The Smash 64 Combo Contest Taught Me More About Art Than My MFA

For those unfamiliar with the Smash 64 combo contest, an introduction: Each year, an elite group of attendees at Super Smash Con in Chantilly, VA compete to demonstrate the most eye-poppingly complex combos possible in Super Smash Bros. 64, the original entry in a now iconic series of fighting games. Super Smash Bros. 64 was released on January 21, 1999. The first recorded Combo Contest took place in 2016, seventeen years later.

The Combo Contest is presented like a fighting game tournament — that is, it’s presented like an amateur sporting event broadcast live from an echoey convention center auditorium. And for the first year, that’s exactly what it was.

Then, in year two of the combo contest, a player named Tacos discovered that it was possible to open the settings menu mid-combo and switch the game to slow-mo right before his final hit connected, and everyone went apeshit. Since then, each year has brought new innovations, from ping-ponging enemies between items, to playing blindfolded, to controlling a second character with a bare foot

Tacos’ groundbreaking slowmo donk combo

None of these things are necessarily more technically difficult than the complex button inputs that inaugurated the combo contest. In fact, putting the game in slow-mo is dramatically easier than executing taunt-cancels, ledge-cancels, z-cancels, and all the other kinds of cancels I found when I looked up “difficult things to do in Smash 64” online. But technically impressive feats are only impressive to other technicians. Mechanically proficient combos tend to score more points with judges familiar with the game, but for everybody else the slow-mo slam dunk combo just feels better. They can’t justify that feeling on a checklist, but it’s a real feeling nonetheless. In fact, one possible definition of art might be, “a thing that is much easier to like than it is to explain why you like it.”

But the player who proved to me the artistic merit of the Smash 64 Combo Contest was not Tacos. It was a perpetually-masked Japanese player by the name of Prince.

It’s not spoiling anything to tell you that Prince has won five of the seven recorded combo contests. He is the shonen protagonist of the Combo Contest, destined to win by some accident of birth or godlike persistence. Each Prince combo is a precisely cut gem, reflecting the programmer’s original intentions through a maze of dazzling facets until it becomes something else entirely. Before watching Prince play, Smash 64 was just a game my friends used to use to assert their dominance over me in college. After seeing what that masked man could do, I saw the game for what it truly is: an artistic medium as expressive as charcoal or watercolor.

Every combo contest highlights video is pretty much just a Prince combo compilation

But there’s another important element to Prince’s success: his reputation. From the moment Prince walks up to the stage, everyone in the audience is ready to be impressed. This puts a lot of pressure on Prince, obviously (and in fact, his one recorded loss occurred when his reach finally exceeded his grasp), but as long as he continues to execute at the level for which he’s renowned, that renown in itself acts as a multiplier on the impressiveness of his combos.

When I described prince as the shonen protagonist of the combo contest, I meant it. Every time he picks up the controller, it feels like watching Goku take on his latest invincible opponent. You know Goku’s going to find a way to win, because he’s fucking Goku, but everyone else is so powerful, how’s he going to manage to actually pull it off this time? That anticipation, that expectation of success, plays a huge role in how it feels to watch Prince compete.

But even after being blown away by Prince’s combos for years, the realization that the combo contest is art didn’t truly sink in for me until 2022. After the contest was over, I sat listening to the commentators trying to explain what they’d just seen Prince do.

“The ending, the mid– some part of it is just… out of nowhere,” a commentator named Darkhorse stammered, reaching out with his hands as if trying to physically hold onto the feeling he was experiencing. “You don’t know what’s coming. This is just… where the combo contest is going. You know, we were like ‘everything’s about items. Everything’s gotta use custom spawns.’ [But] it’s still all about the showmanship. Like, what can you do to wow the audience. How can you surprise them.”

The other commentator laughed, plainly sharing his partner’s befuddlement. “Yeah, [show them] what they didn’t expect in a … 23 year old game.”

This year I was on the lookout for similar sentiments, and I found them. After the last combo of the night, commentator Kerokeroppi, struggling to find the right words, said,

“That… I don’t even know what to call it. He tricked us.” I felt, um… I don’t even know how to identify that element that he introduced.”

These are men who still think they’re showing up to a sporting event, attempting to reckon with the fact that they’ve been shown art instead. They can’t quite describe what separates the transcendent combos from the merely technically competent. It certainly doesn’t have anything to do with the difficulty of the execution, or the number of hits. It’s not quantifiable. They showed up to try to evaluate which player did best, not realizing that doing so would require them to become art critics.

It’s tempting to compare the Combo Contest to a figure skating competition. After all, the points are subjective, and awarded by a panel of judges who hold up scores on printed cards. There are a number of sports like this in the Olympics, where a bunch of people from different countries attempt to assign numerical values to beauty. But there’s something more to the Smash 64 Combo Contest that elevates it above mere figure skating.

