Friday, July 20, 2012

On Internet Comedians and Internet Irony

(Author's preface. I originally intended this post to be a short space holder that presented a couple links to internet videos. However, the first half went off on a tangent and grew to unwieldy lengths. So I'll just stick the link to qaylIS' Godzilla video series up here instead of burying it at the bottom. Die Geschichte von Godzilla is a rather impressive looking series chronicling the Godzilla films, and is entirely in German. So folks who are not good at understanding spoken German, such as myself, will be pretty lost here. If you do speak German, check it out. Anyway, on with the rest of the post...)

As Dr. Sparkle, I tend to stay clear of all those social media time-wasters. I have enough on my plate without trying to tend to a Chrontendo Facebook account (though I have, God help me, considered opening a Twitter.) Anyway, I haven't added any subscriptions or contacts or anything like that on the Chrontendo Youtube channel. Perhaps someday I will, but there is a lot of good videogame related content out there and I don't want to pick and choose among them.  However, I do have a soft spot in my heart for internet drama - as proven by my references to Christian Chandler on this blog - so I decided to point out my love for Mysterious Man's funny and intriguing Youtube videos.

He's often accused of being a troll, though I would classify him more as an "Internet Performance Artist." His shtick is recording awful video reviews in the persona of a Nintendo-hating, XBox/PS3 loving, hardcore gamer dude. Classic retro games such as Super Metroid or Ocarina of Time are given quick, dismissive reviews almost always resulting in a zero out of ten rating. Nintendo fans are described as infantile, brainwashed, etc. All of this is done with an overweening sense of confidence and an almost infuriating Jimmy Stewart-esque drawl. His videos tend to hit-and-miss, but when everything clicks, it works wonderfully. Here, for example, where his disgust at the "Lego world" of Earthbound contrasts with a sort of a hushed awe at Call of Duty Black Ops:

I'll be completely honest and admit that the Chron CD-i video was partially inspired by this guy.

The interesting thing is this: his videos generate a surprising level of anger among the viewers, with a huge number of dislikes and lot of very nasty comments. A few people have even gone so far to create counter-reviews and even point-by-point refutations to his anti-Nintendo rants. I'm not sure if these are folks are playing along with the Mysterious Man character, or if they are sincerely enraged by his videos. I find the latter option extremely difficult to believe, since the parodic nature of the character is soooo transparent. Aside from being obviously very familiar with the old school games he claims to detest (knowing where hidden items are, for example) in one video he clearly shows a Mario-themed piece of artwork on his wall.

We know then, that Mysterious Man is inviting his viewers to see right through him. But it must be very tempting for the viewer who "gets" the joke to also engage in a bit of internet play-acting by posting furious comments on his videos, etc. This allows the viewer to feel they are on the inside of the joke, not the outside; i.e. they are aligned with the perpetrator of the joke rather than the target. Then, of course, some viewers will get the joke, and recognize that others also get the joke, and can then feel a sense of superiority those commentators who do not get that others get the joke. (You and I, dear readers, fall into this second set of viewers.)  At this point, I'm not sure how more levels of meta-knowledge we can add to this.

In contemporary American mass culture, the dominant mode of discourse is irony. As Americans, it is often not clear whether we like something, or merely "like" it. So much so that an actual aesthetic movement called the "New Sincerity," purporting to be non-ironic, emerged in the 90s, though it turned out to be mostly just a bit of sincerity with a layer of irony slathered on top. Anything that might be really and truly sincere is suspect; witness the widespread animosity directed towards Emo music in the early 2000s. All those crying teenagers drove us apeshit. Mysterious Man's videos drip with irony, and I can't help being reminded of David Foster Wallace's classic essay, "E. Unibus Pluram" and its discussion, via Mark Crispin Miller, of this successful 1986 Pepsi ad.

The gag here is that the ad takes a blatantly cynical, self-aware look at advertising itself.  It foregrounds the manipulation of the sheep-like masses through advertising, in an ironic contrast to Pepsi's slogan, "The Choice of a New Generation." The semi-astute viewer will note this irony, realize that Pepsi is winking at him, and then enter into a sort of collusion with Pepsi. Wallace calls this Pepsi's "unctuous flattery" of the semi-astute viewer. The second layer of irony here is that vast numbers of viewers will be drawn into this same collusion, thus becoming the sheep-like masses they laugh at while watching the ad. All of this was quite ingenious in 1986. Now, most TV ads work on this principal, as far as I can tell. (It's also interesting to note that this ad is so closely associated with DFW, that 3 of the 8 YT comments mention him.)

Going back to Mysterious Man, I wonder who he's really making fun of. While he assumes the role of a smug yet clueless Call of Duty fanatic, that's clearly not who he is trying to provoke with his reviews. Instead he seems to be taking aim at the humorless, thin-skinned retro game enthusiast. But he is so obvious and ridiculousness with his provocation that I can't take that seriously either. And what are we to make of the various "answer" videos like this? Or this? (A response to an MM video that was later deleted by Youtube.) Are these serious or ironic? Why would someone craft a well-reasoned response to an accusation as silly as 'liking Nintendo makes you gay'? Is MM engaging in a form of unctuous flattery that not everyone can perceive?

Whatever the true motives of the person behind the Mysterious Man videos, I find the layers of irony and ambiguity fascinating. That's why I rank MM a step above the usual assortment of internet goof balls and trolls.


Zenic Reverie said...

I think you might be giving people too much credit in their ability to detect satire and irony. Unless you're being ironic in your post... ;)

Chris Sobieniak said...

