Look On My 3D, High-Definition Works, Ye Mighty, And Smile

July 6th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

from Dave Gibbons & Alan Moore’s Watchmen, chapter 11

“The [seven screens idea] is related to a post–Steve Jobs, post-Windows era of where we’re always on a BlackBerry or a phone at a ballgame, at the movies, and you’re looking at seven windows when you’re online. And I’ve found myself even falling asleep at the theater unless I’m talking to somebody or I’m on the phone, and it’s because of the amount of information that we have at once. … I was very particular about having the screens be separate and having it where your mind puts the screens back together the way you can put memories together, the way that happens throughout the day and it all links back up.”

-Kanye West, 2012

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Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Commodity Culture (or, “Watch out now, they’ll chew you up”)

May 30th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Here’s the video for Jay-Z & Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” off their Watch The Throne album. This joint features Frank Ocean and The-Dream.

Within about thirty seconds of starting this video, I was reminded of one of my favorite bits from Grant Morrison & Phil Jimenez’s The Invisibles. This page:

More specifically, this quote: “The most pernicious image of all is the anarchist-hero figure. A creation of commodity culture, he allows us to buy into an inauthentic simulation of revolutionary praxis. The hero encourages passive spectating and revolt becomes another product to be consumed.”

And of course, The Invisibles is guilty of this critique. Grant Morrison wrote it and DC Comics, the comic book wing of Warner Bros. published it. It sells anarchy to the masses. It is a book that is meant to make money, no matter the ink on the page, and as such supports our capitalist system and all the exploitation and misery that is part and parcel of that system.

But it’s apt, I think. Morrison is a good writer, and he nails a phenomenon that I think is fascinating. Our culture — maybe as a result of capitalism, maybe just because that’s how culture works — chews up and spits out everything, even things that are theoretically counter-culture.

One of the vilest concepts in American culture is the fear of the black man’s penis and hatred for the black woman’s body. Black women were considered animalistic and savage, to the point where raping them didn’t even really count as rape. Black men were savage, too, and the myth of black dudes being better hung than any other race derives from this idea. They’ve got bigger dicks because they’re closer to apes and savages. It’s not a compliment. They’re calling you a monkey. Black people were considered hypersexed. Interracial love was miscegenation, a corruption of white women’s virtue. White men who raped black women were safe, I guess, because the screwer tends to have power over the screwed.

Gross, right? No right-thinking person still believes in that stuff. But have you looked at interracial porn lately? At how many videos are based around a black guy deflowering a white girl with his huge penis, how many feature white girls actually saying the words “giant nigger dick” aloud, how many videos feature black women in all-white gangbangs featuring dudes with Klan robes or Confederate flags… none of that is rare. Our culture will take in anything and everything, including the worst of us, and spit it back in a format that you can spend dollars on. Racism as fetish, 29.99 a month. Malcolm X hats, conscious rap, drag queens, black nationalism, all of it will eventually fall prey to commodity culture. That’s just the way it is.

Which brings me back around to this Jay and Ye video. What is it about? It isn’t about anything. It depicts protests, sure, but what are the people protesting? What are Jay and Kanye protesting? Nothing. The video is message-less and meaningless. Jay-Z’s verse is borderline incoherent, a loose suggestion of sadness and distrust. Kanye’s verse is about his issues with love. The video depicts revolt for revolt’s sake.

Revolution is cool now. There’s even a catchphrase: “We are the 99%!” Protesting is cool, man. Protests are sexy. Occupy Wall Street is protesting economic exploitation, at least nominally. But what is this video protesting? There’s no message, and no signs. There’s just protestors and cops and police brutality. It encourages an us vs them mentality, which I think is poisonous to begin with, and takes advantage of the fact that protesting is cool these days to get a neat video out of it.

It’s exploitation, basically. An exploitation of Occupy Wall Street and protests in general. A protest without a point, without a goal, is not a protest at all. It is not civil disobedience. It is not revolt. It’s just mindless, empty violence. It’s the exact opposite of what protests are supposed to accomplish.

What makes this video even worse is that Watch the Throne is an album about consumption to the point of excess. It’s about how awesome and rich Jay and Kanye are, and how much stuff they have. It’s an album about being the 1%, though Jay and Ye are both small fish in that pond. To an extent, most rap albums are about being awesome, but Watch the Throne felt like a step far beyond the conspicuous consumption I’ve grown used to. It was too much.

Put the two together. The most commercial and capitalist rap album in a long time, one that’s almost overwhelmingly and off-puttingly about material wealth. A music video that co-opts revolutionary concepts to illustrate a song about Jay-Z creating a loose idea of sadness and Kanye working out his issues with love. There’s no connection, beyond maybe a loose sense of unrest. There’s just two mildly rich dudes jacking the imagery of people who have legitimate grievances with authority and furthering the story that protests must turn violent, or are violent by their nature.

Violence, or the threat of violence, has a very important and essential place in revolutionary acts. That is true, I think anyone who has read a book will agree with that. But this is not it. This is counter-revolutionary. This is the culture chewing up and recycling protesting. This is culture as commodity.

Jay-Z is actually a great example of this phenomenon. He’s made a career out of jocking fads, and even other rappers. He stepped into Christopher Wallace’s shoes after Big died and couldn’t keep Big’s lyrics out his mouth. Remember “The Death of Auto-Tune?” He delivered a hilariously sub-par verse on Juvenile’s “Ha” remix. He rode UGK to success off the back of “Big Pimpin.” He dallied with the Neptunes, Just Blaze, and more. He finds what’s hot and joins in. Which is fine. That’s how you stay relevant, and he’s managed to turn “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man” from a hot line into a hot life. He knows how commodity culture works, and the “No Church In The Wild” video is just another example of that fact. Everything gets recycled, remixed, and sold, even things that are already for sale.

I don’t think commodity culture is a bad thing, necessarily, but I do think it is important to be able to recognize it when you see it in action. There’s nothing wrong with digging this video, as long as you’re conscious of exactly what it represents. This isn’t a realistic representation of revolutionary action or any type of revolutionary statement. It is exploitation, from top to bottom, and paints an inaccurate picture of civil unrest.

