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This past Friday, James Rolfe — best known as the Angry Video Game Nerd — published a video featuring his personal top 10 episodes of that series. By this point, I’ve seen every episode…multiple times, in the cases of the ones I liked. Yes, I’d argue that the quality has gone downhill in recent years, but his top 10 video, I think, explains why: the episodes James names as his favorites are actually the ones that I’d probably name as my least favorites.

His desires aren’t in line with mine. He likes story lines and special effects and external zaniness. I like reviews. Sometimes they dovetail well, sometimes they don’t. He seems to like it when they don’t.

Which made me wonder about my top 10 Angry Video Game Nerd episodes. And as I’m moving this week, I figured this might be a fun post to leave you with, in case I lose internet access for a while.

For the purposes of this list, I did consider multi-part episodes (in which a game or series is covered in more than one sequential video) to be one review, but treated sequel episodes as their own entities. Otherwise, this should be pretty straightforward. Oh, and, there’s no Mike Matei to be found in the entire list. Funny how that worked out.

So, here you go. My personal top 10 episodes of a video game review show that’s shockingly been running almost as long as I’ve been online. I hope you enjoy.

10) Indiana Jones Trilogy

Episode 48: Like James, I’m starting my list with what I’d consider to be a “standard” episode. And I’m not really sure why this one keeps coming to mind, so if you’d like to, feel free to sub it out for The Simpsons, Dracula, Spider-Man or something. But the Indiana Jones Trilogy episode does a great job of providing exactly what I want to see when I tune in. The games are reviewed comprehensively, the observations are well made, the jokes are funny, and James has a clear and obvious love for the source material. (Well, the films at least. The odds of him having much love for these particular games are pretty slim.) What’s more, he reviews three related games, which I always love. Videos featuring multiple games will make up a lot of this list. While one-game reviews are often very good, I think I enjoy the variety of hopping around within a singular theme. Also, I enjoy videos about these middle-of-the-road bad games. The ones that aren’t worth playing for laughs on your own, but still provide plenty of fodder for comedy from a distance.

9) Action 52 / Cheetahmen

Episodes 90 and 91: Fruit doesn’t hang any lower than Action 52, but the sheer volume of crap crammed into a single cartridge really does make it worth revisiting over and over. Many game critics got to this one long before James did, but there’s still a lot of entertainment on display here. In fact, his skits and jokes don’t make this one at all; rather, the game humiliates itself by failing to load, throwing up glitch after glitch, and even preventing itself from progressing. Action 52 is an easy target, but a fruitful one. It’s a funny game to watch anyone play, and it’s only right that angry reviewing’s elder statesman got to take his jabs as well. The second part completes the review but it also looks at the Genesis version and Cheetahmen II, so it’s absolutely necessary to see them as halves of a complete whole. For what it’s worth, I actually did play Action 52 as a kid. A friend of mine owned it, and part of the appeal of James’ video, I think, is the marathon plow through game after game that reflects my exact experience of it at my friend’s house. Surely one of these games will have to be good…

8) Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties

Episode 74: Easily one of the out-and-out funniest episodes. Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties is more of a terrible amateur film than it is a game, but that just means James has a wealth of different things to criticize it for. Due to the nature of the game, this feels more like a truncated Let’s Play than a proper review, but it’s absolutely hilarious. This one has been a favorite of mine since it was first uploaded. It doesn’t advance the AVGN formula or do anything especially unique, but it’s one of James’ most successful comic outings in my opinion, and for that reason alone it deserves a place on this list.

7) Street Fighter 2010

Episode 85: There’s a lot to love about this one. It covers multiple games, provides an interesting history of the Street Fighter franchise, and it gives a relatively unknown game (by Capcom NES standards) a spotlight it surprisingly ends up deserving. But I think what I really love about it and what makes it stand out in my mind is that it serves as a perfect illustration of what kept us playing these extremely difficult, often unfair, relentlessly punishing video games. James starts off predictably enough, complaining about the controls, the difficulty, and the absurdly tenuous connection to the Street Fighter name. But then something clicks. Sure, the game in many ways sort of sucks…but it’s overall compelling enough to keep him coming back. He pushes through, gradually. He engages with the game on its own terms, even as he lambastes those terms. He doesn’t just learn how to complete a level, but how to complete it quickly, without taking damage, and while collecting all of the powerups. Why? Because you have to, otherwise you can’t finish the game. Obviously James has (rightly) given up on many games in the past. He reaches a roadblock or finds some reason to call it quits, and you can’t blame him. So for Street Fighter 2010, which certainly seems like one of the most difficult games he’s ever played, it says an awful lot that he actually takes the time to finish it. In doing so, he reminds us of what we’ve all gone through. It likely wasn’t Street Fighter 2010 for most of us. It may have been Mega Man. Or Battletoads. But we all had those moments, when we cursed at a game, hated a game, raged against a game’s refusal to play fair…and yet fell in love anyway. A truly great episode.

