Wake. The. World

Posted by on April 25th, 2013

History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.
~ James Joyce, Ulysses

For two weeks I saw As everywhere. On tshirts, broken signs, torn stickers… or just lying there, on the ground.

Never actually the Avenger’s A, except in my mind’ eye. What connections was my unconscious making?

There are three heroes in Joss Whedon’s movie: Phil Coulson, Natasha Romanova and Clint Barton.

Then there are the projections of the Collective Unconscious: the vicious sky god, the rage monster, the personification of the techno myth and enCAPsulation of the Amerikan Fighting Spirit.

And the Villain? Witness the speech of the embodiment of the Patriarchy, and all Forces of Control:

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And sadly, reality proved this to be true… with the Disney arm of Global Capitalism delivering this Patriarchal  message:

The Disney Store is selling Avengers t-shirts for women with the slogan “I Need a Hero” and “I Only Kiss Heroes,” and an Iron Man t-shirt for boys that reads “Be a Hero.” This sends a harmful message about who can and cannot be a leader in this world. These shirts promote the idea that men and boys are meant to do the saving, and that women and girls are the ones who need to be saved.

Which is completely absurd because the *core hero* of The Avengers is Natasha Romanova (aka Black Widow). She recruits the Hulk, tricks Loki into revealing his scheme, and basically saves the world. As Alyssa Rosenberg describes her for ThinkProgress:

Black Widow, given a personal stake in the fight when Loki brainwashes Hawkeye, tells the villain who wants to know if she’s in love with him, “Love is for children. I owe a debt,” and leaves it at that. Her refusal to clarify leaves room for Loki to speculate, and ultimately to reveal more than he intended. All sorts of skill sets matter in a conflict this big and complex. And without making her a victim or a lesser member of the team, Black Widow’s reactions are a regular reminder that superheroics and space invaders have real impact beyond the financial support of the Cinematic Demolition Industrial Complex. Watching her come back to herself after being badly beaten in a fight is a reminder of how damaging these powers can be when applied to ordinary people. And hearing her tell Captain America in an unconvincing deadpan “It’ll be fun,” when she tries a hugely risky gambit without the protection of enhancement or godlike abilities makes the enterprise seem more serious. These things may be entertaining as hell to watch, but they’d be terrifying to actually carry out.

Ian Grey does an excellent job parsing through the reviews the film got, where seemingly every male critic saw only the Michael Bay-esque aspects of the spectacle presented, and missed the apparent subtly of Black Widow’s role because she wasn’t shouting about it, just getting it done. Witness the entertainment marketing complex displaying a complete lack of critical thinking… almost as if the role of reviews in the press is to repeat the message of the dominantor paradigm, regardless of the truth of the content being promoted.


Natasha is the embodiment of heroism: highly trained, empathetic, cognitively agile and unhesitatingly able to make ‘the sacrifice play’, literally in Cap’s face. And that deserves to be repeated until it sinks in:

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Now, post-movie The Avengers we have Jonathan Hickman writing up a storm in the new run of Avengers (and New Avengers) comics… delivering, at core, this message:

Taking the FULL COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS and showing it to us… to build a better tomorrow, together, today. A Mythic Global Frequency.

Tune in and WAKE THE WORLD. Because it’s asleep at the wheel of history and we have figurative seconds to change course if we wish to avoid the coming Crash.

we’ll live shitty lives forever

Posted by on April 30th, 2012

Today’s Pictures for Sad Children:

via @thedaniel

Open Source Superheroes, Idoru, and the Batman

Posted by on November 26th, 2010

(Continued from Brands, Prosthetic Identities and the Batman.)

What if you could opt-in to a prosthetic identity like Batman’s or Kanye West’s?

What if you could Be Batman?

Mentioned here (and everywhere else on the internet) this week, J-Pop star Hatsune Miku is a fictional android, a sex symbol, a popular product spokeswoman, and the output of a vocal software package.  As such, “she” is not just a saccharine-sweet corporate-operated pitchwoman but also a prosthetic identity that anyone with access to her software package can participate in the co-creation of.  It was arguably this open feature of “her” prosthetic identity that allowed her to become so popular.

However, I’d like to approach this notion a bit more directly – after all, this is a blog addressing self-upgrading culture, innit?

There’s been a lot of talk about Real Life Superheroes this week thanks to a recent incident in Seattle that returned the idea of the RLSH to web-consciousness after KICK-ASS vanished from the theaters.   Is the idea of putting on a costume and leaping into action on the streets of The City so strange?   Well, probably, but that hasn’t stopped a surprising number of people from doing it regularly over the past decade.  Existing long before KICK-ASS (in fact the book KICK-ASS’s first bit of viral promotion was a video that made the Myspace Real Life Superhero rounds before leaking into the internet mainstream) there was a loose network of folks in costumes in cites around the world.

