Seems like, once again, the Atari Corporation is going to declare bankruptcy again. Atari has had a troubled history; after its spectacular (and lucrative) beginnings to the great video game crash of 1983 (fueled, in between, by some smart coding and massive amounts of cocaine), it has bounced around from owner to owner, basically being unprofitable and trying to squeeze every last drop of money from its iconic logo.
Truth be told, it didn't seem like Atari was that well-run of a company for it to be so proud of its heritage. Sure, it brought to the masses some of the most iconic video games in history--games that are even recognized by the ungrateful whelps in today's fickle gaming market--but they seemed to be only moderately long on creativity and short on management or business experience. And even that scant creativity seemed to dissolve as soon as most of the people in charge--which, in Silicon Valley in the 1970's, included little more than cokeheads and swingers (and, no, that's not much of an exaggeration)--went away to rehab or establishing pizza joints featuring singing rats.
In some ways it's difficult to forget how big Atari was. They were more or less the only game (ha!) in town, and they were very, very good at marketing. Early video game culture is cringe-worthy now--it's not even awesome in the standard so-bad-its-good variety--but it permeated our culture quite a bit. (There was even a phrase, "Atari Democrat," that gained modest popularity in political circles, and you still occasionally hear it.) But all of their positives quickly became negatives as the markets adapted.
So what value could Atari bring to anyone, really? Twenty years ago there was still a brand and at least some semblance of a disorganized group of coders and creators that could at least bring something of value to the table, but Atari's inability to be reliable caused it to bounce from one company to another. As far as I can tell, Atari mostly lives in its own past: the only things I can dredge up that it still does is mobile versions of its vaunted titles. Valuable, yes, I suppose, but it's like an old, weary relative telling the same war stories every time you see him. It's not exactly surprising that the first thing most people think when they hear that Atari is going bankrupt was that they assumed this happened twenty years ago.
Atari isn't the first company to milk nostalgia, of course, and there's certainly still some valuable properties on their portfolio. But I won't lie and say it isn't sort of sad to see a once-great company bought and sold like a flea market milk crate full of junk.
It's that awkward time between the last playoff game and the Superbowl, when the media (yes, including the lamentable sports media) has to fill up nearly every minute of airtime talking about what will be--barring Barack Obama dropping an c-dash-f-bomb during a guest spot on The Voice--the most-viewed program of the year. Sure, it's a fairly important event that the vast majority of Americans are at least tangentially interested in, but most of those people are more interested in Geico commercials and buffalo chicken dip than they are about whether David Akers is going to muff yet another kick.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the season, I wasn't particularly interested in football this year. Unlike in previous years, when I bitched about football and then after a week or two slobberingly crawl back to the league, I more or less stayed away from football this year. I did watch a few games here and there, but I couldn't work up enough interest to watching nearly four hours of commercials and useless commentary and forty-five minutes of sloppy play. I am sure a lot of it was lack of confidence in the Steelers this year (and, as it turned out, rightfully so), so as much as I hate to be a fair-weather fan I won't lie that I'd rather play four hours of Team Fortress 2 on a glum autumn Sunday afternoon than watch a game my favored team will most likely lose.
Of course, the fact that the Baltimore Ravens are in it--supposedly the mortal enemy of the Pittsburgh Steelers--should get my interest up, but I can't work myself into a lather about a pretend rivalry. I get the need for emotional competition, and I won't lie that I am much more concerned about the Steeler's success when the Ravens are on the field, but I've never understood the scorched-earth piss-on-their-pantleg rabid-mouthed hatred two teams of any set of cities have for each other. At the end of the day, who gives a shit?
