never had. But making tables, chairs, lamps, etc., is entirely do-able for non-imperial societies.)

I don't like the nondescript term "Modernism," although it at least says it's a conscious separation from many earlier eras -- which it obviously is. But that makes it sound like an internal development in those countries that spawned the earlier styles, like the Italian Renaissance, British Victorian Gothic, and so on.

But it was not -- it was born in America, which had no deep historical layers of styles of its own, owing to the colonial / settler nature of our founding. And it was born in Chicago and carried further over the Midwest out to the Pacific Coast, where there has been even less of a historical foundation to react against, unlike the relatively older (but still young) settlements along the East Coast.

So, the point of it being against or beyond or not like the Italian Renaissance, or Ancient Greeks, or Victorian Gothic, or the original French Gothic, etc., was not about a temporal succession or another phase in a fashion cycle.

Rather, it was the announcement that America is a whole new nation, society, culture, and empire -- and we're not in the Old World. Our new collective identity is being forged here in the New World, especially out on the Western frontier, where the meta-ethnic division has always been the starkest (that's where the battles against the Indians were fiercest and longest). Therefore, we cannot just blindly borrow from past cultures -- we're a whole new people, and we need something wholly new to distinguish ourselves culturally from our ancestors and distant cousins back in the Old World.

I'm going to simply call this "American" architecture, to make this ethnogenetic basis clearer. It's not one temporal era declaring itself separate from earlier eras in time -- but one region declaring itself separate from other regions in space (and time). Maybe you could modify it with "American Minimalism" or "American Block Symphony" or something, I don't know. Future historians will not nitpick and hair-split over decade-long micro-trends, in their view -- they're going to lump as much as possible, and it'll have a geographic term (American, obviously), and one or two words about its style per se.

This term encompasses everything from Louis Sullivan / Chicago School, Frank Lloyd Wright / Prairie School, Arts and Crafts, Art Deco (not Art Nouveau, which was European and highly ornamental, unlike American tastes and trends), Midcentury Modern, the so-called International Style (Second Chicago School, which went international as America replaced all Euro empires other than Russia after WWI and WWII, absorbing many outright into NATO), and so-called Postmodernism (really just a late / self-referential / weird stage of the entire unbroken evolution).

To the extent that its imperial reach spread outside the borders of the core nation, it assimilated local elements that were compatible with it -- and kept out those that were not. Where earlier European interest in Far East culture borrowed from the intricately ornamental side (Chinoiserie, Japonisme) in order to fit in with Rococo or Art Nouveau or other highly ornamental European styles, American interest in those same cultures eschewed that in favor of Zen Buddhism, bonsai trees, rock gardens, and other minimalist forms.

* * *

What characteristics define the American Minimalist style? Well, it was a conscious separation from the styles of the existing / rival European empires, especially Britain and France, who seeded the culture of America and Canada (Spain in Latin America). Nothing that would look like a Gothic cathedral, Medieval castle / fortress, a rural chateau, Baroque, Neoclassical, Renaissance revival, or whatever else from the Old World.

Specifically, no simple curves or circular forms -- no domes, no columns (or turrets) with a circular cross-section, no cones for roofs (even of a little tower), no arches, etc. No tetrahedrons (pyramid-type shape) for tower roofs either -- maybe elsewhere, and in a larger scale, but atop a tower looks too much like an Old World castle or chateau. We don't like triangular forms atop a series of columns either, because it looks too much like an Ancient Greek pediment. As a design element for decoration, like zigzags or chevrons, triangles are fine, though -- just not as a main structural feature (unless functionally required for domestic buildings, like in a roof profile to send rain and snow down off of it).

Certainly one or two of these elements may appear, but too many of them together make it look like an Old World LARP, whether trying to ape a specific foreign style (like Ancient Greek) or being eclectic with Old World styles from all over time and space.

Unlike earlier structures built for defense, ours would have tons of windows, with a large cumulative surface area, right on the front of the building. We just about wiped out the Indians, and there has been no other empire to battle us on our home turf, so we don't need to be so defensive at home with our buildings. This reached an absurd logical conclusion in the "all-glass box" trend of the 2000s and after.

A huge tower, culminating in our unique contribution to architecture -- the skyscraper. Old World empires had buildings that were fairly level around the top, and the artists of the day complained about the Eiffel Tower dominating the Paris city-scape, with buildings that were not merely much lower in height, but fairly even in height around the rooftops. Even Medieval castles with a tower, or a bell tower next to a cathedral, do not jut as highly toward the sky as typical American towers do from their surroundings.

(Domestic buildings are exempt from the tower trend, since few homeowners have enough wealth to build it.)

Removing circular or curved forms, and most triangular forms (especially their combination, a cone -- perhaps the least American-looking architectural element), yields the defining block-iness of the American style. In lazier hands, it's just a boring simple box or a regular grid (like the Seagram Building). But in skilled hands, the boxes have a wide variety of scales, interwoven with each other, in different orientations, making a symphony of blocks (like Art Deco, the peak of American architecture). And there still may be a suggestion of a non-block shape, but it will be made up of clearly distinct blocks of various scales and orientations -- for instance, a V shape made up of rectangular columns of shrinking, then rising heights, next to each other.

