Isis Using Video Games for Propaganda

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ISIS Using Video Games for Propaganda

The above link is to a Salon article about how ISIS and other jihadist groups are using video games for propaganda.  As someone that just got a video game console for my birthday from my girlfriend, video games are on my mind.  Over the years I have played video games on and off.  There are some like Final Fantasy X, one of my all time favorites, which are really incredible works of art.  If you haven’t played many games you would be surprised to know that there are some which are emotional experiences with stories rivaling good movies.  There are also some where the amount of artistry and creativity that goes into them has to be seen to be believed.  Some have so much detail that just looking at the background can be like looking at a fantastic landscape painting.

However, this Salon article got me thinking about how are own video games are subject to propaganda.  This is not a new subject, but simply one I have never addressed here.  If you read the article you will see that certain games are designed in conjunction with the US Military.  There is one game they provide a link to that even includes General Petraeus.  (seen above)  It’s probably not surprising to many of you, even those of you that don’t play games, that there are games where players portray soldiers fighting generic Middle Eastern bad guys.

Earlier this year I read a book which talked about how the the military and CIA manipulated Hollywood to put propaganda in movies and television.  It is no different in video games or really any form of entertainment.  Entertainment is one way in which the Military Industrial Complex can shape the views of citizens.

I am no fan of censorship of any kind.  I am also aware that violence in video games has been linked to all kinds of societal ills which are really more complex.  Often video games get scapegoated because we don’t want to look at how we treat the mentally ill in our country, among other things.  However, when someone is playing a game, just like if you are watching a movie or reading a book, one must ask oneself what message it is trying to get across.  Also, much more than just violence, I think parents should be concerned at the propaganda that their kids might be consuming.  We must always be taught to think and to question.

Thoughts On The Walking Dead and Texas Politics

My allergies have been really bad the last few days, on top of other things, so I haven’t been as productive as usual.  Also, to create anything, be it a blog or a song, you need to take in a large amount of material.  Other than listening to records, which I never stop doing, about the most I have been able to concentrate on is watching The Walking Dead.  I am finally caught up with the newest episode.

Zombies have typically been used as metaphors for different political situations.  George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which takes place in a mall, has been seen as commenting on consumer culture.  I feel like because of the complexity of the storytelling, and the density of the imagery, the politics of The Walking Dead are complicated, and it can’t be simplified down to a left or right thing.  There are different scenes and story lines and images that feel like part of red and blue America.

One of the things I really like about it is the fact that the cast is racially diverse in a way that most mainstream entertainment is not.  I also feel that, for the most part, the characters are sufficiently complicated and are represented as human beings.  While the characters, such as Tyreese and Glen, are not stripped of racial characteristics, they are never defined by them either.

All art is political at some level.  Sometimes you just have to read between the lines.  Even pieces of work that are expressly non-political are political.  Things that are just escapism, which can perform the altruistic function of allowing you to disconnect from the stress of daily life, is essentially saying that everything is OK.   In not challenging the dominant narrative of society you are you are making a political statement by abstaining from the discourse.  Again, I do believe that escapist entertainment can have an altruistic purpose, but one shouldn’t say that it is non-political.

However, in the realm of escapism I think there are different levels of worth.  Some escapism champions materialistic values.  Something like American Idol is not only not asking you to not think about the real world, it is also full of the kind of shallow materialistic values that are a burden on our society.  A great deal of mainstream country and mainstream rap, whether singing about trucks or bling, communicate the message, that is hidden under the guise of fun, that you are what you own.

I do think that The Walking Dead, while being entertainment largely, manages to ask questions about human nature.  How far can people go and still retain their humanity?  Even though the killings in Episode 3 of Season 5 seemed to be justified, they were filmed in such a way that was meant to make the viewer feel uneasy.  In Season 4, especially, you see the damage that a society structured on violence starts to psychologically damage the children that grow up in it.  The show is still asking you to think even while it creates a narrative entertaining enough that it whisks you out of real life at the same time.  It is an interesting balancing act.

