Monday, May 2, 2011

Have 2 cents, will share.

Just the other day, one of my professors, referring to how organizational change is dependent on the passing of generations (among other things), quipped "Things don't change overnight, things change when people die." That little aphorism is morbidly apt for today, the day they announced Osama Bin Laden is dead. OBL was allegedly found and killed near Islamabad in Pakistan, inciting celebrations all over the United States and much of the free world, especially at 'Ground Zero', where the twin towers once stood, proud symbols of America's economic and corporate power. To all those who lost their loved ones on September 11th, 2001, and in the resulting 'War on Terror', the news of OBL's death brings a sense of closure, of justice finally being done. And yet, I see no cause for celebration. All I see is another dead human being, another tragedy to add to the already long list of casualties of life in the 20th century. As one internet-wit puts it, "Lonely, deranged, religious man with kidney disease murdered in Pakistan." It is another matter that the man in question was directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people, but at the end of the day, he was just a man. The organization he led, Al Qaeda, literally means the 'way' or the 'basis', perhaps best translated as 'status quo'. Al Qaeda seeks to do what all fascist regimes have attempted (and failed) to do, to establish total control over an entire population. But history shows us that the will of the people may be suppressed for a while, but it can never be broken. Humans are an adaptable, resilient species, by nature predisposed to exercising our basic freedoms. The recent revolutions in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen and Bahrain are just the beginning of a global shift in power structures, in the way authority is exercised, and governments serve their people. A better day, and a better way of doing things is on the horizon.

No, I would not celebrate the death of OBL. I would celebrate the death of what he stood for, what all tyrants, all dictatorships, all authoritarian establishments stand for- the culture of hate and mistrust for one's fellow man. I would celebrate the end of ignorance, the end of violence, the end of the commonplace, everyday hatred that seems to reside in every human heart (but really has no place there). And I believe that I won't have to wait much longer.

tl;dr: Things don't change overnight. Things don't change when people die. Things change when people let go of the old ways, and embrace nobler ideals than the ones they are accustomed to. Imagine a better world... then make it so.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Leveraging the zeitgeist

It's a new age. Information has never been as freely accessible as in our time. The people of my generation are the first to truly embody the concept of 'global citizen', with the entire knowledge of the world at our disposal, literally at our fingertips. We are also the originators of another unique paradigm, participating daily in something that can best be referred to as the cultural conversation. It began with messages exchanged over usenet newsgroups, and has, over time, evolved quite naturally and organically into the many so-called social networks represented by services such as facebook, orkut, myspace, twitter et. al. A basic human urge is the need to be heard, to have a voice with which to share oneself with one's peers. What has been conceptualized as a 'global brain', as the ephemeral, illusive 'noosphere', is the Leviathan, and it is finally here.
Everything I have just said is wrong. The world-mind has always been a characteristic of the human race, the only difference is that now we are able to externalize, refine and track the movements of individual ideas in the noosphere. As above, so below, and so on ad infinitum in endless, fractal complexity. But you already knew this, even if you didn't know you knew it. Every generation likes to feel unique, to feel as if it is 'the first' whereas in truth, every generation is merely an echo of the previous one, albeit a more refined version, a slight variation on a familiar theme. Similarly, every generation has experience with the 'cultural conversation' in some way, shape or form. Hegel, in the 1700's, called it the 'zeitgeist'; the theosophists arrived at an approximation of it and chose to call it the 'akashic records'; the good people of 1980's Mtv called it 'pop culture' and James Cameron made a movie about it and called it 'eywa'. Our generation is unique in that our cultural conversation is truly global, in the sense that it includes more people than any other generation before us. Even our children learn how to access the internet almost as soon as they learn how to speak, if not sooner.

The gist of the matter is that being part of this grand cultural conversation, it is safe to assume that almost everyone (give or take the few inevitable outliers) is privy to the same knowledge, that there exists, at any time, a superset of collective information that is shared equally by the collective consciousness. Consider, for example, the rapid (almost virulent) spread and enduring appeal of internet memes. This opens up all kinds of possibilities in terms of marketing to this new, ultra-savvy generation. In order to appeal to the interests of the new consumer, products must be packaged accordingly, wrapped in the terminology of the 'new' generation, riffing on whatever happens to be at the forefront of the cultural conversation.

A great example is the announcement trailer for the game 'Dead Island'.
The relatively short, approximately 3 minute long trailer incorporates several tropes and idioms prominent in the current zeitgeist and then leverages them successfully, making a lasting impact on the viewer. The music is sensitive, evocative, and poignant; the opening sequence, with the close-up shot of the eye, coupled with the music, is heavily reminiscent of the wildly popular tv show LOST. The scenes that immediately follow are out of chronological sequence, running backwards inter-cut with scenes running forward, meeting halfway, highlighting the tragedy at the heart of the trailer, which is then further amplified by a short 'coda' sequence at the end of the trailer, which is, again, out of chronological sequence. This was a technique used most popularly in the movie 'Memento', and subsequently emulated in several other pop culture staples such as music videos. This is clearly not a novel technique, but it is well executed, and succeeds in engaging the viewer. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the trailer features zombies, a particular fixation in the current cultural consciousness. The most telling part of the entire trailer, however, is that it is completely animated using CGI and thus says nothing about the gameplay and/or the graphics of the finished product. What it does manage to do, and do quite well, is get people to notice the game. All these factors coupled together make for a compelling viewing experience and are sufficient to propel the trailer, and with it, the game, into the ongoing cultural conversation.

