Editor of the Past

 

“To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.” ― Oscar Wilde, De Profundi.png

I’ve been going through old photos. You’ve probably noticed that by now. And old photos bring up a lot of fond memories but also a lot of slightly bitter memories. Time moves on and people fade in and out of your life. But the photos you took of them: what happens when a person who meant the world to you is now a stranger in your life?

Travis and I drifted apart after creative differences over the state of the anime club. Liz and I stopped talking after she started dating that one guy. Davilin and I are still friends on Facebook, aren’t we?

Old photos are so full of people I just don’t talk to anymore. So what do I do with photos that make me uncomfortable? Like the angsty edgelord I am, I delete them. I tend to remove the photos I don’t like. There’s a reason why there aren’t a lot of photos of my life between the ages of 12-16. Those years weren’t great, so why document them?

But it goes beyond just being an aggressive editor of images. I’m also a huge editor of who can see what. Why do you think it took so long to finally make a Youtube channel or why so many friends have failed to do a successful podcast with me? I’m a great podcast guest but I’m not great at running one with friends. I’m image conscious and pain averse.

This method does go perfectly fundamentally how I use Facebook, Twitter and most things digital: I use them as a simulacra of me. I’m part of the “yearbook” camp of Facebook use.  Facebook is meant to be the thing people see that can be pieced together to form one complete Amanda.

But in those photos, I do have a piece of me in each one. I had these people in my life. Their stories matter or at least they did as of the picture taken. And in those old photos are plenty of pictures I want to keep. Pictures of Mandy. Pictures of my mom: some of the last of her life. From my trip to Disney that I enjoyed more than my little cousin. From conventions. Of a thinner me. Of a me in power of an anime club. Of former lovers and former friends. There are traces of me in every single photograph and maybe, just maybe I shouldn’t delete them.

Or I should. No one will know. I don’t talk to these people anymore.

 

Dad’s Old Photos

Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.Marc Riboud.png

My father was a shutterbug.

There’s photos of everything. Silly things. Mundane things. Plants, trees, oceans, cars. He also had a lot of pictures of himself. Dad was a handsome guy, I can see why he’d want photos of himself. But what was most important was the fact that he had pictures of his family. Dad was always taking pictures. I never really remember the camera flashes but the evidence of his obsessive commemoration of life was evident when I cleaned up my mom’s old storage unit.

The storage unit had been a contention point in my family. My mother had it during the most turbulent time of our relationship. It was an unneeded expense and I drove up in a huff to get it cleaned out so my aunt didn’t have that expense anymore. It was an exhausting and miserable experience but my friends made it worth it. I reclaimed box after box of my mother and father’s things. Memories, souvenirs and box after box of camera, photo albums and pictures. And this was back in the day when you had to take instant cameras to the local grocery to get them developed.

There were pictures of me as a child; lots of those. Pictures of me and my mom. Pictures of my dad when he was younger. Pictures of my parents’ marriage. Things I never got to see, things I barely remember. I got to see my parents in love ( I always knew my parents loved each other but by the time I was born and into my childhood whether they actually were in love was a question). I got to see pictures of me as a baby, as a child, with friends, with others. With family: family I don’t know or can’t say I’m close to. I saw my Dad’s mother (my namesake) and his father (who I barely remember). And I got to share those with my friends who had really never seen a me past 2008.

But my dad being a shutterbug reminded me of a distinct fact: I am not always a shutterbug. And it’s a lament that comes up a lot. I regret not taking more pictures before, during and after convention. I lament that I don’t take more pictures of vacations, of people I care about and of my family. I regret not being in more photos and the desire is pretty selfish: I want to be remembered. I want to remember those I care about. But I also struggle with the idea of being “present”. A common gripe people have with us young millennials is that we don’t experience life: we only live through phones and cameras. I want to be in the moment. I want to experience things and commit them to memory. I doubt I’ll forget what Carlos looks like or how Amber’s hair resists fitting into a photo frame. I won’t forget the rush of being on stage at A-Kon or how I felt during that Fitz and the Tantrums show. I wanted to be in the now but I regret not taking more pictures. To show the world, my family, my friends.

