Grindelwald.mp3 (feat. unannounced guest appearance by my cat)

Merry Christmas, everyone! Please enjoy this extra bonus content, which I recorded on my phone and put very little effort into.

Trying something a little different for the dawning of a new year. Writing blog posts is great, but I rarely have the energy for it these days. So what if sometimes, I could just deliver my opinions directly from my brain to your face? Over the internet?

Let me know if you enjoyed this and I'll do more like it. Maybe I'll even get a real microphone! And a camera! 

Spoilers for The Crimes of Grindelwald by the way.

The best of Crisiswear

Four score and one year ago, I gazed into the mysterious abyss of late capitalism to bring you the best of WallpaperStore*, a baffling online marketplace serving an audience that I'm not sure actually exists. 

Since then, I've been thinking of doing a sequel to that post, waiting for the right target to come into my crosshairs. Last week, someone in a random twitter thread linked to a website called Crisiswear, and I knew I had found my next muse. It was the section for cowls that sealed the deal.

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In which I over-analyse two seconds of a Harry Potter trailer

The final trailer for Warner Bros Presents JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (a Wizarding World™ Product) has landed, and it shockingly features a slimy, hideous creature whose inclusion in the movie is both capital-P problematic and a dubious decision from a creative standpoint.

But as well as Johnny Depp, it’s also got a big snake in it. In keeping with the strange and inexplicable-even-to-myself fascination I have with this spin-off franchise, I immediately gave it a look.

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Historical accuracy in video games

The first trailer for Battlefield 5 (or V) released yesterday. In case you're not familiar with the series, it's considered to be the somewhat more complex, "realistic" counterpart to the Call of Duty games, emphasizing team and squad-based tactics over personal glory. The last installment in the series, Battlefield 1, went back to WWI. The sequel (Battlefield 5, are you confused yet?) is set in WWII, that conflict which is famously under-represented in video-game shooters.

Cue the trailer, which features four outlandishly-dressed super-soldiers leaping through windows, getting shot multiple times without apparent injury, blowing up a plane with an enemy grenade, and other ludicrous acts of cartoon violence. At the end, a British women with a Furiosa-style prosthetic arm clubs a Nazi to death with a cricket bat wrapped in barbed wire.

Can you guess which part of that has The Gamers all riled up?

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The Best of WallpaperStore*

If you've been paying attention to the news lately, you may have noticed that wealth disparity has become a hot topic in a way not seen since France circa July 1789. In times like this, a little humanity can go a long way. It behooves us all to reach across the aisle--or rather, up (way, way up)--to where our Capitalist god-kings dwell in their bronze-electroplated homes, and take a look at how people live when they can afford to blow an entire annual salary every month on tasteless crap.

And so, WallpaperStore* (the asterisk is part of the name). A self-described "creative marketplace" for home and office products by internationally renowned designers and artists, WallpaperStore* is a surreal, Twilight Zone-esque vortex of poor taste and artery-bursting price tags. To browse its pages is to descend into a dizzying alternate universe of hand-cut marble facades and brushed-brass. Before long, you begin to wonder if you've accidentally stumbled into the initiation rites for an Eyes Wide Shut-style one-percenter sex cult.

For your convenience and peace of mind, I've done the hard work for you. Here, in handy list form, is the Best of WallpaperStore*.

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The Crimes of Johnny Depp

Last year, I went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would, having not assumed that I was in the target audience for a Harry Potter prequel/spin-off. In fact, I liked it so much that I found myself pretty invested in the next movie in the planned five-part series.

Except there was a bit of a catch. See, Fantastic Beasts was based on a novelty in-universe tie-in book which was itself spun out of a textbook glancingly mentioned in the first Harry Potter novel (because Hollywood is a shining cauldron of pure, unfiltered creativity) and mostly told a self-contained story about a lovable buffoon chasing some monsters around New York. Then, right at the end, it turned into an epic Harry Potter prequel detailing a confrontation with an evil wizard that was discussed during the action of the main Harry Potter books. It did so by introducing this character, Gellert Grindelwald:

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I want to assure you that this is the least ridiculous image of him I could find; in the actual movie, he looks even more like a boiled egg with a porcupine taped to it.

So that was kind of discouraging, especially since Grindelwald had been played (kind of) by Colin Farrell up until that point, who seemed way more like a proper villain and didn't look like a boiled egg. I was kind of hoping that J-Ro and the film's producers would quietly retcon this disastrous bit of character design for the sequel and just lock Farrell in for the next four movies. Alas, it was not to be: the second movie has been given a (incredibly stupid) title and a first image, which confirms that egg-Grindelwald is still part of the plan.

Now, back when the first movie came out, there was another reason why people were disgruntled with all of this: Grindelwald was played by Johnny Depp, whose then-estranged (now-former) wife Amber Heard claimed had beaten and abused her. At the time, this was met with the sort of reaction from the wider public that celebrity "scandals" usually were: a brief spike of outrage, and then almost everyone more or less forgot about it. Hell, I didn't even think to mention it in my review of the movie; one of my blog readers brought it to my attention.

But that was then. You might have noticed that things have changed in the last month and a half.

