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by L.B. Jeffries

23 Jun 2009

From Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, Ubisoft

From Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, Ubisoft

Easily one of the more prevalent facial expressions in video games today is the scowl. Although their anime and cartoon inspired counter-parts break the trend along with faceless protagonists such as Master Chief, overall the heroes of video games all seem to be having a bad day. Why are angry video game characters so prevalent? The basics of the scowl are explained in a guide on how to surgically alter your face to not scowl. It recommends removing the vertical hatchet lines between your eyebrows and always keeping you lips just slightly parted to avoid pursed lips. The scowl, based on the instructions on how to avoid making one, involves keeping your jaw clenched and your eyebrows arched down. Doing so will make people feel intimidated, cost you potential business clients, and make everyone think you’re unhappy. So why are we so desperate to play as people with this facial expression?

From Netflix.com

From Netflix.com

How does one make a scowl appealing? A random Twitter cast for people’s favorite celebrity scowls brought up everything from Harrison Ford, Adam Baldwin to Uma Thurman and Alan Rickman as favorite scowls. Clint Eastwood, whose scowl continues to intimidate people to this day, still manages to bring in the fans. An old article from People Magazine about Eastwood interviews several industry people that have worked with him. One comments that the really impressive thing about him is the fact that he’s genuinely a tough guy. After almost collapsing while filming a scene where his character was climbing a rocky wall, Eastwood clawed his way up when the photographer told him he had no choice. Another relates a story where a boulder almost fell on their mountain guide and maimed another crew member. Eastwood, who was funding the film, nearly broke down into tears. He was ready to cancel the film right there. The crew member states, “Clint seemed so simple I thought he was phony. But after a while, I realized how sharp he was. He isn’t verbal, but he is one smart mother…He always comes off very callous and pragmatic, but inside, he’s just mush.” Eastwood’s scowl thus communicates both a sense of hostility but an underlying belief that there is something genuine about him, that his contempt only comes from the fact that he cares.

A comparison between a good scowl and a bad scowl can be seen at Sports Manifesto that compares the scowls of Dick Cheney and Bill Cowher (retired Steeler’s Coach). The blog notes, “Cowher’s scowl seems more genuine than Cheney’s, his is a classic scowl which is solely intent on eliciting fear in the victim. Cowher seems capable of unthinkable acts when that scowl is strewn across his face…Dick Cheney’s scowl seems contrived, as though he accidentally shoved something up his ass as a child and can’t get it out.” The blog concludes that Cheney is scarier because his scowl is something that is simply worn like a mask while Cowher is reflecting his inner turmoil. In the case of both Cowher and Eastwood, we accept the scowl because of its authenticity.

From chickenbetty.wordpress.com

From chickenbetty.wordpress.com

Yet the scowl is not just something used in film or politics, even the fashion industry is dependent on creating a scowl that is genuine to sell their clothes. An excellent article at The New York Times asks why fashion models always look unhappy. The article is about a random survey that showed the unhappier the model looks the more expensive the product they’re selling. One of the first comments to the story explains that models are technically not allowed to smile. They will even be fined money if they do it on the runway. Smiling, as opposed to scowling, is psychologically interpreted as an act of submission while scowling communicates superiority. The article quotes from a Professor Ketelaar, “Lower status individuals appear to smile more than higher status individuals. I suspect that this is due, in part, to the fact that there are several different types of smiles, including a true happiness smile and a true embarrassment smile. The latter smile, the embarrassment display, is often seen as an appeasement display in primates… Thus, the non-smiling faces of the higher status brands are not trying to make the consumer feel bad; they are simply attempting to display the signals that are associated with higher status.” The irony is that the higher the status you want to communicate to a person, the more negative the signal you need to send to show that you don’t care.

From Half-Life 2, Valve

From Half-Life 2, Valve

It is hard to conclude this blog post without stopping and appreciating the power of the smile in a game avatar. Even the fashion article above points out that there is a difference between an embarrassment grin and a pure happiness smile. Just as the scowl indicates superiority and indifference, the smile creates a sense of being welcome. You don’t even have to do it with your mouth. A guide on how to smile with your eyes at wikihow explains that a good smile is not just turning the mouth upwards. The essay notes, “Fake smiles involve just the mouth, and people notice something wrong. The next time you are REALLY smiling, take note of the muscles in your cheeks, forehead, and temples.” A real smile should make the eyes glimmer and it has to come from something real. The article goes so far as to suggesting thinking about a happy thought when you try to smile, even if what you’re smiling at doesn’t qualify. For all the excitement that may come from playing as the ultimate scowling badass, it is hard to not appreciate the big goofy grin on Mario’s face when he invites us to come fly around the galaxy with him. Or feel welcome when we see Alyx Vance smile after we just blasted our way through a tough level. If the scowl’s function in video games is to empower the player, it’d be nice if they had enough character to drop their guard as well.