Similar to the low-res / pixelated look of 8-bit video games -- or, for that matter, the most popular video game ever to this day, Minecraft, affectionately known as "block game". That was invented by a Swede. The earlier related Lego blocks were invented in nearby Denmark. So, Scandinavians can indeed participate in the American Minimalist evolution in architecture, if it's at the scale of children's playthings, which doesn't require imperial levels of wealth to build huge structures IRL.

Arrangements of blocks of varying scale may result in something from earlier eras and foreign places, like the ancient Middle Eastern ziggurat, or the Central American step pyramid. And since those are not too close to Ancient, Medieval, or Early Modern European styles, they're permitted as long as they don't try to merely copy the ziggurat or pyramid.

We do need to integrate earlier forms from the New World, to draw a historical link between us and earlier civilizations here, so we don't feel too new-born and rootless. And we have always been more obsessed with connecting ourselves to the ancient Near East, like Egypt or Mesopotamia, rather than Greece or Rome (too Euro). "We" -- I mean, the culture-makers of our unique American identity. We'll get to geographic differences in how American vs. Old World LARP-y the local architecture is, in posts to come this week.

January 14, 2023

Bigfoot, our national cryptid, shows out-West center of American ethnogenesis

Returning to a favorite theme here, the western frontier as the incubator for American collective identity, have a look at this map of the most famous cryptids (legendary creatures) of each state.

Only one of them is nationally renowned -- Bigfoot / Sasquatch, from the Northern California / Pacific Northwest region, way out on the West Coast. No matter how hard the locals try to shill their own state's cryptids, the American people as a whole simply do not pay them any attention. Outside of the state in question, 99% of Americans have never even heard of these names, let alone what their defining features and narrative legends are. There is only Bigfoot.

Indeed, he is so central in our consciousness that the only foreign cryptid we have incorporated into our own culture is a variation on the Bigfoot theme -- the Yeti or Abominable Snowman, from the Himalayas. There is no historical continuity between the two, it's just that we're so obsessed with Bigfoot, we naturally chose something similar to popularize when we learned of it from a totally unrelated culture.

And contrary to lazy claims that all cultures have some kind of legendary figure like this, and that such legends trace back hundreds or thousands of years, Bigfoot did not exist in American culture before the mid-1800s, when we reached the West Coast and began interacting with the natives there, absorbing some of their legends, while putting our own spin on them over time -- and absorbing their proper names, like Sasquatch (from a Salish people's language). Bigfoot, with that name, became popular during the mid-1900s, and has since become an icon of American folk culture.

Why did Americans settle on an anthropomorphic cryptid for their national legendary creature, rather than a reptilian, avian, ghostly, plant-like, or other form? I think it's because Americans have shallow roots in this land, and we have always been insecure about the lack of ancient or prehistoric signs of human existence. We lack a compelling Genesis-esque origin narrative older than a few hundred years.

This has led to an American obsession with placing ancient Near Eastern civilizations in North America from ancient times themselves, thereby linking today's Americans all the way back to the ancient Egyptians, Israelites, and so on -- just their off-shoots that came to the New World before the Western European colonists of the Age of Exploration a mere 500 years ago. This is most notable in the origin narratives of the Freemasons, and one of their off-shoots that became America's only native global religion, with a mythological origin narrative in the New World -- Mormonism, which is yet another out-West innovation.

But that is human civilization. We are also insecure about the lack of ancient non-human ape-like creatures. Our European cousins have the Neanderthals, not to mention far older hominids inside and outside of Africa. To feel rooted in the deep history of this land, we really need some kind of "cave man" native to the New World, yet don't find much evidence, and certainly not one who we resemble.

Bigfoot allows us to both feel like we live where ancient hominids once lived -- or in fact, still do -- while not feeling out-of-place, since Bigfoot is not characteristically Native American, Amerindian, Eskimo, or anything like that. He resembles us, the descendants of European colonists, as much as he does the Native peoples who were here before us. Compared to Bigfoot, Native Americans and European colonists are equally newcomers, alleviating our anxiety about the Native Americans settling North America before we did by thousands of years -- which is an eye-blink on the deep historical time-scale where Bigfoot, or his ancestors, originated on this continent.

* * *

There's another anthropomorphic big hairy beast who acts as a protector of nature, and has been an American cultural icon ever since he was created in the 1940s -- Smokey Bear (who I always heard called Smokey *the* Bear), the mascot of American nature conservation, reminding us that "Only YOU can prevent forest fires". And sure enough, his origins are out West, signaled by his campaign hat, blue jeans, and bigass belt buckle.

Wide-brim hats, and his style specifically, are an out-West innovation in America, adopted by cowboys and the frontier military (including as well the frontier paramilitary in Canada, the Mounties, who originated in the Wild West of the Northwest Territories at the same time).

Blue jeans were created for cowboys and miners out West, spearheaded by Levi Strauss in San Francisco CA. Lee jeans originated in Kansas, and the only old jeans manufacturer from back East is Wrangler (NC).

Large decorative belt buckles come from cowboy culture as well, beginning at rodeo performances and other ritualistic events, but by now common in everyday wear.

These clothing markers all originate in the westward expansion against the Indians in the Plains and Rocky Mountain regions, during the second half of the 1800s. They are central to the construction of American national identity during that time and place, they are not some timeless trope that has found its way into our present culture.

