On NPC Gaze

I started my video game journey in earnest with Pokemon back when I was a wee demon living in suburbia. Pokemon is well-known for its clueless NPCs and how invasive you can be in their lives. Now, let’s back up: an NPC is a non-playable character in a video game. Typically they hang out in the background and only provide things to move the plot along or are just random extras. Sometimes they’re given really fun lines but for the most part they are meant to let you continue on in your own quest for fame and in-game self-importance. 

Animal Crossing: New Horizons has changed that for me in a way that I currently find unsettling and interesting. Animal Crossing is a game in which you (player and character) live on a land or island with villagers that are your neighbors and you help them out with mundane tasks and interact with them on a daily basis creating strange parasocial relationships with fictional characters. As stated, I started my journey with RPGs with Pokémon and for the most part the NPCs in any given region are pretty linear with their motivations and movements. Sure, they can walk around and move around but they rarely seem to exist outside of you. The houses don’t feel lived in, the parks don’t feel full, they are ghosts that fill a landscape for you: the hero of a Nietzschean wet dream. You walk into a house and rummage around the trash for goods and talk to someone, sometimes but for the most part, the unmoving digital eyes care little for your activities or actions. It’s perfectly normal within Pokémon to walk into someone’s home, steal their shit and leave. 

Animal Crossing is not Pokemon and I didn’t think that fact would unnerve me until I tried to leave Rocco’s house without saying anything. I had entered in the hopes of giving him a gift to build clout, I mean because he deserved it for doing nothing, and when I found him working away at his workstation, I left without acknowledging him. I was shocked to see how he reacted to that. Of course he would react and not kindly but with confusion. I entered his home and said nothing; that’s deranged and rude. But Rocco was confused and that gave me pause for the first time in my decades of playing video games. NPCs are watching me. I never worried about that until recently. I never cared about how I dressed in-game or how I behaved but now playing Animal Crossing I feel like I have eyes on me all the time. Characters’ eyes follow me when I run around; when I enter their homes and greet them they are often interrupted from a previous task. When I don’t see them, they are disappointed and when I talk to them too much, they comment on that. 

They have lives outside of me: something I rarely have had to think about for an NPC. I am part of their world, not a part of mine like most traditional narrative structure in games.My villagers are neighbors, on par and equal to me. While I am the main character, I am in many ways in service to them. I have to weed and water and pick up rocks and fill the museum and catch bugs and fish and keep the entire economy running by selling to a gaggle of capitalist tanuki. 

It created along with it a strange short of shame to me that I rarely feel in video games: most games allow players to be shameless with their dress and actions. You are the ubermensch of this world and it bends to your will. So what if I break into someone’s house in Legend of Zelda. But in Animal Crossing the characters have a life outside of you. They leave their homes, they sleep, they fish, they do things where you don’t matter; where I don’t matter. I am as much an NPC to them as they are to me. They are people creatures who truthfully would probably be fine without me sans “missing” my character and things getting full of weed because someone has to do the damn work around here. 

I’m a vain person, which is hilarious considering how low my self-esteem is. I’m image conscious even in games. I had this concern while playing Animal Crossing when Clyde, a horse I do not like, showed up on my island. I was told by friends that hitting him with my net and generally being a damn menace would encourage the horse to leave. I was fine with that, I’m used to being a sociopath in games and decided that I wanted to appropriate his land for my Japanese-themed garden on the island and proceeded to hunt the horse down mercilessly and hit him with my net repeatedly. I was then shocked to see the horse show visible frustration and sadness and when I spoke to him he said that his feelings were hurt and it was my fault

My fault?

This is a video game. This horse isn’t real. But I broke down over that. I hurt the horse’s feelings and hurt him. And while of course that makes sense because don’t hit random people with nets, for god’s sake, I was shocked that my actions had consequences. In video games, I am a lawless sociopath doing as I wish but here I did something that caused a reaction and one that was not positive. I was emotionally crushed in that moment (thanks, trauma) and I have left the horse alone for now to continue to mar my land with his existence but too afraid now to harm him. 

An NPC’s gaze can be powerful, more so than I ever assumed before. Now, I am paranoid, anxious and scared with so many virtual eyes on me. It has affected how I dress, act and move in-game and now has me wondering if I’ll ever view NPCs the way I used to again. 

Understanding Male Gaze

It was male gaze that made me realize that I was not entirely straight and not entirely female. My attention given to women and female-presenting people was always more hungry and carnal than the way more sapphic cis women did. I always appreciated the female body in a way that felt more masculine, more male, more physical and that was when I started to understand male gaze. I didn’t want to write poetry about women, I wanted to be with women. That was how I started to understand male gaze. 

Male gaze is something that not many enjoy talking about and the ones that do like to talk about it tend to only approach it from the stance of “it’s bad”. Well, sure it is, but it’s complicated. Male gaze like most things is neutral but has a negative connotation. It is, in short, the way cameras and media tend to leer, frame and discuss the female body; often sexualizing things that are not inherently sexual or lingering on a frame or part of the body. Male gaze is best seen on film either from cameras or motion pictures and there are notable examples like Michael Bay and his determination to shoot women like cars (his background was in music videos and ads) or the way swimsuit magazines even exist. 

