Westworld is Fan Culture Going Awry.

No really. Glasses down nose= robot I kid you not

Some of these aren’t even made up.

I’ve been sort of reminded of the Flobots There’s a War Going On For Your Mind as of late, but not because of silly unimportant things such as government propaganda or the corruption of news media, no more important than that: TV show subreddits!

Reddit is the place to be for TV show discussion. The perfect example is the two mammoth subreddits just for Game of Thrones. Both are jammed full of weird fan theories, book and TV news, artwork and of course very, very angry posts about the new book not being out yet. When the shows are on air, the subreddits churn out vast quantities of content: Pre-episode predictions, live episode reactions, post-episode discussions, post-post-episode discussions. They are weapons of mass discussion, tearing apart each moment of every episode and extrapolating each line, promotional image and vague tweet that may hint towards the future giant game-changing spoilers that many commenters are also, paradoxically, desperate to avoid. Game of Thrones isn’t alone, though- you’ll find a subreddit for every show you could imagine. Even Firefly, a show that finished years before reddit was even coded still has an active, lively subreddit that exists in a state constant mourning, populated with people clinging to the false hope that one day the show will return (with Wash alive of course).

Most recent lamb to the slaughter HBO’s Westworld and boy oh boy is it a doozy! The show, for the record, is great and I’d highly recommend giving it a watch. Typical of HBO, it has incredible production quality, an interesting concept, and some compelling storylines to keep you coming back each week. All things that made me love LOST all those years ago, but I know saying that can be a turn-off for as many people as it is an endorsement. Incidentally, the problem with Westworld, or more specifically the fandom emerging around it, has a lot to do with LOST though and the environment and culture that it created (or at least helped fuel). Specifically, I can trace the beginnings of this back to one of the earliest examples of fan obsession run amok: LOST’s fan-run wiki, Lostpedia.

LOST aired from 2004 to 2010, starting during my first year of high school and finishing a few weeks before I left. I followed that show religiously through school and despite its many, many faults it holds a special place in my heart all these jaded years later. I would spend hours trawling through message boards, forums and of course LOSTpedia, reading theories and looking for answers to near stream of questions and mysteries being introduced in every episode. Looking back, I really should have realised that the writers were never going to be able to (or probably ever intended to) flesh out and answer the mountain of questions introduced over the years. Even up until the last few minutes of the very last episode I was still naively clinging to the hope that Jack or someone was just going to suddenly get some Matrix-esque injection of knowledge regarding every unanswered question on LOSTpedia and end the episode explaining where that glass eye came from, or why the Smoke Monster can’t cross lines of ash? Or perhaps most importantly, who was the all-important Waving Figure on the DVD menu screen!? As you may know, that never happened. In the end, Jack had a decent fight with Not-Locke, he died and a dog found him, everyone kind of went to heaven and Hurley became the islands sloppy-seconds ruler in a kind of “oh I guess you’ll do” selection process.  But what LOSTpedia came to represent was a popularisation of online mass discussion, collaboration, and fan theory culture, of meta-analysis and the ‘picking apart’ of modern shows that is now the norm. For every hour-long weekly Game of Thrones episode, I probably read, watch and listen to ten times that in analysis and discussion, podcasts, reviews and discussion threads before the next Monday morning fix. Is this a problem? As much as I disliked at first the Netflix practice of simply “dumping” new series all at once to binge on for a couple days straight, I do find myself judging these shows a little less and enjoying them more without as much pressure and expectation on each individual episode. I very much doubt I would have liked Luke Cage, Jessica Jones or Daredevil nearly as much as I did if they were subjected to the intensive scrutiny, reviewing and nit picking that follow more conventional weekly TV series nowadays. Case in point: The War of the (West)Worlds.

You see, Westworld‘s subreddit is currently in a state of open combat. Dividing lines are being drawn between the radical ‘Timerliners’ and conservative’Linears’. It’s a messy civil war between super fans: brother versus brother, persecution and passive aggressiveness in every corner, screencaps and misquotes abound as two sides fight to decree their side as right and answer the ultimate question of the moment: does Westworld take place in multiple timeframes or not?! 

Whoever wins the Fan Theory War, we all lose.

Whoever wins the great Fan Theory War, we all lose.