January 11, 2023

Rebroadcasts to keep streaming channel alive, and audience united, between "seasons" (inspired by Gawr Gura)

This post is mainly a detailed suggestion for Gura, although it could just as well apply to other streamers. In fact, Pokimane just tweeted that she misses the Among Us days -- if that content is archived somewhere, why not simply rebroadcast it on a day when she was otherwise not planning to stream live? Or an episode from any other popular "season" of her streaming career (Fortnite with the kiddos, etc.). And like Gura, Poki went on a long-ish break from streaming this year, to re-charge her batteries.

I'm going to do a big-picture overview in several sections, and then give concrete suggestions to the Goobinator in a final section called "Suggestions for Goob", in case she wants to TL;DR the rest of it in between.

* * *

Because live-streaming is a very young format, it's worth looking to more established and mature formats to solve the problems of the new format. Maybe it won't work, and there's something new that needs to be invented -- but maybe the content creators won't have to re-invent the wheel.

Extended breaks in between delivery of "content" are totally normal in the entertainment sector -- at least a year between albums by a musical group, at least a year between movies by a single director or lead actor or entry in a franchise. Often longer. For TV series, there was half the year when no new episodes came out, since a season lasted 20-some episodes.

Live-streaming for entertainment and culture -- as opposed to being a part of the news / media sector -- is closest to TV, with a daily or at least weekly delivery schedule. Daytime soap operas on TV have new episodes every day, with no hiatus like primetime shows do.

For most streamers, I'd say daytime soap operas are the closest genre to live-streaming -- it's about hanging out with that character, or the rest of the cast of characters, on a close to daily basis, as they go through various twists and turns in the (unscripted) plotlines -- what game they're playing today, with whom, what mood are they in, which ongoing gags and gimmicks are they continuing and which ones are they letting fade away, who are they in a faux bicurious romance with this week, and so on and so forth.

For streams that are more structured ahead of time, and intended to be big events, they're more like a primetime episode, maybe coming out on a weekly schedule, not daily. Some weeks, a streamer can somehow fit 3 big events into one week, but that's unusual. A usual week is several days of soap opera-style streaming, and one or maybe two bigger streams.

Although hiatuses are rare for soap operas, there are still times when one particular actor can't make the filming -- in which case the writers simply don't include them in the script for those days. The production overall keeps chugging along, without them. But streamers don't have a single show on a single channel that they all regularly participate in -- they have their own channels, and their streams are primarily about the one channel owner. So when a streamer goes on break, there is no way to work around their absence, since their channel's streams are all about them.

* * *

In that case, we have to look to the primetime shows for guidance -- and when they went on break, they used to air rebroadcasts (re-runs) during the regular time slot. And even if they didn't do that, they probably had a syndication deal where various channels could show old episodes, typically out of primetime, but close enough if the show was popular.

Back in the '90s, the Simpsons and Seinfeld were shown every day on Fox from 7-8pm, just before primetime, but outside of the daytime doldrums, where less popular old shows were shown.

And though the Simpsons was native to Fox, Seinfeld's weekly new episodes were on NBC, and Fox bought the rights to show their re-runs on a daily schedule. Who knows if one streaming agency would pay for the rights to rebroadcast the streams of a different streaming agency? Gura's content is uniquely popular -- some company other than the one that employs her just might consider paying for the rights to show her stuff outside of her channel. I dunno, and that's not relevant to the big picture here.

The main point is that when there's a break from new content, rebroadcasts are a natural solution.

* * *

Aside from being a logistical fix to a programming problem, what larger function did re-runs serve within the fandom, community, or audience for the show? Far from being a negative, or embarrassing programming choice, they were crucial to a show's long-term survival.

First, they signaled that the show was a hit rather than a flop. Who would want to watch re-runs of a boring show? It was the shows that were in high demand that went into syndication and re-runs. This cemented the show in the canon of great TV, just as rebroadcasting someone's streams would formalize their status in the streaming hall of fame.

Second, they allowed viewers who had not seen the old episodes when originally aired. Maybe they just wanted to sample the show on a random weekday at 5pm, and not block out their schedule to catch the new episode during its specific weekly time slot. Or maybe they already liked what they'd seen of the show, and wanted to enjoy what they'd missed before becoming a fan. If the storylines were serial, they could catch up. If they were standalone episodes, they were effectively new episodes -- it's not an old episode if you haven't already seen it.

Third, for those who had already seen the episode, the repeated viewings burned it into their brains -- that particular episode, the show as a whole, the characters, the theme song, everything about it became memorable. But commitment to memory requires repetition.

And we really did used to watch the same episode of the Simpsons or Seinfeld over and over and over, since their re-runs were shown 5 days a week, or about 250 days a year. A season used to have about 25 episodes, so that would require 10 seasons worth of old episodes in order to not repeat them during a year. But these shows were all under 10 years old, so we saw repeated re-runs just within a year, forget watching re-runs year after year after year, as we used to do.

But far from getting boring and tiresome, this only formed a closer and more familiar bond between the audience and their beloved show, whose dialog they could now recite verbatim, almost like a religious ritual, reading from sacred texts (orally transmitted in the case of TV, and streaming for that matter -- not written down and read with the eyes).

This repetition and commitment to memory also helps to canonize certain characters, episodes, or entire series. Some episodes, or some entire series, you didn't commit to memory because you didn't want to endlessly re-watch their episodes. Only those that were so compelling that you couldn't help but tune in daily to re-runs, achieved canonical status.