This is why I learned to be pre-postmodern, you're a better person for it!

Anonymous said...

Also thanks for the heads up, Mysterious Man is great. I can't believe people buy into his act.

"I, personally, think that Dr. Wily is an antagonist that can be... people can understand where he's coming from. They can understand why he's trying to do what he's doing."

Anonymous said...

This bring ups an interesting question. Do you think TOSE makes their Famicom games like the way they do -just- to be ironic? They don't seem to be inept in any stretch of the word, as they seem they know how the system works.

And yes, I love TOSE, even moreso due to your hatred for them. Which reminds me, which is the absolute best game that TOSE has developed? It seems you went against the grain and said that "Chubby Cherub" was by and far their best.

Also, once Chrontendo is finally over, you should a list of the best and worst TOSE games for the system, though it shouldn't be hard to pick them out.

Doctor Sparkle said...

"It seems you went against the grain and said that "Chubby Cherub" was by and far their best." I said that? Really? Well, I liked it better than M.U.S.C.L.E.

I don't really "hate" Tose, the way I hate, say, Nickleback. I'm just not thrilled at the idea of playing 8 zillion Tose developed Dragonball Z and SD Gundam games. They eventually evolved into a competent developer who did work for big companies like Square Enix. The Starfy games seem OK, right? Other than having a really stupid name?

Anonymous said...

TOSE is just too hilarious, though. How is it pronounced, anyway? Toe-Suh? I call them Toe-Say".

"And here we have yet another rushed cash-in by Taito. When you need something to get done fast, you should always hire the very best, TOSE".

Also, according to GDRI and to some extent NESCartDB, TOSE has ported several games, including Legend of Kage, Space Invaders, Chack N Pop, and Kid Niki, among others. I guess when the source code is at your hands, there isn't much room for you to fuck up, hmm? Then again, they did fuck up Space Invaders, because as they say, "Who else but TOSE"?

On a side note, they seemed to like working for Bandai, as they released quite a few games for them, some exclusive only in the USA. I reckon that the infamous "Ultimate Journey" that was never released was a TOSE game; indeed, most of the reviews said that it was a mediocre Ninja Gaiden clone. Mediocrity and clone ideas being TOSE's forte.

Anonymous said...

Jimmy Stewart? To me the Mysterious Man sounds like he's doing an impression of Nic Cage (a la Face Off). And, knowing how the internet feels about Cage, this is another indication that it's satire or performance art.

Anonymous said...

Off topic.

Hey Dr. S.

I've recently begun watching your Chron-series and I'm enjoying it very much. Usually I'm watching it at night so I usually conk out while watching. Frankly i have to admit that your voice is at times very soothing.
Concerning your voice : you've stated that you speak German, do you speak Japanese as well?
Because in Japanese games you're specifically using the Kana and typically you explain the plot whilst using the Japanese version of the game.

Doctor Sparkle said...

I don't speak German, but I do have a very basic grasp of German grammar and understand a bit of written German. I'm at the "understands 75% of the lyrics to 99 Luftballoons" level.

As for Japanese, I speak none at all, but have picked up a bit of "videogame Japanese" so I can recognize words like みる, たたく or はなす when I see them. Those same terms appear over and over and over again in Japanese adventure games.

Kamiboy said...

Tose is pronounced the same way as goatse in more ways that one. At least the way I've heard goatse pronounced.

The good thing about Japanese is that there are almost no ambiguities regarding pronunciation of words as there are with most other languages, especially the European ones.

Each part of the Japanese Japanese syllabary is pronounced the same way on its own and when read as part of a word.

And likewise their grammar is very clean, logical and lean of exceptions. At least when compared to decadent Latin derived European languages like German and French in all their exception filled orgy of gender assigned nouns.

There are a few quirks like characters that are not supposed to be read but are instead used to elongate the end sound of the previous character. But their use is well defined and easy to learn.

Anywaste, if you ever wonder what a Japanese word is supposed to sound like you can use websites that can auto pronounce it for your hearing pleasure.

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

Thanks for reposting my stuff, I thought of redoing my History of Godzilla in english, but the Godzilla movies I own have exclusively japanese and german dubbing, none english. Most of them have a dubbed english version, but I have to get my hands on them, and I currently don't have a fortune to waste on them (cause I have to import them from the UK or USA).
Though the next episode I am doing is on a movie which was never released in german, and I have only the english dubbed version, the 1961 Mothra movie, in theory I can do an english Episode of it to look if there is any demand on that.

doctorx0079 said...

Just noticed something! A little OT but, your list of Nintendo games is missing Takahashi Meijin no Bōken Jima IV (Adventure Island IV) in 1994. It's the last licensed Famicom game in Japan so you definitely don't want to forget it.

The Dord said...

Seems like everyone on that Gaming Channel is butthurt, especially TheFatGamer1.

He tells Mysterious Man to join the army, isn't that a bit of irony if he himself cannot do the same?

You gotta love YouTube drama.

Doctor Sparkle said...

I think my feelings towards the name Tose were somewhat influenced by it's similarity to the German word Böse (evil, bad.) And it also resembles the name of Bose, an audio company that sells low-end yet overpriced speakers and sound systems ("No highs, no lows. It must be Bose," is the saying.) And now Kamiboy brings up Goatse? The name Tose just seems conjure up unpleasantness.

Re: Takahashi Meijin no Bōken Jima IV. That game is definitely on my own list, and I don't know why it's missing from the online list. Possibly a copy and paste error? I should update that list soon.