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Eddo Stern and Mark Allen of the digital art/gaming cooperative C-level spoke last night at the Kitchen. Much discussion centered on their new interactive game Endgames: Waco Resurrection, which premieres there October 16. Gamers enter the "mind and form of a resurrected David Koresh" through custom headgear--voice-activated, hard-plastic 3D "Koresh heads" worn like helmets. Koresh is the sole point-of-view character in the game; up to four of the (multiply-resurrected) cult leaders can play at a time. Inside the game, players defend the Branch Davidian compound against "internal intrigue, skeptical civilians, rival Koresh[es] and the inexorable advance of government agents. [...] Players voice messianic texts drawn from the book of revelation [to gain converts], wield a variety of weapons from the Mount Carmel cache and influence the behavior of both followers and opponents by radiating a charismatic aura." Each Koresh's objective is to convert as many followers as possible from among the government soldiers, rival Koresh flocks, and stray civilians (I think) wandering around the compound, before it meets its inevitable fiery doom.
Hearing this project described, I was a little concerned that it was applying bad-boy-cheeky humor to an event that is still problematic and much-debated: essentially the annihilation of 80 some-odd US citizens by their own government because they were different. (The Waco constabulary didn't think the Davidians, who'd lived outside the town for years, were a threat, armed or not--only the self-righteous, glory-hungry Feds who did the photo-op raid spun it that way.) Turns out the game is a high-concept, retroactive re-imagining of Waco based on the post-Clinton rise to power of a cult far scarier than Koresh and his crew:
Waco Resurrection re-examines the clash of worldviews inherent in the 1993 conflict by asking players to assume the role of a resurrected "cult" leader in order to do divine battle against a crusading government. While the voices of far-off decision-makers [audible inside the plastic Koresh head] seem resolute and determined, the "grunts" who physically assault the compound appear conflicted and naive in their roles. The game commemorates the tenth anniversary of the siege at a unique cultural moment in which holy war has become embedded in official government policy. In 2003, the spirit of Koresh has become a paradoxical embodiment of the current political landscape - he is both the besieged religious other and the logical extension of the neo-conservative millennial vision. Waco is a primal scene of American fear: the apocalyptic visionary (an American tradition stretching back to Jonathan Edwards) confronts the heathen "other." In Waco Resurrection, the roles are anything but fixed. (Emphasis added.)But surely "the clash of worldviews inherent in the 1993 conflict" was the secular, bureaucratic state vs. go-it-alone visionary cultists. C-level seems to be arguing that the naked fundamentalism of BushCo reveals a covert fundamentalist agenda behind Clinton/Reno. That premise may be shaky, but there's no question that if Waco occurred now rather than '93 it'd be Clash of the Holy Rollers. In any event, this seems like a lot of doctrinal subtlety to put into a computer game, but I should probably watch a few rounds of play next week before commenting further.
UPDATE: Photos and more discussion here.
One thing that really pisses me off is the indiscriminate use of the Comic Sans font. Actually I don't care that much but there is a movement by typographical purists to stop this juvenile-looking, Microsoft-spawned lettering from appearing on everything. It's called Ban Comic Sans and they have a sticker with the inventor of Comic Sans on it, which you can slap down wherever you see a gratuitous usage of these happy, dumbed-down letters. I once told a table full of people about the Ban Comic Sans movement and completely stopped the conversation, so I know exactly how important this is. (hat tip to Prof. C. Dirt)
Matthew Geller's urban earthwork Foggy Day, which I posted about here, made the front page of the New York Sun today, with an evocative photo. The conservative rag did some digging and figured out that a small percentage of the funding came from (gasp) public sources so they went to town, with the headline "Fog, Art, or a Waste of Tax Money?" and an outraged editorial in the back. C'mon, Republicans, the Culture Wars are over and you won, man! Compared to the glory days when they complained about crucifixes in urine and photos of men fisting, the Culture Cops are like high school hall proctors now, swooping down on the few remaining dimes occasionally changing hands for a piece of atmospheric installation art. The old "is it art?" question has even been dusted off from the early 1960s. Pathetic.
UPDATE: The pile-on continues: Geller is being interviewed and the fog piece will be featured on Fox News, Wednesday, October 15, at 7:00 pm EST.
"The world of Knight Realms takes place in a fantasy/medieval setting. It is a time of knights, wizards, monsters, and treasure. Suit up in your armor and grab your sword, for this is fantasy role-playing at its absolute best. Become a fearless warrior, a mystical magic-user, a mysterious rogue, a benevolent priest, an alchemist creating potions in a mysterious laboratory, or any of the other forty plus possibilities. We create an entire world for you to explore, complete with adventures and a thick plot. Imagine yourself acting out the part of a hero or heroine in a good fantasy novel, except it's not a novel, you are experiencing it at a much closer degree." Be sure to visit the video page. (Hat tip to Joe of Cimmeria)
Zerg Moderne, MSPaintbrush drawing, 2003.