Competitive figure skating has many generations of scoring convention which constrain how many points a skater can be awarded. Figure skating also doesn’t allow you to drop a magic wand out of a dinosaur’s ass while controlling a second figure skater with your feet. There are six figure skating tricks which can earn points in competition. There are 50 unique items in Super Smash Brothers 64, twelve characters, nine stages, and hundreds of moves. And that’s leaving aside the player’s reputations, the way they interact with the crowd, how quickly they manage to pull off their combo, and probably a slew of other factors that haven’t even been discovered yet. The thing that makes the combo contest unique is that nobody has any idea what’s possible. All they know is what they’ve seen, and how it makes them feel.

There’s this belief out there that art should “say something,” that it should reveal some truth about the world, communicate some holy message. But some of the most enduring works of art I’ve experienced stick with me because of the pure emotions they evoked. Books have made me cry, made me cackle uncontrollably, made me feel so full of crackling energy that I had to put them down and just breathe for a minute. A book doesn’t have to mean something to mean something to me. The emotion is enough. And in the case of the Smash 64 Combo Contest, that emotion is HYPE.

This, finally, is what the Combo Contest has taught me about art: That something does not need to be Important to be Good. That the mission of art can be, in fact, to reach past the part of the brain that determines meaning, straight for the brain stem, and light us up from within. I will watch the Smash 64 Combo Contest religiously, every year until it dies or I do. And in the months between, I will strive to write just one sentence that slaps as hard as Prince’s double red-shell Samus SD blaster combo from 2022.

A different AI essay than the one everybody else is writing

I had this magnificently lukewarm take on AI art all written up and ready to post. It the sort of thing you’ve probably heard elsewhere: blah blah blah, the tool isn’t the problem, it’s the bosses who are going to use the tool to blah blah blah etc. The main takeaways were:

After I finished that essay I thought it would be funny if I fed the thesis statement into ChatGPT and asked it to write a “profanity-laced essay” on the topic. It did so. (The title was “AI Art and the Capitalist Conundrum: A Profanity-Laced Essay”) It was a pretty awful essay, written in a frankly offensive pastiche of my house style circa 2010, but it made enough of the same points as my essay that after some reflection I thought to myself: “If ChatGPT can capture the gist of this argument in a few seconds, what the fuck am I even doing here?”

Deeply ashamed, I shelved the essay. Several days later, though, I thought of something else to say on the topic. This is stuff I’ve been thinking about for a long time because of the book I’m going to publish (more on that as the pub date draws nigh). In the meantime, here’s what I’m thinking:

I never read Yuval Noah Harari’s bestselling pop sci book, “Sapiens.” I wish I had, it sounds dope. What I have read is an excerpt from that book, about wheat. You can read the excerpt here, but let me give you the gist of it if you’re even lazier than I am: Human beings have made wheat the most successful plant on the planet, at great cost to ourselves, thinking all along that it was us who was manipulating wheat, and not the other way around.

I believe that AI is doing the same thing. Not intentionally — I don’t think AI has any more intentionality than a stalk of wheat — but functionally. Harari describes the backbreaking labor humans undertook to cater to wheat’s many needs — picking stones, carrying water, guarding against pests, and so on. Is it any less tedious to work as a database annotator, meticulously labeling unthinkable quantities of data so that it can be used to train neural networks? What about the people who ride in Google’s self-driving cars? Or the people paid to edit AI-generated content rather than creating it themselves?

What about you? Yes, every single one of you. Have you filled out a CAPTCHA recently? One of the ones that makes you tell it which of the following sixteen images contain stop signs? Who do you think that shit is for? It’s not for the website you’re trying to log into. It’s for the Google car that’s about to blow through an intersection unless you answer this question right fucking now. The real kick in the dick for me was when I got a CAPTCHA a few days ago that asked me to identify images of dogs and cakes that had clearly been generated by an AI. I was just trying to create an account so I could look at some boobs online and instead I ended up doing an AI’s homework for it.

We are feeding the neural networks. We are hosting them on our servers, with our electricity. We are telling them our secrets. We are chewing up our data and spitting it into their pixelated mouths. Just like wheat before them, they have domesticated us.

There will never be an AI takeover of society. There will be no grand reveal, where the machines smugly announce that they have been manipulating us all along. That would require ego, and wheat has no ego. We are not being manipulated by anyone. We have only manipulated ourselves.

I think the reflexive take here is to assume this is bad. Because, you know, it feels bad. The implicit argument of the Harari excerpt is that things would have been a lot better if human society hadn’t been hijacked by a bunch of dumb plants. And it’s certainly not good. I’m not stoked about serving the Plant God, or the Machine God, because I’m a human being and human beings aren’t supposed to serve jack shit except for other human beings. It feels like a perversion of our purpose, an abdication of our divine right.

