The Official Position Of The Ihnatko.com Editorial Board On Nazi-Punching

…Is as follows:

  1. If you’re a hero on the cover of a vintage comic book: always acceptable, even desireable;
  2. When the Nazi is either physically assaulting you or is clearly prepating to physically assault you: always acceptable, even necessary;

And that’s as far as I’ve got.

Each of us is an innocent civilian in the war between our Emotional and Intellectual selves. The Emotional self says “It would feel so good if we did this…” while the Intellectual self responds “Yes, but hang on: what if…” Continue reading “The Official Position Of The Ihnatko.com Editorial Board On Nazi-Punching”

“Avengers” movies and choices made

This weekend, the new “Captain America” movie comes out. I feel a bit like a foreigner who’s in the USA on Thanksgiving. All of my friends have been looking forward to this day for weeks, and I’m glad they’re so happy! They all seem to love the movie, which is all that any movie fan can wish for any other movie fan. It’s just not my holiday. I can only experience it from a certain emotional distance.

I thought the first “Avengers” movie was an OK example of an “Summer blockbuster released in early May” movie (which I acknowledge as an actual film genre). It spools out like a gameplay video. That’s not bad. I enjoy watching gameplay videos. It’s all bright colors and flashing lights and action and noises, and it’s as satisfying as a fast-food burger, which is another commercial consumer product that I rather enjoy. Particularly if the corporation was moved to invent a new adjective for “bacony.”

I was a bit dumbfounded by the reaction to “The Avengers,” though. Nobody is wrong when they speak honestly about how a movie or book or TV show made them feel. But I was fascinated by all of the elegiac praise. I certainly didn’t see it as a groundbreaking movie, or something that set a new high bar for story and characterization in the superhero genre. And I actually thought the representation of the Black Widow was sexist, not progressive. 

My own reaction was to just sort of put this movie in the same mental box where I’ve filed the “Transformers” series. As with a fast-food burger, I thought “The Avengers” was designed to deliver pleasure while one was consuming it, and be totally forgotten about an hour later.

Again, speaking only personally…I found the movie frustrating. There came a point when “The Avengers” had said “This element is awesomely important!” and then said “Actually, no, forget we even mentioned it” so many times that I did something I can’t remember ever doing inside a movie theater: I completely gave up. There were still about forty minutes left to go and I was sorry that I’d taken my usual seat in the middle of the house. If I’d been in the very back row, I could have woken my phone and taken it out of airplane mode without bothering anybody. I couldn’t have possibly cared less about what was happening on the screen.

I participated in a podcast about the movie with my friends on “The Incomparable” and I had a terrific time. I was surprised at how…horrified?…listeners were by what I said. Two years later, I saw the sequel specifically because longtime friend and fellow print survivor Jason Snell was going to be in Boston during the weekend of the premiere. We had a great time seeing the movie and then talking about it around microphones and pizza at Dan Moren’s house. I didn’t like “Age of Ultron” either, but it did hold my attention, and “…with a group of good friends” ensures that it’ll be a great time at the movies.

I’m deliberately sitting this latest “Avengers” movie out, though. I would have loved being a part of the Incomparable roundtable, but (as a Tweet today reminded me) I got tired of the “Andy hates all Avengers movies and thus hates joy itself meme” a while ago and I’m not eager to renew the license.

Also:

I don’t think I’ll enjoy the movie, because I’ve seen the two that came before it and I didn’t like them.

So I’m not gonna go see this new one.

And I’m not going to talk about a movie I haven’t seen.

The logic of these statements seems irrefutable.

It all ties into two important items in the Social Contract:

  1. You’re not required to even have an opinion on everything, much less express one;
  2. If someone doesn’t like the thing that you liked, it doesn’t mean that they hate you, or that they like hating.

Ignoring one or the other is a form of selfishness. The dialogue on “Civil War” can be lush and complete without the voice of Andy Ihnatko. As to the second: getting upset about a difference of subjective opinion is a sign of a lack of confidence. Too many people online need to find a reason why an opposing opinion exists and somehow the actual reason (“Someone just as smart and open-minded as I am saw the same thing and didn’t have the same experience”) just won’t do. A creative work is an emotional reaction between the work and the viewer. Change the viewer, and you change the reaction. This isn’t physics, whereupon the rate of acceleration due to gravity is a constant and any answer other than “9.8 meters per second per second” means that this person doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

This is why “So-and-so is just a hater” and “Oh, well, everyone on the Internet just takes some sick pleasure out of criticizing things” are just white noise to my ears. I even wince a little when an actor or a writer whose work I like dismisses online criticism of their work in those terms. Never, ever deny the humanity of another human being. That always leads to tremendous, regrettable mistakes. And reducing someone to just a machine that turns all input into bilious output, instead of  respecting them as a thinking, feeling being who walked into the theater with a unique set of life experiences and expectations, as well as every hope that they would enjoy the movie that they saw, is in violation of that code.

