FLAPJACKS: So should I sign up for Nerd Block or Loot Crate?
MGK: Is there a third option that involves not spending your money on either of those things?
FLAPJACKS: Look, I am a still-relatively-young man with no dependents. If I don’t spend my money on meaningless, superfluous crap, what am I going to do with it? Invest it into a savings account of some kind?
MGK: I know you’re being sarcastic, but the fact that I want to say “yes” there makes me feel old now.
FLAPJACKS: Exactly so. You are an old nerd and you forget the days when you spent money on stupid crap. Or, alternately, alcohol.
MGK: Alcohol dissolves away after killing only a few brain cells. Nerd crap clutters up your room and eventually your storage unit forever. Most of it isn’t even biodegradable. And yes, I spent money on stupid crap, but at least I was purposefully spending money on specific stupid crap that I wanted, rather than, for example, gambling that stuff I want is also the stuff that a third-party distributor was able to buy at reduced prices because not enough nerds bought it at full price.
FLAPJACKS: I have to admit, that gamble does not seem like a smart gamble, seeing as how people generally buy things they want to own if they can afford it.
MGK: Exactly. What are the odds that the one gianthead POP! figure that I might actually want is the one in the box? What are the odds that the black nerd-themed tee-shirt in the box is a shirt I want?
FLAPJACKS: Nerds do love black tee-shirts, though, so for the target audience the shirt is -
MGK: It’s a tee-shirt! THEY ARE LITERALLY GIVEN AWAY FOR FREE ALL THE TIME.
FLAPJACKS: But even so, any tee-shirt has some value. And the various things within the box are going to have a higher collected retail price than the price of the shipping box.
MGK: How many Loot Crate or Nerd Block unboxing videos have you watched?
FLAPJACKS: Literally none.
MGK: I have watched many of them, mostly out of morbid fascination, and I can tell you that every single one of these unboxing videos is the same. You get two or three “well… that’s okay” reactions because nobody wants to call out Dork Box for being bullshit, one or two “all right, that’s cool I guess” reactions when it’s something they sort of think is neat but didn’t really care to own, and about one time in three you see somebody actually get really, genuinely excited about something in their Geek Pak, which is the Happy Coincidence result.
FLAPJACKS: I have noticed that usually, the items that excited people are books or comics, because almost everybody can find value in a book or a comic. Because you can read those, as opposed to just having it sit on your shelf.
MGK: I thought you just said you have watched literally no unboxing videos.
FLAPJACKS: I might have lied. But really, I think you’re missing the point of the Spaz Luggage. You’re reducing it to a faux-tribal thing -
MGK: It is a faux-tribal thing. It’s entirely about delivering the idea of “nerd culture,” which is a stupid idea that exists only because cynical manufacturers of crap which eventually goes into Stash Containers can make money off people by suggesting that they’re a specific subculture because some of them like the same TV shows.
FLAPJACKS: Maybe, but that’s not the real selling point. At least, I don’t think it’s the primary attraction of buying into this.
MGK: Do go on.
FLAPJACKS: People are spending the money so they can recapture the feeling of being a little kid at Christmas. When you were a little kid at Christmas, you didn’t know what you were getting for presents. You just got things -
MGK: Assuming you weren’t poor.
FLAPJACKS: Yes yes you’re a social justice warrior, ANYWAY, they were the best things ever because they were yours and you got to open them and discover what they were. Little kids just like broad swaths of things so if you give a kid a superhero thing, ANY superhero thing, that kid is all “SUPERHEROES YES” and then they jump up and down a bit because they’re happy. As adults, we don’t experience that. We instead know what we’re going to get in advance on our birthdays, if anything. Surprises are rarities. Dweeb Post is selling experience, not crap.
MGK: And they’re also cleverly making you pay for it in advance so that when you receive it, it “feels free.” But it isn’t; it has an opportunity cost, both in terms of the money you spend and also in terms of the superfluous crap you don’t want but inevitably get and the excess packaging you have to throw away. Why does anybody subscribe to this on an ongoing basis? Is the hit of joy when you, on one occasion, get something you really like worth three months of the nerd equivalent of thinking “sweat socks. Thanks, Grandma”?
FLAPJACKS: I dunno. So which one should I sign up for?
MGK: Neither of them, since I know you’re going to use my credit card.
