The Life-Changing Magic of Just Letting Things Break

Solarpunk Is Not About Pretty Aesthetics. It’s About the End of Capitalism.
https://www.vice.com/en/article/wx5aym/solarpunk-is-not-about-pretty-aesthetics-its-about-the-end-of-capitalism

Many solarpunks agree that the “punk” element becomes clear when they go past the movement’s visuals and into the nitty gritty. Solarpunk is radical in that it imagines a society where people and the planet are prioritized over the individual and profit. Of course utopian visions of the future aren’t new and art and technology have long drawn from nature: Just take the example of Belgian architect Luc Schuiten, whose drawings and buildings often employ biomimicry, where the form and function of organic elements influence design. The movement gained traction in progressive circles on early 2010s Tumblr, but as its popularity has bloomed over the past 10 years, early Solarpunks fear capitalist co-option. Flynn calls it “fake Solarpunk urbanism,” luxury condos with a green roof that price out existing communities and might end up doing more environmental damage.

This is a lengthy article with a lot of interesting links, and it’s worth checking out solely for the beautiful embedded video.

I think the emphasis on “radical action” might be somewhat misguided, though. My concern, as always, is the way anti-capitalist movements are embedded within the language of capitalism. Like, we have to be active! And go out and do things! And harness our energy as our best and most productive selves! I think this neoliberal emphasis on individual agency and power strays a bit too far into the territory of ecofacism, which holds that people who don’t have the skills or resources to survive environmental catastrophe deserve to die.

For me, the appeal of solarpunk is that you don’t have to do shit. You don’t have to work. You don’t have to make money. You don’t have to buy things. You don’t have to participate in “community improvement” projects. Instead, leave your job early and turn off your phone. Stay at home and chill out. Sit out on your porch and have a drink with your neighbors. Grass and flowers will grow in the cracks of the concrete without your help. All you have to do is literally nothing.

One of the reasons I enjoy living in Philadelphia is that it’s a very compact but very green city. The great thing is that it’s not green because of city planning or district gardening budgets, but rather the exact opposite. The city just lets plants grow, and nobody who lives here does anything to stop them. The Amish set up farmer’s markets on the weekends, and nobody bothers them. People sell fresh fruits and vegetables out of the backs of U-Haul trucks in parking lots on the weekdays, and nobody cares. Nobody chases away the urban outdoorspeople who plant gardens in the larger public parks. The city is covered in folk art, from Isaiah Zagar’s broken glass murals to the work of street artists whose tags are elaborate illustrations of Studio Ghibli characters. This aesthetic exists because nobody “did” anything to “fix” it, and it makes Philadelphia a comfortable and interesting place to live.

At the same time, a cleaner and more carefully managed solarpunk aesthetic would make much more sense for a place like New York, where “just letting things break” would result in most of Manhattan Island flooding in less than 48 hours. The sea level is rising, and I assume that the flooding is going to happen eventually, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have stylish vertical gardens while the city is still above water. People have to eat, and people have to live somewhere, so your rent might as well pay for community deck gardens and solar panels.

Keep Making “Bad” Art

This is a copy and paste of (this post on Tumblr) in its entirety:

I think everyone should make dumb ugly zines and bad music and write shitty books with weird premises and publish them for pay what you will online. I think people should write plays that are only ever intended to be performed with their friends in their living rooms. I think people who like ttrpgs should explore bizarre itch.io games and new systems that have no affiliation whatsoever with any major publishing house. If youre lucky enough to have a cool local community radio station nearby you should listen to that and what people close to you have to say and what they’re creating that has no focus on being nationally appealing. I just think creation should be more joyful and local both in a geographic sense and a personal and social sense and unconcerned with whether or not it will be commercially viable or slick or even good beyond your own pride in it. And I think it’s good to seek out art that exists for its own sake or to appeal to the community it was created within.