“No Church In The Wild” looks even dumber when you look at Yasiin Bey, fka Mos Def, and his song “Niggas In Poorest,” a direct answer to Jay & Ye’s smash hit “Niggas In Paris.” Video:

This song has a very clear message and it’s reflected throughout the lyrics, video, and even the awfully clunky title. See here for example:

Poor so hard, this shit crazy
Walk outside the whole world hate me
Nervous stares at the thoroughfare
Surveillance cameras, police tracing
Poor so hard, this shit weird
We be home and still be scared
There’s grief here, there’s peace here
Easy and hard to be here
Psycho: liable to turn Michael
Take your pick:
Myers, Myers, Myers, same shit

and here:

Fake Gucci, my nigga. Fake Louis, my killer.
Real drugs, my dealer. Who the fuck is Margiela?
Doctors say I’m the illest, I ain’t got no insurance
It’s them niggas in poorest, be them rebel guerillas, huh

These statements are clear as day. Being poor sucks. It’ll make you do things that people describe as unthinkable. It makes going to the doctor an expensive dream. People watch you. Nowhere is safe, not even home. It’s easy to become poor and hard to be poor.

It’s not perfect, but there’s a message. There’s a point. It’s a rebuke to the excess that Jay and Ye displayed on Watch the Throne, and it is pointed. It puts the lie to Jay and Ye’s fake revolutionary video, too. It’s sympathetic without being exploitative. The violence that Bey suggests is a result of a specific thing, not just “well it’s a protest so I guess people gotta fight?” “Niggas In Poorest” is a product, too, but it’s much more sound, politically, than “No Church In The Wild” or any of Jay’s stabs at political relevance. He’s a businessman, and his choices reflect that. But that doesn’t make “No Church In the Wild” any more authentic.

Recognize commodity culture when you see it. Don’t fall for these people’s lies. Don’t get caught up in no throne. They’re never gonna let you sit on it.

(It’s worth noting that Romain Gavras, director of “No Church In The Wild,” also directed MIA’s obnoxious and incoherent video for “Born Free.”)

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On Kanye, Regular Dudes, and Douchebags

February 21st, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I asked Twitter what their favorite song on Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the other day. I got a lot of answers, most of ’em good, but the one that caught me the most was from my friend EC. She said this:

Runaway. At the end of the day, when Kanye feels like a douchebag, he needs a hug from Donda, but she’s gone. 🙁

A close second, and I mean painfully close, was this from Ray:

AllOfTheLights. Peak of his maximalism, sonically. But ponders depths of being minmal in life. Take together w/Power which is flip

These two comments unlocked something in my head. It’s dangerous to try to psychoanalyze somebody through their music, but Kanye paints a really interesting picture. He’s a regular dude with new money pretensions. Success is a goal in and of itself, and I think that goes a long way toward explaining why his sound is so different on each of his albums.

Kanye’s the picture of the regular dude who is good at something but feel he isn’t recognized enough for that fact. It’s not arrogance or egomania so much as having the confidence you need to make it. It’s about not getting what you’re due, whether or not anybody else agrees. I bet most creative people, whether they’re gainfully employed or just scribble erotic fanfiction in their dorm rooms when their roomie isn’t around, feel the same. If you don’t feel like you’re any good, then nobody else will, either.

At the heart of that creative drive is a sense of inferiority. What if you aren’t as good as you think you are, what if people hate you, or what if you are that good, but no one notices. And Kanye thinks he’s very good. So good, in fact, that he’ll drop an album like 808s and Heartbreak, which I thought was punishingly average, or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a thirteen track album with six songs that approach or beat six minutes. That’s confidence, to me, because Kanye could’ve just made a bunch of College Dropouts and seen plenty of success instead. So I’d be willing to put cash money toward the idea that Kanye’s sense of inferiority is tremendous. He’s got to out-do himself every single time.

EC and Ray hit on what that regular dude style is so attractive, though. “Runaway” humanizes a champion when you realize what the song’s about. And Ray’s point about “All of the Lights” being the peak of his maximalism but being about mundane things is the perfect complement to that. It elevates the common man to where we think Kanye is, that point where life is majestic and exciting.

It’s such a subtle, unconscious thing, but it clicks so hard with me. My favorite Kanye song, or at least one of them, is “Mama’s Boyfriend,” which he has yet to officially release, and probably won’t since some scrub bootlegged it and threw a beat on top of it. It’s about growing up with a single mom and watching how men treat her, and then growing up to do the same thing to women even though he swore he’d do better. “I never liked you niggas,” goes the chorus, “who knew one day I’d be just like you niggas?” It’s about trying to protect your mother and then becoming the man you used to hate. There’s too much there for me to grab onto.

It’s kind of a sad song, in a way. It’s about cycles and inevitability and growing up black and poor with just your mom. It’s about a lot of things. I do like how it’s plain that it’s the man at fault in both instances, though. The kid is bitter and suspicious of newcomers to his family. The man loves a lady and wants his kid to like, or at least tolerate, him. The mother is immaculate in both verses.

I like that a lot. There’s a depth to Kanye that I feel like a lot of people miss because they don’t look past “I’ma let you finish” and “George W Bush doesn’t care about black people.” He knows about being the man of the house at a young age, heartbreak, confidence, perseverance, making the same mistakes over and over, and being a douchebag.

I forget what I said my favorite song off that album is. It’s changed by this point anyway. At the moment though, just after midnight on 03/21, it’s the 9-minute version of “Runaway.” No, wait–it’s that version of “Runaway” that he played on SNL, with the clusterbomb of live samples, painful snares, and Pusha mixed way too low for the track.

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The Cipher 02/23/11: “hide til it’s bright out”

February 23rd, 2011 Posted by david brothers

something wrong, i hold my head

created: What a weird week, man. RIP Dwayne McDuffie. I’m kinda pissed that my BHM11 post about him ended up being sort of a eulogy. It is what it is, though, and I’m thankful for what he gave me. Look for a longer piece on CA tomorrow, I think.

