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RANT: Self-Indulgent Bullshit

This is not the article I intended to write. After a week of laboriously avoiding the problem of "what I'd write next week," I confronted myself with an ultimatum of sorts: If I couldn't think of anything to write about that I could get earnestly excited about, then maybe it was time to reconsider this whole regular schedule of forced writing altogether.

I accepted my own terms on the spot, and set about deconstructing the problem in a very essential way: What could I write about, gaming-wise, that I could execute within a reasonable amount of time while thinking very little about it, and - as I'd already stipulated - could reasonably get excited about? Within about three minutes, I realized that I could finally execute on a long-desired Casting Call article for 1994's Final Fantasy VI (released as III here in the states) for the SNES. Boy howdy! I had half the list already filled out before I left work that day.

A personal activity intervened on Tuesday night, preventing me from writing it up then - and I'm glad it did, because I started in on it tonight, and as I wrote the preamble... I could see that something else needed to be said.



I have struggled with writing for some time now, for various reasons, but mostly because I've never been positive what it is that I want to say about the world - only that I WANTED to say something, and gain recognition for saying it. That sums up probably the worst possible reason for being a writer of any kind, whether fiction or nonfiction.

If you want to write, it should be because there's something in you that needs to be expressed. That idea - that message - will not let you rest until you share it with the multiverse at large - that's what makes a writer. A good grade in AP English and a desire for notoriety doesn't cut it - but sadly, the Internet has provided hacks like myself a means of instantly publishing whatever we feel like we can churn out. It strikes me that there must have been other big spikes in the number of wannabes when Gutenberg invented his press, and when the typewriter was invented.

This desire to write - this inner flame that MAKES you write, because you could do otherwise - is what makes an author an author, or a journalist, or a copywriter, or a blogger! Yes, blogger is totally viable! It's a thing, there's no getting around that, and there's some totally decent ones out there, because they have things to say and won't let you look away from the typeset until you've read whatever they have to communicate to you.

Note that having the desire doesn't automatically make you good, though. Practice, attention to form, understanding of structure, and a realization of what constitutes your personal style - these are all the things that lend shape to the sentences that your inner flame will empower. But having an understanding of the form doesn't MAKE you write. If you have a perfect understanding of the form, and yet you still have to put your head between your hands and stare into your eyelids until you can think of something that you can muster five paragraphs about (double spaced), then something's not adding up. It's here that the aforementioned Self-Indulgent Bullshit comes into play.

Self-Indulgent Bullshit can be found whenever someone - for whatever reason - does not create something new, but instead, elaborates on the old without contributing any new meaningful insights. It's an act of fandom, pure and simple, even though it may be veiled under heavy smoke and ample mirrors. It is, in many ways, the antithesis of creation, because it relies upon something that HAS ALREADY BEEN CREATED. It substitutes the past for the present and either expresses an appreciation for it in the name of nostalgia (if the past is a thing to be viewed positively) or criticism (vice-a versa).

It is insidious, because the audience can be reasonably expected to have access to information from the past, and so is liable to be accepting of the content. It is illusory, because it gives the "creator" the sense that they have somehow contributed to the art form, despite the fact that they're simply adding a layer of familiarity over top of some other content. Artists that excel at Self-Indulgent Bullshit can come into their own despite having not produced new content. It is erosive, because it not only adds to the reams and reams of meaningless tripe that's already out there in the world, but it gives provides readers with content that they can lazily fill their head with instead of reading about something with real value. It is exponentially dangerous, because derivatives of derivatives are even more ignorant of the source material, adding even less to the social consciousness at large. It's digital clutter, taking up space where truly creative pursuits could have existed instead. And on the 'net, nothing is thrown away. It exists... and exists... and exists. Metal Gear Solid 2 taught us that. Remember? In that ramble right before the fight with Solidus at the end?

~


What I did just there? That was a reference. References are good. References contribute. They reinforce new creativity by utilizing the past as a supplement, as a building block, for new material. The past exists and influences us in everything that we do - it's a mistake to think otherwise. We should and will acknowledge the past in the things that we say and do and make. But what we should NOT do is make those things the ultimate focus of what we have ourselves choose to strive and create. Simply spinning references endlessly upon themselves isn't the creation of content.