6) Back to the Future ReRevisited

Episode 94: The earliest AVGN episodes (or Angry Nintendo Nerd episodes, I should say) were great for what they were. I remember watching them with my friend Mike, who couldn’t believe what he had found. I couldn’t believe it, either. Almost nothing James was saying about those old games was new or even especially insightful, but for the first time it felt like the frustrating experiences we had as kids were actually universal, and somewhere out there, some guy in a white buttondown was profanely articulating them on our behalf. It was a riot, especially because there was nothing else like it at the time. It felt genuinely novel. But, of course, James’ style progressed, and watching those old episodes, it’s easy to see their rough edges and puzzling omissions. James saw it, too, and used this episode to re-review those games, paving over the holes and fleshing out criticisms he’d barely scraped before. The centerpiece is Back to the Future on the NES, which somehow provides even more material than he wrung from it the first time around…and we get proper looks at other Back to the Future games as well. What I really love, though, is the ending. As often as James tries to cram actual narrative into these episodes — and as often as I’d argue it fails — sometimes a real-world twist like what we get here achieves more than careful scripting ever could.

5) Virtual Boy

Episode 42: My absolute favorite kind of AVGN episode. This one looks at something that’s not obscure, exactly, but which relatively few viewers will be personally familiar with. James provides a history lesson, places the product in its proper context, and reviews every single one of the games released for it. (Initially he left out Jack Bros., but I’m linking to a later version of the video that includes it.) The Virtual Boy was a high-profile failure, and probably the first true stumble for Nintendo…a company that in so many young eyes — mine included — could do no wrong. I sensed something was off as a kid, and the Virtual Boy was probably the first thing Nintendo ever made that I didn’t want at all. Watching this video, I see that I didn’t miss out on much. Surprisingly, most of the games turn out to be either fun or inoffensive, leaving the hardware itself to shoulder the blame for the system’s failure. Many of the best AVGN episodes teach me something beyond “the controls in this game are bad.” This one provided a great overview of a gaming curiosity I only ever experienced in the periphery. Eventually I did get to play a Virtual Boy at a convention, and I was actually impressed with how well it handled the 3D effect. But as this episode demonstrates, the gimmick failed to justify the machine’s existence. James’ video provides a perfect eulogy.

4) Godzilla

Episode 77: A friend of mine isn’t a huge fan of the AVGN, but he does enjoy James’ other big series: Monster Madness. He says this is because James has a real knowledge of and passion for cinema…and I’d say the same thing about my friend, so I’m willing to believe it. Monster Madness used to be a yearly series that would run every October. It’s been discontinued, but every so often James’ clear love of film bleeds into an AVGN episode. This may be the prime example, as he’s able to identify obscure characters from these Godzilla video games and trace their cinematic histories…including characters who didn’t even originate with that series. The whole “licensed games are garbage” thing is well worn by this point, but I think an episode on garbage Godzilla games is deserved. After all, why wouldn’t Godzilla games be awesome? He’s a giant monster who smashes things. How hard could it be to make a fun game based on that? You’d have to actively try to make them lousy by stripping away the very essence of who Godzilla is and what Godzilla does. Sure enough, every game the AVGN covers here does exactly that in its own way. And James’ frustration and disappointment in that fact feels far more natural here than it does in so many other episodes, as he clearly cares about the franchise…and just wanted one game he could enjoy along with the films.