Female gaze would be the feminist and female counterpart and not to say women don’t sexualize the female form or the male form, for that matter. But female gaze tends to be more nuanced, far more subtle and less focused on sexualizing the mundane. Female gaze is interesting and could really be its own topic but I was pretty sure I understood what male gaze was; I could throw it around like the very best of postmodern media critics. I thought I understood male gaze because I have seen a Michael Bay Transformers movie. But no, I was wrong. It was a music video that really helped me understand male gaze. 

Call on Me is a song I’ve heard plenty of times but have never seen the music video that accompanied the song. Not that I’m from the generation that aged out of music videos, this one just somehow managed to slide under my radar for many years. What immediately struck me to the point of nearly delirious laughter was just how horny this video was. And by horny I mostly just mean the choices made. Every shot is an extreme closeup or perfectly framed around a female human form. It’s also a male power fantasy in that of course there’s only one man in this incredibly sensual dancercise class. Each shot is just…good, lord. I think the first time I watched I was just sorta stunned. I’ve seen the video a few times now and each time over, I’m still struck by how many choices were made that made what should just be an aerobic dance class into a voyeuristic orgy.

It’s a choice and if I was the director, not a choice I think I’d make. But it is indeed a choice. 

And that’s the perfect encapsulation of male gaze. It’s easy to see why these decisions are made by directors: I’m still thinking about and talking about this music video in the way that we love to jeer and mock Transformers and still give Michael Bay money for some reason. It was a choice to film women the way the director did, a choice to time each hip thrust, each close up on breasts and each legging-clad woman’s ass. It was a choice to make something like exercise, something that human beings just do, incredibly sexy for no reason at all. There was no point making the video the way they did outside of a very tantalizing reason; one more tempting than the promise of sex despite being an inadequate man who doesn’t deserve the women who give him attention: money. 

The female body still sells, sex still sells and even in a world that is trying its damndest to embrace a more gender neutral world and one that focuses more on women as equals; a woman’s body still brings in capital. Now, I do know this video is a few years old but the sentiment and feelings behind it haven’t changed much. The same ideas that went into making this video are the same ones that allow modern movies and music videos to be made and be profitable. And sadly, it works. When we still view women as a commodity and sex as a product, it works and I’m giving more attention to a music video that realistically could and should just fade into the background hum of the universe. 

This month, we’re going to be talking more about gaze and while we won’t be discussing male gaze next time, I don’t want you all to forget the power and potency of male gaze. None of us are immune as even though we like to think we are beyond that in film and advertising, we are far from so evolved to not be swayed by the siren’s call of male gaze. The way cameras linger and leer on the female body and encourage you to follow its stare and the way women are put into clothes that can barely be described as; the fetishization of school girls, youth and why it’s gross to have your hair in a ponytail: all of that is an aspect of male gaze and it leeches in pervasive ways into day to day life. 

I hope that you came away from this little discussion with a better understanding of male gaze; it’s a word I see thrown around a lot and like many of the Tumblr criticism terms is not one that is often defined correctly. Like people can get about half way there to a compelling argument about male gaze and then they take a wrong turn at toxic masculinity and the whole thing goes to hell. 

Stay learned, dear reader. 

Embracing My Gender Fluidity with Animal Crossing

I realized that I wasn’t exactly my gender when I was in high school, around 16 or so. Then and even now, I was fine with my biological sex as female but the presentation of said biological sex and the presentation of the associating gender as woman was something I waffled on. I was mostly fine with presenting as female, using female pronouns and living my life as a female; but during those formative high school years there was a quiet storm starting to rumble, one that was not decidedly female or feminine. For the longest time, I thought I was transgender but I didn’t experience any dsyphoria. I didn’t feel wrong in my body; just not entirely a female. There was a male part of me that the longer I tried to deny, the more stark and apparent he became. 

I found out what I was about a year or so into my journey: genderfluid. Gender fluidity is under the umbrella of being non-binary, rejecting a strict binary of gender slotting people rigidly into male or female. There is a distinct difference in every part of me while presenting as female and presenting as male and both sides are different but united under one roof being my human meat shell. But I still present as female almost every day of my life. I don’t have an issue with being seen as and perceived as a woman and those close to me know about the male side of me that I don’t hide when in more intimate spaces. 

Recently I started playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons; yes, I know I’m late to the party, I’ve been playing Pokemon Sword for hours in a fugue depressive state. When I finally started the island slice-of-life game, I immediately tried to win over my villagers through gifts (as you do); mostly trying very hard to fit gifts to their personalities. But I quickly started simply regifting gifts I had received or items that I didn’t want to keep but also didn’t feel like selling back to the capitalistic tanukis. I would give male characters dresses, tank tops, skirts and female characters all sorts of sports memorabilia and it was all okay. Rocco accepted lacy tanks, Sheldon was fine with dresses, Clay was okay with getting cute pink items and is perfect in every way. 