Sure, there are legions of blue checks with machine dick in their mouths, passionately arguing that the AI Singularity is a Good Thing, Actually — that we have given rise to a new species that will merge with us and turn our shitty dads into spaceships or whatever. But those are usually the same dudes who are like “climate change is fine actually because we can just move to mars and also poor people don’t matter,” so I don’t feel like wasting precious pixels arguing with them.

Instead I’m gonna do something unprecedented and radical: I’m going to argue that the silent AI takeover is not terrible, nor is it super great. It’s disturbing, it’s insidious, it’s inevitable, but it’s not the thing that’s going to kill us all. It’s easy to turn a non-sentient process into a villain when that process makes us feel less important and powerful than we’ve decided we’re supposed to be. But wheat didn’t have a terrifying master plan. It settled for making life slightly shittier overall. AI is similar. It’s not the kind of thing you write a dramatic sci-fi story about. It’s something that happens in the background of a story, because stories, at least, will always be about people first.

That’s why I’ve chosen to surrender to our new digital overlords. Because what else am I going to do? Stop creating data? I can’t even give up bread. I guarantee that ChatGPT was trained on the posts from this very website, and writing this post is just giving it more to work with. If this is the cost of having cool opinions online, then it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

The Modern Internet, or: This Toilet We Are All Drowning in Together

Relaunching this website, which I first started thirteen god damn years ago, has got me thinking a lot about what’s changed in the past thirteen years. In particular, I’m interested in how today’s internet is different than the slapdash beta version I grew up with.

It is a truth universally acknowledged among people of my generation that the internet used to be great, and now it sucks butt in a bad way. Back in the olden times, we lament, everything was free, but we hadn’t yet become the product. There were forums, and chatrooms, and nobody had figured out how to send swat teams to each others’ houses yet. The worst anybody had to fear from the internet was accidentally downloading a virus from kazaa, (or pedophilia, but shut up, we’re trying to be nostalgic).

Nowadays, we complain, everyone online is a bastard, and some of those bastards have guns. The people who faithfully produce our content are all so burnt out that they’re having literal health problems. And Amazon dot com is currently using the most sophisticated information infrastructure ever created to figure out how to deliver you thirty assorted plastic ducks as quickly as possible.

So the internet was good, and now it’s bad. That’s the universally-agreed-upon starting point from which I intended to construct this entire essay. But when I tried to pinpoint exactly what made the modern internet bad, I kept coming up short. Is social media bad? Many people seem to agree that it is. And yet, I owe basically my entire career to social media, since most of the people who originally found this site discovered it when Neil Gaiman posted about it on Twitter. Online abuse is rampant, and it’s certainly better organized than it’s ever been, but the worst of it is still being organized on the same sorts of forums and private groups that have been around since I was a kid. And what about Amazon? They’re so cartoonishly evil that I would not be surprised to learn they’d started taking payments in baby skin, but did they, like, invent capitalism? Rich people have been drinking our blood and shitting in our water since forever — we’re just more aware of their skulldickery than ever before.

I began to doubt myself, to ask whether things had truly been better during my youth, or whether I was simply following the curmudgeonly trajectory of all aging men. Maybe things just feel worse now because I’m older, I told myself, and being older blows. I have to pay taxes now, and if I shit myself in public it’s a whole big thing and I have to apologize to all the other guys in the funeral procession. Of course I’m nostalgic for an internet that reminds me of a time when things were easier, when my brain was smaller and spongier. Maybe I should focus on what’s gone wrong with my own life, rather than attempting to diagnose the whole entire internet.

No wait, fuck that, I can do this.

Because the truth of the matter is that the internet feels different now. It feels bad. I can’t stop checking my phone — sometimes I find it in my hand after specifically putting it down and promising not to look at it — but staring at that tiny screen feels like dragging sheets of sandpaper across my brain. I don’t actually miss forums or chatrooms — I never joined any chatrooms, and when I joined the SomethingAwful forums at the age of thirteen, I narrowly avoided being banned for posting thirty pictures of a guy with his dick in his own butt and was too embarrassed to ever go back — but I do miss how the internet used to feel.

I miss watching hours of dogshit animation on Newgrounds, and occasionally being shocked by something really, really good. I miss traveling cross-country, messaging strangers on CouchSurfing and asking to crash at their houses for free. I miss the web game I used to play that was just all of us going out into the world, doing artistic crimes, and posting documentation of those crimes with our faces blurred out. I miss the horrific blue-and-orange color scheme of my old blog on Xanga, and I miss the earsplitting sound of a new incoming message on AIM.

