The Compleat Homebrewer, Mk. 1: Beer is Beer is Beer [Archive]

This piece was originally published 2/16/18 on a different section of my site.

Every time I mention that I brew at home, people want to know what exactly the process entails. In order to avoid being a pontificating ale-hole every time I explain it, I've decided to just make a guide according to what my process looks like at this point. I'll likely be revisiting this idea later on, so it is also a measure for posterity. Follow these instructions exactly and you'll be brewing in no time!

1.) Visit your local homebrew store

Every time you feel the urge to brew, you'll need to get at least three things: barley (either whole grain or liquid malt extract), hops (usually in pellet form), and yeast. While you can get these things from many successful internet services, I believe it is important to support your local homebrew shop whenever possible. Because the hops and the yeast are the most important ingredients, they will cost the most. It is extremely important to look longingly at the most expensive options in the store, regardless of how well they will work with your recipe

2.) Silently deliberate about what exactly you want to make

If any brewer tells you that they walked in and out of the store with the exact same beer in mind, they are a stone cold liar. Well sure, you did want to make an IPA, but gosh these oak chips are only $3.50 and it has been a while since you made a stout and how hard can artificially barrel aging be? Maybe that chamomile could go well with the tangerine you've had sitting in the fridge for a week? It's like mixing the moment of walking into a candy store with Russian Roulette with the first three minutes of "Chopped"

3.) Ask for advice

Every single head in a homebrew shop has been in the industry since roughly before the dawn of time. This usually gives them a classically mellow beer mentality and ensures that they will answer dumb questions honestly and thoughtfully so that the customer can make the best beer possible. Plus, they'll probably talk you down from buying the $130 5-gallon bourbon barrel; they don't want that beautiful object to turn out bad beer any more than you do

 Preliminary reports indicate the world's first beer was made by cro-magnon man in 1996 near what is now San Marcos

Preliminary reports indicate the world's first beer was made by cro-magnon man in 1996 near what is now San Marcos

4.) Pay and head home

I've been told that after 5 batches, you start making your money back. Maybe that will be true if I stop driving myself into the red with weird ingredients or looking at new toys. Either way, use the time spent parked in traffic on the highway to savor the process you just committed to. Just remember, the beers you imagine at first are usually better than the ones you make

5.) Making ready

Now, in a perfect world all of the tools are sitting on the kitchen counter when you arrive, ready for you to start a-cooking. However, the wise among us know that man by nature is a damn mess, and that the primary fermentation bucket still contains 5 gallons of a stout that should have been bottled two days ago. In times like these, it's best to skip judgement and just get to work washing bottles with that nice B-Brite. And in the mean time? Relax. Don't worry. And have a homebrew.

6.) Sanitizing equipment, pt. 1

This is a part that always pains me, but homebrewing is essentially a perpetual battle against bacteria. The only bugs you want in there are those that you put in, so it's important to either soak everything in sanitizer solution or fill a spray bottle with Star San for when you get going (or both.) Bottles, caps, hose, soda filler, and bottle capper all should get a dip and a rinse

7.) Oh shit, forgot to add the priming sugar

Now, technically, what you would put into bottles at this point is "beer." However, if you want it to be "drinkable", most folks would advise boiling about 4-5 ounces of sugar in water, letting it cool down to room temperature, and adding it to your finished beer. This will make your beer not as flat, which will make it suck less. And hey, now you've got more time to kill and a fridge full of homebrew... any ideas?

8.) I dunno, turn on some music or something

It takes a while to boil water and have it cool down (more on that later.) Since you'll be using your hands at every stage of the process, putting on something that will last a few hours without need for maintenance is never a bad call. Plus, everybody knows that your brew tastes better if you serenade it with fitting music or media; I play indie shit for herb beers, smooth jazz for stouts, and the good stuff for IPAs

 We will also accept movies played for your beer, especially if they last three hours and contain that beautiful bright beer

We will also accept movies played for your beer, especially if they last three hours and contain that beautiful bright beer

9.) Sharing is caring (about your social image)

After a bottle or two of homebrew, you may even decide this is a good time to start documenting your brew on social media because you need constant self-validation and this is, admittedly, one of the coolest hobbies out there. I would advise doing your documentation during breaks in the process or not at all. If you want to look a little less desperate for attention, you can even structure it as an intimate walkthrough of your brewing process

10.) Sugar Sugar, Honey Honey

Once the priming sugar solution has reached room temperature (or close enough to not kill the yeast you have growing in the bucket) it should be added to the bucket and gently stirred in. Since you just spent at least twenty minutes boiling water only to cool it down, it can't hurt to make sure all your equipment is re-sanitized and rinsed afterwards

11.) Bottle that Djinn

Currently, my bottling operation works as such: fermentation bucket on the counter, large pot on a towel, bottle capper next to a bowl filled with sanitary bottle caps on a different towel, bottle in the pot, bottle filler in the bottle, hose leading from the bucket to the bottle filler. Each component has a specific function in my system, but the main point is to bottle the beer in the shortest amount of time with the smallest chances for contamination (which mainly comes from both air and bacteria), the minimal mess, and the maximum yield. Fill each bottle as close to the top as you dare, pop a cap on with your press, and put it somewhere safe

12.) Cleaning and sanitizing, pt. 2

After a quick homebrew break to relax while you store your finished bottles in dark with a constant near-room temperature (a box in a closet works just fine), it's time to scrub up all that equipment. Technically, you don't have to have things like your bucket ready for another couple hours and your bottle filler for another week, but it's always easier to clean everything at once. As I have discovered, this is not the time to cut corners

13.) First Strike

When brewing with all-grain (as opposed to just liquid malt extract (LME)), the first step after sanitizing is to take your crushed grains and heat them in a small amount of water for the time and temperature as specified in the recipe you are following (if you're not following a recipe, chances are you already know what you want.) This will generally be around 150°-155° F for under an hour, but if you don't have a thermometer just resolve to get one next time and relax, don't worry. I like to use a grain bag so my beer comes out as liquid instead of oatmeal, but that's just me. Remember to agitate (read: stir) every once in a while to avoid hot spots, and if you actually wanna know the whole process check out a real guide

