Author Archives: Pete

Distributed Social Networks (And Other Means of Decentralization)

AsteriskIt’s an era of uncertainty for the Internet. While the technology behind it improves, the laws surrounding it are poised to suck out its lifeblood. SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, CISA, the TPP: The powers that be seem intent on subjecting the public to a nonstop barrage of threats against online freedom and privacy until we’re too exhausted to fight back.

There is, however, one proposed means of ensuring online communications remain uncensored and private (or as private as the content creator intends): Decentralization. Rather than having all Internet traffic managed by ISPs, which are hardly dependable as guardians of the First and Fourth Amendments, every Internet device is directly interconnected to form a “meshnet.” Encrypted content makes its way around the globe by jumping from node to node.

Needless to say, of course, the logistics of this proposal mean it will take some time to come to fruition. There needs to be a number of people, living in the right places, who are willing to invest their time and money into making a meshnet a reality. There have been a number of promising-looking plans mapped out, such as Hyperboria and MaidSafe, but few are counting on their becoming a reasonable replacement for ISPs any time soon.

However, there’s one thing everyone, even the not particularly computer literate, can do in the meantime to stymie the forces that aim to restrict what they can speak about and search their digital papers and effects. They can join what is known as a distributed social network.

Most social networks have a few things in common. First, all the content that is shared within the network is routed though a choke point: The network’s servers. Second, they are for-profit companies that rely on ad revenue.

Therefore, it is in the best interests of the social networks to trawl through the content that is posted by its users, in order to tailor their ads to them… Or sell the information to third parties. Furthermore, as they are businesses who have brands to protect, they may succumb to demands to censor content — from customers complaining about “offensive” content, from other corporate entities worried about content that threatens their own business (such as negative reviews of their products), and from governments looking to suppress information. Finally, all that content collected onto a single set of servers makes it a ripe target for governments out to snoop on their citizens.

A distributed social network is different in those key aspects. It is not owned, furnished, and maintained by a single corporation. Anyone can set up an account on their own server, or join a preexisting host. The accounts can communicate with others on different hosts, just as users of two different email providers can email each other. Most of these hosts are funded by their users’ donations.

The user can choose from a wide variety of such hosts, or create their own. This competition means that the user can select a host that has a reputation they find agreeable, in terms of their policy on privacy and what content is allowed. One that relies on donations rather than ad revenue will mean it has little impetus to collect users’ personal information. The user can share any content, so long as it’s not illegal. (And if their host does censor anything, the user can simply move to a different one.)

Right now, the most prominent distributed social network is Diaspora*. You can read more about it here, and find your “pod” here. And yes, many Diaspora pods offer you the option to post content simultaneously to other places such as Facebook, if you’d prefer to wean yourself off them rather than going cold turkey.

Join and tell your friends. Or just tell your friends, if you yourself aren’t interested — you might be surprised at who else is. And, of course, you can share with me here (or here).

One small step at a time, we can pull ourselves apart from the pillars that comprise the present Internet, and form the Internet as it was meant to be.

“I’ll Be Progressive on Your Behalf”: Silencing Diverse Voices for Their Own Good

I suppose there’s something of a silver lining in this news item from San Francisco.

It used to be that whenever I was asked why I held “Social Justice Warriors” in such disdain, I wouldn’t know where to begin. I’d probably start out with their consideration of their own feelings before the facts, or their unending quest to censor speech they consider offensive, or their tactic of handling dissenting opinions by demanding they be disallowed rather than engaging in honest debate.

If only there was a single story out there that succinctly illustrated the flaws in SJW logic because it was so utterly ludicrous, I might have thought. Well, it seems that wish has now been granted:

The principal of Everett Middle School in San Francisco tells KTVU that the results of the school election have been publicly announced.

The results had been withheld immediately after the election because the principal felt that the winners weren’t diverse enough.

We’ve learned that the majority of the winners were white, despite the fact that the student body is 80% students of color.

The incident happened at Everett Middle School in San Francisco’s Mission District. The voting was held Oct. 10, but the principal sent an email to parents on Oct. 14 saying the results would not be released because the candidates that were elected as a whole do not represents the diversity that exists at the school.

The email went on to say they were thinking of ways to value the students who won, while increasing the diversity of the group.

Long story short: A diverse student body was allowed to vote for which classmates to represent them in a democratic election. The students democratically elected candidates, most of whom just happened to be white. The school’s principal halted the election process, because the elected candidates do not “represent the student body” due to their lack of racial diversity.

