A variegated patchwork of ideas, ultimately making up a tapestry of music, literature, society, television and more. Oh and internet GIFs. Yeah, plenty of GIFs.
Quick link to my writing.
People In London are Living in Chinese Shipping Containers
A couple of days the ago the Huffington Post published an article about young adults in London desperate for affordable housing living in renovated Chinese shipping containers. The project, known as MyPad, isn’t Apple trying to pull a fast one on the world, but rather a solution proposed by the YMCA to alleviate the housing crisis that London has been facing for a while.
Now I suppose a normal person would develop an aversion to living inside of an old Chinese shipping container almost instantly, but in this scenario, the containers are actually fucking sick. These motherfuckers come equipped with air conditioning, en-suite bathrooms and a goddamn flatscreen TV. The catch? To be honest, there really isn’t one since Londoners are only paying £75 (about $120) a week.
A different article in the Daily Mail offers us actual evidence of someone living in one of these boxes and being as happy as a fucking clam. Louise Stephenson states “The idea of being able to get your own place for £75 a week and not have to be living with a shared bathroom in London is just unheard of.” Her testimony offers insight in two ways: people in London are stoked to live in shipping containers and there appears to be a lack of bathrooms in London as well.
If this were taking place in a city somewhere in Kansas or Nebraska or some shit I would question the overall aptitude of those states a little bit more since they have plenty of space for new housing. But in a city like London, where costs of living are comparable with NYC it makes a lot more sense. In fact, the housing crisis fucking over all the Brits is virtually the same as the one ravaging NYC: the rents are way too high and there aren’t enough physical housing options.
So can this sort of gig work out for people in NYC? The only attempt at a Chinese living alternative here led to hundreds of people crammed into rooms separated by chicken wire, rat feces and dead bodies. For the most part, NYC residents are paying thousands of dollars a month to live in spaces most likely smaller than the revolutionary MyPad, and instead of a brand new flatscreen TV they get a brand new case of bedbugs. Offer any 20-something year old in Brooklyn their own studio apartment for under $500 a month and they’ll most likely offer to sell you a bridge right then and there.
Maybe other major cities will catch on to this trend or something similar, but for now London is finalizing the plans to build two of these 21st century trailer park sites in the northeast part of the city. Whether or not it succeeds in alleviating the strain of the housing problem is uncertain, but at least humanity has found one more arbitrary purpose for something that came from China.
-Wilson De Gouveia
Scientists Have Discovered a Way to Eliminate a Weed High
Or in other words, scientists have basically wasted their time. Instead of working on a way for cancer to stop killing people or making a more efficient condom or fuck, even scientifically fixing our government somehow, scientists have instead figured out how to prevent weed from getting people high. An article on Gizmodo explains how a group of researchers from the University of Maryland determined that a drug known as “Ro 61-8048” can help take all the fun out of weed.
I want to get scientific for a minute just so everyone understands that there’s a hell of a lot more stuff going on when you take a rip out of your friend’s new bong besides super chill vibes and an insatiable desire to listen to Radiohead songs backwards. Basically the reason weed is so awesome has everything to do with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that’s responsible for everything from motor control to decision making and most importantly, your brain feeling like everything is awesome.
Dopamine: The dopest shit ever, know what I mean?
So when someone you know is clearly a pothead and according to him has to “wake and bake otherwise the day is ruined,” homeboy is actually hooked on all the dopamine fogging out his brain. And homeboy keeps smoking because the brain thrives on knowing what activities help feed its dopamine boner, which inevitably leads to the ritualistic bedtime blunt session.
Why exactly did these researchers feel the need to prevent weed from affecting your dopamine levels? Well, according to a previous article, unbalanced dopamine levels may be the cause of a handful of mental conditions like ADHD or schizophrenia as well as affecting more day-to-day concepts like motivation and enthusiasm. The new compound specifically prevents THC from releasing extra dopamine, essentially teaching your brain to believe that weed is boring and useless. From a practical standpoint, this new compound can help the millions of people with a marijuana dependence break their horrible, terrible habit.
