wax banks

second-best since Cantor

Month: February, 2019

‘A rape in cyberspace’: recommended.

Julian Dibbell’s article remains an essential document of the moment between the birth of national commercial Internet providers like Compuserve, AOL, and Prodigy and the meteor-crash of the Web/subsequent crash of the American economy: the last days of the Internet as frontier. It’s also a reminder that contemporary digital identitarianism is less new (and even less thoughtful) than you’d think. Most of all, it’s become an elegy for what was lost when the boundary between physical and virtual life disappeared, and the worst of LambdaMOO became the norm in online discourse.

This is the world we thought we were making.

The book that Dibbell wrote around the article (My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World) is compellingly overheated and gets deeper into now-relevant issues of online (pseudo)connection; it’s dated, faintly embarrassing, and true. I know how he felt.


Spider! He is our hero.

The word is ‘interpassivity,’ a particular form of learned impotence in the face of interactive potential: recording shows on your VCR and never watching them, letting the machine spectate for you.

Points to anyone who writes the obvious essay about media fandom, intellectual property, and pseudocreativity.

The trick, of course, is not to make the readers feel bad for being the entirety of the problem; perhaps the solution is a new kind of spider.txt that prevents humans from reading it at all, opening it up only to programs traversing the web for ‘content.’ All the PageRank, none of the people. Bliss.

(Blah blah ‘under Capital the citizen-subject is repositioned as consumer, stripped of agency’ blah blah. The idea that fans are a thorn in the side of the industrial machine is a masturbatory fiction. Fans are a guaranteed income and the cost of dealing with their mob stupidity is already factored into the megacorps’ annual ad budgets.)

Not missing my contributions to the blogosphere.

Don’t go back and read your 15-year-old blogposts. Just don’t.

Missing the blogosphere.

Reading Simon Reynolds’s rose-coloured introduction to Mark Fisher’s printed K-Punk collection, I’m struck with irresistible nostalgia: for a minute more than a decade ago I was part of a little circle of blogs talking to one another about art, politics, family, how and why to write, how and why to be… Todd, Walter, Scott, a few others. I felt I’d found a little home for my writing, and neighbours I liked. Maybe those guys shared that feeling, maybe not.

There were writers outside my circle too, on a higher plane but within sight, who’d made it but who seemed accessible: ARRRRR, MZS. Holbo even. I remember when Andrew Sullivan linked to a thing I wrote on Spielberg’s Munich and 5,000 people read it that very day — the biggest audience I’d ever had for words online. Things now impossible seemed simple.

The idea that blogging about pop music could change the world is — well, look around. It’s stupid. It’s also ‘truer than true’: a provisional fiction that makes possible self-organized forms which can and do change the world, or at least lives, or at least days, or minds. Incarnate fiction.

My job title now is ‘Senior Technical Writer’ and each day I write almost nothing. For a minute I was moving in the direction of the Work I craved and needed; now I make user manuals and a living, and from time to time I wish I’d make certain choices otherwise. Not all. Certain choices.

Today I thought about…

…Pavel Curtis,


and Diversity University MOO,

and all those hours imagining other selves and dreaming in text,

and cybersex,

and even

cyber actual love,

whatever any of it means or meant.

What I can tell you is that in high school and college I lived in a world online — one phrase we used was ‘multi-user shared hallucination,’ dig it — which in safe retrospect seems not only better (madder) but stranger (healthier) than whatever ‘online’ has come to mean.

DU’s gone away, but Lambda’s around. Maybe I’m logged in right now. I lived there once, more than once; that’s one of the ways I (we, it) made me.


[Wrote this some time ago, when it mattered, not that it matters. –wa.]

[UPDATED, February 2019.]

It’s not really a story, is the thing.

Infinity War is perfectly fine entertainment — some of the ‘funny’
lines are funny, some of the fighting is graceful, some of the tableaux are nice. There’s a brief, breathtaking scene of Cumberbatch doing his sorcerous thing that attains the psychedelic grandeur of the Doctor Strange movie, a similar sort of Neat Stuff movie with a similarly, ploddingly familiar Conventional Superhero Plot.

And of course, if you’re a child who knows nothing of Hollywood, the ending might come as a surprise. They all ‘die’! It’s ‘genuinely’ ‘tragic,’ isn’t it.

But for adults who’ve been exposed to the nauseating ad-dollars hype machine which is the true purpose of this film’s existence, that ‘daring’ ending is simply hollow — and when you realize the whole narrative point of this flick is to end the story of the Avengers by giving them some actual Avenging to do, the creeping sense of pointlessness that nibbles at you through the whole rest of the film just…overtakes you. Or me, anyhow.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to care deeply about the Marvel Cinematic Universe; it’s not a world or a story, but rather inescapably a product, a going commercial concern. Yes, Whedon did his customary excellent work; yes, Ragnarok and Strange and Gunn’s Guardians flixxx show actual wit. Yes, I can’t help but be moved by Chris Evans as Captain America. Yes, Downey’s a genius. But fans and ‘critics’ alike long ago stopped being even remotely rational about these films — you won’t get hounded to an early grave for claiming Winter Soldier is a ‘classic political thriller,’ for instance, mostly because Redford’s in it. Without exception, these are well-orchestrated but ordinary action films, and we should be careful not to get too amped up about B/B+ work from trained professionals with vast budgets.