Also relevant is (this tweet) that reads: “The key to making ‘better’ art is to keep making ‘bad’ art shamelessly and consistently.”

I linked to this tweet in (my recent post) about all the bad art that goes into the creation of halfway decent art, but I’ve been thinking about the larger implications. This is a bit of a story, so bear with me.

The other day, a scholar I admire gave me an opportunity to write a short review of an academic essay collection I’ve been looking forward to ever since I learned about the project two years ago. I’m thrilled to hear that the book has finally been published, and I replied as quickly as I could to say that I would love to write a review.

The person responded a few days later to let me know that he’d had a copy of the book be sent to me, and he apologized for taking so long to reply. It turns out that he was busy because he was doing something really cool. I went to his account on Twitter to see if he was talking about it, as I wanted to learn more and perhaps retweet a bit of what he and other people were saying. When I checked his account, however, I found that he’d unfollowed me at some point.

I seriously doubt that he unfollowed me because he dislikes me or because I somehow offended him. What I suspect is that he respects my work on artistic subcultures but doesn’t particularly want to see the work of emerging artists on his Twitter feed, and that he simply doesn’t know enough about social media to understand that he can mute people. Which is fair. No harm, no foul.

Unfortunately, I am a delicate flower with delicate feelings, and I ended up spiraling into a vortex of self-doubt that has nothing at all to do with this person. Or rather, it has nothing to do with him specifically and everything to do with the broader culture of what it means to be a serious adult who cares about art. Namely, there’s a certain unspoken consensus regarding what gets to be “art,” and a lot of major cultural currents fall so far outside this consensus that they don’t even register with people who aren’t creators and thus aren’t directly involved in creative communities.

I had a similar moment of vertigo during a recent conversation with a friend who invited me to attend a First Friday gallery event. While we were drinking and waiting for some other friends to show up, we got into a conversation about the effects of social media on artistic production. What my friend essentially argued is that you can’t count something as “art” unless it’s produced by hand and worthy of being sold at a gallery. It’s a stretch to say that digital art is indeed “art,” and it goes without saying that fan art is worthless.

Because I’m so immersed in creative communities of people who produce most of their work digitally and draw fan art because they enjoy it, it was wild to me that someone my own age would have what I consider to be such a conservative perspective. I want to be clear that I’m not friends with assholes; and I think that, if we were having a serious conversation that wasn’t fueled by alcohol procured at a pay-what-you-want shot bar, my friend would have gladly discussed the matter of “art” with more nuance and specific examples drawn from his own personal history as someone who has been involved in the curation of pop-up art galleries at fan conventions. Let’s be real, this dude has probably seen some crazy shit.

But at the same time, I think most of us have to make an active effort to ignore this sort of perspective on art if we’re serious about creating meaningful work. I think most people would agree that “good” art is specific, and probably the vast majority of “specific” art isn’t going to speak to people outside of a specific community. So while the maxim of “create for yourself” has serious limitations, I also think that it’s important to do what you enjoy while not worrying about creating “bad” art.

And as the Tumblr post suggests, it’s fun to seek out super-indie work that wasn’t created to appeal to a large audience. I’m not saying that everyone needs to watch depressing arthouse movies about political refugees and dysfunctional marriages in order to build character. Rather, if you like horror and you like video games, maybe it might be fun to go play some free ten-minute horror video games on Itchio. Maybe you might even be inspired to download some free software and make one of these games yourself. This specific example probably only applies to me, but the point still stands. Once you make the decision not to care about what’s “good art,” it’s much easier to have fun and be creative.

Video Workshop on Fairytale Comics

I talk about the narrative structure of fairy tales & fables, then walk you through a short guided exercise, making your own original short fairy tale comic.

I haven’t watched this yet, but I fully intend to. For me personally, the appeal of fairy tales is:

– witches
– anthropophagy
– interspecies romance

Probably my least favorite genre of contemporary fantasy writing is “classic fairy tales re-envisioned with a feminist/queer slant.” No shade, but it’s not for me. What I do like are short stories that follow a fairy tale structure, by which I mean someone gets eaten at the end. Melanie Gillman is very good at this, and I’m looking forward to hearing their thoughts.