3) Ghostbusters

Episodes 21, 22, and 23: I remember thinking the very first AVGN episodes were nothing if not exhaustive. Then we got a three part episode about Ghostbusters on the NES and I realized I hadn’t seen anything yet. Ghostbusters, like Godzilla, seems like a can’t-miss video game premise. You have popular and recognizable heroes, awesome gear that every little boy wanted desperately to get his hands on, and an opportunity to create fun and inventive ghosts for players to shoot at. And, like Godzilla, Ghostbusters went out of its way to miss. It’s an extremely strong concept for a game that is botched spectacularly. The three-part nature of this episode may sound like overkill, but it makes sense to me. It implies a “can’t look away” sort of reaction to the game, which mirrors the one I had as a kid. Yes, Ghostbusters was terrible…but I kept renting it. Kept playing it. Kept hating it. All the while, I guess I couldn’t believe my eyes. I returned over and over again to the game, hoping for it to finally click. Hoping it would reveal itself as the great game I knew it should have been. Hoping I’d realize that I was just playing it incorrectly, or looking for the wrong things. With this series of videos, the AVGN lets go of that hope with a comprehensive review, suggestions for improvement, a look at the game’s many ports, and reviews of other Ghostbusters games to cleanse the palate.

2) Bible Games

Episode 17: The AVGN’s first masterpiece, for sure. The videos prior to this were often funny and were absolutely novel for their time, but this is the video that, in my estimation, made it clear that the concept had staying power. Laying into a good portion of the Wisdom Tree catalog, James spotlights exactly what’s wrong with these offensively lazy Christian cash-ins, approaching them almost entirely from a game-design standpoint and leaving the viewer to decide how true or genuine the didactic intentions of the developers were. Did they truly feel they were saving souls? Or were they just counting on parents to throw money their way without knowing better? The answer’s pretty clear to me, but James does a great job of highlighting his own sampling of absurdities, leaving it to you to pick up on the rest. This one is still and will always be an easy favorite. James dipped back into the Bible games well a few times since, but in my estimation, none of the sequel episodes rise quite to the highs of the original. (Bible Games 2 came pretty close, though.) Taken as a relic of a time when “the NES had Bible games” was a genuine and hilarious revelation, this video is great. Familiarity has dulled its edge a bit, but there’s still a great deal of fun to be had from watching. This is one of those “often imitated, never duplicated” situations, and Bible Games is exactly what every angry reviewer to follow (including yours truly) strove to measure up to.

1) Castlevania

Episodes 79, 80, 81, and 82: The very first AVGN episode was about Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, kicking off this surprisingly long-running series with a look back at the archetypal game James wished he could love. 78 episodes later, he returned to that series with a four-part retrospective that isn’t just my favorite AVGN material, but which is easily some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen on YouTube. I end up rewatching this miniseries around Halloween every year, and I enjoy it a little more each time. The jokes and observations are good, of course, but what really pushes it over the top and makes it worth revisiting is James’ profound love for the series, and for classic horror films in general. He makes the most of his shtick, of course, but this is probably the closest we get to hearing from the “real” person beneath the persona, with his memories of the first five Castlevania games, his later experience of the games on other consoles, and a well-earned paean to the series that closes the entire thing off perfectly. I understand that James and I appreciate different things about his output, but the fact that this didn’t make his top 10 is astounding. I don’t know how the AVGN will eventually end his series, but I’m confident he couldn’t possibly go out on a higher note than this.

What are your favorites? Anything you’d especially disagree with above? I’d be curious to know. Enjoy, and I’ll be back soon!

As two or three of you know, I used to review ALF. It made me the most famous person on the internet. Anyway, some dope decided to review Perfect Strangers, and he’s halfway through the run, meaning he’ll get his life back sometime in the mid-2030s.

To celebrate / pity this milestone, he’s hosting a live stream of six episodes, various surprise goodies, and the requisite profane chatroom. It will be fun, and I’ll be there for sure. There’s also Larryoke, in which Casey, myself, and a few other familiar names get together to sing Perfect Strangers parody lyrics over the backing tracks of popular songs. It’s a great idea because I had it.

It all goes down at 8 p.m. EST on Friday, April 14. As ever, you can sign up to the Facebook event to let it do the timezone calculating. It will also remind you to join us for a terrible 80s sitcom we all still kinda love anyway.

Definitely tune in. Even I’m looking forward to it, and I hate everything.

What this site could look like

February 20th, 2016 | Posted by Philip J Reed in internet | Meta - (10 Comments)

Grand Theft Auto V

Running a website is its own reward. As you know, I just need to turn on my computer and lots of money and sexy ladies and respect come tumbling out of the screen and into my lap. It’s great and you should all feel pret-ty envious. Probably even suicidal.

