Isekonspiracy

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

I’m not a fan of most Isekai stories – stories of a person ending up in another world and are very prominent in manga and anime. Yes, there are wonderful genre classics like The Wizard of Oz and Fushigi Yuugi. There are good ones in today’s anime world, like the stellar The Faraway Paladin (watch it and prepare to cry). Too many of them get right up my nose as obvious power fantasies without much else beyond wish fulfillment.

Something else I’m not a fan of is conspiracy theories. I’ve watched them consume people’s minds, poison discourse, and lead to a violent attack on America’s Capitol. In a recent fit of contemplation and podcast-binging, I realized conspiracy theories are bad Isekai stories.

It is not a pleasant realization – and writing this made it more troubling.

First, both bad Isekai and conspiracy theories are about victimhood. The more pandering Isekai are about someone getting to be great, mighty, find revenge or whatever in their new world. Conspiracy theorists are also grievance-ridden and looking for someone to take it out on – and in their fantasies they hurt real people.

Isekai (good and bad) and conspiracy theories are oft about being special. That makes sense as a manga titled “I Went To Medieval Times And Died Of Disease” has a limited audience. However, in too many Isekai, the power trip is the point, leading to a story that only works if it pushes your buttons. I find this no different from how many conspiracy theorists believe they’re on a special mission from God or a secret agency to fight evil (when really they’re just toys of grifters).

Both Conspiracy theories and Isekai promise simplicity and are usually gamified. Many modern Isekai are based on game ideas and thus have obvious villains and heroic goals – defeat the Demon Lord, get the girl, etc. Conspiracy theories promise to make sense of the complex world and as scholars have noted resemble LARPS (Live Action Role Playing Games).

Finally, find a lot of bad Isekai dehumanizing and most conspiracy theories to be dehumanizing. Too much Isekai is about the hero you’re supposed to identify and a world of cardboard cutouts to knock around. Conspiracy theorists are glad to dehumanize people, sorting them into simple categories and wishing or bringing harm on people they’ve turned into props.

What I see in all of this is a need for escape.  The more pandering Isekai – as much as I critique them – are fulfilling a need.  Conspiracy theories fill similar needs but in a very destructive manner.  Somewhere in there is a mental place where someone starts a side into the darkness, and I wish I understood it better.

But at least with this insight, I have a chance to understand it a little more.

Steven Savage

Twitter, Social Media, And Tribes

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

The sale of Twitter to Elon Musk (which isn’t done due to the usual process) made me think, “yeah, time to rethink my social media use.”  I’ll share my thoughts, but first, a lesson about myself – and perhaps yourself.

I’m not leaving Twitter (yet), but I decided it was time to look at my social media use and other “microblogging options.”  So I went to open accounts at a mastodon site and counter.social, and found I already had accounts from five years ago.  Suddenly memories streamed back – I had planned this earlier.

I remember being concerned about Twitter and Facebook being the end-all-be-all of social media and had begun investigating other options.  How well did that go?  Well, I’m looking at five-year-old accounts I used for a few posts, so the answer is poorly.  Face it, Twitter was just easier (and we were glued to it during the last terrible administration)

I had been here before, so my first lesson is – never become so dependent on one social media site again.

Now onward to some more thoughts.

Steve’s Thoughts on Social Media Use

Humans work in tribes, but humans also like to build big things – like societies.  A healthy society comprises many interlinked “tribes” to both support each other and keep any one group from taking over.  A healthy society is linked together, communicates, and has people active in maintaining it.

My goal is to find, make, and link my tribes while playing a role in the larger society.  So next up, here’s the social media I’m thinking of:

Have A Website: Get a domain and use it.  Have a blog, a website, whatever.  Direct it to LinkedIn or to your Linktr.ee (very useful tool).  You want someplace people can find you, a home base, something – there are tools to set these things up easily.  It’s a place for your tribe to find you.

A Blog:  You may want a blog, which is easy to set up with WordPress.  Blogs are good ways to post things and you can set up an RSS feed for people to use.

Use an RSS Reader:  RSS may not be as big a deal as it was, but it’s invaluable to integrate information among sites.  I use www.NewsBlur.com not just for news but also friends blogs, etc.  It’s a way to be informed and keep up with my people.

Newsletters:  Newsletters are very underrated ways to stay in touch and build a tribe.  They give you a mailing list of people, they give you a way to stay in touch, and they allow for links, documents, and other useful info.  Learn how to send one (I started one for friends and family 16 years ago).  If you’re a writer or artist they’re invaluable.  Plus you may have ones for different “tribes.”

Video Chat: Zoom, Webex, whatever these things are great.  You can schedule regular meetups with people easily, share data, and so on.  I strongly recommend picking a platform or two – I even pay for Zoom for myself.