“Empathy” Games

Teddy Pozo, “Queer Games After Empathy: Feminism and Haptic Game Design Aesthetics from Consent to Cuteness to the Radically Soft,” in Games Studies (2018)

Bonnie Ruberg, “Empathy and Its Alternatives: Deconstructing the Rhetoric of ‘Empathy’ in Video Games,” in Communication, Culture & Critique (2020)

Both of these articles are filled with decontextualized citations and poorly defined terminology in a way that’s become fairly standard for academic writing in Media Studies, and I have to admit that I found the writing difficult to read. If I understand the authors correctly, this is what I think they’re arguing:

(a) It’s not cool for corporations to commodify queer experiences branded as “empathy,”
(b) it’s not the job of indie game designers to sell their personal work as educational content, and
(c) we shouldn’t assume that the default identity of a “gamer” is a straight cisgender male anyway.

In order to protest being discursively commodified for an audience of straight men, a small handful of super-indie game developers have created “games” that push back against the idea that their job is to teach a mainstream audience how to empathize with minorities. I’m putting “games” in scare quotes here because these most of these works are deliberately inaccessible, while some only exist in the form of gallery performance art.

This is my take on the conversation:

I read a lot of anthologies of queer, transgender, and nonbinary comics, as well as full-length graphic novels and serialized webcomics by queer, transgender, and nonbinary creators. There are two general commonalities that stand out to me: (1) how much people love and are inspired by queer anime and manga, and (2) how much people love and are inspired by queer video games.

I understand that some queer people are aware of their gender and sexuality from a very early age, and that’s great, but I think a lot of us need to see ourselves reflected in a metaphorical mirror before we begin to understand our identity. Because every individual is different, and because relatable stories can speak louder than pure truth, these metaphorical mirrors don’t need to be perfect. They just need to exist.

So I think that, by being ironic about their work and bitter about how it’s reached a larger audience than an intended in-group of people who all attend the same expensive academic conferences and Bay Area gallery art shows, these queer indie developers and the academics who praise them aren’t being particularly kind to all the kids who maybe didn’t know they were queer until they played a “mainstream” game like Gone Home or Life Is Strange.

It’s also worth mentioning that most of the people involved in this conversation are white. Based on what I’ve read in digital gaming magazines and seen on social media, I get the feeling that there are a lot of BIPOC indie game devs, as well as game devs from non-Western countries, who desperately want people to learn about and empathize with their experiences, and I think it’s important to listen to what they have to say.

Still, I understand the resistance to the commodification of queer discursive spaces, and I appreciate the idea that people don’t need to be able to empathize with difference in order to respect it. For what it’s worth, I’ve started to see more developers use the term “story game” instead of “empathy game” during the past two or three years, and I think that makes much more sense in terms of marketing and finding an audience.

Words of Wisdom

Ask Polly: How Am I Supposed to Make Friends in My Late 20s?
https://www.thecut.com/2014/08/ask-polly-how-do-i-make-friends-in-my-late-20s.html

So the first thing you have to do is accept that, despite appearances, you’re not all that different than most people your age. The mid- to late-20s are often an apex of friendless desperation. To make matters worse, people feel very self-conscious about their friendlessness at that age, as if everything should’ve fallen into place a long time ago. Considering how often urban, career-focused Americans move around and turn their lives upside down in their 20s, you’d think most of us would know better.

This is a long essay, but every single word is golden.

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on Tumblr recently (like this one) setting 25 as an arbitrary cut-off age for tolerance of bad behavior. The underlying message seems to be that, by 25 years old, you should have your shit together and shouldn’t be messing around in fandom.

