Thursday, February 24, 2022

flowers of the machine, part 3: gamelon of the floating world (IV)

 As I said before, this project seemed like a much better idea before it began.

Several months after I first watched it (and re- and rewatched it), YouTube rerecommended me the Zelda CDi Reanimated Collab—again. And like a cat who can't help itself from batting at a foxtail dangling in front of its face, I clicked the link and watched it—again.

This time, for whatever reason, I imagined a scenario where an alien anthropologist, visiting Earth thousands of years in the future, somehow found itself viewing the ZCRC in the vine-shrouded shambles of an old server bank. (No, I don't know how it would accomplish this. Alien science.) What if, somehow, this very video was one of the only digital artifacts from the twenty-first century that the visitor could reconstruct in toto? Given this clue, what would the curious alien surmise of humanity's way of life in the twilight years of its global civilization?

That was the handle of it: pretending that the ZCRC wasn't just a silly piece of internet ephemera, but something that deserved a thoroughgoing accounting for, as though the description "YouTube video about the cutscenes from a so-bad-it's-funny 1990s video game" would be received with an uncomprehending stare.

Since I'm too afraid to reread the first three parts of this exercise and discover that I'm actually a babbling idiot, let's please assume that I've given an adequately explication of the ZCRC in terms of the medium in which it occurs, the persons who made it, and its cultural functions, all as outcomes of historical processes. All that remains is to guess at what it means.



MEANINGS: GAMELON OF THE FLOATING WORLD

As the seasons passed and his missions continued, Marco mastered the Tartar language and the national idioms and tribal dialects. Now his accounts were the most precise and detailed that the Great Khan could wish and there was no question or curiosity which they did not satisfy. And yet each piece of information about a place recalled to the emperor's mind that first gesture or object with which Marco had designated the place. The new fact received a meaning from that emblem and also added to the emblem a new meaning. Perhaps, Kublai thought, the empire is nothing but a zodiac of the mind's phantasms.

"On the day when I know all the emblems," he asked Marco, "shall I be able to possess my empire, at last?"

And the Venetian answered: "Sire, do not believe it. On that day you will be an emblem among emblems." 
   —Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities (1972)

 
What does the Zelda CDi Reanimated Collab mean? What do The Faces of Evil and The Wand of Gamelon mean, for that matter?

The simplest answer to the first question is that it's a YouTube video about the cutscenes from a so-bad-it's-funny 1990s video game. It means exactly what it seems to. We get it. Trying to think of it any other way is like being a monolingual English speaker trying to just listen to the sounds of English speech without automatically deriving meaning from them. Our propinquity to the thing forces an instantaneous understanding. It doesn't need to be interpreted because it's obvious.

Even after thinking for way too long about the social and technological conditions and preconditions of the ZCRC's production, I'm still having a hard time thinking of it as anything other than a YouTube video about the cutscenes from a so-bad-it's-funny 1990s video game. It's like listening to somebody say "elephant" and reflexively thinking [big grey animal four legs big floppy ears trunk trumpeting sounds] instead of only hearing "ɛləfənt." The relational response can't be avoided.

Forrest Bess, Hieroglyphics (1950)

It might be helpful to place the ZCRC in a category so as to not deprive ourselves of objects of comparison. For lack of a better term, let's call this category "creative fan content," and say it encompasses fanfic, fan comics, fan animations, abridgements, machinama, and the like. Commentary, cataloguing, Let's Plays, FAQs/guides, and the like are excluded.

Not that it there's no creativity involved in, for instance, writing interminable reviews of a famous JRPG series, but such works take a different posture with regard to the source material. The delineation can get blurry at certain points of intersection between the "informative" and the "entertaining," but a good spot test might be the applicability of the question "is this canon?" If a yes or no answer is possible (say, in the case of a Mega Man fan game or a drawing of Goku punching Superman), then let's call it "creative fan content." If it doesn't make sense to even ask if a work is "canon" (think: a YouTube review of a game, a guide on GameFAQs or StrategyWiki, etc.), then let's call it something else.

