I Can’t Even

I can’t even.

I belong to the generation of millennials, but that doesn’t mean I always understand them. Few of their quirks confuse (or amuse) me so much as the phrase “I can’t even.”

These words are meant to represent speechlessness due to shock, dismay, or joy, which are my own reactions to this idiom. It baffles, irritates, and fascinates me: “I can’t even.”

You can’t even… what? You can’t even handle it? You can’t even finish the phrase? What can’t you even do?!

Perhaps this incomplete phrase is meant to represent an inability to express oneself due to strong emotion: “I can’t even,” trailing into overwhelmed silence. A more cynical theory is simply that my generation doesn’t understand how the English language is supposed to work.

For better or worse, “I can’t even” has entered our cultural lexicon. The Babylon Bee, a satirical Christian website, recently broke this “news” report: “Millennial Diagnosed With Tragic Inability To Even.” A geek folk band called the PDX Broadsides wrote a catchy song titled “The Girl Who Couldn’t Even.” Heck, I’ve even heard the phrase at work.

I can’t even, guys. I can’t even “I can’t even.” I am presently afflicted by a tragic inability to even. I can’t. I just can’t.

Disney’s Darkest Movie

Walt Disney Animation Studios is the most famous, important, and successful animated film studio in history. Its first movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was the first ever feature-length animation. Its latest movie, Zootopia, captivated critics and broke box office records. (It was a touching film with catchy music, and I loved it.)

Walt Disney Animation Studios gave us such enduring classics as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King… and also The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a movie I still can’t believe was actually made and distributed by Disney. It’s dark.

It’s really dark.

I still can’t believe this film saw the light of day.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is not only grim, but brilliant: a daring film with pathos, beauty, and gleams of humor. That said, it really doesn’t fit Disney’s kid-friendly image. The movie begins with a corrupt official (one of my favorite Disney villains) pursuing and murdering a woman in front of a church, and then almost murdering her baby.

A tense song narrates the scene, and throws in some vengeful Latin lyrics for good measure: Dies irae, dies illa solvet saeclum in favilla (Day of wrath, that day shall consume the world in ashes). The video above is a dark rock cover of this song. It’s a little edgier than the original… but only a little. A few notes foreshadow another song in the film, “Hellfire,” which is exactly as cheerful as it sounds; its lyrics describe unfulfilled sexual desire, murderous intentions, and literal hell.

Lust, fear, fury, and hellfire—y’know, for kids!

After that first scene, The Hunchback of Notre Dame—which, I remind you, is an animated movie by Disney for kids—goes on to address such family-friendly subjects as physical deformity, child maltreatment, lust, genocide, and eternal damnation. I’m serious. I haven’t even mentioned all the creepy statues and gloomy Gothic imagery.

This is a dark film, and it becomes even darker if the viewer chooses a cynical view of the protagonist’s gargoyle friends. These statues come to life when nobody else is around, like Hobbes in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, bringing Quasimodo comfort and hope.

Just who are these guys?

Sure, there are optimistic explanations. Maybe these lively gargoyles are just imaginary friends, or perhaps God brings them to life as companions for Quasimodo. He does live in a church, after all, and the film is underscored by religious themes and imagery.

However, a cynical viewer might dismiss Quasimodo’s gargoyle friends as hallucinations: symptoms of psychosis, or his deranged way of coping with the horrors of his lonely life. This theory is unlikely, but given the other grotesque subjects in the film, it wouldn’t be hard to add mental illness to the list.

So yes, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a dark film, and also a really good one. I recommend it… but probably not if you’re a kid.

On a more cheerful note, the guy who arranged the cover of “The Bells of Notre Dame” in the video above has done some other great covers, including “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” (because no blog can ever have enough covers of that song) and “The Hero,” the epic theme to One Punch Man.

Nintendo Makes Weird Controllers

All right, let’s have a show of hands. Who remembers the Nintendo 64? If you raised your hand, congratulations: we are now friends.

The N64 was a terrific video game system, which brought us such revolutionary and industry-defining games as Super Mario 64The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Super Smash Bros. The importance of the N64 can’t be overstated, and its legacy endures to this day.

Seriously, though, what the flipping heck went wrong with its controller?

