23 April 2012

Public Art and Animal Adoptions Steampunk Style!

Is this a clothing boutique, or an animal-adoption center, or a cosplay clubhouse with a "kraken" pulling an "eighteen-foot zeppelin" through the ceiling? Watch Donna Ricci's [revised] video for "Public Art and Animal Adoptions Steampunk Style" and you may be able to answer that question. Then again, I've watched it, and the idea is still blurry around the edges.

Contribute, or someone will strap goggles to each of these animals.

And what does all this have to do with Doctor Who? Ricci also plans to build a TARDIS outside the boutique, a prop that "will be available to the public 24 hours a day." Is this the "public art"? If I LARP on the street or wear Klingon-face to Burger King, is that public art? Do people consider Doctor Who steampunk? What does this have to do with stray dogs and parakeets?

Maybe I'm in the wrong simply for asking such questions. Ricci asserts that steampunk is "based around science-fiction," "largely based in the Victorian era," and "almost beyond definition--there is no right or wrong answer." Problem solved: steampunk is whatever you want it to be. If there's some Victoriana in there, all the better, but medieval Scandinavian sea-monsters and 1960s British science-fiction TV shows both count as steampunk, as do stray dogs and clapper-boards with digital displays.

I assume that the popularity of steampunk doesn't spring from nostalgia for late-19th-century scientific racism, or Jim Crow, or America's colonial adventure in the Philippines, or laws that kept women from voting, or police repression of the labor movement--but I could be wrong. Now that I think about it, the lack of interest in the actual 19th century on the part of steampunk fans suggests that I am wrong.

Is steampunk then a symptom of postmoderns' nostalgia for modernity, for that reassuring sense that humanity is making Progress? There is an undeniable beauty to modernity's grand narratives, wherein we will someday fly personal aeroplanes to our 20-hour-a-week jobs, or explore the universe in soviet-built rocketships. In the US, at least, we seem to be returning to the Gilded Age of robber barons and tentacled trusts; is "steampunk" a way of imagining a liberated but individualist fantasy of that period, where artisanal rocket boots, and not unions or political parties, can save us from bread lines and 12-hour workdays?

18 April 2012

Tangentially Zombie Wednesday: Rise of the Steam Goddess

I'm glad the word steampunk is so popular, because it's a real time-saver. It's like a handkerchief on the roommate's doorknob, code for "MASTURBATING--DO NOT DISTURB." Don't worry, bro! When you drop the s-bomb, I realize that wanking is in progress, and I can spare both the wanker and myself the shame of discovery. Unless, that is, I'm doing research for new Shitstarter posts. In that case, I kick in the door.

Dame Frances "Fanny" Juggins, Lady Bustington

I know what you're thinking. Some of you were reading along, and then when you got to the photo of Dame Fanny (above), you lost track of what I was saying. Maybe you even let slip a little wolf-whistle, in spite of yourself. A few of you might even have hoped that this woman was the artist responsible for the Kickstarter project, or at least that she appears in the video; after all, a big PLAY button hovers just above her endowments.

But such is the visual rhetoric of Kickstarter pages like the one for Ben Hamby's Rise of the Steam Goddess. Not only is Dame Fanny not the party responsible for the page, she does not even appear in the video. She is the bait, and Professor Hamsley Piggins, Marquess of Bloatingsford (below), is the switch. If you don't believe me, watch his video, which consists of Piggins sitting on a couch and holding forth about his novel of "steam-powered zombies" in an English accent that made me consider, in this order, homicide, suicide, and genocide.

"I know all there is to know about the crying game." --K.K. Rotwang

Steampunk may be the new the sink to which porky, some-college mediocrity drains. For fans with a DIY impulse, it's a snap: buy an olde-tyme hat on EBay or at the Halloween store, glue some feathers and watch parts to it, and vòila, le punk--le punk de steam! Making a convincing suit of mail, Dalek-voice ring-modulator, or bat'leth takes way more work. Besides, unlike "boffer" (i.e. foam-weapon) LARP, steampunk demands little exertion, apart from squeezing into those getups. No, you won't see any mob of steampunks chasing about St. James Park, clubbing each other with foam bumbershoots, eh, guv'nor?

Steampunk is specific enough to be useful to my purposes--I can search for the word in Kickstarter and find no shortage of awful self-promotion--but it is also a vague enough buzzword to attract all manner of "creative" awfulness to its banner.

Long live steampunk.

16 April 2012


This Kickstarter project from Emilee Wilson aims to "show the world that pole dance is a sport." "Everyone knows it is a form of fitness," she asserts, "but does it belong in the Olympic Games?" 