They don’t “represent the student body”? They were democratically elected by the student body. How much more proof do you need that they represent the students?

The principal says she wants “to make sure all voices are heard from all backgrounds.” THEY JUST WERE.

A common SJW tactic (that has been repeatedly used against yours truly) is to conflate criticism of their talking points with prejudice against the groups they are [claiming to be] helping. Do you support the right of people to write and publish hate speech? Then you must agree with said hate speech. Are you against programs and institutions created with the intention of providing assistance disenfranchised groups (regardless of their actual results)? Then you must be prejudiced against those people.

But this principal seems to have finally tipped the hand of the social justice movement. She, like so many SJWs, considers diversity for its own sake of higher importance than democracy. She wants to force her students’ government to be as diverse as the overall student body, over the wishes of those very students.

In other words: In the interests of giving minority students a voice, she is silencing the voices of those minority students.

And yes, the principal in question is white. That doesn’t necessarily make her actions any more or less wrong. But I suppose it does make them more ironic.

The most laugh-or-cry moment in this news story is her describing her actions as a “learning experience.” An experience of learning what? That decisions made via democratic elections can be altered by another governing power, and this is not to be questioned? Or that minorities are so ignorant they can’t be trusted to vote in their own interests?

I know enough about the SJW mindset that I can probably guess the principle’s rationale. The minority students must have been brainwashed or gaslighted (gaslit?) into believing that the white students were the best choices to represent them. They must have internalized the prejudice against them to believe that it should be white students on the student council… Because the factor of race trumps all others when considering a leader. (That last sentiment may not have entered her thought process to the point that she was conscious of it, but it’s a concept that is heavily implied in the SJW philosophy. Especially where arguments for affirmative action are concerned.)

There’s a panel from Plebcomics that’s strikingly accurate in its depiction of the Social Justice Warrior’s line of thinking:

"You poor, ignorant, stupid fool who has internalized white supremacy and racism! Don’t worry, I’ll fight the good fight for you, since you are obviously too brainwashed to know better! I’ll be offended on your behalf!"

In light of this latest news, however, they seem to be stepping up their game in claiming to speak for minorities in a way that silences their own voices.

They’re being progressive on their behalf.

Five Years of MLP:FiM

Five years ago, if someone from the present met me (having used a time travel spell) and informed me that I would be a fan of the latest incarnation of My Little Pony, I would be rather incredulous. Not about watching something whose target demographic I was clearly outside, but about watching something whose express purpose was to sell merchandise. Such entertainment never sat well with me, both due their ethical standing and the quality of their actual entertainment.

But as of today, I see no shame in calling myself a brony. Part of it’s due to my changing political views regarding capitalism. But it’s mostly due to MLP:FiM proving itself to work despite the constraints of a demanding executive board, and having an appeal all its own (as I’ve discussed before). Had the show been broadcast on IFC with none of their characters appearing on toys or tiny backpacks, it would probably draw in subscribers to Adbusters.

The only moments when MLP:FiM irritates a little is when it can’t help to remind the viewer of why it exists, usually in the form of plot contrivances wherein the main characters all change their physical appearance: Different color schemes, pretty butterfly-like creatures, or even sparkly crystalline versions of themselves. Especially problematic are the instances where knowledge of where the show’s priorities lie leads to the predictability of major plot revelations. (Does the mysterious chest with magical keys contain something surprisingly drab and ordinary, à la Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Or will it be something bright and shiny, whose miniature physical simulacrum will stand out in an aisle at Target?)

After having seen the Big Special Episode whose airdate on the show’s fifth anniversary was presumably deliberate, the cynical part of my brain wants desperately to remind the rest of it that its major reveal was probably due to the demands of the merchandising department. But as it has been for the past several years, I can’t help but set such concerns aside and enjoy the show for what it is.

Many of those outside of the fandom find bronies odd, if not outright depraved, and given some of the show’s fan-made content, it’s hard to blame them. But given what the overwhelming majority of bronies are like and what they make, I will still readily count myself among their ranks. I’m not ashamed to be part of a community whose members can take inspiration from this and create something like this. For all its occasional, shall we say, eccentricities, the bronies are not something to be feared or even underestimated (in terms of both their artistic talents and philanthropy).