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Today I have also been doing some reading on the current political races in Texas.  If you want to see the definition of despicable, google Dan Patrick, who is running for lieutenant governor in Texas.  He is a former radio shock-jock that has now gone into politics.  If you are not from Texas, and want to learn about who this man is you can read the following article:

Man Who Believes God Speaks to Us Through “Duck Dynasty”

If you are in Texas, then I hope very much you will do whatever you can in your power to make sure this man loses the election.  Even Rick Perry looks respectable next to this moron, and that is saying something.

Good Morning America: Happy Horseshit

Last day of the road as we are heading back to Austin. Good Morning America is playing in the hotel.  My god this stuff is depressing.  A bunch of a shallow people talking about meaningless nonsense.  Or, even worse, a bunch of intelligent people acting like shallow people pretending to care about meaningless nonsense.  The low point today was when Carson Daily came on and they debated whether a Joan Rivers Saturday Night Live skit was too soon.  If you are sitting around your house worrying about a Saturday Night Live skit, then the brain is dead, but the body still lives. 

I know I have been harping on the same stuff lately, but I can’t help it.  I remembered a very useful term that I used to use in college a lot: Happy Horseshit. 

This morning TV stuff is happy horseshit.  It is happy on the outside, but empty on the inside.  It can’t really even qualify as entertainment instead of news.  Entertainment allows you to escape and disconnect your mind.  It serves the altruistic purpose of letting you recharge your batteries.  This stuff gives you just enough real world info to make you worry or to make you think in a real shallow way, but not in anyway that is actually relatable and useful to your daily life.  Good Morning America: Happy Horseshit!

The Lowering of the Bar

I don’t have cable, but I see a lot of TV on the road.  It is fucking troubling how much senseless shit is pumped out over the airwaves.  There was a commercial for, I think it was the local Fox South Carolina News Morning Show, though constant travel makes things blurry, where one of the selling points of the ad was the morning news team dancing.  Is all it takes to be a newscaster to look presentable, be able to read a teleprompter, and have the ability to dance like the Caddyshack gopher on camera? 

Last night when we got in from the gig there was an infomercial for someone that had apparently designed a revolutionary pillow that makes you smarter.  We were all laughing in total disbelief. 

Now there are two shows on that are based upon the fact that the participants are naked.  These shows would be Naked and Afraid and Naked Dating. 

The bar is constantly being lowered.  Where will we be five years from now?  Sometimes swearing is the most appropriate response:  Holy fucking shitballs!   

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

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Last night my kid brother and me went to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

“Hey Ben, I know you are moving back to Pennsylvania in two days.  Do you want to spend some meaningful time together?  Let’s go chew tobacco and see some fucking apes fight.”  I’m sure at this moment he thought it was the shittiest going away present ever, but hey, we had fun.

As far as popcorn movies go it was really good.  If you liked the first one you should like this one and vice versa.  It was more epic and battle oriented, but it was tied together with a solid story.  There is always a bit of ridiculousness when you see talking apes in a movie, and there were several parts where you could predict what was going to happen in the next scene, but overall it was done about as well as could be expected.  The special effects were phenomenal.  I hate when something looks like it was created with CGI and it takes you out of the moment.  Other than one or two shots in the beginning of the film, there wasn’t a moment when a visual kept me from being engrossed in the story.

Let’s not kid anyone and pretend that a movie that features apes riding horses is Shakespeare, but these movies feature a degree of intelligence that most summer blockbusters lack.  This movie, behind it’s summer entertainment factor, is a tragedy where we slowly see peace break down between groups over misunderstandings and rival factions.  In each group there are those that seek peace and those that seek power.  Much as in the real world, those that seek power rig the game so that the peace is lost.  Yeah, yeah, I know, as I said there are apes talking and riding horses.  But most of the time when a summer movie tries to be smart it only looks dumber.  This was one of the few examples where, and don’t get me wrong this movie is entertainment first, where a small degree of intelligence actually manages to be a part of the proceedings.