With the World Superhero Registry serving as one of a handful of internet hubs, real life superheroes do everything from patrolling the streets and paying parking meter fines, to cutting the blocks off cars with an angle grinder.  Many do little more than visit hospitals to talk to kids and champion various causes.  Never let it be said that volunteering with kids at a hospital is a bad thing .

The problems with this approach are legion.  Even the crime-patrolling supes are doing little more than what citizen vigilante group the Guardian Angels has been doing for years – just in cooler gear.  On the other hand, Guardian Angels have died at the hands of police and criminals and they’ve suffered the problems that any vigilante organization does.   The only place I’ve actually seen the Guardian Angels in action personally is post-Katrina New Orleans where they were almost universally loathed by the residents I spoke to.    Replace the capes and tights fetishism with a desire to play soldier, and you’ve got the ideologically troubling Minutemen who patrol the United States’ border with Mexico – often armed.

The flip side of KICK-ASS’ “rocket launchers and jetpacks” fictional real-life superheroism is Brian Bendis’ SCARLET which tells the story of a Portland teen, who when her boyfriend is killed by corrupt police, begins killing cops and organizing a community of like-minded people to fight institutionalized corruption.  It’s a story that showcases how Real Life Superheroism could could veer into armed vigilantism:  What if I want to be the Punisher or the Boondock Saints instead of Batman?

Still, the current of what I call autosuperheroism has been running pretty strongly through media recently.  I love superheroes and a lot of folks do as well; there’s a reason the movies do well and the books are the life-support of a sick publishing industry.  Superheroes are awesome, especially when divorced from the fascist power fantasies and stripped to a core of “we can do extraordinary things if we try”.  (The “auto” part comes in from embracing the idea that nobody else is going to rescue us – we’re going to have to do it ourselves.)  It could be just a thing from my personal sample-group and the cross-section of the internet I live in – where activism, comics, social-justice, sustainability and futurism cross-over – but there really seems to be an autosuperheroic vibe out there right now.

“Something is going on there, a strange collapse. Like you said, more and more people want to become superheroes, even as comic-book writers and filmmakers have spent the last 10 years trying to make superheroes much more real, relatable and convincing.”

We can all be Batman?

As I said elsewhere, the transformation of Batman into Batman, Inc allowed the Batman brand to act where Batman was not present.  I compared it to MEND in its ability to self-organize and be embraced by previously unaffiliated entities.  There’s a core to that mobility and the ethos that a “Batman, Inc” would propagate that I believe can be adopted in a very real and practical way that is strangely far more literal than dressing up as a bat.

While traditionally visible mostly to marginalized subcultures and groups, the collapse of infrastructure in the Western World (especially America) has been increasingly visible over the last few years.  Here in the US, we got to watch a city drown while the government watched and did almost nothing to intervene as well as other glaring examples of the people “we” were told would “save us” not being there when needed.  In the medwest, cities like Gary and Detroit start to wither on the vine as “we” watch.  So many people I know suddenly had the idea, even if it was one that didn’t blow their minds, that in the event of an emergency there may not be anyone to save them.

Meanwhile, everyone’s 15 minutes of fame continues to be parceled in 10-second bursts and the participatory panopticon becomes the norm of the interconnected world, offering media prosthetics in exchange for perpetually being in a low-watt spotlight.    It’s a confluence of media influences and environmental stresses that could just make taking pages from the four-colour playbook look like a good idea.

In a world where prosthetic identities are commonplace, we can all be rockstars – and superheroes are rockstars that help people.  Being something bigger than ourselves isn’t a superhuman feat in a world where Twitter lets you crowdsource solutions in seconds behind an @-handle that may be more recognizable than your birth name.

Geek culture helps birth Maker culture.  Suddenly “makerspaces” are viable community resources.  Highly-networked organizations like Burners without Borders, Geeks Without Bounds and various Worldchanging spin-offs can leverage that networking to react quickly to problems and use local resources to help solve problems when infrastructure, for whatever reason  fails.   People who couldn’t give two tugs about Bruce Wayne are able to use their media footprint and digital prosthetics to organize in a way that stands to have real lasting impact on actual human lives.  The lesson from Batman, Inc becomes:  The ability to mobilize along the lines of 4th Generational Warfare – even, or especially in non-combat circumstances - is a superpower.

