Why the Option to Kill Hookers in GTA is Not Misogynistic


During the era of Grand Theft Auto IV, which takes place in a fictional representation of New York City, I moved to the real New York City. Fellow-blogger Jeff and I had fun driving through pixellated Times Square and lobbing grenades at innocent people. It was fascinating how much locations looked like the real-life counterparts I was seeing in person even when they weren’t labeled, like the Court Square Diner. I would order in from Court Square on weekend mornings, and had a good turkey club there with Jeff and our friend Shawn before exploring the fine wares at a nearby dildo purveyor. I never lobbed grenades at Court Square Diner, nor attacked it in the game either.

Today is the release date for Grand Theft Auto V, which takes place in Southern California, and I am a few months away from moving to Southern California. My life, it seems, follows the trajectory of Grand Theft Auto. The series, though, is marred by a controversial history: anti-video-game politicians have consistently used it as an example of poor-morals entertainment due to its violence, and one nugget that never fails to come up in alarmist detractors’ accusations of gross misogyny is the fact that prostitutes can be hired in-game, and also killed.

Today I have the dubious honor of defending that game element from misogynistic charges.

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The Men Who Shame At Scapegoats


In his newly released book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” Jon Ronson takes a few jabs at “pop psychology” writers like Malcolm Gladwell and Jonah Lehrer, at times for over-simplifying complex issues and at times for craftily including a “self-help” element in all their books. Because Ronson is smart, funny, and often self-deprecating, I’ll assume it was with a knowing wink – and perhaps even deeper irony – that he titled his own book like a self-help pamphlet, but it isn’t just a joke. Much of the book does actually focus on questions of how to help: how to help people recover their lives, recover their reputations, recover their will to live, after tragedy strikes.

What kind of tragedy? Ronson, of “The Psychopath Test” and “The Men Who Stare At Goats” fame, tackles a relatively contemporary topic: What happens when people are torn apart on social media? He especially focuses on Twitter, whose denizens most act as a righteous brigade, setting forth to right what wrongs they perceive in mob form and leaving shattered lives in their wake: shattered lives they quickly forget.

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Spoilers for Life

Spoiled Brats by Simon Rich

The “conceit,” or unifying thematic idea, behind Simon Rich’s Spoiled Brats is not simply “Millennials are spoiled” or “Millennials are silly,” as so many surface-skimming reviews and blurbs suggest. Rather, some stories in the collection, like a piece where aging parents are represented by prideful, over-the-hill chimpanzees, and one where they are oblivious, backward-looking ghosts in the modern world, poke fun and point a thoughtful eye towards the older generations as well. The object of exploration here is interaction and change: between generations, between individuals and groups, between the young and their changing ideas of themselves, between dreams and the pragmatic onslaught of maturity in the real world, between a person, culture, and life.

And the real “conceit” that Rich employs is a fun one: extreme, exaggerated what-if scenarios played for dry humor, like a teenager’s self-absorbed obsession with her shallow relationship during her study-abroad semester on Venus, where alien races are engaged in a fierce and genocidal battle. Or a rock band of young adults on the cusp of pursuing more practical life paths like law school and finance being visited by the literal Angel of Death at their big show (it’s not what you think).

All of these idea seeds are brought into intelligent, self-aware short stories that play as fun speculative shorts on their own – and most of them will make you laugh out loud in your pajamas, like it or not. Together, though, they create an extended allegory that speaks to the unique and yet universal experience of growing up – in your late 20s – in a world with mixed feeling about us Millennials: some justified, some not, some simple, some as complex as the strange places we inhabit.

I defended Millennials in a previous post on this blog in response to a viral article that I felt grossly over-simplified and pandered to generalizations that, in most of the individual cases I personally know, simply aren’t true. I also highlighted there that in addition to the broad brush-strokes of our joint negative traits, there are broad brush-strokes of positive traits: the level of supportiveness we exhibit towards each other, the earnest desire to make the world a better place through activism and choice, the eagerness with which we hold onto a drive for personal growth and cultivation.

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One Must Change or Die


Studies have shown smell is the most evocative sense for remembering, just like it’s the most evocative sense for sex. I knew this before they proved it, though, and maybe so did you if you think about it. The smell of a place, of a person, of a time: it doesn’t really “take you back” or “throw you” into anything, which would be the trite things to say. It doesn’t. What it does, in my experience, is it suddenly, sneakily, altogether implicates you – it accuses, interpellates, decries you with the realization that you were a previous version of yourself once. It’s a sense so sharp and bare it grazes guilt, teases embarrassment. Oh.

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The Lonely Calculus


On Thanksgiving Day, I fantasized about calling the suicide prevention hotline. I didn’t really want to kill myself; I just wanted someone to talk to. I thought about that: someone you can just call. I imagined their voice on the other side of the line, a friendly woman’s. Someone robust, grounded, like the mother of a clan of rowdy kids, overweight and earthy. “Hello?” I would say kind of cautiously.

“What’s your name?” the voice would ask, opening up with indestructible, caring warmth.

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Major Questions for a New Captain


The success of the original “Iron Man” in 2008 heralded the coming of the new filmic “Marvel” universe and a resurgent slew of superhero movies, but one of the things that made it so compelling was the modern tonal realism of its opening: before any robots or monsters take the stage, we are introduced to our protagonist traveling with very-recognizable American soldiers in a very-recognizable Middle East before being captured and filmed as a hostage by masked and turbaned terrorists.

No longer were superheroes insulated from the current world of political conflict, or magically sublimated into a world similar to ours where the forces that would do us harm are always giant crocodiles or thickly-accented next-wave Nazis. The idea of a mythical hero-character who could engage with the complex actual threats of today transcended the inherent escapism and silliness of superheroes long enough for a wide audience to be intrigued.

By this month’s release of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” that connection to actual threats of today has been lost, supplanted along the way by Norse villain-gods, alien armies, and – yes – Nazis, once more. What has not been left behind, however, is a concern with the ideological and political paradigms that young, liberal, contemporary audiences grapple with. The first plot shakings in the new Captain America pit an indignant Captain arguing against Nick Fury’s deployment of all-seeing, pre-emptive security-military giant flying warships. What? Guns aren’t always good?

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Point Conversion


“The University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill has already been embroiled in a scandal for allowing its athletes to enroll in fake courses for easy credit. Now, the whole controversy has a rather potent visual symbol to go along with it: a 146-word, ungrammatical essay on Rosa Parks that earned an A- for a real intro class.” – Slate, 03/27/2014

“Even as their spending on instruction, research and public service declined or stayed flat, most colleges and universities rapidly increased their spending on sports, according to a report being released Monday” – New York Times, 04/07/2014

The Campus Guide led us down the promenade, the artificially-created pond at the North-most edge of the extended quad glistening a clear, pure shade of whitish blue in the soft sunlight of summer.

“I hear the equipment in your labs is a cut above,” I mentioned to make conversation. “Reg was really excited about being on the cutting edge.”

Reg, a step ahead, looked back at me with unbridled teenage hatred, and I couldn’t help but smile: whether by defense mechanism or natural perversion, my natural reaction over the past 17 years to his enraged bemusement regarding his father’s sense of humor. Of course, Reg was the only one who got it anyway, because no one else on the tour knew his ultimate goal was to become a surgeon.

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