I struggle with the “narcissism” associated with being a person who takes a lot of photos. And it’s hard to want to take a lot of photos of yourself when you fundamentally don’t like who you are or what you look like. I didn’t get the “millennial” urge to capture all the moments but having a blog and a social media following does encourage me to post photos. My memories are no longer just mine, they are everyone’s.

My family started a strange fixation with photos after my grandmother’s memory started to go. Mary Anne had been forgetful for a while but towards the end of her life, we started taking more pictures. It wasn’t just to celebrate a holiday: it was a tool. When Grandma forgot one of her grandchildren, there was a photo. When Grandma asked about her husband, there was a photo. And if we had to establish how long we’ve been a family: there were pictures from the past. But we had been a family of photos for years. There’s pictures from the 70s and more regrettable fashion and hair choices that I got to discover during the process of burying my mother.

We were always a family that took photos, Dad and Mom could agree on there. There’s stylized GlamorShots of me from childhood and school pictures and all sorts of other pictures to celebrate milestones, holidays and just because for reasons. We stopped taking pictures like that before Dad died. But no one really stopped taking pictures of other things but the way I used the camera did change. After dad died, when I was given a camera to go and do something: I took pictures of people and things. Almost never myself. I had to be forced into photos during middle school and junior high and by high school this was a huge problem. There just weren’t pictures of me.

College was full of photos of people but by the nature of my friends and status as panelist, anime club president and cosplayer that people took photos of me. And as I got older, I started to cherish photos more.

I want to carry on Dad’s legacy of photography. I want more pictures, more memories. I want more albums and more pictures framed. One of the nicest gifts I’ve ever received was a framed picture from Taylor of me and his roommate (who I did consider a friend at the time). I want to show the world what I care about and what a moment is like for me. I want to share pictures of mountains, of meals, of oceans and skies. Blurry concert photos and fat fingers that greedily cover up lenses in frenzied attempts to capture a moment. I want to take more pictures of costumes and more of me in costumes.

I promise to get better about taking pictures. I hope this picture of me as a kid making poor fashion choices helps.

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Catharsis vs. Reality

ca·thar·siskəˈTHärsəs%2FSubmitnoun1.the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions..png

I have a weird love-hate relationship with the Netflix hit BoJack Horseman. It’s probably one of the smartest shows ever with the some of the most realistic depictions of social issues, mental illness, addiction, gender and orientation topics. On the other hand, watching this series puts me in a weird emotional place. In so many ways this show feels like it’s taken from my diary in dealing with topics of dealing with distant and less than ideal families, loved ones with dementia and the fickleness of time and memory and finding out that the world isn’t and will never be enough.

I’ve now watched 4 seasons of this show and depending on when this post goes live I’ve either finished season 4 and am probably crying or I’m still in season 4 and probably crying. And each time I watch this show, I don’t know if I can say I enjoy it. Carlos and I watch it: it’s one of the few things we can agree on. And one of the biggest things I end up always saying about BoJack is simply:

“This is too real.”

This show is a reality for so many and in more ways than I like to admit; a reality to me, as well. This show for me is emotionally draining and exhausting and authentic. And even though they are all feelings I’ve felt and in some cases situations I’ve lived: it doesn’t help me work through any of these resolved or unresolved feelings. It doesn’t help me feel distanced from the pain of these instances. It just forces me re-watch these situations with weird anthropomorphic animals.  

BoJack Horseman isn’t cathartic. Watching Fullmetal Alchemist is cathartic. Reading Grendel is cathartic. Working through a good book of poetry or going on a walk is cathartic and is a good way to work through negative feelings.

But my desire to want a medium with which to work through problems rather than face a realistic portrayal of actual concerns does not mean I don’t value this show. This is probably one of the most important shows on TV right now. Who else has a realistic  and nuanced view of an asexual man in a basically leading role who doesn’t have to die and isn’t the butt of anyone’s joke? What other show handles the fickle nature of political stances and trending ideas and media? What other show is willing to sucker-punch you in the gut emotionally like this with no filter or concern for how you the viewer feels?