-Me and Uzumeri got together to talk about Uncanny X-Force. Gav pointed out that both of us liked X-Force for different reasons. Me for Fantomex, him for Deadpool.

-I reviewed Summer Wars, Funimation’s new anime disc. Summer Wars is pretty okay–great visuals, aight story. Shoulda been more John Blaze than that.

-Marvel comics, black history, get at me. Part 2 hits on Friday.

mj gone, our nigga dead

consumed: I went to a Marvel vs Capcom 3 tournament on Saturday on a whim. I ended up placing fifth, but the first cat I fought was exactly the type of player I’m not down with at all. All types of move spamming, and then when the clock got low, he tried to run away. I had to call this dude out before he manned up and fought me. C’mon, son. What part of the game is that? Oh yeah, the unfun part.

-I talked some about McDuffie on Twitter. Gonna throw those up here because I think I said a few things worth reading:

-Also, seriously, if you’re gonna write about McDuffie this week–Milestone was its own company, not an imprint of DC Comics. Get it right.

-The importance of DC not owning Milestone is this: You need to own your own work. That’s how you make money and leave a legacy that’s yours.

-DC published Milestone. They didn’t own them. McDuffie & Co shopped Milestone around to several publishers, and DC eventually bit.

-The copyright, the honor, and the legacy belong to McDuffie, Davis, Dingle, and Cowan. Milestone was theirs, and they did it for us.

-And Milestone and McDuffie’s career weren’t just about black characters, either. Blood Syndicate had TWO kinds of hispanics on the team.

-You don’t even see that these days. That’s in addition to every other type in Milestone comics. They weren’t black comics. They were comics.

-Yes, it was revolutionary. No, it hasn’t been beaten. They set the bar high, but in the exact right space.

-I definitely felt some kind of way when Batwoman was getting press for being out and a superhero because, HEY! Milestone was there FIRST.

-(a correction because I was wrong on one point:) Milestone was 1993, Alpha Flight [and Northstar coming out] was 1992. Credit where credit’s due, though, despite Byrne being his typical douchebag self. [why did I diss Byrne there? Not sure– a) he’s subhuman b) his big plan for Northstar to get AIDS and die was stupid c) I was just talking yang d) all of the above]

-There are a bunch of McDuffie comics to read on @Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited. I recommend his Fantastic Four.

-John Ridley and Georges Jeanty’s The American Way is on Comixology. You should buy it if you like racism or good comics (or both). First taste is free, the next seven issues are two bones each. I wrote about American Way two years ago, so read this and then read that.

-This Rahm Emanuel Twitter thing is crazy. Great read, wonderful gimmick, profane, funny, interesting… great gimmick Twitter.

Matt Seneca on George Herriman, and a panel from a strip I dug quite a bit.

-Romina Moranelli is an ill artist. DeviantArt, website.

-I want to do another series of art posts. Pretty Girls is nice, but now it’s like, been there, done that. I’ve got an idea, too. Might call it “Nice With the Pen,” and it’ll be a multi-creator round-up, rather than focused, and I’m not sure how much commentary I want to throw in it. Not a lot, I don’t think, because good art stands on its own. Just a round-up of stuff I saw that week that I liked, whether old or new. Maybe “7 Days, 4 Colors.” Who knows. There’s probably an album title I can jack.

-I liked this review of Daughters of the Dragon that Jonathan Rosselli wrote. Not because he says nice things about me (compliments are tricks!), but because he has some real good reasons for digging that book.

Sean Witzke runs this piece. Nobody beats the Witz, and here he’s talking about a Moebius book I’ve never read. Time to hit the library, right? This is good stuff.

-Is there a worse nickname than “the Witz?” I apologize.

Stan Sakai interviews Usagi. Oh my.

-If you write about comics online without even so much as mentioning the people who created the book you’re talking about… you suck, doggie. Stop writing. Retire. Nobody likes you. Grow up. There’s nothing about Batman that’s intrinsically awesome. Somebody made stories that made you like him. At least pretend like you care.

-Creators up, characters down.

-Quick hits: Mass Effect 2 is nice, I need to get back to Persona 3 Portable, Patapon 2 is fun, Justin Cronin’s The Passage is pretty good thus far (I’m not to the vampires yet), and… that’s all I got. Oh, no–I’ve been reading Rei Hiroe’s Black Lagoon. The anime grated, the manga doesn’t, and I can’t figure out why, but whatever whatever. Volume 6 is out of print, though, which is trouble.

-How awful is Kanye’s “All of the Lights” video? Cripes, remember when Hype could make you wish you were in a rap video? What happened to that toy?

-Remember these? That Kanye no-step and lean is still the only dance I do.

-Lauryn Hill, man.

i slapped my girl, she called the feds

David: Power Man & Iron Fist 2
Esther: Action Comics 898 and possibly Detective Comics #874
Gavin: (maybe) Metalocalypse Dethklok 3, Justice League Generation Lost 20, Incorruptible 15, Avengers 10, Captain America 615, Deadpool Team-Up 884, Deadpool 33, Incredible Hulks 623, Iron Man 2.0 1, Namor The First Mutant 7, Power Man And Iron Fist 2, Punisher In The Blood 4, Secret Avengers 10

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The Cipher 01/26/11: “Foolish pride is all that I have left”

January 26th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

this happened once before

created: Big things popping, little things stopping

Black Panther DVD

Gantz was pretty crappy

Camilla D’Errico draws good

Here are some good looking Marvel books

Evangelion 2.0 was pretty okay, but 1.0 is bland (longer post on 2.0 later, maybe?)

when i came to your door

consumed: No Effort Week! Gearing up for Black History Month next week, so this is gonna be short.