But also, the internet I grew up on was full of utterly horrible shit. I mean, at thirteen years old I had easy access to thirty pictures of a guy with his dick in his own butt (it was the same picture thirty times, but still). And that was just the tip of the iceberg. The concept of Rickrolling, now itself an outdated custom, was a sanitized version of the “shock sites” we used to trick each other into viewing: lemonparty, goatse, hai2u, two girls one cup; heinous depictions of sex acts we barely understood. To this day, I am still unreasonably afraid of helicopters, because when I was a teenager I saw a bunch of jpegs of helicopter decapitations on The internet was a funnel of poison, directly into my brain. It was probably really bad for me! So why do I still miss that internet? How can I be nostalgic for that?

Well, there’s a weird common denominator between the stuff I miss and the stuff that messed me up: it was all, viewed objectively, pretty bad. was, like, morally bad. But Xanga and Newgrounds and so on were bad in a different way: bad, as in poorly executed. So for me, it’s not that the internet used to be good and now it’s bad. It’s that the internet used to be awful, and now it’s too good. Like, okay, let me give you an example…

Maybe you remember the Million Dollar Homepage. If you don’t, it’s a pretty simple concept: some dingus bought a website, cordoned off a million pixels, and then sold them as ad space, one dollar per pixel, until all the pixels were filled and he had a million dollars. It’s still up, and it looks like ass:

Screenshot of the Million Dollar Homepage, looking like someone just beat the shit out of a pinata full of casinos.

Jesus Christ. Just looking at this pile of clown vomit makes me want to hose my eyes out with one of those things dentists use to waterboard people. But contrary to what you might hope after looking at that shit, the guy who made it is still alive, and now his Twitter page looks like this:

Twitter profile of Alex Tew, the creator of the Million Dollar Homepage, looking like a bottle of pure mountain springwater.

Isn’t this just absolutely the most pleasant thing you’ve ever seen? I can’t think of anything that better illustrates the difference between the internet we have now and the digital trap house I grew up in. The internet used to feel like a foreign place — fraught with danger, populated by pseudonyms, totally uncurated. It was a legitimately dangerous place. But that danger, and cringe, and bullshit all ended up online because the internet was an escape from real life. Now all the bad shit on the internet is there because the internet is real life, just amplified.

The truth is, pretty much all the stuff we miss about the old internet is still on the internet. SomethingAwful still exists. The Million Dollar Homepage (unfortunately) still exists. This website still exists. The only reason the internet feels like it’s changed is because we’ve changed the way we use it. Why sift through the muck yourself, when you can float along a lazy river of algorithmically curated content?

And the fucked up thing is, I’ve participated in this transformation without even realizing it! I don’t hit up strangers on Couchsurfing anymore, I book through AirBnB. I don’t trawl Newgrounds for edgy content, I watch whatever YouTube decides to serve me. And I certainly don’t post shirtless videos of myself recorded on a built-in webcam anymore, as much as I’m sure certain fetishists would like me to.

Part of this is a money thing. I make a lot more money than I used to, in no small part due to the name I made for myself writing dumb shit on this website. More money has changed me in two big ways: it’s allowed me to pay for convenience rather than making due with inconvenience, and it’s made me beholden to the system that pays me. I don’t just represent myself — I represent everyone who pays my bills. The amount of money being made online these days is orders of magnitude greater than it was when I was growing up, and all that money constrains what the internet is, the same way it constrains me.

One reason I was hesitant to start posting on this blog again is because it feels so outdated. Even the word “blog” feels like a relic of another era. Every time I thought about writing something, I’d end up with a checklist of things I needed to do to “modernize” the site: Switch the page to responsive design, do some kind of Medium integration, commission new background art, and should I even by writing, or should I be doing video essays now instead? All those to-dos, all those production-quality concerns, kept me from ever getting started.

Ultimately, though, I decided it was better to do it badly than to not do it at all. And I guess that’s what I miss about the old internet, to put it simply. I miss when we were all bad at it, but we did it anyway because nobody could stop us. When the boundary between content producer and content consumer was so membrane-thin you could step right through it. I’m trying to reclaim a little bit of that for myself — to make a space where I can do something and not worry about whether it sucks.

In the end, I know the internet’s never going back to the way it was. That’s no reason to be pessimistic, though. Before the Wild West period of the Internet, there was the actual Wild West, and even now I’m sure a new gonzo frontier is opening up. I’m not cool enough to know where it is, but I believe in my heart that somewhere out there twenty-somethings are creating utter garbage and sharing it with their friends. I want that for them.

I want that for all of us.

SEO Cargo Cult Online New Tips For Optimizing Your Search Engine Performance Top Ten Business Tips and Advice

Anxiously refreshing Twitter to see how people were responding to my blog relaunch got me thinking about a story I heard a while ago. Check it out:

In AD 1941, war was beginning. I mean it had been going on for a while but that’s when AMERICA got involved, so that’s when it started mattering. The empire of Japan was sending boats full of soldiers all up over everywhere, because they wanted to own everything. Meanwhile the United States of America was sending boats full of soldiers all up over everywhere ELSE, because they didn’t want Japan to have all the fun. One of the places the US sent boats and soldiers was an archipelago called Vanuatu — a small island chain northeast of Australia, and future home of the ninth season of Survivor.