Which leads me to ask the inevitable question: what else are we being encouraged to talk about, and perhaps more importantly, what are we leaving out of the conversation?

Friday, February 4, 2011

F*#k Twilight.

Media Consumption Alert!
It is my duty to inform all and sundry that I am currently hip deep in Charlie Huston's 'Half the Blood of Brooklyn', the third 'Joe Pitt' casebook, and am in imminent danger of picking up the fourth and fifth volumes soon. The Joe Pitt Casebooks being the chronicles of a certain eponymous undead P.I. who often finds himself mired in unlikely (and often deadly) situations, involving bad guys, vampires (humans afflicted by a 'Vyrus' that consumes their blood, necessitating the need to periodically replenish their own bodily supply) and ..well.. 'others'.

Major appeal: It's not twilight. This is hard-boiled, Chandleresque vamp-fiction that takes itself with a pinch of saltpeter, with a wink and a tip of the hat to classic vampire literature in the vein of Bram Stoker and (dare I say it) Anne Rice. Set in contemporary New York, the books stay true to their pulp origins, and like their traditional pulp counterparts, remain just as enjoyable - down to the last drop page.

Protip: While each book can be read separately as a standalone novel, there is an overarching storyline that is carried forward by each book until the final, stunning, conclusion, so maintaining the reading order is highly recommended.

  1. Already Dead
  2. No Dominion
  3. Half the Blood of Brooklyn
  4. Every Last Drop
  5. My Dead Body
Also, if you liked these, you might want to check out Charlie Huston's excellent work on the new ongoing Wolverine series, the aptly titled (and hyper-violent) Wolverine: The Best There Is.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Indi-Pindi Day!

Patriotism [pa·tri·ot·ism] [pey-tree-uh-tiz-uhm] is...
living in a foreign country for nigh on two years, having left friends and family behind, working at a less-than-minimum-wage job for unbelievable hours at a stretch, weekdays and weekends, day in and day out, often with less than four hours of sleep to make just enough money to pay rent, busting your hump at school so you can some day hope to graduate and get a real job, one which allows you to pay off your (ever-increasing) debts, be they to your parents, towards student loans, or due to your monthly credit card payments, but still using LifeStyles brand condoms, made in INDIA [over 1.2 billion sold in the USA!]

Jai Hind! :p

Monday, April 19, 2010

To The One That Got Away

i had a dream about you this morning
and it was one of those
happy/sad things
because you were beautiful
(in the dream)
as always
and i enjoyed seeing you
and talking to you
but you
were not really

And in a way
i think i
that you

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Crossing the Vaitarani

'This is the terror. To have emerged from nothingness, to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life and self-expression - and with all this yet to die.' -Ernst Becker

Splashdown. We've fallen down the hole into what looks like another cavern, which echoes with the flow of some large body of water. As my eyes adjust to the dark, I see that we are at the banks of an underground river. The river is wide, and the opposite bank is hard to see. Strange lights, like will 'o the wisps, provide some dim illumination, and by this wan light I can see my darker self sprawled on the ground some ways away. I stand up, and the blood rushes away from my head, making me dizzy. The fall has left me bruised and aching, but thankfully, nothiing is broken. I make my way to the lip of the bank, walking slowly to keep my head from spinning, my feet making soft, squishy, *crunching* noises. I can't look down to identify the source of the sounds, because I am riveted by the horrifying sight before me. The river is not water at all, but blood, and as my senses reel, I am suddenly aware of the overpowering stench of rotting flesh that pervades the entire cavern.

Before I can recover, several of the lights materialise in front of me, and rush straight at my head. My legs buckle under me and it feels as if my weight has doubled. There's a buzzing in my ears, and I'm overcome by a sudden sense of vertigo. I black out for a moment and when I come to again, I'm vaguely aware of another presence in my head.

And then I hear the screaming from behind me. I whirl around to find my adversary pitifully scrambling away from the river, only to end up cowering against the curved stone wall of the cavern, the Fear come naked in his terrified screams.

Curiously, I am not afraid. I look down at my feet, and find myself surrounded by human bones, rotting muscle, skin and offal. The 'ground' is not stone or rock, being entirely composed of the skeletal remains of countless bodies. A subterranean golgotha, a thousand times worse than any other place of death imaginable. And the odor of death permeates this place through and through. And still, I feel no fear, while my dark half rants and screams obscenities at me, desperately scrabbling to climb the walls of this place, to no avail.

I am impelled to speak. The voice and intent are mine, but the words seem to come from somewhere else, a part of me that I had no access to except perhaps in dreams. The sensation is not unpleasant, in fact quite the contrary, I feel a refreshing sense of purpose, of wholeness, of finally being in control.