Macedonia. This is very pretty, I think, but “pretty” isn’t really what needs to be in a national anthem – it has to sound attractive and melodic, of course, but you need that sense of bombast and this anthem is almost restrained. I mean, come on guys, Alexander the Great conquered like half the planet, you can at least give us some boom boom boom in the anthem. Or, failing that, in your room. 71
Madagascar. At first I thought this anthem sounded awfully polka, and then I read that Malagasy musicians often play this anthem on their accordions and I knew it was polka. Short, though, so points for that. 55
Malawi. You have to admire any African nation which specifically entreats to God in their anthem to be free from hunger and disease. That shows a remarkable sense of priorities. 78
Malaysia. It’s a good stirring anthem, but it’s a little weird in that it specifically programs that it is “progressive” and then blesses the King, which is just all over the place in terms of political science. Also: bold affirmation of having spilled blood for the country. Man, Malaysia, tone it down a little. 34
Maldives. Honestly, given that Maldives is basically a bunch of rocks in the middle of the Pacific that may cease to exist in the next century, I am really very impressed they even have an anthem, even if the musical background sounds like an old British sporting program introduction from the 1960s. 55
Mali. LOUD LOUD LOUD soft soft LOUD LOUD. Man, Kurt Cobain was totally ripping off Mali! 74
Malta. AKA “the anthem John Williams ripped off for the theme from Jurassic Park.” Once you hear it, you can’t unhear it! But at least Williams steals only from quality sources. Lovely bit of work here. 87
Marshall Islands. The woodwinds sound whiny and plaintive in this one, but that’s what you expect from a country that only exists because of a free association pact with the United States. Those woodwind players are probably experts at sounding just solemn enough that you can’t get mad at them when they request an interest-free loan. 28
Mauritania. Playful and weird and doesn’t sound like any other national anthem going. This is the Bjork of national antheming. 90
Mauritius. Most countries have distinguishing elements in their lyrics to tell you what their people really love about their country. Mauritius’ national anthem’s only distinguishing element is a reference to the sweetness of the country’s fragrance. Mauritius: the country where the citizens want you to know it smells really good. 42
Mexico. Mexico’s anthem is really good in all sorts of ways: it’s distinctive, it’s got the right amount of bombast mixed with the right amount of solemnity, doesn’t go hog-wild on the brass but doesn’t ignore the need for brass – really, so much to compliment. Except it’s so goddamn long. Seriously, this one goes on forever. Longer than a title card crawl in a Star Wars movie that features the Trade Federation. 74
Micronesia. WHAT IS THIS. 00
Moldova. Their entire national anthem is about their language, which is remarkably stirring and makes for a fascinating anthem. And it’s a nice, singable one too. The only problem is that Moldova’s language is Romanian, or to put it another way, somebody else’s language. Which makes this very nice anthem the equivalent of talking about how great your neighbour’s lawnmower is. 77
Monaco. Man, Monaco went all in on their national anthem being a march, didn’t they? I mean, most anthems are fairly marchy, but this is a march’s march right here. I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to perform it within Monaco’s borders without some prancing horses present. 80
Mongolia. ONE: it starts off with a motherfucking gong. TWO: it literally assigns credit for all of the “world’s great deeds” to Mongolia. Three: it is entirely willing to be xenophobic and talk about protecting the nation’s bloodlines. This anthem has BALLS OF STEEL. 91
Montenegro. Did anybody tell them that if you write your anthem in a minor key it sounds like a villain’s musical theme? No? Somebody should tell them that. 39
Morocco. I don’t like describing a national anthem as “sly” but listen to it and tell me that’s not exactly the right word for it. Not, like, devious or anything, I am not trying to play to ethnic stereotypes, but it’s definitely an anthem that knows its way around the shady parts of town. 63
Mozambique. I’m not gonna say anything mean about it because their flag has a gun on it and that’s scary. 91
Namibia. Has excellent taste in plainly pointing out that, while their willingness to spill blood to protect their country is noble, it’s still something that marks a weird contrast with the natural beauty of the land itself, what with violence being at best a necessary evil and all. This sort of self-awareness is rare in national anthems. 85
Nauru. Rips off whole chunks of “O Canada,” but then again Nauru has like maybe 10,000 people on it so I think we can afford to lend it to them. I mean, they are stealing from the best. Like John Williams, who is probably of Nauru ancestry if you think about it. 90
Nepal. This anthem is so amazingly praising of diversity (“we are all flowers in a gigantic garden” type of diversity) in a sort of middle-school way it is frankly impressive. Especially when you consider that Nepal is basically a giant melting pot of hundreds of mid-Asiatic cultures. You have to sort of love that, don’t you? It might be sappy, but they earned it. 82
