Constance Penley on Fan Fiction and NASA


I got back into space and its fictions in the mid-1980s by hanging out with some very interesting women from around the country who write homoerotic, pornographic, utopian romances that take place in the Star Trek universe. Fellow academics have suggested that my “hanging out” with these female fan writers was really “doing ethnography,” but I cannot bring myself to put that more scholarly grid over the wondrous tangle of experiences and relationships that I found in that fan culture. In the “/TREK” chapter and the ones that follow I talk about everything I learned from this underground group of pseudonymous amateur writers who have ingeniously subverted and rewritten Star Trek to make it answerable to their own sexual and social desires. But what I learned most from them was an attitude that I later developed into a critical stance, a method of addressing what had become for me the increasingly entwined issues of sex, science, and popular culture. If the “slashers” (as the fans call themselves for reasons that will be revealed later) could rewrite the massive popular phenomenon that is Star Trek, why couldn’t I write NASA itself? After all, NASA has by now become popular culture–an issue I address in the “NASA/” chapter–making it without a doubt an object available to cultural criticism.

Constance Penley, NASA/TREK pp.2-3

I love the argument being put forward here (despite not really thinking that Penley rewrites NASA in the book). The idea that cultural existence equates to a kind of canon or lore that can then be reinterpreted in the same way that Spock and Kirk’s relationship is is another way of talking about speculation, and I’m 100% into the idea of speculating about the conditions of things in the world.

Parroting Marlo Stanfield (recognizing the baggage that comes with quoting The Wire in any form: “You want it to be one way, but it’s the other way.”

Posted in Theory | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Let’s Play Rollercoaster Tycoon – Bumbly Beach

This was the level that I was super excited about playing through in my Let’s Play of Rollercoaster Tycoon. I love the spatial setting of the entire thing–it is right in the middle of some rowhouses and a beach. It’s something like an east coast American time capsule, and while I never play it in that way (there would have to be way too many carousels and ferris wheels), there’s something about that that is really special. This is the high-water mark for this playthrough, and I hope that you enjoy it if you haven’t seen it already.

Posted in Video, Video Games | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Gamestop Publishes A Game, Is Not A Publisher

“We are not attempting to be publishers here,” he told MCV. “We are simply taking a great opportunity to collaborate in a non-traditional way, and trust that the combination of all these great ingredients we have put in make for a great experience.”

Christopher Dring, “GameStop: ‘We’re not trying to be a publisher’

I think this is some real bad stuff, and I am actually surprised that there aren’t some kind of business regulations that would prevent vertical integration of the game industry this one. Would Best Buy be able to legally enter the game development industry? I honestly have no idea, but this is super strange to me.

Posted in Video Games | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Animals, Drones, and the Police


We love when animals destroy drones. The compilation videos and their buzzf’diggification on Facebook has drawn together a very clear contemporary fascination with watching animals of all kinds destroy the most annoying objects of modern life. Animals fighting with flying machines is the new “watch a dad get kicked in the crotch on Christmas Day” in entertainment media.

The most recent story to draw attention around this phenomenon is the Dutch effort to train raptors (the birds not the dinosaurs) to snatch drones out of the sky. It’s worth clicking on the article to watch the short video because it is fascinating.

There’s nothing super complicated about the effort proper. A private, bird-based security firm has been contracted by the Dutch government to make those birds attack the drones that are threatening the privacy of, well, private citizens.

What I find interesting about the logic of the entire operation is the set of assumptions that exist to inform it. While the Guardian article I linked above is light on details from the security firm proper, the additional expert opinion from Geoff LeBaron really informs the majority of the piece:

Often drones lose their flying privileges because local birds feel crowded. “The drones are pretty much the size of a bird of prey, so smaller birds on the ground aren’t likely to mob a bird of prey when it’s flying – but larger birds are, especially when it’s around their nests,” said LeBaron, who’d seen the behavior in barnacle geese as well as raptors like ospreys. “The birds of prey are having an aggressive interaction to defend their territory from another bird of prey.”

LeBaron’s explanation naturalizes the antagonism between the bird and the ‘bot, and at first pass we could see an argument coming from this that would reaffirm some nature vs culture arguments right out of the Enlightenment and its echoes.

However, I think what’s more interesting is that there’s some strange flattening going on around the motivations of the bird in relationship to the drone. The animal psychology reading of the situation holds that the bird perceives a flattened relationship with the drone–when it looks at the drone, it sees a threat on par with other similar-sized flying things and deals with it appropriately.

There’s clearly a set of aviary disciplinary training that is going on here that’s similar to the training of a police officer or a private military corporation member. After all, the group doing this is a security firm. This bird isn’t just acting on instinct, but rather it is acting on training in the same way that a police dog or an assistance dog would be. When a dog helps someone who is visually impaired cross the street, we don’t essentialize that act into the “nature” of the dog. We recognize training.

There’s a politics to flattening out the bird’s relationship to the drone. We’re able to cast private operation of drones as literally “unnatural” and threatening to the order of things. More importantly, we are able to perform an action on humans by naturalizing the surveillance state as part of the instinctually-correct world of instincts available to animals.

Additionally, and this is some of the most interesting stuff for me, we are able to treat both the bird and the drone as equivalent creatures whose combat is an arena for working out what should exist in the world. It’s the choice between being a goddess or a cyborg abstracted out into violence between two inhuman things that we have objectified into combatants for our pleasure. What’s telling is that we can replace the bird with any other animal here–we can find an expert to naturalize the antagonism between the cat and the drone or the crocodile and the drone without any friction.

To end, I think that Greg Borenstein’s “Animal Tech Cop” does a great job of making this argument in a much more concise and entertaining way, so go look at that.

Posted in General Features | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Hauntology and Extinction: The Case of Some Weird Bugs


NPR posted a story a little while back about these giant insects that went extinct except for a few surviving members that lived under a bush on a giant rock outcropping in the ocean. It sounds like something out of the New Weird, a Vandermeer-esque story in which we find these bugs and they’re telekinetic or something.

While the whole affair is interesting, it’s the ending of the NPR story that really gets me thinking about our relationship with animals that have gone, or are going, extinct. Humans have a thing where we create boundary systems, and whether you prefer the simplistic “in-group/out-group” or the baroque “liberalism generates states of exception for inclusion and exclusion” model, there are not a lot of mechanisms that readily appear to us for bringing “solved” histories back to life.

What I mean: exclusion happens, the excluded disappears through the majority “eating” them or totally eliminating them, and then that horrifying act is relegated to history. We have a lot of theoretical language for dealing with this founding violence, whether you choose Derridean hauntology, a psychoanalytic return of the repressed, or the Marxist materialist approach of the dustbin of history always coming back to bite us in the ass.

The language of that group of historical ass-biting is always centered around something being there but being robbed of capability–like a ghost, it can haunt and have an impact, but it cannot directly topple the forces of exclusion and repair that eliminated it in the first place. The utopian dream of a Williams-esque “long revolution” yearns for that, of course, but I think the steady progress of neoliberalism probably generates cynicism in the face of that model.

In any case, these freaky bugs are this real problem for these theories. The islands that they were eliminated from literally have no desire or space for them. I can’t imagine any suburbanite the world over wanting to wake up bright and early to find one of these giant insects sitting on their marble countertops poised between them and their Keurig machines. And so these bugs exist in a weird limbo, not haunting us like the tragedy of the dodo, but being there as a real material force that no one wants to give an inch for.

Posted in Theory | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Player/Knowledge – Myst, Characters, and Environment

Everyone has been stumbling over themselves to compare The Witness to Myst and so I made a video in order to get to the root of how I think Myst functions.

Posted in General Features | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Universal Critique of All Games

Posted in Video Games | Tagged | Leave a comment