* * *

Last, and most crucially, rebroadcasts coordinated the viewing activities of the entire audience together, which could've been in the tens of millions, all around the country. There was no option to "watch on demand" like there is today -- e.g., by going to a streamer's channel, browsing their archive, clicking on a video, and then watching it at your own convenience.

Watching on demand does have the first three traits above, but on-demand allows the audience to be totally disconnected, fragmented, and on different pages.

While Gura is on break, suppose I go through her archive and pick something that looks interesting to me -- most likely, the other viewers doing this will not choose the exact same one that I do. Therefore, it's not a coordinated mass phenomenon, like it was when the streams originally aired -- all of the audience watched the same stream at the same time. (Or after a slight delay, equivalent to programming your VCR to tape a show on TV and watching it later, if you couldn't make it for the live broadcast).

There can be no mass emotional, social, cultural resonance on the same wavelength if this is how the audience is watching old episodes. They cannot be allowed to choose, because they will rarely coincide, and group cohesion is weakened and prevented. I don't just mean the feeling of being part of a unified audience during the broadcast or rebroadcast -- but being part of the talk about the show, the buzz, the water-cooler conversation the next day.

How can a group of people discuss the show together, if they all watched different episodes of it last night? They have to watch the same episode, at roughly the same time (maybe a slight delay), so that they're all coming to the conversation with the same background set of expectations for what's up for discussion.

On-demand leads to cacophony, re-runs to harmony.

The only aspect of streaming that cannot be recreated during a re-run is the interaction between the chat and the streamer. But that's not the main appeal of the stream anyway, so why worry about it?

* * *


As for which streams to rebroadcast, I'd say start with the older ones, to catch newer viewers up on all the winding paths you've taken over your gemini Gypsy journey. They don't have to be strictly 1, 2, 3, in order from the start. Just start with older ones, then work your way up to more recent ones.

I don't know if you should lump all streams from a given game together, as though it were a mini-series on TV. Like Super Metroid, you originally played over the course of months, with various other games in between each S.M. stream. But that would make an interesting coherent week of re-runs -- "Gura plays Super Metroid" week, or "Gura plays Bully" week, "Gura plays DMC" week, etc.

It still feels like some variety would spice up the week's schedule, though. Maybe 3 or 4 from a single game, 2 streams from other games, but from around the same time, mixed in as well. That way if some of the audience doesn't like the main theme for the week, there's still other stuff to watch.

There should be a big stream at least once a week, probably on Fri, Sat, or Sun. Something festive and party-like. The easiest choice is karaoke -- we can't go any longer without your sharky chanteuse-y serenades, seriously! Start with older sessions, and work your way to more recent ones, unless there's a seasonal tie-in (Valentine's Day, etc.).

Or party game collabs that were hosted on your channel, whether Jack Box or even the classic SNOT collabs -- from Phasmophobia to Devour to Propnight to whatever else. I still haven't seen the tabletop game series -- but I would if I would be watching it along with everyone else in the Gura fandom.

If you really want to jam-pack the fun into the weekend, you could do one of the party-game collabs on Fri night, followed by karaoke on Sat night.

If one karaoke session isn't too long, you could rebroadcast two shorter sessions back to back like a double feature (maybe with a brief intermission). If it's a long one, one session will be enough for the whole night.

Speaking of seasonal tie-ins, if you're not going to record or live-stream anything for Valentine's Day this year, you MUST rebroadcast that Gura + Fauna neko maid cafe ASMR from last year. It's iconic! Maybe it'll become an annual programming tradition, like watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas. If you're back to streaming by then, you could of course do two separate streams that day if you have something new -- the new live one, plus a rebroadcast of that instant forever classic.

As for which days and times, ideally not overlapping your fwens. And since they tend to stream in primetime, it might be best to air the Gura re-runs a bit earlier, just like on TV. Not earlier than 3 or 4pm, though. However, Faunya's slot is usually 6-8 or 9, so that's pre-primetime itself. You might have to work out the schedule by asking your friends what days and times they plan to stream for the upcoming week, and work around that on a week by week basis (but again, not daytime or super-late-night).

The big event stuff should always be in primetime, though, especially karaoke.

Normally you should just stream whenever you want, but if it's re-runs, it feels like they should take second priority to the new streams from your friends.

Maybe it'll turn out that the re-runs don't do the huge numbers as the original broadcasts (that was true for TV, too), and they wouldn't eat into your friends' numbers quite so much. If that's the case, you could set a standard time slot, and just go with that every day, to simplify the weekly scheduling.

That means you can put up schedules again -- but without having to plan all that much as when you were prepping for new streams. AAAANNNNDDDD, it means you can recreate a piece of old media in a new format, which I know you love (like the "sponsors' commercial" within your Big Brain Academy game show). Namely, TV Guide! The natural choice to name it would be the alliterative "Gura Guide". Something without the word "schedule," which the audience associates with new live streams.

You don't have to put the word "rebroadcast" in the entries in the Guide. Just send out a single tweet announcing that you'll be doing rebroadcasts until you're back for the next season of the show, and you won't have to specify the term over and over.

You can still find fan-art to include in the Guide, and that would be a great way for you to stay connected to your fan-artists, and for your audience to stay immersed in the broader Gura culture.