Even so, I suppose I’m not very hardcore a brony. I have yet to attend any conventions. I have purchased no merchandise save for the comic books, a DVD, and a hat. (Perhaps some traces of hippie reside in me still.) And I’ve only drawn one piece of fan art (which — SPOILER WARNING — the Big Special Episode has officially rendered non-canonical). But if anyone asks me point blank if I’m a brony, I’d certainly say yes.

And if someone asked me “Who is best pony?”, as someone already had when they saw me in the hat, I’d just as certainly reply, “Twilight Sparkle.”

Why Gamers Watch Gamers

So it would seem that Jimmy Kimmel has ruffled some feathers with his jabs at YouTube’s new service for video game streams. And indeed, it would seem that many gamers can’t take a joke and their response has been childish at best (though it can be assumed a solid chunk of those replies were from actual children).

But one can’t help but empathize with the gamers a bit. The entertainment they enjoy has from its inception been regarded as somehow inferior to other media, lacking some sort of quality that earns it status as true art. And gamers themselves are not held in very high esteem in contrast to those with more traditionally revered hobbies. Perhaps it’s only to be expected that when Kimmel joins those piling on them, they’re not in the mood to take a joke.

Kimmel dismisses the comparison of video game streaming to spectator sports by saying it “isn’t like watching people play football, it’s like watching people play fantasy football.” But are spectator sports themselves as intrinsically fulfilling as some examples of seeing others play video games?

To watch another person play a video game is to see them experience entertainment and have their skills tested simultaneously. Even watching another person view entertainment can be entertaining in of itself, for example, seeing audiences react to a certain scene in The Empire Strikes Back for the first time:

And seeing others performing feats of skill can always be enthralling, from showcases of athletic prowess to acts as simple as food preparation:

Surely, many would deem it worth their time to watch others show their skills at video games as well?

But there’s a glaring difference between spectator sports and spectator “e-sports.” There are only several sports that are watched by wide audiences. Their athletes are restricted by the rules of the game, and there is no backstory to the game besides the backgrounds of the teams and players. All the action is constrained by those rules, and there will be no twists in the narrative, or at least none that extend beyond those that are possible given the game’s constraints.

Yes, you can make this stuff up.

However, there are thousands of video games, most of which strive to create both their own unique set of rules and a dramatic narrative.

So while people can watch a few seasons of football and see nearly all of the passes and plays possible given the game’s rule set, it would be practically impossible for them to watch other people choose all the possible means of playing through a highly complex computer role-playing game, let alone play through them themselves. Many developers pride themselves on constructing games so exhaustively crafted they will respond logically to whatever input the player gives them. Many games are so intricately designed that it’s impossible for one person to experience everything the writers, programmers, and voice actors have prepared for them. Why not provide a platform to show gamers the routes they have not taken themselves, and what would have happened to them if they had? Otherwise, the developers’ efforts would have been for naught.

And as it was with The Empire Strikes Back, it’s entertaining to see others react to plot developments in games as well. Who wouldn’t be interested in how others reacted to the big twist in Knights of the Old Republic (perhaps the greatest Star Wars game yet released)?

So perhaps there really is an appeal to watching others play video games that Kimmel has not considered. If it’s socially acceptable to spend a solid portion of one’s waking hours watching other people play one game, it should be just as fine to watch people other types of games as well.

Don’t knock it till you try it.

Sharing the Crazy in a Box With a Side Order of Fries: The appeal of Freeman’s Mind

The original Half-Life, released over fifteen years ago, was a milestone for first-person shooters on the level of Doom. When it first came out, many predicted it would set the standard for shooters to come and its features would be copied by countless other games, and history proved them all right. Concepts such as a narrative that stayed with the point of view of the playing character (not even an opening cutscene) is now a staple of the genre today.

Of course, another way the game proved innovative was the character it assigned to its protagonist, Gordon Freeman — or lack thereof. The player only knows what he looks like from the box cover art, as he’s never seen in the game itself due to the first-person perspective (and odd absence of reflective materials). Information about his professional background could be inferred from a letter from his then-future employer regarding his new position, shown in the manual. And in the opening of the game itself, there is some superimposed text about him, though that focuses on such data as his education, job title, security clearance, the ominous-sounding “Disaster Response Priority”… All minutia within the realm of some bureaucrat. (Or, perhaps, some sort of outside observer? But that’s another story.) As opposed to, say, Doom‘s space marine, who as the manual notes “assaulted a superior officer for ordering his soldiers to fire upon civilians,” no background information provided for Gordon sheds any light on his morals, actual personality, or unspoken goals outside of his career.

