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A Look At...: The Classic Tom & Jerry Shorts

Nov 19 2014 10:00 AM | TheOneManBoxOffice in Editorials

A Look At…: The Tom & Jerry Shorts

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As some of you may know, in college, I major in animation, and I’ve had a passion for cartoons since I was a wee boy. You may say to me “Who didn’t?”, and I’d emphasize myself. I didn’t just watch a lot of cartoons as a kid, I LIVED OFF THEM, and to this day, I still do. Hell, I’ve managed to rip pretty much all of the animated cartoon shorts from the 30s to the 60s onto my external hard drive from my own personal DVD collection (don’t ask, I’m not telling how). I primarily watched Cartoon Network most of the time, but I had my fair share of Nickelodeon and old-school Disney Channel for my cartoon fix as well. However, on Cartoon Network, the shows I mostly would look forward to watching, aside from some of their best programming like Johnny Bravo and The Powerpuff Girls, are the 30 minute to 1 hour blocks of classic theatrical cartoons such as Acme Hour and Bugs and Daffy. Of course, this was how I, as well as pretty much everyone on this site, was first exposed to the likes of the Looney Tunes, and in the case of Acme Hour, some rare oddities that almost no one remembers anymore. My personal favorite cartoon block that appeared on the channel in the daytime also introduced me to one of the most iconic cartoon duos in the history of both television and cinema: Tom & Jerry.

Cartoon Network’s intro that accompanied the Tom & Jerry blocks until 2004.

To begin with, I don’t really have that big of an explanation on how I got hooked on the Tom & Jerry shorts. Being a kid who watched Cartoon Network religiously like a conservative Christian who watched every episode of The 700 Club that aired (did I really just type that?), I just sat, laughed my ass off, and was entertained at whatever I was watching. Pretty much any kid who watched Cartoon Network has been introduced to the franchise through this method. Later in life, I managed to get all three of the Spotlight Collections and the Chuck Jones Collection on DVD, so that I can watch them, not just without the commercial breaks, but also in their uncut form. As for the cartoons themselves, the titular cat-and-mouse duo defined and became synonymous with the cartoon chase, even before the creation of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. To say that these shorts are amongst the classics like the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies shorts is a complete understatement. The slapstick is some of the best I’ve seen in any cartoon and the characters almost never spoke to each other, making the films more like silent slapstick pictures a la Charles Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” as opposed to its competition like the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies, Popeye, or the numerous Disney cartoons featuring Mickey Mouse and friends.

This is what made these cartoons both fun and interesting to watch amongst animation and film enthusiasts, as there aren’t a whole lot of series that can get away with this method flawlessly without people turning a blind eye. Nowadays, a lot of what you see in these films are common. In fact, many have taken note of what these films have contributed to the art of animation and the film world. Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons, was inspired to create a cartoon within a cartoon called Itchy and Scratchy as a satire and tribute to the franchise. Without this franchise, not only would the animation industry not be the same, but neither would creators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera’s legacy. In fact, that probably wouldn’t last long, even though they would also produce other MGM cartoon shorts like most of Tex Avery’s work (i.e. Droopy, Screwy Squirrel).

The Hanna-Barbera Films

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The Cat Concerto (HB/1943)

When I watched these cartoons as a kid, the ones that popped up the most on Cartoon Network are the ones directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, not only because they are the creators of the titular characters, but these are by far the best out of all the ones that were made for theatrical release, starting with the first ever cartoon in the series, the 1940 film Puss Gets the Boot, and ending the era with the 1958 film Tot Watchers. Those who worked on the films have admitted in interviews that they have become just as memorable for Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios (henceforth MGM) as one of their movie musicals like The Wizard of Oz, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, or Anchors’ Aweigh in terms of craft, memorability, and their contribution to both film and animation as a whole, thus making the duo a valuable asset to the studio and leveling the playing field against the competing studios like Disney or Warner Brothers. In fact, the cat and mouse have made two appearances in two MGM musicals. The first was the 1945 film Anchors Aweigh starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, where Jerry is a ruler of a fantasy land who created a law where no one is allowed to be happy simply because he isn't happy. Kelly turns it around by singing a song to him and teaching him how to dance. The other was in a 1953 film called Dangerous When Wet, where both Tom and Jerry swam with actress Esther Williams in a dream sequence.

