Sharks and Loathing in Las Vegas

I am a man who wears bunny ears.

As I write this, Eve and I are on the last leg of our book tour–six events over the next four days and we are finally done. Part of the tour took us through Las Vegas. And Vegas…Vegas is not what I expected.

Close your eyes. Imagine Las Vegas, that epicenter of sin and decadence in the desert. What do you picture? Giant neons. Slot machines. Organized crime. Women in huge feather headdresses. Not, you might think, the sort of place where a man in bunny ears would exactly stand out…

…and you’d be wrong.

Vegas is, it seems, not prepared for a man in bunny ears, oh no. The hostility with which the Las Vegas culture1 responds to the sudden appearance of a man in bunny ears in its collective midst is remarkable.

But let me backtrack for a moment.

As Eve and I have traveled the country talking about polyamory and ethics and such, we’ve brought a stuffed shark with us. The shark, who joined our team2 in Atlanta, has made appearances all over North America, solely for the purpose of being exploited.

It started as a lark, you see. There is a friend of Eve’s, and this friend is a marine biologist who studies sharks. He also writes angry blog entries in response to phony stories on the Discovery Channel, stories with lurid titles about how mermaids might be real (spoiler: they aren’t) and speculating whether Megalodon, the enormous prehistoric dinosaur-shark, might still be alive (hint: it isn’t).

There are trolls on the Internet, and some of these trolls want to believe in mermaids and Megalodon. So they follow Eve’s friend about online, posting pictures of him and diatribes about him with the Twitter hashtag “#nerdsexploitingsharks”.

Which is, thought we, absolutely begging for hijacking.

So, half an hour before I was scheduled to do a lecture in Atlanta, I darted out in frantic search of a stuffed shark to exploit. I found one at the Atlanta Aquarium, and it’s been accompanying us ever since, being photographed in exploitative situations and posted to social media under #nerdsexploitingsharks.

So. Back to Las Vegas.

Las Vegas doesn’t like a man in bunny ears. Las Vegas especially doesn’t like a man in bunny ears carrying a stuffed shark.

Now, there are many ways to carry a stuffed shark. If you ever find yourself in Las Vegas wearing bunny ears and carrying a stuffed shark, you might try one or more of these carry techniques. I present this information in the name of Science!3


The Security Blanket

An attitude that says “Yes, I have a stuffed shark, and what of it? I need my shark if I am to face a cold, cruel world.” Advantages: Few people will approach a person who uses a shark as a security blanket. Disadvantages: Few people will approach a person who uses a shark as a security blanket.


The ‘Shark? What shark?’

Who, me? I’m not carrying a stuffed shark! Oh, this? How did this get there? Advantages: From the front, you simply look like a man in bunny ears, not a man in bunny ears with a stuffed shark. Disadvantages: Las Vegas loves guns. The sight of a man in bunny ears with his hands out of sight might upset some folks with delicate sensibilities, and some of those folks with delicate sensibilities might be armed.


The Casual Carry

This technique challenges the observer: “Yeah, I’m carrying a stuffed shark, and how do you like THEM apples?” Advantages: People might assume you’re a famous performer, or, failing that, an eccentric Mob hitman with a pistol inside the shark like that one scene in Hudson Hawk, only with a shark instead of a teddy bear. Disadvantages: People might assume you’re barking mad.


The en garde!

Yeah, I have bunny ears. And a shark. Which might or might not contain a concealed pistol. Don’t fuck with me. Advantages: People give you a wide berth on the sidewalk. Disadvantages: You might get shot.


The Binky

Similar to the Security Blanket, but less neurotic, the Binky tells the world that, yes, the world is cold and cruel, and yes, your shark helps you navigate the rivers of cruelty all around you, but you don’t really need the shark. You just like the shark, okay? Advantages: More relaxed and casual than the Security Blanket; this attitude tells the world you really can stand on your own two feet. You know, if you want to. Disadvantages: Small children point at you.


The Bromance

“I love you, man!” This attitude tells the world you and your shark have a special friendship…but, like, totally in a heterosexual way. Advantages: It’s totally, like, a heterosexual thing. Not, like, that other thing. Disadvantages: You may be mistaken for a dudebro. Who wears bunny ears. And carries a stuffed shark.