I have friends who are Street Medics; tossing on colorful tough clothes to go out into violent situations and help the wounded.    Wikileaks, love them or hate them, is a team of people (many with secret identities) that manages to keep whole governments on their toes using volunteers, donations and support from the crowd milling about the internet.  (Sadly, that description fits terrorist networks such as Al-Quadea, as well.  The same technologies and social structures that allow a previously unthinkable ability to leverage distributed resources – often in spite of geography – are also the things that allow wide-scale disruption and crime.)

The same current that gives us real life superheroes trying to help others spawns variants when it hits other spheres of interest.   Zombie lovers teach preparedness  in the US while the LARPers at a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. event in Russia get lessons on firearms handling and wilderness survival. (And those very real people who make their living within the real Chernobyl Exclusion Zone take on the name “Stalkers” co-opting the parlance of the movie and the video games.)   Tactical fashion slides into mainstream consciousness via William Gibson’s Zero History.  I can’t be the only one who sees in the “gear queer” fetishism an acknowledgement that the normal trappings of military lifestyle are associated with a machine that is ill-prepared for the world around it.  And if the military is losing its legitimacy – then we should do it ourselves, right? (Or at least look like we could.)

In the end, stripped of the technical language and self-upgrading futurist posturing, the idea that we can all be Batman if we want to is a valid one.   Batman is a man who took the darkest thing in his life and turned it into a superpower – who here doesn’t have a loss or tragedy that they wouldn’t like to weaponize or utilize to improve the environment?   Superheroes are a secular pantheon that instead of sitting above us unattainably, move through our lives as stories and challenge us to emulate them and join them.  They are an artistic transmission vector for the program of a finer world.  Batman will be punching things long after we’re all dead or uploaded; Batman, Incorporated or no Batman, Inc.  A brand is a story – a story that is often used to disenfranchise humans and  make the world a little less than it could be, sadly.  The idea of Batman as a brand is the idea of the narrative of Batman being able to help others in the absence of a Physical Batman.  Just like the prosthetic identities and micro-brands we use and generate ourselves are stories.   Just as I hope the story I tell in order to feel out the interconnected world is one that might help someone, somehow – the story of Batman is that of someone using their broken heart to help the person standing next to them.

We’ve all got broken hearts, and we’re all standing next to people who could use help.

We can all be Batman.

You can even wear the cape, if you want.

Pimp My Gimp

Posted by on August 25th, 2010

In happy news, it seems the returning vets from OS wars are owning their prostheses; far from hiding them, they are doing everything to ‘pimp them out’.

Which this Doonesbury strip captures:

(Click thru for higher rez)

This via Rob ‘Eyeborg’ Spence, who is seeking a suitable female volunteer to create a real-life Cherry Darling from Death Proof.

The Pixel Singularity

Posted by on July 29th, 2010

Today’s Diesel Sweeties:

A Doktor Sleepless Panel

Posted by on August 18th, 2009

Panel preview, sent by the mysterious 13:

There have been clues in a few places, including the secret Doktor Sleepless community.

iScreener – Abstruse Goose on the future of dating

Posted by on February 18th, 2009

As cnawan tweeted:  “I’ll bet in a year or two this won’t qualify as a joke any more

iScreener *

Out this week – DOKTOR SLEEPLESS #10

Posted by on December 15th, 2008

Thrills, chills and more Sarah Berlin?

Image via Avatar Press‘ flickr.

Everything Old (in your Headmeats) is New Again!

Posted by on December 5th, 2008

Hensch and his collaborators have now found that basket-cell development is controlled by a protein called Otx2. Overexpressing this protein can trigger a critical period of plasticity, while removing Otx2 halts it. While the findings are specific to the visual system, Hensch notes that different sensory systems also possess basket cells, and those might function the same way.

A second mechanism for manipulating neural plasticity in adults is blocking inhibitory molecules that the nervous system produces to stop neural growth. “The nervous system is hostile to growing new axons [the long neural projections that connect cells], which is why recovery after spinal-cord injury is so challenging,” says Hensch. 

Myelin cells, which form an insulating layer around axons, secrete some of these inhibitory molecules. By experimenting with certain drugs that loosen myelin, Hensch and his collaborators found they could make the normally stable visual system of adult rodents become plastic again, allowing amblyopic rodents to recover. (However, the drug used in the study is toxic, making it unlikely to be a useful therapy.)

     The article goes on, in brief, to explore the possible links between brain plasticity and autisim and the possible downsides of re-engaging the brain’s “plastic” state at later ages.    

