Salt & Shadow

The misapplication of social media can lead to the dissemination of fraudulent information, the degradation of trust in democratic systems and even the incitement of tragedy. These are worrying, ever-present concerns in the modern world. They are also representative of the types of social problems that have existed for millennia because, for as long as there have been social systems, there have been those who seek to misuse and abuse them.

It may be, then, that the bigger concern with regards to social media networks isn’t how to handle instances of their misuse but instead how to manage their impact on users when everything is functioning as intended. Though the science is young and the data inconclusive, there’s growing body of evidence that suggests that social media usage can have serious negative effects, including increased isolation and a lack of actual social bonding.

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The Labyrinth Within You

At the climax of the 1986 muppet-dystopia Labyrinth, David Bowie’s impressively-codpieced Jareth confronts Jennifer Connelly’s emotionally ascendant Sarah in an Escheresque series of gravitationally impossible stairways. Frustrated by Sarah’s continued rejection of his romantic overtures, Jareth makes one final attempt to subdue the object of his affection.

He fails.

But in the opening minute of “Within You,” the weirdly apocalyptic song that begins this whole exchange, he also delivers an exceptional line on power, love and the limits of devotion: “Everything I’ve done, I’ve done for you. I move the stars for no one.

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A Better Son

You can disdain the band’s high-school-goth lyricism or snicker at their emo-extremist wardrobe but you can’t deny that My Chemical Romance had a flair for the (often needlessly) dramatic. With Father’s Day just having passed and with parentage on my brain, let’s take a moment to enjoy one of the best instances of that dramatic impulse.

A little over halfway through The Black Parade, the album takes a turn from its bizarrely humorless anthems and goes full weirdo. I’m talking, of course, about “Mama.”

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The Primacy of Democracy

It’s easy to feel that we live in the most extreme of times, whether good or bad, and that these current years are truly the crux of humanity, the pinnacle of our society. But every generation has felt this way and so, necessarily, every generation has been wrong. It’s hard to see how we’re any different. And so, most likely, we’re not. We’re almost certainly wrong too. We’re probably not special.

All of which makes our intense devotion to certain thought paradigms particularly bewildering. Religion is the most obvious and incendiary example (“What’s the difference between Christianity and a cult? 2,000 years!” -Some Comedian, Probably) but in our current moment, politics seems more relevant.

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You’re a Doofus: On Being a Flexitarian

As I sat in the sun, nomming on a delicious bit of smoked meat, I realized that I will almost certainly never be a vegetarian. I should be, though. You should too. All concerns about animal cruelty aside—and God knows there’s plenty of concern there—a vegetarian diet is more easily sustainable and tends to have a lower carbon footprint per calorie than a meat-based diet. This makes sense. Instead of growing acres of corn to feed a pig so that it can be turned into a handful of meals, why not just eat all that damn corn?

Because bacon is fucking delicious, that’s why.

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The Coward

It was just after sunset when your heart gave out
and I should have been strong enough, but I broke down.
So I buried my last hope and hid my eyes.
I know you deserved better, but this is all I could provide.

We met as liars and thieves,
vagrants on the road.
We grew into a family
in a place we called our own.
But I have betrayed that faith
and left you all alone
because I am a coward
and I look after my own skin.

I needed to lift you up, to break you out,
but I broke down.

I am mastered by my fear, controlled by my emotions,
subject to the wind and the movement of the oceans.
I won’t ask for your forgiveness, it’s your mercy that I need.
For I have always been a coward, as I will always be.

At one point these words were going to be the lyrics for a song but I never wrote the music and now they’ll have to live life as a mostly unread poem.

Final Fantasy XV in Review

It may be that the final campfire scene in Final Fantasy XV is the single most emotional moment I’ve ever experienced through a video game. After spending 50-some odd hours with Noctis and his lovable band of dude-bros, having been absorbed into their friendships through a near-endless Road Trip to Save the World and subsequently having seen Noctis sacrifice himself ostensibly to save the world but actually to save his friends, that posthumous flashback to their final night together as they sit around a campfire—just like so many nights before only with the somber knowledge that this fire is the last fire because, in the morning, all their labors will finally reach their cruel conclusion with Noctis marching to his death—is wrenching because, more than the visually impressive game-world or the satisfaction of questing, it’s the relationships between FFXV’s four central characters that make the game worth playing.

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Luke, He Wasn’t Always Your Father

Next week Solo: A Star Wars Story will be released to preposterous revenues and at least some amount of incendiary fan rage. A good chunk of this rage will assuredly complain that this newest installment in the prodigiously growing Star Wars cinematic universe undercuts the pre-existing material, introducing plot holes into a beloved story about space ninjas and retconning the histories of incidental characters who are never explicitly named onscreen.

A case can be made that Darth Vader revealing his position as the most unpleasant pater familias imaginable to recent amputee Luke Skywalker is the single most memorable moment in modern cinematic history. It is also the first notable instance of a Star Wars sequel (or, God help us, prequel) retconning the films that preceded it. Because in A New Hope (née Star Wars), it is extremely clear that Luke’s father and Darth Vader are two distinct and separate people.

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Avengers: Infinity War & Lifetime Viewership

Earlier this week I saw Avengers: Infinity War. Having seen a grand total of four of the prior 18 (!!!) films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I knew only a few of Infinity War‘s characters by name (or sight) but as the movie very clearly designates all of its principals as either a “good guy” or “bad guy” it wasn’t much of a challenge to follow the film’s rudimentary plot. Perhaps unfairly, I had been prepared to find myself adrift in a sea of confounding proper nouns and under-explained MacGuffins—after all, this is a comic book movie at heart, with all the silly names and omnipotent objects that such a lineage entails. To my surprise, and to the benefit of similarly under-equipped viewers, Infinity War doesn’t sink too deeply into the minutiae of its lore—in fact, the opposite could be argued to be true: seemingly the only dialogue spoken across the film’s 160-minute run-time is a combination of one-liners and characters re-stating that, in case you missed it, the Big Bad is collecting rocks so that he can kill a lot of people.

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The Author of the Quixote: On Pierre Menard, Miguel de Cervantes and Jorge Luis Borges

In his short story “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” Jorge Luis Borges—that miraculous, mind-fucking Argentinian—proposes an unusual premise. The titular Menard is shown to be obsessed with unusual literary feats and, as such, he decides to take it upon himself to rewrite Cervantes’ classic, Don Quixote. He’s not planning to translate the book or simply copy it. He’s not planning to write a new, modern version of it. No. He’s planning to write it. As in, create circumstances in his life that drive him to write a new book. And that new book is exactly, word for word, Don Quixote. I’ll let the story’s narrator explain:

“Those who have insinuated that Menard devoted his life to writing a contemporary Quixote besmirch his illustrious memory. Pierre Menard did not want to compose another Quixote, which surely is easy enough—he wanted to compose the Quixote. Nor, surely, need one be obliged to note that his goal was never a mechanical transcription of the original; he had no intention of copying it. His admirable ambition was to produce a number of pages which coincided—word for word and line for line—with those of Miguel de Cervantes.”

That is an insane plan. Obviously. Writing a book that already exists, let alone one that was written hundreds of years prior in a completely different world and culture is, as plans go, not only ludicrous but also seemingly impossible. At the risk of spoiling an 80-year old story that you’re probably not going to read anyway: Menard doesn’t fully succeed. But, incredibly, he does partially succeed. Through his labors, he generates a few chapters that happen to be identical matches to those of Cervantes. That seems impossible and it probably is but—as with most of Borges’ work—the possible here isn’t meant to reflect the tangible world at hand but rather the intangible world of our minds, the world of imagination.

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