[Your pun HERE!]

You're probably thinking, "Pole-dancing? Isn't that what strippers do?" Wilson and company are adamant that pole-dancing is not stripping, and that it is not done for money; their slogan, "no tipping and no stripping," appears both in the text description and in the video. It seems that Wilson is trying to deflect charges that pole-dancing is little more than slightly de-sexualized striptease. The implication is that because athletic/artistic pole-dancers do not take off all their clothes, and because they do not expect to have spectators give them cash, athletic/artistic pole-dancers are somehow nobler than women who dance nude around poles for money.

This strikes me as deeply ironic, in that it suggests an anti-feminist position regarding female sexuality and sex work. The position seems to be that it's OK for women to be sexy, as long as they aren't going to do any lap-dances, and that (maybe) it's OK for women to have sex, but it's not OK for them to have sex in exchange for money.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that while I find mostly- and entirely-nude women fascinating, and while I also think that it should be legal for consenting adults to pay for striptease or for sex, I nevertheless find stripping and strip clubs repulsive. There's something about the tease of the dancing that I find personally degrading and humiliating. I hate that I can't look away from nude women who have no intention of getting to know me, let alone having sex with me. I respond like Pavlov's dog to the ringing of the bell, fully aware that my dish will remain empty. Strip clubs expose and exploit my desires without my consent.)

To return to Wilson's argument, consider the above still from her promotional video. Pole dancing isn't stripping, Wilson claims, but the video's images say otherwise. Here we see an athletic young woman with shaved limbs and a cultivated tan spinning around a pole, an iridescent curtain behind her. She wears thigh-high boots with six-inch heels. Her bikini top and bottom have bows, which suggest tying, but also--and more strongly in this context--un-tying, with a single tug. A jewel in the dancer's navel reminds us to look at her lower abdomen, while the lighting and the framing prevent us from looking at her face. Everything about the scene evokes strip clubs, and a classically eroticizing and objectifying male gaze, since this creature has no face with which to look back.

Thus the brand of pole-dancing that Wilson promotes simultaneously reminds us of women dancing in strip clubs even as Wilson and company disavow that same practice. We get the worst of both worlds: the ogling and sleaze of Roxie's at 2 AM, mixed with an equal measure of Puritanism and slut-shaming.

Consider this thought-experiment: imagine an Olympic event based on hard-core pornography. No money changes hands and nobody's genitals are exposed. Male dancers dress in black PVC thongs and bondage harnesses, and female dancers dress in lacy lingerie or leather bikinis. They perform the contorted sexual moves of gonzo pornography and live sex shows, while judges give them points in different categories. It's all strictly PG-rated. If you note the resemblance to videos of secretaries servicing well-hung bosses, or Japanese-girlschool dildo parties, or black-on-blonde anal gangbangs, the judges will arch their eyebrows, peer over their opera-glasses, and tell you that this is a rigorous sport.

In answer to Wilson's question, I'm going with, "No, pole-dancing doesn't belong in the Olympic Games."

13 April 2012

Bonobo Chat: An App for Talking with Apes

Ken Schweller, a professor of computer science and psychology, has developed software that helps humans communicate with chimpanzees. I lack the training to evaluate his research, so I can oly hope that it is as good as his Kickstarter page, which is gold.

I'm throwing this into my next PowerPoint,
to make sure my students are paying attention.

Prof. Schweller built a Robo-Bonobo. Here Scwheller plays "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" on a harmonica, as a super-title tells us what the Robo-Bonobo thinks.

What has science done?

What will the bonobos say to us? Whatever it is, it won't top Scwheller's Kickstarter page. And will it matter, once Schweller equips his bonobos with tablet computers that allow them to remotely control the Robo-Bonobos?

The bonobological singularity is here.

11 April 2012

Zombie Wednesday: Rebel Wellness Gardens - 'We Survived the Zombie Apocalypse'

Some people seem incapable of getting motivated unless they imagine that society has collapsed due to a zombie apocalypse. Exercising? Donating blood? Preparing for utility outages? Gardening? Bo-ring! But if you make them part of a zombie apocalypse in which all human institutions collapse, where survivors play Robinson Crusoe in the ruins of modernity, then everything becomes jolly funtime.

We make survivalism FUN!

So Andrew Smith's zombie-themed primer on starting a community garden should come as little surprise. It takes the resurgence in gardening and the locavore movement and combines them with the old zombie apocalypse. The twist is that in this scenario, the zombie part is over. I imagine that gardening after a zombie apocalypse is... much like gardening before a zombie apocalypse, but the garden-stores are all closed, and you have to pump your own water. Really, the only time that the gardening experience is significantly different is during the actual zombie apocalypse.