You know, it’s not hard science by any stretch of the imagination, but I can’t help but think of Grant Morrison’s claims that A) Mr. Fantastic uses his powers to enhance his brain’s plasticity, and B) that Mr. Fantastic has Asperger Syndrome.


have I told you about how nerds destroy the world? no joke.

Posted by on November 17th, 2008

Here at Pictures For Sad Children, they talk of many things…afterlife and hallicinations. Probably carpenters and kings too. But this especially made me smile. Not in the nice way.

And just so we’re clear, it’s a ghost doing all the talking. Not a pickle.




Transhuman #3

Posted by on August 13th, 2008

    - photo from imagecomics.com

Transhuman #3 is out today (or tomorrow) depending on your locale.

Picked it up yet? I would – it contains interesting revelations about the company.

No Hero – you will buy this too

Posted by on August 7th, 2008

Re-tweeting, I mean re-blogging, Warren; for the five of you that don’t read his site too.

NO HERO #0, the first chapter of the story, is still available — if your local comics store doesn’t have a copy, ask them to order it for you, it’s only one American dollar.

NO HERO #1 is coming in a few weeks.

no hero#1 cover

AlsoDoktor Sleepless#8 is coming soon.

Artificial Silk Ducts

Posted by on April 29th, 2008

Is it just me, or does it seem like the future we’re heading towards is written by Stan Lee? After the marvels of snake like robots, German scientists have created a glass chip that spins silk by emulating a spider’s silk ducts.

Spiders’ silk ducts contain glands that process a gel of simple proteins into long fibres of protein. Different glands alter the chemistry of the gel in different ways, producing silk with different properties. The artificial duct is a glass chip shot through with tiny tubes that tries to mimic those processes. The team has not tested the artificial silk’s mechanical properties, but its grainy appearance suggests it does not yet rival the quality of the real thing. Refinements are underway with the goal of making industrial quantities of artificial silk.

Can’t be long now until some geeky lab technician wires a prototype up to some wristbands to impress the ladies.

The future? Make mine Marvel!

from New Scientist

upload DOKTOR SLEEPLESS#6 into your brain… NOW!

Posted by on April 9th, 2008

Sprint! Don’t run, don’t walk, to grab your copy now.

And I don’t want to hear any of this “oh, but I’m waiting for the trade” nonsense. That won’t be out for months; probably October at the earliest.

Trust me, delicious feast though it will be, you don’t want to wait that long.

So if you haven’t made your way to this site from reading the adventures of Doktor, what are you waiting for?

Don’t you want to be happy like me? :D

Otto Octavius: Nothing will stand in our way! NOTHING!

Posted by on April 6th, 2008

Er, sorry, got a bit carried away there.  But I get this weird feeling looking at the robot snake developed by the Carnegie Mellon University, which can wiggle its way inside a body and perform cardiac ablations:

It’s controlled by a joystick at the moment sure, but how long before someone tries to graft one (or four) on to their spinal column, huh?

Calming down now, Technology Review reports how

It has 102 degrees of freedom, three of which can be activated at once. This allows it to enter through a single point in the chest and wrap around the heart until it reaches the right spot to, say, remove problematic tissue.

This pic shows the CardioArm moving around inside the membrane encasing a pig’s heart (successful cardiovascular surgeries has been performed on nine pigs and two human cadavers, with live human trials due to start later in the year).  Ok.  Feeling better now.  But hang on, what else do the researchers say?

The team hopes to start testing the CardioArm in natural-orifice surgery–a technique where tissues are removed through existing openings in the body, such as the mouth, to avoid postoperative pain and reduce recovery time… and aim to have surgeons use CardioArms in unison, like “an octopus, with two or three tentacles” all entering through one incision and then branching out.

Watch out, webhead.

Blog Post of the Day (well, last Friday)

Posted by on March 2nd, 2008

On Pulp 2.0:

My Gawd!

Will someone please get this man a computer?!

I miss his posts telling me, “Don’t look.”

It’s too damn quiet…

OT: Garfield without Garfield

Posted by on February 25th, 2008

As a kid, I loved Peanuts, but I hated Garfield.  He was just so mean, and being a sensitive kid (yeah, yeah) I just didn’t get it.

So the work of Garfield Minus Garfield, in systematically removing the cat from the comic strips, is both a vindication and, actually, quite weird.  As noted on the site “Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life?”

Add the RSS stream today!

Episode 000A

Posted by on February 11th, 2008

FreakAngels.  Be Ready.

A free webcomics saga told in 5-page weekly installments, written by Warren Ellis with art by Paul Duffield. Launch date: 02/15/08.