As for the shorts, perfecting the art of cartoon violence has never been an easy task, especially back when these films were being made. The Hays Production Code, which was known for being strict on what is and what isn’t allowed in film (i.e. heavy acts of violence, references to drugs, language, etc.), was in effect around this time, so filmmakers in the United States were cautious as to what material they were allowed to put onto film. This was somewhat of a precursor to the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) rating system. However, this didn’t stop Hanna-Barbera or any of their animators from churning out material. In fact, during the making of the films, the animators (including directors Hanna-Barbera) would pull pranks on each other, and this lead to the inspiration of the gags that we see in the shorts. As a result, 7 of their cartoons received the Oscar for Best Cartoon Short Subject, while 6 others were only nominated, thus a total of 13 shorts caught the eye of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The uniqueness of these cartoons, as opposed to the ones made by Warner Brothers, Disney, and Paramount, came from the animation. The directors decided against overusing the most important animation principle discovered by Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, the “squash and stretch”, and instead keep the structure of the characters intact throughout most, if not, all of the film. The only time the characters broke structure is when there’s an emphasis on impact, such as being flattened or squeezed like an accordion. You could say that this is more of a realistic approach…well…as realistic as a cartoon cat-and-mouse duo can get, without all the body bending and making it as if the characters were made from silly putty. MGM would use this technique on some of their other series as well, with a prime example being 1939's Peace on Earth. Not only that, but the designs of the characters have changed over time since their debut in 1940’s Puss Gets the Boot, primarily in Tom’s case. In that film, and the two others that have followed (The Midnight Snack and The Night Before Christmas), Tom looks like an ordinary, scruffy housecat, but as the years went by with future shorts, the character would evolve to the design we all recognize today. Jerry, on the other hand, didn’t really change too much in design over the years.

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From left-to-right: Puss Gets the Boot, The Night Before Christmas, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse, Salt Water Tabby, and Johann Mouse

Most of my favorite Tom & Jerry shorts are from this era of the franchise, for example, The Cat Concerto, Tom & Jerry in the Hollywood Bowl, Mucho Mouse, and The Two Mouseketeers, but the one that makes me laugh the most (and my absolute favorite of the entire series) is the 1955 short Pecos Pest, where Jerry’s uncle, a musician, decides to go to Jerry’s home and play the song he’s going to perform on television, but every time he plays, one of his guitar strings snaps. So what does he do? Yank the whiskers off of Tom to replace the strings, proving that he is basically much more of a sadist than Jerry ever could be. Even when he’s at the premiere on TV, when his guitar string snaps, he still finds a way to get Tom’s whisker by just literally reaching out of the screen near the end of the picture. Now THAT is how you end a cartoon. Unfortunately, my least favorite Tom & Jerry short is from this era as well. Neapolitan Mouse was the name of it, and it involved both Tom and Jerry meeting a mouse that shows them around the city of Naples, Italy whilst being stalked by three dogs, and it was not that interesting (artwork and animation was nice, though). There was also one that was just downright depressing, which was called Blue Cat Blues. In that one, Tom is sitting on a railroad track heartbroken, whilst a sympathizing Jerry observes him and (through the power of inner monologue by Paul Frees) tells the story of how he once had a true love, an unnamed feline, who eventually fell in love with Tom's rival, a black cat named Butch (who has appeared time to time throughout the series) and got married, thus leading to his current situation. In the end, however, Jerry becomes the victim of said scenario when his own girlfriend got married to another, and he joins Tom on the track, and then ending with a train whistle getting louder as it irises out, implicating that they committed suicide. This one rarely aired on TV, obviously because of this implication, and has been recognized by many to be the most depressing short film in the series.

To this day, the Hanna-Barbera films are cherished by many animation enthusiasts (myself included), film buffs, and young children who are still able to watch them on television, despite some of them being edited for specific reasons (i.e. racial stereotyping). Out of the 162 pictures made featuring the cat and mouse (one of which was made for TV), 114 of them were directed by Hanna-Barbera, with only a few of them being remakes (because they were shot in Cinemascope). These are also the ones that are mostly played on the Cartoon Network blocks. However, this was not the end of the duo’s theatrical run.

The Gene Deitch/Chuck Jones Films

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High Steaks (Deitch/1962)

Aside from the Hanna-Barbera films, CN would also show the Tom & Jerry films produced and/or directed by Chuck Jones, and sometimes the ones animated in Czechoslovakia directed by Gene Deitch, who was once an animator for United Productions of America (UPA). Anyone who knows their animation history can tell you that these films are not as good as the original Hanna-Barbera directed films, but as a kid, I couldn’t tell the difference. It was still the same old Tom & Jerry to me. As an adult, however, I can sort of agree why they aren’t as good, but I can also understand the history behind them.