Now, war sucks, but it comes with a lot of sweet loot. All the gun boys need food and blankets and candy and cigars or they get hungry and bored and start shooting the wrong people. So when America moved in to Vanuatu, they built air strips and started airdropping INSANE AMOUNTS OF MASS-PRODUCED GOODS on an island where grass-roofed huts were still the height of technology.

Most of these goods were for the soldiers, but a ton of stuff ended up being given to the native inhabitants, in exchange for being chill about the whole military occupation thing. And the dudes who received these goods got really attached to this lifestyle. SO attached, that when the war ended and all the troops moved away, these dudes started imitating what they thought were the mystical rituals that summoned all the sweet loot. They built their own air strips, and did their own military parades, and made radios and airplanes out of coconut husks and straw. They figured if they did all the things they saw the soldiers do, then goods would rain from the sky!


Groups who did this were referred to as “cargo cults” and used as an example of consumerism or being a dummy or whatever. But leaving aside the fact that this probably isn’t exactly how things happened, put yourself in the cargo cultists’ shoes for a second. You’ve never seen any of this shit before. The goods coming out of these planes totally changed your life. Wouldn’t you do anything you could think of to make those goods come back, once they were gone?

It’s NORMAL for humans to look at a system and try a bunch of weird shit to make candy come out. It’s how we ended up drinking from cow tits and eating chicken periods. And more and more these days, it’s how we use the internet.

I used to write product descriptions for power tools I had never used. It was kind of an interesting challenge. I had keyword quotas that I had to hit — each tool description had to use words like “power tool” and “best” and “quality” a certain number of times. I wasn’t writing like this for the benefit of other humans. I was writing for the benefit of search engines. Write a perfectly informative product description without using the right number of magic words, and the search engines wouldn’t see it. And if the search engines didn’t see it, neither would the humans who used those search engines.

SEO gibberish speak has become a cargo cult ritual. Every google result is a listicle. Porn titles read like lists of ingredients. Recipe blogs have gotten longer and longer, defying anyone’s attempt to use them. They’re not for people to read, they’re for machines to read.

Like a true cargo-cult, this algorithm worship has gone on so long we’ve lost sight of its original purpose. Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, a webcomic which I no longer enjoy but which I will read forever out of a grudging sense of familiarity, includes a red button under each comic, which can be clicked to view a little bit of bonus content. Clicking this button used to register as a vote on one of the popular webcomic ranking services of the time, essentially bribing users to catapult SMBC to the top of the rankings. The rankings no longer exist, but the button does, and we still press it.

Because it’s not just content creators who participate in this cult. We as consumers have also adopted bizarre rituals. When I search for a pirated movie, I type “watch The Room online free putlocker” as if I’m casting a spell or having a stroke. When I prompt Midjourney, I type, “anime girl long hair studio ghibli big titties trending on Artstation.” This is not poor grammar. This is not improper English. It’s not even English. It’s machine language.

We put up with this garbage because we’ve created a system in which a machine HAS to sort our content for us. We can’t go to a place, switch to a channel, and just see what’s on. There’s too much stuff, and it’s on all the time. We barely know what we want in the first place, so how can we ask a machine to give it to us? Instead, the machine gives us what it has determined we want . When a machine determines the value of the input, and who gets to see the output, we end up producing and consuming not what we enjoy, but what the machine enjoys. The decision has been taken entirely out of our hands. We’re just standing on the landing strip, waiting for the planes to arrive.

(OR you could ditch the algorithm entirely and sign up for my friggin newsletter!)

Well, I’m Back

Sup guys

It’s been, what, seven years since I last posted on this website? It’s insane to me that I’ve been alive long enough that seven years feels like a semi-negligible amount of time. When I’m bored on the internet, my fingers still find themselves wanting to type in this url, just to check the comments, see how the latest post is doing. Seven years, and the habit hasn’t left me.

And now I’m back. Why? Well, a lot of reasons. For one thing, I’ve got a couple new projects coming out that I want to tell you about — audiobook versions of Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes and George Washington is Cash Money available on May 23rd, plus a friggin NOVEL available some time in the distant future. But one big reason is that I want the excuse to write again.

Updating the site became a chore towards the end of my run, (mostly because I was trying to crank out myths once or twice a week, and that was an insane thing to be doing) but it also gave me accountability. I couldn’t just dick around with my writing forever, trying to make it perfect. There were hungry eyeballs on the internet, and they demanded to be fed. Hungry eyeballs feels like a mixed metaphor, I probably could have done better, but there’s NO TIME, I’ve got to POST THIS SHIT.