Twitter would still be mainly for promoting the day's show -- a quick tweet with the YouTube link, and a colorful, cursed, or cute couple of words to introduce it. This tweet will also help to coordinate the fandom -- even if they don't watch it right away, or a bit later, they know what the convo will be about that day. It'll get them thinking about the same stream that everyone else is thinking about.

I have no idea how chat works on rebroadcasts, but if there's a new chat for viewers to type into, rather than a replay of the original chat, that's another draw -- they can react at the same time to the same content, in the same place, which they can't do if they're all watching vods of different streams. Also the chance for more superchats, for a little passive income during the downtime -- no different from the TV re-runs having commercials and getting paid by those advertisers.

Why, maybe every once in awhile, if you were feeling in the right mood, you could drop into the chat and make occasional remarks, so they'd feel like "OMG she's really here, watching along with us!" Or like a commentary track, reacting to things, explaining the background, etc. Or maybe you don't like to watch yourself again, which is normal. Just saying, if you ever felt in the mood, that's another small way to keep up interaction with the chumbos in a streaming environment, without going into new live streams.

....Whew! Mucho texto for such a simple concept, right? But you, and the streaming format as a whole, are in uncharted waters, so it's worth looking at the big picture and spelling things out more in detail to understand them.

I think the key thing for you to keep in mind is that your continued popularity means there's always a new group of fans who haven't seen your earlier stuff at all. Or only tuned in for a certain game, but not other games. Or like me, mostly watched your karaokes at first, and not so much the video games, which grew on me over time as I fell under the spell of your persona. :)

You've already created so much, and given so much of yourself, it's totally fine to take this break. But this can also be a nice opportunity to catch the newer fans up on all of that classic stuff that they may be totally unaware of. It'll make them all the more bonded to you, and to each other -- knowing that they've all seen the same things, not just randomly picking episodes to watch without any unison among their viewing activity.

Eventually there will be a common canon that they all know like the back of their hand, which would not be possible without repeated viewings, on a single coordinated schedule.

But beware: we're only going to love you harder, be all the more proud of you, and be able to finish your sentences, after we become so familiar with your whole journey. ^_^

January 4, 2023

Realism in drama as cultural specialty of nations peripheral to Western Euro empires: Scandinavian, Russian, American ethnogenesis

I was trying to think of an analogy to help non-Americans understand how the East Coast of America is the culturally weakest region for American national identity, i.e. in setting the standards for American culture, in contrast to the regions out West (beginning in the Midwest, out to the West Coast).

The Bos-Wash corridor does have lots of institutions that look familiar to the those of Western European empires -- painting galleries, symphonic orchestras, opera, ballet, musical theatre, and so on. But that does not define American culture, and we have never come close to dominating any of those formats. Rather, American culture is defined by innovations from out West -- movies (and later, prestige TV shows), pop music, architecture, fashion, food, etc.

Aside from cultural production, the Western accent defines the standard for American dialects, while everything back East is deviant from it. The main thing being the cot-caught merger, which distinguishes standard American and most Canadian dialects from our British roots (or our Australian cousins). Americans (aside from back East) have unrounded the lower-back vowels.

This is surprising to people from most other countries because their political and cultural centers are in the same place, such as London in Britain, Paris in France, Madrid in Spain, and so on. In America, the political capitals have been back East (New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC). But the cultural capitals have always been out West -- starting in the Old Northwest / Northwest Territory (especially Chicago), and later settling on southern California.

That reflects our meta-ethnic frontier with the Indians. East Coasters did get attacked by Indians and drove them westward (or into Florida), but then that was that. The longest and fiercest battles against the Indians were in the Old Northwest, and anywhere west of the Mississippi River. This got particularly fierce once we encountered the semi-nomadic Athabaskan / Na-Dene tribes out in the Plains and Rocky Mountains area, like the Apache, Navajo, Comanche, etc. (only the Pueblo were sedentary and relatively civilized). And of course we waged a war against the Mexicans in the Southwest.

Even when we reached the Pacific Coast, we were still intent on Manifest Destiny / westward expansion, and took over the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. We colonized Hawaii in the middle of the ocean, and came into a collision course with the Japanese who were already expanding in the Pacific Islands region. We tried and failed to take over Korea (though still occupying the southern half that wanted us on their side of a civil war), tried and failed to take over mainland Southeast Asia, though thankfully have not been suicidal enough to try -- and fail -- waging a land war against China.

The point is: out West has always defined the strong Us vs. Them meta-ethnic frontier, has always been the incubator for our collective identity as a people (ethnogenesis), and has always been the main source of the production of American culture.

* * *

The closest analog I can think of is the difference between Moscow and Saint Petersburg in Russia. Russian ethnogenesis is defined by the meta-ethnic frontier against various invaders from the Steppe, which lies to the south of the Russian heartland. There were only sporadic threats from the north -- the ailing Lithuanian Empire, and the microsecond when Sweden was a great power, after the other bona fide empires had decimated themselves during the Thirty Years War.

But in reaction to those northern threats, the rulers of Russia founded a new great city in the north (on the grounds of a former Swedish fortress), and dumped as much money and hype as they could into making it a Window to the West, which would rival the cultural production of the Western Euro empires of the Early Modern period. That city is Saint Petersburg, far up north on the Baltic Sea, which also became the political capital from the early 1700s to the early 1900s.

Moscow lies much further to the south. For political administration, it is classified as Central Russia. But culturally, it is southern, as evidenced by its dialect.