Dangerous and toxic behavior shouldn’t be tolerated or excused at any age, of course. Saying that young people (or neurodiverse people, or differently abled people) have no control over their behavior is basically saying that they’re subhuman animals with no capacity for rational judgment, which is both offensive and untrue. Putting that aside.

The idea that you have to have your shit together by the time you’re 25 years old is wild. I feel like 25 is actually the age when a lot of people’s shit starts to fall apart, honestly.

While you’re in high school and college, you have a structured set of milestones and multiple ready-made groups of peers. For the first few years out of school, you likely still have structured career goals and probably still keep in touch with many of your friends. By the time you hit 25, however, things start to get weird. A lot of your friends are pairing off and getting married, and some are even buying houses and having kids, which can create subtle conflicts and a lot of pressure. You’re probably also, for the first time in your life, surrounded by people who aren’t your age and don’t share your values and life experiences. Your relationship with your family will probably change as you start being expected to pay for expensive things you formerly took for granted (like insurance) while you begin to take on a larger burden of financial and emotional support. After working in entry-level positions for a few years, you might be considering a career change. You might have even been fired. You might make a terrible life decision and apply to grad school. You might move to another city, or to the suburbs, or to a different timezone.

25 is an incredibly awkward age, and it takes time to figure out how to be an emotionally mature and self-sufficient adult. Some people are innately blessed with wisdom (and money, and a supportive family), but most of us need about ten years or so to get our shit together.

Again, I’m not excusing the behavior of anyone who is creepy or hateful online, but to suggest that 25 is the age when you should stop being in fandom and stop trying to make friends with people who share your interests doesn’t make sense. And “discrimination” is a strong word, but I really do feel like giving 25 as a cut-off point is ignoring the realities of a lot of people coming from marginalized communities who just don’t have the time or money or emotional energy to devote to their interests and hobbies (or to social media in general) until they’re a bit older.

I can totally understand why teenagers might not want to interact with older people online, and that’s fair. Still, I think it’s important to emphasize that there’s no deadline for meeting new people, exploring new interests, picking up new skills, and making mistakes as you gradually learn how to communicate and exist in society as an adult.

Wizard Karen

Who Did J.K. Rowling Become?
https://www.vulture.com/amp/article/who-did-j-k-rowling-become.html

Rowling had never been a particularly controversial figure. Her books sold hundreds of millions of copies, they inspired films that brought in billions of dollars, and she used the money she made to save children from orphanages. In 2012, she gave enough to charity and paid enough in taxes to knock herself off the Forbes billionaires list. In 2020, she was tweeting links to a store that sold pins that said F*CK YOUR PRONOUNS.

Read another way, though, the latest turn in Rowling’s story looks perhaps less perplexing than inevitable. It is the culmination of a two-decade power struggle for ownership of her fictional world — the right to say what Harry Potter means. The Harry Potter books describe a stark moral universe: Their heroes fight on behalf of all that is good to defeat the forces of absolute evil. Though the struggle may be lonely and hard, right ultimately beats wrong. For fans, when it came to the matter of trans rights, the message of Harry Potter was clear. For Rowling, this was no less the case.

“She absolutely believes that she is right, that she’s on a mission, and that history will eventually bear her out,” Anelli [the administrator of a prominent Harry Potter fansite] told me. “She thinks she’s doing good work right now.”

Yikes.

I started seeing posts attacking Rowling on Tumblr in early 2018, but none of them actually explained why people were so angry with her. When I tried asking what was going on, I’d get vague answers along the lines of “she liked the tweet of a bad person a few years ago and then said it was a mistake.” 2018 was a year of people on the internet becoming extraordinarily upset about space wizards, so I brushed the accusations against Rowling into the same category as assertions that fictional characters in Voltron and Steven Universe and Star Wars were “abusive.”

I assumed that Rowling, who is active on Twitter, had probably made a few tweets about British politics or politicians that didn’t make sense to young Americans and left it at that.