The effectiveness of any type of fan content depends, to some extent, on the viewer's familiarity with the source material.¹ For example: neither the King of Fighters plot summaries on the SNK Wiki nor Tanzong's KOF Lore Recap cartoons will mean much of anything to somebody who isn't at least aware of the King of Fighters games, but the cartoon does more than blandly relay information or state an opinion (and is usually more capable of holding the interest of an outsider). One kind of work speaks of or to the thing, and the other adds to it. A King of Fighters fan who watches Tanzong's videos might play the new game and think of Kula sticking an ice cream cone in K's face when he (playing Kula) beats his opponent (playing K') in an online match; or he could post a clip of the round on a message board or on social media, and somebody else might reply with a .gif of Kula sticking an ice cream cone in K's face, extracted from Tanzong's video. A better example of the additive effect might the way quotes and clips from the fan series DragonBall Z Abridged are passed around in the Dragon Ball fanbase almost as though the fanwork was "official" content.

The person who makes creative fan content will take most of their inspiration from the source material. Tanzong would have redrawn a character if there was any possible ambiguity as to which King of Fighters mainstay they were supposed to be, or if a caricature missed its mark. An author of Final Fantasy VI fanfiction would take care to see that there are no discrepancies between how Celes speaks and acts in the game and how she speaks and acts in his prose. The ZCRC collaborators animating Hektan used the video clips from Wand of Gamelon as their primary visual references.

Once again, we're stating the obvious. But this is precisely what's so interesting about fan content: its form is determined by other content.

Granted, there's never been any tradition of visual or narrative art where an artist or storyteller owes nothing whatsoever to an antecedent, but the infinite duplicability and rapid global dissemination of content peculiar to digital media paradigm raises the template to an unprecedented height of prominence. The artist of eighteenth-century Paris was incentivized to paint episodes from Greco-Roman mythology or Christian scripture; many other painters before him had painted the same scenes, but no prior visualization was regarded as authoritative and final. In a milieu where art was appreciated on the basis of its moral or intellectual value in addition to the painter's skill with a brush and his ability to hold a mirror up to life, participation in the framework of mythology and symbolism was a means to an end.

With creative fan content, participation in an established framework is the point.

This is also true of its source material.

The Legend of Zelda—like Star Wars, Alien, or Dragon Ball—has been around for so long and has prompted the release of so many products bearing its name and displaying its iconography that it's easy to forget there was a time before the template existed. The original Legend of Zelda, released in 1986 on the Famicom, had to be built from the ground up: the form it ultimately took emerged from the intercourse between the developers' sensibilities and the possibilities and limitations of the Famicom format. Miyamoto wanted the game to convey the sensations he experienced when he used to wander through the hills and rice paddies of the Japanese countryside when he was a boy. Tezuka drew from Western fantasy novels like The Lord of the Rings series when drafting the scenario—though the influence is hard to perceive except in the barest outline. (Swords, magic, monsters and demihumans, an elflike main character, trek through the wilds to deliver a magical MacGuffin to the dark lord's domain, etc.) Everything that would become emblematic of the Zelda franchise came about ad hoc: the boomerang, the bombs, the Triforce, the porcine endboss, the labyrinths, the moblins, zoras, and octaroks—Miyamoto and co. made it up as they went along.

Everything that came afterward was obliged to adhere closely to what had come before—a lesson hammered home early on on by the reception of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. The Legend of Zelda experience acquired a definition: it had tropes, themes, conventions, an iconography, a vibe. While the conceptual space encompassed by Zelda had the capability (or the necessity) of expansion and reform, every Zelda game after Adventure of Link was constrained to imitate one or more prior Zelda games. After all, only on the basis of being poor imitations were the CDi entries were maligned and ridiculed. If neither had Link or Zelda in its title, and the familiar likeness of the titular Nintendo character its box, the CDi games would have been overlooked and forgotten. Instead, their reception as counterfeits ensured their infamy.