You see, in 1957, MGM closed down their animation studio due to budget cuts, even though they did release a few more films a year later, but MGM was still convinced that the property is still a valuable asset, so at first, they went to Czech animator Gene Deitch to make the films overseas, as it was the cheaper way to go. The result was just mediocre or dull slapstick, with odd-paced animation and somewhat weird design choices. The only two Gene Deitch films I enjoyed were Carmen Get It, Switchin’ Kitten, and The Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit, but that’s it. Every other film he made in the series didn’t really make me chuckle that much. Not that he’s a bad cartoonist, however. After all, he directed some cartoons I saw as a kid based on Maurice Sendak’s works in the 1970s such as Where the Wild Things Are. But the Tom & Jerry series was clearly not his calling. In fact, he did say prior to directing in 1960 that the characters were not his favorites, because he didn’t like the violence. That part I do question, seeing as how some of his films feature Tom’s owner as an abusive, consistently pissed off jerk-ass whom Jerry uses to his advantage without the owner knowing it. Overall, I think I'm not alone when I say that these films aren't that good, nor did they age that well, if at all. Only 15 of these were made, and after Deitch's departure, MGM had to think about either having a local and experienced animation director take over or end the series all together.

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The Cat Above and the Mouse Below (Jones/1964)

Then Chuck Jones came into the picture in 1963 after being fired from Warner Brothers for breaking his contract. In 1962, United Productions of America (UPA), an animation studio that closely worked with Columbia Pictures, was working on a feature-length animated musical entitled Gay Purr-ee, which featured the voices of Judy Garland, Robert Goulet, Red Buttons, and Paul Frees. One of Chuck's lead animators, Abe Levitow, was directing the film, and Jones wrote the story of the film, which the folks at Warner Brothers eventually found out and frowned upon, thus leading to his termination from the studio. This was before Warner Brothers decided to make a deal with UPA to distribute the picture. Back at MGM, after much discussion, they decided to go back to having the animation done in Hollywood again, so another animation studio was opened to make more Tom & Jerry shorts, and Jones was brought on and given the task to revive the franchise. Altogether, his shorts were able bring back some of the spirit of the HB originals, unlike Deitch, however, there were some differences. The designs of the main characters have drastically changed to that Chuck Jones style, with the facial expressions and how they’re structured. The executions of the gags were a lot slower than in the HB shorts, which were timed to be quick and on the spot. This is because there’s a lot more focus on the build-up leading to the actions. Let’s not forget the larger emphasis on story here as well on some of the shorts. Unfortunately, this method did not last long, as the formula was starting to age more like milk than wine. There are also times when other animators, including Levitow, would take over as director for some of the shorts, mostly to mixed reaction.

There aren’t really a whole lot of favorites I could pick from the Chuck Jones shorts, but there are some that garner my attention. After all, only 36 shorts were made under his supervision, which more than doubles the amount of shorts that Gene Deitch directed. Some of these include Snow-body Loves Me, The Mouse from H.U.N.G.E.R., Love Me, Love My Mouse, Rockin' Rodent, and Cat and Dupli-Cat (my friend’s late grandfather did a voice for that one). However, my favorite out of all these is The Cat Above and the Mouse Below, simply because this one gave me more laughs, and out of all the shorts in the franchise’s history, it had the best payoff of Jerry getting the last laugh, at least in my opinion.

Aftermath and Conclusion

Sadly, all things must come to an end, and with the exception of that godawful 1992 feature, the popular cat and mouse would perform their last chase on the big screen in 1967, with the final film being Purr-Chance to Dream, directed by Ben Washam. A few years after this, MGM would close the animation studio yet again and would no longer make any more animated shorts. The studio's last works included a Chuck Jones directed short film entitled The Bear That Wasn't and the studio's only feature film, The Phantom Tollbooth, directed by both Chuck Jones and Abe Levitow. Nevertheless, they still found a way to make a profit from the franchise, however, as the Hanna-Barbera studio decided to make a Saturday morning TV series that would be released by their television division in the 1970s. That, I haven’t seen a whole lot of, but from what I’ve seen from various videos on YouTube and RetroJunk, it’s…well…crap. Filmation, the company responsible for He-Man and Masters of the Universe would take over for a couple of years in the early 1980s, and then Hanna-Barbera would make a spin-off series in the ‘90s called Tom and Jerry Kids, which was made during the craze where classic characters become babies or children (a trend made famous by Muppet Babies). You might know the rest after this point: a godawful movie in 1992, as I mentioned before, a slew of direct-to-video/DVD, releases and a revival series that would air both on cable and in syndication for some time by Warner Bros’ current animation division so that newer generations can get an idea of what the older cartoons were like.

