Thursday, January 25, 2018

Top Tens of 2017: #7s

Here are the seventh best podcast, film, album, TV show, and videogame of 2017 (there's spoilers):

#7 Podcast: Revolutionary Left Radio

In the year that gave us the Channel Zero Network, it seems like the question of a left-wing counterpart to AM radio - in the form of podcasts - was a central point of some organizing. For my money, Revolutionary Left Radio is the closest thing to that goal that exists. The host, Brett, conducts interviews with folks who tend toward an academic background on topics that are often focused on creating talking points for various leftist tendencies in order to bring them together. His role is generally to ask (clearly pre-written, which isn't a bad thing) questions and then follow up with something not unlike a soundbite.

I say all of this trying not to sound like I'm passing judgment; it's very much a podcast that I enjoy a lot, and one that I know a number of friends would probably dislike quite a bit. There are times where I'm not entirely sure why I enjoy it; I'm not in the organizing world, most of my actively political friends are anarchists who I rarely get into these kinds of discussions with (and even if I did, I wouldn't want to use talking points), and the kind of focus it presents is something I can appreciate but generally don't love. My podcast preferences tend toward long, rambly discussions that I can listen to in the background while I walk, commute, play video games, or work, rather than tight hours with specific takeaways.

The thing I generally come back to, of course, is that the podcast just leads to interesting discussions about leftism that take seriously historical background and theoretical developments. Which is the shit.

#7 Film: Raw

This cannibal/vampire/zombie horror film (I mean that in a good way I promise, I would also hate that description, it is meant as ambiguity not nerdish conflation) feels like a 2017 followup to Cursed or The Craft more than anything. It combines a story about family, featuring the love and conflict between sisters and the dissembling of parents, with a coming of age story about going full party girl, with a horror film about appetites, all set in a veterinary school. I described it at one point as "if Thirst was good" and I stand by that, even if I think Thirst is a pretty good movie on its own. It's just probably Park's weakest.

There's a scene in which our protagonist gets introduced at a party: the camera does a long, slow zoom through a red-tinted group of people dancing and making out and socializing. About a third of the way through the zoom we can see her sitting on some sort of table feeling herself. It's probably the best single scene in a movie this year.

#7 Album: The Autobiography by Vic Mensa

Mensa might be the best rapper out right now who doesn't have punchlines. "Mentally ill, fuck Dr. Phil / All these pills ain't Benadryl (Chiraq) / No oil but it's been a drill" is about the level, which isn't to say bad but, like, man. He makes up for it by telling politically-engaged and honest-feeling stories with a fascinating structure and a total lack of pretense.

Nothing here hits quite as hard as "16 Shots," but "Rollin Like A Stoner" still goes in. And the structure itself is reminiscent of To Pimp a Butterfly, albeit not quite as accomplished. The Autobiography focuses more on pulling out a single line or moment from one song and expanding it into a full narrative of its own in the subsequent, though, which works surprisingly well.

#7 TV Show: Land of the Lustrous (season 1)

Land of the Lustrous is, in many ways, the inverse of last year's Flip Flappers. Where that was a journey through psychoanalysis, this is the most straightforward single character arc of a season; where that was full of queerbaiting and fanservice, this is a straightforward story of a nonbinary society. Which is to say, in both good and bad ways. Ultimately, I had more problems with Flip Flappers but enjoyed what it did more; but I'd definitely recommend Land of the Lustrous more readily to anyone.

The big stumbling block is the animation. Land of the Lustrous is fully CGI, in a way that kind of ends up working but never isn't kind of unfortunate to watch. My suspicion is that the choice was made - if it was at all aesthetic, which I doubt - because of the ability of CG to render liquid dynamics better and easier than traditional animation. The problem, of course, is that CG liquid looks like shit.

If there's another parallel between this and another anime, it's Neon Genesis Evangelion. The monster of the week in both is celestial - here Lunarians, there Angels; the unsteady, vaguely queer-coded youth is called on against their will to serve; and more than anything else, both are shows that are fundamentally about loss. Both also pivot that from loss of an other to loss of self, and how that impacts a person. Neither are the most profound statements on it, but Eva at least has the benefit of being done, so it's easier to say that it tells its story well, given what it is going for, and experimentally in a way that reinforces it. Land of the Lustrous, on the other hand, may or may not go anywhere.

The strangest thing, I think, is that I can't imagine this season being appealing to anyone who isn't already invested in anime as a form - it won't convert anyone, I don't think - while simultaneously feeling more like American television than most anime I've seen. Primarily in that anime is often released in short form, while American TV is almost uniformly expected to run for multiple seasons, if not indefinitely. It's a strange thing that I'm interested in seeing more of.

#7 Videogame: Post/Capitalism

Post/Capitalism is a pretty good use of videogames as straight up propaganda. It looks a little like a citybuilder, plays like a puzzle box. In short: you have a capitalist city. Clicking repeatedly on a piece of it transforms it from something predatory into something less so. Certain transformations trigger others to revert. Connecting them together reveals the underlying issue that causes this reversion; clicking the revelation changes it to allow them to coexist.

Ultimately, you connect these underlying issues together to reveal what causes them to come into conflict, resulting in four ultimate issues that can be dealt with. Once these are dealt with, the miniature city isn't exactly utopic, but it is a world that prioritizes things like the "collective ownership of the means of production," "labour [being] given from each according to their ability," "value [being] determined democratically," and "production being directed to satisfying human need."

Most games that get understood as propaganda are primarily literary; newsgames and the like that exist primarily to cause you to interact to look at some current event or data points. What Post/Capitalism does different is to primarily propagandize through systems. Obviously the meat of it is in the words that are associated with the systems, which is where this seems like it could be improved upon, but linking systemic abstractions together in a medium which is literally a collection of systemic abstractions is a good step forward.

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