Weekend Reads: Simone Biles, Satoshi Kon, Pop Punk, Deepfakes
Recommended weekend reading material for July 31, 2021.
I love the Olympics but in light of Japan’s COVID situation, I’ve had conflicted feelings about this particular Olympics. As much as I love the Opening Ceremonies and getting caught up in the drama of the various athletic competitions, I’ve been watching these Games with a distinct sense that the athletes are risking their lives for our enjoyment — which is discomfiting, to say the least.
Which is why I was glad to hear that Simone Biles, arguably the greatest female gymnast ever, withdrew from competition to focus on her mental health. There’s been a considerable outpouring of support for Biles, but sadly, plenty of cranks and pundits — whom I won’t dignify with a link — have criticized Biles for being a “quitter” who abandoned her team, failed America, etc.
Sally Jenkins offers some insight into the stress and pressure that Biles has been under, stress that goes all the way back to the scandal involving Larry Nassar, a child pornographer who used his position as team doctor for the United States women’s national gymnastics team to sexually abuse hundreds of girls.
The price for winning all those gold medals is that Biles now gets to be analyzed by every armchair psychologist in the world. Here’s a bulletin. She’s not doing so well. And exactly how well should she be doing under these circumstances? “It’s like fighting all those demons coming in here,” she said after the team competition.
It is unfair and potentially even deceptive to try to peer into her head and delineate the exact shape of those demons as she tries to decide whether to compete again in Tokyo. But it was always equally unfair to expect her to vault lightly past the Nassar case and back on to the medal podium.
I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of stress and pressure that Olympic athletes are under, especially if they’re considered the Greatest Of All Time. So if Biles thought it best to rest and get back into a healthy mindset rather than continue performing and risk injury, then good for her. She’s more than proven herself already.
Mark Slutsky recently posted an interview with anime direct Satoshi Kon from 2007 (Kon sadly died in 2010). The interview is incredibly in-depth, with Kon going into great detail concerning Paprika (his final movie) and his creative process.
I didn’t feel the freedom of creativity as a result of making Paprika; I tried making Paprika into a movie so that I could free my creativity. With the movies I have directed before Paprika, I had in mind that even if the stories take place within a realistic framework, they can turn into great fantasies just from a shift in the viewpoint.
However, I started noticing that constructing the outlook on the movie world within such a realistic framework actually limited what I drew. Even if it obviously was technically possible to portray more things, with the ideas themselves limited, we had no chance to put the technique to use.
With a dilemma like this, I had chosen Paprika as my grand project to expand my imagination.
Via Animation Obsessive. Here’s my review of Paprika and my tribute to Kon upon hearing about his death.
Blizzard Entertainment is one of the world’s biggest and most successful video game developers, thanks to games like Diablo, Overwatch, and World of Warcraft. Apparently, they’ve also been a hotbed of sexual harassment and discrimination.
California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) says that renowned game publishing studio Blizzard Entertainment, and its owner Activision Blizzard, have created a culture of “constant sexual harassment” and gender-based discrimination, in a new lawsuit filed Tuesday that claims top executives were aware and/or involved. And in the hours since the suit was revealed, numerous women have already stepped forward to corroborate the allegations.
If you’ve been paying any attention at all to the video game industry (see Gamergate), then none of this should be surprising. Blizzard has contested the lawsuit — which has led to more outcry and even a walkout from their own employees.
Treble continues their examination of U2’s discography with Jeff Terich’s review of 1987’s The Joshua Tree.
In aesthetic terms, The Joshua Tree might have been only a few degrees removed from the atmospheric art-rock of The Unforgettable Fire, but it transcends genre or niche. It’s more than a rock album or even a great rock album, but an ideal of a rock album — a collection of songs built on soaring hooks and powerful statements, an outsized melodic treatise on the most iconic, conflicted topic they could possibly think of: America.
A new generation of pop punk artists led by women and people of color is finding unique ways to be rebellious.
Meet Me @ the Altar have banned swear words from their songs to entice parents — something that would horrify male punks who write songs called Dirty Rotten Bastards and Dick Lips — but the band aren’t bothered by the old bro codes. “If a little girl wasn’t allowed to go to our show because her mum was like: ‘It’s a bit inappropriate for you,’ we just lost an important girl,” says Johnson. “We want our fans to be able to sing to our music. If swear words stop brown girls and little girls listening to our music, then we won’t do it.”
