TV too high

Also: Geocities jams, Purble Place, and plain life.

TV too high

This week, we're going back to the era when websites were always under construction, free Windows games were the talk of the playground, and Wild Woody was the bad boy of the Sega CD.

The album of the year is a Geocities exclusive

The Canadian band Women released two brief, astonishing albums about 15 years ago that charted a path forward for guitar music decades after the form was declared moribund. The four-piece splintered in 2012 after guitarist Christopher Reimer died in his sleep, with two members forming the more conventional post-punk outfit Preoccupations (briefly called Viet Cong) while Patrick Flegel started performing, in drag, as Cindy Lee, a sort of haunted girl-group pop-dream project in which they play every instrument. Cindy Lee’s latest album, a triple-LP called Diamond Jubilee, is a blow-your-hair-back masterpiece: two hours of music wrenching an astonishing variety of sounds from its conceit, at once apocalyptic and life-affirming. 

While you can stream the LP on YouTube, Flegel has chosen to monetize it as a Geocities exclusive. The charmingly font-rich page (“WEBSITE UNDER CONSTRUCTION” in bright green) offers the record as a .WAV download in exchange for direct Venmo payments to the artist. The site also declares, among other things, that “THE CEO OF SPOTIFY IS A THIEF AND A WAR PIG. HE STOLE 100 MILLION EUROS FROM ROCK AND ROLLERS AND USED THE MONEYTO (sic) INVEST IN 'HELSING'. 'HELSING' IS A MILITARY ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE INNOVATOR.” Diamond Jubilee has received a frankly unlikely amount of hype for something released entirely outside the typical promotional/streaming apparatus. While Pharrell Williams did something similar recently, and Trent Reznor seems to be moving Nine Inch Nails toward a similar model, Cindy Lee’s success suggests a path forward for less established acts to thrive outside of the mainstream model, as well. It’s also just nice to hear something sound like Women again. 

The Purble Place hoax

Purble Place was a 2007 learning game that shipped with Windows and has since become a locus of Gen Z nostalgia. Made by Jane Jensen’s Oberon Media, it featured the well-remembered mini-game Comfy Cakes, which is often compared to the Papa Louie restaurant Flash game empire. The game also serves as a litmus test: 90s kids had Space Cadet Pinball (Win 2000/XP), 2000s kids had Purble Place (Windows Vista/7). 

Both games now seem to be abandonware — though at least someone put Space Cadet on Github. Microsoft’s explanations about why they fell into limbo are dubious, as one programmer’s investigation (and comments from the original Space Cadet devs) show. The best you’ll find in terms of official support are Microsoft's Independent Advisors telling people to download shady .exes from “Windows tweaker” sites. (Never go with a Microsoft Advisor to a second location.) The lack of official ports for these games on any online storefront has led to counterfeits appearing in their place, such as Pinball Star on the Microsoft Store and Purple Place on Steam.

The rank opportunism of the latter game has inspired outrage in Zillennial quarters, with reviewers saying “this isn’t the original, they played me” or calling it “stolen software.” The maker of the Comfy Cakes speedrun embedded above — a man who knows the Purble terrain as well as anyone alive — made a 10-minute review of the impostor’s emoji graphics and mobile-grade sound effects, calling it a “blatant ripoff” made by a Russian software mill. Microsoft could probably score some easy points with the “my childhood” crowd by re-releasing these games some April Fool’s Day, but nobody’s holding their breath.

On criticism on criticism on criticism

You likely know the writer Lauren Oyler from her blistering takedown of Jia Tolentino’s pop-feminist blockbuster Trick Mirror, or else her similar bullseye skewerings of beloved writers like Sally Rooney, Greta Gerwig, and Roxane Gay (no longer online). Oyler’s 2021 debut novel, Fake Accounts, received mixed reviews, which is one of many elements of the modern critical landscape that Oyler takes to task in her new book of essays, No Judgment. Perhaps because she chose to build her brand on sacrificing sacred cows, or perhaps because she positioned herself as an arbiter of taste and critical authority, or perhaps because it is a sort of annoying and not very good book, No Judgment is getting absolutely roasted by fellow critics. 

First came the delicately phrased interview in the Paris Review. Then came a Washington Post review headlined “Lauren Oyler thinks she’s better than you,” which gets no more charitable from there. This week, grainy photographs of an evisceration in Bookforum emerged (calling Oyler, among other things, “the Renata Adler of looking at your phone a lot”) before the publication just posted the full article online, and it doesn’t disappoint. The passage at the end, in which critic Ann Manov methodically demonstrates the way Oyler assembled her essays through first-page search results and heavy reliance on incomplete Wikipedia articles, feels like a slow-motion Sniper Elite headshot. Anyone yearning to see a bit more ad hominem spite from the Kendrick Lamar / J. Cole spat will find their dark hunger plenty sated by the lit-crit community this week.

Welcome to the mid-email information oasis. EX is a free weekly-plus newsletter written by Chris, Clay, and Pao. It’s about the future of culture, and about turning each week’s mass of links into a few useful thoughts. If you enjoy reading EX, please share it on the social platform of your choice.

The ride never ends for Planet Coaster

Planet Coaster, a 2016 theme park sim, still has an active community of virtual imagineers making wild rides for download on the Steam workshop. Nothing can top 2018’s Aliens: The Ride (which has its own making-of), which did the rounds back in that forgotten era when people still went to see superhero movies. Many other hall-of-famers have surfaced, including Spirited Away, Moonraker, and the colossal “2,500-hour” effort Zaiden. These all have a long afterlife in online video, where creators will upload them alongside footage of real coasters or merge many horror rides together into an “omnibus of fear and screams.” For their part, the dedicated Planet Coaster community doesn’t always go for the standalone ride-alongs that entertain the wider internet, and seem to prefer a bunch of “let’s build” series and full-park constructions instead. 