The main split among Russian dialects is a northern-to-southern difference in the use of vowel reduction in unstressed syllables. The "akanye" dialects reduce them, and are in the south; the "okanye" dialects do not reduce them, and are in the north. For example, the word for "milk" is transliterated as "moloko," but is pronounced more like "muh-luh-KO-uh" in the southern / akanye dialects, where the first two "o" vowels (in the unstressed syllables) have been reduced to something like a schwa. Northern / okanye dialects pronounce both of them as an "o".

And sure enough, the Moscow dialect is akanye, or vowel-reducing, placing it squarely within the southern cultural region of Russia. (Due west of Moscow lies the country of Belarus, almost all of which is akanye as well, and Belarusian even incorporates that into its orthography, so that these altered vowels have altered spellings as well, to make it transparent. Russian orthography spells them as they were before, similar to English orthography reflecting the state of the language *before* the transformative Great Vowel Shift.)

So, Moscow defines the standard Russian dialect, but is it also the primary incubator for Russian cultural production? If you judge by the standards of "similarity to Western European imperial culture," then the answer is "no" -- that would be Saint Petersburg, whose architecture, music, literary circles, etc., were deliberately meant to be a nexus between the West and Russia.

But as with the Bos-Wash corridor, Russia does not dominate any of those fields -- the German and Austrian empires dominated classical music, the French dominated painting, and most of the architects of Saint Petersburg were foreigners from Italy and elsewhere, not Russians.

The Russian style of ballet came closer to dominant status in its field, and did hail more from the Saint Petersburg region. But even in that field, their greatest global influence came from expats in Paris and elsewhere in the West, who launched the Ballets Russes touring company (whose director, Sergei Diaghilev, was not merely based in the north, but was born and raised there as well -- in the Novgorod province).

Russians did much better in the field of literature, although -- to come to the central point of the post -- their largest contributions came from the south, close to Moscow, and less so from the Saint Petersburg circle. Dostoyevsky, originally from Moscow but part of the Saint Petersburg scene, found high esteem among major cultural figures in the empires to the west on the continent -- Nietzsche, Kafka, Freud, Sartre, and others. This is the role of the city as the Window to the West.

But within Russia itself -- and later, outside as well -- the major literary figure is Tolstoy, who was born, raised, and wrote his major works near Tula, even further south than Moscow. As much as Russians may value Dostoyevsky for psychological and philosophical insight, when it comes to defining the Russian-ness of the Russian people / nation / empire / experience, Tolstoy ranks at the top.

And after Tolstoy, the most important Russian literary figure is Chekhov, who was born and raised in Taganrog, so far south that it's right on the Sea of Azov. The province, Rostov, is part of the Pontic-Caspian steppe -- *the* meta-ethnic frontier for the Russians vs. the Turkic and Mongolian nomads. In early adulthood his family moved to Moscow, where he remained as a writer.

Bulgakov was a southerner, too -- born and raised in Kiev, settling in Moscow as a writer in adulthood. Gorky began life as a central-to-northerner (from Nizhny Novgorod, where vowel reduction is only partial, not full as in the akanye dialects), but he lived in Moscow as a writer. Although lesser figures than the two above, their importance will be seen below, in connection to the birth and spread of dramatic realism.

* * *

I'll leave architecture for another post, perhaps. But as a brief aside, Saint Petersburg did not define Russian architecture -- most of its architects were foreign, and it's not what Russians or foreigners think of as "Russian architecture". That would be the colored onion domes of Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, near the beginning of Russian ethnogenesis, up through the Constructivist and Stalinist styles of the 20th C., also centered in Moscow (such as the Seven Sisters skyscrapers).

Modern architecture is another example of Russia and America, and to a lesser extent Scandinavia, cooperating and convergently evolving to a similar style, as they all distinguished themselves from the cultural production of the moribund and collapsed Western Euro empires, whose architecture was far less monumental than skyscrapers, was elaborately ornamented, and always had an ancient or Medieval revival influence going on somewhere, rather than being new and futuristic. Americans have boogeyman images of "Stalinist architecture" as just a big concrete box, but look at any of the Seven Sisters and see how similar they are to Louis Sullivan, Art Deco, and the skyscraper form in general.

As another even briefer aside, the same approach to furniture and the design of objects in general followed similar trends, pioneered by these same three regions, at the same time, for the same reasons -- to distinguish themselves from the cultural works of Western Euro empires. Art Deco, Danish / Midcentury Modern, Soviet industrial design, all peas in a pod.

* * *

Much like the domain of architecture, the domain of stage drama was more formal, ornamental, and stylized in the Western Euro empires of Britain and France. That included both spoken plays and musical theatre. The German and Austrian empires specialized less in spoken plays, but they did specialize in opera, since they had already dominated classical music.

This influence spread to Italian opera, not only from German and Austrian composers writing in Italian, but even the native Italian opera composers were under Austrian cultural influence, as the opera capital in Milan was under Austrian dominion from the early 1700s through the 1860s -- including when La Scala opera house was built in the late 1700s.

Against these pinnacles of ornamental, stylized, formalist approaches to stage drama, within the main Western Euro empires, there arose an entirely new approach outside. Not entirely outside, as though on the other side of the world, but on the periphery of these empires, interacting with them enough to know what they were producing, but not within them in order to participate in that production itself.