But it has its…less rewarding aspects as well. Mainly the investment of time and money to keep it operational.

Time is not exactly a rigid requirement, I admit. Yes, it can take me several hours of work for an ALF review, or several days of work for a Fiction Into Film, but on the whole it doesn’t take too long to sit down and write something.

However, if I am sitting down to write something, that’s time I’m not spending writing other things…whether those are personal projects, freelance work, or just the emails I owe friends who at this point definitely assume I’ve died.

Then there’s also fresh air (whatever that is) and a social life, or reading, or watching movies or playing video games or, basically, experiencing all of the things other people have created. And so it can be difficult to balance. Sometimes I’ll go for weeks on end doing nothing but writing. Other times I want to spend that time catching up on things I’ve missed.

And I can do that. That’s the best thing about having my own website and not working for others anymore: I set my own deadlines.

That’s also the worst thing about having my own website and not working for others anymore: I set my own deadlines.

So while this means I can delay something (or many somethings) it also means that if I’m not posting anything, people will check back less and less often. And if they check back less and less often, finding very little to read when they do return, they might stop showing up. And while that’s okay, it’s not ideal. I don’t write for the sake of having an audience, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t value having an audience. And I value it deeply.

This audience. The one you’re a part of. The audience who is reading this right now, wondering why the heck I’m bringing any of this up. (I love you and you are handsome.)

Well, that’s because it ties into the other less-rewarding aspect: money.

Running a site like this isn’t free. There’s not an exceptional expense, but it’s significant for someone in my…ahem…modest income bracket. I pay for the domain and I pay for the bandwidth. The latter of which I had to upgrade about a year ago when my traffic increased, and which I’ll have to increase again before long.

And those things are fine; believe me, I’m not complaining, but I want to make it clear why I’m interested in defraying the cost as much as possible, and within reason. (We’ll define “within reason” before long.)

Frankly, Noiseless Chatter operates at a loss.

Big deal. I’m okay with that.

But I’d be foolish if I wasn’t at least a little interested in reducing the degree of that loss.

Fortunately, webmasters like me can pull in money hand over fist! Every day I get offers from people who want to throw money at this site. LOOK!

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I mainly just thought this one was funny…later emails were more in line with what you see below — I did ask for clarification — but anyone who comes to this site and thinks I’d be the kind of guy who wants to open crates with a crowbar can’t have read a word that I’ve ever written. And I don’t think any readers hang around here because they think they’re reading the ponderous thoughts of a man who blogs between crowbar sessions.

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I’m sure that a broad spectrum of international organizations would be touched to have their content featured between screengrabs of a masturbating puppet, but I had to decline. I know what the content looks like. It all looks the same. It’s without value or meaning, written for the express purpose of fooling search engines into associating one specific company with one specific keyword. In short, they’re writing to fool a robot. And they’re wondering if I could be bribed to let them do it on my readers’ time. For the princely fee of $20.

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And hey, look, confirmation that the folks reaching out to me aren’t even bothering to customize their templates beyond the barest minimum. Surely the content they’re offering will be stellar. (They’re doubling that money, though. I’m twice as tempted to fuck over my readers!)

I get these a lot. Like, all the damned time. Sometimes they take the time to learn my name. Usually they don’t. One of them, for some reason, called me Sue. And none of them, ever, care about you, or the site, or what anybody coming here would like to read.

They write garbage. I know they write garbage, because I used to work for a digital marketing agency that pulled this same crap. We wrote garbage, too.

But…well…wouldn’t that be nice? If I could just take one of these folks at their ostensible word every month? That’s an extra $40 every 30 days. And, hey, what if I did two per month? Or three? I could pull in $1,200 a year easily, just by posting this crap that nobody cares about. And doesn’t that sound like a fair trade? Maybe I could even post it on Sundays, when I never post anything and nobody even thinks to visit the site anyway. Who would that hurt?

It’d hurt the site.

It’d hurt what I’ve built.

It’d hurt you guys, and make poor use of your time.

I don’t want to hold Noiseless Chatter up as some exemplar of quality or anything, but I hope it can have just a little bit of integrity in a medium that…doesn’t always value it. And doesn’t always want it. And is glad to fake it just long enough to turn itself around for an easy buck.