Joe Pinsker asks, “What’s going to happen to your music collection if/when your favorite streaming service ever shuts down?”
The music I’ve salvaged from earlier times is now part of my collection on Spotify, which I’ve been using since it launched in the United States, 10 years ago this month. But as I look back on the churn of the past couple of decades, I feel uneasy about the hundreds of playlists I’ve taken the time to compile on the company’s platform: 10 or 20 years from now, will I be able to access the music I care about today, and all the places, people, and times it evokes?
Unfortunately, the experts on media preservation and the music industry whom I consulted told me that I have good reason to fear ongoing instability. “You’re screwed,” said Brewster Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive, after I asked him if I could count on having my music library decades from now.
Via Pixel Envy. Nobody denies the convenience of services like Spotify and Apple Music, and their vast libraries. I particularly enjoy their ability to alert me to new music from artists that I’ve listened to in the past or have marked as favorites. But Pinsker’s right: there’s something incredibly ephemeral about such services, and that ephemerality isn’t just changing how we keep track of our favorite songs, but perhaps even how we listen to music in the first place.
Also, here’s my usual soapbox rant: If you truly want to support your favorite artists, don’t just stream their music. Buy it.
Speaking of buying music, the flipside of ephemeral streaming music services might just be vinyl collectors, and in particular, obsessive vinyl collectors.
Demand forces a collector to think ahead — “Will I ever want this in my collection?” — and pull the trigger within minutes of a record going on sale, lest it sell out and you pay several times the retail price when you realize later that indeed, that record is something you had to have. You live in fear of reaching a point in the future where you wish you bought that thing that you could have. Hobbies are supposed to be about pleasure, but for me, what has taken over this hobby is another sensation all together: anxiety.
Robert Taylor revisits John Boorman’s Excalibur, a “delightfully nuts” Arthurian movie from 1981 that has since become a cult classic.
[P]ure, unadulterated R-rated fantasy films, especially of the high-fantasy, sword-and-sorcery variety, are harder to come by, as Hollywood tends to envision these things as family-friendly, PG-13 affairs… [W]henever one of these movies does find its way out into the world, it inevitably gets compared to John Boorman’s Excalibur — the 1981 retelling of the King Arthur legend that crams its 141 minutes with as much violence, lust, and utter strangeness that Boorman could muster. And yet it’s all crafted so beautifully and distinctively that, 40 years later, Excalibur stands as its own version of Camelot — a shining achievement that anyone else who gets an R-rated fantasy film made is trying to beat. Good luck with that.
It’s been years since I’ve seen Excalibur, but I definitely remember it being a very strange experience. Not bad, necessarily, but definitely strange. And for the record, I would love to see more high fantasy films made, be they R-rated or otherwise.
In a sign of artificial intelligence’s impact on the movie industry, Lucasfilm has hired a deepfake artist who made a Luke Skywalker deepfake.
The creator, a UK-based YouTuber named Shamook, had recently garnered fame in the Star Wars community after one of his deepfaked videos ended up going viral. The clip was specifically designed to improve the appearance of a young Mark Hamill during The Mandalorian season two finale and has racked up more than two million views on YouTube.
And it’s easy to see why — looking at Shamook’s deepfake work alongside the work of Industrial Light and Magic (the Lucasfilm division responsible for these sorts of CG graphics), the hobbyist’s work is arguably better than that of the pros.
I realize it’s a bit of a cliché to talk about how COVID has impacted the movie industry, but here we are: Scarlett Johansson sues Disney for releasing Black Widow on Disney+ alongside theaters because of the pandemic.
The suit could be a bellwether for the entertainment industry. Major media companies are prioritizing their streaming services in pursuit of growth, and are increasingly putting their high-value content on those platforms. Those changes have significant financial implications for actors and producers, who want to ensure that growth in streaming doesn’t come at their expense.
All eyes are on Japan right now because of the aforementioned Olympics. However, the country is home to another auspicious event: the opening of an honest-to-goodness Power Rangers restaurant.
The newly opened Super Sentai Restaurant is jam-packed with figurines, photos, and even has the first Red Ranger suit on display. It’s the perfect place to take in Japan’s superhero legacy as you eat spoonful after spoonful of Japanese curry.
This post is available to everyone (so feel free to share it). However, paying subscribers also get access to exclusives including playlists, sneak previews, and podcasts. If you’d like to receive those exclusives — and support my writing on Opus — then become a paid subscriber today for just $5/month or $50/year.