Saturday, July 20, 2013

Punk Rock For Young Avengers Fandom

Hello, Young Avengers fandom.

Perhaps you are interested in punk rock. Maybe you read that excellent Freaky Trigger piece about punk rock and Young Avengers and thought, "huh." Maybe you've heard a little before but Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are getting you more interested. In that case, let me introduce you.


I'll dispense with the backstory: Nubile white men with guitars a good half century ago figured out you didn't need talent to play music, you just needed anger and momentum.

Punk rock's major contribution to music's history (aside from a reminder to get out before you start to suck) is the idea that an aspiring artist does not require someone else's imprimatur to make music. If someone isn't making the music you want to hear, you are now deputized to make it yourself.

Seriously. If you've got a song in your heart: Write it. Now. This very minute. Stop reading. Go. Do it. Now. Do it.

There's connective tissue between punk rock and comics, if you know where to look. Most obviously, Patrick Kindlon and Matthew Rosenberg, to name two, have released some of my favorite music ever. Mike Cavallaro, known to the Eastern Seaboard as Johnny X from Sticks And Stones, Becky Cloonan, Rick Remender, Jen Van Meter and ad infinitum. Gillen and McKelvie's history with music and a member of punk's extended family, Britpop, is suggested by the above image. It's called Phonogram, there's two volumes and Volume Two, The Singles Club, forced me to confront my fear of dancing. It presented better arguments for dancing than my reasons not to dance.

This is not a history, but a survey. Five songs, cast widely to get a taste in your mouth. If you like it, come back next week. If not, you're only out the time you took to listen to five songs. These aren't my five favorite punk rock songs in the world, but these are five songs which all suggest many of the cardinal directions punk rock moves in. You may hopefully find something you like.

The songs hopefully suggest the focus, the lens, the catalyst and the fuel. There's a Romanticism to punk that I find still useful as I age. There's other parts to punk, the branded nihilism, the clear-eyed hopelessness, but those are doors to go through later on. I still need to get you through this one first.

Like all surveys, it's necessarily incomplete. Emo is a longer story than I have time for and oh God I'm rambling. Five songs. Play loud.

Until I figure out how to embed playlists into Blogger, just go here.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Metacritic: A Thing I Feel No Guilt About

In a conclusion to a well-sourced feature on the pernicious uses of Metacritic, Jason Schreier wrote something that as a longtime critic, I cannot countenance. He wrote that "[Metacritic is] harmful to critics, who have to deal with PR pressure and the guilt of taking money out of people's pockets."
That's wrong and I'll explain why.

 First, last and always: You're a journalist or critic. There's always going to be PR people looking to influence your opinions. It was around before Metacritic, it'll be around after Metacritic. That's the price of the job.
Second and more worrisome, it moves the guilt for lost wages or compensation from the people who signed a contract in good faith to the critic who isn't a party to that agreement. Critics are not responsible for a) the contracts that publishers and developers sign b) for a third party's secret interpretation and secret mechanism as to how they collate and weigh an unknown number of reviews, the end result of which they call critical opinion c) the quality of a videogame they didn't make.
Guilt is for when I actually did something wrong. Guilt is not for when people who aren't me secretly interpret my thoughts, then though a secret mechanism weigh it alongside 30 other reviews and spit out a number which two parties agree to use for the exchange of money. If developers and publishers want to use that for the distribution of money, the only place I have in that conversation is to remind them reviews are subjective, I am biased and the mechanism they're using changes my language and skews my intent.
The critic's job is to have an opinion, write it as clearly as they are able and defend it. The critic's job is to express their synthesized thoughts on an experience, whatever they may be. Good and bad in the same review. Certainty and confusion. Ignorance and knowledge. Transparency and more transparency.
This is not to say I am perfect. I have been influenced by PR people. I have failed in articulating my thoughts and I have failed in which ones I chose to publish. That said, critics shouldn't feel guilty for other people's use of Metacritic and anyone who makes them feel they should is not their friend.
To presume to speak to Mr. Schreier directly,  the next time someone blames you for not making an incentive because of a delicate score, you tell them you've got some sympathy for them, but that's as far as it goes. And you say it just like that, too, because the contracts signed by developers and publishers are things that are their responsibility, and any guilt they want you to feel is something that gives them cover. Now, if you made a factual error in your review, that's different and that's legit and you fix that. You make damn sure that fix is reflected in the conclusion or score.
But your score doesn't take money out of the hands of developers. Deals that make the money developers receive from a publisher dependent on Metacritic (an entity that openly admits to skewing a critic's words) do.

 "The Bride" by Crime In Stereo. I listened to this all of my junior and senior years of college, and not merely for the phrase "your bachelor's won't earn half the debt that you've incurred." It remains poignant today. As an aside, I had to write this blog four times before I got it to where it is now. This one is the shortest, best and most defensible, I think.
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