Before Adult Swim, there was Nick at Nite: Nickelodeon’s post-bedtime programming plan to draw bleary parental eyeballs with re-runs of classic 1950s TV. Baby Boomers were delighted–and 80s babies who tuned in off-hours got a taste of the stuff their parents grew up on.
Around the time I became a parent, Hot Topic started selling T-shirts with old-school Nintendo games on them–and capitalism has been selling our childhoods back to us ever since. From “Stranger Things” to endless re-releases, remakes, reboots, and remasters of all our favorite formative media, GenXers and Xennials are constantly being sold idealized versions of youth.
So we all knew exactly what was happening when Twitter user @wokal_distance called for a return to the simpler, purer, more wholesome days of the 1990s:
Wokal Distance (who I guess I’ll call “Wokal” and use they/them pronounce for until I learn otherwise) made a few more tweets pairing artist’s Rachid Lotf’s cozy, Rockwellian images with strange statements about 90s art and media being birthed from a “coherent culture,” as opposed to today’s creators “cynically politicizing” games and shows. He railed against “postmodernism,” seemingly without understanding the word.
Lotf’s images are certainly evocative: White suburban kids playing 32-bit-era video games while surrounded with half a Toys ‘R’ Us worth of contemporaneous toys, posters, and swag. But Xennials and GenXers who were cynical teens and twenty-somethings at the time couldn’t help but notice all the errors and exaggerations–like the kids somehow playing Metal Gear Solid on a Nintendo 64, the cartridges for which have end labels that didn’t exist at the time, through what appears to be a professional video monitor (PVM), next to which sits an Optimus Prime toy from 2011. These retro-filtered pastiches look more like the aspirational game caves of #retrogaming Twitch streamers than any bedroom I ever played in.
All the progressive factions of Twitter united to spend days ratio-ing and dunking on Wokal Distance, myself vigorously included. All the points you might think would get made were made in a cornucopia of excellent and hilarious ways, all of which I fully agreed with:
But Wokal honestly tried to engage with many of those who honestly tried to engage with them, including me. They pointed me toward their thread of a Václav Havel speech from 1994, intercut with more of Loft’s illustrations and faux-CRT/VCR test-pattern imagery (??) to help explain what they were driving at. After several productive back-and-forths, Wokal succumbed to the ratio tsunami and locked their account.
Then they followed me, DM’d me, and offered to keep talking.
We went on to have the kind of free-exchange-of-ideas-even-though-we-disagree dialog ex-Substack PR chief and former Gimme Schalter main character Lulu Meservey used to tout as so important…before taking on a new anti-union role with a huge video game company.
Yes, really. More after the break.
If you love smart NFL analysis, you know who The Athletic’s Robert Mays is–and you should know Ty Dunne, author of the Go Long newsletter and just-released book “The Blood and Guts: How Tight Ends Save Football” (also, you should also buy the book).
But I didn’t know Schwarzstein, head of Amazon’s Prime Video Sports Analytics, who’d previously developed tools for the 2020 incarnation of the XFL. He and Mays had a fantastic conversation about what football people mean when they say “analytics,” what “analytics” really means, and how to frame football information in ways coaches and players can understand.
Doyle’s entry into the “young men are having less sex” discourse generated by this year’s General Social Survey is easily the smartest I’ve encountered. Not only does he dismantle the chain of fallacious assumptions that lead from that topline to “and so we should force women to provide young men sex,” he also points out that grand, sweeping conclusions have been cherry-picked from a small subset of a not-very-big poll. Excellent, excellent stuff.
Apologies for the paywalled article–but if the topic of sports-team roster construction intrigues you at all, you’ll get your $1/month worth out of The Athletic (if not this article alone).
The Union are one of the 11 MLS teams who paid their players between a league-low 10.5 and 12.0 million dollars this year. Yet they’re dominating: Not just in first place, but beating opponents so badly they may break the league’s all-time goal-differential record.
If you subscribe know that I don’t often cheer rich men saving money by paying workers less. But soccer’s biggest problem in this country has been a lack of sustainable investment–something I had personally underscored for me when Lansing got a new local pro team in 2019 which finished second in the league, made the playoff semifinals, and immediately folded.
Dawson is a successful author who’s written a slew of great books across many genres and age categories, has hit The New York Times Best Sellers list, and even written a novel that serves as a lore backbone Disney’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge theme park.
So why did she write a thread imploring readers to start supporting “midlist” authors like herself? Well, I suppose you can (and should) just read the thread.
But for those of you who don’t know, the publishing and book-selling industries aren’t just continuing the risk-averse “why don’t we just build the whole plane out of blockbusters” trends of the last few years, they’re accelerating them. As they shrink and split author advances down to nickels and dimes, publishers are merging into kajillion-dollar titans hauling in record profits.
Of course, authors and readers and booksellers and publishing pros would all benefit from the government stepping in to stop some of this. But it would help massively if readers–the people whose money publishers are using so much underpaid labor to hoard–took Dawson’s advice.
I’m not going to divulge details of a private conversation. I will say I found Wokal thoughtful, earnest, curious, and idealistic–even if we don’t share many ideals. They have a Substack, because of course they do, and if nothing else they’ve come up with easily the best self-applied definition I’ve ever encountered of what conservatives mean when they say “wokeness.”
I think their public tweet about “cynically politicizing” art is key to understanding their perspective: That viewing and creating all media through a political lens leads to polarization and eventually homogenization of artist, art, and audience. That close-reading the politics of all creative works and declaring them Good or Bad based on current progressive consensus is in fact Not Good. That creators should artistically express themselves in a way that allows everyone to fully experience the work, rather than signalling Goodness to the intended audience and repelling any out-groupers.
Those takes aren’t without merit! I have certainly consumed art and stories that felt like they were more interested in appealing to my presumed beliefs than being original and meaningful. But of course, that’s nothing new–and sanding all the rough edges off of art makes it incapable of leaving a mark on society.
I did point out that, for instance, Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” came out within days of Sonic The Hedgehog 2. The Universally Appealing Beautiful Art that Wokal remembers from childhood really was mostly just children’s media, consumed and half-understood by a child, who lived in a bubble of unexamined privilege. Further, the corporate enforcement of open-to-interpretation, something-for-everyone, plausibly-deniably-political 90s commercial art like “The Matrix” is exactly what led to creators like the Wachowski Sisters having to circle back and make themselves unmistakably clear.
And for all of Wokal’s concern with objective truth and virtue-signalling, their RTs are a cesspool of right-wing grifters and transphobic gutter memes.
So, I don’t know. The dialog was worthwhile on my end, and I believe it was for them, too. As of this writing, we continue to follow each other, and I’m glad for that. I’ll probably keep checking in on their Substack, too. Why? Because all of us get old, but not all of us grow up–and I think Wokal has a chance to.
And hey–if I didn’t believe I could change minds with my art, I wouldn’t bother to make it.
Outdoor soccer season is over, and we have a wedding to attend this weekend, and then November I am finishing this flippin’ novel.