This new approach, roughly called realism or modernism, arose in Scandinavia, beginning with Ibsen (Denmark-Norway) and Strindberg (Sweden) in the live performance format of the 19th C., and later Bergman (Sweden) in the recorded film format of the 20th C. Putting thematic concerns aside, on a formal level its main innovation was to abandon verse and stylized language in favor of prose and an informal register -- and therefore, divorcing drama from opera or musical theatre, which was the dominant trend among the Western Euro empires at the time.

Scandinavia never belonged to any of the European empires -- ever, not just in the Early Modern period. They never spawned an empire of their own either, perhaps with the exception of the sea-borne Viking raiders of the late 1st millennium. Up until two seconds ago, they were not interested in joining NATO, adopting the Euro currency, and other markers of membership in the Western empire.

Nearly simultaneously, Chekhov pioneered the same approach in the Russian empire, in its cultural capital near Moscow, not in the Window to the West of Saint Petersburg. The primary institution through which this development took place was the Moscow Art Theatre, whose founders were both southerners -- actor/director Stanislavski (from Moscow), and Nemirovich-Danchenko (of Ukrainian and Armenian descent, raised in Georgia, moved to Moscow in adulthood). The playwrights whose works they used to develop the realist / modernist approach, were of course the giant Chekhov, but also Gorky and Bulgakov, mentioned earlier.

Somewhat later the same approach arose in the American empire, although now more clearly being an import or influence from Scandinavia and Russia. The big three American playwrights -- O'Neill, Williams, and Miller -- all took this approach. And the American approach to acting was heavily borrowed from Stanislavski's system, although interpreted through Strasberg's own lens. These developments all took place in the culturally backward part of America -- New York -- but as the transition from stage plays to recorded movies took place, and the location of dramatic production shifted from New York to California, Strasberg's "Method" acting from the Actors Studio in New York bore full fruit in the Hollywood studios' output, as Method actors (Brando, De Niro, Jane Fonda, Paul Newman, and so on and so forth) incorporated the approach into the movie format.

Although realism / modernism stripped drama of its verbal ornamental artistry, it thereby opened the door to more stylization in the visual component of the total work. True, the typical American movie does not make extensive use of odd camera angles, 10-minute-long winding single takes, or "how'd they do that" special effects. But stylized production design (including constructing sets), lighting, camera work, shot composition, and practical and special effects are far more common than are their counterparts on the verbal side, where dialog and voice-over narration is almost never done in poetic prose, let alone in verse.

These trends have transformed drama into a format that seamlessly integrates naturalistic dialog and acting, with heavily stylized visual storytelling.

But, although it is the quintessentially American narrative format, it is not uniquely American. In parallel, the Russian empire's approach to movie-making produced similar results, owing to their shared roots in the theatre of realism. I don't know much about Soviet / Russian cinema, so can't comment too much on the fine-grained nature of these similarities, only to say that they both continue the realist approach in the verbal and acting side of the production, while allowing for a potentially heavily stylized visual component.

And the center of Russian cinema has always been Moscow, in the cultural south as expected, mainly through the state film monopoly's studio Mosfilm. The director Tarkovsky was raised in Moscow from age 7. And the director of the epic adaptation of War and Peace, Bondarchuk, followed Chekhov's path -- born and raised even further south (born in Kherson, raised in Taganrog, moved to Moscow to direct movies).

As already mentioned, Bergman pioneered more or less the same approach to drama, as the movie format took hold in Sweden.

These three centers of realist / modernist dramatic gravity are responsible for spreading the approach to the collapsed Western Euro empires, who had previously specialized in the highly verbally stylized approach to drama and/or opera. Sweden was not very politically powerful, so they were not as culturally influential as the two remaining empires. Bergman was influential in his own right, but amplified indirectly through his influence on American filmmakers.

America was responsible for spreading the approach to the new members of NATO, especially Britain, France, and Italy, who had very little native film industries, let alone in the realist manner, before their incorporation into the American sphere of influence after WWII. Germany had a decent film industry before, but it was an outgrowth of the highly stylized approach to stage drama of the 19th C. and earlier. After incorporation into NATO, West Germany abandoned their Expressionist roots (mostly) and adopted the realist approach of their new American imperial overlords.

Spanish cinema didn't really pick up speed until the '80s, when they joined NATO as a very late member -- if they'd joined right after WWII, presumably they would've enjoyed a Spanish New Wave to rival French and Italian by the '60s. Better late than never, though.

On the other side of Europe, Russia through the Warsaw Pact spread the realist / modernist approach to its newly acquired territories from the collapsed Austrian Empire, especially Czechoslovakia and Poland. Even after Stalin died, and New Wave took off, the realist / modernist approach remained -- supplanting the verse / opera approach to drama that had been dominant in these lands not very long ago, before their empires collapsed.

Tellingly, nothing comes to mind for the phrase "cinema of Yugoslavia". That's because it did not belong to NATO (until five seconds ago, and still missing its cultural capital, Belgrade / Serbia), but also did not belong to the Soviet Union or the broader Warsaw Pact. And was not a colony of Sweden. It was a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, and therefore cut off from the goodies that would've flowed from Hollywood or Moscow film studios.