This, of course, allowed gamers to have their own ideas for who Gordon really is, what he makes of the mess and the violence that he in a sense started himself, and where he hopes to be at the end of the ordeal. Was Gordon a classic hero, who immediately takes the initiative to rescue his coworkers and set things right by any means necessary? Or is he merely a common working stiff who just wants to live another day and escape the situations into which he is thrust?

The player was free to think of Gordon in any way they saw fit. However, it seems unlikely that any of them had a concept of him that was anything similar to how he is as portrayed on Ross Scott’s web series Freeman’s Mind.

Freeman’s Mind is a series of videos showing a playthrough of Half-Life, complete with a narration purportedly comprising Gordon’s inner thoughts. According to this inner monologue, Gordon is still the Gordon as presented by the game: A young theoretical physicist with a doctorate from MIT, now working at the “Anomalous Materials” department of a sprawling government research facility in the New Mexico desert. After being in the middle of an experiment gone horribly wrong, he must now must face off against extradimensional aliens and soldiers assigned to purge the facility of any witnesses.

But as for his character and personal life, the narration goes into further detail: Gordon’s pastimes include recreational use of prescription opiates and hitting on unwilling coworkers. After the ill-fated experiment, he never once considers the fate of the other personnel or the outside world with the aliens teleporting in, instead focusing on his own well-being (something he clearly holds in very high regard) throughout. After discovering that the hostile military forces know him by name, his plans shift to hijacking a ride to Massachusetts, grabbing a stash of gold he’d buried in case he was caught embezzling, and making his way to India. Meanwhile, he still makes his way around the facility, as one is forced to do by the game, although he sometimes gets distracted by the occasional supply of tranquilizers or morphine.

This version of Gordon is different than a usual gamer’s conception of him primarily because he’s not aware that he’s in a video game, and therefore does not take cues as a gamer would. He doesn’t pick up a highly powerful weapon because he takes seriously a warning that it’s still unstable. He takes his time coming to the conclusion that the marines have been orders to kill personnel as well as aliens, and mistakes their shooting at him as sheer incompetence. (“I’m on your side, you [expletive] idiots! How many of you do I have to kill for you to understand that?”) He is concerned about things a gamer would know is not an issue, such as aliens teleporting into the walls and support structures as well as out in the open, which would presumably explain why it’s falling apart. (“We’re turning into the Swiss Cheese of the Damned!”) In later episodes, however, Freeman seems to have learned the unspoken rules and language of video games to some extent, even though he wouldn’t consider it as such. (“It’s glowing. Therefore, it must be important. I think that’s how the hierarchy works around here: Whatever glows has more status.”)

Scott also lends credibility to Freeman’s character by giving him an appropriate level of scientific expertise — the one area in which his astronomical self-worth is actually warranted. This leads him to point out inaccuracies in the science of the game, both in terms of his colleagues’ knowledge (Why would they need to keep something as pedestrian as the equation for gravitational force written on the whiteboard?) and the new scientific frontiers invented by them (How can a teleporter not preserve momentum?). Freeman often takes time out to ponder how such things work, while a gamer would of course accept it and move on.

But all the nerdy, self-aggrandizing humor doesn’t fully explain its success. What appeal do gamers see in watching other people play what they’ve already played?

With Freeman’s Mind, Scott has spawned a long line of “Mind” series, all videos of playthroughs accompanied by the playing characters’ interior monologues. They have a structure similar to that of an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, with a middleman commenting upon source material in real time, both presented to the viewer.

But MST3K tackles film, a medium that is traditionally viewed by many people at once in a large room, and discussed among them afterwards. And if that discussion of the artwork isn’t enough, there is no end to more critiques and observations of it in the media — as it is, after all, a Legitimate Work of Art. By contrast, video games, at least single-player games, are consumed one isolated player at a time, with nobody with whom to share their experience and analysis of the artwork afterward, save for some nooks and crannies in the Internet.

And Half-Life certainly has its memorable experiences: Being at Ground Zero during the disastrous experiment; seeing the supposed rescue team gunning down a fellow scientist; watching another scientist grabbed by a massive tentacle that smashes through the window; suddenly falling in a shark cage, then dropping into a body of water containing something that necessitates the shark cage; being left for dead in a trash compactor that’s just started compacting; carefully navigating a room filled with trip mines, rigged to start a chain reaction ending with nuclear warheads. Such moments set it apart from previous shooters, which usually lacked any truly striking moments outside of cutscenes and boss fights. After playing Half-Life for the first time, many a gamer sought out others to share their experience of innocently pressing an elevator call button, only to cause the elevator to plunge down the shaft, carrying a few screaming scientists with it.