People most often think of "references" as smaller elements of a whole - literal phrases or icons pulled from one source to another. If a clad-in-black pirate says "As you wish," to a damsel in distress, then this is clearly a "reference" to a film involving a Princess who is synchronously a Bride of sorts. But reference is totally possible and plausible in a much longer form, so long as real creativity is allowed to exist.

HBO's Rome is itself based on a story that's been told over and over - the life and times of one Julius Caesar. It's a story that's been around for so long that it's a wonder anyone can think of new things to do with it. But Rome did it, creating intelligent, meaningful characters in a fleshed-out world. Starz' Spartacus exists deep on the other end of the spectrum - a poster child for Self-Indulgent Bullshit. It draws upon the name and VERY loose story line of a classical age hero, spends a bare-bones budget in the hope of apeing Zack Snyder's 300, and calls it a show. Sex and violence sell, but they don't create quality material on their own. Much like what I was saying about writing - the creators of Spartacus have very clear ideas about the FORM of what they want to generate, but they don't have anything to really say about it once it's out there. As a result, it's banal and derivative.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with my example of these shows in particular, my point is this - create to create. Don't create to espouse a love for a thing already created just to show everyone else how much you love it. That kind of creation isn't even self-serving. It generates waste.

~


Do you know what made me realize that I shouldn't be writing a list of the characters of FF6 and who'd I'd get to play them? It wasn't the fact that I had a pretty classy list of actors and actresses set up: good performers who you'd recognize from other referential media. (Here's a taste: Liam and Chris Hemsworth as Edgar and Sabin.) It wasn't the fact that I totally and completely acknowledged within the opening article that I had trouble writing about ANYTHING any more and so felt completely comfortable with the fact that I was writing about something that I could fantasize about totally brianlessly.

You know what it was? It was the fact that I heard "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)" by Green Day on FM radio on the way home from work. I was astonished.

As you'll know if you've been following my personal adventures with any closeness, I moved to Austin, Texas recently and one of the things that the city's reputation has made good on is its dedication to music. I have heard a lot of new artists since arriving - a couple of which I plan on going to see (although one of the shows is in Orleans, so, there you go.) Austin's got a "pop radio" channel, but it's been largely tolerable thus far - until today, when the aforementioned Green Day single popped on. You know, the one you've seen in countless montages and heard in untold dormitory common rooms.

I couldn't fucking believe I was still hearing this song. It was released in 1997. Do you know what I was doing in 1997? I can't remember. It was a fucking long time ago. Why is this song still being played on the radio? I understand that it was popular and it still has some kind of sentimental value for people. I get it. But it's more than ten years later and I'm not listening to a station that's specifically dedicated to Old Songs. Couldn't we do any better than this, Austin radio? Come on!

I fumed about this all the way home, and then realized that I was about to write an article about a game that was released in 1994. An article that I was writing because I had nothing else credible to say, and I figured some FF6 references would make a couple of my friends hit the "Like" button.

~


That's not what I want to do with the time that I have. I don't want to have Self-Indulgent Bullshit control what I have to express about myself. The past existed, and it has its merits - but it is not the future. The future is the future. What's past is prologue. Utilize every fiber your innermost self and inflict it upon the present to create that future. Don't wallow in the past, regardless of whether it was good or bad, whether you wish it was still here, or you wish that you were still there.

It can be difficult. I know this firsthand. You cannot control how you feel - this is a human reality. But you absolutely can control what you think, and what you think and what you do will control what you feel at any given time.

Even if you're not a writer of any kind, you are a Human Person - build upon the past. Use it as an example - positive or negative - of how to shape the future. Don't cling to things which do not exist any more. I don't care how much simple, brainless joy you get from self-reflection. Do not make it a steady focus of what you do and how you live your life. Make what you do an expression of what you want the rest of the world to be like, and not a reflection of what the world once was.

I'm not writing anything else unless I feel it needs to be shared in as enthusiastic manner as the above rambling. I will try my best to keep that to my self-imposed weekly schedule. As of this essay, I'm also shucking aside my old - totally indulgent - alias. Sorry, Almasy Marquis, it's time to disappear into the sun.

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