14.) Idle hands are playthings of some sort or another

After you've made sure the mash temperature is constant, you may find yourself without a lot to do. During this time, you can either continue cleaning excessively or just settle back and watch your brew be a brew. I've tried both, and so long as the equipment is clean and ready to brew by the end of the mash, I've noticed no difference. Just make sure you have some water warmed up and ready to sparge when the time comes, and everything else will take care of itself

15.) Sparge the night away

Another step to making sure you get the maximum yield from your all-grain mash is the sparge. Aside from having the second coolest name in the process (behind only whirlpooling, which we won't cover today), sparging is essentially pouring warm water over your grain to get all the sugar you possibly can from it; think of it like rinsing a teabag. This is where either having a false bottom or a grain bag comes in handy, again

 Whirlpool time! Propane tank for scale

Whirlpool time! Propane tank for scale

17.) Ouch! That's hot

I don't know if it's actually necessary, but I haven't gone through a full brew day without burning myself at least a few times. So, ya know, follow your heart on that one

18.) Start the boil

Crank that heat, next stop 212°! What you add in the boil and when you add it are what really makes the beer unique. This hour is where hops are added, where possibly more LME is added, where temperature switches from a suggestion to a mandated minimum. Wizardry and madness abound in this process, from 60+ hop additions over the course of an hour to twenty hour boils. Start the timer when you hit boiling and get ready for magic

19.) Really get into the boil

 Even though boiling is arguably one of the most precise parts of the process, it is also the step where I'm most likely to get bored. My solution has been to keep sanitizing tirelessly, change up the music if necessary, drink another beer or eight, and stir when possible. My best brews have been when I didn't micromanage the boil, so I would advise against getting all stressed. But then again, that's just me

20.) Your feature presentation

If you've been using social media, the boil can also be the time to get some quality selfies in with the wort. Remember that you have professional brewer pals who will call you out publicly if your post is particularly egregious, and remember that you have people you want to impress watching your story. You can craft your image from a place of fear or one of pride. Guess which one people generally like better?

21.) Hop additions

Unless you are making a gruit, you will likely be adding hops during the boil. Done correctly, this will give you a beautiful flavor profile that can feature spices of all varieties. Done incorrectly, this can give you an expensive soup. My favorite beer to this day is still one where I just poured the hops in at a random time without even using a hop bag. Do what's right for you, and the beer will follow

22.) Doop doop

As I'm sure you've guessed by now, I'm writing this in a San José beer bar at 9 AM and drinking a coffee stout to kill time before the contemporary art museum I want to go to opens. I'm giving you that perspective because, heck, homebrewing's an imprecise process, and at the end of the day it is all just beer. Passionately pursuing the chemistry works for some people, but taking the suds too seriously kind of defeats the purpose of making beer for me. That could be construed as a polarizing opinion, but I'd rather drink a beer with you than argue about making it

 Four Windswept Oversize Oranges (2000) Raimonds Stapran

Four Windswept Oversize Oranges (2000) Raimonds Stapran

23.) Cold is as cold does

 Getting your five-gallon pot of boiling wort back to room temperature without introducing any bacteria is a particularly involved process. The most effective way to do this, of course, is to have a running current of coolant moving in a copper tube through your beer while the outside of the pot is wrapped in a large ice pack. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, the easiest and most possible version of this for amateurs is a big ol' ice bath. I usually start filling up my sink with cold water, ice, and anything colder than 212° about 10 minutes before the end of the boil, but this is simply because of budgetary limitations. If you can find a better solution that works for you, more power to ya

24.) Double check

Is everything ready? Is your bucket sanitized? Hose reconnected to the siphon? I always like to make sure that everything's ready to go within the last ten minutes. And then within the last five. And maybe again in the last two

25.) Dayglow Inferno

Once your boil has completed, quickly move that hot wort over to whatever cooling system you have set up. It's important to get your wort down to a survivable temperature for the yeast as quickly as possible, but now is still not the time to cut corners with sanitation! My process involves placing my pot into the aforementioned ice bath, complete with stirring the wort to avoid uneven cooling and scooping in new ice and cold water as frequently as possible. It usually turns into an extended mess, but you're almost there

26.) Panic that it's not cooling down quickly enough!!!

Oh wait... Relax. Don't worry. And have a homebrew.

27.) Poetry in motion

Once your wort has hit the standard temperature to not kill your yeast outright (~75° in my experience) it's time to move it to the fermentation bucket via siphon. My set-up usually involves both containers on towels with the pot up higher than the bucket (siphons work best when moving things downhill because gravity.) Once you get your siphon going moving wort from the pot to the bucket, pretty much all you can do is minimize splashing and bide your time. Alternatively, you can just pour the lukewarm wort from the pot into the bucket if you are a goddamned lunatic

28.) They live!

Pitching the yeast is the most terrifying moment in any brew because it is where you officially relinquish control of your baby. From this point until you bottle, the yeast will be doing all the heavy lifting of turning the sugars in your wort into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Give it a stir and trust those microscopic bad boys to be hungry

29.) Last one out, hit the lights

With everything in place, seal up your fermentation bucket, put an airlock with cleanser on top to let gas escape during the process, and put your bucket on a towel somewhere dark and with a constant room temperature. Voila, it's ready to sit until you decide to bottle. If you're still on social media be sure to take a quick snap of it, and come back tomorrow to get a quick video of the airlock bubbling

30.) Deep cleanse

Unless you have a specific space designed primarily for brewing, it's likely that you have transformed what was formerly a domestic kitchenette or a porch into a mess of melting ice, used grain, and empty hops wrappers. If you don't clean up now it'll only be harder later, so get to work

31.) That'll do

Well, it's six hours later, but you now have a beer in bottles and one in the tank. Time to celebrate with a homebrew and a nap

The Color of the Nuclear Wind [Archive]

This story originally published on my separate blog on 2/19/2018. The concept was simple: dip my toe back into fiction writing. So I set a timer for two hours, stopping it with ten minutes to spare so I could edit for a second before publishing. It still came out pretty trash, but you have to restart somewhere.