It is only natural, then, to be curious about how this incarnation of Gordon Freeman would react to such moments, fighting new enemies, picking up new weapons (“Now I can solve up to eight hundred problems a minute!”), and noting other interesting features of Black Mesa Research Facility and the Xen “borderworld.” Video games deserve dissection as much as any other art form; for entertainment’s sake, why not have it performed by a megalomaniacal manchild?

Freeman’s Mind, which will soon finish its run unless Scott tackles the sequel, succeeds mainly due to Gordon’s constant off-kilter musings. But the overarching draw to the series is the opportunity for gamers to gather in a common space where their experiences are shared, and see how one alternative take on their playing character would handle them.

The appeal is guaranteed, of course, when Scott’s Freeman reacts to his inadvertently causing his aforementioned colleagues to fall to their deaths by thinking, “Oh man, I hope at least they were jerks.”

A gift of insight into the mind of a gender feminist

In lieu of any material goods, I thought I’d give my readers something that’s priceless in its own way: A glimpse into the mind of a modern feminist. And not just any feminist either, but victim extraordinaire Anita Sarkeesian. Here she is discussing the five “creepiest” Christmas songs.

Naturally, any list of creepy Christmas songs includes such songs as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” whose titular character earns the supposed “love” of his peers by proving his worth, which is the result of a physical feature he’s had since birth rather than achieved.

I’m kidding, of course — perhaps any such list except for this one, which apparently defines “creepy” as “having an undertone that the female population would consider creepy, by virtue of their gender.” So, of course, there’s the likes of “Baby, it’s Cold Outside,” as well as “All I Want for Christmas is You,” in which the singer expresses no desire for any gifts other than a mate.

But wait. As Sarkeesian herself notes, that song can be performed by both men and women. So perhaps I was wrong, and she really is viewing this from the perspective of both genders…

…Never mind. Here’s her reasoning of why it’s still creepy when a man sings it:

[I]t’s not any less creepy when a man sings it because the lyrics could be interpreted as bordering on “Stalker Territory.”

Get that? When sung by a woman, this song is sexist against women, because it implies that a woman’s goal is first and foremost the acquisition of a significant other. When sung by a man, this song is sexist… against women, because it makes the man out to be the stalker, like so many men really are.

Such is the logic of the gender feminist mindset. Is it any wonder that they find it so difficult to consider that perhaps gender inequality is rooted in something more complex than some vast “Patriarchy,” and that double standards in society oppress men just as much as (if not more than) women?

So-Called Social Justice and Free Expression Don’t Mix: My thoughts on the latest threat to the artistic integrity of video games

I suppose I should preface this by acknowledging I haven’t been diligently keeping tabs on the “GamerGate” movement. I am not a heavy reader of gaming journalism, as I am not too avid a gamer — I complete perhaps three or four feature-length games a year. But I still appreciate the artistry behind the games I play, and it is that artistic integrity at stake, in the long run. That’s why I find the current, censorious movement in gaming to be so troubling.

Efforts to censor video games are, of course, nothing new. One canard that refuses to die is that violent video games lead to violent behavior in those who play them, and game developers and consumers have had to fight the resultant efforts to censor content (even though repeated studies have refuted this theory). Now, the industry faces another charge against its work: It’s sexist. According to victim extraordinaire Anita Sarkeesian, popular video games are rife with misogyny and pandering to the male demographic, even though there are now just as many female gamers in the market.

Of course, what Sarkeesian fails to consider is that female gamers seem inclined towards simple puzzle-based games, the kind that can easily be played on a smartphone or tablet; the audience of more time-consuming, plot-heavy games remain mostly male. And when your target audience is overwhelmingly male, it pays to feature male protagonists as muscular warriors and female protagonists as improbably shapely and scantily-clad. The results can be silly, no question, but how often has it been demanded that romance novels feature at least some pudgy, balding men on their covers? Every artistic movement is granted some suspension of disbelief so that it may appeal more to its audience. Why should games be any different?