The Netherlands. Odd in that it is an anthem entirely sung from the perspective of William of Orange, especially weird given that it appears to be written from his perspective before he led the Dutch Revolt, so that it explains that he is completely loyal to Spain and always has been. Has anybody mentioned this to the Dutch? Or to the Spanish for that matter? Because that is weird. Like, you couldn’t have picked a William of Orange maybe ten years into the Eighty Years’ War who woulda been all “hell with the Spanish, we’re the best”? That would be much more anthemically appropriate, although doubtless it would be the same tedious, droning anthem. 12
New Zealand. Normally I try to do these with a non-performance clip but all the non-performance clips of the New Zealand anthem feature this incredibly cheesy synth so instead I went with a live performance, but that’s not really the point: the point is that New Zealand consciously decided to incorporate Maori into their anthem rather than just being “no it’s traditional to be English only wah wah wah” and that is pretty great. More countries should do that, mine included. 97
Nicaragua. Just goes all over the place like a drunken sailor – fast bits, slow bits, high bits, low bits, can’t make up its mind. 40
Niger. Most of this one is too sedate, just a nice low-key strings section, and although it has its peaks it’s not dramatic enough for the rest of it to impact. The triumphant BOOM BOOM BOOM at the end feels unearned. 32
Nigeria. A wholly unremarkable anthem in every possible way. This is a store-brand national anthem. There is literally nothing surprising about this anthem at all. If Michael Bolton wrote national anthems they would be more interesting than this. 20
Northern Cyprus. Man, this is awfully unassuming for the national anthem of a nation-state whose existence is debated and which is likely to cause a war at some point. 50
Norway. It’s a lovely choral anthem, but it’s got this odd scolding tone to it, given that it basically says “and think of your poor parents! They worked hard for this country you know! It wouldn’t hurt you to pray a little more too!” 84
So LeBron James is opting out of his contract with the Miami Heat, and of course on Twitter the result was the regularly-expected storm of condemnation. Partially this is leftover blowback from “The Decision,” which everybody hated because LeBron arrogantly decided to reveal an enormous piece of sporting news on national television (and in the process forced ESPN to donate millions to charity, something most people forget). But partially it’s the result of two mindsets towards professional athletes, neither of which is terribly healthy.
The first mindset is distinctly authoritarian in tone, which is to say: “LeBron owes the fans.” The question of how much LeBron or any player owes their fans is, of course, never quantified, because the operating principle behind this mindset is that LeBron or any other professional athlete should just be goddamned grateful that they get to play a game and be paid money to do so. The second mindset is dismissive (and far more prevalent on the left side of the political spectrum, where jokes about “sportsball” are annoyingly common from people who should frankly have more common sense than to disparage something many people enjoy simply because it’s not their thing) and stems from the idea that professional athletes don’t deserve the money they earn because professional sports themselves are bad.
What is common to both mindsets is that athletes are, in some way, different from other workers. In fairness, this is true in some ways: in North America most athletes are still unionized, which makes them relative outliers on the labour spectrum, and have levels of job protection that most people cannot get any more. But that doesn’t change the nature of the fact that professional athletes are still labourers, and in many ways more purely exemplify the value of labour in the labour-capital relationship more than any other business you can conceive. After all, if you don’t have players, then you don’t have a sport. And yet, in professional sports, most leagues only have half of the revenue at most going to the players without whom there would be no league (and it is often less).
Which is why LeBron choosing to opt out of his contract early to become a free agent is important. He put that clause in his contract – as did Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – because they all agreed that they wanted to try and win as many championships as possible, to create a team for the ages, and if it didn’t work out then they could go their separate ways or try to retool as necessary after a few years. And the results have been reasonably good: four straight NBA Finals appearances, two championships. That is pretty impressive. But, following the 2014 NBA Finals – where the Heat were whipped like a mule by the San Antonio Spurs, who were fundamentally a better and smarter team and where the Heat’s previous reliance on athletic, smart attack failed them when LeBron turned out to be the only star athlete left on the Heat – it’s clear that the Heat no longer have what it takes to win championships reliably.
(An aside: this is typically the point where some fans will complain about the obvious collusion on the part of LeBron, Bosh and Wade to play together, which doesn’t make any sense when you think about it: why should we condemn players for deciding to create a superteam when, if it was achieved through trades/free agency by a team, we would be celebrating smart management? This all goes back to that authoritarian mindset.)
This is exactly the scenario that LeBron, Wade and Bosh envisioned when they all signed with the Heat for a bit less than they otherwise could have commanded in free agency: the model does not work now. Time to find a new one – whether that means each of them going their own separate ways, or each of them terminating their contracts and re-signing with the Heat for less money so the Heat can afford to sign additional quality players.