I spent a great amount of time trying to get my house looking just right and for a while I was greatly troubled with how girly my home on my fictional island looked. Lots of floral wallpapers and pink and a galaxy floor for some reason. I worried that it wasn’t gender neutral enough or masculine enough but then I remembered something about my own gender: it’s fluid. I am both at the time, I am one or the other, a mix of the two, perfectly unbalanced and wonderful for it. 

I am a lot of things that are in contradiction: a goth, a pastel girly girl; a charming prince and a doting princess. That binary, that duality has always been part of me and I’ve always found it beautiful. I’m no less a goth because I like pink and no less a masculine because of it in the same way Rocco is no less male-coded if he’s in a frilly dress. That’s the funny thing about gender; it’s all a social construct. Pink was a masculine color until society just one day decided it wasn’t. Dresses were for men until society just one day decided it wasn’t. Clothes aren’t inherently gendered; nothing really is. Humans decided what is gendered and the arbitrariness of it has impacted the lives of trans and non-binary people for far too long. Capitalism made gendered products and thus created this artificial concept that products can be for some or for others.

Animal Crossing has been a game that lets me be unabashedly girly while not feeling like I’m sacrificing any of my masculinity and reminding me that, in fact, such a notion is a fool’s errand. Liking pink and flowers and nice clothes and rooms to coordinate with a sense of flow and purpose is not inherently gendered. Liking men’s clothing and dresses at the same time shouldn’t be so revolutionary. And the fact that Animal Crossing is so gender queer is just wonderful, even down to the character design. Looking at my little avatar running around depending on the haircut; very few gendered clues are provided as all character models are flat-chested and without difference in hip shape. It means that building what we know as male and female is entirely down to filigree; decoration that is added to a human body but with a simple swap can mean radical difference. 

For a while, I had attempted to strive for something that would look like gender neutrality: favoring lots of black and white, signing off letters and emails with a simple non-gendered “A” and thinking that despite the ample bust and wide hips that if I just tried hard enough I could pass for male and thus provide my gender fluidity. But even then all I was doing was trying to perform at gender. I was trying so hard to make people see something that truthfully, I didn’t need them to see. What matters is and forever will be, how I feel. Gender is a tricky thing; all at once very real and also very tenuous and fleeting and even though I am lucky enough not to feel much dysphoria ( I do sometimes when being labeled as female is used inherently as a means of condescension or with certain hormonal imbalances caused by the curse of being a biological woman); I have to give some thanks to a video game about capitalism, colonialism and terraforming for helping teach me a valuable lesson about my gender identity. 

Happy Pride, everyone. Be open, be kind, be empathetic and most importantly; when applicable, be yourself. And never forget that gender is entirely a social construct. 

The Strange Calm of Car Crash Compilation Videos

I have been watching a lot of very easily bingeable media and one thing I really like are compilation videos: they can be hours long and I don’t have to skip around and they provide consistent noise; something I need while working either at my day job or the myriad of other projects I’m a part of. What I didn’t expect was that I’d find a very strange sort of serenity in watching the world at its most chaotic: during car crashes.

There are countless hours of dashcam footage from cars all over the world. Some of it records aliens, meteors, space launches, ghosts and most importantly: car crashes. Car crashes scare the hell out of me; like most people, realistically. I’ve been in a few accidents but very few actual crashes, to which I know I am quite fortunate but my anxiety around cars has stemmed from a pretty nasty accident I got into when I was just starting to drive. I’ve never felt entirely safe or secure in the car, especially if I’m driving; it’s still one of my least favorite things to do. I much rather be a passenger and let someone else do the driving. I never found it freeing, relaxing or anything; it’s always been a chore to take up with a sacred solidarity because as someone operating a car, you are in fact in control of a two-ton death cage careening at high speed. When I was in driver’s education, the deadly aspect of driving was really hammered home and that’s a fear I’ve taken with me some 15 years later. And to be perfectly honest, dash cam culture is a fascinating look into people who trust no one (valid) and record everything; sparking some interesting conversations about surveillance culture, consent to be filmed and just what is one to do with literal hours of footage.

But in my hunt for content that I rarely need to engage with as a means to minimize distractions in a world full of them, I’ve found dashcam footage from car crashes, brake checks, road ragers and more and; well, let’s talk about it. 

Car crashes are horrifying but much like train crashes; it’s hard to look away. A mangle of metal, a tangle of tires, a barrage of bumpers. It’s all a horrid and profane symphony and honestly, some of them are just beautiful. The force required to turn a car into a crushed soda can is immense but also can be so random. I’ve watched hours of crash content and the things that have caused accidents are vast and capricious: just like the things that can endanger real human life as well. 

I noticed something odd, though, when I would watch these crashes often during hours-long segments as some means of horrible crunching white noise: I would relax. My body would ease, sag into the sofa, I would become at ease and let out a held breath. I could finally be rid of the tension held in my shoulders and just let a small wave of endorphins and calm crash over me. I could finally relax and it immediately caused a dissonant type of concern for my brain chemistry and my sanity once I came back to my senses. When I realized that such a thought process was not only not normal but also a little worrying, I started to examine just what about literal disasters was so damn soothing to my anxious brain. And that was the key; there it was: my anxious brain. 