There's no mystery regarding the basis of the sequel economy in the video game industry (or in the culture industry generally). Games are more expensive to make than they were when Nasir Gebelli was the sole programmer credited in the first Final Fantasy. The technical improvements that expanded the possibilities of the medium simultaneously increased the complexity entailed in realizing those possibilities. A-list games that take full advantage of the format typically cost tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars to produce; obviously a franchise with a long record of success and international name recognition is a safer candidate for development than a brand new title whose likelihood of success is much more difficult to assess from surveys and sales data. (This is also why so much anime is based on hit manga serials, and why we've been seeing so many remakes of long-unused but once-popular American television and film IPs.)

The technical requirements of developing electric media spectacles have turned cultural production into a corporate endeavor. During the nineteenth century, the preeminent forms of narrative and visual art (the novel and the painting) were mainly produced by individuals. The term "auteur" would have been superfluous then. Today, when television shows, films, and video games require the collaborative efforts of a multitude of artists and specialists to realize a project, this special designation is owed to the director who exerts such control over the mass of his subordinates that the product appears to have been solely authored by him or her.

In these cases, it's still the name of a director or of some other well-regarded figure with a central role in development that sells a product. In film and television, it can be a famous actor in a lead role who draws an audience. But increasingly, and especially where big-budget productions aiming at a global audience are concerned, it's the brand name that makes a film, television show, or video game viable.

Not just the name, but the framework it denotes: the tropes, themes, conventions, iconography, and vibe. The purchase of a new Pokémon game or ticket to see a new Marvel movie is motivated by expectations of more of the same (but also a little different).

Fictional characters "born" in and popularized by post-industrial media have the benefit of coming into the world fully formed, as it were. Until very recently, the verbal narrative preceded the visualization, and visualizations in books and painting were subject to the fashions of particular regions and periods, and often assumed the viewer's familiarity with the abstract narratives they cited. Again, the illuminator giving pictorial embellishment to manuscript of the Alexander Romance had no official template or style guide which he was advised to consult. In illustrations and paintings of episodes from Arthurian legend, one needs a prior awareness of a scene's context to identify a given knight, or to tell two or more men in armor apart. Depictions of Greco-Roman gods and heroes in early modern art must be distinguished by their emblems: in visualizations of Acteon's fatal faux pas, for instance, the viewer must be on the lookout for the telltale jeweled crescent moon to pick out Diana from the rest of her entourage. Even when Diana is presented singly, her appearance is all over the place. Sometimes she's a brunette, sometimes she's a redhead, sometimes she's a blonde; she can be boyish or reginal, petite, muscular or thick; her wardrobe depends on what an artist from a given region at a given time considers suitable. All that's consistent are the bow, the arrows, and/or the crescent moon diadem.

For the sake of contrast, run a quick image search for fanart of the character Artemis from the video game Hades. Nobody would be in danger of mistaking her for some unrelated character from cartoons, comics, or video games—let alone for an amateur artist's OC. Under these conditions, it's to be expected that the individual creator (or creative staffer) should so frequently be subaltern to the intellectual property.

The individual operating on the "folk" level has just as much incentive to conform to a framework as the culture industry professional. All other things being equal, an artist who draws an OC (as the kids say) in Illustrator and posts it to Twitter or Tumblr probably won't receive as much platform-mediated social reinforcement than she would if she shared an illustration of Princess Zelda dressed in her adventurer's attire from Wand of Gamelon. An image of the iconographic Zelda is likely to be coordinated with a great number of existing relations in the personal histories of the artist's social media followers than an illustration of a figure they've never seen before; simply put, the image of Zelda is more meaningful to more people. If digital tokens of approval control the artist's production habits, and if she consistently receives more when she shares art of Zelda or other corporate IPs than when she posts original characters, we can expect her output over time to consist of more licensed characters and fewer "homemade" ones.²

In the more individualistic print epoch, the cultural artifact was an extension of its creator. In the confederated digital age, the "creator" serves and sustains the structures of artifice.

