Tuesday, February 22, 2011

In Honor of Washington's Birthday: Our New National Anthem

It was March of 2007. I was in Tokyo for the first time, crashing in an inexpensive hostel. In the morning I heard an American voice singing in the shower. "America!" it sang, "Fuck yeah!"

It was The Fourth of July, 2009. Rolling down the streets of North Portland, a ridiculously augmented pickup truck rapidly rolled. The wheels were raised and beneath it various auto parts vibrated audibly under the influence of it's immense speakers. "America!" said the speakers, "Fuck yeah!"

It was a week or so ago. I was making breakfast. Eggs, probably. Someone said "America." I said, instinctively, "Fuck yeah!"

And of course, there's this:

Team America: World Police was, at best, an uneven movie. There were parts of it that I enjoyed, but other parts of it that I thought fell flat as satire. The abovereferenced song, though, is probably the most successful thing that Trey Parker and Matt Stone have every created. It is better than any single moment of South Park or Cannibal: The Musical. It is better than Orgazmo. I doubt that their upcoming musical, The Book of Mormon, will be able to best their success here.

The song is obviously about how bloviatingly bombastic America and Americans are or are perceived to be. It's a send-up of the ultranationalism and chauvinism that typified George W. Bush's America, a thumb to the nose of everyone who has a "Don't Tread on Me" bumper sticker. Parker and Stone go out of their way to portray America as evil (by referencing slavery), shallow (by calling out Bed Bath and Beyond) and stupid (by taking credit for sushi, which is notably from a place that is not America).

However, if the song was only a hateful spitwad, it wouldn't have the enduring appeal that it does. There is something genuine about the song. Even an urban liberal type such as myself really does think, at times "America! Fuck yeah!" I don't think that the guys in the big truck blasting on the Fourth of July were getting it wrong, either. It wasn't the case that the satire was lost on them. They were reveling in the very real (and sort of obnoxious) patriotism of the song.

Yes, I think this song is patriotic. In a juvenile and twisted way, it is. Displays of patriotism are often overtaken with saccharine injections of sentimentality that make them nigh-unpalatable to anyone with even a modicum of skepticism. Parker and Stone, though, have put in just enough self-critical irony make it palatable.

Yes, I know there are problems with irony, but put those aside for a moment.

Let's all admit, if only for a moment, that F/A-18s are really fucking cool. That it's sort of awesome that we invaded France and kicked Hitler's ass. That we totally won the Cold War. And, that ruling the world is sort of cool. Yes, yes yes. Admitting this makes you feel weird. Trust me, I feel the same way. I used to have a Che Guevera poster on my dorm wall, for god's sake.

But, just for a moment, think about how stupidly awesome we are. Doesn't it feel sort of neat?

Parker and Stone made it possible to sing proudly about America even as we acknowledge all of the problems this place has. All of the stupidity and greed and big, nasty history. All of those things that get in the way of singing about Purple Mountain Majesties. (And besides- since when are mountains purple?)

Patriotism doesn't mean being uncritical or sentimental. It doesn't mean you love unreservedly. It also doesn't mean that you have to be all solemn and pietistic. It doesn't mean you have to stop being self-aware.

So, happy birthday, George Washington! Thanks for kicking King George's ass, though you couldn't have done it without France's help.


Fuck yeah.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

In Which I Rant Angrily About a Particular Feature of StarCraft II

After a long, long wait, I recently purchased StarCraft II. Yes, I know it came out last year, but I only recently got a computer capable of running it. The game is great. It is absolutely everything I wanted out of a StarCraft sequel. I even love that it's not even the complete game- that we have to wait for Zerg and the Protoss campaigns. Knowing that there's more there adds excitement.

However, there's one thing that I don't like at all about StarCraft II. One thing that I find almost inexcusably loathsome. Horrible. Hideous. Disgustingly terrible.

I hate, hate, hate, hate that it's an online game. Or rather, I hate that it has to be one. I have no problem with Battle.net, Blizzard's multiplayer network. In fact, I kind of love it. I love that it matches players of like skill level and that you can import Facebook friends. I love that there are all kinds of achievements that you can get to decorate your profile. I love how easy it makes online gaming.

But I don't want to have to be there.

It is impossible to play StarCraft II without logging into Battle.net. This is distasteful. Right now, I'm playing through the single player campaign, yet every time I start up the game, I have to log into Battle.net, and that offends my sensibilities. This is not because I don't like Battle.net- it is a veritable strategy game paradise- but because StarCraft II is so closed and locked-down, it might as well have been designed by Apple.

There is no option to play on a LAN. This is repulsively horrid. I have fond memories of playing SC on my dorms LAN back in college. It's ridiculous that a multiplayer game won't allow for such things- multiplayer games and LANs are practically synonymous.

Mods and whatnot will be much more difficult to implement. I've played quite a bit of Civilization IV, and that game was greatly enriched by Fall From Heaven, a fantasy-based mod. Several other player-made mods (sometimes of dubious quality) abounded on the Civ forums, and the old copy of Unreal Tournament that I've got socked away on an old hard drive is very heavily modded with all kinds of ridiculous add-ons and extra widgets.

I also very much believe that games should be playable for an indefinite period of time. If you get a copy of Risk, for example, that game is playable as long as you have all the pieces. Likewise, if you were to get an old NES you could fire up any old cartridge you wanted and it would still function. Games that are dependent on online support don't have this. StarCraftII demands that you authenticate it with Blizzard in order to work. I know that some enterprising hacker will find a way around this, but it's terrible that if in thirty years there's no more Blizzard, those old SCII discs will be unplayable as-is. Old NES cartridges and copies of Risk, on the other hand, will still work fine.

I guess I'm starting to sound like Corey Doctrow or some other anti-DRM digital web-libertarian type. I've all but shouted "screws, not glue!" I do believe in that sort of thing. I do believe that once you own something, you should do with it as you please, and that games, after money is exchanged, should be play-withable without a lot of mandatory interference from their makers. And, it's not that I don't like Battle.net. But, as beautiful, as wonderful, and as expertly engineered as it is- it should be optional.