What surprises me is that Smith didn't combine zombies and locavorism with that fad that keeps walking, despite smelling dead: the praise of bacon. Zombie apocalypse bacon! What's more DIY than raising your own pigs and slaughtering them? You get to fight the ghouls that try to invade your compound, while inside, you learn about swine husbandry, slaughter, and processing. Dispatch the pig with a well-placed bullet or blow from a tire iron (remember: you must destroy the brain!), then cook the pig whole, and you and your cosplay friends can tear your dinner apart with your bare hands. Appendices will explain how to make organs and gristle into sausage.*


Here are some other ideas that Smith's project has given me.
The Rock-and-Roll Knitter's Handbook to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse. (includes patterns for knit rifle-cases and tactical vests)

A Cosplayer's Guide to Building Props that Would Survive a Real Zombie Apocalypse (but Still Look Like PVC).

This Fixed-Gear Cupcake Kills Zombies!

This Bacon Kills Zombies, or The Steampunk Slaughterman's Primer on Surviving the Revenant Deceased in a Manner Befitting Subjects of Her Majesty, with Appendices on Goggles, Pneumatic Captive-Bolt Stunners, and Abattoir Corsetry.
*Note: You must process all the flesh quickly, to avoid putrefaction. Gore effects master Tom Savini bought real pig entrails to use in the dismemberment scenes of Day of the Dead (Romero, 1985), but a member of the production crew accidentally unplugged the refrigerator, letting the guts begin to decay. By the time the crew filmed the scene using the decaying viscera, the stench was enough to make most of them ill.

09 April 2012

Hovercraft Amps

Kickstarter is like an enormous used-record store. I spend most of my time there looking for early-70s LPs bearing photos of guys whose only hope of ever getting laid was starting a band. Every now and then, I find a record I consider buying for non-irony value. Once in a long while, I find something so rare and wonderful that it brings tears of joy to my eyes, say a test-pressing of Black Sabbath's Master of Reality, or the stack of Los Crudos EPs and splits that someone stole from my apartment on Arsenal during a party in 1996. Hovercraft Amps is such a find.

"A mountain walked or stumbled."

If you want to know what kind of amp tone makes K. K. Rotwang consider turning to crime to possess it, play the video on Hovercraft's page. It's not a "good" promotional video, by Kickstarter standards. The campaign's creator, Nial McGaughey, does not stand before the camera making a heartfelt appeal for money, or cracking jokes about the difficulty of starting an artisanal retro-amp workshop. No sophisticated editing suggests high production values. McGaughey just points the camera at the cliff-face of a Hovercraft half-stack, then lets the forces of tube-driven nature take their course.

That course consists of irradiating you with wide-frequency ionizing tube overdrive until your skeleton glows, causing your flesh to boil away and ignite in a slow-motion doom-cloud that dissolves the objects around you. When you are a luminous skeleton-ghost, held together by bong-resin and infra-bass hypergravity, then your 666th chakra will open, connecting you to the One Riff coterminous with all time, space, birth, and death.

06 April 2012

St. Louis Week: "The Shaft Build"

This Kickstarter project promises to revise our understanding of our world, starting with our understanding of the Great Pyramid of Giza. It's not a monument to a dead pharaoh; it's "a stone steam engine built by the Atlanteans 12,000 years ago."

"Just talkin 'bout [Atlantean steam engines]!"

The author clearly understands the potential significance of such a finding, and therefore poses following a rhetorical question: "If you could completely rewrite 12,,000 years of world history, enlighten 7B people, and solve Man's oldest, and greatest enigma, would you do it?" [sic] Clearly the writer has contemplated re-writing world history. The pity is that he didn't bother re-writing the text of his Kickstarter page, the one where he asks us for $62,000 to support his outsider scholarship (and outsider punctuation).

The author is not shy about his qualifications to revise our understanding of human history. According to his autobiographical sketch, he is "A literal renaissance man," one having "vast exposure and experience in Engineering, Design, Sewing, Machining, Surveying, Writing, Acting, Philosophy, and Spirituality." Literally.