If you go and see “Civil War,” I hope you have a great time.

I’m doing housecleaning this weekend. You’re probably having a better weekend than I am. Just don’t get upset when I close this post by saying I’m having more fun scrubbing floors and scraping down the corners of my countertops than I probably would have had watching another “Avengers” movie.

EXCELSIOR!

Got wet; didn’t die

It is with profound regret that I announce that my regular Constitutionals have been moved from the “something I do a few times a week because I enjoy them” list to “something I do a few times a week because I’ve decided it might be kind of cool to keep my “no major health issues” streak going for another couple of decades.”

This is why I walked about four and a half miles today in the rain.

I should clarify: this was rain rain. As in “Rain, rain go away” rain. As in “No way I’m going out for a walk in this” rain. If a friend or an Uber driver had failed to pick me up somewhere as promised, and I had to walk four and a half miles to my hotel in this sort of weather, I’d be grumbling promises of dark retribution the whole way and well into the rest of the evening.

So it sickens me that I did this voluntarily. But I felt it was important.

I had some business to conduct several miles away this afternoon. It’s at one of those nexusplexes of coffeeshops and cafes and other places with free WiFi and many open tables, and thus a fab place to camp out for a day of writing. Whenever I feel like I’m truly stuck with what I’m working on, or if the store manager figures out that it was me who dumped the whole tray of Cinnamon Twirl samples into a napkin, I can move on for a change of both venue and beverage. It’s a long but non-devastating walking distance from my house; right at the border between a long walk and a short bike ride, and recently deemed “too close to drive.”

Welp, this morning’s podcast recording went on a little longer than I thought and I didn’t want to risk arriving late for my meeting. So I took an Uber out there and planned to walk back.

But! By the time I needed to go home, the atmospheric mist that had been so pleasant to look at from the dry and warm side of a Starbucks window had devolved into the aforementioned rain rain.

If my Constitutionals were still something I merely enjoyed, I would have stuck around, had dinner, and then Ubered back.

Alas, it’s now something I have to do. I walked more than three miles on Sunday and about five miles on Monday. Tuesday: nothing. Wednesday: goose egg. There are times when I need to partition my personality and use the Dad part to give the Dumb Kid part a firm, but loving, dressing down.

“Yup. It sucks that we have to walk home in the rain.”

Thank you. So: a grilled sandwich at Panera, followed by a car ride home, then?”

“Nope. We’re walking home. And it’s going to suck.”

“But…we have the phone. And the app. And we have access to well over the necessary five or six dollars necessary for the fare. I don’t understand.”

“It’s not complicated. Sure, on Tuesday, we were quite busy with podcasts and office stuff, but we could have squeezed in a couple of miles. Wednesday, we had nothing scheduled whatsoever. We even checked the weather for the rest of the week, and saw that there was rain forecast for Thursday. And yet, the only walking we did on that day was between the bedroom and the kitchen and the office.”

“So?”

“So we have to walk today. If we’d walked either of those two days? Then we’d have the option of taking a pass on today due to the weather. But we didn’t, so: we’re going to walk home, after dark, in pouring rain. And we are going to do this while fully aware that it’s going to suck, because we have nobody else to blame, and even if we did, it wouldn’t change the fact that ‘I don’t wanna do this because it’ll be unpleasant’ is hardly the declaration of someone who fancies himself a mature adult and a worthy example for the youth of today.”

“But…”

“I packed the folding umbrella, the headlamp, and the reflective vest. I also made sure we left the house in out waterproof hiking boots. Choose your next objection very carefully.”

And so I walked home in the rain.

He/I was right. It was important that I walk home, both to make sure I meet my Constitutionals goals for the week, and also as behavior reinforcement.