"What happened to the last version? The one with all the teal?"

"You told me it was too bright. This one is more of a dark tourmaline."

"Yeah, get rid of that. Make it teal."

"The ocean isn't actually teal, though."

"And the sky isn't blue. Just do it."

Stanley nodded his head as he turned the screen off on two weeks of work. It didn't matter, of course, since Jake was gone.

After finishing his Masters in Aesthetic Design from a prominent school for that sort of thing, Stanley had been thrust into the world realizing that training does not always lead to a job. As he bumbled his way around for a few years exchanging marijuana for a night's tolerance by intellectuals, Stanley eventually had to settle for a handout when it came time for a career. Determined that no son of hers would be without purpose, his mother had called in the largest favor she had ever asked and created a government job with one simple task: design the end of the world. 

He remembered asking Jake the first day if he would be creating cautionary tales, already thinking what Rothko-inspired reds he could use for the mushroom clouds. Stanley remembered a professor telling him once in a crit that the death of all things brings out the flavor in art by loosening what was societally acceptable, and he figured that was a good place to start. Jake had clarified immediately that he would not be dealing with the unlimited creativity of total destruction.

"No, see, that's not what we want. We want you to make something we can put on the... listen, did you see that mess in Hawaii? What went wrong there was, improper messaging. We told the people to find cover, but everybody knew they were going to be radioactive dirt in fifteen minutes. People started declaring their love, running to underground parking lots, just going wild. If that was how the vacation capitol of the US reacted, imagine how out of control Cleveland would get when they heard about their incoming doom. If we ever had to deal with that sort of social fallout..."

"So, your job is not to warn people about their death. Your job is to help them deal with their death. We want you to create the sunset they can float away on, something that makes them think about the great life they've had and how it is now ending peacefully. We'll give you the demographics."

Admittedly, Stanley had felt like a perverse Andy Warhol for a while, smugly watching Coke ads and reading self-help books as "market research." The pride of finally realizing himself as the literal opium of the people made Stanley overly bold in his first drafts, creating great epics that were simply unable to be broadcasted. Allusions to the great works of Hemingway and Philip Roth adorned massive public banners that were to be unfurled at a given command, confidently asserting that life was beautiful but usually needed a dramatic cutoff to reach its zenith.

Surprisingly, these did not go over well with Jake.

Shaking his head, muttering. "Okay, let's make this simple. No murals. No flashmobs. No performance art. Television. Maybe radio, but probably not. Possibly even an app. Actually, yeah, scratch the rest. Let's make it a video that's just preloaded and hidden on your phone, everybody has one of those. See, I'm already making your job easier." Hanging up.

Admittedly, Stanley's experience was more with two-dimensional design than video art. But, great art defies all expectations, and he was even starting to believe in this cause. Non-profit work had always been tangentially important to him, but for the first time in his life Stanley was now actually directly helping those who needed it.

Playing to his strengths, Stanley created static scenes to placate the dying. For the coastal people, he made a lush prairie filled with grazing horses. On the fence sat two figures straight out of American Gothic, gazing softly at the rising mountain in the distance. He had originally had them staring over a much longer plain until Jake reminded him that an empty horizon would only remind people of the fire that would soon fill the sky. Mountains protected the people from psychic threat, and that was good enough. For the inland market, Stanley crafted the perfect coastline. After an unsuccessful period trying to draw inspiration from Hollywood, he finally landed on the primary source of idealistic beach photos: Instagram. A composite of Cabo, Dover, and various fjords made his beaches geographically impossible, but that only seemed to please Jake more. Aside from the teal thing, he hardly had to change anything at all.

Screen+Shot+2018-02-19+at+12.03.37.png

Though all the scenes were visually different, Stanley planned to lay in a constant dialogue track. The quotes he had researched went by the wayside nearly immediately; Jake wanted people to fade, not rise. A script he had created went a little farther, getting all the way to auditions for voice actors before Jake took issue with the phrase "the end" playing a pivotal part in the final section.

"What I need you to do is let the people know they are dead without actually telling them they didn't make it. Does that make sense?"

Stanley had always thought of himself as relishing impossible tasks, like finishing a paper in under a week. Going back to his roots, Stanley locked himself in a room with black coffee and a radio playing Bon Iver and Bob Dylan on repeat. As the anxious tension built through the hours, Stanley began getting more and more desperate. Was he unable to save the end of the world? Was he going to fail, even here?

Turning to desperation, he just started nonsensically spraying words into a Word document. He wrote about love, life, success, failure, meaning, the relics of old age spilled from a young mind. His words grew until they were pages, and those pages turned into a flurry of dialogue recorded into his webcam. Thirty-six hours after locking himself in, he sent a triumphant email to Jake with the attached audio files of unadulterated millennial rambling and finally fell asleep.

It's always a strange experience waking up to your own voice, especially when it is coming from the phone on your nightstand. Rubbing his eyes and seeing a mountainous prairie. Feeling the A/C shutting down.

The most recent message in his inbox was a simple one from Jake: "This is not what I was looking for. Enjoy yourself."

8/14: Further Thoughts On Nazis And Uniforms

While the dust was clearing from the inauguration, I wrote a blog about what Nazi media is out there. As most of my more emotional blog posts at the time did, it all turned into a joke about pop culture, specifically Zach Braff. I meant that piece as a way to address punching Nazis, which I still think is a pretty reasonable course of action.

This weekend, however, the Alt Right made the boldest move it could and hosted a "Unite The Right" rally in Charlottesville, VA protesting the removal of Confederate monuments from public places. To put it more simply, a bunch of white folks were upset they could no longer worship icons of an era when certain people were treated worse than cattle, and decided to show the world that 1800s never ended for them. As they waved their swastika flags and raised their tiki torches, I knew my focus had to turn to the uniform.

First, a word on taking off uniforms: no claims of ignorance, of coercion, of youth, can erase a history of supporting a fascist ideology. If someone wears the colors or a Nazi wristband, they will never be able to claim they did not. Even punk rockers, who claimed to use swastikas and safety pins to shock an older generation, still had to fight uphill to make anyone believe they were not legitimate fascists. The iconographic power of the swastika is easy is low-hanging fruit with a terrible cost, and all who take on its garb must accept that they once wore the world's most horrifying symbol of terrorism. 

One huge problem I can see right now is that people are not being held accountable for these actions. Yes, there is a Twitter account that exposes people who would otherwise keep thinking their thoughts in secret, but these are drops in the bucket. 

You know, I started writing this blog as a review and commentary on the successful German film Look Who's Back. Basically, imagine this movie as a Sacha Baron Cohen movie, except Borat is Adolf Hitler sent through time and he wins the hearts of the people at the end. It shouldn't sadden me as much it does to say that I accepted time travel's existence in the film far more quickly than I could believe that modern Germans accepted a Hitler impersonator in their midst as quickly as they did. 

Back to here and now, we live in a nation where the leader is not an outspoken fascist, but a smugly silent partner. Though Trump has not endorsed the Nazis in Charlottesville, he has not condemned them either.

"We need somebody that literally will take this country and make it great again"

As a personally introverted person, I have always found my space for resistance in words and letters. Aside from working, I don't hardly like to leave home much. It's a scary world out there, and I don't like being a part of it most times.

Now, the time has come to change that. It is not in my character to hurt others, so I will not be physically violent. I am not much one for being silent either, but I know that my range of communication remains limited so long as I only use a digital voice. I must take my resistance to the streets, use my body and mind, while I still can.

8/10: This Blog Still Probably Isn't Worth It, But It's Going To Be Different

The last time I wrote on this blog, I was getting ready to move back to Portland and live my life as anything except a second-grade teacher. I had a job lined up in the beer industry so that I could pursue my passion of bringing great beer to people, and I knew things were going to go right for me. 

I guess I should have read my own writing more carefully. Even though my time in San José was not easy, life since then has been full of rude awakenings and abrupt transitions. Now, I find myself fully alone and struggling to keep my head above water again, preparing applications and gathering the momentum to write again.

In my quest for inspiration, I somehow stumbled across The Founder.

Even though the film is essentially a single, gigantic advertisement for the most successful fast food chain in American history, the performances put on by the three main characters with controlling interests in McDonald's makes it a compelling piece for me to study right now. Particularly, I become attracted to the character of Ray Kroc.

As the mastermind of McDonald's, Kroc is a character like Gatsby or Kane, purely American by way of his outright dedication to  outrageous and heinous actions in the pursuit of glory. Yet, we are likely to "hear [Kroc's] lines quoted by businesspeople and b-school students as inspirational texts, probably because it's more fun to identify with the bastard who gets things done than the people who suffer from his actions" says critic Matt Zoller Seitz. This is a fundamental disconnect I have often wondered and written about.

 Kroc at his lowest turns to motivational records

Kroc at his lowest turns to motivational records

But I was not as compelled by his later character, the merciless billionaire who is rising gloriously to the epoch of his success. Instead, I loved the character who sat in the dirt, down and out, realizing that his dreams are on the line and he may never, never make it big.

On the brink of failure, Kroc desperate pushes until he breaks. From the ashes, he arises and makes it.

 The last chance for an old man

The last chance for an old man

The reason I love this idea so much, of course, is because it reminds me once again that "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps" is a lazy, racist myth. Kroc is someone who pushed until he succeeded, but he is also some upper-class white guy who took advantage of other white guys. 

Reflecting on my own life, I am rapidly realizing that no matter how desperate my quest for meaningful employment becomes, I must never forget that I am operating as a part of a system that is predisposed to favoring my type of people. 

No matter how hard it is for myself or it was for Ray Kroc, I cannot let myself be inspired by simple inspirational rhetoric. To abandon the knowledge of systemic classist and racist systems in order to glorify my own accomplishments even in the darkest times is an indolent fallacy.

Kroc finally answers, "What's in a name?"

So, what did we learn?

  1. The Founder is a fascinating movie
  2. I don't want to use unemployment as an excuse to forget my white privilege or stop writing
  3. Tim Burton is making a live-action Dumbo movie, and folks are already trying to leak pictures of it
 It's gonna get weird, boys and girls

It's gonna get weird, boys and girls

4/25: Is This Blog Worth It?

When I first set out to write this blog, the purpose was simple. I meant to maintain a scheduled series of posts that I thought would show my commitment to media studies scholarship. It was fun, it was weird, but it was mainly on track until it wasn't.

Many months later, this strange collection of posts has proven to be less consistent than I hoped, but also more interesting. It's a backlog of my emotions through one of the most difficult years in my life, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. 

Looking forward, this June I am returning to Portland and figuring out where my life goes from here. I'm not entirely certain how it will go, but, as I've said elsewhere, I will not forget my time in between college and adulthood. I'll probably keep writing too, in one way or another.

By the way, did anyone else see Sand Castle? Imagine a discount Jarhead and then make it less poignant, and you'll start to grasp at what this story does. I understand that they used less resources, but if I see another xenophobic war movie with characters so shallow they are literally indistinguishable I might go join the Army myself. Sand Castle's ending could copy-paste the last act of American Sniper and become an objectively better film because then at least the warriors would be believably sad.

But I also did not and could not make the movie, so, ya know, props to the folks whose visions were made and whose bellies were filled.

4/23: Hello Again, And A Sunday Night Challenge

I'm coming at you tonight with an announcement and a challenge. First, the news: I have finally finished presenting at the Society for Cinema & Media Studies Undergraduate conference! While I have been using that as an excuse to be lazy for a while, I am glad to be done with the paper I did not plan on writing a full year out of formal studies. The people that I met there were all incredibly dedicated to their crafts, and I have no doubt that they will succeed if they choose to pursue further studies. I may return to my original posting schedule (Tuesdays and Sundays) this week, but we shall see.

As is pretty typical of me, I am putting the whole script of my presentation (along with the Powerpoint) up on this page. I am doing this not to show off (because, honestly, it's pretty rough), but to put the resources out there so that the community can study this more. My challenge: this subject warrants deeper investigation. I want you to at least think about it, and you have my explicit permission to use any of my materials however you wish.

SCRIPT

PPT

    In case you aren't inclined to wade through my notes, here's a TL;DR:

    • Donald Trump has two Twitter accounts that act incredibly differently
    • @realDonaldTrump acts as a loudspeaker, and having simple textual tweets gives it a weird validity as a "real", "live" identity
    • @POTUS is a way for the official office to pass memos along, but the account's use of external links diminishes its power
    • This is not normal

    3/7: A Hiatus, But With Updates Soon

    Unfortunately, I must again take a small hiatus from posting this week due to two exciting factors. 

    1. First, I am planning on publishing a newsletter for my place of employment. Editorial cap is going on for this one, so we shall see how it goes.
    2. Secondly, I had a paper accepted into the SCMSU Conference this April. This is the paper I mentioned, but I haven't made much headway due to the timeline of the media being released. I can post more in detail later, but as a teaser, here's a screenshot of my application to the conference.

    3/4: Logan, Shane, And The Dubious Future Of The Superhero Western

    This morning, I went and saw a matinee screening of James Mangold's Logan. Despite the overwhelmingly positive reviews, I could go either way on this particular film. On the one hand, it is an incredible moment for the immensely talented writers to liberate the largely PG-13 characters of Wolverine and Professor X in new and exciting ways, and Jackman in particular shines like he hasn't since The Fountain. On the other hand, Marvel is trying so hard to infiltrate yet another genre that it is almost comedic, and I'm not sure what I think of that.

    Remember the old times, when Marvel only made superhero movies? I consider the start of the modern era 2008's Iron Man, but for a great many years, the comics company only portrayed strange men and women in tights who faced serious life crises that stacked on top of one another. And yet, over and over, protagonists lived on undamaged and invincible because they all had contracts that demanded it, emerging unchanged at the end of the journey except that now they had powers. Stories began, heroes used powers, villains were defeated.

    Around the start of 2016, people started vocally registering that they were sick of the Marvel model, but it took until the release of Deadpool later that year to really lay the groundwork for what a different, Hard R superhero movie could be. Because it was such a radical twist on the superhero genre, it garnered critical respect, yachts full of money, and even a few awards. It was a turning point, a mark that Marvel's superbrand could succeed pretty much however it was used.

    In this light, Logan seems like an experiment: can Marvel make a Western?

    When you think "Western," what do you think of? Likely, an image of a cowboy in a bustling frontier town filled with gunslingers popped into your head. However, the film that Logan chose to base itself on is not one glorifying the West, but a glorification of its end. Shane is the perfect film to describe Wolverine, seeing as it is more about a homesteader failing to hang up his guns than it is a glorification of that nomadic, violent lifestyle. Like many post-modern Westerns, both Logan and Shane are about men who desperately want to die quietly in their beds and are prevented from doing this by their own abilities. I will admit that it is done remarkably well and I am surprised that Marvel let such an iconic character go in such a cathartic way.

    lohan.jpg

    I would love to dive deeper into Logan's similarities with Western characters, specifically the tropic Man With No Name, but I would rather spend my energy raising this one question: now that Marvel is capable of making Westerns with their characters, where will they go next? Action, Comedy, and Drama are now fully dominated by superheroes, and I am frankly frightened to see what comes next.

    Unless it means Spider-Man in a musical. Cause that would be really fun.

    2/21: On Survival And Looking Back From Magazine Covers

    Today's post will be shorter, as the workplace rhythm continues at a fever pitch. So, without further ado, I'll dive right into Janice Winship's selection from her "Inside Women's Magazines" titled Survival Skills And Daydreams. As much as I hate to admit it, that subtitle alone compelled me to select it for my reflection. 

    The selection opens with a general overview of where men's and women's cultures are at the moment according to publications. Not only does it analyze how gendered lives are "culturally defined in markedly different ways," but also how they are much different in their actuality (334). "Women have no culture and world out there other than the one which is controlled and mediated by men," she writes at one point, and I am inclined to agree (335). Furthermore, when women are afforded media spaces designed for their own pleasure, they and the women are "perennially belittled" by the nation (335). 

    However, after this interesting content Winshop moves into a topic pretty atypical of media studies: "the woman's gaze" (336). While everyone and their Oedipal mother discusses the male gaze as how cinema's perversion operates, the female gaze operates outward here. There are two types of gaze emanating outward from a magazine, argues Winship, the first being a "provocatively sexual" look into the eyes of the viewer (337). Unfortunately, the spectator still has "the controlling look," choosing to either be aroused or to "turn the page" (337). However, the other sort of gaze is not sexual at all, but encourages "complicity between women" as "the steady, self-contained, calm look of unruffled temper... [she] is the woman who can manage her emotions and her life" (337). Such an interesting duality here, I can't help but write on it!

     

     Eyes #1

    Eyes #1

     Eyes #2

    Eyes #2

    As a post script, let me mention Winship's writing style. Writing as a woman and addressing her family's own routine is an extremely compelling method, and it works well for Winship. 

    2/11: Engineering The Perfect 12 Song Mixtape

    Most of the things I know about mixtapes I learned from High Fidelity. And honestly, the rules are pretty simple: start strong, bring it up, chill it out, and follow through. 

    Still, there's no harm in aspiring to perfection, so I thought I'd explain what my favorite way to form a 12 song playlist is. It's not perfect, and at times I'm making it up on the spot, but that's kind of the case with most things I do.

    1.) Start Strong, Start Weird: Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a universally strong song. For instance, the strongest song to start a mixtape to me is London Calling by The Clash because it's weird, starts way too loud, and is still a recognizably popular rhythm. To you, it may be What Do You Mean. The point is, the song has to be unexpected and pleasant, like ice cream for breakfast.

    2.) Push Harder: I agree with High Fidelity again, you have to bring it up from here. Please note, faster does not mean the song is more intense. You could have the most jumbled guitar-driven anthem here if you wanted but the it wouldn't mean anything unless the song builds off the previous song to a rising crescendo of melodic energy.