by Thomas Hauner

23 Jun 2009

by Matt Mazur

23 Jun 2009

Unlikely collaborators Moby and David Lynch put their heads together for a cool black and white animated video that actually catapults the bald electronica guru into relevancy again. In turn, Moby lent the director a hand with his new album Fox, Bat, Strategy: A Tribute to Dave Jaurequi, out June 30. Yes, David Lynch is about to drop an album!

by Rob Horning

22 Jun 2009

I’m currently reading George Gissing’s novel New Grub Street, a thoroughly depressing look at the business of manufacturing literature, of belles lettres for sale, and all the petty personality squabbles and scrambles for pre-eminence that go along with it. Gissing seems bent on persuading us that money is all that matters in the end—i.e., without money a person will lose all sense of propriety and poverty is sufficient to coarsen the morals of anyone—and that of course literary merit has nothing to do with commercial viability. He denounces the “hateful spirit of literary rancour…that made people eager to believe all evil,” noting that literary gossip and what we would now call snark “were enough to make all literature appear a morbid excrescence upon human life.” The book’s successful character has a robust social network and no illusions about the crap he cranks out; he regards the idea that literature is a calling as the same sort of sentimental claptrap as romantic love, an obstacle that one must circumvent, an illusion that must be abandoned to get along. Naturally, the failure character is just the opposite, thin-skinned, too proud to self-promote or make instrumental use of friends, and too conscious of the inferiority of his product crafted for the market rather than his muse.

Though resolutely humorless and padded out in places to itself meet the tyrannical demands of the Victorian triple-decker, New Grub Street is also chock full of cynical advice for getting along in the then-newfangled world of journalism. Milvain, the successful hack, tells his aspiring sister after reading one of her articles that “there’s rather too much thought in it, perhaps. Suppose you knock out one or two of the less obvious reflections, and substitute a wholesome commonplace?” Readers, he argues, “are irritated, simply irritated by anything that isn’t glaringly obvious. They hate an unusual thought.” To write for the public, one must “express vulgar thought and feeling in a way that flatters the vulgar thinkers and feelers.” In today’s context, you might put a slightly different spin on that: writing must be simple so it can be grasped quickly, because everyone is too much in a hurry to devote precious time to any one article. They are under too much pressure to move on to the next thing. But Gissing was prescient about this as well: he has a character lament the “huge library, growing into unwieldiness, threatening to become a trackless desert of print.”

Not much has changed in the publishing world as far as I can see—who you know and how timely you file can seem far more important than how good your writing is. And also, it doesn’t suit to be a prima donna about your prose until you’ve earned the right, then you are obliged to be one, whether or not you have any actual gripes with what editors are doing to your work. Professional journalism is often an elaborate reputation game that requires a facility with signaling and accruing social capital. Whether or not one accepts this reality and accommodates it does seem to determine how far one will get in the publishing world, and perhaps in adult life generally. (I’m often tempted to pout and wait for my precocious specialness to be noticed.)

by shathley Q

22 Jun 2009

In the closing pages of ‘Altered Egos’ Superman confronts Batman, demanding the latter reveal his identity to the remaining members of the Justice League. Batman makes his own position perfectly clear. If all the members of the Justice League had known that Batman was in truth Bruce Wayne, they would have had no way to counter the White Martian, the major enemy of this issue.

With this exchange, Mark Waid establishes the scope of his vision for his upcoming run as JLA writer; the League is about the very different views held by its top tier members, and conflict that arises there from. With Superman openness and frankness are a prime concern, with Batman, tactical maneuvering outweighs teammates’ feelings. Although both hold to ideals of justice, their views are diametrically opposed. Artist Mark Pajarillo’s use of a viewscreen and slight changes in viewing angle (with readers’ worms-eye view of Superman heroically emphasizing his rectitude in the first panel, but destabilizing it with a birds-eye view in the next) make a visual argument for the incompatibility of the characters’ views, and the impossibility of readers deciding which view is correct.

With ‘Altered Egos’, Waid showcases his understanding of Grant Morrison’s vision of the Justice League in JLA. Resurrecting the threat of the White Martians, the villains from the opening storyarc of Morrison’s run on JLA, Waid offers readers a reason to trust that he would continue Morrison’s vision. But along with an implied promise to continue Morrison’s work, Waid brings his own storytelling powers to bear on the JLA. The traumatic ‘birth’ of the White Martian mirrors the ‘birth’ of Professor Zoom in Waid’s acclaimed Flash story ‘The Return of Barry Allen’.

With the issue’s final caption reading ‘It’s not about trust, the League has plenty of that’, Waid harkens back to the title of the issue in which he brought Barry Allen back from the dead. Along with that, comes a promise for grand storyarcs yet to come.

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