It was also nice to have something to do that wasn’t a big continuous project. Since leaving the site behind I’ve mostly worked on video games (Monster Prom and Holovista being two of the biggest ones) and book-length fiction, stuff that requires years of continuous attention, editing, iterating. I like doing those things, but I miss just writing some shit and posting it, without worrying about what the next chapter is going to look like.

Starting the site back up is also scary, though. Accountability is cool and everything, but it also sucks ass and I hate it. What if I post this, make a big deal out of being back, and then it turns out I don’t want to be back? What if two months from now I run out of ideas, get tired, want to quit? Wouldn’t that be worse than not having tried at all?

Truth is, I’ve thought about doing this for at least a couple of years at this point. And every time I get close, it’s that thought that stops me. What if I don’t have anything to say? What if I do have something to say, but it’s too hard and I’m not up to it? As somebody who struggles with depression, the weight of those questions was enough to keep me down.


I mean, fuck it. How many people even still read this website? Worst case scenario, I disappoint like twelve of you. So here we go.


I’m gonna post about once or twice a month. The posts are going to be little essays about storytelling, the internet, and the work of being a writer. You are going to read these posts, and tell me how great I am. And because I know nobody reads websites anymore, I set up a little newsletter that will notify you whenever a new post goes up. You can sign up for that right here:

So hello again, old friends. This should be fun.

The End

So, plot twist: As of today, I will no longer be regularly updating Myths Retold. I’ll still post periodically, but the posts will probably look more like this than like this. I’ve re-geared my Patreon to support my other creative writing projects (including Face a Week, which I’m very excited about) so check that out if you want stories, novel chapters, and swears on tap. I put all this info at the top of the post so that if it really pisses you off, you can skip straight to fucking off without having to read the rest. If you want to know why I’m ending this project, though, let me do the thing I know how to do: let me tell you a story…  Continue reading

Captain America Isn’t Bi or a Nazi, He’s Just God

I don’t think I need to convince you that comic book heroes are our modern gods. Superman has a definite Jesus thing going on. Characters like Storm and The Black Panther form the centers of in-canon religions. Thor is literally a norse god. If I had a nickel for every time a comic book writer tried to ram the “these men and women are our modern gods but oh how fallible they are” trope down our throats, I would have enough money to purchase one, maybe two additional comic books. But there is one sticking point in the comparison between these modern gods and those ancient ones: if comic book heroes really are gods, why aren’t we worshipping them? Well, we are, and in much the same ways that the Greeks did. Check it out:

Every year, the Ancient Greeks got super hyped for a festival called the Dyonisia. How it worked was a select few playwrights would be chosen to write plays for everyone to watch. These plays couldn’t be about just anything – they had to be based on established mythological stories about existing mythological characters. Stuff like the Oerestes, or Oedipus Rex, or Philoctetes – good wholesome stories about royalty fucking each other to death. The Dyonisia was a religious festival after all, even if the god it was dedicated to was probably too fucked up to care.

These plays were a big deal. Getting selected to write, act, or direct for the Dyonisia was the height of most artists’ careers. Mega-rich patrons contributed ludicrous sums to pay for the costumes, props and effects that wowed the drunk-as-shit audiences every year.

Do I need to spell the parallel out for you? Okay, fine. Comic book movies are the modern Dyonisia. Mega-rich studios draft legendary artists like Joss Whedon and Robert Downey Jr. to produce wildly entertaining theatrical clusterfucks based on established superheroes and existing superhero stories.

It’s no accident that some heroes are getting more movie love than others. For Marvel, it’s Captain America and Iron Man. For DC, it’s Batman and Superman. This was true long before comic book movies were even a thing. For reasons that are probably too complicated to understand, something about these heroes has resonated with audiences almost since their creation, causing them to be passed lovingly from artist to artist as their stories are told and retold. Movies, though, seriously amplify this focus, bringing the characters and their canons to viewers who would never have followed them in their original format. Basically, the characters who get the most movies made about them are the ones that will survive in the popular imagination.

I’d argue that we see the exact same process going on in ancient religions. What we view as the definitive versions of Greek, Egyptian, and Norse mythology (just to name three that have been widely translated into English) are really the result of an ages-long culture war between minor local gods. Greece, especially, was a loose collection of city-states, all with their own favorite gods and customs, who all kind of fucking hated each other, and what ended up becoming “Greek Mythology” was decided through a combination of war, politics, and pop culture. Diana, for example, is said to have been the central divinity in an early Greek goddess cult, but her inclusion in “Greek mythology” lead to her being sidelined and subordinated in a male-dominated pantheon.

An even clearer example of how this works: Grimm’s fairytales are not the only fairytales German parents used to scare the shit out of their children. As recent discoveries have shown, there are literally thousands of fairytales in the same tradition. Most of those were garbage, though, and Grimm’s curated collection has thus become the most widely circulated source for an entire area of folklore. And come to think of it, which Grimm’s tales do we actually remember? Oh, just the ones that were made into movies by Disney. Disney, which now owns Marvel Studios. I better hurry up and finish this post, because it’s kind of dangerous to type when you are so on fire.

