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Thu, Oct. 24th, 2013, 09:12 am
On Hollywood storytelling and the persistence of Catholicism.

I got bored last night and painted a few canvases, and while I painted I watched The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. I've never read the novels, and I wasn't paying a great deal of attention to either movie, and I'm probably getting the two movies mixed up, but they're both terrible so who gives a shit. Anyway, the premise of the films seems to be that there is some major threat to the Catholic church, either a secret about Jesus (HE HAD A PENIS) or a canister of antimatter, and renowned author Dan Brown Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon must solve puzzles and save everyone.

Wikipedia tells me that, as of July 2012, 18.85% of the world's population is Catholic, which is a lot of people, but the two films characterize their central crisis – the fall of the Catholic church – as being something that the protagonists definitely don't want to happen because it will result in worldwide political and economic chaos. This central crisis struck me as silly, because honestly, I don't think there is anything short of a catastrophic impact event that could destroy the Catholic church; institutions like the Catholic church are remarkably persistent.

Let's say that a major revelation concerning Jesus (HE PUT HIS PENIS INTO WOMEN) was revealed by a source so indisputable that the Vatican couldn't refute it. First of all, why would this even matter? Catholicism is magic. M-A-G-I-C. Real-world scientists of both the natural and the social varieties have 99.99% proved certain things (homosexuality exists in all mammals! there is a strong linear correlation between the number of children in a family and the likelihood of the early childhood death of one or more of these children!), but none of these discoveries have hurt the Church or its doctrines in any way, shape, or form. Second, I'm not trying to say that people of the Catholic faith are mindless sheep, but I think human beings in general have a tendency to believe whatever their leaders say and to forgive mistakes when apologies are offered. If the Pope got on the radio this afternoon and said, "Sorry guys, we had the wrong idea about birth control, and the planet can't sustain many more people, so all you ladies should probably go make an appointment with your gynecologists," half of Catholics would be like, "Okay, I don't like it, but whatever you say," and the other half would feel vindicated because they were already using birth control anyway. What I'm trying to get at here is that Catholicism is just as much of a cultural and tribal identity as it is a set of religious doctrines, and the destruction of the Vatican city or a major shift in the way we think about Jesus (APPARENTLY HE WAS NOT FUCKING PETER AFTER ALL) is not suddenly going to cause 1.32 billion people to stop identifying as Catholic.

When people talk about Hollywood movies being ridiculous, I get the feeling that this is the sort of thing they're talking about: Lots of drama and explosions being necessitated by a central conflict that makes very little sense if you stop to think about it for more than five minutes.

Thu, Oct. 24th, 2013 08:32 pm (UTC)

Have a look at the "Spectacle Creep" episode of Extra Credits: http://www.penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/spectacle-creep

Oh, in other news, "Spectacle Creep" would be a great name for a band, or a hipster supervillain.

Fri, Oct. 25th, 2013 02:10 pm (UTC)

Man, I know, right? What a load of ridiculous bullshit. Why do the guys who make Extra Credits keep saying things? Why do people actually take them seriously? Do the people who watch those videos ever bother to actually think about what they're saying? Does James Portnow ever think about what he's saying?

Funny story: I once co-advised a senior capstone project for a student at a semi-local art college, and he kept wanting to quote Extra Credits in the essay portion of his project. I realized that, since he didn't get the requisite critical thinking training in a traditional liberal arts college, it would take too long to coax critical thinking skills out of him, so I sat him down and bluntly pointed out everything that was incorrect or illogical or just plain dumb in every Extra Credits video he wanted to cite. At first he was really upset, like I was criticizing him personally, but after about ten minutes he got the hang of seeing the flaws in those videos himself, and it became kind of like a game to him. This semester I actually assigned a video from Extra Credits (the one on "The Uncanny Valley") to one of my classes as an object lesson on "this is what we don't do when we want to critique media like responsible adults."

Fri, Oct. 25th, 2013 06:03 pm (UTC)

Could you, like, post a transcription of that explanation somewhere?
I respect you and your opinions. So I'm assuming this thing I enjoy watching every week is deeply flawed and I don't know why.
And it's rough, because reading this does feel like a personal attack. The underlying "logic" of that feeling is as follows: The more I like it, the more you're saying that my critical thinking skills are horribly underdeveloped.
So yeah. I posted that link because it seemed like they were presenting a similar set of ideas (the ridiculous backstories of Hollywood movies and a theory about why some of them are so ridiculous), not as an example of a video I thought was full of stupid ridiculous thoughtlessness itself. And if you realized that but tried to play it off and/or give me the benefit of the doubt, I think you should know that this made me feel worse, not better.

Fri, Oct. 25th, 2013 08:55 pm (UTC)

Oh shit! I'm sorry! I actually didn't think for a second that you were serious about presenting the video as a legitimate explanation - and I say that to tell you how inept I am, not to somehow make you feel worse. I really didn't mean this as a personal attack; it's just that my frustration and annoyance with Extra Credits is so profound that I thought I must have mentioned it elsewhere and you were posting this link as a joke. It was a stupid assumption, and I'm really sorry. You've probably posted somewhere before about how much you love the videos, and I just missed it or forgot about it.