The Two-Handed Casual

“I’m just carrying a stuffed shark from one place to another place. Nothing to see here. Move along.” Advantages: Very workmanlike. People won’t get the impression that you’re, y’know, attached to the shark or anything. Disadvantages: It’s still pretty weird to see a guy in bunny ears carrying a stuffed shark, no matter how workmanlike he may be. Plus you don’t have a hand free to drink alcohol, play slots, and convince yourself that this thing you’re having is fun.


The Secure in my Masculinity

This pose shows the world that you’re absolutely certain of your manhood and you’re not too threatened to express your true feelings, even if you happen to be in the middle of one of the world’s largest casinos. Advantages: People will stay far, far away from you. Disadvantages: Unless they’re security.


1 Insofar as Las Vegas can be said to have a “culture.” My observations of Las Vegas culture suggests it is made up primarily of people who have no idea how to have fun desperately trying to have fun and convincing themselves the thing they are having is, indeed, fun. And alcohol.

2 Was purchased and exploited.

3 I am frequently asked “are you a scientist?” I usually say “no.” I think I am probably going to have to start saying “yes,” so when people ask “what kind of scientist? Chemist? Biologist?” I can say “Mad.”

Movie Review: Snowpiercer

Last week, zaiah and I decided to spend an evening sitting in a dark room with a bunch of strangers staring passively at a flickering screen. We were in the mood for B science fiction, so we decided to go watch a low-budget sci-fi allegory about classism and economic repression whose characters are faced with losing body parts and whose plot heavily involves ice.

No, I don’t mean Ice Pirates. I mean the one that’s set on a train. I mean this one:

I must admit, it’s a worthy heir to the Ice Pirates crown. Without question, Snowpiercer is the best low-budget sci-fi allegory about classism and economic repression whose characters are faced with losing body parts and whose plot heavily involves ice that’s ever been set on a train.

The movie goes something like this:

Well-intentioned but incompetent scientists: Global warming is a thing. To fight global warming, we will spread a magic chemical in the air that will reduce global temperatures because magic, and also chemtrails. We will not model the results first, nor pay attention to the effects, because in this world modeling and verification are not things.

The WELL-INTENTIONED BUT INCOMPETENT SCIENTISTS spread MAGIC CHEMICALS in the AIR because MAGIC and also CHEMTRAILS. Global temperatures PLUMMET OVERNIGHT because THERMAL INERTIA ALSO ISN’T A THING.

Well-intentioned but incompetent scientists: Wow, we didn’t see that coming! The entire earth is now a frozen snowball and all life is extinct. Oops, our bad.

Jamie Bell: It sure does suck being one of the last human beings alive and being stuck in the back of this train. We should rebel and go to the front of the train. Chris Evans, you should lead us!
Chris Evans: Waitaminnit. If the world suddenly started freezing, why are the only survivors on a train? Why wouldn’t people make domed cities? Or dig shelters underground? For that matter, how come this train is even moving? Where does it get its fuel from?
Jamie Bell: It has a perpetual motion engine, of course! Duh.
Chris Evans: Oh, boy. It’s going to be one of those movies. And I thought my role in Captain America: The Winter Soldier was implausible. Man, I have got to talk to my agent about these winter-themed movies I keep getting cast in.

Click here for more (here be spoilers galore!):

The return of Badass McProblemsolver!

I know that you all have felt an empty, gaping void in your lives since we stopped releasing the Badass McProblemsolver videos we made for the crowdfunding campaign for the polyamory book More Than Two.

Well, weep no more. Badass McProblemsolver is back, and he’s taking on questions asked by our backers. This first installment answers a question about dealing with family members who are totally out:

Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Wonderland

I know, as I have mentioned before, approximately fuckall about the Marvel comic universe. I have heard of Captain America, but I’ve never read any of the comic books nor seen the first movie. So when the Internetverse was all abuzz for this new movie, filmed on a budget $95,000,000 higher than the cost of India’s Mars probe currently winging its cold and lonely way to the Red Planet, I was quite possibly the only citizen of the United States not consumed by the fires of anticipation. What wonders would the movie bring? How would it advance the franchise? Beats me. I don’t even know who Captain America is.