Marijuana: The culprit who must be stopped
Realistically, more than half of those millions of people were just dudes on probation who needed to take a break from the ganja for a while and not people teetering on the verge of schizophrenia whose only cure is to cut back on the weed. I guess there’s also the people who are prescribed medicinal marijuana but don’t like the whole being high part, but truthfully I don’t think I’ve ever met a single person like that.
So science, in all its boundless glory, has figured out a way to make the most innocuous and chill drug completely pointless just because they could. I don’t suppose that maybe discovering a research chemical that does the same thing for other drugs, like say I dunno, heroin or methamphetamine or something is on the radar since those definitely aren’t ruining people’s lives.
-Wilson De Gouveia
Touche Amore - Is Survived By // A Review
Touche Amore might be the most existentially troubled band in the current scene of hardcore music. Since the beginning of their career, vocalist Jeremy Bolm has held a vice grip on the hearts of hardcore kids everywhere, belting out lyrics about love/hate/loves with cities and keeping to himself while he loses touch with everyone else. I mean, their success definitely makes sense given the amount of angst and heartbreak that exists throughout their fanbase (I am speaking through experience of course). On top of Bolm’s Holden-esque diatribes lies the actual music: a blend of melody, beauty and aggression that has become the standard for other bands in their company (from veterans like Pianos Become The Teeth and La Dispute to newcomers like Xerxes and Saintly Rows). The Los Angeles based band has returned with their third album, Is Survived By, and I think they’ve figured out their key to success: if something isn’t broken don’t fucking fix it.
I’m going to be completely honest and say that the only way Touche Amore could disappoint me would be to write a record that strayed away from their previous material. There’s just something about the rise and fall of their songs, the expected but always captivating clean guitar break in the middle of their songs and the faltering cadence of Bolm’s vocals that rips through me like the end of Garcia-Marquez novel. Is Survived By opens up with “Just Exist” and goddammit I told you these dudes have a lot of questions to ask about life. Bolm professes “I was once asked how I’d like to be remembered / and I simply smiled and said ‘I’d rather stay forever” as guitars wash over Elliot Babin’s calculated drumming. I could name at least six other Touche Amore songs that kick off the same way, and somewhere deep down inside of me I can find room to criticize that, but I’m a sucker for fervor and passion in my music and since these dudes bring those both to the table I think I can let it slide.
See here’s the thing, for a while (and I guess still to this day) hardcore music has been largely about aggression, brutality, moshing and for the most part, fucking shit up. So on that note, bands like Touche Amore are like an intellectual amongst a pack of meatheads. “To Write Content” is a perfect illustration of the band’s focus on creativity and beauty. Bolm spends much of the song waxing (super) poetic about the troubles of writing meaningful words that can resonate with all of the ears and eyes that are paying attention. Listening through the song you can tell that Bolm isn’t the only one with a penchant for pulchritude and meaning. The rest of the band makes it a point to impress and dazzle beyond the standard hardcore tropes (ie “that breakdown was really heavy” or “yeah that band is heavier than lead”). Bolm finishes up by shouting “so expose what hurts you the worst/the exchange deals a handsome return” before a distraught voice in the background poses the question “are you in?” And as the last notes fade away, it seems like the voice was addressing the band itself, and as one entity the band proclaimed, “yes goddammit!”
I’d be fooling myself if I said that the band’s greatest strength isn’t also the crack in their armor. Just how many times can the band reinvent the wheel without changing a single aspect of it? Earlier I said that if the band were to stray from their sound I might end up displeased or unfulfilled, but at this point, Touche Amore are three records deep in a sound they have worked meticulously to perfect. The band seems to think less of what they sound like (they apparently fucking nailed that already) and more about what the whole point of them doing this whole thing means. Album closer and titular track “Is Survived By” seems to be the band’s thesis and raison d’être. Clayton Stevens’ and Nick Steinhardt’s guitars wrap and coil around Babin’s martial drumming before Balm lets the audience know that this is about to be “a song of thanks sung by a hack” and the instruments burst and bloom in traditional, trademark Touche Amore fashion. The track highlights everything that makes the band notable. Precise transitions between the pummeling segments and the melodic breaks, drumming that shape shifts between punk blast beats and intricate fills and of course, Bolm’s signature aphoristic lyrical approach. Here he explains exactly what the band means to these people when he yells “so write a song that everyone can sing along to / so when you’re gone you can live on, they won’t forget you,” which is a statement most people can apply to themselves. It doesn’t have to be by a song, but deep down we’re afraid of dying and fading into nothingness and we’d all like to be remembered for something. Here, Touche Amore let’s everyone know they’re just as afraid.