I wish I could take back what I said; but, since I can't, do you really want an explanation of why I dislike Extra Credits so much? If not, that's totally okay, and I promise I will never bring it up again.

I mean, shit, I'm so sorry. I really screwed up here.

Sat, Oct. 26th, 2013 07:17 am (UTC)

Augh, stupid LJ deleting my response. Lemme see if I can reconstruct it:

I'm honestly curious. I meant what I said about respecting your opinion, and I meant what I said about that meaning I assume I've missed something (From the place where we are right/Flowers will never grow/In the spring).
It was a major surprise, but I'm not upset with you.
I was actually worried for a while that you were upset with me, over the kid declaring that riding a gobbler into the sunset was stupid.
So...that's a thing.

Oh, the other point I put forth was that you shouldn't worry about ruining Extra Credits for me. A lot of the value I get from it is in having the concepts presented to me to add to my game design lexicon. Their analysis of how those concepts are applied, right or wrong, doesn't matter on my end because I have to reapply it (they're talking video games and I make board games).

And if you have any recommendations for some other show I should be watching instead - someone who gets it right - I'd love to hear it! ^_^

Mon, Oct. 28th, 2013 01:33 pm (UTC)


The first thing you should know is that I do not like Penny Arcade. I was a fan, the Dickwolves thing happened, and then, yeah. Mike Krahulic's comment at PAX Prime about a month ago did not help. (I assume you know what I'm talking about, but I can send you links if you want.)

I liked Extra Credits when it was running on The Escapist, and I agree with basically everyone that what The Escapist did with regards to the creators' RocketHub funding was ridiculous, but the Dickwolves fiasco was *still* going when Extra Credits joined Penny Arcade in 2011. I don't know if the creators have ever said anything about this, but a lot of people were upset (especially on communities like Fandom Secrets, although by this time people were getting upset on Tumblr as well). Since people were upset, they started posting angry commentaries on then-recent videos such as "True Female Characters" and "Learning from The Other M." These commentaries tended to fall along two lines: First, that the creators didn't get to say anything about feminism if they willingly joined up with Penny Arcade (although the videos predated the change); and second, that James Portnow and Daniel Floyd are seriously misinterpreting the concerns of feminism because they've never actually read any feminist essays or scholarship (or at least they weren't citing anything actually written or said by a woman).

A lot of people on the internet say a lot of things, but what surprised me was that people were taking Extra Credits so seriously. Around the same time I posted an certain essay on feminism and Final Fantasy, and I got a lot of comments along the lines of "Extra Credits says this, so you're wrong." This surprised me, because it never occurred to me to actually consider the videos as anything more than someone's opinion. It's like, I enjoy watching Zero Punctuation, but it would never occur to me to cite anything Ben Crowshaw said as anything more than his personal opinion, you know? The creators of Extra Credits put out a video just about every week, so it's not as if they have the time to exhaustively research every topic they cover.

And this shows, because they make factual errors (usually when they talk about Japan, such as in "The Myth of the Gun" and the "Western and Japanese RPGs" series, but also when they talk about fandom – usually for Japanese games – such as in "Operation Rainfall"). Many of these errors would be easily avoidable if the creators had more time to read in preparation. Or who knows, maybe they do read things, but we would never know, because they only rarely reference their sources, and when they do reference their sources they don't give any sort of bibliographic information so someone else could figure out the context of the source, or even where the creators came across it. They also tend to make the sort of logical errors that are almost necessitated by a five-minute video explaining the basics of a concept to an audience that presumably can't handle intellectual complexity. For example, they rarely consider alternative explanations, counterexamples, or the larger context. They also make broad generalizations and then try to shoehorn examples that don't really work into the frame they're trying to create (like how they used FFIX and FFXIII in the "Spectacle Creep" video).

I could go on and on, and nothing would send me into greater paroxysms of spiteful glee than to give a concise explication of everything that's wrong with the "Spectacle Creep" video, but my basic point is that, while the videos might be fun entertainment that might serve as introductions to the foundations of basic ideas, they need to be taken with a small ocean's worth of grains of salt; they are not in any way academic or intellectually rigorous and should not be treated as such.

TLDR: I have personal baggage concerning Penny Arcade and a serious personal investment in the academic study of video games, and there are therefore a lot things about Extra Credits that rub me the wrong way.


Edited at 2013-10-28 01:34 pm (UTC)

Mon, Oct. 28th, 2013 04:26 pm (UTC)


But yeah. I am really relieved when I realize (and I'm fortunate enough and neurotic enough that this happens a lot) that the people in my life are nowhere near as petty as the copies of them in my head.
Sometimes this is borne of a simple fear that anyone who hasn't talked to me in the last five minutes has decided never to talk to me again, and sometimes it's from TV teaching me that What Is Best In Life is the delivery of sick burns, and most of the best of those require your friend (who in this example is Your Opponent) to overextend him/herself verbally so that you can do the verbal judo throw.
Both are actually pretty stupid.

Mon, Oct. 28th, 2013 01:35 pm (UTC)

Also this, this is good: