QOTD 13: Which makes Grand Theft Auto poetic…

(Note: what follows is a mostly spoiler free post about Grand Theft Auto V’s narrative themes and subtext, while I will mention details from various missions and specifics, I won’t mention how they fit within the story and plot, instead talking about them abstractly – proceed at your own risk)
Yup, we’re talking about this again, but in a different context, specifically as it relates to ‘Grand Theft Auto”s particular brand of delicious cheap-shot satire. As I mentioned in the feminism thread, ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ is a troll. What I mean by this is that while ‘GTAV’ is technically about three different characters, it’s in reality, a whip-smart deconstruction about why, exactly, the player likes causing all this mayhem.

 

On its surface ‘GTA V’ is a high quality
game about low quality activities: stealing, murder, drug use,
manipulation, materialism, and chaos. But a little below that surface is
the fact that ‘GTAV’ knows this sort of thing is an absolute blast in a consequence free environment, and continuously pokes the
player in the ribs, dancing around the question of *why*
you enjoy these despicable acts.
This question is illustrated in a bunch of ways, through the three main protagonists of the story. During Micheal’s therapy he’ll admit to ‘killing a guy on the way over’ to the office and simply not caring (because you probably did, and definitely don’t), by the way Franklin will constantly agree to doing dastardly deeds then bemoan the fact he can’t say no (because if he said no, there would be no game), and the fact that Trevor is a completely unlikeable, (sexually) predatory madman, who is the only character of the three you could see enjoying the wonton slaughter of hundreds of people. By giving us two somewhat sympathetic anti-heroes who are compelled by the player to do nasty things, and one wholly despicable character who engages in those same actions for kicks – like we do while playing, we start to understand “GTAV” is trying to say something to gamers who want to think critically about it.
And for the record you don’t have to think critically about it. You can enjoy the story, the jokes, the boobies, the customizable cars, the fact we finally see Lazlow in the digital flesh, and have a blast – accepting it as purely escapist entertainment. I have friends that enjoyed ‘The Sopranos’ this way, and love it to death. There are people who love ‘South Park’ simply for the gross out humor and miss out on all the satire and subtext and nuance of that show, too. But when you dig deeper into what this game is trying to communicate beyond the surface level plot twists and turns, there is a lot to chew on.
Lets take a look at a mid-game mission where you’re required to torture someone. I won’t give the context or the reason why, but lets just say it’s brutal, you’re forced to do it, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll feel really gross about it. In a game where you’re allowed to go on massive rampages, killing dozens if not hundreds of people in the name of pure carnal joy, when one of these nameless citizens suddenly has a name, a job, a personality, and fear in his eyes, things start to hit too close to home. Being forced to select a torture implement, and watch this detainee squirm and scream and cry and beg for his life is unbearable, and in a very subtle way, turns a mirror on the player. This whole murderous rampage thing isn’t as fun when you’re up close and personal with it, now, isn’t it? This scene confirmed the suspicion I had all along. ‘GTA V’ knows it’s sick, thinks you’re maybe a little sick for wanting to play it, and wants you to question your humanity with every trigger pull and flattened pedestrian. 
The world Grand Theft Auto V creates is one devoid of political correctness. Radio advertising directly needles at personal insecurities, whereas in real life those same insecurities are preyed on subtlety and subconsciously. Whooshing news flashes include phrases like “Penis news!” where as in real life they’d be under the context of something like ‘health watch’ despite having the same exact content. The short films in the theater are grotesque and hard to quantify, featuring cliche just long enough to subvert it. There is simply no such thing as political correctness in Los Santos, everything is communicated directly and honestly. In a bizarre way, GTA’s America is a far less complex one than our own.  
So what does it mean? No doubt about it, Grand Theft Auto V is fun. Really fun. It is the apex of all things interactive media: Graphics, scripting, writing, game-play, variety, and world building. But what does it say about our society that the biggest games are hyper violent? What does it mean when the apex of this console generation is a game that features the ability to to pour gasoline over a series of cars and light them all on fire with people in them if you so choose?
Thus I think ‘Grand Theft Auto V”s purpose is to challenge the boundaries of the human soul in a soulless world. Nothing we do in ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ really matters. Even that character you torture is ultimately a collection of 1s and 0s, with a perfectly healthy actor reading lines. But regardless, when you look in his eyes and see real fear, you can’t help but question if you’ve gone too far. Political correctness exists to protect our feelings, to prevent us from feeling bad, or challenged, or unhappy – unless we’re being marketed too.Grand Theft Auto rips that away from us like a band-aid we’ve been wearing too long, and forces us to ask ourselves what part of the soul does a game like this fill, and should it be filled at all?
WHY is this fun? WHY do we enjoy escapist fiction that lets us channel our inner domestic terrorist? AM I the only one thinking that this game is trying to really say something beyond a B-movie style action-comedy-tragedy?  

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Blog Otter Award: Project Blue for the Unsolved Mysteries love. Your Stackalicious award can be found here.

1. I really cannot get over the quality of the satire on display in GTA. It’s ‘South Park’ meets ‘Naked Gun’ meets “American Dreamz” which is a great little move I think like 4 people saw.

2. Now that we’re adults, does it disturb you that 10, 11, 12, and 13 year old kids are going to be playing this game in the same way we did back in the day? On one hand I think exploring ‘mature’ content as a teenager is an important part of growing up – sneaking into an R-rated movie, catching cinemax late at night, whatever, but at the same time I don’t think it should be condoned. I feel part of the maturation of growing up is kind of ‘getting away with it’ in much the same way you’d go over to a friends house to play Mortal Kombat, or get a friend’s older brother to get you into “The Matrix”. Perhaps a different topic for a different day.

QOTD 9: Which makes them poetic…

Lester Bangs: The Doors? Jim Morrison? He’s a drunken buffoon posing as a poet.
Alice Wisdom: I like The Doors.
Lester Bangs: Give me The Guess Who. They got the courage to be drunken buffoons, which makes them poetic.

The above is one of my favorite sentiments in all of history. Own who you are, and good things will come to you – hypothetically, at least. We’ve seen this countless times in movies, tv, music, and pro wrestling. Heck, how many times have wrestlers said the best gimmicks are just themselves ‘turned up to 11’?

So:

Name a movie, TV show, wrestler, artist, or writer you enjoy that lives happily in their own niche, and is better for it.

I’m reminded of this because I recently got my hands on Bowling For Soup’s newest album, Lunch.Drunk.Love, and it is of the quality I’ve come to expect from them since 2004 when I heard them on the ‘Backyard Wrestling’ (featuring ICP) soundtrack and enjoyed their not-very-serious send up of the TRL generation in ‘Punk Rock 101’. And somehow they’ve managed to put out more quality records than every other band I’ve ever called my ‘favorite’

They’re sophomoric, drunks, unabashedly nerdy, not lyrically complex, like to party, evoke a positive attitude, and most importantly, mean well. While there’s always going to be a place for bands who lean more toward the tortured artist side of things, I find that personally I tend to most enjoy bands that come at this thing with a sense of genuine energy an unabashed enthusiasm, which then makes them artists.

For the four of you that care, and the six of you that are going to make fun of me, my favorite bands of all time are Barenaked Ladies, Jimmy Eat World, Counting Crows, Kid Rock, Eminem, Bowling for Soup, Fountains of Wayne, and then a smattering of popular and deep tracks from Noah and The Whale, Counting Crows, Toby Keith, Big and Rich, Ben Folds, and Jason Mraz. But despite most of those musicians probably having more talent than Bowling for Soup, I *like* Bowling for Soup the most. I’ve bought every single one of their albums because I know exactly what I’m getting every time, and I can’t say that about any of those other bands.

As far as drunken buffoons go, they’re the best.

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Blog Otter Award: Mike Mears for suggesting the next 5 QOTDs as I’ll be too busy playing GTA V to think of anything worthwhile. Get your dictionaries ready, kids.

1. Poker Night of Champions is, alas, a no-go as we had only 4 signups. I’d suggest an E-fed but I think I’d have to give my virginity back, first.

2. I can’t help but feel Santino Marella is the answer to this question, wrestling wise.

3. I really don’t understand all the Kid Rock hate, by-the-by. I guess my question would be *how much* Kid Rock have you listened to before saying he sucks / is a shitty artist, etc?

Homework Assignment: Get your ‘Cowboy’ on and listen to the lyrics, sounds, and musical complexity of this song, and tell me it’s not at least creative, if not 100 percent your cup of tea.

I don’t mean to go on a Rant here, but literally every time I bring up Mr. Rock, I get very similar responses from folks and it completely baffles me. I’m reminded of Jay-Z from “Renegade” – Do you fools listen to music, or ya’ll just skim through it? Because I can tell you regardless of whether or not you ENJOY his music, you have to appreciate his style, compassion, and ability to kind of re-invent himself over and over again, going from Rap, to Rock, to Country, to a combo of all three.

Also I’m probably in the minority here, but I actually sort of dig the way he samples other songs for his beats. We give rappers a pass when they do it, so why does Kid Rock get the flack?

So a secondary, personal vendetta-y question here: Why do you hate Kid Rock? What makes him objectively bad, versus being an artist who doesn’t fit in with your tastes?

What makes a good heel?

So I’ve debated this with several people and would like to get your thoughts.  What makes a good heel?  Is it as simple as pissing people off?  Time and time again I hear people say how great Vicki Guerrero is.  However, there is nobody that makes me hit fast forward on the DVR quicker.  I suppose you could call it X-Pac heat.  Is that bad, or is the only thing important that you get a negative reaction?

 In my opinion a good heel is someone that makes you want to pay money to see them get their ass kicked.  With Vicki, you don’t have this except on occasions where she feuds with a diva.  If she is harassing a male wrestler, it is pointless, especially with no male on female violence allowed.  So you are left with things like having her dance like Elaine.  Then we have the “Cool” heel.  I would say Hall and Nash were the epitome of this.  You can’t say people didn’t pay money to see them.  However, in the long run they ended up making WCW look like losers.  That leads me to my second point, a good heel makes themselves look bad to make their opponent come out more popular.  I’ve heard it referred to as Showing Ass.  Hall and Nash would lose to Lugar and Sting or the Steiners, but they never made themselves look bad.  The next night they would come out like it was no big deal.  Compare this to the Brain getting put in a weasel suit and selling it to the point of chasing his tail.  Thoughts?