Well, of course, the answer is really who cares, it doesn’t matter and we’ll probably find out sooner or later so just enjoy the damn show, but that doesn’t really fly when it comes to online discussion. There are dozens of posts now arguing back and forth about who is right AND which characters or events interact to prove or disprove the various theories. The problem here is that the rabid way the argument is taking over discussion of the show can only lead to toxicity within the community- there is never now going to be a resolution to this plotline that people are going to be satisfied with. Personally, I think we might be seeing parts of Westworld take place in the past and in the present (or… future? Sci-fi and all), but I’m not really holding it to much other than the way certain scenes have been constructed and a general feeling. Now if this turns out to be true (and there’s no guarantee that it will) can you imagine the impassioned fans who have sworn up and down that this cannot be, that have made graphs and videos and charts disproving it, will simply roll over, throw up their hands and admit a mistake? Oh no, it’s going to be the shows fault- be it bad writing, misleading editing, sloppy directing or a host of other complaints to justify the insane idea that they could get something wrong. I’m not just pulling this out of the air- it’s only because we’ve seen this so many times before, be it on Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Arrow, Mr. Robot or countless other shows under the scrutiny of the fanatic magnifying glass. And we’re just going to see it again (hint hint Ricky and Morty season 3)

Theories are fun, Tv show discussion is fun and having a central online hub to share jokes and observations with other fans can be one of the best things about modern TV and the internet in general. But there’s a danger of getting too far down the rabbit hole here. There’s never going to be a way to please everybody, but the churning out of theories, ideas and analysis of TV shows only sets expectations far too high and the potential for disappointment far too likely. And the shows suffer for it too. I’ve long suspected Mr Robot’s lackluster second series and Sherlock’s piss poor third series partly a result of the dangerous influence of ‘fandom’- pandering to a fanbase and veering away from what people loved about a show in the first place. When we have ‘fans’ furious at a writer for not rushing out his magnum opus, or arguing over theories and madcap ideas and getting disappointed when they don’t pan out, or trawling through trailers, production leaks and casting calls for every last dreg of information before becoming somehow disappointed with the final product, you need to take a step back. I think LOST changed the face of TV, but I think it was LOSTpedia and the fandom that changed the face of how we consume TV shows, and I don’t think it was necessarily for the better.

If you’re still in the mood for reading, here a great article along the same lines (and probably put much better): Why trying to guess every plot twist in Westworld before it happens is the worst way to watch TV

And here’s the end to LOST, because it’s incredible. Please go watch LOST.

Tears in my eyes, man. Everytime.

Tales from the H(ebrides)ood

Drawing islands #notebooks #sketchbookproject #drawing

A post shared by Calum (@litzippo) on

Guess what I’m a famous writer now. Forget the bloody art, videos, games, vans, history blogs, podcasts, Let’s plays, notebooks in fact just FORGET IT ALL: I’m now legitimately Stephen bloody King. What’s more amazing is how I’m so humble and modest and also a genius.

Nah, but seriously I’ve written stories in the past, some of which have made it here. I always fancied writing a full-blown book, and I’ve been writing this plan/concept for a horror story set on a fictional Scottish Island. I’ve talked in the past how one of my favourite games in recent years was Dear Esther, and in a similar vein how books such as The Wasp Factory and films like the original Wicker Man have been making me want to write and create the history of a fictional island that I can explore and develop through an actual short story or novel. I’ve been sitting on concepts for a while, and I’ve written histories and locations, diary entries and fake Wikipedia pages all about the place. All that was left was to try and form a  story around it.

And so we come to the Post I made in reddit’s NoSleep community. It’s a subreddit where people post creepy stories and possible “Supernatural” goings on. All stories are (often obviously) works of fiction but the conceit of the subreddit is that all stories must be taken at face value. It makes for a fun role play experience when comments posit theories and ideas and the poster/writer can respond “in character”. I had this idea to post my story in the form of a journal, found on a flash drive, and recounting the bizarre experiences on the island. What amazed me though is the incredible reaction I got towards it- people loved it! Somehow, through my awful spelling and grammar people picked up the thread of the story and it’s been read thousands of times! Last night I posted a part 2 which was similarly well received. Is it the perfect version of the story? Definitely not, my intention has always been to do it as a third/first person story told periodically with diary entries, but as a test to see how people enjoy the concept, it’s been really awesome. I’ve never been very confident in my writing so to see such a  great reaction has been a bit of a shock.

In the future, I hope to turn this into a full-blown novel, but for now you can follow the story at nosleep, or carry on below to find part 1 & 2 together (hopefully with some corrected formatting and spelling).

Enjoy!

Continue reading

14 Common Phrases and their Nautical Origins

In case you guys missed it, I started a new channel! It’s all bout history videos and the like, and this week is 14 common phrases and their nautical origins, all in time for the anniversary of a first in American Naval history! The video is below, as is the full script and lovely links to all the sources! Enjoy!