    3.) Don't Be An Asshole, Asshole: Here is where logic dictates that you take a light downhill to let the person you dedicated this album to catch their breath. On the one hand, you could make the choice to include something soothing and chilled out that doesn't mean much, and you could probably get away with it. But that's not what this album is about, it's about you telling someone how much they mean to you!  Take the time to find out their favorite acoustic record, look through your texts to find their favorite song off that record, and let their body relax while their heart soars. 

    4.) Life Is Made Of Wonder: Having just done something nice for them, do something nice for the album. Play something so bizarre, so out of touch with everything in the taste of the album, that they know it signals they are over the first wave. This song is a narcissistic endeavor, a song to help you meditate and reengage in your music selection.

    5.) Love Is Intimate: If this album isn't made for someone you love, then why are you making it? This is the song that represents you both, and becomes a transition away from the album being about just impressing them. The playlist evolves from a boombox under the window to a soft confession on the balcony.

    6.) Vulnerability Is For Squares...: You just bared your heart, play something to make them smile. It shouldn't be over three minutes. 

    7.) ...So Make Them The Square: This one is tough, because you have to guess exactly right what song meant so much to them that they don't even talk about it. I'd recommend looking back at their Facebook posts, or taking a shot in the dark based on something they mentioned offhand a while ago. Low success rate, but it's always worth a gamble.

    8.) Damage Control, One Way Or Another: Following that previous song, there are two possible outcomes. They are either feeling so happy you could play Nickelback and get away with it, or they are pleasantly nonplussed by a band they happen to like quite a bit. Either way, this one's a good time to play it safe, back off a bit, and pick a nice, neutral song.

    9.) Narcissus And His Damned Swan Song: This song is your final one that is just about you, and at this point should introduce a part of your heart they didn't know about. Whether that be your unresolved taste for Punk or your love of Beethoven, it should be something deeply important to you that they don't expect. Hell, it may even be something you don't expect.

     

    10.) Yes, I Can Hear You. Can You Hear Me?: They deserve a nice, mellow song by a band they like. I recommend something in the Alt J range of interesting and chill, but that's just me. 

    11.) This Is Our Song, You Know: At this point, you're reaching the end of the album and need to put in the song you both love. You know, the song that came on the first time you danced or some sentimental thing. Maybe it's just a song you think you would both like, but that's up to your discretion.

    12.) How The Hell Do You Spell "Epitaph?": The most important songs on an album are the opening and the closing. This song should be like the heel on a loaf of bread: tough because you are realizing it's over, yet crunchy in its own way. Have a nice, long reverb on the final chord and close the doors.

    13.) But Wait, There's More!: Except the thing is, no mix is complete without a twist at the end. The final, bonus song on your album should be something that challenges the recipient to match and better the mix. It's a confrontation of sorts, but also an affirmation that you two are whatever you are, and that will not change. Invite them to return your correspondence, and see what happens.

    2/7: Making Advertising Less Magic, Everybody Loves Raymond Williams

    As if I even need to reiterate it at this point, I will be using this post to break down an already simplified version of a classic text: "Advertising: The Magic System" from Raymond Williams' Problems and Materialism and Culture. In fact, this text is actually much shorter than its peers in my blog (weighing in at roughly 5.5 pages,) so I'll be a bit brief. There are three major topics covered by Williams, the first being the basis of advertising. A deep knowledge of Marx is all over this, with the words "Capitalism" and "Use" being flipped out like hotcakes (704-705). However, midway through the second page he crescendos into the word "magic" in a way only Williams can, midway through a paragraph and in light italics (705). Williams grounds this system of advertising in the occult and the real, calling it "similar to magical systems in simpler societies, but rather strangely coexistent with a highly developed scientific technology" (705). Maybe its just me, but this is Williams at his finest, writing on the unknown.

    After a brief section on consumerism (which our author notes is a "metaphor drawn from the stomach or the furnace,") Williams returns to the concept of magic as "the jejune bravado of deeply confused men" (706, 709). This is the most relevant claim to me, probably because I pretend to be a cynically wise young man when in reality I am a notoriously selfish and confused boy. Advertising is magic not because it is cast by sorcerers, but because it is a curse unleashed by those who willingly appear Faustian while remaining empty as us inside. Advertising is fake, "a true part of the culture of a confused society" (709).

    2/4: Random Thoughts On Punching Nazis

    Even before Richard Spencer got assaulted during an interview last month, people have not exactly been conflicted what exactly we should do with the alt right. The phrase "punch a Nazi" is so simple that it is tough to say anything against it: when confronted by Nazi, punch. The sheer physicality of being able to swing at a hate object is by nature satisfying, and I hope the trend stays alive.

    That being said, uniformed Nazis (or even uniformed alt right folks) are not the people I generally run into on the street. Maybe we move in different social circles, maybe they think I smell weird, I'm not sure.

    However, as I am a person who enjoys movies and media pretty extensively, I thought I'd put together a list of five or so media objects concerning White Supremacy that I've watched in the recent past.

    American History X: 

    This movie alternates between moments of extreme love and brutal violence. The tale of Edward Norton being raised as a misinformed skinhead is frighteningly relevant, especially given the ending of failed redemption. The story here: we must not punch Nazis, we must annihilate them by changing their minds.

    Inglorious Basterds:

    Admittedly, this one goes the opposite direction. There is no understanding in Tarantino's universe, only a bloodthirsty desire for revenge. And I dig that, there are those of us who need to keep killing Hitler until every Nazi is dead. 

    Triumph Of The Will:

    Everybody loves this film because it is one of the best-photographed documentaries of all time, and everyone has their own way of brushing past the fact that it's a movie about the glory of Adolf Hitler's movement (Roger Ebert had only one thing to say about that particular leader: "What a horrible man.") I do not intend to make this excuse, for it is important to bathe in the fact that Hitler led his nation with far fewer checks to his power than Trump's administration has right now.

    13th:

    Part of the reason people weren't concerned about Trump is because they didn't realize just how fucked the country is. Ava Duvernay pries the scabs off fresh wounds to remind the white, hipster audience perusing Netflix for documentaries that yes, we are implicit in a racist state. Crime and punishment to me has always come down to this: if you do things a police officer doesn't like, he can keep you in a cage until you die.

