Archive for July 13, 2012

Happy Things

“In December 2004, Duchamp’s Fountain was voted the most influential artwork of the 20th century by 500 selected British art world professionals.” –Wikipedia (Also, clearly this is the BEST way to start a blog post titled “Happy Things.”)

Penn Jillette has been on the Nerdist podcast twice now, and one of the threads of his conversation with Chris Hardwick is that in recent years cynicism has become the cool thing, but earnest expression is always better, and all the more powerful in a time of ironic cynicism. More recently, there’s been the whole Daniel Tosh rape joke brouhaha. One insightful commentary on it came from a Tumblr post by Dave Holmes , who observed that good comedy challenges the status quo, and today “the status quo is fucking dark.” Trivializing rape is tasteless, shocking, and reprehensible to some, but unfortunately it’s just not in any way outside the norm. [1] Art (in the broadest sense of the term) has gone through a series of challenges, where artists push boundaries and change what’s within the bounds of “normal.” Paintings had to be clear representations of something, poetry had to follow a form, and so on, and pioneers and experimenters gave us new ways of thinking about things. The problem is that there are also a lot of people who like to do transgressive stuff for the sake of being transgressive, imitating the surface aspects of the likes of Duchamp without the originality or substance. Tosh seems to thrive on making people uncomfortable, but does so without the artistry of the likes of Louis C.K. I don’t shun things that are dark or shocking, but I have enough of a sense of what does and doesn’t have actual substance that there are some things I don’t bother with. I’d rather watch just about anything by Tarantino than The Human Centipede , for example.

Thinking about this stuff, I realize that I genuinely, unironically like things that are optimistic and uplifting. Obviously [2] I’m not suggesting that cynical, grimdark stuff is bad or needs to go away, but there’s room for happy shiny stuff too, whether it’s slice of life manga or the sleek utopianism of Star Trek . An e-mail conversation with a Neko Machi fan made me feel like my preference for creating and enjoying this kind of thing makes me stand out a bit. I like doing things that make myself and others happy, especially when it comes to creating things. I like a bright, happy aesthetic that for me at least engenders those kinds of feelings. [3] Certainly the only other RPG designer I can think of whose overall style is like that is Daniel Solis .

When it comes to cute, happy stuff, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and its adult male fans are kind of an elephant in the room. Max Gilardi (who does parody animations based on MLP amongst others) has an interesting insight on the brony [4] phenomenon . While it’s true that the show is well-made and has excellent voice acting and animation, Gilardi contends that the real core thing is that “…it has something to do with the show’s ability to reach a certain level of cute without crossing that line over into schmaltzy or sugary,” and further that it’s “…a children’s cartoon that, unlike Pixar films, doesn’t cater to adults as well as children, but rather, caters to the children INSIDE adults.” The internet is a big factor too of course, but I think his insights go a long way towards explaining why it has a lot of male fans when any number of other cartoons and other properties aimed at girls don’t. [5]

My childhood was weird and often unhappy, and in early adulthood as I was getting into anime I acquired a fondness for cute things. I was really big into Card Captor Sakura for example, which I think rode a bit closer to the “Saccharine Line” than MLP, but didn’t cross it. In some ways this was a second go at childhood for me, even as I was starting college and entering the work force. I don’t know how much the emotional content of fandom of MLP and cute anime lines up with my own, but I feel like there’s a largely untapped audience for something more optimistic and happy that still has a core that feels genuine. Today the better cartoons are probably the place where this aesthetic comes through the strongest, and it’s why I gravitate towards stuff like MLP, Gravity Falls , My Life as a Teenage Robot , Fairly OddParents , and so on. It gets into some of my RPG projects (notably Adventures of the Space Patrol and Raspberry Heaven ) and my writing ( UFO Girl and Tiny Aliens , and maybe a bit of I Want to be an Awesome Robot ), and I think defines a major part of where I want to go creatively. I want to be honest and genuine and happy.

[1] Another Tumblr poster observed that if anything it’s much harder to talk about rape in a serious way than to joke about it, which is all kinds of messed up.

[2] Though not so obviously that I feel comfortable neglecting to mention it.

[3] There’s an aspect of this that comes from finding certain aspects of the real world nauseating, but I won’t get into that here.

[4] Another place where I find myself nodding along with Gilardi is where he says he enjoys the show but doesn’t strongly identify as a fan. My experience with bronies so far is that they’re generally pretty cool, and their major flaw is simply not knowing when to shut up about ponies. Compared to the problems with, say, gamers, that’s not too bad.

[5] Though the way companies market to girls is a whole other issue. I still can’t get over the time I went into a local Toys R Us and saw an endcap of board games for girls, and all of them, including the likes of Jenga and Monopoly , were in that burning Barbie pink color. Also, I get pretty annoyed at the people who can’t seem to accept that a guy might like MLP or CCS without having some kind of depraved kink involved (not that those guys don’t exist, but I don’t see any indication that they’re the norm), and the inability to conceive of non-pervy fandom to me says a lot more about the accuser than the accused.