René Magritte, The Reckless Sleeper (1928)

Digital media haven't quite pushed us over into post-literacy, but communication through the internet has become more symbolic, expressive, and high-context. It began with the innocuous emoticon, adopted as a means of making explicit the mood and/or intent of a message that might otherwise be ambiguous—sparing the sender the effort of having to revise or add to a message to ensure the recipient can accurately infer their frame of mind, and the reader from having to guess at whether the sender is (for instance) being sarcastic or sincere, curt or brief. Three decades later, emoji have become a hieroglyphic complement to digital text, often taking on a significance that's more ideogrammatic than pictographic; the clown-face emoji might be the best example.

Even the amazingly prescient Marshall McLuhan couldn't have anticipated the meme becoming a cultural force; it would have been as much to expect HG Wells to foresee and write a story about the portable .mp3 player.³ The meme, vapid as it may appear, contains multitudes. When appended with the appropriate text ("Am I so out of touch? No, it's the [group] who are wrong"), a pair of screencaps of Principal Skinner experiencing a moment of self-doubt outside the derelict 4-H Club building conveys more than the apparent sum of its parts: by conforming to this format, the sender of the message charges his or her statement with the current and amperage of an aphorism. To use a meme to make a point is to borrow the authority and immanent legibility of a mass cultural framework. 

Maybe there's a consequential distinction to be made between memes derived from corporate media (The Simpsons, SpongeBob SquarePants, American Chopper, etc.) and ones that originated from a person with a knack for MS Paint (Wojak, the NPC, "are ya winning, son?", etc.), but we won't concern ourselves with that here—except to suggest that the comparatively massive audiences of The Simpsons and SpongeBob Squarepants probably account for why memes derived from them tend to sweep out broader orbits of circulation than ones derived from anime and manga (or made in MS Paint). Aptness to context, the cleverness shown in "hacking" the source material, and expressiveness are all important, but recognizability is key. (If, a year or two prior to the "Drakeposting" meme's gaining currency, somebody went on 4chan and posted a pictorial statement identical in format to the Drakepost, but with some unknown person striking the same "like"/"don't like" poses, we'd probably never know about it.)

All of this evinces a resurgent culture of citation, where wit and wisdom are indicated as much in the apt quotation ("touch grass," "always has been," "dudes rock," "sir, this is a Wendy's," etc.) as the inventive turn of phrase. This shift was engendered by the technical aspects of digital media, combining the sensible actuality of performance and visual art, the simultaneity and involvement of primary orality, and the indefinite duplicability of the printed text with an instantaneity that spans continents and permeates both city and the countryside. Everyone is plugged in. Everyone is a participant. The fiefdoms and filter bubbles that have emerged are sufficiently large and mutually imbricated that one user's individually tailored digital landscape is largely similar to tens of millions of others'.

The causes of meme culture are identical to those which promote the creation and circulation of creative fan content: participation in the framework is rewarded. Where casual discourse is concerned, And, as we've already seen, adhering to or referring to a framework lets the artist contribute to a preexisting and ongoing "conversation" in the visual jargon of its participating audience instead of submitting a statement in a foreign dialect or contributing a non-sequitur.⁴

What's so fascinating about this state of affairs is its distance and independence from the physical world. Every pop cultural phenomenon universalized by the internet becomes placeless, the figures involved participate as digital simulacra, and the imaginary "space" of discourse is the event's effective context. Which is funny because you can spend your whole evening on Discord or Reddit, absorbing and sharing information about matters staggering importance to you and your remote peers—and then get up the next morning and take the bus to work, passing into a region of activity where nobody knows, talks, or cares about Touhou or RWBY or The Witcher or whatever the hell you were inundated in the night before.

Still: when we talk about "the world of common experience" in the twenty-first century, it seems almost inappropriate to assign that designation to the neighborhood, the workplace, the city block, or anyplace else where people speak to their neighbors, labor at their vocations, wait for the bus in the rain, share a lunch counter, watch their children from a bench at the playground, sweat under the summer sun, gossip with coworkers, flirt at a dance party, observe the traffic across the river while tossing bread to the ducks, and so on and on and on. Most of what's universal in the lifeworld beyond the screens and speakers can only be considered so in the abstract. A person in Memphis, Tennessee has a nonidentical experience of an afternoon rainstorm than a person in Memphis, Egypt. We all see the same sun, but it's a constituent of a completely different event at every meridian. Everyone's memories of falling in love are their own.