But the people who now stand opposed to free expression in gaming aren’t just against the skimpiest of “armor” and the amplest of bosoms. The current movement consists largely of those known as “social justice warriors,” whose philosophy on free speech was best summarized as, “Your rights end where my feelings begin.” Known as the driving force behind “trigger warnings,” people of their ilk have gained notoriety by “debating” those who disagree with them by stealing and vandalizing their protest signs, and pulling the fire alarm* when they are slated to speak.

These are the people who have nominated themselves as the judges of what is and is not appropriate content for video games.

For an example of the threat SJWs pose to artistic integrity, let’s look at my favorite game franchise of all time: Fallout, a series that canonically spans four role-playing games and a combat-focused spinoff set in a United States after a nuclear apocalypse. Boasting an incredibly rich mythos and atmosphere, it chronicles humanity’s efforts to rebuild civilization from the ground up in an environment that has allowed the darkest elements of humanity to thrive.

A common enemy seen in all Fallout games are bands of violent bandits, known as raiders, who routinely pillage the more civilized communities in the wasteland. As feminists themselves would probably guess, those raiders count some rapists amongst their ranks. This has become an issue for some, as chronicled in this series of exchanges between a social justice warrior and one of the series’ designers.

Exerpt from the discussion

One of Fallout‘s strengths is its uncompromising look at what the worst of humanity has to offer, and all art must be uncompromising to maintain its integrity. But here is someone who wants the narrative to be softened, defanged, for no other purpose than to avoid making a small fraction of the games’ audience uncomfortable. What sort of artists would permit this?

Some artists, of course, may be easily swayed by the appeal to supposed equality and fairness. (Legendary designer Tim Schafer, for example, appears to have been suckered in already.) But the main threat comes from ill-advised investors on new game projects. The most highly developed and promoted “AAA” games require budgets rivaling those of Hollywood blockbusters. And the higher a game’s budget, the more willingness to sacrifice artistic expression in order to avoid potential controversy. (Yes, it might seem hypocritical to denounce self-censorship of art while condoning pandering to the audience, as I’ve defended above. But the key difference is that pandering is the choice of the artist, while altering content to appease the social justice warriors is yielding to the power of the censor.) And there have already been movements to pressure games to contort themselves into SJW-approved content:

Special thanks to @SabrinaLianne for the screenshot, and alerting me to this.

But the question arises: What if there’s a dearth of female gamers because they’re put off by male-centric games, and there are no games that cater to them because they don’t appear to be a significant demographic of the gaming audience? What would it take to break the cycle?

The answer is not, as the SJWs have proposed, to browbeat existing games into submission and deny them free expression. It is to put more effort into attracting women to the games industry, allowing them to design games that appeal to female audiences. In other words, to expand the industry and make more games, not to cut content from existing games.

And why hasn’t anyone taken the initiative to bring women into the industry already? Actually, they have. You can be forgiven for being ignorant about this, of course, as the SJWs don’t seem to care much for it. They seem dead set on cursing the darkness, with cratefuls of candles and matchbooks laying at their feet.

What drives the social justice warrior in this matter? Is it really to help the gaming industry reach different, untapped markets and providing underrepresented demographics with games they would enjoy? Or might this be yet another misguided attempt to make the world fair by forcing those perceived to be unfair to play by their rules?

In the end, I just care about the games, and developers’ right to portray what they want in them. If there is disagreeable content in a game, it should be regarded as controversial artwork, not a defective product. If video games are art, they should be entitled to the same rights of free expression as any other medium.

If you’d like to read more on GamerGate, some well-written and -spoken pieces on it can be found by Allum Bokhari, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Cathy Young. For more in-depth coverage, you can check out some resources put together by hardcore GamerGaters here and here. I haven’t exactly perused these myself, so this is not an official endorsement of them, but they should provide some counterpoints to the movement as it’s been portrayed by shamelessly biased media in the mainstream.

* Edit: It has been noted that I had brought this up while disregarding the violent actions of those opposed to Ms. Sarkeesian in order to silence her, such as sending her death threats. After some consideration, I must admit that it was rather hypocritical of me to imply that the false fire alarms were exemplary behavior of SJWs as a whole, while presumably dismissing the actions of those behind the death threats as those of a few bad apples within the GamerGate movement. Please grant me a bit of space for some hyperbole in the name of rhetoric, and take my words with a grain of salt. Thank you.

Two editorials from this week

The first from Jezebel on how to be a man in the age when we now pretend understand that gender is a social construct. Rule One: You can engage in activities considered feminine by society, and you’re still a man, provided you identify as one.

The second from Salon on how the NFL’s ban on purses in stadiums is sexist.

