Author Archives: Aaron J. Waltke

The Strange Case of The “Shut Up, Little Man!” Phenomenon

When evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the word “meme” in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, he intended it for one, very specific purpose: to describe how ideas or behaviors could spread within a society and change over time through the process of natural selection.

The premise of memetics (or the study of memes) was a simple one: ideas that are interesting and novel tend to flourish and propagate, while the bad ones disappear into obscurity. These “good” ideas are then passed on to other people, who modify them as they try to understand them. They, in turn, bestow their own version of the idea onto others, and the cycle begins anew.  And so it has gone for thousands of years.

But then audio cassettes, camcorders, and the Internet were invented.

Suddenly, anyone could reproduce exact copies of their voice, writing or image with very little cost or difficulty. There was no mutation, only replication.  The tools of mass media were now in the hands of those who consumed it. It was no longer an organic evolution of ideas. It was a revolution.

Dawkins went out the window.

Flash forward thirty years. Today, our concept of a “meme” is usually a grainy video we watched online this morning of a teenager shattering his pelvis in a parkour accident, or perhaps a painfully addictive looping animation of a singing cat with a Pop Tart body zooming through space.

In filmmaker Matthew Bate’s provocative new documentary, Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure, we’re given a front row seat to the birthing pains of what is now known as the “viral” pop-culture phenomenon, back in the early days of pre-online America.

Read the rest of this entry

Frank Herbert’s DUNE: The Drinking Game!

Sandworms Love it, Fremen Approve!

Around a year and a half ago, I was out at a local pub with a few friends of mine (Editor’s Note: Just say the writing staff of Nonstop Karate. -Ed.) when we all began reminiscing about the books and movies that truly inspired our childhoods.  Most had been adequately represented in today’s culture by reboots, sequels, prequels, and gritty reimaginings; that is to say, the traditional way to honor anything that was remotely successful or “good” in the past.

One franchise that we realized hadn’t really gotten much attention lately (aside from a tepidly received SyFy channel mini-series) was Frank Herbert’s wildly popular 1965 science fiction series, “Dune”.

So we did the only thing we could think of to rectify the situation. We turned it into a drinking game.

The game you are about to learn about can be quite fun, although to be honest it has only been played once amongst my circle of friends, and even then in a very prototypical form (as in we were inventing it as it was played.) If nothing else, you will get drunk pretending to be an alien worm-riding space baron.

Be aware that this is isn’t one of those terrible “games” where you watch the film adaptation and take a shot every time someone says “spice”.  This is a true gentlemen’s sport with real, complex rules. A game of strategy and nuance. And beers.  Lots of beers.

If you’ve never heard of “Dune” or you don’t like getting wasted with a group of idiots, you should probably just stop reading now.

If you like one or both of those things, read on! Read the rest of this entry

A Breakdown of Hidden Meanings in Penny Arcade’s New Webcomic, “The Trenches”

Approximately three weeks ago, the creators of the popular video game webcomic Penny Arcade announced they were forming a partnership with Scott Kurtz, the rival creator of another popular video game webcomic called PvP.

Together, they would be collaborating on an exciting new online project.  This experiment promised to break boundaries, rewrite narrative tradition and usher audiences into a new age of art and illustration.

After countless speculation, this undertaking was soon revealed to be… another video game webcomic.

A webcomic called The Trenches.

Thus far, a total of five entries have been released under the Trenches’ relatively young banner.  In the following essay, it is my aim to examine and illuminate the profound metadata woven throughout these few digital pages and show the astonishing complexity that this webcomic already challenges us with.

Some of you may balk at this article. You might claim it is too early to provide any formal analysis of a work that’s still in its relative infancy, let alone this one. I respectfully disagree.

I will demonstrate not only that The Trenches stands apart from its predecessors, but that by sheer richness of content, it surpasses all others in the pantheon of webcomics and, I daresay, can stand proudly amongst the grand output of all contemporary human culture.

Let us begin.

Comic #1: “Isaac” (8/9/11)

In “Isaac”, we are given a brief (but telling) first glimpse of our protagonist, Isaac Cox.  At a glance, this might appear to be a simple (if somewhat unmemorable) character introduction and nothing more. Man drives up. Man faxes resume. Man gives blithe joke to fulfill requirements of 3-panel structure.

I implore you to look again. Read the rest of this entry

Where Art Thou, Kaiju Monsters of Yesteryear?

You still have a place in the wellspring of my heart, old friends.

In 1954, a Japanese stuntman by the name of Haruo Nakajima wriggled into a suit made of 270 lbs. of stiff vulcanized rubber.  The limbs were inflexible and painful to wear, the body unventilated and stifling, and the tail pulled his spine into an unnatural curve.  Under the haze of dozens of halogen studio lamps in a cramped Tokyo soundstage, he paused until the instant he heard the director shout the repeated phrase “Haimemashou!” (“Begin the action!”)

With that, Nakajima began a dangerous game of filmmaking chicken — pushing himself to stay conscious in the extreme discomfort of the poorly-constructed costume and searing film lights… just long enough to destroy as many papier-mâché skyscrapers, cars, tanks, trains and villagers as possible before the overwhelming pain and exhaustion of the scene pushed him into heat stroke.

Several weeks later, in a separate soundstage, an actor by the name of Jiro Mitsuaki turned his gaze to the empty ceiling overhead as the cameras rolled on him,  awaiting him to summon every ounce of his strength to shout one, very strange word at the top of his lungs. He was to yell as loud as the condenser microphones could register. One word out of fear for his life. At the time, it was a nonsense word. But a terrifying one.

“GOJIRA!” he screamed. “GOJIRA! GOJIRA!” he shouted again and again.  Gojira. Literally translated, “Gorilla-Whale”. Nonsense.

Gojira. Read the rest of this entry

BOOK TRAILERS: A Delightful Look at the Tombstone of the Printed Word

A few weeks ago, Borders announced they were going out of business. Forever. All of their shops boarded up. Their wares liquidated. Their spaces emptied and converted into Orange Julius storage facilities.  Quite frankly, this is a devastating blow to the world of publishing and it saddens me deeply. “How could this happen?” you might wonder aloud.

Let’s use our imaginations for a moment, shall we? Read the rest of this entry

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