Anxiety is a perversion of the brain’s typical defense system and desire to shield our flesh prisons from danger. The world is a scary place and if you think of our ancient ancestors, the upright apes, they were surrounded by threats to their lives from literal giant eagles to sabertooth cats and direwolves. Being anxious and weary of the world around them was a vital aspect to survival; it was the unwise that ran ahead into the option field that got yoinked out of existence by a giant bird. Anxiety is a fear of the unknown in every facet of the word and a sense of dread about a threat that one cannot see or feel yet. It’s being on edge about the car that could hit you or the person that could kidnap you. It’s the call that might be about the death of yet another family member or the fear that one mistake at work will end your entire career and leave you homeless and destitute. That’s what it’s like living with anxiety; it’s all build up with no climax, it’s constantly living on a razor’s edge waiting to finally fall and never actually falling. 

I’ve been honest about my struggle with depression and generalized anxiety and I realize now, I’ve had this condition for most of my life. There’s something about facing loss and grief so early in your years and experiencing trauma that leaves the mind on edge and hypervigilant. My mind is always assuming that if only and if I had just would be enough and could have in fact changed the directory of my existence despite the futility of such thinking.  

That’s why car crash videos felt so good to my brain that is already constantly braced for impact and prepared for the collision of metal and flesh. My brain finally registers that the crash has happened and I can finally let go of my breath and relax. Once I’m free from the fear of the crash coming I can then move on and process the rest of the trauma. In this instance, with just videos, I can come back down and recognize the damage done and gawk or gasp accordingly. 

I did talk to my therapist about this and he mentioned wanting to see the dopamine release that clearly I’m getting from this via MRI and I agree with him. I’d also love to see the obvious chemical reaction I’m getting from watching literal car crashes. I’m sure it’s likely a little scary to admit but so is living with general anxiety. 

I Don’t Understand “This is America”: Maybe That’s the Point

I somehow managed to miss the cultural whirlwind that came with Childish Gambino releasing the music video to his song This is America in 2018. I knew about it, I knew people talked about it but I had mostly skipped over the song because to be Childish Gambino just means Donald Glover and Donald Glover means Marshall Lee the Vampire King and that one guy in Community; a show that I had never watched but knew about thanks to my inner circle. It wasn’t that the song was offensive or worrisome to me with the limited context I had for it; it just didn’t float into my usual musical sphere of French house DJs and sad music by hot Japanese men. 

When I finally did the video due to Youtube Music’s aggressive autoplay feature, I was at first watching mostly just sort of overwhelmed; nearly to the point of disliking the video. The initial act of shocking violence via a gunshot delivered to the back of a man’s head took my breath away in a way that very few pieces of media can. Thanks to a childhood and teenage years spent desensitizing myself to sex and violence; I was shocked to feel so viscerally unsettled within seconds of the video starting. 

Now, I want to cover a few things immediately. I do “understand” the message behind the song and video. The video perfectly explores the shock and fear that comes with being black in America; a version of violence that lurks around every corner. The uncertainty that comes with large gatherings and public spaces, the rightful and generational fear of the police, the loss of life and the capricious nature of existence and the utter lack of value to a black man’s death in comparison to a white man’s. I understand racism, violence, trauma and fear. 

I suppose overwhelmed is still the best word that comes to mind. I spent so much time trying to understand the video and the many influences it draws from. Glover’s moments are so exaggerated and othered that he almost feels like a Sambo stock character, the pants he wears to evoke the uniform of sharecroppers and those who worked the fields, the different guns used and the specific act of violence against a church choir. There’s an unsettling nature to the tonal dissonance that comes from following up a shooting with a dance and there’s always something uncanny and strange about that slapped on grin Glover has that can and does quickly turn steely and frightening. 

When I say I don’t understand This is America, it’s mostly rooted in that despite playing it multiple times, knowing the lyrics (and having done most of this before deciding to blog about it) and seeing the music video multiple times; I don’t know if I like the song yet. It isn’t that I don’t get the references or don’t get the fear or the message, I just don’t know how the song makes me feel yet. I’ve struggled with my place and my blackness for years and while I absolutely feel the heavy burden of generational trauma and the weight of systemic oppression, I’ve always been very open and up front about my privilege. I don’t know what it’s like to live in a neighborhood that’s constantly shot up and full of police. I don’t know what it’s like (until recently) to know what it’s like to have a neighbor raising chickens and clothes hanging outside on makeshift lines and boards on some of the windows. And while I feel the dread and fear of every single shooting that happens to an unarmed black person; because of the luxuries afforded to me, that violence is a distant boogeyman rather than an oppressive force literally and figuratively standing on my neck. 

I’m almost glad I waited to find this music video. As violence against unarmed African-Americans only grows, distrust and misinformation spread and you can’t believe what anyone says and can only rely on what you see in front of you and the lenses we all have thanks to our life experience. 