The most intense, wonderful and jarringly existential show in recent memory is about an anthropomorphic alcoholic horse coping with lost fame and the fact that there probably isn’t a grand reason to be alive or to be anything.

I’m tired every time an episode finishes but that doesn’t mean I won’t stop watching.

The Ethics of Being Sponsored

The networks have to answer to their sponsors. That's the difficult thing you learn. Jean Smart.pngLast time we talked about Patreon, patronage and how and when an artist owes something to those who keep their lights on. Today we’re going to talk about sponsorships, trust and forced positivity but with the ethical dubiousness of money behind it.

This actually started innocently enough. I was watching a GameTheorists video on Valerian and the City of One Thousand Planets. As a hipster sci-fi person, I was excited to talk about Valerian considering that I’m probably 1 of 5 Americans that read the comic and knew that it basically inspired all of modern sci-fi. Everyone has borrowed from it, Star WarsStar Trek, basically everyone owes their sci-fi start to Valerian. And when I started the video, I was happy to see MatPat bring up all those points and comment on them. And then he mentioned he was sponsored by the movie Valerian. My heart sank. Suddenly, all the ethos of what he was saying was colored with the evil tint of greed. Even in his most recent video that was blatantly sponsored by Disney, it still felt hollow because the premise and title were interesting. Now to know that he’s only doing it because he got paid somehow left me feeling betrayed and crestfallen.

And MatPat isn’t the only Youtuber I’ve noticed that will “critique” or “comment” on a film only after being paid to do so. Andre “The Black Nerd” has more than once reviewed movies and done special promotions with several companies and even theaters that often seem to make all the movies he sees a little less bad. And while I have no issues with CinemaSins being sponsored by BlueApron and NatureBox (because those sponsorships are usually unintrusive to the content) and I quietly tolerate Lindsay Ellis flaunting her Patreon (her being sponsored is also often not intrusive to her content). But where I take issue is when being paid for something makes you think something is better than what it is and all under the guise of more valid criticism.

But it’s also important to comment on the type of “critic”, critic or Youtuber. It’s usually the non-instrusive ones that get the more lucrative deals. MatPat’s pretty unoffensive to most and he’s easy to work with and has a wide audience. He’s kind, sort of funny and he’s positive. He isn’t a CinemaSins or Nostalgia Critic who made their mark by being cynical, curt and vulgar (I don’t say any of these things negatively, I love these channels.).

In my first forced positivity post, I mentioned The Talking Dead, a show hosted by Chris Hardwick about the very popular TV show and sometimes maligned comic book The Walking Dead. The talk show after the show is paid for by AMC (the people behind the zombie TV show) and because of that, almost every episode has to say how great The Walking Dead is.  When I lamented this fact, Carlos rather bluntly said: “Well, yeah. Can’t talk bad about a show that pays you to put on a show.” And really, that was an understood for me. I understood the why but that didn’t mean I had to be happy about it.

And it frustrates me even more when I have to watch a personality I love change and adapt to being more “user-friendly”. Chris Hardwick, if you can hear me, come back to us. You have sold your soul for money. You too, Kevin Smith. We need you. We need voices of dissonance in our community once more.

Being paid to say nice things isn’t new. I work in advertising. I create paid sponsor content. I live in a world where you have to casually segway a brand sponsorship into an informative video or write an article that’s really meant to sell you something. I learned and perfected how to craft a message, find an image and hone down an audience. I know that being paid to say nice things is not a new and marvel concept. But in traditional advertising, a spade is a spade. An ad’s an ad. It’s clear when something is sponsored. But when marketing is insidious (and even I as a marketer am not fond/proud of) are when ads hide. We’ve all seen a tutorial that’s at the end tacked on that it was paid for by Samsung.  And the idea of a paid sponsorship that’s a hidden one or content that’s really an ad has been a struggle for social media platforms and users. And if the FDA and FCC lawsuits have been any indicator: the idea of being #sponsored on social media is a slippery slope.