But we all saw the same rat dragging the same slice of pizza down the same filthy stairs. None of us saw a televised SpongeBob that looked or acted any different from the SpongeBob rest of us saw, except maybe he spoke to some of us in different languages. The in-game environment of my copy of Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was identical to the one on the cartridge (or ROM) that you played. When older millennials quote The Simpsons at each other, notice how their cadence and tempo approximates the original voiceover—centuries ago, when people would cite scripture or Shakespeare, they wouldn't have been half as consistent. The text might have been copied, but the content remained abstract. But now the adages epigrams of our age are out there in the world, having been definitively recorded and played back in hundreds of millions of households, billions of times. 

Certainly the environments in which people watch and listen to electronic media are as varied as the wide world itself—but since the content is completely unaffected by local events, and has the mysterious property of shunting awareness of one's surroundings into his or her mental periphery, something like the "think, Mark!" sequence from Invincible is, for many its viewers, a more significant and socially meaningful experience than any number of the general  but individually peculiar commonplace occurrences and themes of living as a human in the world. Maybe we can all talk about, say, hating our jobs—but each of us is talking about a different job, at a different place, under a different boss. On the other hand, all of us can speak to each other about the time Omni-Man beat his son to a bloody pulp because the event was the same for all of us, as though we'd witnessed it standing shoulder-to-shoulder with each other at the same place at the same time (which, before electric media, was the only way such a collective experience of an event could be possible).

A culture of citation directly follows. So does the distance of that culture's framework from the world of actual things and events, and its self-referential tendencies. 

The Zelda CDi Reanimated Collab is an exemplary artifact of our bizarre epoch: a dense knot of citations, all pointing to other media; its creative verve lies not in its originality, but in its animators' unique approaches to derivation. Imagine showing it to somebody with no prior knowledge of the Legend of Zelda franchise, the ignominious reception of the CDi titles and their afterlife as a source of internet in-jokes, or of the various memes and unrelated media products that its contributors reference—the reverse card, dabbing, Samurai Jack, Peanuts, UndertaleKeep Your Hands Off Eizouken, and so on. Even the source material, the sporadic FMV clips from the CDi games, are strung together as a continuous whole; somebody who isn't aware that there was once a boss fight between the clip of a villain posturing and the clip of him dying must wonder if they've missed something.

The whole thing is high-context in the extreme. Maybe the range of artistic styles and talent on display are enough to keep an ignorant viewer watching, but how much sense would she make of it all?

The ZCRC means what it means, and what it means is impossible to understand without being immersed in the framework in which it participates. To smaller and greater degrees, this is true of any cultural artifact, but creative fan content such as this is totally dependent on the viewer's familiarity with its references. Vernacular translations of the Sumerian Gilgamesh epic, a comedy by Aristophanes, a Navajo folktale, or a Bai Juyi poem from the ninth century—or any silent film or newspaper comic strip from the early twentieth century—have enough connections to enduring patterns in the lifeworld to be understood by a foreign audience at least partially as they were in situ. Creative fan content like the ZCRC assumes more prior knowledge of its material than any of them, and that knowledge is usually of something else circulating across the network at roughly the same time. Once the context deteriorates—and in the rapid, anarchic ecology of the internet, it doesn't take long—anyone who wasn't contemporaneously acculturated to the framework can only incredulously ask their elders what the hell that was all about. 

Again, this is obvious—but only because we're all currently enmeshed in the relational structures of digital culture.

Suzuki Harunobu, "The Evening Chime
of the Clock"
(ca. 1766)

Back when I began typing the introductory passages to this ill-advised probe, I was already thinking about bygone artistic traditions that might resemble creative fan content like the ZCRC. Strange as it may sound, I keep coming back to the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century woodblock prints of the Japanese Ukiyo-e school. After all, they earned their "floating world" appellation by their insistence on depicting temporal, even trivial matters: courtesans, actors, parties, episodes from jōruri, the streets of pleasure districts, and so on. When Ukiyo-e artists treated traditional, "respectable" themes, they often did so wryly, almost parodically. They published what the netizen might call "lewds." Ukiyo-e was above all a popular art, aimed at a wider audience than the rarefied aristocrats who patronized artists of schools like the Kano and Rinpa.⁵

Given the collectivism of Japanese culture and its highly idiosyncratic aesthetic traditions, we pretty much have to assume that when we look at a given Ukiyo-e print, something of its meaning is lost on us. Most of us, I'm sure, glanced at the Harunobu print above and discerned a quiet domestic tableau, stylish, but nothing that communicated anything of particular significance. What we probably don't realize from looking at the print in isolation is that it's one of a series of eight, translating the traditional "Eight Views" theme into parlor scenes—not that we know what the "Eight Views" are, where they originated, or the position they occupied in the intellectual schema of eighteenth-century Japan, let alone how this specific print might be conforming to any conventions associated with the "Evening Bells" view in its own fashion. Did we pick up on the fact that the bamboo-print screen in the background indicates the separation of the veranda from the front-facing section of the home, implying that we're seeing an intimate, unguarded moment? I sure didn't! To the eighteenth-century Japanese aesthete, all of this would have been obvious.

There's another print in one of my books—sadly, one that belongs to a private collection and doesn't seem to have any digital versions floating around—titled Three Boys in the Snow, created by one Ishikawa Toyomasa, circa 1767–73. Were it not for a note from the book's editor, would I have recognized that the boys in the picture are parodying the traditional "Crossing the Sano" theme? Nope. Does the explanation that this long-stranding trope is based on short poem composed in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century by one Fujiwara Teika clear things up? Does reading a translation of the poem in English help us to understand why the scene had such a long life in Japanese visual art, or the connective node it occupied in the consciousness of Japan's artistic and literary community across the centuries?⁶ No, and no.

Yushido Shuncho, The Wrestler Onogawa and
the Tea-House Waitress O'hisa
(ca. 1792)

And what are we supposed to make of all the actors, courtesans, and other people about town that appear so frequently in Ukiyo-e prints? Who were Onogawa and O'hisa? To somebody, at some point, those names meant something in Shuncho's part of town. I'm flipping to another page in my book, and here's a print by Katsukawa Shunsho: The Actor Otani Hiroemon IV as a Highwayman in a Play Performed in 1777. Does that name mean anything to you? Can you guess what play he acted in? How was it received by Edo theatergoers? What did they talk about when they discussed the play afterwards? Here's one by Katsukawa Shunei: The Actor Nakayama Tomisaburo as the Courtesan O'karu in a Play Performed in 1795. Same questions.

Despite the delicate and exquisitely refined style in which they are rendered, these scenes of frivolity, local celebrity, and recreation don't exactly invite contemplation of eternal ideas—except for that of impermanence. The floating world was a fragile one. The wrestler Onogawa and O'hisa the tea-house waitress are dead and gone; nobody who isn't an ukiyo-e aficionado will bother committing their names to memory, let alone think about who they were. The elegant courtesans, often identified by name in the prints' titles, shrank, shriveled, grew old and sick, and passed on hundreds of years ago. The actors, rheumatic and hoarse, retired to a posterity as enduring as the rain of a summer afternoon. The hanami parties are all over, the lovers have all parted from their trysts, the tea houses, theaters, and bustling neighborhoods of the Edo period have all been bulldozed and built over. Ukiyo-e memorializes fleeting, inconsequential scenes and people from a world perpetually passing into history.

And sometimes that's what I see when I look at creative fan content.

It's not made to stand for all time, true enough—but in the accelerated timeframe of cyberspace, something that crackled and delighted crowds like a firework only five years ago may not only be forgotten today, but spoken of with an embarrassed titter when it's remembered. Take it from the former author of a sprite comic: the contextual framework in which a given fan creation is made to participate is in a perpetual state of decay, regeneration, and transformation. The eighteen-year-old who looks at Bob and George today would be utterly mystified unless they put on their headphones and tuned into an audio guide where an internet historian explains how the composition of the techno-cultural landscape at the turn of the century was such that a comic strip made from ripped Mega Man assets could be an iconoclastic popular sensation.