I find that I like the song most when it feels almost like the information given by a loving black grandmother. Lines like “Get your money, black man” feel like something my aunts would tell me and honestly, have told me during the days I was willing to give out my talent for free rather than know and feel my worth and ask for payment for the things I was doing to enrich the lives of others. When the tune is cheery but still with that edge of having to be careful and sly to stay safe are when I like this song most. I appreciate the choice not to have the group of children dancing with Donald Glover not be shot because the entire time the video ran I was waiting for him to turn one of the many weapons on them and my heart just wasn’t ready for that. I grew up in the shadow of Columbine and I have seen too many children die that way after being told time after time, bloodshed after bloodshed, that this would never happen again only for it to happen again. The tonal changes feel just like real life code-switching that many African-Americans have to do just to survive in this world; switching easily from how we talk “proper” to fit into the patriarchal rigors of white hegemonic society and the more informal but yet deeper way we speak to each other about our pain, our fatigue, our generational trauma and hopes that one day things will indeed be better. 

I’m rarely left wondering like this anymore. As a seasoned media critic, there are few things that have me continuing mining for meaning and more importantly, continuing to search myself and form a damn opinion. Despite how many times this song comes up in my queue, I am never sure whether to skip it or play through: again, I am not sure I even like this song. I respect it, for sure, but that sense of dread and discomfort is still present. I don’t “get” this song but I also don’t “get” racism, sexism, the patriarchy and misogyny. I don’t get how someone could kill someone else just because they look different or want to suppress an entire group. I don’t get these things and maybe that’s the point. Maybe the point is to continue to examine these senseless things and figure out why they are so ingrained in society despite being so damn needless. 

The Incomplete Nostalgia of Youtube Rewind

I follow a lot of Youtubers; have for years. It can be a shock to some that I am quite well-versed in pop culture and celebrity news. Being a social media manager means keeping up with what’s going on in the world and that means being able to speak on and know a lot about what’s happening in the world at all times from memes to who is dating who. The Youtubers part may be less of a shock. From Jenna Marbles (please, come back to us); I’ve followed the journeys of many of these online celebrities and enjoyed their content and their personalities. John Green helped me come to terms with having OCD, Crash Course taught me new things, Mike Rugnetta helped me see the world in different ways, Hannah Hart taught me to check my cheese for poison. 

That’s to say, when Youtube Rewinds are released at the end of the year as a bit of a jaunt through the year’s events I look forward to them. I love seeing all the trends, the dancing, the mix of pop music and all the celebrities I’ve spent so much time with and I get a kick out of recognizing names and faces. 

I started really taking notice of the Youtube Rewinds in 2016 when we had one of the best rewinds ever made since they began nearly two decades ago. It was the perfect blend of the memes, humor and tone of 2016 as we mostly ignored the election and thought on all the neat things that happened before the election and our lives and country would be changed forever. In 2016 while canceling and #MeToo was a thing, most were firmly in the camp of either denial when celebrities you cared about or to just chalk it up to a messy he said/she said. Which is why people like PewdiePie who is a literal racist being in the video isn’t so strange: he was still the biggest name on the platform and even though we had heard him be awful and racist before 2016, we accepted me; I accepted it. 

Since then, there’s only been two more rewinds including 2017 which has a montage of all the bad things that happened that year but the world coming together (and it does make me cry) and 2018 which is where things had fallen off the rails.We now knew and could not ignore the problematic elements in the Youtube community from racist stars to ignoring and suppressing LGBT voices and yet the 2018 Rewind displayed not only queer creators and many of the problematic creators that we by the time the rewind aired knew were problematic. It was almost like the rewind was meant to have us ignore all of this for a candy-colored view of the world. 2018 also had its fair share of issues mostly relating to a racist president that was bent on ruining the world but Youtube Rewind was determined to be upbeat to the point of being tone deaf. There’s something to be said about trying to choose positivity in the light of what was an objectively bad year but seeing a bunch of millionaire celebrities wax philosophic about equality and things being better and that Logan Paul wasn’t a terrible person. Even in 2017 it was starting to feel a little tired when we had people who were objectively better off than the millions watching the Youtube Rewind were continuing to insist that we just keep our heads up and dance because things are okay even when they aren’t. 

But now as I find myself sequestered inside, I found the older Rewinds so comforting or at least I want to. The 2015 Rewind that focuses on back then what was a decade of Youtube and meme culture nearly brought tears to my eyes as I saw viral videos and memes that were so much part of my teenage zeitgeist that they have imprinted on my heart. The 2016 Rewind may still be one of my favorites even if it does start to feel incomplete in comparison to what else was happening that year: 2016 was not just Pokemon Go and Justin Bieber music but it is nice to think of it that way. Even more so, it’s strange going back and looking at a year like 2015 or even 2013 which feels like it was approximately 1000 years ago. It’s almost strange now to see the tone of the world be so positive or different in comparison to how I feel now in 2021; a strange mix of desperate optimism atop of intense ennui, malaise and fatigue. At the same time, some of the earlier rewinds are nearly impossible to watch as they feature memes or songs that have been played to death or have been banished from the current social and digital lexicon. No one does the Harlem Shake anymore and if one more damn person asks “What does the Fox say?” I will fling myself into traffic. But to go back and think about a time where the world cared slime

