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!