The N64 controller looks like the misplaced head of a trident. Most N64 games required players to grasp the controller by the center and right-hand prongs, leaving the left-hand prong and its seldom-used D-pad jutting out pointlessly. It was awkward and uncomfortable. Why didn’t Nintendo put the analogue stick on the left-hand side, allowing the player to hold the controller comfortably? The world will never know.

Nintendo has a long history of weird controllers, starting with the one for its very first system, the Nintendo Entertainment System.

nes-controller

It was basic and angular, without even the slightest effort to be comfortable or ergonomic.

I find it fascinating to trace the evolution of the video game controller across Nintendo’s gaming consoles. The controller for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was a bit better, and the one for the GameCube was frankly awesome. Then came the Wii and its bizarre controller, which was basically a TV remote with an optional attachment that made it look like a nunchaku, a kind of martial arts weapon—it was actually called the Nunchuk attachment.

Nintendo’s latest controller, for the Wii U, is basically a tablet. It’s a lot more sensible than some of the company’s previous designs, and surprisingly comfortable.

I wonder where Nintendo will go next. Maybe its next console will be controlled not by the player’s thumbs, but by the power of his mind?!

Of course, thumbs are fine, too.

Great Music, You Dig?

Shovel Knight is an outstanding indie game that delivers fun and adventure in spades. I really dig it. (Shovel puns!) The game’s soundtrack is particularly good, and in the video above, a couple of insanely gifted guitarists strum one of its best tunes.

With Ether is a duo of guitarists whose music I’ve featured once before. The video above is their arrangement of my favorite song from Shovel Knight, “Strike the Earth!” They somehow arranged this fast, deceptively complex chiptune for a couple of acoustic guitars, and it sounds fantastic. The breakneck bit at the thirty-eight second mark amazes me every time I hear it.

War and Peace and Robots

This animated short tells a beautiful story without any of its characters ever speaking a word. After watching it, I’m pretty speechless, too.

…All right. It’s time to talk about the video.

From the studio that brought you that Pixar-quality superhero animation comes another glorious animated short. This one stars Bastion, a war machine who realizes that war is kinda overrated. He joins the robots from The Iron Giant and Castle in the Sky as a machine that overrides its programming in order to love peace, appreciate nature, and stop blowing up everything it sees.

Iron Giant

The Iron Giant is an excellent movie.

I love the premise of a machine built for violence refusing to be violent. It’s sadly ironic when machines have more humanity than actual humans.

Castle in the Sky robot

Castle in the Sky is probably my favorite movie of all time.

It’s nice to know that when the robot apocalypse happens, some of the machines may not want to fight.

Incidentally, the animated short above is a promotional video for a game called Overwatch, which I’ll never play. I wish all promotional videos were so amazing.

Now This Is How You Teach English!

Learning English - Chainsaw

Learning a new language is hard. Fortunately, one brave little book is trying its best to make that arduous process easier, or at least funnier.

English Words That Don’t Appear on Tests is a book for Japanese-speakers learning the English language. It’s certainly… educational.

Learning English - FartThis book is apparently an actual thing that exists.

English Words That Don’t Appear on Tests

Here, in no particular order, are a few of my favorite pages.

Learning English - River crabs

Learning English - Bra

Learning English - Mario Kart

I have a degree in English Education—no, seriously, I do—and I approve these teaching materials. More can be found at this article on Kotaku. Learn, and enjoy.


This post was originally published on April 27, 2016. TMTF shall return with new posts on Monday, September 5!

Twitch Plays Pokémon; Anarchy Reigns

Cute little Helix

The Internet is a strange place. No, seriously—the Internet is weird, man. A couple of years ago, a social experiment took place that proved, beyond all shadow of possible doubt, that the Internet is really freaking weird.

This experiment, which enlisted hundreds of thousands of participants and amassed many millions of views, pitted anarchy against democracy, wove a surreal narrative of loss and victory, and gave rise to a god.

I speak of Twitch Plays Pokémon, that epic microcosm of Internet weirdness.

You can find the whole story on Wikipedia, so I’ll provide an abridged version. An anonymous programmer launched a “social experiment” on Twitch, a video streaming website. The experiment streamed a version of an old Nintendo Game Boy game, Pokémon Red, which the programmer modified to be controlled entirely by commands typed into the stream’s chat room.