-Ooooh, man, looks like Rae & Ghost were right, ’cause there’s all types of sharks in the water! Online retailer TFAW is doing a little thing they’re calling Digital Comics Month, where they go around and interview major players in the digital comics landscape, and also Zenescope. Now, I’m not saying that they borrowed my blueprint, but check out their questions, see if they seem at all familiar. I think Jay-Z saw the same thing happen to Kane. They probably should’ve tried a little harder, though, because questions like this:

“TFAW.com: What do you think of the piracy issue that comes along with digital distribution?”

Don’t even make any sense. No one is pirating digital comics. They’re pirating print comics. Gotta do better than that.

-Pedro Tejeda is writing again, after a bunch of bullying from me and Jamaal. I liked his review of the new Ghostface record, but his review of 88-keys’ The Death of Adam is on point. I thought it was an ill concept album, and that’s about where it stopped. Pedro’s point about why we should even believe Adam, and why the narrator is on his side, is pretty good, and sorta made me re-examine what it was about. The result is an album that is both a little shallower than I’d expected and more interesting to think about. Visit that dude so he writes more.

This video of a housewife doing acid is amazing and probably sold me a copy of The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America.

The Mindless Ones go drinking with superheroes and the results are fantastic. Someone get Garth Ennis to write the comic adaptation. He’s the best at comics about dudes in bars.

-You guys see that Matt Fraction x Bryan Lee O’Malley conversation in Casanova: Gula 01? Fraction couldn’t be more wrong about Kanye. I’ve gotta stop reading backmatter.

Cheryl Lynn has a habit of throwing ideas at me on Twitter. She was blue-skying some Kanye + Comics ideas and I basically went and called that bluff.

Top to bottom: “Gold Digger” (art by Jim Calafiore), “New Workout Plan” (art by Jim Lee), “New Workout Plan” (art by Ed Benes)

-I bought Superfly: Deluxe 25th Anniversary Edition and Curtis! (Deluxe Edition) because Curtis Mayfield is that dude.

no reply

David: New Mutants 21, Thunderbolts 152
Esther: Action Comics 897
Gavin: Justice League Generation Lost 18, Incorruptible 14, Avengers 9, Captain America 614, Chaos War 5, Deadpool 32, Incredible Hulks 621, Namor The First Mutant 6, New Avengers 8, Punisher In The Blood 3, Secret Avengers 9, Thunderbolts 152, Ultimate Comics Avengers 3 6, Uncanny X-Force 4

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“I’ma shoot a bootlegger!” [On Piracy]

December 9th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Over the past week, I’ve watched a handful of episodes of One Piece on Hulu, picked up half a dozen new and old albums on Amazon across a variety of genres, bought eight issues of Eric Shanower and Skottie Young’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for reading on my iPod, added samples of a couple ebooks to the same, and purchased Persona 3 Portable for my PSP. The whats don’t really matter here. People buy things all the time, and I’m no different. The how, though, is pretty interesting when you think about it. I did most of this from my couch, and no physical media was involved. It was entirely digital. And without piracy, I don’t think it would have happened at all.

Companies, or corporations, or whatever, are generally conservative. Once they have a revenue stream, they will squeeze it until it’s dry, and then keep squeezing, just in case. When faced with a new way of making money, they will first try to graft old business models onto it and essentially make money the same way they always have. When forced, they will embrace new paradigms, but not without a fight.

On top of that, businesses are by their nature hostile to consumers. They want your money, first and foremost, and anything that allows them to maximize the amount of your money they get is probably going to be fair game. When Jay-Z said, “I’m a hustler, homey/ You a customer, crony” in “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” he summed up exactly how the consumer and manufacturer relationship works. They’re about money, and if you have money, you’re a target.

In the past, if you wanted to watch a tv show, you had to tune in at the right time or hope someone taped it for you (which was probably technically illegal). If you wanted to buy an album or hear a song, you needed the radio or a record shop. Video games? Go to Funcoland. Books? Hit the library. And on and on and on.

The internet, and piracy, changed that forever. For the first time, non-physical media became a possibility. MP3s caused a catastrophic drop in the perceived value of music. Being able to store hundreds, or thousands, of songs on a computer, and later an mp3 player, makes you rethink how you approach music. You don’t have to buy albums that are half filler just to get the two or three songs you like. You can just get those songs. Even if you like all of an album, you don’t need a six foot high stack of jewel cases any more. It fits in your pocket.

The record industry reacted conservatively, or maybe with abject horror. Rather than leaping on the format, which was small enough to be downloaded easily even over 56k (bitrate depending), the RIAA moved to block anything that could play it. Later, they tried to eradicate it by creating un-rippable CDs. Still later, once they realized it wasn’t going to go away, they produced their own portable music format. This was loaded with software that let you play your music at their discretion, and only on machines or via software that they allow. Years later, they gave up on DRM and finally let you have what you paid for, playable on whatever you want, whenever you want.

Years ago, I modded my first Xbox. It took nothing but a bit of video game and a file loaded onto a memory card. After that, I could copy games I bought to my Xbox’s hard drive, or just straight up download games and do the same. It was absurdly convenient, and made things like Halo parties or marathoning games with friends much, much simpler. Same for the PlayStation 2, after the hard drive for that dropped.

There are plenty of other examples. Downloading movies, books, anime, tv shows… comic books. Take your pick. Piracy changed how people, normal people, consume media. The free price point is worth a lot, obviously, but the convenience and ability to do what you want with what you’re consuming counts for even more, I’d say. If I wanted to kick a friend or cousin a song I liked, I could do that. If I wanted to play a bunch of games at somebody’s house without bringing over eighteen cases, I could do that.

It’s years later now, and things aren’t much different in effect. If I want to go over a friend’s house for some games, I throw my PS3 into a backpack and head over. At most, I’ll grab Rock Band 3 and the keyboard. When I go to watch TV, a movie, or the Ohio State game, I get on my computer or PS3. When I want to read a book, I don’t pick up something made of dead trees. I pick up a little electronic device.