The feminists establish that it’s perfectly normal for a man to carry a purse. The NFL issues a rule that nobody, regardless of gender, may have a purse in their stadiums that hides their belongings. This rule is declared sexist against women.

Say what you will about the men who whine about ‘Ladies’ Night’ in bars and whatnot. At least their complaints are legitimate in that those policies are genuinely descriminatory. When feminists declare that genders should ideally be treated as equals, they can’t complain when rules that de jure treat genders equally de facto impact them more harshly.

Whence Cometh Bronies?

Well-muscled chap with Pony toys

Is the appeal really that difficult to comprehend?

It seems that thousands of words have been written about the enigma of the “bronies,” loosely defined as fans of the latest incarnation of the My Little Pony franchise, Friendship is Magic, who are outside its target audience of young girls. The majority of bronies are male, and in their teens to late twenties. A great deal of puzzlement has been expressed over why such an odd — and specific — demographic would take notice of a series that would stereotypically feature an endless parade of little girls (or their equine counterparts) serving tea in tiny cups to stuffed animals.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic takes place in the magical land (no really, that’s how it’s described in the first line of the first episode) of Equestria. Equestria is home to a wide range of animals and mythical creatures. Nearly every species is sapient, and the hoofed mammals (save for perhaps goats and swine), as well as creatures such as dragons and sea serpents, speak English (and some French). The ponies themselves are split into three types: Unicorns with magic powers; pegasi who can fly and walk on clouds; and wingless, hornless “earth ponies” who don’t need any pity because it’s rumored they have supernatural bonds with the natural world.

The main character is Twilight Sparkle, a scholarly unicorn given the task of studying the nature of friendship and reporting her findings to Equestria’s ruler. Said findings tend to arrive after twenty minutes’ worth of adventure and/or wacky hijinks.

The only other show I can recall that successfully employed a moral-lesson-per-episode formula was Doug, an only-slightly-surreal cartoon concerning the adventures and tribulations of an average 11½-year-old boy. Surprisingly watchable due to the fact that it never felt like being lectured, it was also notable for featuring daydreams that honestly seemed to reflect a preteen’s worries and fantasies.

But while Doug was a hit with its target audience when it was on TV, I can’t see it being of any interest to an older audience. While MLP:FiM excels at telling stories which (seemingly) just so happen to tie in with a moral, Doug never managed to present itself as a show that was primarily plot: It always seemed to be moralization first, entertainment second. Bronies would find Doug too preachy, even though it’s pound-for-pound less so than MLP:FiM, because its texture is too close to that of one of Aesop’s Fables.

Its characters were rather flat, as well: There was the standard issue best friend, love interest, bully, and wacky neighbor. In contrast, bronies are quick to praise MLP:FiM for its unorthodox group of protagonists. Here, the socially awkward bookworm is the main character, not the sidekick who is there to offer hints to the hero in their quest when the answer lies in some obscure legend. And one may be surprised to learn that the fashion-obsessed socialite with a Persian cat is not the bitchy girl who makes fun of the nice girls’ secondhand clothing, but is every bit as supportive and friendly as the others.

But beyond the reasons for praising and enjoying MLP:FiM that can act as a rubric for any show, there’s a quality inherent in it that I believe is the main reason it resonates so well among Generation Y. Writes Melody Wilson of the Washington Post of MLP:FiM‘s fandom: “In a generation weaned on irony and sarcasm, such fresh-faced delight can seem startling.

Not necessarily. Perhaps so many twentysomethings enjoy MLP:FiM, not in spite of its genuine wholesomeness, but because of it.

It’s true that our generation has been raised on TV shows that rarely end on an iris out while everyone onscreen is laughing. Judging by our taste in comedy, we prefer humor rooted in darkness.

In one of our most fondly remembered sitcoms, Arrested Development, the central theme seems to echo the beleaguered straight man’s insistence of the importance of family. But the family in question is in financial ruin due to the betrayal of one or more of its own members, who also include a shallow housewife who needs constant reassurance of her desirability, a thoughtless hothead with delusions of grandeur, and a man-child grappling with an Oedipal complex. In the same tone, Curb Your Enthusiasm has its would-be hero being the perpetual victim of endless misfortunes and miscommunication, and is only likable because it’s impossible not to pity him.