There’s a blogger I used to visit that, within the past year, has turned her site over to sponsored content, and it’s sad. I won’t name her site here because I don’t intend to shame her and I don’t know what’s behind her decision, but I went from having a blogger I was interested in reading whenever she had something to say, to having a shell of a blog that doesn’t seem to have much of her in it at all.

I don’t want anyone here to feel that. If you get any joy out of this site whatsoever, I’d like to maintain that. If you don’t…well, even then it’s not like sponsored content is going to change your mind. Nobody wins.

I make money, yes…but nobody wins.

I’ve hosted pieces here that were provided by outside writers, but I’ve never accepted a penny for doing so. I’ve reviewed other people’s products and wrote about their projects, but never in exchange for money. And I wouldn’t take any. Ever. If I get a review request for something that interests me, I ask for a copy of that item, which I think is fair. If they offer money, I refuse. As you see above, people do indeed offer money.

I’ve had people ask how they can support the site. One reader — whom I don’t wish to embarrass, but feel free to out yourself in the comments — said he goes out of his way to click ads on my site in order to help.

And, yes, that’s a way, but never, ever feel obligated to do that. If you see an ad on my site for something that interests you, and you click it, I get a little money from Google. If you don’t click it, I get a little less (as long as the ad actually displays).

Don’t click for the sake of clicking…but if you do click, it helps. I’m not asking you to click; I’m just explaining how it works. If you tell me here and now that you’d never click a damned thing on my site, I wouldn’t think any less of you, and I have no expectations that anybody will click anything.

Really, the only thing I would ask is that you disable adblock on my site. And that’s not even a very strong request. Frankly, I don’t mind what you block or don’t block. But if you’re wondering “how can I help?” that would be the extent of my answer.

Ads are a touchy subject. I feel dirty every time I see them on my own site. At the same time, they’re helping me afford to keep the site. Does that make them a necessarily evil? I…honestly don’t know. And it’s probably not for me to decide. Many of you don’t seem to mind either way. Others, I’m sure, hate that they’re here. Believe me, I hear you, and I understand. If there were any other way to defray the cost of maintaining the site, I’d be all ears.

I could offer something for sale, here. And maybe I will, at some point. Right now, you could always buy a mug if you haven’t already. They’re good mugs! But that’s just an option. Maybe in the future I’ll have more options. Again, I’m all ears.

But, really, there’s not much that you can do. I could set up a donation link or something, but I’d rather there be something of value changing hands. I do have an idea for something else to offer in the near-ish future, and I’ll probably announce that in the near-er-ish future, but right now the way to help…the best way to really help…is just to read.

To comment.

To like this stuff on Facebook.

To share it with your friends should you feel so compelled.

That’s all. It’s not money that keeps me going. If this site one day broke even I’d do a cartwheel, but that’s not what I’m after. I could make this site immediately profitable at the expense of its identity…and I don’t want that.

I want you guys.

And every time you show me you’re engaged — even through disagreement — it means the world to me. That’s what keeps me here, investing time and money and, on Thursdays, my sanity. I read all comments. I value every like and retweet and everything else. I get giddy when I look at old articles and see that they’ve been shared dozens of times. In some cases hundreds. In one case thousands.

That means everything to me. That’s why I write. That’s why I have this site. And that’s why no amount of money is going to tempt me — really tempt me — to part with it.

The internet eats great things alive.

Thank you for giving me reasons every day to keep this small one afloat.

Star Trek: The Animated Series
Many of you no doubt know commenter Sarah Portland, a longstanding, intelligent, periodically evil presence on this blog. Well, she runs her own episodic review site, focusing on Star Trek, the original series. Just recently, however, she finished that classic show, and moved on to its…marginally less-classic Animated Series spinoff.

So, yes, utterly shameless plug, because her Star Trek reviews were great and I expect these will be too. Check them out.

Today saw her first post about the cartoon adventures of the Enterprise crew, which according to the picture above consists of Uhura, a butter sculpture of Mr. Spock, Chevy Chase circa 1982, Jar Jar Binks, Zapp Brannigan, the painting lion from Zoobilee Zoo, Bruce Lee, Tommy Wiseau, and Anne Heche.

So, go read that while I try to muster up the energy to write about Fallout 3.

The Simpsons, Thomas Pynchon

The following is a great article on artistic discussions of the deep web, online privacy, social responsibility, and more, courtesy of UK-based reader Patrick Massey. I found this fascinating, worrying, and enlightening in equal parts, and I hope you experience some mix of those three things as well. Take it away, Patrick.