"What's wrong? Isn't this what you wanted?"

"Shut up! You don't know what you've done! This isn't our time!!"

"Why? What are you so afraid of? Death?"

"Don't you be so glib you shit! What do you know of death?"

"I know that death is a fact of life. All that are born must die. I have nothing to fear from death. And neither do you."

"WORDS! More of your damnable words! YOU CAN'T DEFEAT DEATH WITH WORDS! NOBODY CAN!"
And then he breaks down, all the anger going out of him, leaving only the Fear, naked and vulnerable.
"Please. I don't want to die. Just get me out of this place. I promise, I swear, I'll leave you alone."

"You know as well as I do that's not going to happen. You are a part of me. My first reaction to the world."

"Then why are you doing this!!"

"Because you've become lost. I needed to find you again. Stripped of all your posturing, reduced to the basic facts of your being. And here we are."

"Look, this will be the end of us. You don't really want that do you? We will be returned to the void. AND I DON'T WANT TO GO BACK!!"

"Returned to the void?? Death is not a return to nothingness. Who can claim to emerge from nothing? Can you? Where did you get this body from? This form, this shape you hold, this structure holding you, can you presume to claim ownership of any of its component parts? You don't own any of it, not one molecule, not one atom. It belongs to the all, every last speck of your existence, so dont resist it, and dont deny it. Not one of us has emerged from nothing, we owe our existence to the grand infinitude of all creation. So why fear Death? We come from the All, we live and breathe the All, and to the heart of the Universe itself is where we shall go when we die. We are all of us, each one woven into the tapestry of life, there is no place for Fear in this system. Come, take my hand, brother. Let me show you."

We hold out our hand. I can see the Fear holding him back, but I can also see the Will radiating outward from Us into him, and moving along that ephemeral thread, he takes a step forward, and grasps it. The touch is electric. Everything changes. The river doesn't foam with blood anymore, its speed arrested. Time has no meaning. I am whole again, alone no more. And I know exactly what I have to do. I move towards the river, and the blood begins to churn again, lapping at my feet. A terrible black smoke fills the entire cavern, buzzing with the angry noises of a thousand insects, stinging at my eyes and throat, but I can scarcely feel any pain. I wade in to the river of souls, the blood hot, burning away at my flesh, until I am completely submerged. And I close my eyes.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Prelude; Endgame

All is darkness. I am cold and alone, on a bare stone floor as before. My adversary, the aggressor, is none but myself. And I am alone. I'm back in the cavern again. I am on the ground, he is standing tall in his rags, all sackcloth and ashes, pacing back and forth on the cold stone floor, cackling as he tears pages from a battered old leather diary. My diary.

"Oh look, here's a fun excerpt!"

He reads an excerpt from my diary to me, one of my low points, about how I feel I'm slowly making my way through every person on the planet, alienating each one, and this makes me sad, because there are a lot of people, and its going to take me a long time to isolate myself from each one, personally.

"A tad dramatic, wouldn't you say? Oh wait, you DID say!", followed by a burst of maniacal laughter.

I shift my weight around, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. There is no visible source of light, and yet I'm able to 'see' him/me.

"Why do you look like me? Who are you?", I ask again.

"Isn't it obvious? I am the God of HELLFIRE, and I bring you.. naah, just kidding. I AM you. Well, a part of you anyway. I'm the one who cautions you against risk, the little voice in your head that keeps you from killing yourself every time, the part of you that hates everything else. Sad but true!"

As he speaks, he becomes more animated, and conversely, I feel weaker. He seems to be drawing the strength right out of me, feeding his own frail frame, appearing taller, more imposing with each word.

"You've been digging yourself into this hole for a long time, my man. I'm just here to liven up the atmosphere!", so saying, he grabs me by the neck, and I'm dragged towards the lip of what I now see is a deep chasm, powerless to resist.

"You're gonna fall for a loooong time, boy. Are you sure you want to do this? The risks are high in this game, and the dice are loaded aaaall the way down!"

I've always been scared of heights. Enjoying my fear, he stands over me, and recites from another page..

"The heights by mediocre men reached and kept, were not attained by sudden flight, but they, whilst their companions slept, soiled their underpants in their fright! Aahahahaha! Derivative, to be sure, but how apt! A visionary sir, truly!"

And just then, I realize what's happening here. If he is me, then I am him. And this is all just a sick fucking game in my head. But there's only one way to find out.
As he's about to speak again, I interrupt loudly from the floor, "Oi! That's MY diary you're reading from, and I've had high times as well as low. Turn the page, fucker. I'm not all about the gloom and doom. There's self-absorbed misery, and there's flashes of light and brightness." He's visibly taken aback by this sudden change in my demeanor, and I take advantage of his hesitation.

"You might be one aspect of me, but I have more than just one face. I wear several masks, and you're only my least favorite. You think you're in control of the situation, but you've got it all upside down. You think you can scare me by dangling me over this precipice, this black hole in my psyche that I've been running away from? I'm willing to bet that you're more afraid of this than I am." Saying this, I leap off the floor towards him, and grabbing him in a strange, awkward hug, I push us both over the edge and into the darkness.