Nostalgia is a strange thing: it does in fact distort the past into a comfortable and often linear narrative. It’s much easier to think of the past as a series of one-off events rather than think of the building tension and hostility that had been brewing under the surface or the terrible acts that happened during those years while others got the luxury to just play games and listen to popular music and revel in meme culture. It’s easier to ignore the complexities of men and the horrible things they do while the camera is running or when the camera isn’t running. It’s much easier to ignore the systemic issues that have plagued creators of color both online and in the real world to make them cheapened tokens of diversity amongst a sea of white creators. It’s much easier not to think about the racist demagogue whose reign of terror during those years would change the lives of millions while simply indulging in the hedonistic ambrosia of slick remixes and references to a thing you may or may not have liked. But for a piece of corporate-driven capitalistic nostalgia, it has been a strange sort of balm in these trying times to cast my mind back to a time that at least on the surface felt simpler. 

The Things I Want to do When This is All Over

As of the start of this post being written, I am coming off of receiving round one of my COVID-19 vaccine. I have one more month before I should be protected from the virus that has put my life and the lives of so many on pause. There is a light at the end of the tunnel as more and more start to receive the vaccine and we’re all looking towards what may be the end of this experience. With the end in mind, I want to talk about the things I want to do after this is all…well, I suppose, over. It may never truly be over. The world is changed, forever, in fact; but relatively soon, we may be able to return to something that has the look and feel of normalcy. 

Sitting at Restaurants 

I go out to eat a lot. I like cafe culture and being able to run out and eat, often by myself, and just enjoy a meal with a book or my phone. I have sat in only a few restaurants since this whole thing began and each time it felt like such a weird treat: a choice between the ethics of caring about people and remembering that as a citizen that I have a “responsibility” to keep these places open with my dollar. I look forward to sitting in a restaurant and feeling like I am at very least doing my best to protect myself and those around while enjoying a nice meal. 

Going to the Museum

God, I miss art. I miss waking up early on Sundays to be able to see the SAMA’s general collection for free. I miss being able to just bask in art or see unique exhibits with friends. I didn’t think I’d miss art so much but apparently, I do. 

Going to Con

Last year was supposed to be my ten year anniversary of con-going and I was going to go hard. Remember, increasingly going to con is less about the convention itself but more about paneling and going to places I miss back home or seeing new places and trying new things. It’s about friendship and long nights spent watching TV and swimming in the hotel pool and stressing over last minute costumes. Convention is a key part of my life and one I miss dearly. I went to one convention in 2020 and if I had known that it would be the only one I’d be able to visit, I would have tried to enjoy myself more. But at least late 2021 and into 2022 looks like it has more promise. 

Going to the Mall

Fun fact: I love the mall. I love mall culture. I love shopping. I love being able to grab an Auntie Anne’s pretzel, go to the Forever 21 and spend more money than I should while idly listening in on conversations that people think are private despite them yelling their words while drinking a Starbucks Iced White Chocolate Mocha. I just like being alone in crowds and I love shopping. I didn’t think I’d miss the mall as much as I do but this is just where we are.

Going to the Movies

I love the theater experience. I love the food, the popcorn, the overpriced Icees and sodas, I love all parts of sitting in those dark rooms and being forced to enjoy what is on the screen. I did sneak away to one movie during the pandemic but I wasn’t going to miss the chance to see Lupin III on the big screen. But with so many movies being pushed back, movies I would want to see in theaters rather than in the confines of my home, I can’t help but miss the planning and fun of actually getting up and going to the movies.

Going to the Farmer’s Market

Oh to go to the Farmer’s Market. To get bread and jam and butter. To enjoy a drink. To sample the finest of local fare outside on a gorgeous day. The Pearl Farmer’s Market is a place I often like to haunt when I can and I love to indulge in some of the best food in the city when it’s open. Now, being outside does lower transmission of the virus, especially if everyone is wearing a mask; I just don’t feel safe going to crowded spaces like so even with proper protections in place. 

Going Out With Friends

Despite my status as an introvert, I love my friends. I love going to drinks at local bars, checking out restaurants both new and old; I love deep conversations that linger until the cafe is nearly ready to close. I haven’t seen some of my friends in over a year physically and others I’ve seen once or twice when normally we’d see each other several times during the year. Now, I’ve been lucky to have friends that regularly call or video chat or keep in touch through instant messages and texts but sometimes there’s nothing that beats having company over or going out with someone else. 


There are many things I plan to do when it’s safe enough to do them. Reclaim my birthday, wander around the mall with reckless abandon, go to the Hill Country and do five wine tasting. I’m excited about going to the park with less worry and just being out of the house in moderation as the vaccine isn’t a get out of pandemic free card. But the amount of stress and worry this has taken off of me is tremendous. I realize the amount of privilege I have by even being able to be vaccinated and to have an inner circle that’s very quickly working towards vaccination so that I can reclaim some aspects of my normalcy. The world has been forever changed after this pandemic; I have been forever changed after this pandemic, but in the places where I get to reclaim parts of who and what I was before all this happened: I will do so eagerly and with vigor. 