Another man convicted of placing his TV too high

Screenshot from Matt Farley on Twitter. He posted the video after his setup was called out by The Important Cinema Club.

The prolific songwriter, no-budget filmmaker, and recent NYT profile subject Matt Farley recently ran afoul of a group far more formidable than the press: TV-too-high guys. After posting a video of his television, which was mounted above his fireplace — a classic blunder — he was soon beset by commenters informing him that “Looking up for too long dries out your eyes & you go blind,” among other raillery. He was hardly the first to be publicly shamed for this crime. DJ Khaled, Ashton Kutcher, and many sports personalities have been taken to task for their extremely elevated HDTVs. The archive and spiritual home of all commenters in this sphere is r/TVTooHigh, where redditors share evidence of outrageous TV placement, celebrate locked-in viewing posture, and finally correct the position of their TVs after getting divorced.

The AI news containment zone

Still from an AI-generated animation for a Pink Floyd competition.

As a service to readers with strong feelings about AI stories, we’ve corralled all AI-related diversions this week into one conveniently skipped (or savored!!) section.

  • Pink Floyd recently held a contest for animated music videos inspired by The Dark Side of the Moon, and a winning AI-generated entry made people very angry. It’s not hard to see why people favor hand-drawn work over the queasy yet predictable hallucinogenic style that dominates most AI-driven animations.  
  • PC Gamer found a video game (Champions of Otherworldly Magic) that’s proudly using AI art and claims to be doing alright. Granted, it’s an online collectible card game with NFTs. And their artist prefers to remain anonymous. And the layout and artwork of the cards is incredibly derivative of Hearthstone. Nevertheless!
  • Everyone’s stealing everyone else’s data because their large language models have run out of stuff to read. As Parmy Olson wrote for Bloomberg, the ethics of scraping and ingesting all imaginable content have become “an elephant in the room that simply isn’t discussed.”

Disgraced TikToker accused of stealing Amish valor

Sara Joy Nelson, TikTok’s poster Amish girl, was recently run off of the platform. Nelson, posting under the now-defunct handle @thatplaingirl, produced videos documenting the quotidian routines of “plain life,” including homemaking tasks and her duties as a general store clerk — a stark contrast against the majority of other #amishlife TikToks, which are usually posted by ex-Amish users. However, late last month, Nelson posted a cryptic TikTok announcing that she’d be leaving the platform indefinitely. Some speculated that she was the victim of coercion by elders in her community, noting the anxious and fearful tone of her delivery. Others began questioning her authenticity altogether, digging up one of her previous TikTok accounts — one she’d created before publicly claiming to be Amish — as well as an article identifying her father as a Pentecostal pastor. Nelson later returned to the platform with a follow-up video to defend herself against these accusations, though it did little to quell any suspicions. 

TikTok often traffics in half-truths like the text-to-speech videos that crib tall tales from subreddits like r/AmITheAsshole or r/relationships and slap them on top of Minecraft parkour gameplay. As a result, it has also encouraged a culture that revolves around scrutinizing the identities of its creators, especially as a way of confirming authenticity or assigning people the right to discourse. Nelson’s initial “announcement” video empowered many users to assert themselves as body language experts, performing detailed close readings of what they saw as signs of abuse or coercion. On the other hand, her critics resorted to casually doxxing her in order to scavenge for evidence, using feelings of betrayal as a cudgel in their movement to discredit her. It’s a lose-lose situation that exemplifies the platform’s worst habits.

YouTube Thumbnail of the Week

Thumbnail for “This Made My Caster Clear WAY BETTER” by ds_lily, a Path of Exile streamer.

Chum Box

  • Bad news about that Glenn Howerton Gamecube ad: it’s a fake.
  • Forgotten Sega mascot Wild Woody has regrettably returned in a kart racing game for perverts. They got the original voice actor. (NSFW link.) 
  • In other Trent Reznor news, he says his newly expanded, multimedia vision for Nine Inch Nails involves, inevitably, Fortnite. “It’s what Zuckerberg was trying to bullshit us into calling the metaverse,” he told GQ
  • The bizarrely named Minishoot’ Adventures combines Zelda with shmup/bullet hell mechanics. It sounds like it was conceived by throwing darts at a chart of game genres, but reviews are 96% positive.
  • If you’re smashing together random genres, though, you can hardly do better than Lovecraft + billiards. Pool of Madness is targeting a November launch.
  • Doronko Wanko is a free Bandai-Namco game about life as an ill-behaved Pomeranian. It was created for an in-house employee training project, according to NME.
  • Twitter account Supper Mario Broth, the internationally recognized home of Mario facts, has begun experimenting with video.
  • The recent Godzilla x Kong and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 tie-in includes an oversized boxing glove that costs $80. 
  • The Spanish streamer Silithur recently beat Malenia in his single-button, Morse code-powered run of Elden Ring.
  • The quote tweets here contain some excellent Mahjong memes and a bonus appearance by LeBron James.
  • A Smash player got the perfect photo of the eclipse.
  • This obscure fighting game Secret Meeting 2 has some of the most inspired sprites in the genre.
  • Here’s an insane beat made from a Majora’s Mask track.
  • Please enjoy a thread of posters that wildly misrepresent the movies they advertise.

That’s it for this week. We’ll be spending next week checking whether our TVs are too low.