I am talking, of course, about the second (but for me, the first) installment of the Marvel cash juggernaut:

As the movie begins, we see Sonic the Hedgehog Captain America out on his regular morning jog, where he’s trotting around Washington’s tourist attractions at an average speed of approximately 40 miles an hour without even sweating, because sweating is gross and Captain America doesn’t do gross things. He zips past the Comic Relief, then zips past the Comic Relief again, then zips past the Comic Relief yet again–you know, just to make the point. The engage in dialog, of the sort that tells you we will be seeing more of the Comic Relief later in the movie. The plot wedges here for a few moments when suddenly, Sonic America Captain Hedgehog is notified that a Situation has developed and he should Prepare For Extraction. Quite why he’s out jogging when it’s clear he is in far better than great shape and has superhuman abilities is never adequately explored, given that we as the audience are left with the distinct impression that failure to get enough exercise is not really on the good captain’s surrealistically short list of character flaws.

The rest of the movie goes something like this…

Clicky here! But beware, here be spoilers.

Movie Review: Star Trek Into Plot Holes

J J Abrams, the visionary director who brought you such cinematic masterpieces as Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Star Trek: A New Hope Reboot, returns to his director’s seat for Star Trek: Into Plot Holes.

The movie goes something like this:

CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK and BONES are RUNNING ACROSS A FIELD OF WEIRD RED TREES being CHASED BY PRIMITIVE ALIENS

BONES: Why are these aliens chasing us?
CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK: Because I stole their sacred scroll.
BONES: Why did you steal their sacred scroll?
CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK: To distract them from looking up at the shuttle we are sending into the volcano.
BONES: Oh, right.
BONES: Wait, what? If they were in the temple when you stole the scroll, which we know because they all came swarming out of it, they wouldn’t have been able to see the shuttle we’re sending into the volcano. So you got them all outside to chase us, where they would be more likely to see it.
CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK:
CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK: Jump off this cliff now.
BONES: Okay.

Clicky here to see more! Caution: Spoilers and bad plot choices beneath.

The Birth of a Meme, or, Why I love the Internet

As the American electorate went through the motions of choosing a candidate of someone else’s choosing this week, the Internetverse was alive with political commentary, flames, racial epithets, and all the other things that normally accompany an American campaign season.

At the height of the election, Twitter was receiving 15,107 tweets per second…an eyewatering amount of data to handle, especially if you’re a company with little viable revenue stream other than “get venture capital, spend it, get more venture capital.”

Some of those tweets were tagged with the #romneydeathrally hashtag, and for a few days, how the Internet did shine.

If you do a search on Twitter for #romneydeathrally, you’ll find some of the finest group fiction ever written. The Tweets tell a strange, disjointed account of a political rally straight out of Lovecraft, with bizarre rites taking place on stage and eldritch horrors being summoned to feed on the crowd.

The hash tag went on for days, the Internet hive-mind creating an elaborate communal vision of a dark supernatural rally filled with horrors.

I even got in on the action myself:

Eventually, it caught the attention of the media. The Australian Hearld Sun ran an article about the hash tag that painted an interesting narrative of the meme:

In further evidence that Democrats are winning the social media war, hundreds of people have taken to Twitter to “report” on a fictional event where Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has called upon satanic powers in a last ditch effort to swing the election in his favour.

DigitalSpy has their own take on the meme, also saying Twitter users are talking about Mitt Romney calling upon Satanic powers.

When H. P. Lovecraft references get labeled as “Satanic powers,” I weep for the lost literacy of a generation…but I digress.

By far the most bizarre response to the meme was posted by Twitter user @nessdoctor over on Hashtags.org with the title “Twitter Users Threaten Mitt #RomneyDeathRally”. According to Ms. Doctor,

The hasthag #RomneyDeathRally trended after tweets spread placing Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) of the Republican party under the light of resorting dark satanic techniques to win the upcoming US national elections on November 6, 2012.