    Garden State:

    Not a movie about Nazis, I just really strongly dislike Zach Braff and needed a fifth movie.

     Couldn't find a match for me.

    Couldn't find a match for me.

    1/31: Idle Racism In The Citadel, Writing Love On The Walls

    I do believe in my heart of hearts that Stuart Hall is one of the most influential writers in Media Studies for me. His remarkable selection, "Racist Ideologies And The Media", details all varieties of racism, mass media, and everything in between. Frankly, it's a great bit of writing.

    But the problem with that which you love is just how frustrating it can be. This is the case for me with Hall. 

    I have expressed my frustration with Hall in the past, for he tends to write beautiful, exorbitant essays punctuated with harsh meaning and numerical lists. It is, to me, the most effective way to get his points across, especially his points about ideologies (in short: ideologies are not "isolated concepts," nor are they "the product of individual consciousness or intention", for ideologies are based on the laziness that allows people to "'utter' ideological truths as if they were their authentic authors" (271-272). The high level stuff comes naturally to our author, and I can see the influence of this essay floating through the academic world.

    That being said, I think his more important distinction is between "overt" and "inferential" racism. The difference here is something I have been grasping at for years, that white liberals are more dangerous racially then most KKK rallies simply because no one takes them seriously as threats. As is classic Hall, the author deals with an analysis of television programmes with best intention, but eventually this stops becoming a Media Studies paper. By the time Hall reflects on the graduate student that was grasping hopelessly at simplifying because "racism was so ubiquitous, and at the same time unconscious... that it was impossible to get any critical purchase," we can see that Hall is not trying to grab, hold, and analyze the complex topic (275). This essay becomes a discussion out of place and yet necessary and vital in the world of critical theory.

     

    1/21: Live Annotation Of An Inauguration

    Inspired by those good government employees over at NPR, I thought I'd do my own annotated version of Trump's inaugural address before I read their version. All timecodes were taken from this video. "But wait, this isn't about the media at all!" you might say. "You've already written about Trump!" you also might say.

    My blog, my rules.

     I try not to make fun of Trump's physical appearance, as it distracts from the horrifying fact that this thoroughly awful person and his cronies control the government now.

    I try not to make fun of Trump's physical appearance, as it distracts from the horrifying fact that this thoroughly awful person and his cronies control the government now.

    0:08: At least the president has figured out the Thumbs Up sign. That'll help him communicate after his administration plunges us into a state of ruin and a righteous civil war erupts. I want to watch I Am Legend?

    0:22: Are his fingers glued together? Why does he talk about the former presidents and Americans and the people of the world differently? I'll bet this is going to be sup

    0:25: UPDATE: Fingers not glued together.

    0:55: Didn't you ever see Dead Poets Society? Don't ever use words like "very" or "many," it makes it look like you don't know a better word to describe exactly what you're talking about or you're just lazy.

    1:05: Something about power or something. I should watch Dead Poets Society again. Go Obama!

    1:32: Came back from a shot of Obama and now there are army men all over! (Wait, no, Marines are navy men.)

    1:49: "We are transferring power... back to you, the people." Didn't you just say we all, including you, were the people? Nice accentuating though.

    2:07: Now you're gonna talk about a small group of people reaping the rewards of government, Mr. Nepotism?

    3:10: Nope, this isn't all of our moment. Just yours.

    3:33: Are they even trying to find POC they can put onscreen, or are there actually none there?

    3:54: You keep saying "The People." Not sure if you know what that word means.

    4:06: Technically, that's called Communism. I'm way in for it, but are you?

    4:35: Trump announcing his huge revolutionary movement, followed by light applause.

    4:49: Ahhhhhhh here comes the Nationalism. Gotcha.

    5:30: Wow, I didn't know our education system was "flush with cash!" I'll have to go out and ask for a raise on Monday.

    5:50: Even if you talk about "unrealized potential" I still don't want you as my guidance counselor.

    6:07: "Hey Hil, I don't know if I get this guy's jokes."

    6:18: Christ on a cracker, control your pronouns man! 

    6:30: Yes, I'm still petty enough to notice that you just said you were going to take the Oath of Office later even though you took it six and half minutes ago. 

    7:30: Something something you don't wanna do no foreign aid because the United States can live as an island and we don't need nobody else. 

    8:03: Wow, that good quote again about only looking to the future! I'm glad we're not learning from history.

    8:06: This woman is not buying your shit, dude. Quick, throw it to your son and the alt right brigade!

    Screen Shot 2017-01-21 at 20.24.42.png
    Screen Shot 2017-01-21 at 20.26.36.png

    8:39: Well, that's a big declaration.

    9:10: Actually saying that all the other nations on earth are out to steal America's jobs has to be good for foreign affairs, right?

    9:32: Glad to hear he's never going to let me down.

    10:15: Wait, why is he talking about railways? He just said something about rebuilding our country and getting people off of Welfare, does he want to have his own WPA?

    10:53: Foreign Affairs again, huh.

    11:08: Showing this turbaned man nodding is not an accident, especially considering that the next words are about "radical Islamic terrorism."

    11:53: "When you open your heart to Patriotism, there is no room for prejudice." Annnnnnnnd straight into the Bible. What is even happening?

    12:18: THERE! HE SAID IT! "WE MUST ALWAYS PURSUE SOLIDARITY." For those of you following along at home, that's not great.

    12:50: "Most importantly, we will be protected by God." What the fuck? Is Trump going to start a church show after this? I can't blame him, there's good money in it, but wow.

    13:20: Now talking about politicians who are always talking but never doing anything about it. This is a bizarre moment.

    14:16: Now he's talking about space and the future, which is odd. I like space and the future, but I don't like them being put ahead of domestic peace and well-being. 

     

    15:24: Something or other, nationalism and things.

    16:00: Yeah, I don't wanna do this any more. Go America, it'll be Great someday.