The method of execution, though, is definitely different. I can pay for all of this now, and I get content when and how I want it at a price I think is reasonable. I recognize that I am a target, but I don’t feel like I’m being victimized or gouged by someone’s quest for profit. Just flicking through my Amazon playlist on iTunes, which contains everything I’ve bought from there, I can guesstimate that I buy a new album every couple of weeks. The rest of my collection is filled out with free mp3s direct from the artists themselves, mixtapes, or things I’ve found on Bandcamp. I use Netflix for movies, Hulu for TV, and ESPN3 for sports. Amazon’s Kindle service puts books in my hand less than a minute after I buy them, and I read them on the same thing that plays music. I recently got a PSP (again) and decided that I’d not buy any of those dumb little discs for it. Why should I? I can turn on my PSP or PS3, click an icon, navigate to what I want, click “Checkout” and bam, it’s downloading. I don’t need discs any more.

What do I want? Everything. When do I want it? Now. This is the world we live in.

Am I endorsing piracy? Obviously not. If you don’t support the arts, there won’t be any arts. Every idiot who ever had something they liked cancelled on them could tell you that. Culture doesn’t grow on trees. But, at the same time, it is what it is. Piracy isn’t going to go away. People counterfeited Renaissance-era art. We used to get bootleg tapes from the man at the barbershop. If people are going to pirate, they’re gonna pirate, and to be perfectly frank, you can’t stop them. Weed is still illegal, but I guarantee if I wanted a half ounce I could make a call after work and have it before dinner, possibly even in dessert form. Just because it’s wrong doesn’t mean it isn’t easy to find.

I don’t think you should try to justify piracy, or anything you do that’s legally wrong. I think that’s just another way of lying to yourself. That’s just childish. But at the same time, this sort of hardline, “We have to eradicate piracy!” stance that shows up in places like the comments here on Johanna Draper-Carlson’s latest post about piracy? That’s a fantasy. It’s got no basis in reality. It makes about as much sense as all the nonsense I was taught in DARE as part of the War on Drugs and is probably a third as effective. Telling someone “This is bad!” hasn’t stopped anyone from doing anything since the Garden of Eden. Most people will do the right thing out of the goodness of their own heart, but if somebody’s gonna pirate? They’re gonna pirate, doggie, and they’re gonna keep ignoring you. Ask Nancy Reagan about how effective the War on Drugs has been sometime. It’s cool that you disagree or whatever, but those of us here are trying to talk about the real world, where mean things happen and you can’t do anything about it.

It’s unfair, but that’s life. Life sucks. Wish I could say otherwise, but, hey, it is what it is. And it isn’t going away. So, all that’s left to do is look at why people are flocking to pirated goods. The answer isn’t “because it’s free.” That’s a significant part of the equation, to be sure, but it isn’t the whole story. And if you’re trying to fix piracy, for whatever value of “fix” you personally hold, and you aren’t looking at the entire picture, you’re a fool. You can’t judge the width and breadth of something by looking at it with a microscope.

Not all pirates are customers. Every torrent completed on Demonoid isn’t a lost sale. Some people download stuff just to be downloading. They like the e-cred, or they’re completely OCD and it’s easier to count mp3s than bits of straw. It is pretty much impossible to discern between pirates and potential customers, but arguing as if all the people who downloaded your joint off Demonoid would’ve bought it is lunacy. I see a lot of guys walking around with girls in this city, but that doesn’t mean every single girl was a potential girlfriend that I’ve now lost forever thanks to someone getting in the way. A few of them? Sure. Most of them? Yeah, sure, I believe that on days when my ego is completely out of control. But all of them? That’s crazy talk.

The music, video game, publishing, and film industries, once they got done recoiling in abject horror and pretending piracy had no redeeming value at all, finally listened to the people who wanted to be their customers rather than pirates. They gave us what we want in a way that benefits both of us. I get to pay for things I want and in a format I’m cool with and they get what’s basically a constant stream of money shooting out of my wallet.

If you want to fight piracy, you have to be better than piracy. Crap advice? Maybe, but it applies in almost every aspect of life. Want to make more money than the brown-nosing douchebag down the hall? Make yourself more attractive to your employer than he is. Want to date someone, but your predatory homeboy is after the same girl you are? Be better than him. If you want to compete against people with an unfair advantage, you do better or you lose. And even then, sometimes, you still lose.

A huge selling point of digital media is convenience. That makes convenience into an anti-piracy measure. It gives me a choice. I can hop onto rapidshare and download an album, then possibly re-tag, and then add album art, and then add it to iTunes, or I can kick Amazon five to ten bucks and get some high-quality audio, (usually) properly tagged, and with some nice album art built in. Nine times out of ten these days, I choose Amazon.

Achievements and Trophies on 360 and PS3 are other anti-piracy measures. You don’t get to partake in competing with your friends over your gamerscore if you pirate. If you don’t believe that score chasing is a huge part of gaming culture right now, find out how many of your Xbox owning friends played through King Kong because it gave away 1000 gamerpoints around launch time. Make sure to ask them if they enjoyed playing through that game, too. Go ahead. I’ll wait. No, I won’t, because the answer is “almost all of them” and “none of them,” in that order.

Piracy changed the game. It has hurt a lot of people, and that sucks, but at the same time, it’s created a world where being conservative makes you a dinosaur. It’s forced companies to evolve and actually listen to what their customers want. The world changed. Screaming about how illegal or unfair it is isn’t going to fix much. We’re at a point where almost all of the medium we consume is being adjusted to fit into a brand new paradigm. Whether comics or movies or tv or music, physical media is diversifying and digital media is rapidly expanding. Everything changes, usually for unfair reasons. Pay attention to what came before, look at what people want, and adjust accordingly. You can evolve or die.

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The Cipher 12/01/10

December 1st, 2010 Posted by david brothers

if you smoke a dime, then i’ll smoke a dime
-I bought Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here last week and finally got around to listening to it (that’s what happens when you go on vacation, you don’t do things). It’s nuts, totally worth whatever it was I paid for it.

-Scott-Heron is gravel-voiced, astute, and clever. The production is tight, a lot more modern hip-hop than I expected, but with an eager nod toward the black blues/soul tradition. It sounds like what I want this kind of music to sound like.

-He hooked me from the first song, honestly. “On Coming From A Broken Home Part 1” opens with a few bars that are like a shot directly to my dome:

I want to make this a special tribute
to a family that contradicts the concepts
heard the rules but wouldn’t accept
and women-folk raised me
and I was full grown before I knew
I came from a broken home

-Even better: it’s over Kanye’s “Flashing Lights.”

-I listened to it twice in a row, took a break to wrap up this music countdown thing I’m working on with my TFO family, and now I’m on listen three.

-I finally broke the spell Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy had over me. Listening to it twice a day, minimum, had to stop. I put on OutKast’s ATLiens and Aquemini, two of my most favorite albums ever, back to back. I ended up running through Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and Big Boi’s solo record, too. Feels like I just replaced one addiction with another.

-The new Gorillaz single, Doncamatic featuring Daley, dropped last week.

-I hadn’t heard of Daley before this song, but he seems pretty dope. I thought he was a she before I saw the video, to be honest. Apparently he’s an amateur gone pro, and that’s kind of cool.

-I like the song, but I don’t like every part of the song. The horns (though they’re probably from a keyboard, come to think of it) that sit on top of the drumbeat don’t quite work for me. It puts me in mind of circus music, or the guys with the accordion and a dancing monkey.

-The rest of the song, particularly the vocals (the “Talk to me talk to me talk to me” on the hook is pretty great). It’s laid back, and it fits well with the tone of Plastic Beach, or rather, a return to Plastic Beach.

-Doing a zillion things at once right now, and I’m New Here has switched over to Ski Beatz’s 24 Hour Karate School. I picked it up the other day, and the first track is pretty straight.

-Curren$y on the first track is reminding me that I need to pick up Pilot Talk II. I thought Pilot Talk was just aight. Spitta stayed in his comfort zone, which is fine, but a little boring on an LP. I like him enough that I’ll give him a second try, though.

-More on Ski Beatz: Is it just me or was the Dipset breakup the best thing that could have happened to Jim Jones? It forced him out of his comfort zone, which was being a voice in a crowd of many, and into something resembling the limelight.

-Jones was never the most lyrical dude in Dipset, or even the most interesting flow-wise, but he’s got an ill voice that’s just made for rap. That rasp really works.

-Having to go solo, or something like solo, has led to him linking up with Dame Dash, Joell Ortiz, and other cats who have pulled some good work out of him. He feels hungry again. I like that. He’s not great, but he’s interesting enough at this point that I’ll check his work out just off GP.

/*-~~JETS~~-*/ fool

-There were two songs dedicated to weed this year that were just called “Marijuana.” Yelawolf did one on Trunk Muzik 0-60, and Kid CuDi had one on Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager. Remember when we used to get at least one weed smoker’s anthem a year? Bone Thugs alone had that subgenre on lock.

-Cripes, remember when the phrase “Bone: Thugs-n-Harmony” wasn’t embarrassing on any level? When they fell off, they fell all the way off.

-Back to Ski Beatz: six tracks in and I’m well pleased. Production is on point.

-A larger post on music coming soon, I think.

-Pac-Man Championship DX CE on PlayStation 3 is hotter than the surface of the sun. They completely turned that game out.

but in the middle we stay calm, we just drop bombs
created: A couple joints this time… Marvel is already trying to screw up the digital comics market like a bunch of clowns and Dark Horse has their head on so straight it’s scary.

consumed: I didn’t do much reading over the past week. I was in Los Angeles and had other priorities. Despite that, I ran through:

-Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba’s Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite: I bought the digital comic off iTunes by accident like four months ago and finally got around to it. This was my second time through the series, and I liked it. I do think that the art way outclasses the script, which is just sorta okay. I’ll read the sequel for the first time next year when Dark Horse drops its digital store.

-Jacques Tardi’s It Was the War of the Trenches: This was fantastic. Longer post next week, since I get some other stuff done first, but: yes, you want this. I let it sit for a couple months after reading the first twenty pages or so for some reason, but reading it all in a shot was a great experience.

-I picked up New Mutants 2: Necrosha by Zeb Wells and a whole gang of artists, including David and Alvaro Lopez, who I haven’t seen since their days on Catwoman with Will Pfeifer. In a way, this book is the best example of what I like and don’t like about corporate comics. Wells is telling a pretty good story and bam, a fairly crap X-Men crossover pops up. He treads water through that, managing to do some cool stuff with Doug Ramsey in the process, and then gets back to his ongoing plot. Except! After Wells gets two issues in and introduces his big bad villain and scripts a particularly fun issue for an old X-Force fan like me, we get a crossover with Siege that’s written by another writer entirely. And then, after that issue, is a three issue detour into X-Men: Second Coming. That’s gross. And yet, Wells is holding his head through all of this, and he’s created the only X-Men comic I’m even really interested in right now. Dude is good. I just wish Marvel would give him room to breathe, but I guess working with the X-Men comes with certain expectations.

nigga, I’m feelin’ better than ever, what’s wrong with you? you get down!
David: Heroes for Hire 1, King City 12
Esther: Yes: Action Comics Annual 13, Secret Six 28 Maybe: Batman: 80 Page Giant
Gavin: Secret Six 28, Ant-Man & Wasp 2, Chaos War God Squad 1, Heroes For Hire 1, Ozma Of Oz 2, She-Hulks 2, Taskmaster 4, What If Iron Man Demon In An Armor, (maybe) Wolverine Best There Is 1, Irredeemable 20

King City 12 this week? My my my.

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The Cipher 11/25/10

November 25th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

new york is killing me
-Hopped a train (or series of) to another leg of my vacation today.

-Amtrak is like Greyhound, only all of the ex-cons and creeps have been replaced by old people and preppy college kids.

-As I speak, there’s a young girl insisting that her parents better get her a laptop.

-There was one dude with a chihuahua, an LV bag, and a stuffy demeanor that reminded me of dude from Silence of the Lambs. “Put the lotion in the basket.”

-I’ve spent most of the trip listening to new music and a few albums I recently bought that I’d been putting off. It’s interesting, hearing new stuff. I like a lot of stuff that I normally wouldn’t expect myself to like.

-Charlotte Gainsbourg’s IRM? I bump that like it’s an MOP record. “Take a picture, what’s inside?”

-I keep calling her “Charlotte Gainsborough.” I can’t figure out why.

-The kid J Cole’s Friday Night Lights mixtape is pretty straight. He doesn’t knock my socks off, but he’s got real potential. Blow Up is a hot song, and so is that single he had with the marching band.

-Lil Wayne: I think I’m over him.

-Nicki Minaj: Yeah, done with her, too. Dumped. Somebody needs to pull her card. Trump.

-I paid four bucks for Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I would’ve paid four dollars for “Hell of A Life” alone.

-Who expected Kanye to go in on race relations in porn? “She said her price’ll go down if she ever fuck a black guy/ Or do anal, or a gangbang/ It’s kinda crazy it’s all considered the same thing.”

-“How can you say they live their life wrong?”

-The only thing I’d change about Kanye’s album would be to flip the first few bars of Ye’s verse on “Runaway” with the clean version. He uses this sample I’m really fond of–a lady going, “Hey!”

-You’ve undoubtedly heard it on the radio, but maybe that went out of style in the ’90s. I like the way it sounds in the song, though.

-“She find pictures in my e-mail/ I sent this girl a picture of my HEY!/ I don’t know what it is with females/ But I’m not too good at that HEY!”

-Taking champion music like “All of the Lights” and flipping the script entirely–that’s all too well done.

-I forgot that Gil Scott-Heron dropped I’m New Here this year. “New York Is Killing Me” goes super hard, and I’d forgotten how much I was feeling it when it leaked earlier this year. There’s one with Nas, too.

-It’s this raw, dusty, dirty, Otis Redding sounding joint. Blues plus. Soul on wax.

-Speaking of Otis Redding–five bucks for The Very Best Of Otis Redding. I like those odds. The version of “Sitting By The Dock of the Bay” is different from the one I usually get down with on Rock Band. I managed to pick up on that before I even looked up the titles. The RB one is “Take Two.” The one on the album sounds different, fuller maybe. Less raw.

-The new Sade is two dollars today, wow. Glad I wanted before buying.

with the lights on
created: I dropped a monster baby with this four thousand word piece on digital comics. People seem to like it. Tell your friends. Also: ten Marvel comics worth reading, a roundtable review of Nick Spencer and CAFU’s THUNDER Agents, and a Moviefone piece on a few comics Harry Potter fans will like. Vimanarama!

consumed: Nine or ten hours of travel time gives you a lot of time to read. Not sleeping the night before halves that reading time. Regardless, I read:
-Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond, Vol. 9 (VIZBIG Edition): This one is a six hundred page series of fight scenes, give or take a hundred pages, and makes a whole lot of cape comics look stupid in the process. “This ends now!” sort of fights, where you go and go and then your SECRET RESERVE OF ENERGY wins the day, are old and busted. Musashi coming down off the mountain and out of the shadows is the new hotness.

-Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library #20: This is my first ACN, and hey! This was pretty impressive. It was also a surprise birthday gift from my buddy Lauren Davis, who is good people.

Gorillaz: Rise of the Ogre: Fantastic, duh. Thanks to Sean Witzke for pointing out where I could get a cheap one.

-Mike Carey & Marcelo Frusin’s Hellblazer: Red Sepulchre: This is the start of their run, and I read up through a couple volumes after this. I haven’t read this run in a couple years, and it’s still pretty good. I like how Carey put his puzzle pieces together.

take a picture, look inside
David: Detective Comics 871, King City 12, New Mutants 19
Esther: Definitely: Action Comics #895, Batman and Robin #17 Maybe: Batwoman 0, Detective Comics 871
Gavin: Batman and Robin 17, Avengers and the Infinity Gauntlet 4, Captain America 612, Deadpool 29, Deadpool Pulp 3, Deadpool Team-Up 887, Incredible Hulks 617, Namor: the First Mutant 4, Secret Avengers 7, Secret Warriors 22, Shadowland: Power Man 4, Ultimate Comic Avengers 3 4, Incorruptible 12

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Gamble A Stamp 04: Why Didn’t They Stop My Mum and Dad Fighting?

November 24th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I want to talk about this, from what’s probably the best single chapter of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman (#6, “A Funeral In Smallville”):

(Words by Grant Morrison, art by Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant)

But I need to talk about this before I come back around to it:

(Morrison/Quitely/Tom McCraw)

I may get lost along the way, because this is probably actually about a lot of things I’ve been working through over the past few months that I still don’t have a handle on, but follow along and maybe we’ll get there together and in one piece.

I’ve read Flex Mentallo a ton of times. Dozens, even. Every time I do one of these posts, I end up flicking through the series as a whole two or three times while writing. This panel (and a caption in the panel before it that reads, “Why didn’t the superheroes save us from the fucking bomb? I feel so sick.”) kept sticking in my head every time I ran through the book. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it.

The rest of Flex is pretty clear and easy to understand. It’s easy to figure out how the idea of superheroes intersects with and brushes up against real life. Most of the questions posed in the book, like the point of comics about broken heroes or the soft and mutable nature of comics in the Silver Age, are answered explicitly or implicitly in the text itself.

“Why didn’t they stop my mum and dad fighting?”, though. There are no captions or glimpses of superheroic life to give it a deeper context. There’s just a guy dying in an alley, wondering why love doesn’t last forever. For my money, it’s the saddest scene in the book. If you want cape comics with gritty realism, you don’t need rape backstories and heroes moping on rooftops. All you need is something basic going wrong with no easy answers to be found.

The word choice stuck with me, too. It’s not “Why couldn’t they stop my mum and dad fighting?” It’s not “Why wouldn’t they?” It’s “Why didn’t they stop my mum and dad fighting?” The superheroes had the will and the way, but they didn’t do it. That implies a choice, maybe even a conscious one, to let the fighting happen.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find an answer in Flex. There’s not even a hint, near as I can tell. It’s just dropped into the narrative, this drop of real-life despair in the middle of the fantastic, and then left there.

