Thursday, February 3, 2011

Tech priests and frame stories

A few days ago... is what this post is. So “A few days ago”, God, welcome to the 90s Mr. Dimond.

A few days ago I followed a link from a Penny Arcade post and wound up here. One of the songs I'm working on for the RPM album connects the idea of a scientific priesthood in Mervyn Peake's Titus Alone to that in the real-life Brown Dog affair. It appears WH40k (which I'm not familiar with at all) literally has Tech-priests and a “Cult Mechanicus”. Perhaps if I have some time I should look into this game, see what its angle is.

Back around Christmas I finally listened to the “new” Arcade Fire, The Suburbs. It's my least favorite of their albums so far, but generally alright. The more laid-back style, to me, exposes their often-formulaic tunewriting and composition... that doesn't bother me when they're singing the hell out of a song, but it's more glaring when it's just sort of chugging along in Rococo. They use lots of raised 4ths to bring in a dreamy state, which is cool. Some of its social criticism is vague (that seems to be the point in some songs, like Modern Man, but Sprawl I (Flatland) really bothers me for some reason). The storytelling of Half Light II (No Celebration), seems half-baked to me, it rolls off into vague non-sequiturs. And that's a shame, because its opening lines are so promising. I'm expecting something like Springsteen (especially The River)... can the Arcade Fire do that? Could their fans hear it? Anyway, another song whose best lyric is its first is City With No Children. In one rhyme, combining Elvis Costello-like cruelty with a nostalgia unique to this album's internal logic, they neatly set up a frame story, give their observations a listener. It's pretty catchy, and the last chord of the pattern suggests a modulation to V then snatches it away. Then the next line, “... and before a world war does with us what whatever it will do”, makes me want to throw things.

Speaking of frame stories, I caught The Social Network on my flight out to Germany. It's a frame story set around some deposition that Zuckerberg is pretty bored with. As well he should be. He's being sued by a bunch of rich whiners that each already owned pretty much the portion of Facebook they deserved. Who cares about them? That's nowhere close to the story. The real story is Zuckerberg's consistent disregard for the people whose data fuels his empire, starting with his first popular “hotness” rating site. The fact that after everyone hated Beacon, he said, “OK, well I'll take it away and bring it back later, packaged differently.” Maybe he's a genius for proving that we have no principles or backbone.

One belief that I hold pretty strongly is that it should be absolutely illegal to use people as advertising spokespeople without their consent. To put words in their mouths. That includes plenty of stuff Facebook does today (have you seen the messages you get when you try to quit the site?). I always thought the Apple “Think Different” ads were pretty sketchy, coming damn close to portraying Gandhi and Einstein as computer salesmen. But at least they apparently got permission from the estates of the people whose images they used. I'm not sure that should be allowed anyway, but at least they did something.