What do you suppose the zoomers would make of "I'm the Juggernaut, Bitch?" Or, good god, what about the YouTube Poop videos that took clips from the CDi Zelda games and edited them into an audiovisual simulation of neurosyphilis? What will the youngest members of Gen Alpha make of the "steamed hams" craze?

But in the larger scheme of things, when I look from ukiyo-e to creative fan content, I see windows into worlds on the eve of their vanishing. Two centuries after Hokusai took his Great Wave off Kamagawa to market, the Japan he knew is gone, belonging to myth as much as to history. Two centuries after the first person uploaded their fanart to a webpage, comedically redubbed a cartoon and uploaded it to YouTube, or made an image macro from a Link: The Faces of Evil screenshot, what will the state of the world be? 

Forgive my pessimism, but I don't suppose I need to explain why I expect the next few hundred years will be defined by crisis, conflict, and collapse.

The Zelda CDi Reanimation Collab, and the "school" of art to which it belongs, are like sunflowers and irises in the garden beds of a Phoenix suburb, budding on borrowed time—resplendent, flippant, wonderful little things, the natural outgrowths of an artificial ecosystem whose stability stands in inverse proportion to its vibrancy.

@ 0:34

1. It really depends on the particular content and the particular viewer. It's not at all unthinkable that "Doot Anomaly" could be enjoyed by somebody who's never played Doom, or that somebody who's had no experience with Mass Effect could end up on its Fandom wiki (perhaps he googled an unfamiliar term in a message board post) and spend forty-five minutes reading about it. But it's safe to say that YouTube's algorithms are going to recommend "Doot Anomaly" to people who has a lot of Doom-related content logged in their user user histories, and browsers of the Mass Effect Wiki will be people who have played one or more Mass Effect games.

2. This varies from person to person and from case to case. The socially mediated reinforcement she receives for posting illustrations of familiar characters may be less strong than the "automatic" reinforcement of drawing what she pleases.

3. I mean "meme" here in the colloquial sense. Memes as "units" of cultural transmission or imitation are older than humanity. I have in a book a photograph of an adult macaque packing snow into a ball, attentively watched by a juvenile attempting to replicate its elder's handwork. What we're seeing is a meme in the nonhuman domain.

4. This blog is one such non-sequitur.

5. The kacho-e ("birds and flowers") prints of Hiroshige and Hokusai, which are probably what first come to mind when we think of ukiyo-e in the West, were a late development, were a late development, and not representative of the school as a whole. 

6. Wikipedia doesn't attribute the translation to anybody, but here it is anyway:

There is no shelter
where I can rest my weary horse,
and brush my laden sleeves:
the Sano Ford and its fields
spread over with twilight in the snow.

1 comment:

  1. "inconsequential scenes and people from a world perpetually passing into history"

    When I was in highschool I became a Christian for a while. At 16 years old I was certain that the second coming of Christ was happening my lifetime; in fact, any day now! How could I not? Every preacher worth their weight in Sunday morning TV airtime told me so. As the years went on, I realized that every single generation of Christians has been saying the same thing for centuries and will be doing so for centuries to come. This is part of what led me to move away from the Christian set of beliefs towards a more realistic view of time and space.

    While we live our lives, we have this ingrained belief that somehow our generation, the years that we are living in this endless world, are the most pivotal and memorable and whatever we do now and what happens now will be remembered as the most important events that happened in history.

    In our youth we climb the slope of relevance, our eyes fixed only the sparkling light above us. In our ignorance we think that we’ll travel this trajectory forever. Only once we start descending do we think to look down and suddenly realize that we were merely traversing a hill and are now on the other side. It’s at this point we look back to see the zenith of our path fading into the distance, greeted by the upwardly locked gaze of the next generation, as oblivious as we once were ourselves.

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