But the crowning example of cynical humor is probably the cult favorite Mystery Science Theater 3000, which (to squeeze a surprisingly intricate plot into its bare necessities) presents awful movies and short films, and humorous commentary provided by quick-witted audience members in silhouette. Here, they tackle “A Date With Your Family,” an embodiment of the idyllic life to which social conservatives wish to return, narrated by Hugh Beaumont himself and made back in the day when its title would not elicit snickers nor off-color jokes:

While the cast predictably mock the stuffy atmosphere of forced pleasantries and stilted conversation (“Emotions are for ethnic people”), a good portion of the quips are dedicated to twisting the wholesome family values enshrined by the short. References are made to the father disowning his children and the mother’s affair with the postman, as well as noting the unintended connotations of the description of the manner in which the teenage boy seats his mother at the table. Besides poking fun at the short, MST3K corrupts it and what it stood for.

This type of humor based on the skewering of traditional ideals has seeped into children’s programming, as well. The first episode of big kid’s show Adventure Time found a character devising a formula for resurrecting the dead, and ended with children being happily reunited with their late grandparents, in what seemed to be a deliberate nose-thumbing of the most sacred rules of kid’s entertainment. (Never, ever include any plot points that might give impressionable youngsters the idea that deceased loved ones can be brought back to life. Hell, even Nearly Headless Nick had to make explicit that only witches and wizards could become ghosts.)

Much humor, it felt, was to be found in darkness, so much so that audiences may have gotten the feeling that such darkness is necessary to be truly funny. If something was appropriate for a kid’s joke book, there was a limit to how funny it could be. And didn’t it seem like there’s a finite amount of jokes concerning the incompetence of public officials or the unscrupulousness of lawyers?

Generation Y’s entertainment fostered the mindset that humor was directly correlated with cynicism, something that was challenged with My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

It was true that MLP:FiM occasionally let slip some references that may not have meshed too easily with its purported wholesomeness. In one notable scene, a new father is asked why his twin foals are a unicorn and pegasus, while both parents are earth ponies. His reply could be read as an attempt to reassure himself of his wife’s fidelity:

In another episode, the aforementioned fashionista pony escapes her predicament by guilt-tripping the antagonists who kidnapped her into releasing her, providing the episode’s lesson of “Sometimes your friends can take care of themselves” with a tongue-in-cheek example of them “taking care of” a problem by being manipulative.

And that convention of a girl having a party with several imaginary friends? That happens — when a party-loving pony convinces herself that her real friends no longer like her parties and no longer wish to associate with her — and this is how it plays out:

But while the writers clearly enjoy pushing the envelope, the less-than-savory elements never threaten to corrode the show’s moral infrastructure. MLP:FiM‘s overarching tone and theme of genuine friendship are never compromised. The characters are genuinely friends with each other, with no façades of good graces to curry favor. And when a friendship is threatened, it is always mended by episode’s end, usually in tandem with the episode’s moral. The sly winks to mature audiences only comprise the frosting on the cake for bronies; their true devotion is to the show’s earnest nature.

After wading through the grizzled, gnarled humor of contemporary TV, not to mention dramas striving for the grittiest of realism, it’s refreshing to cleanse oneself with the unironic good cheer that MLP:FiM has to offer. It must be comforting and invigorating for bronies to realize their souls haven’t been calcified by years of dark entertainment, and they can still enjoy a show intended for the very young. They still enjoy the other, disturbing TV, of course, but it’s nice to have MLP:FiM on hand to cleanse the palate.

Soon a season finale will air, a two-part episode dealing with a wedding between two characters who haven’t even been mentioned thus far. It seems doubtful that the bronies will revere it as highly as the previous two-parter, which featured a villain inspired by a trickster archetype character from Star Trek: The Next Generation and voiced by the same actor. But if MLP:FiM has demonstrated anything, it’s the ability to find fans and praise in unlikely places.

Image of what a typical brony might look like courtesy of Redditor ZachGates.

It’s here

I have finally received my invite to join Diaspora, the distributed social network. Rather than Facebook or Google+, Diaspora isn’t controlled by a large corporation looming from above in a windowless black tower — and it never can be, as the data is controlled by its users. Users select which ‘pod’ in which their information is stored, perhaps on their own home server. Diaspora is a solid alternative for anyone wary of the control Facebook and Google have over their networks and the information provided to them by their users.

If you wish to join Diaspora, you can sign up for an invite at or sign up at a different pod. If I know you personally, or you know of any other reason why I would want to invite you myself, you can ask me to via email (my address can be found on my website).