There was another dimension to the choice. Sometimes, your better nature fails you and you have to remind yourself that you shouldn’t shy away from things that are merely Deeply Unpleasant. I have now voluntarily walked four miles in the rain. It didn’t kill me. It was unpleasant…but that experience is now in the database. In the future, if I balk at taking a Constitutional in the rain, at least I can base that choice on an actual experience instead of blindly ticking the box on the cancellation form marked “it’s going to suck.” But it’s more likely that I’ll shrug and think “Well, it won’t be so bad, I guess.”

I reflect on the fact that even in dry, sunny weather, walking this distance and this route was once, in my mind, too silly to contemplate. I was always in good enough shape for a four-mile walk! But, y’see, on my way out the door I have to pass by the car in my driveway and wouldn’t that be faster and more comfortable and, generally, suck less than walking there and back?

But I sighed and forced myself to do “the thing that was going to suck” at least once. I didn’t die. If I had been killed by a truck partway along the way, I feel as though I would have been justified in not walking that route again.

With this observation in hand, I was then free to start focusing on what I liked about this Thing That Sucks: more time listening to podcasts; making all of the fitness apps on my phone happy; the free pass to not go for a walk tomorrow…and feeling slightly less guilty about having an iced scone at the bakery with the good WiFi.

Lest you think that I’m terribly committed to good health with every decision, and doing the right thing simply because I’m an adult with self-discipline: the final convincer to walk home in the rain was when Dad Self told Dumb Kid Self that we could take the seven dollars or so that we would have given to Uber and spend it instead on one of those individual fresh chicken pot pies at the market nearish my house that we really like.

It was delicious.

Want

It’s New iPhones Day, a tradition that’s so well-understood among our community  at this point that I believe we’re only a couple of years away from all of the other stores in the mall making it into a relentless and overbearing nightmare. The CEO of Sears called in his team a few months ago and asked them why their stores don’t open at 2 AM that day, with suspiciously-low sale prices on objects shaped like TV and other electronics. And that’s when his staff finally told him that Sears has been a mail-order seed company since 2011, when their last retail store closed.

I’ve been bothered by the hype of New iPhones Day for a few years. My Twitter feed is full of stories of people lining up overnight. Big and small tech blogs are all clamoring around the first buyers, for photos and interviews.

I find it all very off-putting. I didn’t always. I used to think of it is something akin to the excitement of seeing a new “Star Wars” movie on opening day. I had a ticket to the first screening of “Episode 1” and I wanted to spend the nine hours leading up to it with other people who were way, way too excited to stay at home.

Somehow, new iPhone Day feels different today. The iconography hasn’t changed. I look at the same kinds of Tweets, and the same kinds of photos, and the same videos of cheering, waving Apple Store employees and shoppers. Only now, I can’t push away a fundamental clinical observation: people are cheering because someone, you know, bought a $900 high-end consumer item.

Am I…okay with that?

So I’m conflicted. I can’t fault anyone for experiencing and expressing pleasure. (PSA: People who say “Hey! You’re having fun wrong!” are wastes of good protein). At the same time, yeah, this kind of celebration and sense of gratitude and wonderment over what should be a simple walk-in, pay the person, get item, walk-out transaction makes me uncomfortable. It seems undignified. Why are we all making these people look lucky?

Yeah, yeah: there’s a huge initial demand and if you don’t get the phone you want on the first day, you could be waiting for weeks. But is waiting for a new phone such a terrible ordeal?

I don’t mean for this to be a scold. I’m scolding myself more than anybody because I feel like I contributed to this environment. No doubt it’s a big factor in my growing unease.

But let’s all take a moment to reflect a little. The mere acquisition of a new iPhone is exciting, but it’s a surface joy, at best; it’s a squirt of Happy Brain Chemicals. We should stop and reflect on the idea that true joy of a great new phone is in the pictures that it takes; the time and tedium that a new feature can save you, which frees up time and mental bandwidth for things that are more important to you; and the thoughts and activities that they enable you to indulge that were just too hard to mess with before.

I’m not going to tell people not to be excited about getting a new iPhone on the first day. And I’m not going to tell other journalists not to write about those people, either. Nor do I believe that either of these two groups should feel bad about themselves.

Speaking solely for myself: I don’t want to just make people want things. My covering New iPhone Day as a cultural event would be a step away from my goals.

Heavy Hangs The Bandwidth That Torrents The Crown

The latest Oatmeal cartoon has been making the rounds of Twitter (largely thanks to John Gruber’s link). It makes two points about the problems of piracy exceptionally well.