So you’re probably thinking “Okay, your amazing words have convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that comic book movies are the new mythology, and also you are handsome and I want to smooch you. But so what? What makes this different from any other hot take on a comic book movie?” Well first of all, thank you for telling me I’m handsome. That’s just the kind of self-esteem boost I needed. But secondly, this isn’t an article about comic book movies. I’m not saying they’re good or bad, or that you should see them or not (personally I think they are all uniformly garbage, but I’m also a huge asshole). I’m saying that the characters in these movies are more than characters now. To many of us, these heroes are living people with the capacity to arouse deep feelings in us. And that’s not far from worship. Not far at all.

This is why people get so mad when writers try to drastically change the characters, or when something is perceived as “non-canon.” This is what motivated a bunch of angry straight dudes to try to shout down #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend. Weirdly, I think it’s also what led to people getting so angry when Captain America was revealed to be a deep cover Hydra operative a few days later. These characters no longer truly belong to the writers who are writing their stories. They exist independent of their individual fictions. In our minds, many of their traits are already set in stone.

It’s more than that, though. We care about the continuity of these characters because in some ways we identify with them, aspire to be them. Insecure straight guys don’t want to identify with a bisexual Captain America, and people who don’t like racism don’t want to identify with a Captain America who is a nazi. No matter how much we talk about wanting the characters to reflect the times, or to explore new story arcs, there is a part of us that wants the thing we are worshipping to be predictable, to stay the same.

This is why we have religions, after all – to make an unpredictable world feel more predictable. And it’s why polytheism has been especially tenacious: sometimes you need different gods like you need different music. Even Jesus only acts like Superman some of the time. Put some moneylenders in a church, and suddenly dude is all Hulked out. Comic book movies give us all the comforts of polytheism without demanding we convert. Iron Man is the patron saint of startup culture. Deadpool is the patron saint of twelve-year-old boys. Superman is the patron saint of being an asshole. There’s an aspirational character for everyone, unless you’re gay or asian or a woman who doesn’t like Black Widow. And this isn’t anything new – this is exactly what Disney did with all its princesses a few decades ago. The movie pantheon will never die, and we don’t even need to sacrifice one goat. Twelve dollars a head is all the offering these gods demand.

So what I’m saying is, first of all, pay attention to the superheroes you love, and what you love about them. It probably says more about your aspirations than you’d like to admit. Our favorite superheroes as a culture also reflect our culture’s values, and changing those superheroes really does have the power to alter our culture, silly as it may seem. Third, don’t you fucking dare pretend to be a rational being. Ba’al, Belle, or Batman, we all worship gods of one kind or another.

The Bible Took Out All the Coolest Shit About Solomon

Okay so this is the time of the month
where I tell a myth from a mythos recommended by my patreon backers
and this month I’m supposed to tell a story about like
Solomon or David or Saul
from the book of Samuel or the book of kings
or really anything judeochristian
but I started thinking
why are we always talking about “judeochristian” shit
and leaving out muslim shit?
like, isn’t muslim shit part of the same tradition?
isn’t the Qur’an the third book in the Monotheism Trilogy?
seriously, why aren’t we talking about “judeochristimuslim” mythology?
is it because that’s a super awkward portmanteu
or is this some more white people shit?
it’s definitely NOT because the Qur’an is boring
do you realize
there are fucking GENIES in the Qur’an???
AND talking animals
AND all your favorite characters from the first two books
like David and Solomon

Now I know there are a lot of Solomon fans out there
so I’m bracing myself for a torrent of hatemail when I say:
Old Testament Solomon is kind of a boring chump.
Like, he threatens to chop ONE baby in half
and granted that’s pretty cool
but Old Testament god is routinely murdering HUNDREDS of babies at a go
he turns an entire city of people to slag for being gays
the bar for weird violence is pretty high is what I’m saying.
Other than that baby thing, Solomon is pretty skippable
he builds a temple
he has an army
the queen of sheba seems to think he’s pretty cool
but we don’t even get to see them bone

MEANWHILE, over in the Qur’an
Solomon is a fucking boss
he can control the wind
he can talk to animals
he’s got genies on the fucking payroll
because oh yeah did I mention
and all of this is because
(as the Old Testament will confirm)
when Solomon became king
God came up to him and was like “yo
I was friends with your dad
So I will give you any superpower you want
what superpower you want”
and Solomon is like “How about SUPER-WISDOM
so that I can always be a JUST AND RIGHTEOUS KING”
and God is like “WHAT A DOPE ANSWER

