We let things get worse instead of making sure they’d get better

‘Screw Attack’ by Allie Merritt (@alliearts)

In the original Metroid for NES in 1986, the instruction manual referred to Samus Aran with male pronouns and (charitably) Samus wore a bikini only to make it inarguably clear the character wasn’t a man considering the hardware’s limitations in pixel count.

In the NES game, Samus had green hairbrown hair, yes, blonde, but neon, too, and the Nintendo Power comic for Super Metroid made the hair purple, as well as famously establishing a body size of 6′3″, 198 pounds (190 cm, 98 kg).

Subsequent to that, Nintendo decided to have a more standardized portrayal of Samus outside of the suit, which is blonde and blue- or green-eyed, and they released Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion simultaneously in 2002. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s limiting compared to the other options that existed when Samus could be many different things.

After Metroid: Zero Mission in 2004, Samus started down a road of bimbo-ification, for lack of a better term. The games with more explicit plot and characterization tended to follow Japanese stock tropes of magical superheroine, while in the West, the focus on a skin-tight flight suit had predictable results. Heels and generous breasts, hair that became more ornate even in situations where it would seem unlikely that was suitable.

Between the Smash Bros games and Metroid: Other M, a character that had been different, flexible in interpretation, a sci-fi action star with agency and presence, and notable for all these things, turned into another sex object whose feminity was only highlighted in service of being desired or desiring babies. ‘Smash Bros’ tells you a lot about the intended gaze, and MOM the game is ‘doesn’t look like anything to me’ bad in the choices it made.

Maybe it’s just rose-colored glasses, but I swear Samus didn’t use to be the subject of quite so much tentacle-based sexual assault in the past.

So I don’t think the ‘Screw Attack’ portrayal is definitive or should be the only interpretation of the character that exists, but I deeply miss the time, especially between 1994 and 2002, when Samus was more likely to be seen doing something in their suit than out of it, and, while out of it, they could look like nearly anything and anyone’s idea of them could be valid. Somehow, this actually made the character less interchangeable instead of more.

The past 15 years or so for gaming culture have in many ways been a regression when, for some reason, I expected progress instead. But I guess that’s true of a lot of other things in the culture, generally.

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BOOK REVIEW: The real “Good News About Bad Behavior” is that the kids are already alright

Journalist Katherine Reynolds Lewis’s inaugural book, The Good News About Behavior grew out of a 2015 article for Mother Jones called “What If Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong?“. The promotional material claims it was the most read story the magazine had ever published; The Seattle TimesClaudia Rowe relates that it got more than 4 million hits.

That’s a good clue you ought to get to work writing a book for someone to sell.

Which Lewis did. This book, subtitled “Why Kids Are Less Disclipined Than Ever—And What To Do About It” or in some editions, “Am I So Out of Touch? No, It’s The Children Who Are Wrong” might be the most important book ever written considering what we’re up against with Kids These Days.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘No Ashes in the Fire’ by Darnell L. Moore burns bright and goes out too soon

It’s a rare thing for a book to conclude and your biggest complaint be that there quite wasn’t enough of it. Yet, that’s what Darnell L. Moore accomplished with his memoir No Ashes in the Fire.

It’s an impressive work of introspection, family heritage, and the intersectionality of race, sexuality, gender, and even faith, all the more so because it’s done in beautiful prose.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: ‘No Ashes in the Fire’ by Darnell L. Moore burns bright and goes out too soon”

BOOK REVIEW: Barbara Ehrenreich is old enough to die, but still has plenty to say

In Gulliver’s Travels, the titular character visits many strange, foreign lands in the service of satirist Jonathan Swift’s desire to poke fun at the flaws of the culture of his time and to talk regularly about human excretions.

Adaptations, especially those aimed at children, tend to only reproduce the book’s evocative imagery of being a giant among the tiny Lilliputians and being doll-sized among the towering Brobdingnagians. They leave out the scenes of defecating enough to fill a miniature church or being forced to watch colossal serving girls urinate. Laputa, the floating island of scientific wonder, sometimes appears in other contexts such as Japanese animated film, but without the associations of trying to turn digested food back into something edible. The humanoid primitives, Yahoos, survived into common parlance better than the rational, equine Houyhnhnms, but without the association of feces-flinging.

One brief, excreta-free section from Gulliver’s Travels is not among those often reproduced whatsoever: Gulliver meeting the immortal struldbrug. These are a special breed of human who are able to live essentially forever but without eternal youth. Their teeth fall out, their eyesight and hearing fail, their memories dull, they aren’t allowed autonomy or property ownership, and eventually can’t communicate even with each other because their dialects grow indistinguishable. The people of the land of Luggnagg are thankful for death because they’re constantly reminded of what the real alternative is.

I’m not the first to point out the similarity of modern medicine in creating cursed immortality as a reality for us, but our appreciation for the inevitability and even relief of death continues to lag behind for most.

Barbara Ehrenreich is definitely not counted among such people, and her latest book Natural Causes is a short, solid piece of prose about what it means to suffer from age, accepting the reality of death, and the sorts of things a person ought to consider when weighing both.

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Politics is too important not to be treated like a game

The central problem with modern American politics is not that people are unengaged or politically inactive.

It is the case that most people are not effectively engaged or usefully active.

It’s much easier to Like, Retweet, or argue with someone online than to volunteer, donate to an underfunded campaign, or organize canvassers. That’s in part because social media is literally designed by professionals whose job it is to make them addictive and neurologically rewarding.

If we want to make politics better, we need to harness our worst instincts to serve our better angels. We need to turn politics into a literal game. Continue reading “Politics is too important not to be treated like a game”

BOOK REVIEW: This is your brain on ‘Collusion’

I didn’t think it would be possible to write a book that would make me feel sympathetic to central bankers around the world, but by the end of Nomi Prin’s “Collusion”—stylized, naturally, “COLLU$ION“—I admit, she’d done it.

This was not her intention. Prin’s main charge is an attractive one: that central bankers around the world, led by the United States Federal Reserve, colluded with one another in order to enrich those who were already the very wealthiest in society. To do this, they fabricated money to be pumped into the global economy through zero or near-zero interest rates, never bothering to address the fundamental, underlying problems. Because banks have been using all of their temporary, emergency measures consistently throughout the past decade, Prin says, they’ll have no other tools available when the next crisis hits, so it will be an even larger calamity.

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BOOK REVIEW: The past is a foreign country, but youth is a different species

Getting older is a bizarre experience.

When we’re young, we are, understandably, not very good at anticipating the sort of person we’ll one day become; only in hindsight do we realize that. More surprising, or at least challenging to our sense of continuity, is that once through the veil of maturity, we’re just as poor at retrospection. It’s as if we’re reincarnated with mostly vague recollections of our previous life—we retain something of before, but we’re no longer the same person.

Cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore’s book Inventing Ourselves is a fascinating examination of what recent decades of technological progress and investigation have shown us about the teenage brain.

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