Vickie has cooled off a LOT.  People boo her reflexively now, but she hasn't added anything to the Dolph Ziggler package for many months and he'd be 1000% better off without her.  Her peak as a heel was obviously the Smackdown GM run with Edge, where she was in an unwarranted position of power and did a really effective job as someone who deserved to be taken down a few pegs.  Now she's just this annoying person who does nothing, which is like the Mr. Fuji managing method.  
And yes, showing some ass is definitely a good thing, although WWE has gone so far over the top with it that no heels can get heat anymore.  Ted Dibiase was probably the best template for what a good upper level heel should be — he talked a big game and looked like a threat to the main guys, but generally lost the big match when it came down to it because he was too arrogant for his own good.  And the loss would upset him so much that he'd plot and scheme against his next babyface opponent.  All good stuff.  
The other alternative is of course the Monster Heel, the guy who never shows ass and keeps winning until one babyface finally is able to stop him, at which point he rockets down the card again so the next guy can have a turn.  If they don't actually ever lose, then it's a Road Warriors situation where fans just turn them babyface, kind of defeating the purpose.  The Monster Heel was of course the status quo during the Hogan era, but it's harder to pull off now because the product features the same few guys in a rotation and they don't want to break from the 50/50 booking patterns to let someone be that kind of dominant guy.  
I think that it's tough to say that there's one "good" kind of heel, just like there's more than one good babyface type.  It's fine to have cool heels, but eventually someone's gotta teach them a lesson.  Obviously that's where Punk is headed.  

What makes a popular Pro Wrestler?

‘Hey Dad,’ I asked, “Have you ever heard of Daniel Bryan?” He shook his head and continued singing the Neil Diamond song I brought up on Spotify. “What about CM Punk?” “Who? What is this, a survey? I don’t give a damn,”. In defense of my dad’s Pro Wrestling knowledge, his frame of reference is essentially teasing me about “how fake it all is” during my middle school days. The joke was on him, of course, as the fakeness he was teasing me about cost him somewhere in the neighborhood forty dollars U.S.  depending on which PPV that was hogging the TV on Sunday nights.  “What about Hulk Hogan?” “Yess of course,” he paused.  “Don’t go putting me into whatever it is you’re doing,”. Oops

Personally, I consider myself a pro-wrestling aficionado. I’ve always loved the business, the product, the figure-skating esque, largely improvised programs workers put on night-in and night-out. I’m by no means an expert, but I like the wrestling for the, well, wrestling. My Dad doesn’t like it at all.  


“Stone Cold?” Dad nods. “The Rock?”  “Yeah,”.  “John Cena?” He grunted a negatory.  “Triple H?” He had a vague recollection.  “Vince McMahon?” “Thats the manager guy, right?”. He’s probably heard these names peripherally. But in terms of “The Business” getting a fifty year old man who drives a truck to know who these people are is probably as close to a brass ring you’re going to get from non-fans. If you get a pro wrestler’s name and likeness to occupy space in a non-fan’s brain, you’ve probably done something right.

He’s never heard of Shawn Michaels, nor does he particularly care about *any* of these people, but it’s interesting none-the-less. As he took over the music that was playing, demanding I play Tina Turner because “It’s his house too” I had something of an epiphany.

Larger than life is where it’s at. If you want to break through in pro-wrestling,  It’s a combination of look, charisma, and a memorable name. I’ve heard of Tina Turner, but don’t particularly care about her, but I know what she looks like, a couple of her songs, and remember Ike Turner used to beat the crap out of her.  If she was on TV, maybe I’d pause to see what she was doing. Much like Dad would if he saw “The Rock” on Leno.

Unfortunately, unless you know what you’re already a fan, whether or not any of these people are good wrestlers is a moot point, because you won’t care about a match until you care about a wrestler. This is probably why WWE trots out The Great Khali every so often. This is why The Big Show gets a push. This is why it Brodus Clay’s entrance is longer than his matches.  If you manage to catch, four or five non-fan’s eye with something out of the ordinary, you may make a fan out of one, then they may give a damn about the product.

Which is why pro-wrestling is kind of sucky for us hardcore fans at the moment. WWE probably knows it needs something to cling on too, and ride into the ground, and is probably the main reason for the generally inconsistent nature of the product these days. They need *something* to hitch their wagon too. People who sing the praises Zack Ryder or bemoan why current U.S Champion Santino isn’t being used properly, are, more or less, going to watch wrestling because they’re already fans.

So, unfortunately, until WWE finds “The Next Big Thing” (It’s not Brock Lesnar, though it’s a start and the sort of thing that will bring WWE into the frame of reference of non-fans), we’ll have to take what we can get, which is some great workers that put on great matches, but are never *really* given the ball to run with, simply because no one outside of the WWE universe has heard of them.
 
One last question for Dad, though.  “Kevin Nash?”  “Is that the tall guy with the good hair?”