Rethinking Black Panther

I remember going to the theater to see Black Panther with a friend; both of us being African-American. There were people dressed in traditional African clothing and it was something truly beautiful. People were proud of being African or of African descent for the first time in a while. I was never so much a contrarian to think the movie was bad but there were parts that I found deeply problematic and unsettling. But with the pandemic, too much time to kill and my friend’s generous access to her family’s Disney+ account, I’ve rewatched Black Panther several times recently. This rewatch has been affected by a few things that have changed in the world and in my world since the movie’s original release in 2018; namely the death of lead actor Chadwick Boseman and the continued pressures of racism and racial violence in the U.S. So we’re gonna talk about it. 

Let’s start with a major gripe I had about the movie at first which was pan-Africanism and cultural appropriation. At first I was very bothered by the picking and choosing of various African motifs and clothes for Wakanda. You see various African cultures represented during the first trial scene and at first watch, that bothered me. Many of those cultures and traditions had nothing to do with each other but to show them off as all related and to a fictional land in Africa just bothered me as lazy costume design and story-telling. Not to say that the outfits weren’t executed with care: everyone looked great but it just sat wrong with me. On the third or so watch or so, I cared much less and was mostly just glad to see nice costumes. Now as far as the cultural appropriation goes; I still have an issue with it and it’s one that may shock some readers and is an instance hiding in plain sight. Hanuman is a real Hindu deity and while I do love M’Baku, his is using a god that is still worshiped by millions. Now, I don’t feel that strongly about the movie’s appropriation of Baast mostly because while she is worshiped by some pagans; the religion of the ancient Egyptians is not one still commonly practiced. The cultural appropriation still sits a little raw with me but I’m less willing to openly show displeasure about it: maybe I’m getting old. 

Next up has to do with one of the biggest changes in opinion I’ve had on the film and that has to do with Chadwick Boseman. Now, the first time I saw the movie and the other MCU films that had Black Panther in it; I was always a little put off by Boseman’s almost sleepy performance. To quote a conversation I had with a friend: “It looks like he’s delivering every line with his dick being cut off.” I was really concerned about the utter lack of charisma the King of Wakanda had and that stayed with me until late last year when the news hit. Chadwick Boseman passed away after a lengthy and secret battle with cancer; meaning that all the roles he did for the MCU, he was in treatment for and dealing with a serious medical condition. It put things in perspective for many who had looked at Boseman as someone who just never seemed to match the energy of the other big personalities in the room when playing T’Challa. Even if your canon version of the King of Wakanda was one of the more regal and stoic types, Boseman to many (myself included) just seemed particularly low-energy without the context of a man who was battling disease and mostly suffering in silence. When the news of his death reached the masses, I felt like an immediate jerk: I was determined to take back every mean thing I had ever said because death tends to make saints of men but upon watching Black Panther a few more times I’ve come to a more balanced conclusion. Yes, the performance is subdued in comparison but really, everyone is except for Shuri who…we’ll get to. It’s a mostly laid back movie despite the stakes and message of the film. In his own movie, Boseman’s more flat affectation as T’Challa makes sense and though it does still stand out in other movies where he may not match the charisma of RDJ or Chris Evans: it’s still a good performance. 

The battle in the climax of the film does nothing for me as it is still just CGI blobs fighting in dark CGI nothing-scape. Angela Bassett is literally wearing baskets on her head. Everyone’s accents are inconsistent and weird. Andy Serkis is…I suppose, happy to be a human being on camera? The movie has flaws still but upon many rewatches, I find it more and more enjoyable. We’re not done yet; we’re finally going to tackle who may replace Killmonger as “Character I Wish Would Fall into a Pit” the most: Shuri. 

At first, Shuri was a funny character to me. I liked how funny and charming she was and she acted as a good foil to T’Challa’s more traditional and subdued personality. I was okay with her and her memes and the nonsense technology Wakanda has with its let’s say loose use of vibranium but after watching the movie a few times again; Shuri began to wear on me the most. She just knows too much in the way that many characters that are not written that well are. She has an answer to everything, a solution to everything; she’s very much written like a Mary Sue insert character. Now, I get that canonically she’s meant to be very smart and there’s a way to show that. Shuri is no Tony Stark, there’s just something about her that makes her quickness to correct people irksome (it’s probably internalized misogyny). 

Now onto the character I had the most issue with on my first watch and still have issues with now: Killmonger. Killmonger is touted as one of the most complex, most right and best villains in the MCU and while yes, his motivations are, I suppose, better than Klaue’s or Ultron’s; I don’t think he’s all that right. Being black, I’ve seen his rhetoric. I’ve seen the class of ideals between peace and violence. Being the PR savvy person I am, I’ve always chosen peace. In my opinion, oftentimes, violence makes an entire group look bad and has rarely been a good way to get a point across. Exceptions exist for sure but on a whole I’ve never supported revolution that way. And Killmonger’s idea to just arm random black folk and hope that it will be a big enough show of force just turned my stomach. However, after seeing the horrific backslide we’ve made in the last few years when it comes to police brutality, racism, acts of violence and domestic terrorism: maybe he has a point. Maybe being nice isn’t getting us far. I still won’t ever advocate for violence on the scale he planned but after seeing so many unarmed black men die at the hands of the police who are meant to protect us: yeah, fuck up that Target. 