Twitch Plays Pokémon [GIF]

Anyone could join the crowd playing the game by typing in commands, which the game carried out one at a time. As days passed and Twitch Plays Pokémon went viral, thousands of people participated, all typing in commands at the same time to play the game. Chaos and anarchy reigned. It was nuts.

The difficulties of thousands of people all controlling a game at once soon became obvious. Insignificant obstacles such as ledges became insurmountable setbacks. New Pokémon were caught and released more or less at random. (For those who don’t know, the game revolves around catching, training, and battling friendly monsters called Pokémon.)

As the days wore on, the stubbornness of sincere players was matched against the sabotage of online trolls. Tweaks were made to Twitch Plays Pokémon to inject elements of democracy into the chaos, to the relief of some and the ire of others. Factions of players rose to support either side. Anarchy and democracy were each assigned specific Pokémon as emblems, and both factions fought for control of the game.

Anarchy Vs. Democracy

The actions of the game’s protagonist, Red, were understandably random and erratic. For example, due to the conflicting commands that poured into the game, Red frequently checked a useless item called the Helix Fossil during battles instead of fighting. This gave rise to the in-joke among players that he was consulting it for guidance. In turn, this led to the concept of the Helix Fossil as an idol or deity.

When the Fossil was finally revived into a living Pokémon later in the game, players declared the rebirth of a god.

Praise the Helix!As a narrative emerged from Twitch Plays Pokémon, players and viewers alike watched each new development with the obsessive interest of sports fans on the day of a big game. A number of valuable Pokémon were accidentally released in a debacle that became known as Bloody Sunday. New Pokémon were given names, backstories, and allegiances to the factions of Democracy or Anarchy. Memes, fan art, and in-jokes spread like goofy viruses.

All the while, dedicated players kept typing commands into the experiment’s chat box. Red inched ever closer to victory, persevering through all mishaps. Even the loss of the Helix Fossil, his guiding deity, didn’t faze him.

At last, Twitch Plays Pokémon ended in spectacular fashion—Twitch finished Pokémon.

I was vaguely aware of Twitch Plays Pokémon as it unfolded, but never wasted time watching Red’s halting progress through the game. A few days ago, however, I took time to read a brief history of the event, and was struck by its glorious weirdness.

In a way, Twitch Plays Pokémon is a perfect microcosm of many aspects of Internet culture. It was random, unpredictable, and packed with memes and wacky humor. Like YouTube or Wikipedia, it was driven by the involvement of ordinary people. It spawned endless conflicts. Finally, it inspired many intelligent people to treat something totally inane with resolute dedication and seriousness.

After playing Pokémon Red, that Twitch channel went on to play (and replay) many other Pokémon games. I’m pretty sure the Twitch Plays Pokémon project is still going, albeit with a diminished audience. Now that the novelty has worn off, most of the viewers and players have moved on to new things. There are always new things.

After all, this is the Internet.


This post was originally published on April 13, 2016. TMTF shall return with new posts on Monday, September 5!

The Umbrella Warrior

Here are some thoughts on the video above.

  • That guy is so cool.
  • In fiction, umbrellas are occasionally reimagined as weapons. The Penguin, a villain from the Batman comics, uses an assortment of umbrellas containing firearms or hidden blades.
  • Seriously, though, that guy is so cool.
  • Umbrellas can secretly be deadly weapons, even in real life. Beware.
  • The guy in the video wields a pair of umbrellas in the manner of hook swords: weapons used in certain styles of Chinese martial arts. The tips of hook swords are curved. When hooked, both swords can be wielded one-handed in the manner of nunchaku. Avatar: The Last Airbender, one of my favorite shows, introduced me to hook swords.
  • Brooms and shirts on hangers also make great weapons, apparently. Who knew?

This brave warrior is truly an inspiration to us all.

Vacation Music

For today’s Geeky Wednesday post, I was going to write something serious and weighty about a poem by Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney. Then, remembering that I’m on vacation and really should chill out, I opted for some sunny video game music instead.

Yes, it’s our old friend Smooth McGroove, the one-man video game choir. Today’s tune hails from the warm shores of Outset Island in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, which is probably the most vacation-ey game I’ve ever played, sea monsters and all.

Well, with today’s post done, I can get back to hiking, swimming, snacking, and dreading my inevitable encounter with the Tiny Hotel Soap in my hotel bathroom. It’s too soon, guys.