Brian De Palma's Scarface is enjoying a limited theatrical run in connection with the 20th Anniversary DVD; it packs a wallop on the big screen. It's still over-the-top on every level: opulent set design, scenery-chewing acting, bloody violence, all mediated through Giorgio Moroder's disco dirge score, Oliver Stone's then-sharp politics (in the screenplay), and De Palma's meandering camera eye ("This is the first time that his camera's swoops and pans start to emote, to add substance to the narrative, to actually paint," says critic Ted G--although I'd say it was doing that as early as The Fury). If you're looking for your early-'80s fix, Scarface electrifies like a big, obscenely tall mound of blow (as opposed to Blow) shoveled toward the nose with the flat of the hand. Accept no substitutes (e.g, Kill Bill).
In any event, be sure to read Armond White's smart discussion of the movie's cult following, that is, the influence it had on a generation of youth more or less abandoned by the system who took it to heart as the template for the gangsta lifestyle:
On the new DVD, a 20-minute documentary made by music video director Benny Boom lets a platoon of hiphop-culture icons comment on what Scarface has meant to their lives and careers. P. Diddy, Method Man, Geto Boysí Scarface, Eve, Outkast and more express their admiration for Tony Montana, the Castro exile played by Al Pacino who took advantage of the 1980 Mariel boatlift and Miamiís Cuban criminal class to enter the drug trade, grasping after the vaunted American dream with brutal tenacity. This drama was the beginning of "gangsta" as an appellation for ruthless bravery. [...] (Def Jam has released a CD of songs by various rap artists influenced by Scarface. Itís a funny, melodramatic array, although it omits Public Enemyís "Welcome to the Terrordome" in which Flavor Flav imitates Tonyís "Who I trust? Me!")White's film criticism, which appears weekly in the New York Press, gets better and better. He's one of the few critics tackling race and class issues in movies; his only major soft spot is an inexplicable devotion to Steven Spielberg. Check out his review of Clint Eastwood's Mystic River, an "A"-list film that just sounds horrible.
Digimon: The Movie (2000). Don't get me wrong, this is a terrible film. You might as well hit your kids upside the head with a rolled-up newspaper as let them watch it. There's a lot of beautiful stuff in it, though, once you turn off the white-rapper-heavy soundtrack. Basically it's a k1ddy version of Neuromancer: children fight viruses and worms in the Internet with monster-avatars. Typical of the Japanese, though, there's a lot of confusion between the digi-world (which technically could only exist in computers or the Net) and the plain old garden-variety-anime "spirit world." Taxing suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point, the digi-monsters constantly manifest themselves on a huge scale, in the middle of cities, etc. In the scenes above, the animators visualize the Internet as a graphic "clean room" environment, with superimposed pastel ferris wheels and parabolic merry-go-rounds suggesting a toddler's wallpaper rendered by parallel Crays. Avatars fight in this disembodied zone while their human masters watch on popup screens. Nice!
Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth (1963), an incredibly faithful adaptation of Richard Matheson's novella "I Am Legend." In that classic '50s science fiction story, a plague turns the entire population of Earth into vampires; it was later remade somewhat ridiculously as Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston, and strongly echoed in the recent 28 Days Later.* Spoiler: Robert Neville (Price, called Robert Morgan in the movie) thinks he's all alone in the world, killing vampires by day and sharpening stakes at night inside his boarded up house. Turns out the plague has mutated; some people can survive with a pharmaceutical cocktail of defebrinated red cells and a bacillus-killling drug. In his ignorance, Price has been slaying these non-vampiric day sleepers, and they view him as the most unspeakable monster of all. As Stephen King wrote in his excellent culturecrit book Danse Macabre:
For a nation whose political nightmares still include visions of Kent State and My Lai, this is a particularly apt idea. The Last Man on Earth is perhaps an example of the ultimate political horror film, because it offers us the Walt Kelly thesis: We have met the enemy and he is us.Actually, I'd say Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are our latter-day Robert Nevilles. The poor deluded Cold War relics truly think they're doing some good in the world by killing thousands of Iraqi civilians. Unlike Neville, though, they aren't horrified when they discover Iraq is WMD-less, and even think getting rich is their reward for being so "noble." Talk about a monster movie!
*Hat tip to Sally for reminding me of this movie--the DVD retails for six bucks!
UPDATE: The brilliant blurb writer(s) over at Atomic Cinema believe that "[t]he real plot [of Last Man on Earth] is that an aging man loses everything dear to him, and finds whatever purpose to his senseless existence he can." I've been emphasizing the story's politics, but it's the undertow of melancholy and loss that makes it so powerful, an aspect of the Matheson story that the movie captures very well.