I had a few guesses about what it meant. None of them were very good. It could have been tough love. It could have been not wanting to interfere in the lives of humans too too much, like in JLA: New World Order (by far my worst guess, considering the rest of the book). Maybe they just simply couldn’t interfere due to… something something.

All-Star Superman 6 put it into better focus, though. I was rereading the series in prep for a different post (maybe GAS05) and the solution leapt out at me. ASS 6 is about failure and what superheroes cannot do. It features Superboy, rather than Superman, and is a flashback/time travel episode.

One more digression. Way back when DC let John Byrne revamp Superman, he did a story where Superman killed General Zod and the Phantom Zone criminals and cried a little bit. The purpose of this story, according to an interview I read forever ago and now cannot find, was to show exactly why Superman doesn’t kill. So, to show why Superman doesn’t kill, Byrne had him slowly kill three people.

Get it?

Byrne got it wrong, but when Morrison went to show Superman’s first failure, and thereby introduce a certain limit to the character, things turned out much better. Superboy chose to do the right thing without even thinking, against great odds, and in doing so, lost his chance to save his father. Three minutes of his life were taken, and in those three minutes, his father died. Superboy’s scream that he “can save everybody” speaks to a certain youthful invincibility, but also to what Superman will one day become. His scream of defiance as a child becomes a foreshadowing of his modus operandi years later, as he does his level best to save everybody.

But what’s important here is what Superboy did not do, which is save his own father. One of the other Supermen in the story explains that “his heart just ran out of beats.” He goes on to say that if Jon Kent hadn’t died, Clark Kent might have stayed in Smallville, “and none of us would ever have been born.” Put differently: “This had to happen.”

A few pages earlier is another key scene. While walking and talking with the Unknown Superman, who is actually the modern day Clark Kent in disguise, Jon Kent asks, “He’ll be okay, won’t he? The boy.” referring to his son. Kent clearly knows both that the Unknown Superman is not who he says he is and that his time is up. He wants to be sure that his son ends up okay, considering the amount of power he has. Superman’s response is “It all comes out right in the end.”

There’s a vein of fatalism there, isn’t there? In other hands, it would be “it is what it is.” Here, it’s an admission that even though this is a hiccup, that this will not work out like Superboy wants it to, things will work out in the end. This is just something he needs to learn before he can grow.

So, there are two answers here to consider. One is that Kent’s heart “just ran out of beats.” The other is that everything “comes out right in the end.” What that puts me in mind of is inevitability. You can’t fight certain things.

I think Byrne’s logic was atrocious (I haven’t killed anyone and don’t currently plan to, and I didn’t need to kill anyone to come to that conclusion) and his execution worse, but he was at least cognizant of the fact that there have to be limits. By forcing the hero to make a choice, though, Byrne shot himself in the foot. Morrison’s method, where the hero is forced to confront a shortcoming, seems much cleaner.

If superheroes can do anything, then you don’t have a story. There have to be things that superheroes cannot or will not do. Sometimes these limits are there to preserve the reader’s suspension of disbelief. Other times, it’s to maintain a profitable brand. Batman can’t kill the Joker and Superman can’t use his technology to make the world a better place. Flash can’t just end every fight in half a second.

These limits often tend to line up along real world lines, too. Tony Stark can never eliminate poverty and Superman can never battle racism. Those two things will just make the readers aware that they’re reading a comic book and that, hey, life still sucks.

I’m beginning to think that “Why didn’t they stop my mum and dad fighting?” is the one spot in Flex Mentallo that’s a rejection of the “Clap your hands if you believe in superheroes!”/”They will show us the way to a better life” philosophy that makes Flex such a strong and vital work. The rest of the book is about the glory of superheroes, the way we can become them, and how comic books are just a reflection of the cultural (un)consciousness.

Real life is the only inescapable hole in the philosophy. Yes, you can use superheroes as a model for life, and yes, in a certain way, we did create them to save us from ourselves, but they only go so far. They’re still fictional. They can’t stop your mum and dad fighting, they can’t stop the bomb, and they won’t actually save your life. Superheroes cannot stop real life–they can only delay it. Even Regan, the girl who Superman stopped from committing suicide, is going to die one day, and Superman can’t stop that.

There’s a Kanye West line I’m fond of from the 808s and Heartbreak era. It’s from Young Jeezy’s “Put On,” a song that banged before Kanye came in with some emotion. “I feel like these butt niggas don’t know he’s stressed/ I lost the only girl in the world that know me best/ I got the money and the fame and that don’t mean shit/ I got the Jesus on the chain, man, that don’t mean shit.” Since the death of his mother, all the stuff that brought him happiness and gave him peace, the money and fame and fancy necklaces, are worthless. Real life struck and they hit their limit. Kanye was at a point where they couldn’t serve their purpose.

Pulling back again. “Why didn’t they stop my mum and dad fighting?” makes sense to me now. It’s speaking to the fact that superheroes are wonderful, wonderful things, but even then, there are some things they can’t do. Taken alone, it’s a question without an answer. In concert with All-Star Superman, though, it makes much more sense.

When a little boy asks “Mommy, why don’t I have a daddy?” Superman can’t swoop in and give a little speech or solve that problem. That’s stupid. It doesn’t work. It’s pushing the idea of a superhero too far, and at that point, the idea breaks.

It’s interesting to me that it took All-Star Superman for that one line to click. It’s like if expanding upon it in Flex would’ve broken the story, but freed of the restraints of proselytizing the superhero, Morrison is much more free to demonstrate where capes fall short.

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“I’m living in that 21st century, doing something mean to it” [Kanye West]

November 22nd, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Kanye Tudda’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy comes out this week, and Amazon’s got it for four bones.

I like this album a lot, but getting to pay just four bucks for it? That’s a steal.

Do yourself a favor, though. Use this album art instead of that wack painting he has on the official joint.

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