It may not work; LeBron has opted out, presumably to force the Heat’s hand, but the biggest reason he’s opting out is because Wade might decide he wants to keep his $20 million per year, because nobody in their right mind signs Dwyane Wade to a deal for anything more than half that at this point, and even $10 million a year might be comparatively generous for a player who cannot under any realistic circumstances play starter minutes as a star player any longer. But that, too, goes back to what’s fair for workers: nobody forced the Miami Heat to sign Dwyane Wade to a $20 million contract. Why should Wade give up $42 million over the next two years to make other people happy? That’s a lot of money. Wade can do what he thinks is best for him and LeBron can do what he thinks is best for him (and for LeBron, that’s winning titles).
Of course, none of this really matters, because at the end of the day this is purely about envy. The people complaining about LeBron opting out are, at root, complaining that he makes a very large amount of money (regardless of the fact that he is legitimately the best in the world at what he does and that there is an insane market demand for what he does, a demand that is so great that frankly the NBA salary rules are restricting LeBron from earning what he could conceivably get from teams did those rules not exist), and generally also complaining that they do not. That’s all it is. That’s all it really ever was. And it’s a bit of a problem, because when people are opposed to workers engaging with their own basic labour rights – with workers using the terms of the contracts they negotiated to their own advantage – it’s the beginning of a slippery slope.
Over at Torontoist, we’re doing a series of fact-checks of mayoral candidates’ policy speeches. We just recently did Olivia Chow, who was unsurprisingly pretty accurate. (My idea to enliven the post with a series of GIFs of adorable dogs was shot down.)
I just recently managed to codify my theory about how pro wrestling is unique as an art form – not just Max Landis’ thingy about why pro wrestling is special, which is notable largely because it is one of the few times where Max Landis is not entirely insufferable, and because it (correctly) connects pro wrestling to performance art. But performance art still exists; pro wrestling is just a commercially successful version of it, and that is not unique.
What is unique about pro wrestling is this: it is the only creative endeavor where the audience affects the work in real time. A long time ago some smart aleck described pro wrestling as “a LARP where the wrestlers are playing athletes and the audience is playing the audience, and everybody’s in on it.” And that’s exactly true. Now, of course, pro wrestling is still a scripted affair and on a case-by-case basis the audience doesn’t usually change the outcome of a story as it happens – although this is something that can happen in retrospect, with the most obvious example being Batista being obviously scripted to be a triumphant returning hero at this year’s Royal Rumble and the crowd instantly turning on him because they had believed they were finally getting the Daniel Bryan push they had demanded – which eventually led to the “Boo-tista” movement, Batista turning into an arrogant heel (because it was the only way to get a crowd reaction they could use) and WWE eventually writing Bryan into the World title match as the fans demanded. But it’s more than just simply cheering for the guys you like and booing the guys you hate; the crowd is an integral part of wrestling now.
Consider, if you will, the Bray Wyatt entrance.
Bray Wyatt is a great character with a great hook, but booing him as a baddy doesn’t exactly work because he’s supposed to be creepy and scary; booing him would, in a way, reduce him, make him something less than the figure of awe he was supposed to be. This tied into his entrance: a slow, creepy walk in darkness, lit by his lantern, with Mark Crozer and the Rels playing in the background. The crowds at first tried to figure out how to properly express their appreciation for this character, because you couldn’t just boo him. An early attempt was slow, measured claps in time with the music, which worked reasonably well but still somehow lacked gravitas. At WrestleMania the company tried to amp up that atmosphere by having Crozer and the Rels perform live, which was certainly a glorious one-off but obviously not replicable on a regular basis.
At some point, though, fans gradually figured out that when their cellphones were on in the darkness during Bray Wyatt’s entrance, they kind of looked like fireflies, and fireflies are nothing if not thematically appropriate for a southern cult leader’s entrance, so they ran with it. And it worked absolutely perfectly – and WWE responded very smartly by rapidly moving to sell very cheap little Bray Wyatt lanterns at their events, so fans would have something to sway with, and so WWE could make a little side money off this phenomenon, and perhaps have light sources which might look a tad more ghostly and spooky on television.
Which led to what we now have every time Bray Wyatt comes out:
This is the thing: no other art form does this. None of them come even close. This is not to say that, say, makers of movies and television and books and comics and every other art form with a narrative bent do not interact with fans, or consider their desires, or even change course if they think they have made a mistake due to fan response. But no other art form engages with its audience at this rate or changes their story and presentation based on fan input in mid-course – not even most other forms of performance art, frankly (a field that can be shockingly static in its presentation and conservative in its refusal to deviate from original intent).
That’s why wrestling is unique, and only one of the reasons it is great.