Wow was I wrong about this. I was so wrong.

This became embarrassingly obvious when Rowling made her stance on transgender rights clear toward the end of 2020 in a way that was so public and performative that it was picked up by mainstream news outlets, but plenty of signs were indeed there beforehand. The article I linked to above is quite lengthy and does an excellent job of explaining exactly what’s been going on, and I appreciate that it provides the context for this discussion in a way that isn’t centered on American culture and politics.

It’s True and They Should Say It

(Here’s a link) to the Buzzfeed article if you’re interested. It’s mainly about how people in their twenties and thirties can’t afford to live in cities anymore and feel intense loneliness and anxiety about feeling forced to relocate to the suburbs.

While I completely understand that it’s horrible not to have the agency to choose where you live, and while I understand that it can be emotionally devastating to be torn away from your friend group, I agree with the artist that the specific anxiety concerning “living with your parents” is largely based on an ideology of “independence” that’s socially constructed by a very small subset of people.

I don’t think I’m in a position to comment on whether this is a “white” thing, necessarily, but it’s definitely an American thing. A lot of other cultures, including many cultures in Europe, see the American insistence on single-generation households as not just absurd but actively pathological, and honestly, I tend to agree.

Voices Are Not Commodities

I Know I’m Late
https://medium.com/@rebecca.albertalli/i-know-im-late-9b31de339c62

So why do we keep doing this? Why do we, again and again, cross the line between critiquing books and making assumptions about author identities? How are we so aware of invisible marginalization as a hypothetical concept, but so utterly incapable of making space for it in our community?

Let me be perfectly clear: this isn’t how I wanted to come out. This doesn’t feel good or empowering, or even particularly safe. Honestly, I’m doing this because I’ve been scrutinized, subtweeted, mocked, lectured, and invalidated just about every single day for years, and I’m exhausted. And if you think I’m the only closeted or semi-closeted queer author feeling this pressure, you haven’t been paying attention.

And I’m one of the lucky ones! I’m a financially independent adult. I can’t be disowned. I come from a liberal family, I have an enormous network of queer friends and acquaintances, and my livelihood isn’t even remotely at risk. I’m hugely privileged in more ways than I can count. And this was still brutally hard for me. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for other closeted writers, and how unwelcome they must feel in this community.
As someone who was disowned by my family after being outed at fifteen, and as someone who was very recently forced to leave a stable job after disclosing a disability, my position on the matter is clear: Personal identity is complicated, and no one should be made to feel pressured to disclose sensitive personal information in a public venue. This is not social justice; it’s real violence performed against people in vulnerable positions.
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Also relevant:

Fancy Dutch

Folk Magic: The Hex Signs of Pennsylvania
https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/hex-signs-of-pennsylvania

The artistic tradition of decorating barns with folk symbols began as early as the late 1700s and became even more popular as paint became less and less expensive. The original barn stars were found mostly in Berks County, and also in Lancaster, Montgomery, and Bucks counties, and pre-20th century examples can still be found there today. One of the earliest known examples, located two miles north of Lenhartsville, Pennsylvania, dates back to 1819, though the paint has faded and it’s only left the “ghost” of the design etched in the barn wood.

I think I started noticing people putting up mass-produced decals of stars on their suburban houses around 2005 or so, and when I moved to Pennsylvania I naively assumed that the stars I saw painted on barns driving west toward upstate New Jersey were homegrown versions of whatever that business was about, which I took to be a post-9/11 patriotic reference to the stars on the American flag.

It turns out that what’s going on is a lot more interesting. I really enjoyed reading this article, and I got a hearty chuckle out of the expression “Fancy Dutch,” as in: “Barn stars and hex signs are used by the more secular ‘Fancy Dutch’ community of Pennsylvania Germans, which exists alongside the Amish and Mennonites.”