Chat: Chat programs are great ways to stay in touch and have a more regular “tribe.”  Discord, Slack, etc. are really good for that.  Way back when AOL shut down, my friends and I moved to Discord, and it was great.  You may or may not need them, but consider them if you maintain some active social groups.

Microblogging:  Even if Twitter has an unsure future, “microblogging” like this seems useful for people.  I don’t think it’s needed for everyone, but it may be useful for authors, people trying to reach others, etc.  I’d consider one of the various Mastodon instances, Counter.social – and don’t write off Twitter yet.

Facebook (sigh):  I am regrettably on it for reasons.  I don’t consider it necessary, it may not be for you, so I’ll leave it up to you.  However if money is an option, Facebook is free and has many of the above features.  Just remember you are the product.

Blog sites:  Twitter’s travails seem to be reviving Tumblr, and Pillowfort.social seems to show promise if growing slowly.  I think there’s a place for these for community building and information sharing, but you are dependent on another platform.  However you use these, remember to “back up your tribe” and find other ways to stay in touch with your community.

What I’m trying to do (read: revive my ideas of five years ago) is optimize how I use each of the above.  What tribe matters?  What purpose does each media serve?  How do I avoid over-dependence on any one?

You can guess you’ll probably read about it here.  Or five years from now if I fail again.

But before I finish up . . .

Engaging in Activism

I want you to find at least one form of activism to get involved in.  Donate, call, raise money, get out the vote, something that gets you involved.  It has several benefits.

  • First, you are able to do good.
  • Secondly, you build a tribe around things that matter – or find one you want to belong to.
  • Third, you learn how the world works (trust me, you don’t).
  • Fourth, you use the social media skills you developed above.
  • Fifth, you learn how tribes matter.

This is another subject to post on, but get involved.  It’s not easy (indeed, I could do it better), but it’s worth it.

Steven Savage

Everything Everywhere All At Once: Unspoilable Lessons

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I want to do a review of Everything Everywhere All At Once, the science-fiction drama-comedy starring Michele Yeoh. I want to review it as not only is it worth reviewing, the movie has many lessons for writers and media creators. However, there’s a problem – I don’t want to spoil any of it.

There is nothing in the film I want to risk spoiling because even minor things add to the experience. Each time I think “here’s an example” to communicate the feel of the film, it would ruin some of the delights.

Thus a challenge – reviewing a film you shouldn’t spoil to extract lessons we can use. How do you review a movie this good without ruining it a bit?

In a rather Taoist/Buddhist fashion, I’m turning poison into medicine here. I will explain why I shouldn’t spoil things and what those things teach us about making good media. Its “do not dare spoil nature” is a lesson about why it is good.

So you probably know the basics from the ads. Michele Yeoh plays a woman, and somehow multiple universes and martial arts action are involved. That’s it. Now let’s see why Everything Everywhere All At Once works in a way that won’t tell you a damn thing about what happens.

Here’s why the movie works and what to learn.

The Right Cast:  Saying casting is “perfect” is trite, especially when you have, well, Michele Yeoh. But the entire cast is excellent, and dare I say at least one of them eclipses Michele Yeoh. Each person brings their all to the role and creates many personal, subtle moments. It’s these meaningful moments that are things I don’t want to spoil

Use of Location:  Locations are characters all their own as well as tools of narration and backstory. Everything Everywhere All At Once puts its locations to use, even down to the props, as they can tell stories. A poster, table, desk, or piece of junk can all say something to the audience. Location can and should matter – I just don’t want to go into detail because it spoils.

Emotional Truth: The commercials for Everything Everywhere All At Once are quite wild. But in that wildness are some core, powerful, emotional truths – “throughlines” if you were, weaving the wildness together. A good film sticks with you – and a day later, I was discussing not the scenes from advertisements but the characters and their feelings.  And I’m not telling you about those feelings, you have to see for yourself to “get it.”

The Chosen Form:  Building on that emotional truth, one fantastic thing about Everything Everywhere All At Once could be told in other genres. The chosen form (sci-fi action) was just one of many choices with which to do it. I find a good story, a good emotional truth, could exist in any form – and you can tell if it could or not. 

Use of Direction:  Everything Everywhere All At Once is exceptionally well-directed (if you’ve seen any ads, you can tell it has to be). There’s a fearlessness to the wild stylings and effects, a confidence, that makes the film work. Honestly, few directors could have done this – Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert were amfazing.

As crazy as Everything Everywhere All At Once may look, it is rock-solid in what it does – and what we learn from it. Have an emotionally resonant story, implemented well in your chosen genre, where location allows great actors to tell a relatable tale. There’s nothing in it that we haven’t heard before, but it’s done very well.

Now I hope you go out and see it – but afterward, don’t spoil. Leave others to be as surprised as you will most assuredly be.

Steven Savage