While I can’t say all of it was good (because some of it is actually dogshit), I can commend most of it for attempting to re-create what made the duo famous to begin with, but there’s really no substitute. The original theatrical shorts easily showcase some of the best moments the franchise has been known for over the years, and many in the film and television business see them as comedy gold, and as you can tell, so do I. The creators knew how to do slapstick, and they've learned from then popular acts like Charles Chaplin and Buster Keaton, whom are considered legends in the motion picture industry today. Chaplin, especially, sees a lot of these films, as well as much of the Looney Tunes and Disney shorts as influential and genius as his own silent films, if not more so. Today, Tom & Jerry are the quintessential example of animated insanity that continues to get many audiences laughing, and hopefully, many more so in the future.

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Spectre's Quest: This Damned Lollipop

Sep 26 2014 03:28 PM | thebluespectre in Editorials

In all my years of questing, in all my years of enjoying sweets, there have been few that managed to instill a sense of self-loathing in my person quite like this monstrously large lollipop.

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Literally the band All-Day Sucker

I should back up, since this requires an explanation. This entire ordeal is my own fault. I am an adult, a fairly young adult still getting used to being able to spend money on himself. For those whose memories of that moment are distant, there's a strange transition in that time where a person still feels those primal urges as their eyes roll across displays of candy in a store. There are novelty candies designed to appeal to adults, to be sure, but nothing is literal eye-candy for kids quite like the all-day sucker. This is a sweet based entirely on a kid's notion of candy. "You like lollipops?" it asks. "Well, I'm all the candy of twenty lollipops on the same stick! I've got all the colors, too! This is a good idea!" In fact, it is in all likelihood an innocent idea from some confectioner long ago, a confectioner who intended the best for the kids receiving this treat.

Like any young adult, my internal struggle was a decade-long war of attrition and bargaining with myself. I was the one with the job and the pay that comes with; no longer would I have to tell someone before I went out for the afternoon, no longer do I ask my parents before going online, and never must I beg and plead for some harried parent to buy a gimmicky nutrition-free treat. I was raised well, however, and good parents leave a psychic thumbprint of good advice- a Jiminy Cricket style conscience, the same ideal a religious man appeals to when asking himself "What Would Jesus Do". What my mother would ask first is whether or not I actually need this candy. Money is a limited resource, which is why money works as a method of trade at all; one must leave room to pay for all the cars and gasoline, the clothing and furniture, the concrete meals and abstract taxes, the occasional vacation to clear one's head. A giant lollipop is so small on that hierarchy of needs that it resembles a pinhead balanced on the tip of that pyramid design so popular in graphs in the mid 20th century, yet that siren's call is inexorable nonetheless. My mother would then ask why I wanted this candy, a sticky question indeed. There are plenty of ADULTS who don't consciously know why they do the things they do, and with supermarket impulse buys, there isn't often much of a solid reason. "Because I want it," the kid would explain. Why do they want it? "Because it's my favorite." The candy they only found out about ten seconds ago is their favorite, of course, because it is bright and shining and colorful. If a person wants to get themselves a lollipop heavy and dense enough to crack walnuts, they must stop kidding themselves and admit the real reason they bought this product.

In my case, I bought this lollipop because I wanted to swing it around while pretending to be a Viking.

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From Someinterestingfacts.net, unattributed

This new prop gave me days of fun! Without even unwrapping the damn thing, I spent many nights acting as Grabnok the Destroyer, the hero who once wielded the infamous Axe of Many Colours. I could blame those hours of pretend violence on movies or video games or evening news, or even the Vikings mini-series in specific, but there's a certain charm to the all-day sucker's design that makes it perfect for cruel imagination. The stick this sweet is built around is a stiff, light pine, lathed and polished until the roughness of its grain is faded away. Give it a swing and it bends only slightly, lacking that sense of momentum until the very end of its trip. Candy this dense feels like a solid wall of pottery when one raps their knuckles on it, a blend of toughness and fragility difficult to find in other materials. It may not be a real weapon, but the all-day sucker feels as if it would destroy any orc or skeleton it came in contact with.