It started with the whole influx of “influencer” marketing. “Celebrities” would gush about a product of God knows what-origin and then their legions of followers would then also support the product of God knows what-origin. What isn’t shown or talked about is how much the makers of the product pay to have this glowing endorsement or why it does such great things for a celebrity’s whose only job is to be beautiful and thin and stand there under ring lights that make everyone look better.  And when a normal consumer wishes to complain, sue or even try to dismiss some of the claims of how charcoal water can cure cancer or something, the company simply says “The celebrity was not paid to say those things and you didn’t have to buy our product.” despite how often it’s shown in Instagram feeds and Twitter timelines. The celebrity doesn’t take any responsibility for any damage done by the product they were so proudly sharing. Remember, they won’t paid to do this. They just received 5 cases of kale cleanse. That isn’t payment, right?

And it’s funny that all of this is happening now. I’m from an era where shoehorned in sponsorships paid the bills and I think it’s that cynicism and skepticism that so fundamentally turns me off on paid sponsored content. We are surrounded by ads and I say that as a person who makes those ads possible. So it’s seductive to see something that looks like think piece, feels like a social commentary but then is later revealed to be something sponsored by a TV show or soda company and why that’s so insidious and horrifying. What is news anymore? What is an ad anymore? Is it all just an ad?

I’m with a majority of watchers and users of things: transparent advertising makes me very happy. When an ad’s an ad, that’s fine. And now with the rise of #ad and #sponsored, things are getting a little more transparent and it’s easier to see the man behind the wizard. And while I understand not wanting to piss in your own stew pot, criticism and loving antagonism made fandoms, communities and the world. The positivity for hire is exhausting and its at times seedy nature makes it even more tiresome and dishonest. Let’s be honest about when an ad’s an ad. Let’s call a spade a spade. And let’s keep criticism free of the shackles of currency.

 

 

Oh Patron, My Patron

If a patron buys from an artist who needs money, the patron then makes himself equal to the artist; he is building art into the world; he creates. Ezra Pound.png
Let’s talk about Mad Kings, Patreon and why I struggle with the modern concept of patronage.
I have a few people in my life that I know use Patreon, the popular patronage website that allows individuals to become patrons of creators both great and small. I’m very aware of it as an entity. Most Youtube channels, webcomics and nearly every other media item I consume in my day to day life has some sort of plug for a Patreon. Patreon has an interesting reputation. It allows creators and “creators” to request money to help them continue to create a litany of things and in return, there is usually a reward of some kind for a patron’s monetary support. Some rewards are great and others are…less than great and many creators say this return to the halcyon days of patronage has allowed many creatives to quit their day jobs and do what they love full-time as they accept support and help from patrons.
Let’s back up a bit and discuss patronage. Patronage is not a new concept, it is in fact a centuries old idea: an author, painter or great adventurer could have a patron who helped to support their endeavors and these patrons were typically throne or a wealthy financier. Some famous patrons of the arts include Queen Elizabeth I: who was the patron of William Shakespeare, The Crown of Aragon and Castile that then supposed Christopher Columbus on his literal worst genocidal boat trip ever. And my favorite, my crown jewel, King Ludwig II: the Mad King of Bavaria was patron of Richard Wagner. Wagner made operas for his King and had them played out in elaborate stages and secret built in grottoes. Back then, patronage was a serious thing. Only the best of the best were accepted for a patronage program. It was a gamble to bestow money on an artist or a creator, so a monarchy or financier had to be certain it would be fruitful. Sure, risks were taken and not all business agreements ended well but for the most part, most of those that survived and thrived under the rule of patronage: we got some of the finest works this world has ever known.
Patronage did fall out of favor as the rise of salaries and other pensions eclipsed the ideas of one rich person paying for one creator to create or explore mostly just for them. Art became public and easier to fund and an artist could and was encouraged to have a day job and then paint or write when they got home. But work days are long and there’s no reason to demand someone toil their life away at a job they hate only to create at night. People should do what they love and if there are others willing to support their creative ventures, then godspeed.
And then Patreon showed up. Suddenly everyone who felt they needed to could ask for money from perfect strangers and fund their lifestyles. Want to spend your life herding goats and make small goat hair trinkets? There’s someone who may help you live that dream. Want to make a webcomic full of diverse characters? There’s plenty of people that will help you live that dream.