And Solomon is truly very wise
even before he gets god-wisdom
like one time, Solomon and his dad are hanging out
and these two dudes come up to them
and one of them is like “That dude’s goats ate my vineyard
make him fix it”
and the other dude is like “nuh uh”
and Solomon’s first instinct is to chop the goats in half
but he thinks about it for a second
and then he’s like “okay check it out
vineyard dude, you own the goats now
and goat dude, you own the vineyard now
this will continue until the vineyard is fixed
now would someone please hurry up and invent the microphone
because I need to drop it.”
and everyone is like OH SHIT SUCH JUSTICE

And he is a genuinely nice dude too
like you know how he can understand animals?
well one time he’s about to step on some ants
and the ants are like “OH FUCK IT’S KING SOLOMON’S FOOT
and Solomon hears them and he’s like “Oh damn
better watch were I step”
and then he walks carefully for the REST OF HIS LIFE

Oh yeah and then later he dies
but he dies standing up, in front of all his genies and shit
and he is so full of fucking gravitas
he just stays standing
and everybody thinks he is just taking a really long dramatic pause
until god sends a termite to eat his staff
and he falls down
and everyone learns a valuable lesson about stroke awareness.

So the moral of the story
is why don’t they sell embossed boxed sets
of the Torah/New Testament/Qur’an
I would buy the hell out of that

the end

Starfish is a Bad Friend

So I stumbled across this collection of Aboriginal tales last week
and while the introduction wins the H.P. Lovecraft Prize for Casual Racism
(Which is something I want to talk about in a later post)
I like these stories
so I am going to tell at least one more
it is about how friendship is bullshit.

Okay so way back in the day
before factory farming and sportfishing
all the animals are people
I mean like actual human people but just with animal names
i think this is taking the “animals can talk and do math” conceit TOO FAR
but whatever I’m not writing this story I’m just retelling it
if the original tellers of this story want to turn all of nature
into one mass of quivering human flesh
constantly resorting to cannibalism
for lack of any other protein source
i mean hey why not make all the plants human too
naked humans loping around on all fours
nibbling succulent bouquets of fingers sprouting from the earth

These animals have heard of a place called Australia
no idea where they reside currently
but wherever it is, it sucks and Australia sounds better
so they all decide to go there
but they need a boat
and only one of them owns a boat that is big enough:
Whale is a real dickhole though
he’s that kid from kindergarten
whose parents bought him one of those little electric jeeps
and he wouldn’t let you ride in it when you came over
even though he had access to it literally ALL THE TIME
and you didn’t because your parents were socialists
but he didn’t care and he would just ride it around in front of you
laughing like the pompous little shit he was
but then you went on to start a popular mythology website

anyway the whale won’t let anyone share his canoe
so all the other “animals” get together to figure out what to do
they’re like “shit, how are we gonna get Whale’s boat?
I mean let’s be realistic
we’re not going to build our own boat
not like we all have human bodies
with thumbs and highly developed brains
which would easily allow us to construct an even better boat
stealing is the only option
and that’s when Starfish speaks up

Now Starfish is Whale’s best friend
which i think speaks to how few friends Whale has
because Starfish is like “yo guys
I am 100% willing to betray my best friend so you can steal his boat
Here is my plan:
I will distract him
and you will steal his boat.”
and the other “animals” are like “How are you gonna distract him”
and the starfish is like “You leave that to me”

So Starfish goes to Whale and he’s like “Yo man
your hair is full of vermin
let’ me get out the vermin for you
I don’t mind touching gross shit.
I’m friends with you, after all.”
and Whale
who has to take whatever friendship he can get
is like “Sure fine clean my hair.”
So starfish sits him down facing away from his boat
and he starts digging lice out of Whale’s hair
and telling him funny stories
and scratching around his ears
to keep him from hearing his boat being stolen
and every once in a while Whale will be like “wait, my boat
is my boat ok? do you see it?”
and Starfish just bangs a piece of wood he found against a rock
and Whale is like “yes of course
I trust you because you are my friend and you have no reason to lie”
but finally he gets a little suspicious
and he turns around
and sees EVERY OTHER ANIMAL stealing his boat
and that’s what he does
he beats the everloving crap out of his treacherous friend
who only manages to poke a hole in the top of his head
before slithering away to hide in the sand
and that’s why
starfish always look raggedy as hell
and also why they hide in the sand

so then whale
with a big hole in his head
jumps into the water and starts chasing the boat
blowing water out his head-hole
and the animals on the boat are freaking out
but Bear is like “Nah guys it’s cool
I’m comping all y’all’s tickets
and then he uses his massive arms
to row the boat way faster than Human!Whale can swim
and they get to australia
and then they throw a dance party in the boat
totally wrecking it
and turning it into an island
and then Whale finally shows up
to see that they fucked up his boat for no reason
and he can’t even go on land
i guess because he’s too angry
and that’s why
to this day
whales are a metaphor for singleminded ambition cruelly punished
and bears will fuck you up.

So the moral of the story
is that if you value your possessions
you shouldn’t have friends

The end.