Sadly, candy must always eventually be eaten. Lollipops such as these come shrink-wrapped in an impossibly close skin of plastic wrap, the kind that a small child would have to ask their parents to cut off with the pointy-tipped scissors they are not allowed to touch quite yet. Those with strong enough hands can dig a fingernail into the spot where this wrap was fused together, that crusty jagged spine placed where more hand-holding packaging designers would put their patronizing "tear here" dotted line. Amusingly enough, the shrink wrap used to have the nutrition label printed on it, until it… shrank. Between text which was bent and warped, rendered psychedelic as the rainbow swirls underneath, I could decipher that the official serving size was 1/20th of the lollipop. That is not an exaggeration, that is the largest portion of this treat your doctor suggests you eat per day.

Any kid could tell you that the serving size is a joke, and their parents would probably know that the serving size is made entirely of weasel words. To list the entire lollipop as a serving would be like calling an entire bag of sugar a serving, for this candy is purposely a bag of sugar melted down and moulded into a disc. And yet a lollipop is a Boolean consumable; it is either on or off, here or gone, eaten or un-eaten. This is not the same case as other unhealthy treats like a bag of chips or a box of snack cakes, where a bag can be clipped closed or a box safely shelved, where chips are individual pieces and a snack cake comes with a wrapper in the box, a giant lollipop is not so easily portioned. Without an array of tools one would find in a physics lab or a sculptor's workshop, no small child will be able to chip off exactly 1/20th of a solid brick of once-molten sugar for responsible enjoyment. Neither would they want to; to a child, a lollipop said to have the mass of twenty lollipops is a dare to eat twenty lollipops in a row, not a warning to stretch one piece of candy out for twenty meals. This isn't even the kind of candy that comes in a resealable package, unless whoever is eating it has enough patience to preserve a thin piece of plastic wrap (often the kind of person unable to have fun with giant lollipops). The warped nutrition label seems almost like a subtle gesture by the manufactures, a silent whisper of, "we know this information is useless but we still have to put it here".

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By Phantomaxes on DeviantArt. Also, be careful about typing "All-Day Sucker" into Google.

I enjoyed the all-day sucker for the first ten minutes. The colorful hard candy has a generally pleasant yet mysterious taste one might call "tutti frutti" or "wild berry" if forced to give it a name. There is no solid identity one could give to the flavor, no sour citrus tang, no medicine-style cherry or grape. It is the same substance as a candy cane, writ large and coiled into a massive swirl, a scepter of authority. "Finish me," it promises, "and you will be the king of candy". So I lick it, and lick it some more, and begin to bite large chunks off once my tongue is exhausted. A person who claims they have never bit into a hard candy they were supposed to suck on slowly is a liar and a spinner of tall-tales.

It was then that I began to run into one of the many curses of advancing age; even if I have the right to buy indefinitely large amounts of candy, I will always hit a point where I am unwilling to continue eating it. This is not being UNABLE to continue, I have yet to lose that much innocence. This stubborn mode of thought is a holdover from younger versions of myself; any kid out there, when faced with all the wonderful sugar in the world, insists on eating it all at once. That I cannot eat it all at once is one part responsibility, one part appreciating how lucky I am to be born in a country where overeating is possible, and one part hard limits on the size of my stomach. There is a certain wall that sane people hit when confronted with this many wonderful empty calories, a wall that is made not of stone but of lethargy and a buzzing sensation that is unnatural, clearly a warning from your own body.

My teeth know the pain too. For all the cliché dentist's warnings of cavities and decay, I try to take care of my teeth. Okay, perhaps I could actually floss instead of simply claiming I floss, but at the very least I don't let food linger in between the cracks. But this lollipop knows when you chew upon it, and like any hard candy it responds in kind; a gummy, rock-hard sheet of sugar forms in the crowns of your molars, resisting any but the most invasive of attempts at removal. My negligence and eagerness to push forward results in a comically thick coating of the stuff, like a polar ice cap injected with food coloring, warning me to stop. And yet it moves, as I continue to break chunks off and pop them in my mouth. I'm not enjoying it at that moment, I won't enjoy it until I have a good rest and some time to reflect, but I am filled with some twisted duty to continue. I'm eating just to defeat the lollipop, draining the dye off of the surface and relishing in the white bony sugar underneath. Grobnak the Destroyer will have his victory, even if he must slay twenty servings in one night.

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Hours later, I have this much of it finished. Three servings, maybe four.