I’ve been reading a manga called ねこと私とドイッチュランド (Meine Katze und ich in Deutschland), which collects a series of autobiographical comic essays written and drawn by a Japanese woman who recently moved to Germany. I think that, perhaps because Japanese people don’t feel the weight of historical baggage regarding Germany in the same way that many Europeans and Americans do, the artist is completely open and earnest about her uncomplicated love and fascination with German culture. I’m not used to hearing people talk about “German culture” as such, and I’m beginning to realize that a lot of what passes for “generic white people culture” in the United States, from apple pie to chocolate Easter bunnies, is actually distinctly German.

There are a lot of things that most Americans don’t learn about in school regarding their own culture and history, and this infamously includes the culture and history of oppressed and marginalized groups. There’s clearly a lot to be said about this that I’m in no position to say, but I think it’s ironic that the political pressure to create and commodify a monolithic ontological category of Whiteness has resulted in the occlusion of the specific cultures and histories of multiple groups of white people as well.

Theme Park Fandom

It’s Not ‘Weird’ to Be an Adult Woman Who Loves Disney
https://www.glamour.com/story/its-not-weird-to-be-an-adult-woman-who-loves-disney

The trio say they don’t go to the parks to relive their youth, though. Smith, Puga, and Walker all have successful careers in creative industries and approach Disneyland like a city’s downtown rather than a family-friendly vacation resort. They’re not alone: With a rotating offering of seasonal Instagram-ready treats, celebrity chef partnerships, and a record for being the single largest employer of sommeliers, Disney’s Parks & Resorts have a lot to entice adults with money to spend. To Internet savvy, culturally involved guests like these three, Disneyland provides the same experiences they’d have elsewhere, only better.

When asked about the stigma attached to adult women visiting the parks, they shut it down. As these three see it, everyone’s a fan of something—why should enjoying a roller coaster through space in an intergalactic Tomorrowland be so different? “People are always going to judge no matter what,” says Walker. “You just have to sort of own what you love and be proud of that. Maybe they’ll never understand, but they’re missing out on something pretty special, and that’s okay. More for us in the long run.”

I’ve been slowly making my way through Rebecca Williams’s monograph Theme Park Fandom, and it’s one of the best academic books I’ve read in years. In the Introduction, Williams opens the discussion by referencing a cringe-inducing opinion piece written by a gross older man saying that adult fans of Disney are creepy, which was picked up by College Humor and adapted into an even more cringe-inducing video.

I’m not personally a fan of Disney (or Marvel, or Star Wars), and I have no real desire to go to a theme park. (Maybe when Universal opens its Super Nintendo World attraction? But probably not, honestly.) Still, I don’t get why people think fans who go to theme parks are weird, aside from the obvious misogyny and homophobia. It sounds like the people who are into this sort of thing have a lot of fun, and they’re not hurting anyone. I mean, sure, Disney is a giant evil corporation, but we’re not going to get meaningful anti-trust legislation by harassing people on Instagram.

So I’m not planning on visiting Florida or California, but it’s been interesting to learn about the different subcultures surrounding the Disney and Universal theme parks, as well as how the fans participating in these subcultures have made use of social media to connect with each other while actually influencing the objects of their fandom at a surprisingly high corporate level.

I know “serious scholars” like to mock Fan Studies as an illegitimate subdiscipline of Media Studies, but I’m getting tired of “serious scholarship” about How Disney Is Anti-Feminist And Poisoning Our Children™. To me, it’s much more meaningful to learn about how this culture is created, who is creating it, and how it’s not just Rich White Men producing media that’s consumed passively. If nothing else, I feel that good scholarship should be like a documentary that shows you a part of the world you only vaguely knew existed and then explains how it influences its broader cultural context. Theme Park Fandom is really enjoyable to read, and it’s been helping me make sense of all sorts of aspects of contemporary American culture that I’ve always found a bit mystifying.

I’ve also been reading Carlye Wisel’s various bits of theme park journalism, and I’m a fan. I wonder, how does someone get a job like this?