Addendum, February 2019

Some good acting, mind you.

Now that Endgame is only a few months away and this film is on Netflix (which I finally have), I watched again today. This time I was struck by the film’s irritating structural sleight-of-hand, whereby the deaths of two beloved characters in the opening scene appear to set the stakes while actually concealing the plot’s absolute lack of meaning, weight, resonance. Instead of, say, the mythic expressionism of Luke and Vader dueling in darkness, we get meet-cutes and odd-couple pairings (aww, Thor and Rocket; aww, Strange and Tony) and speeches about the very Bigness of things. Instead of principles, we see neat moments: Quill is ready to shoot Gamora in one scene (neat!), then stupid and selfish enough to fuck up his own save-the-universe plan when he finds out somebody else killed her. The idiot ball is passed around quickly, as if to give everyone a chance to dribble it awhile. The metaphysics are, as usual, both (1) unclear and/yet (2) essential to the plot. It’s childish.

There will be deaths in Endgame, Tony’s and/or Steve’s surely among them, but since everyone knows these are Comic Book Franchises and not (say) actual adult entertainment, we know Spider-Man will return in Endgame and the ‘climactic’ death of half the universe’s living things will be undone. The cost of that action will be calculated not in moral concessions but in whether or not we get to see the characters again, i.e. ‘dead’ means ‘off-camera’ and that’s it. That’s the limit of the industry’s imagination (because dead characters can’t earn profit anymore). I’ve been writing for a lot of years about Hollywood’s juvenile insistence that the only interesting stakes for mass-market audiences are life and death, and Infinity War suffers badly from that inflationary growth, as did JJ Abrams’s stupid Star Trek and Star Wars films with their offhand genocides.

I’m reminded that Joss Whedon is infinitely funnier and better at dialogue writing than Markus and McFeely, and find myself missing Whedon’s ability to render continuous character development even in the context of a single overstuffed ensemble film. He’s known (by idiots) for being a ‘quippy’ writer, but as Jane Espenson will tell you, Whedon’s comedy always comes from a deep sense of character (which is maybe why Dollhouse didn’t work but let’s not dwell). Infinity War has quips instead of comedy, insults instead of communication; time and again the movement of the scene stops for a laugh, an ‘Amirite, True Believers?’ nudge to the ribs. (‘I am Steve Rogers’ is a funny line, but that’s all it is.) Great comedy issues from darker places, which is why ‘comedies’ for kids are generally insufferable and mass-produced sequels go bad so quickly. Nothing here is actually dark, nothing deep, nothing mythic.

I had a thing to say about the influence of The Authority on these movies — remember Apollo basking in the fact that he’s a comic-book character orbiting the moon? — but I’ve exhausted my interest in the subject. Infinite War is a good time, it’s just not a good movie, and anyone who sings the praises of the cinematic-industrial complex should fuck off back to grade school.

‘All the good things are terrible’ is the whole meaning of modern American culture.

Watching some Season Five X-Files a few weeks ago, I was struck by the inescapable fact that it’s…terrible. I’ve said a few times that Chris Carter is the George Lucas of TV — a genuine generation-altering visionary who couldn’t write his way out of a wet paper bag with scissors in his hand — but it’d been a while since I saw any X-Files and I’d forgotten how, er, inconsistent incompetent Carter has always been as a scriptwriter.

Distracted (b/c ravaged by illness again, then), poked around online. Somebody pissing on Stan Lee’s memory because he was, and I’m quoting here a tweet that I won’t link to because oh piss off:

‘…racist, homophobic…accused of sexual harassment multiple times…creepy and underhanded…I’m not wasting any time mourning that bitch.’

But Mr Rilstone had sighed, ten years ago…

As the fellow said: do we always have to think of Noah drunk and naked in his tent? Shouldn’t we sometimes remember that he built the ark.

…having wept…

there was me and Shaun and Jeffrey and Roger and Martin and green graph paper from the back of a maths books and a knight and a wizard and some skeletons and a spider and on the lowest level there was a small black dragon and when it finally died they all cheered and I was the referee

All the good things are terrible, obviously. This is what the vast decontextualizing machinery of Dread Internet does: it shows us a past that’s terrible, and makes available a small army of angry people with degrees in English or psychology-as-basket-weaving to explain to us (in rather a lot of detail, none of it new) just how it’s terrible, and how we — as is obvious if we just look closely — are terrible too. It almost begins to sound like reason, as long as you nod and scourge yourself instead of listening.

The X-Files really was terrible, except when it wasn’t. The same is true of many works of genius, and I’m so grateful to’ve been reminded, though I didn’t enjoy the experience.

there is a dining room table, and cups of tea and chocolate biscuits, and at lunch time there are tins of Co-Op vegetable soup and fresh rolls from the baker and exercise books and character sheets pulled sparingly off an official pad and coloured cardboard floor plans representing rooms and corridors and miniatures which were never quite painted and never quite matched the adventure and pencils and biros and rubbers and dice which had had all the good numbers rolled out of them and shouting and talking in funny voices

When you’re a grownup, everything feels like how it must feel to be grown up. Sort of by definition, I think.

Worry about ‘and,’ not ‘but,’ and you’ll get a decent start at things.