Unlike Sweden, they *were* part of Early Modern empires, the Austrians and Ottomans. Those like the Croatians who were under Austrian control were in no position to challenge the verse / opera approach to drama, and those under Ottoman control could only have challenged the verse / opera approach if their patrons in Constantinople had been pioneering their own independent realist approach to drama. But the Ottomans were not -- too far away from Western Europe to be directly interfacing with it that much, and therefore not really a participant in the verse vs. realism schism in stage drama.

Other major nations in the Non-Aligned Movement also had film industries that never went big beyond their borders, as dominant players in the field. Egypt became a leader in Arabic-language movies, but not beyond the Arabic-speaking world. And Bollywood in India is still synonymous with the verse / opera approach to drama, even in the recorded movie format, unlike virtually all other major film industries. If they had been absorbed into NATO or the Soviet Union's sphere of influence, they would've developed along the realist / modernist lines and gone international in influence.

Japan is the other nation to adopt the realist / modernist approach, no matter how stylized the visual component may be, rather than stick to their verse / opera traditions from previous centuries. But they got absorbed into the American empire after WWII, so they adopted our approach to filmmaking and have become globally renowned for their cinema. The highly stylized verbal component only survives in anime voice acting, and somewhat in Japanese vtuber characters. These are also formats where characters are likely to sing, either lines of dialog or as a purely musical performance.

So yet again, we see that vtubers are the last in the line of the theatrical / operatic approach to live performances, within the American sphere of influence (Bollywood is far more operatic, but Non-Aligned). American vtubers don't come from such a theatrical background -- our cartoons are not as operatic or verbally stylized, their acting styles are similar to live-action movies and TV shows. And so American -- and NATO -- vtubers are likely to follow a realist or naturalistic approach when streaming their personalities (which are not as fictional-character-like as their Japanese counterparts). However, they also have the Disney movies as part of their cultural heritage, and those are fairly verse / opera / musical theatre in their approach, so English-language vtubers who identify with Disney princesses can put on more of a stylized performance if they want (especially Gura).

South Korea shows the same pattern as Japan -- occupied by America since the mid-20th C., absorbing our approach to filmmaking, and becoming globally influential as a result. If they had stuck to whatever verse / opera traditions there were before, they would only be popular in Korea. North Korea has no film industry because we never conquered them, and neither did Russia (or Sweden).

If anything they are a satellite of China, and China was never conquered by America or Russia (or Sweden), and they were too far culturally removed from the Western Euro empires to pick a side in the verse vs. realism schism in drama. And so to this day China has no globally influential film industry, and what little it does it owes to American influence through its NATO member Britain, through its rule over Hong Kong. But that's too many degrees of separation, and Hong Kong cinema is most famous for being acrobatic, slapstick, choreographed, and in other ways that are not very realist or modernist, but would have been at home in earlier centuries of highly stylized stage performances.

Without reviewing the whole rest of the world, the basic point stands: the more closely politically integrated you were with the American or Russian empires, the more you became dominant in the movie format.

* * *

As a final reflection, why did America, Scandinavia, and Russia all independently develop this approach to drama, and cultivate it to mature status as global leaders of the movie format? Because they were not part of the Western Euro empires, who were all rubbing up against each other territorially and therefore culturally. They were in much closer dialog with each other about literature, painting, music, architecture, everything.

America, Russia, and Scandinavia were left out of this club, so why not take a totally different approach to define their cultural identities? Especially in America and Russia, which were intensely Us-conscious empires in urgent need of defining our new selves, after having undergone intense ethnogenesis along a meta-ethnic frontier. Not so much in non-imperial Scandinavia, where there was no intense meta-ethnic frontier requiring a wholly new identity and cultural forms to support and cement it. But nevertheless, requiring some mark of distinction as not belonging to the European empires.

What about the other empires who were also not part of the Western Euro club? The Qing dynasty in China, for example? Well, they weren't interfacing with Western Europe, so they felt no need to distinguish themselves from that particular cultural club. Verse / opera, realism / modernism -- who cares? They weren't consciously competing with nearby empires who had already perfected the operatic approach to drama, so they stuck with verse / opera, which is natural in the performing arts.

That niche felt too full for those on the periphery of the Western Euro empires, so they decided consciously to take a whole 'nother approach. And that is how realism in drama was born, and became the standard in the movies that will be remembered by everyone for centuries (no offense to Bollywood).

Why couldn't some avant-garde of counter-culturalists have spearheaded these new approaches from within those empires that had perfected the stylized approach? Because their cultures had already too much invested in the stylized approach -- the realists would be ruffling way too many feathers, both among the culture-makers themselves as well as their economic patrons and political censors. It's far easier to counteract some trend from outside the system that created it -- like from a whole different nation or empire or sphere of influence.

This is a reminder of how political, military, and territorial dominion can constrain cultural production -- while also allowing it to reach full flower, in a certain direction, as long as it doesn't then totally uproot that flower and try to plant an entirely different species in that same plot of soil. What was the point of cultivating it in the first place?

As the example of Bollywood shows, if any culture-makers are going to conserve or re-introduce the verse / opera approach to drama, even in the age of recorded movies, they will have to do so outside of the American and Russian imperial spheres of influence. In that case, from one of the leading nations of the Non-Aligned Movement -- whose culture now resembles that of their British imperial overlords from the Victorian era, in yet another one of the horseshoe theories of this post (aside from the main one, of American, Scandinavian, and Russian cultural convergence during the Cold War).