The Last of Us // My Thoughts
This is kind of late, but I’ve just finished playing Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. I’ve grown out of playing a lot of video games recently, but I am still a proponent of the medium as an art form, and this title was no exception. Naughty Dog have made a huge impact on the current generation of console games with their excellent Uncharted series, and they have outdone themselves on every level with The Last of Us.
On a purely technical level the game outperforms nearly every other game I’ve played on the PS3. The attention to detail is superb, the visuals are alive and breathing, the motion capture had me thinking I was watching a movie at certain times, and the voice actors did an incredible job of giving an identity to every character. However, at this point in the “console wars” it seems that all of that is expected and I can’t help but think that games need to exceed in an element that is often neglected: story telling and player immersion. These two aspects are the crowning achievements of The Last of Us.
Before continuing I just want to mention that there are going to be spoilers throughout the remainder of this article so if you haven’t played it (and at this point I would imagine most people have since I put it off for a while) I suggest buying a copy or borrowing it from a friend because it’s fucking incredible. The game begins with a prologue that introduces one of the game’s main characters as well as establishes the beginning of the bacterial outbreak that consumes what seems like 99% of the population. This segment prepares the player for how cripplingly bleak and dire the remainder of this experience will be. It also gives the player the backdrop for Joel and his actions, starting as a recently divorced single parent in Texas who lost his daughter attempting to escape all of the chaos and becoming a hardened smuggler surviving in a quarantined camp in Boston 20 years later.
From here, the game advances like a fucking Hemingway novel. Joel is paired up with Ellie, a younger girl who happens to be immune to the cordyceps infection. Joel is instructed to transport Ellie to a group of Fireflies (rebel factions operating against the martial law) in order to receive further examination. From here, every single obstacle the game throws at you causes the relationship between Joel and Ellie to bloom. Inevitably, Joel connects with Ellie on an incredibly deep level that he felt cheated out of after his daughter was stripped from him. The game is so riveting that I found myself connecting with Joel and Ellie in ways that other games dream of accomplishing. There were times where I would scream “No, Ellie!” as she was grabbed by a clicker or assaulted by a hunter and I did everything in my power to make sure she was safe.
The game takes both characters on a massive westward sprawl, starting in Boston and going through Pittsburgh, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. For the majority of the game, Joel ruthlessly kills hundreds of humans in order to keep Ellie safe. It took me a couple hours of gameplay to realize that I was slaughtering innocent people (initially I was thinking ‘fuck these assholes I need to protect Ellie’) and then I reconsidered just how much of a “good guy” Joel is. Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy, but if you’ve played the game you know exactly just how many innocent lives you ruin whether by Molotov cocktails or shotgun rounds or shivs. It’s clear that Joel is trying so desperately to protect Ellie because he was unable to protect his own daughter and 20 years later he is still encumbered with guilt. This is reasonable and almost certainly what I would do if I were placed in Joel’s position (even though realistically someone like me would get killed off in like six days).
Playing through the game I was reminded of Cormac McCarthy’s excellent novel The Road. They both have a similar premise as well as an incredibly compelling narrative made all the more palpable by the relationship between a parent and a child. However,the two differ in their endings, and the ending presented for The Last of Us is, in my opinion, the reason why the game is so perfect. After arriving in Salt Lake City and finding the hospital where the Fireflies are hiding, the rebel group takes Joel and Ellie captive. Joel discovers that Ellie is preparing to undergo surgery in order to extract the vaccine. The only catch is that she will die in the process. At this point, Joel loses his mind (understandably) and takes out the majority of the Fireflies in the hospital in an attempt to rescue Ellie. He reaches the operating room and the player is forced to shoot unarmed doctors and escape with Ellie.