And I love Patreon when it does good for creators and audiences. Crash Course uses Patreon to keep its content free for everyone and rewards rather generously. Many webcomic artists I follow use Patreon to quit their day jobs and keep making comics. There are more questionable Patreons as well. Famous examples are Jessica Nigri and Yaya Han who offer…special photos as rewards for patron support. And there are far too many examples of questionable Patreon rewards and endeavors that I do not wish to go in great detail about.
I’ve publicly said I’d never want to quit my day job because when, how and what I create is my choice. As soon as I am paid for, my work is no longer mine. I am then beholden to my audience that is now paying for me and my content. And as someone who struggles with the demons that come with being a writer, I don’t always meet deadlines. Sometimes I get bored with a work. Sometimes I don’t like where a story-line is going. Sometimes I want to just change things and as soon as my work is being paid for, I am more tied to pleasing the audience than I am my personal indulgences as a creator. And I’ve seen that fail: Sister Claire is a web-comic I beat up on a lot only because I love it so much. It is far from its intended plot and it is supported by patrons. I empathize with their frustration that the series isn’t what it used to be and you feel even more tied to that when it’s your dollars funding a creator’s egotistical jaunt through plot, character and theme. And there are issues with rewards that can be rather taxing on readers. It isn’t in my budget to support every creator I love but more than one have such severe paywalls to their work that finishing the stuff they release for free is now nearly impossible and that is damaging to those that want to support a work but don’t always have an extra $5+ bucks to throw for additional content.
The other slight qualm I have with Patreon is a lovingly placed issue with quality. In the days of old, exceptional people: the best of the best, were sought out and were offered a chance of a lifetime to be patronized. And like with all things in the age of the Internet: there is a wide variety of quality all across the Interwebs. Suddenly, the title of author could be spread across Indie Publishers and the Kindle Network. Anyone with an idea could publish. But that doesn’t mean that everyone needed to be published. There are some comics that didn’t need to be seen. Some narratives that didn’t need to be told. Some people that just didn’t need a voice and while true, if you don’t like something, don’t patron something: by pure fickle nature of the Internet there is always someone that’s into that thus funding projects that did not and do not ever need to exist. Not every writer is good. Not every singer is great and while taste isn’t objective: plenty of people that are popular and famous now do not always deserve that fame. With the ability to crowd-source a living, anyone can drop off the face of the Earth to be a writer of erotic unicorn fiction and someone will buy that.
I take titles very seriously. I take being a writer seriously and I’ve struggled watching titles like artist, writer and singer taken as a part of the vernacular. I claim to be a writer because I studied the English language and have been published more than once. I don’t say that as a show of elitism, it’s a show of skill. And while not every writer has been on a similar path and many far more talented people can claim being authors with much more success than I with far fewer “credentials” a publisher of tasteless memes, Harry Potter fanfiction or crazed theories is not a writer on the level of a Poe (though to the writers of Harry Potter fanfiction, many of you do great work and I count myself lucky to be among your ranks).
I think this is why I love project-based support so much. I love Kickstarter and Indiegogo to support creators making games, books and other creations. I feel better submitting money to a project, not just a lifestyle and I’m a proud backer of many Indie endeavors. I like them because there’s a promise of a product. If a campaign fails, I get my money back. It it succeeds, I get a brand new shiny thing and help support a creator of a thing I am passionate about.
Next time, we talk about the ethics of sponsorship and why it’s difficult to live in a world where everything, everything is up for sale.