As a continuation of that, of course, is that I'm not particularly interested in the Superbowl this year. Oh, don't get me wrong--I'll watch the game, and I'll watch the actual game without irony while eating pepperoni rolls and laughing at the dancing bears in the Pepsi commercial. And I quote-unquote hate the Ravens so I hope they lose, but I care even less about a West Coast team in the NFC that I get to see about once every eight years. Aside from the fact that they have a straight-up murderer* on their team, there aren't any stories to follow or heroes to root for. All I can hope for is that one very specific team beats the spread.**
Longtime readers of this blog know that I am not exactly a
huge fan of sports reporting. Most of it is perfectly fine, but there’s a
particularly strong vein of sports reporter that actually somehow makes sports
less fun. Sports fans don’t help, either, but there’s something particularly
jarring about people who get paid to make something that is purely
entertainment less so.
A reminder of this was the recent piece of local sports
columnist Chris Bradford, calling out on the carpet one Evgeni Malkin for not
taking time out to speak with reporters after flying in from Russia. His
argument, in a nutshell: if you have time for a three hour practice, you have
time to speak to reporters for a few minutes.
One can certainly forgive Bradford; the NHL lockout has left
hockey writers with painfully little material, especially since neither owners
nor players are really allowed to speak freely to reporters without dozens of
lawyers getting involved. So when the dry spell gets busted, reporters are
thirsty for information, and people like Branford could be justified when that
Still, this entire episode is one of the glaring issues with
sports reporting. Instead of it being about sports, it’s about reporting. Sure,
it’s probably not cool when one of the biggest stars on your team finks out on
you, but it’s not like there weren’t any other players there to speak with.
Plus there’s no doubt that Malkin will be available pretty much every other
day. These players have less than a week to get ready for their first game;
maybe they should be focused on the game and not figuring out the logistics of
Sports have basically become part of the 24-hour news cycle
now. This really isn’t good for sports. You have ESPN, of course, but you also
have any number of local stations and radio programs that run constant
programming about sports. Commentators rehash the same arguments hour after
hour, using piss-poor cocktail-napkin stats and rely on anecdotal proofs.
Stories are generated out of vague statements from coaches. Minor criticisms
and botched handshakes are front-page news. Some ill-perceived slight six
seasons ago are drug out of the closet and presented as Exhibit A for some
argument or another.
I can’t stand any of it. Anecdotally I don’t know anyone
else who does, either. There’s some value in the headline-style programs, where
they cover all four sports at a national level, so it’s truly surface-level
summaries that are informative. And, obviously, there is a place for both
player interviews and in-depth reporting; these provide true information to
fans, and can be mined for details later.
But too many sports columnists and reporters have taken
sports and turned it on its head. They have made the entire venue not about the
game itself, but the bits and pieces of information that compose the fallout
from these games, and then scrape them together and claim they control it. When
that control is taken from their hands—such as the apparently criminal act of
not taking five minutes for one day out of the season when you’ve just gotten
back from a long plan ride from Russia and need to get to practice—these
information jockeys suck all the life out of the game. And--let's just come out and say it--a worryingly large percentage of these reporters are just sad sacks who thought they would grow up to be football stars but now have to schlub around funky-smelling locker rooms badgering the millionaires they thought they would be and scraping for snips of info to toss together a column by deadline. not all are like that, but a sad number of them certainly give off that vibe.
Of course, in the end, the marketplace will determine it, and clearly at least a certain fanatic base of viewers love this sort of thing. I, personally, think it's slowly destroying professional sports, but only time will tell.
Hasbro recently announced that they would be retiring one of the iconic game pieces in Monopoly and replacing it with something new. Both the culled piece and the new one is going to be voted on by the public. Monopoly is, of course, one of the flagships of American culture: capitalism, mass production, and competition all rolled into one reasonably accessible board game widely available nearly everywhere. So when a pretty big change like this happens, it catches people's attention (oh, and also happens to sell more games).
Anyway, the "replacement" tokens are pretty lame: toy robot, cat, ring, guitar, and helicopter. So as a public service I figured it would be a good idea to present my own ideas of Monopoly game tokens that better represent the American ideal.
A Big Sack Of Money: Which you can then spend the next three hours trying to not pay taxes on.
Mortgage Banker: Best part: never goes to Jail!
A Successful Sitcom on ABC: Ha! Just kidding! There aren't any of those. A Donkey: Sadly, the token will spend most of the game taking money from the winning players and giving it to the poorer players so the game never ends and eventually collapses.