As a final note, I had a friend with a child ask me if this movie would be OK to take him to.  I think this movie’s PG-13 rating is earned, as it might be too intense for anyone younger then that.  Also, I’m usually not a fan of anything rated PG-13, as it usually means that they take anything adult or interesting out of a film to appeal to the widest possible audience, without a film having the magical whimsey of a kid’s movie.  However, I didn’t feel that this movie lost anything by being PG-13.  In fact, despite the fact that there was no graphic gore or nudity, I just had to double check the rating to make sure I was correct.

If they can maintain this level of quality for a third film I would be happy to attend.

 

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology Review

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology is an incredibly powerful film.  It is somehow able to pack in all of the ideas of a great book or the best of a college course, while also being highly entertaining.  It combines films, philosophy, religion, psychoanalysis, history, and politics.  Although the film was directed by Sophie Fiennes, whose visual mastery should not go unnoticed, the film belongs to the narrator and star Slavoj Zizek.

Zizek uses films such as They Live, Full Metal Jacket, The Sound of Music, and others to dive into big ideas.  Clips from the films are shown interspersed with shots of Zizek appearing on recreations of the sets of the same films.  Zizek’s narration is powerful because he is able to make even the headiest of ideas understandable.  The movie is so packed with interesting ideas that I feel that I would be doing the film a disservice without watching it again, or several times, before I tried to list all of the things it covered.

One of the biggest ideas in the movie is that all power, whether that is in the form of religion or even totalitarian atheism, drives from peoples’ belief in the Big Other.  The Big Other could be God or history or any idea that exists outside of the self that allows people to follow orders without questioning them.

He also talks about having the right and wrong dreams.  We often dream of an idealized version of the reality that is presented to us, a dream which would not make us happy if achieved.  In order to make the world a better place we need to change the kind of dreams we have.  An example is our common thinking that we would just be happy if we had more money, etc.; when it is very possible that the organizing principles of our society are what bring about so much unhappiness.  He focuses on ideology because from the very beginning he talks about how trying to see outside of ideology is painful and we often resist it.

He also talks about capitalism vs. environmentalism.  He asks the question why is it easier in some ways in our existing order to imagine the end of life as we know it rather than make a few small adjustments to our economic system.

Even if you end up not agreeing with Zizek, if you are the kind of person that welcomes big ideas this film will leave you with plenty to chew on.  I feel as if I am not doing this film justice.  This is a subversive, intelligent, entertaining movie that should be watched if you are looking for something stimulating.

P.S.  Make sure that if you watch the film that you watch through to the end of the credits.  This film is available for streaming on Netflix currently.  

Godzilla Vs. The Koch Brothers

There is a minor spoiler for the movie Godzilla.  

This is the last time I mention the movie Godzilla, because quite frankly it wasn’t a good enough movie to keep writing about.  It killed off the two best actors in the first third of the movie.  Although it was visually spectacular, much better than the quick edit popcorn movies that seem to be the norm.  This was because the camera actually held shots long enough to let you take in the spectacle.  The special effects were top notch.  However, once the best actors were killed off there really weren’t any characters that one could become invested in.  Although there were some hints that the movie was trying to get across man’s relationship with nature, this really was mostly a movie of pure entertainment.  However, the plot was pretty pedestrian summer fair and the characters were pretty weak.  I’m not looking for high art in a monster movie, but there are ways to make these movies that allow for better escapism.  I just watched Gladiator again this week.  That movie has a super simple story that we’ve seen a thousand times, but I was invested in every minute of that movie despite having seen it before.  I’m not sure why the reviews for Godzilla are so great, other than the fact that compared to the Michael Bay movies that seem to be the new norm this one was like a Fellini film in comparison.  However, a couple guys behind me kept remarking how great it was, so who knows?  Again maybe the bar has been set so low that anything that isn’t 100% mindless dogshit seems the work of a genius.

Anyway, the only reason I am even thinking about Godzilla again today is I have been reading more articles about what a pack of mutants the Koch brothers are.  Godzilla tries to save mankind from ruin while the Koch brothers are slowly helping to destroy our society.  When a giant fictional ancient lizard inspires more hope than the people that are shaping a great deal of U.S. policy, one must ask oneself what the fuck is going on?  I would pay top dollar for a ticket to see Godzilla rise from the ocean and stomp Koch Industries into space dust.  If only.