This is, of course, a nasty hashtag and while its purveyors insist it’s for humor (and sometimes it is), it is done in bad taste. […]

There were also posts that threatened to kill Romney, with some even threatening to join domestic terrorism and attack the White House and the people in it if Romney sits as president.

The article has been rewritten a number of times; at first, it stated that the hashtag was all about threats to kill Romney and his family, then it made the strange claim that the hash tag came about after rumors had spread that the Romney campaign was trying to use Satanism to win the election. For a while, the article had screen captures of threats against Romney with a caption claiming the threats were part of the #romneydeathrally hash tag; that claim has since been dropped. I have no idea what the article will say if you, Gentle Readers, should visit it.

But where did it come from? (I’ll give you a hint: it didn’t start because of rumors of Satanism.)

Like most Internet memes, the #romneydeathrally hashtag craze started small. On November 4, Mitt Romney held a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. For whatever reason, the rally was late getting started, it was cold, and some people who were there complained on Twitter that Romney campaign staffers were refusing to permit them to leave the rally, citing unspecified “security” concerns.

Some of these tweets were picked up by reporters covering the event.

It didn’t take long to turn into a public relations disaster. Some folks started talking about the “death rally” that you could never leave on Twitter, and the #romneydeathrally hashtag was born.

Naturally, the Internet being what it is, it really didn’t take long for some folks to decide they’d ride that train to the last station:

And, inevitably, Lovecraft got involved. Because if there’s one thing you can count on about the Internet, it’s por–okay, if there are two things you can count on about the Internet, one of them is that the Internet will always insert references to Lovecraft and Cthulhu wherever it possibly can.

And thus the meme was born.

It had nothing to do with threats on Romney, nor with rumors that the Romney campaign was dabbling in Satanism. Instead, it was the Internet doing what the Internet does: seizing on something that happened and taking it to an absurd conclusion.

The Romney Death Rally was a PR own-goal for the Romney campaign, sparked by staffers doing something really stupid at a rally.

There are two lessons here. The first is that if you’re a prominent politician and you’re hosting a rally, it’s probably a bad idea to refuse to allow people to leave. People have cell phones, and Twitter, and some of them will complain, and their complaints might be heard.

The second, though, is less about politics than it is about news reporting. For the love of God, if you have a journalism degree, you should be able to recognize a reference to the Cthulhu mythology when you see it.

Movie Review: The Sun Also Rises on the Dark Knight (with Catwoman)

Okay, so I will admit it: I dithered on seeing The Dark Knight Rises.

Don’t get me wrong; I like comic book movies as much as the next guy, which is to say I dislke comic book movies less than half as much as they deserve. But there’s really only so many times one can spend three hours locked in a dark room with Christian “Mincing Momma’s Boy” Bale prancing around trying to be an action hero like Bruce Willis, only gloomier, before hitting one’s self in the forehead over and over with a hammer starts to sound like more fun.

But it came to pass that the movie ended up at the second-run theater. We’re in the middle of rearranging the house, and I couldn’t find my hammer, so we decided to go.

The movie was…um, what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh, right. Predictable. Two and three-quarters hours, and not one surprising thing happened. It all goes something like this:

The CIA puts a RUSSIAN SCIENTIST and some FREAKY-LOOKING PEOPLE on an AIRPLANE
CIA DUDE: Wait, what? I thought we were just supposed to have one guy.
EXTRA: These are some terrorists who were trying to kidnap him. One of them wears a freaky mask. What could go wrong?
CIA DUDE: What are you going to do now?
BAIN CAPITAL: Mrrrr mrr mr mph mrr mpph mpph mr.
CIA DUDE: What?
BAIN CAPITAL: Sorry. First, I’m going to kidnap the Russian scientist. Then I’m going to crash this airplane and kill everyone aboard. Then I’m going to outsource your jobs to China.
BAIN CAPITAL kidnaps the RUSSIAN SCIENTIST and crashes the AIRPLANE and outsources JOBS to CHINA

Cut for spoilers… To read more, clicky here!