     

     Work in Progress

    Work in Progress

    1/17: Public And Private In The Times Of Revolution

    I will admit, the selection process for the reading these blogs are based on usually begins at around 9 PM the night they are "due" for me. Opening a book, I skim through the table of contents looking for something that is both short and meaningful, a combination that has yielded somewhat successful results for me as of yet. I haven't really hit a home run yet, but I have produced a string of interconnected thoughts that have documented my journey into academia and this fine year of service. Analyzing Jürgen Habermas' "The Public Sphere" is no different, as it is a strange essay on the power of the public and the press that doesn't really relate to Media Studies much at all. There are some interesting moments certainly, such as the introduction of "public sphere" as  "a domain of our social life in which such thing as a public opinion can be formed" (92). Seeing as I'm about sick of the strange, skewed social life Facebook has led me to develop, I took a lot of joy in the harsh words that public opinion "can be formed only if a public that engages in rational discussions exists" (93). I'm not sure that we are headed that way as a society, to be honest.

    Despite a short interlude into history (which is in its own right fascinating, but not what my brain has ever really wanted) Habermas picks up his thread soon with the observation that political press "can be observed especially in revolutionary periods" (96). I find this interesting because, arguably, we are in a state of revolution or near to civil war as a nation, and the continued polarization of the press on both sides is like the pounding of war drums in my ears. Our author even addresses the rearing head of neoliberalism, noting the "'refeudalization' of the public sphere" that comes with growing influence of corporations in the press and a simultaneous "singular weakening of [the public opinion's] critical functions" (97). 

    I suppose what I see Habermas driving at is that we can live in a world where corporations control the media which in turn controls the public opinion which in turn controls the political outcomes, and we end up with a hulking, uncritical mass of strong-minded opinions. Divide that nation in two, and it is no wonder that we are inaugurating a Feudal Lord on Friday.

     

    1/14: Netflix's Fourth Release Date, and "IT FOLLOWS"

    If we asked the standard person 10 years ago when a movie came out, their answer would either be the theater release date or the home movie release (The occasional overeducated individual might list the film's first festival appearance, but these cases are few and far between.) This is the model people over a certain age probably still think of because, perfectly honestly, it worked really well for decades. However, I am proposing that there is a new release date that has sprung up with minimal notice, and one that dominates a certain market: the day films begin streaming on subscription services.

    For simplicity's sake, let's consider the Millennial and Netflix. We must start off by saying that, generally, people my age do not generally pay to watch movies, whether that be in the theater or on demand. I don't really want to go into depth of why this phenomenon exists, but I'll assume that my nonexistent readers trust me that young people have little problem pirating films. The thing is, going to a streaming site is hard and can offer lower quality video streams. 

    This is where Netflix streaming comes in. As a service that took up 37% of peak download internet traffic for North America in 2015, we can reasonably say that a lot of people view their media based on what is on Netflix. Furthermore, based on the success of sites that do nothing more than list what movies and shows are coming to and leaving Netflix each month, I believe that people care how Netflix is shaping their catalog.

     I'll admit, the "Trending Now" data for a Saturday night is pretty skewed.

    I'll admit, the "Trending Now" data for a Saturday night is pretty skewed.

    And surely, so does Netflix. Their "Trending Now" section is not only an observation of what the region is thinking at the time but a tangible barometer for the Zeitgeist. The above screenshot, taken on a Saturday night, shows that Americans are likely to enjoy the dependable comedies and TV shows that are a mainstay in living rooms. However, taken on a different day, the list might display different films. 

    One media object I have a particular interest in is "IT FOLLOWS," added yesterday. And gosh, is that movie a real trip (I had to turn it off more than once because it was so terrifying.) The inevitability of doom overrides every other emotion in the film constantly, and is reinforced by a soundtrack that is like how Halloween should have been. But more importantly, we must ask, "Why did Netflix add this film now?"

    The easy answer is that this when they got the rights. And technically, by my perception, that is not a wrong answer. 

    In a rather familiar move for this blog, I'll posit that the addition of "IT FOLLOWS" is a byproduct of the election of President Trump. We are in the final days of Obama, and things are so out of control it seems like the sky is falling. What better time to stage this final release of a horror movie about female sexuality than when a man who will most likely defund women's health care is about to become our supreme leader?

     

    1/10: Stagnation Of The Problematics

    Getting back into theory, I thought I'd pick John Ellis's shorter piece "Broadcast TV Narration" because it sounded interesting and I've had a strange hankering to see Full Metal Jacket again for two days. Having now read through it with a wayward eye toward analysis, I am shocked by how little it says even as an excerpt of a chapter in his book. The basic things I could glean: television is live, television is repetitive, and television is live. (Heh.)

    Liveness has been something that has been plumbed in such depth for me recently that I suppose I am jaded by an author even mentioning it anymore (though, in 1982, it made more sense I suppose.) Ellis first notes that there is no difference in models between fiction and nonfiction on TV, but that both can be thought of in terms of "the broadcast output... of segment following segment" (238-239). He goes on to call TV "a continuous update" on the same page, noting several formal elements of TV ("dead time", the "fragmentary nature" of broadcast TV, the "use of real time" in staging sitcoms, etc.) that make it seem more immediate and capital-ell Live (239-241). And yet, Ellis hardly ever pauses to discuss narration in his entire piece, except to note that it is "relatively perfunctory" in the entirely different cinematic arts (242). 

    As is pretty typical for me, I was drawn to a pretty insignificant paragraph to the essay that has quite a bit to say for me. In this section, Ellis compares the difference between a movie, which always has "a new story subject" (with the exception of recent Marvel/Disney films,) and a TV series, which "repeats a problematic" and "is based on the repetition of a problematic" (242-243). Far later on, he makes the most interesting statement about characters in a series: "They never learn." (244). I think that the novel show It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia has addressed the topic of staying the same fairly well by frequently mocking characters not changing over the course of their now twelve year run. It is one thing for four adults to be running an unsuccessful bar when they are 25, but what about 35? 40? 45? At a certain point, the life of a sitcom character is a doomed purgatory, waiting to change but forever unable to. 

    Alright, maybe I'm looking to deeply for meaning there. Maybe the real question is: If TV characters don't change, adapt, or grow, what hope do television journalists have?