Continue reading

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned I Could Care Less about Couldn’t Caring Less

I’m a big David Mitchell fan, he’s a great actor, speaker, has an amazing a sense of humor and his writing is bloomin’ brilliant. I also loved his video podcast series David Mitchell’s Soapbox, which started all the way back in the forgotten mists of 2009. Now David has dozens of brilliant episodes of Soapbox, but arguably his most famous episode is one you’ve probably seen trotted out across the internet in one form or another- Dear America…, in which he discusses in classic Mitchell style, among other things, the nonsensical phrase “I could care less”.

Fine, right? Great! Funny. A nice side-line two-minute video to make you laugh. Not as good as some of his other episodes, but a classic nonetheless. Maybe, however, could we stop talking about this possibly incorrect use of a phrase as if it’s some kind of deadly virus that needs to be knocked out before we all succumb to the horrors of using idioms that are factually inaccurate? “What do you mean ‘why am I feeling blue’?! That’s a colour not a feeling, get him! Burn the witch!”

"Ugh okay okay, I get it fewer then not less than!"

“Ugh I get it- fewer than, not less than!”

This is nothing against David Mitchell, who merely pointed out this interesting development of a phrase for comic effect. No, the problem I have is with the hordes of internet and grammar aficionados/know-it-alls that use this video as some irrefutable logic bomb, and insist that this injustice in speech needs to be pointed out at every available opportunity as an example of either the English language going to the dogs (see: Eats, shoots and Leaves), or America being a bunch of dummies who say stuff they don’t understand (see: edgy teenagers). I think this also falls into the larger category of people co-opting someone’s opinion as fact, and that will point to something like Louis CK’s or Chris Rock’s stand-up-routines as a reason or justification that we should all be allowed to use gay slurs or the n-word because “It’s just language! I don’t mean it to be offensive! It’s your fault if you’re offended!”.

So where does “I could care less” actually come from anyway? Well, we don’t know for sure. It’s impossible, really, to pin down the first usage of the phrase and there are various theories. Dictionary.com rightfully points out that the phrase is an idiom, and guess what? Idioms don’t have to make logical sense:

“In English, along with other languages, idioms are not required to follow logic, and to point out the lack of logic in one idiom and not all idioms is…illogical.”

Similarly, the first recorded usage of “I couldn’t care less” only precedes “I could care less” by around 10 years. Although the Dictionary.com article refutes it, the best theory I’ve heard of the phrases etymology is that it originated from Yiddish adoption of the term. Yiddish speakers dropped the negative couldn’t as part of pattern of self-deprecating/sarcastic phrasing that is common in Yiddish heritage and New York Jewish speech. Just as how Yiddish communities popularized the phrase “I should be so lucky!” (which actually tends to mean “I have no hope of being so lucky!”), “I could care less!” sort of follows that sort of delivery and speech pattern when presented that way.
Another phrase that is more generally American is “Tell me about it!” which really means “Don’t tell me about it, because I know all about it already” but follows this sarcastic style.

Hyman_Krustofski_(Official_Image)

Again, There’s no actual documented evidence of this, but I always liked that explanation as it felt like the most believable and understandable to me, (mainly because when you say it in the voice of a plucky sarcastic rabbi from New York, it doesn’t sound nearly as out-of-place).

So maybe let’s just accept I could care less for what it is: an idiom that doesn’t really have to make sense in any way, and just another example of how cool and evolutionary the use of English is without having to point it out as wrong at every available opportunity. Maybe, in fact, we should look at what is probably the best episode of Soapbox, in which David’s friend and co-writer Robert Webb comes on to quite rightfully point out the hypocrisy and generally nit-picky nature in many of Mitchell’s arguments. At the end of the day, David’s arguments are funny. They’re well presented, well-research and most of the time technically correct, but that doesn’t make it undeniably right, and it certainly doesn’t make it a crutch for you to then go and beat every person with who wants to use a phrase of speech differently than you online or in real life. In the end, can’t we all just get along?

 

 

 

Notebooks Are So Hot Right Now

notebook

No, really notebooks are so hot right now. As you guys may know, I’m a big fan of diaries, sketchbooks, notebooks and all things handwritten and vaguely journal-y. Last week I posted a wee photo album of my current notebook setup, and I often post pictures of my sketches and various doodles on my Tumblr and Instagram accounts. Unsurprisingly both these platforms are where the majority of attention for my work comes from due to the large artistic and image-sharing base of these websites. Sites like Penaddict, Tumblr blogs and online communities dedicated to discussing the art of diary and notebook keeping are becoming ever more popular. It all ties in to the hipster, thrifty new-age alternate lifestyle subculture that sort of rejects modern products and fetishizes the outdated and less efficient but nonetheless nostalgic & capable technology such as film cameras, typewriters, record players, paper notebooks & diaries, single gear bikes and other outdated items (obviously only to a point- we still need those fancy iPhones to update our Instagram and Twitter feeds to tell you all about the old stuff we use!). Basically, the kind of still that you might pick up in a thrift shop, see propped up in trendy bars or coffee shops, blogged about on new-age news sites, or in the skip behind an Artisanal Portland Kale Garden & Free Range Hemp Chickpea Commune. As much as I’m not a fan of a lot of the arrogance and pretentiousness that goes hand in hand with hipster subculture (though I think I probably despise the ‘cool-to-hate-hipster’ sub-subculture even more, if that makes sense), I am a bit crazy for all things old-fashioned and vintage. Growing up with a grandfather who has literally sheds of old tools, equipment and hoarded pieces of technology from the past 80 years that he still uses day-to-day, I have a bit of a fascination with ‘old stuff’ and trying to adapt or use it in everyday life. This entire movement is very heavily rooted in steampunk and dieselpunk too, of post-war technology and historically anachronistic designs that also appear in a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction, something that I’ve always been very interested in. We’re focusing on notebooks today though, more particularly a style of notebooks people seem to love. Describing it is hard, but the consistent ideas and forms people seem to like most in my own notebooks are:

Pages that are overflowing with content– streams of consciousness and entire pages filled it up with drawings and tightly packed words, with no spaces left empty. This idea that paper is at a premium and that each space must be filled gives your pages a historical, valuable feel- as traditionally often paper was at a premium, and those with an expensive diary or notebook would not waste space or paper, or that on their travels it was the only book they had with them, and were forced to fill each square inch with as many observations as they could.

Excessively random or Obsessively neat and academic– both of these approaches emulate an academic look to your notebook. The first presents it as a constant stream of consciousness, an artistic approach in which all your ideas are spilling onto the page. It has an eccentric, artistic approach that you might expect to see from a traveller or explorer, filling up each page with observations and ideas coming in faster than there is time to writer. On the other hand, an academic, super neat approach speaks to the scientific- it’s sometime you’d expect to see in a maybe Mary Ward‘s journals, or the sketches of an inventor in the industrial age.

Annotations, Annotations, Annotations – notes, subnotes, references, margins, bibliographies, notes and observations, corrections and hastily pasted in notes from other journals- these are the hallmarks of observation and study. Old journals are stuffed with these, with hand drawn illustrations and diagrams then carefully annotated and explained. Not only does it make your journal appear like a work that can be studied and instructed, but it shows that it’s a constantly evolving work that isn’t a work of art but rather something used to learn and teach. Check out How to Train your Dragon 2– does he care if his notebook looks neat? Hell no! It’s stuffed full of notes and extensions and crudely pasted on maps- it’s a journal being used! Which leads me to…

Well TraveledWell Worn, Well UsedThis is something best described as “What Indiana Jones would carry in his satchel“, is something that applies not just to notebooks, but also to satchels and clothing. People like the idea of stuff getting used, worn out, hastily fixed and flecked with rust and grit. They want things not simply sitting on a coffee table waiting to be looked at but not touched, but things that have a history, that can make them feel like they got their hands dirty and worked at something. It’s all a part of the distressed, recycled and well-worn fashion that spreads from everything to clothing, automobiles or interior design. Your notebook should not be handled like a religious text, but shoved in bags and stuffed in your pocket, torn and ripped when the time suits it, and treated like apiece of equipment. You want your notebook to tell the story of where you traveled just by looking at it. Indiana Jones didn’t have time to worry if his notebook wasn’t getting scratched, he was busy fighting nazis! When he got wet, burnt or covered in grime & old mummies, he just dusted himself and his notebook off and got back to work!

Continue reading

The (Real) Saturday Night Sketchbook!

Forget digital, how’s about some real sketchbooks?! I’ve taken some photos of the sketchbooks I use day today, originally for a reddit thread on /r/notebooks (a good subreddit if you’re into notebooks by the way), but I figured I should also stick them up here! The REAL Sunday Night Sketchbook is coming back soon however, so don’t despair! Anyway, enjoy! You can also find more pictures of my notebooks at my instagram account if this wee photoset doesn’t appease your hunger for all things hand-drawn!

So many Moleskines! I swear I diversify! I don't often buy them anymore, It's just when people gift me notebooks it's usually moleskines because they are a pretty recognizable 'Quality' brand. These are the books I have started and finished since last year, I have about a dozen more at home. Top left are two stacked Moleskine notebooks. One a sketchbook and one a lined journal, I finished them years ago but I took them from home for reference (and safe keeping!). Top middle is my diary, left is mt stationary box. In the centre is my current sketchbook, as well as the field notes I keep in my pocket for notes. Bottom right is a small notebook I use for drawing cityscapes

So many Moleskines! I swear I diversify! I don’t often buy them anymore, It’s just when people gift me notebooks it’s usually moleskines because they are a pretty recognizable ‘Quality’ brand. These are the books I have started and finished since last year, I have about a dozen more at home. Top left are two stacked Moleskine notebooks. One a sketchbook and one a lined journal, I finished them years ago but I took them from home for reference (and safe keeping!). Top middle is my diary, left is mt stationary box. In the centre is my current sketchbook, as well as the field notes I keep in my pocket for notes. Bottom right is a small notebook I use for drawing cityscapes

A lot of gibberish. Top book is the sketchbook I used when doing radio interviews, as you can see I often let my mind wander. My stationary box is an old cigar case that I used to keep watches and clockwork stuff in. My favourite pens to use are Staedtler .3 &.005s, mainly a holdover from when I used to do a lot of technical & graph comm drawing. They probably aren't the best writing or artist pens, but I love them. You can see an example of the cityscapes in my wee moleskine below it.

A lot of gibberish. Top book is the sketchbook I used when doing radio interviews, as you can see I often let my mind wander. My stationary box is an old cigar case that I used to keep watches and clockwork stuff in. My favourite pens to use are Staedtler .3 &.005s, mainly a holdover from when I used to do a lot of technical & graph comm drawing. They probably aren’t the best writing or artist pens, but I love them. You can see an example of the cityscapes in my wee moleskine below it.

This is what I carry in my bag when traveling or just day to day use. The fieldnotes are by my side 24 hours a day, and they tend to get a bit bashed, torn and, if I'm outdoors working or on the boat, wet. I usually go through one every month. Brilliant books though,  the paper is thick enough for even fountain pens so you don't have to be too careful with them. I'd recommend ducktaping the spine and edges as soon as you use them though if you do a lot of outdoorsy stuff like I do

This is what I carry in my bag when traveling or just day to day use. The fieldnotes are by my side 24 hours a day, and they tend to get a bit bashed, torn and, if I’m outdoors working or on the boat, wet. I usually go through one every month. Brilliant books though, the paper is thick enough for even fountain pens so you don’t have to be too careful with them. I’d recommend ducktaping the spine and edges as soon as you use them though if you do a lot of outdoorsy stuff like I do

Continue reading

Pope Urban VII: The Shortest Smoking Ban in History

 

The earliest depiction of a European man smoking, from Tabacco by Anthony Chute.

The earliest depiction of a European man smoking, from Tabacco by Anthony Chute.

424 years ago today, on the 27th of September 1590 there came to pass two new of records in history. It marked the end of what would be the shortest Papal reign in history, and it also marked the end of probably the shortest and earliest smoking bans in history. Giovanni Battista Castagna, before taking his more street-friendly rap name of Pope Urban VII, was the shortest serving pope in history, having the job a mere 13 days in total, from his appointment on the 15th of September 1590 until his death due to malaria 424 years ago today. A man of considerable esteem and renown for his piety and learning, his sudden death was no doubt considered as sad to his subjects as his appointment to Pope was jubilant- in only his short stay as the moderator of the Vatican and Catholic faith he achieved a lot, especially considered he was stuck down with the illness that would kill him on a couple of days after being appointed. One of his first acts was “to have a list made of all the poor in Rome that he might alleviate their needs”, not an easy task considering the population of Rome would have been roughly 90,000 at the time. After what probably amounted to a heck of a lot of list-related writers cramp, he ordered the bakers of Rome to make “larger loaves of bread and sell them cheaper”, mitigating their losses out of his own purse. Not done with his campaign of poverty-busting, he instigated the construction of public works around the city of Rome to provide jobs to those who didn’t have any. A strong opponent of nepotism, he forbade relatives from getting jobs in the curia (Roman courts and assemblies), paid off debts owed by the papacy and raised the wages of cardinals who received insufficient pay all out of his own pocket. Possibly the most progressive and modern order set down by our short-stay Pope however, was a ban on a pastime that had come to take over 16th century Europe. According to Jack E. Henningfield’s book An Old-Fashioned Addiction, Urban takes the number one spot for:

“the world’s first known public smoking ban in 1590, as [Pope Urban] threatened to excommunicate anyone who ‘took tobacco in the porchway of or inside a church, whether it be by chewing it, smoking it with a pipe, or sniffing it in powdered form through the nose’

Continue reading