I’ve had plenty of time to think about the media I ingest and why I ingest it. I can’t and won’t deny the impact Black Panther had on society and for black people. It was empowering to see an Africa not in strife and to see black excellence. It was empowering to see people use the Wakandan salute in real life to greet each other as a show of respect. I personally wouldn’t mind calling more white people “colonizer” when they speak out of turn or barking at them like M’Baku does. If this movie gave black kids someone to look up to, aspire to be, admire; then I’m not here to harsh anyone’s yums. I’ve had time to let my opinions mellow and change as the times have changed and because of that I’m still happy to say: Wakanda Forever. 

On My 600 lb Life

I’ve had too much time on my hands. I’ve been coughing and lounging for days. I’ve been recovering and in my lax state, I found another reality television show that quickly sucked up too much of my attention and thanks to my heady mix of personal experiences and traumas quickly became a time sink that I have come to deeply regret. My 600-lb Life is a show that capitalizes on the trauma and poor coping skills within all of us and focuses on the morbidly obese of the United States who are ain desperate need of weightloss surgery to stay alive. The show is led by a small little foreign man who goes by Dr. Now and a revolving cast of people who desperately need help getting their weight under control. The show is mostly set in Dr. Now’s Houston clinic but does feature a decent amount of back and forth between the home of the patient in question and the Houston clinic. 

There are a lot of things I wanted to cover as I sank myself further and further into this, let’s be clear, problematic as hell reality show but there was one thing that kept circling around and that was the finances and economics of weight loss and dieting. Maybe next time we can talk about my personal trauma when it comes to morbid obesity or the horrible framing of the show. 

It started with an observation: many of the people on the show are living in poverty; that isn’t a judgement, it’s just a fact. And if the patient of the week is not indeed in abject poverty they are a part of a large family with a single breadwinner and several children/dependants that rely on one paycheck. Listen, eating healthy is expensive and Trader Joe’s aren’t all over the place. Food deserts are places where it’s hard to find healthy or fresh food in a neighborhood; besides if you have 20 dollars to feed a family of four: you’re going to McDonald’s, not Panera. Junk food is just more cost-effective. I remember being raised by vegans back in the early 2000s before it was cool and there is a reason Whole Foods Market is not-so lovingly called Whole Paycheck. In theory, you can shop there on a budget but everything there is indeed more expensive because you are paying for the luxury of organic and small-batch.

I say this because I noticed how often that participants of the show had a hard time buying healthy, not just because their minds and bodies had been conditioned to love junk food but because of the expense. Many work so fast-food is the only option to feed themselves or their families and even though in theory every fast-food establishment should have some options that are in theory healthy but even as a short-term solution; grilled nuggets at Chick-Fil-A does not a meal healthier make. 

There were a few cases that particularly struck me: the ones where medication and money were involved. James K. is a patient who despite being very easy to mock and jeer at because of horrible framing faced quite a few financial issues during his journey to Houston which is a vital part of the show. That’s right, folks, you have to uproot your entire life and move to Houston: a hell swamp with miserable traffic and no memorable skyline. And you don’t even move to Houston immediately, though some do. Many have to make hours long trips across states just to visit a small man who is here to mostly berate you about your lack of weight loss. I’ve been on long trips: they are expensive, time consuming and I can’t imagine having the commitment to anything that isn’t anime to do so for one man who can’t even promise a solution. If the patient does not lose enough weight, they will be denied for surgery and while the show frames that as a lack of will and while my personal inner goblins do, too; we have to see food addiction and trauma as serious issues and realize that there are at times major psychological factors that lead to food addiction and not being able to work out. Another patient, a mother, could literally not afford to feed her family with the frequency of trips she was taking to Houston and she dropped out of the program and continued to lose weight on her own. Dr. Now vilified this action because he has to make money somehow and we the audience are thus told that driving yourself into poverty and letting your children go hungry are worthy sacrifices for weight loss and weight loss surgery. 

My mother was obese and she developed a pretty serious case of agoraphobia because of it. She felt constantly judged by a world too small for her and while I wasn’t always the most caring child or teen about the issue as an adult I can now understand why such things are easily traumatizing and can lead to more complex psychological issues. I never knew what was the root of my mother’s obesity: what the inciting incident was that led her to turn to food rather than therapy but maybe it’s for the best that I don’t know. I think my mother’s own lost journey with food addiction, obesity and diabetes puts a lens on the show: it makes it doubly conflicting to watch: one part reliving the trauma of having a chronically ill parent and one part bitter anger at the lack of good personal choices made by seemingly everyone involved. 

I could go on about this show, and I probably will considering how much real estate it now takes up in my mind. From the awful framing to the considerable pressure and toll that is put on caregivers I may touch on this show again but for now, cost was the most important factor to discuss. And while in theory TLC does offset some of the costs and participants are said to be paid; with many of the numbers not adding up it seems that Dr. Now and the producers are still asking too much and refusing to budge for the sake of patients that find it simply too expensive to try to save their own lives.