His video runs over nine minutes, but evinces high production values. In the interview that dominates that video, he explains his qualifications in another way, and explains his methodology:
I'm not a scientist. I can give you a laundry list of what I'm not. I'll tell you what I am, though. I specialize in one simple thing: free and independent thinking. Newton called it pure thought. I think unobstructed by opinions, unobstructed by schools of thought, even unobstructed by the evidence. The evidence of the other hundred-and-eighteen pyramids up and down the Nile will block the starting point. The evidence of written history will keep you from the starting point.
Let's hope the evidence doesn't keep the author from his $62,000 goal.

04 April 2012

St. Louis Week: Life's Interesting Dramas

Here's a Kickstarter project that might interest afficionados of outsider art, or social workers apt to call the cops on parents who make their kids read Daddy's poetry on YouTube. It's a reversal of the usual, "Lemme read you this goofy thing my kid wrote."

Aww, Daaaad...

The author's poetry not only rhymes, but it resonates with contemporary debates about the growing inequality of wealth in the US:
Never forget who controls all wealth,
Your life breath, your possessions and your health.
For all the silver and gold passing through many hands,
Vast and innumerable as the oceans and sands,
Belong to The Maker who created this world,
When the ugliness of hunger and homelessness is unfurled.
Call me insensitive to poetic impulses, but I don't find the speaker's claims reassuring--but this Blog Post isn't about me or my Desire to expropriate the rich. This is about the Poet, and his random Capitalization, which I can only hope is as unpredictable in Life's Interesting Dramas as it is on the Kickstarter page that describes said anthology as "the Book of Poetry with 100 of my very best poems covering a variety of Topics."

The project goes beyond poetry. The book includes paintings by the author.

"I got the [painting], a ménage à trois/ Musta broke those Frenchies' laws..."

I must admit that while I don't know much about painting, I sure like this one. See, I like to imagine I'm the one in that room, and the painting is what I'm seeing, because that naked lady is giving me the "Paint me, Big Boy" eyes. Furthermore, the lady with the deltoids and the cleavage is giving me the "I can't believe you're going to paint her while I'm in the room... yet I find the prospect thrilling" eyes. (It must be the wine.) It seems we're in Paris, where people are classy and drink wine and put things on pedestals. My presence here suggests I'm on vacation, and able to afford to go to abroad on vacation. If I were really in that room, I'd turn the portrait of the epaulette-wearing guy to the wall and show Miss Nude France how we paint 'em in the U. S. A.

(Then again, the painting also makes me want to call the Missouri Department of Social Services' Child Abuse hotline.)

Yet the artist's ambition does not end here. Life's Interesting Dramas is to comprise not only the book, but an "animated movie." Is this the "Classical Movie" of the Kickstarter page's title? I am curious to see how the artist realizes his "classical" vision in animation.

02 April 2012

St. Louis Week: Gimme Gimme Gimme

Kicking off St. Louis Week on Shitstarter, we have this project, in which Robin Tidwell aims to raise money for a "new novel." That's all we get to know--not the title, not Tidwell's reason for soliciting money, not her previous work or lack thereof. The "About the Project" text appears to consist solely of the first few pages of the book, her survival-horror narrative's in medias res beginning.
     She took the phone call out in the hallway.
     “No names. It’s time. Are you okay?”
     “Yes. I’ll be taking the side roads.”
     “Good. Someone needs to be picked up. See you soon. Good luck.”
     Abby tapped her Bluetooth and disconnected. She stepped back into the locker room and cautiously peered around the corner. The office at the far end of the room had the curtains pulled shut tightly; she knew what that meant. She closed her eyes for a moment, saying a prayer, but only for a moment. It didn’t pay at all to be unobservant.
Two lines into this novel and I'm already confused. Who is talking? Who is listening? Who is the antecedent of that first word, she? I suppose it's Abby, but I don't learn that until four lines later. What's an office doing in a locker room? Not only does Tidwell make St. Louis look bad by not saying so much as please when she asks total strangers for money to write her novel, she can't write her way out of a locker-room. (My confusion about speakers and spatial relationships is almost enough to make me ignore the gratuitously adverbs and the product-placement. How sad is it when a brand name is the most vivid detail in a novel's opening?)

Not pictured: anything related to this new novel.

Furthermore, Tidwell has not bothered to supply us with an image that tells us anything about this novel. The above photo shows some old books, but look at the spines. These are reference books, not novels. The image gave me an idea: maybe the author had Googled some lazy phrase like "old books" and used one of the first few hits as the image for her Kickstarter page. So I tried it. I did a Google image search for keywords old and books, and the above image was the fourth hit.

I've seen Kickstarter pages that stunned me with their egregious writing, or their Hindenburg-explosions of fonts, or nine-minute promotional videos shot in mop closets, but I have never seen one that took less work and care.