The intentional point is that the content distributors often make it crazy-stupid hard for us to give them our money. Most of these industries have been frustratingly slow to adopt to the patterns of the modern consumer. News flash: we’re not heading to Blockbuster Video any more. Well, actually, yes, we are. But only because the Blockbuster went out of business and a Panera Bread is now leasing that space. We’ll probably get a Bacon Turkey Bravo for lunch and then watch some Netflix via the restaurant’s free WiFi while we eat.

Consumers couldn’t make their desires any more clear. We’ve got money to spend on TV and movies, but now we’re looking for it on iTunes and Netflix and through all other kinds of network-connected devices. If a distributor shows up in any of those places with a product we want, we’ll buy it.

[Added to clarify: and if they don’t show up in those places, they’re making torrenting that much more attractive. They’re just feeding the monster they’re trying to fight. That’s crystal-clear.

Remember the mistakes that the comic book industry made. Digital distribution made no sense to Marvel and DC, so they never really committed to it. Fine, but reading a comic book on a phone or a laptop made perfect sense to their audience, and they’re the people with the money. In the absence of a legal means of digital comics distribution, an illegal infrastructure of file standards, consumption tools, and distribution systems developed and flourished.]

The Oatmeal made an unintentional point that was just as important as the first, however:

The single least-attractive attribute of many of the people who download content illegally is their smug sense of entitlement.

Here’s my conversation with a hypothetical person who wants to check out “Game Of Thrones.” Not with Matthew Inman, author of The Oatmeal, I hasten to say. Just a conglomeration of the species of torrenters as a whole.

You want to see what the hubbub around “Game Of Thrones” is about? Cool. The show is produced by HBO and it’s available exclusively on that channel. It’s a premium channel and any cable provider can sell you a monthly subscription.

HBO’s awesome. They have a streaming app that will allow you to watch pretty much any original series or movie that they still have the rights to (including “Thrones”) and it works with almost everything that can play streaming video. HBO doesn’t even charge for the app or for the extra access.

You say you don’t want to subscribe to HBO, or even cable?

Ah. Well, no worries. The show will be released on DVD and Blu-ray later in the year.

You’re not into physical media? I’m with you. It’ll be on iTunes soon. See? The store page lists the release date. March 6. You can circle it on the calendar and everything.

You’re still frowning. What’s wrong, Scrumpkin?

Oh. You want it right now.

But — umm — the release date is only, like, two or three weeks away. Just hang on a bit. You’ll be fine.

Yes, I heard you (please, sir, there’s really no need to shout). I understand that you want it (and I hope I’m not misquoting you) right the ****ity-**** NOWWWWWWWW. But you can’t have it now. You can have it on March 6. It isn’t even as far away as you think. Remember? February is the super-short month?

(Sigh)

You’re already torrenting it, aren’t you?

Annnnd now you’re also calling me a d*** because I expected you to wait two weeks, and you’re claiming that you’re “forced” to torrent it because the video industry is bunch of turds. How charming.

Here’s the terms of use for commercial content: you have to pay for this stuff. This means either you need to wait for it to become commercially available, or if you torrent it today you need to buy it when it gets released. So long as you buy it as soon as it’s possible to do so, I can confidently reach for my “No Harm Done” rubber stamp. Some content is commercially unavailable because the publisher or distributor has no desire to ever release it. I’ll even go so far as to say that downloading it illegally is a positive thing; you’re helping to keep this creative work alive.

If you avoid purchasing the media in some form, however…you’re just Johnny No Wanna Pay. Simple as that. Get off your high horse and don’t even try that “I’m making a stand and sending a message to content producers” stuff. It’s bunkum.

I’m reminded of a Louis CK joke. I’m going to clean up a little because I’m not Louis CK and this isn’t a live comedy stage. It really wouldn’t come across the same way otherwise.

“I’m totally opposed to stealing an Xbox. Unless Microsoft sets a price for them that I don’t want to pay, or there’s a new model in a warehouse somewhere and it won’t ship to stores for another few weeks. Because what else am I going to do? Not have that Xbox? That’s no solution!”

The world does not OWE you Season 1 of “Game Of Thrones” in the form you want it at the moment you want it at the price you want to pay for it. If it’s not available under 100% your terms, you have the free-and-clear option of not having it.

I sometimes wonder if this simple, grown-up fact gets ignored during all of these discussions about digital distribution.

It was still a funny strip, though.