To say that Hollywood is cleaning house would be inaccurate (Brett Rattner doesn't seem to have suffered any consequences yet), but powerful, once-untouchable men are having their careers ended more or less overnight due to allegations of sexual abuse and harassment. This has even taken the form of a major role in a fully-shot movie being recast, something that would have seemed unthinkable before. And given the new climate, a lot of people are figuratively glancing at Depp's involvement in the Fantastic Beasts movies and saying "Nice franchise you've got there, be a shame if anything were to happen to it" while leaning against a doorframe and chewing a toothpick in a vaguely threatening manner.

On one hand, this makes perfect sense; most of the allegations against Weinstein, Spacey etc revolve around events from years or even decades ago, so if they should be held accountable for those actions then Depp absolutely should be as well for something he is alleged to have done last May. I think this is where the majority of the outrage stems from.

But on the flipside, after trawling the Harry Potter fandom circles a bit, I can't help but suspect that there's a significant portion of people calling for Depp's firing who don't actually care about his abuse, and just see a potential opportunity to boot him and his goofy-ass hair from the franchise going forward. Which, if true, would be terrible. I'm of the opinion that "fandom" as a capital-t Thing has a strong tendency to be really toxic and negative as an online social force, but co-opting a revolution in how we respond to sexual and physical abuse in the entertainment industry would be a new low.

As for my own opinion, I absolutely think that Warner should have ditched Depp when Heard's allegations first came to light, but that they are probably not going to. It would have been extremely easy to do before the first movie came out--Depp is in it for all of thirty seconds and his involvement had been kept secret until days before the movie came out--whereas his role in The Crimes of Grindelwald (ugh) is probably far more substantial. It's not too late, the movie is still a year away and probably has the vast majority of its post-production left, but I don't think they'll do it.

And because of that, I won't be paying to see the movie when it comes out. I'd encourage anyone reading this not to, either.

Dropbox's Baffling Visual Redesign

I know my blogging efforts have never been about digital or graphic design (insofar as they've ever been about any one topic for more than three weeks or so), but today I want to talk about a story that affects me personally.

I really like Dropbox. It's the one app that I feel actually improves my life in a measurable way. I genuinely think cloud storage is an epoch-making innovation, in that it was the first step towards completely doing away with static, hard media (and never mind that it's so legendarily insecure that I can't use it for any purpose at my IT security job). And now, after years of seeing the comforting blue box on my devices, they've gone and changed how it looks.

Now granted, the old Dropbox aesthetic was kind of aggressively uninteresting, sporting a blue and white look that resembled some sort of default template, but the new, overhauled appearance is baffling in a way that makes me wonder if it's some sort of elaborate trolling attempt. The icon is now enclosed in a circle, something I thought we had universally agreed to leave back in 2014 (you know, all the way back then), and sports a jarring purple and hypothermia-blue colour scheme.

But that's nothing compared to the website. Dear god, the website.

One one hand, I admire a company willing to break completely from the minimalist design language that the internet and tech world has been using since shortly after the turn of the century. There is something bold and even noble about untethering oneself from the shackles of convention, leaping headlong into the uncharted void.

On the other hand, this is what they came up with:

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If you told me this was a screenshot of a website from 1998, I'd believe you. Hell, I'd buy that it was from 1988 if I didn't know that there weren't any websites back then. That font, those clashing colours, the...whatever is happening in that image, all combine to activate visual processing components in my brain that haven't fired since the Bondi Blue iMac was on sale. It looks like it came from an alternate timeline where we invented cloud storage in the 90s.

For a while, I've been musing on the fact that the current digital aesthetic will one day go out of fashion and seem ridiculous and quaint, just like the look and feel of products and the internet and advertising from the 90s and early 00s now seem embarrassing and baffling, and I've wondered what trends will be in place in ten years time. What will "modern" look like in 2028?

Apparently, it will look like 1998. Time is an Ouroboros, forever eating its own tail and returning to the ground state of existence, which is a print magazine ad for internet service providers back when 56k modems were the hot new thing.

 

Fault Lines

Earthquakes occur along tectonic fault lines, places where sections of the Earth's crust collide. The pressure builds up slowly, sometimes over decades or even centuries, before releasing in a violent moment of destruction. Some seismically active areas lie on the intersection of multiple fault lines--multiple sources of stress, all converging.

Looking at world events at the moment, it's hard not to see the fault lines combining and intersecting, the pressure building and building, slowly, inescapably. The ongoing disaster that is Donald Trump's presidency; North Korea's increasing belligerence; China's stated willingness to go to war with the US if the situation on the Korean peninsula erupts in the wrong way; and now a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville that seems to have earned endorsement-by-silence from the government. 

North Korea seems the most likely to slip, and it's easy to imagine how the seismic shock could trigger the other fault lines.

Trump over-reacts to an apparent threat by North Korea and retaliates, reversing the erosion of his support and emboldening the wave of white supremacy sweeping across America. 

Trump's ego and desperation to pander to his most extreme supporters causes him to strike first, triggering a war with China. 

North Korea launches a successful missile attack on the US; the resulting surge in nationalism and xenophobia is seized on by the Trump administration in order to facilitate the slide into autocracy that so many of his followers seem to want.

(Astute readers will notice that there's a common factor in all of these scenarios)

Whenever you study the outbreak of war or similarly catastrophic events, you're looking for the fault lines, the places where the pressure builds. It's only in hindsight that you recognize the moment when the earthquake became inevitable, and the only question is exactly which fault line slipped first.

Have we reached that point yet?

I don't know. But then, I wouldn't. We'll just have to wait until the shaking starts.