A “Marco Polo” of the contemporary public sphere: “Internet” and “privacy.” The two phenomena are often yoked together in the news: the various problems of data access (who should be denied it? Whose data should be sacrosanct? What justifies access sub rosa?) swap pre-eminence in public consciousness as the Big Three of ‘net privacy–Snowden, Assange, Manning–swap the limelight. (In this essay, “‘net” refers to both the readily accessible surface Web, typically but carelessly referred to as “the Internet,” hence my coining an alternative term— and the Deep Web, the Internet’s large, largely criminal underbelly.)

In this essay, I want to consider how, not the news, but contemporary visual culture (i.e. screen and theatre of 2013/4) visualizes and/or fails to visualize ‘net privacy. I hope to address familiar issues of ‘net privacy via less familiar co-ordinates. Of course, William Gibson and other genre authors have been addressing cyber-issues, crafting cyber-aesthetics for years; but here I’m thinking of a) the real world ‘net in b) mainstream works of c) the last two years.

SCREEN MEDIA, and The ‘Net/Screen Problem

Documentaries aside (though cf. Terms and Conditions May Apply, Citizen Four), Internet privacy is surprisingly scantly treated in ‘13/4 screen culture. The two so bracketed, ‘net-oriented films I remember most readily–Her and Transcendence–privilege online addiction and a deus ex machina Johnny Depp over issues of ‘net privacy. Even Assange bio The Fifth Estate is more reportage, a primer on its subject and Wikileaks, than a meditation on abstractions or themes (and even then, Assange’s relationship to the media is privileged over ‘net privacy).

In mainstream C21 cinema in sum, ‘net privacy is principally a means to emotive ends. In Hard Candy, Chatroom, and Trust, the abuse of ‘net privacy does not itself merit attention–rather, it enables plot-wise the kidnaps et al that define and rather pre-occupy those thrillers. Even in the Catfish franchise [’10 film + current MTV series], any interrogation of ‘net privacy abuse is suborned to affect: to first terror (“who are these people?”), then horror (“look at those people!”). Although Catfish et al can be, indeed have been starting-points for discussing ‘net privacy, that discussion doesn’t happen in the films themselves.

Such scanty treatment of ‘net privacy on screen owes not only, I think, to auteurs’ simply “not having got round to it”, but also to a fundamental, broader disjunction between the ‘net and screen media. The ‘net does not readily lend itself to concrete visualization. One must get figurative, experimental; but screen media tend towards “meatspatial” settings— realities, however fantastical or futuristic. Consider Star Trek’s holodeck: always a real-world milieu, often Earth-historical, never a Tron-scape. Consider too the recent backdoor pilot for CSI Cyber: introducing a series oriented around the Deep Web, yet resorting latterly to “Female (Early 20s)” showing hard copy evidence of her online chat-room ignominy to meatspatial paparazzi in a meatspatial VEGAS: EXT.

Star Trek, Holodeck

I might suggest three reasons for this disjunction. First, the chokehold of corporate network funding and the likelier non-profitability of experimentalism [versus the realism that characterizes the “New Golden Age” of television]; the desire to fully exploit and justify investment in physical sets; and third (and still more tentatively proffered), the Internet’s being TV and film’s unheimlich, uncanny counterpart, perhaps frustrating the interrogation of the former by the latter… Heady stuff. But the bottom line for us is: if the Internet in sum cannot find a screen aesthetic, what hope for its clandestine, its even less readily visualized cyberspaces? And what hope consequently for addressing ‘net privacy?

Happily, ‘net privacy has been better visualized in theatre of ‘13/4— a medium naturally more amenable to the figurative and the experimental.

THEATRE, and Romancing the ‘Net

In The Net Effect, Thomas Streeter posits romanticism as a key co-ordinate in ‘net studies. He primarily argues that neoliberal forces propagate a romantic individualist idea of computing, and that “capital R” Romanticism can help us understand the social meaning of computers.

With this precedent in mind, I turn to ‘net privacy in theatre of ‘13/4. All the plays I’m going to consider deal with perversions, criminal iterations of ‘net privacy. But none less than Keats was ‘half in love with death’; and however perverse their content gets, these plays evince, if not a Romantic aesthetic per se, then something sufficiently akin that I’m going to draw formal Romantic parallels and beg your indulgence.