I want to reiterate that nearly every single moment of the game has been perfect up until the ending, but the last 30 minutes of the game are why it shines. Joel loves Ellie and I have no doubt about that, but the final moments of the game delve into the reasons why he loves her. After their escape, Joel and Ellie are headed back to Wyoming to reunite with his brother. In the car, Ellie asks about what happened in Salt Lake and Joel lies to her, explaining that dozens of people just like her have been found and that attempts to find a cure have ceased. During a hike back to the camp, Ellie expresses her own guilt, recalling how her friends died in front of her and how much she would like to make a difference for all of the death and tragedy that has consumed the world. Joel consoles her and tells her she has to keep finding reasons to fight. Ellie agrees begrudgingly and asks Joel one final favor: to promise that everything he said about the Fireflies was true. A plaintive Joel says “I swear” and a crushed Ellie says “okay.”
Is Joel the good guy? Did he wrong Ellie? Would Ellie have chosen to sacrifice herself if she knew what actually happened? Despite his fervor and tenacity, the ending reveals that Joel is a broken man. He tells Ellie to keep finding things to fight for, but if we ask ourselves what Joel has been fighting for, the reason is undeniably Ellie. He led the only person keeping him alive to her death, and despite the possibility of a vaccine, Joel chose to keep Ellie alive. Surely you can say that he kept Ellie alive for her own good, but I would argue that Joel kept her alive mainly for his own good. After failing to protect his daughter, I can guarantee you that Joel was a fucking wreck and the 20 years we didn’t see consisted of him trying to determine if there was any semblance of a point to stay alive. Eventually, he found the best reason within Ellie.
Joel’s love for Ellie is as intense as his guilt for losing his daughter, and his love for Ellie prevented her from performing the single sacrificial act that would eradicate all of her guilt. The ending of the game left me in a moral quandary. Initially I was ecstatic that Joel and Ellie made it out alive but as I thought about it on my front porch I realized how Joel’s actions were carried out selfishly. But at the same time, his care for Ellie is undeniable and the player is able to find solace in their relationship staying afloat. Ultimately, the game’s ability to portray the “good guy” in a different, morally questionable light is the most jarring aspect of the ending. The ending offered an emotional impact outside of “fuck yes the main characters are okay.” It truly puts into perspective every single action Joel carried out throughout the game and gave deeper insight into the relationship that I found myself captivated by.
Prima facie, The Last of Us is a video game, and one of the defining aspects of a video game is the fact that the player is in control of what the characters do. This is true for The Last of Us in the sense that you choose how to kill someone or what items to collect or whether to sneak by or not. What the player is not in control of is the outcome of the story and this is important, because despite The Last of Us being a video game, the title’s main objective is to tell a story. Think of the great novels and films you have experienced throughout your life. Did Hemingway care if the reader would be upset about Catherine’s death in A Farewell to Arms? Does David Fincher lose sleep at night because some people disagree that Edward Norton’s character was Tyler Durden the whole time? Of course not, because they were telling a fucking story. Naughty Dog was telling a story with The Last of Us, it just happened to be a story that the audience could participate in, and unfortunately (or not depending on how you look at it) the story ends in a way that might upset or bother some people.
However, the entire point of a riveting, compelling story is that it forces the audience to think about what happened. To consider the moral weight of the situation presented by the storytellers. To succumb to the ebb and flow of the events as they unfold. Naughty Dog takes these aspects into consideration when making their games. Of course they want to ensure that their game is enjoyable to play, but that is the goal of every producer and developer out there. The team behind The Last of Us had a vision where the decisions of the characters hold weight and affect each other in a realistic and honest way. They could have taken the route of the countless vapid action or shooting games plaguing the industry (Call of Duty, Battlefield, etc, etc) but instead decided to set a landmark not only in storytelling but also in the videogame as a form of art.
-Wilson De Gouveia