An Elephant: Sadly, the token never moves forward.
A Vial of Blood From FoxConn Workers: Or an iPhone. Same difference.
A Social Security Check: Which, once introduced, will never be voted away.
Miniature Copy of Atlas Shrugged: and by "miniature" I mean "less than 1600 pages long."
A Binder Full of Women
Yuan Token: If the game is in any way realistic, the game is over when all of the properties are owned by China.
Rubber Glove: Nothing says "liberty" like a latex glove covering a finger that's going up your pooper to make sure you're not too Al-Queda to board an airplane
A Picture Of A Cat On The Internet.
Trillion Dollar Platinum Coin: You feel really, really rich while you are playing, but once the game is over it turns out you lost.
[EDIT] Note to archivists: It's now June 2013, and I realized that I actually have two posts called "Go Directly To Jail," probably because I am lazy. I've thus slightly updated the title but kept the old title in just to display to everyone exactly how much of an uncreative idiot I am.
The inevitable was formally announced today--Arrested Development is coming back.
Of course, we knew it all along, what with them announcing the filming and all, but given how long us fans have been promised new episodes it's only prudent to wait until something concrete emerged before we started celebrating. Even now, once waits with a little bit of hesitation until that iconic ukulele starts playing in May of this year.
For those that don't know, Arrested Development was a sitcom from a few years ago. It won all sorts of awards, including a few Emmys, but no one watched. No one. It gained new life with a rapid fan base and an insatiable appetite for the DVD set, enough that creator Mitchell Hurwitz got enough support to start it up anew. It hobbled between being a movie and a new season until--as it turns out--they're going to do both.
Even the announcement causes some concern; each of the episodes will focus on only one character, as most of the episodes run more or less simultaneously with one another. This is a departure from the series which followed a reasonably conventional style. Still, most people trust the cast and writers enough to not change the formula too much.
One certainly has to pause and wonder if this is, in fact, the future of popular culture. Arrested Development wasn't the first TV show brought back from the dead--Family Guy was probably the first to accomplish that feat--but it's certainly one of the more well-know. The manner in which it's coming back--all of the new episodes are going to be released on Netflix in one day--is another new angle. It's not even coming on a network; any Netflix subscriber will have immediate access to it. No doubt Netflix will use this to buoy their other original programming as they try and become a powerhouse in media.
This entire cycle of creativity is new. We not only have dirt-cheap DVDs bringing dead series back to life and DVRs to make viewing more convenient we have streaming media as the way we go about viewing it. The internet and fans putting money behind their enjoyment of the product has created something that even ten years ago was impossible. With Netflix and Amazon starting their own creative original content channels, it joins the already-crowded domain of cable and broadcast entertainment. While it's certainly good for the customer, one has to wonder if there's a tipping point of volume; too much new content might make none of the ventures succeed. One solution, of course, is to have patience; gone may be the days of cancelling a show after two mediocre airings when newly formed habits just need to get people around to watching it.
It's not certain if this is, indeed, the future. No doubt the elements that work will survive and the parts that don't will get pushed aside. For now, fans of niche programming should enjoy it while they can.
The fiscal cliff has been a thing for a while. I've been deliberately avoiding discussing it for a number of reasons, but the main one is that it is full of exactly the sort of details and political posturing and general BS and none of it is going to matter all that much in about two or three months anyway. (I also feel that it was more or less blown out of proportion had nothing gotten done--which as of this writing is actually still possible--but that is neither here nor there.)
However, the absolute best thing to come out of the fiscal cliff disaster is this photo:
(It's an AP Photo if you want to write someone to get her number.)
Some lady, somewhere, is going to grow up to be the "woman whose sexy legs were available for everyone to see during the fiscal cliff negotiations."
Although knowing Capitol Hill, there is a 50% chance this is some sexy young intern and a 50% chance of being some old crone who happens to have caked up her legs with panty hose, silly putty, and broken dreams. I prefer not to think about it too much.