Jen Haley’s The Nether deals with online pederasty in a private “Hideaway” [Haley’s device]. In fashioning the Hideaway, Haley eschews a complementarily grimy, abject aesthetic for irony: it is an archetypal country estate, with trees, gazebo, and fishing-pond. Notwithstanding its nominally Victorian context, a Romantic aesthetic— Blakeian innocence, a “Lakeland Poetic” idealizing of Nature— surely underpins a milieu that presents like this:

The Nether, The Hideaway

Blakeian also is Iris, the Hideaway’s resident, white-clad sprite–and “willing” victim of virtual child abuse. Innocent prima facie, but horribly au fait with abhorrent experience (“Perhaps you’d like to use the axe first”): Iris embodies the disjunction that hinges Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. Note finally how, according to its creator, “it’d upset a balance” in the Hideaway to suggest that Iris could grow older: anyone whose mind went to the Romantic organic conception of nature, give yourself a mark.

Price’s Teh [sic] Internet is Serious Business is a reportage piece about the respective rise and fall of the “hacktivist” groups Anonymous and LulzSec. Its dominant aesthetic is anarchic: a ball pit abuts the stage, from and around which emerge Socially Awkward Penguin and other costumed memes. Bright lights, Harlem Shake: you get the drift. At first sight, privacy is not the word here. But Price also depicts hackers’ private forums— and here, the staging tends towards lyricism. Computer code is recited as poetry (cf. Chandra’s recent equivalence of the two, if intrigued); databyte flow, enacted as dance. Here, literarily and physically, is a lyricism where elsewhere is jouissance: thus is privacy “Romanticized” (cf. Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads, Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Dvorak’s New World Symphony…).

James Graham’s Privacy tacks otherwise to Haley and Price. Graham’s is a synoptic approach to ‘net privacy, a condemnation of illiberal governmental/corporate/ security state malpractice as regards ostensibly password-protected public data. Such factuality is not the Romantic way, likewise Privacy’s format: a hybrid of verbatim enactments of his [The Writer’s] interviews with real British Establishment figures (Shami Chakrabarti, anyone? Well, Google her sometime); lectures; and fourth-wall—breaking audience participation. For good measure, Privacy rides roughshod over the Romantic exaltation of the subject: an array of thumbprints is the default [screen] backdrop, and the “subject” of the audience participation (having given prior permission) has her real-world online footprint, herself by proxy dissected onstage.

Privacy, James Graham

Despite all this, Privacy retains a double pertinence. First, it acts as a counter-proof: as its core is non-Romantic, so Privacy does not depict privacy itself [cf. Haley’s Hideaway, Price’s hackers’ forums] but exposes, is an exposé of its absence. Second, its aesthetic rather taps into the “other end” of Romanticism, where rapturous apostrophes fade into disquiet, into sublimity: the awesome dimensions of Big Data, the staging [that screen, those magnified thumbprints] vis-à-vis the actors and the script’s analytical impulse.

So: 2 1/2 proofs and a counter-proof, we might say, of a relationship between ‘net privacy and a quasi-Romantic aesthetic. My humble explanation: that the ‘net (especially the Deep Web) remains so broadly un-comprehended, its depth so untapped, as to inspire from us what “the naked countenance of Earth” [Shelley] inspired from the Romantics.

PYNCHON: A Quick Nota Bene

In another world, where space and time were as playthings, I’d fully discuss Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge: the only “literary” fictional novel that readily comes to mind that not only foreground ‘net privacy as a theme, but actually figures it as a distinct, visualized cyberspace–DeepArcher; conceived of as a ‘grand-scale motel for the afflicted’, for Pynchon’s kindred preterite [cf. Gravity’s Rainbow, or Google judiciously]; variously iterated as train concourse, desert, and galactic Void; and ultimately a Purgatory for leads, lovers, and 9/11 victims all encountered (and killed off) in the narrative. (On a complementary note for that latter point: Kabbalistic imagery and lexis is deployed in descriptions of the Void). Would I could share my MA dissertation with you all; but I’ll highlight simply this: doing what even screen media cannot (at least easily), and in keeping with his typical trickster mode, Pynchon visualizes ‘net privacy chimerically; that one cannot identify a definitive DA-scape is the whole point. A nicely postmodern note, I hope, on which to finish considering contemporary cultural visualizations of the ‘net.

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