The real problems came when I tried to store it. No container can properly hold the long stick, any container large enough to hold it should not be wasted on one piece of candy, and just breaking the stick off would turn a fun lollipop into a terrible piece of grandma candy with splinters on one end. And it MUST be contained, because the surface of this sweet is adhesive even when dry. A thick shellac of tacky, wonderfully gooey corn syrup shines on the outside of the candy, clinging to the shrink wrap, holding the whole thing together even when fractured. It provides a great mouth feel when eating it, but to stop eating is something this design will not tolerate. Incredible effort must be taken to stop dust and lint from gathering on top of it, because it WILL gather dust and it will NOT ever dry completely. I tried freezing it just to be sure, and two hours later it was sticky inside the freezer. This bowl is what I eventually settled on, and it requires a lever and some elbow grease to peel it off when I want another taste.

And I WILL have another taste. No matter how much I complain, no matter how much I blow it out of proportion, I love this candy and I won't give up on it for anything. Grobnak the Destroyer shall charge onto the battlefield for another skirmish, because that's how a war is won- through attrition, through wearing the enemy down until they surrender, left with nothing but a bare wooden dowel. When I look upon the rubble at the end of this conflict, I will smile and think to myself how I can finally start enjoying candy again.

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Let's Talk About Crossovers

Aug 24 2014 10:00 PM | HerrVarden in Editorials

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So, I watched the trailer for the long-awaited-yet-who-really-demanded-it Simpsons/Family Guy crossover. Naturally you can tell that because of that, it led me to talk about the whole crossovers thing, and you probably think that I'm going to say something about the thought of the two being together as a whole. Well, I could but it's only a trailer, it only displays a portion. Praising it makes no sense because I haven't seen it in its entirety and ranting about it serves less of a point not only because the episode is already done but they wouldn't care about what I had to say on the matter if it was about to be made. There certainly are a few things about it that I could certainly address in relation to the elements that are present in a crossover, but I'd rather not make it much of the focus of this piece. Because unlike animation/live-action films and gritty fairy tales movies, there is a lot more that can be taken in from the crossover. There's also a lot more notable examples, and it expands to much more than movies and television. It's really quite the beautiful subject to get into, and I'm glad that these two animated sitcoms have sparked my inspiration to jump in.

For those of you unaware of what a crossover is, it's when two or more entities, environments or universes, be it fictional, fabricated or real, collide with one another. Most of the time it's kept to an episode or a two part special or very few entries, nothing more beyond that. Now, what is the point of a crossover? Some might say it's to have fun. Others might say it's to keep things interesting. A few might even say it's to combine these two creations and use each of their aspects in an engaging and thought-provoking story dynamic that can say a lot with the comparisons and contrast that both face. While those are all fine reasons, the real one comes down to cold, hard cash. I'm not simply saying that to be the cynic that says that everything the entertainment industry is all about the money (even though it kind of is) but a crossover is something whose major intent comes from that reason and sometimes that reason only. A crossover is the equivalent of a concert as you able to witness all these popular artists together in a single place, figuratively blowing your mind apart. The simple idea of taking two properties and having them join forces is able to bring so much out of a person. So much that a plethora of artworks out there that pretty much go crazy mixing and matching franchises together.

Whether a crossover is serious or not, there are certain points that each crossover hits. For one, there is always a conflict that brings one series into another series's world. It may be archenemies, a detour or simply that the plumbing's busted. Introductions are had between the two entities, one entity tries to get used to the other one, and they either have to find a way back to their own world or stop someone who entered into the new world or the problem needs to be fixed. Sometimes the series end up in each others worlds for some time and continue to deal with their conflicts. Much of the comedy expressed above occurs or the conflict starts to become a bigger concern with either the antagonists meddling or the mere fact that the two of them are together. Characters from one series will get chummy with characters from another series and then be enemies or vice versa. Eventually the conflict gets resolved and everyone parts their own ways, the end. And then you rake in the money.

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One of the most notable examples of the crossover phenomenon is in our old friend, the comic book. In the world of comic books, you can find crossovers as far as the eye can see. There are crossovers between series owned by the same creator, owned by the same company, owned by different companies, series that take place in the same city, in the same country, in the same planet, in the same universe and even in different universes. You have the relatively straightforward ones, others are a little more complex, some are serious, while others go for a more energetic and "fun" route, some are intentionally funny, some are unintentionally funny and then there's just the painful ones. Serious crossovers are usually the likes of Batman and Superman, as they take the stakes and raise them with the protagonists and antagonists of those two series combating with one another. More lighthearted or humorous crossovers either stem from properties that are known for their comedic or fun elements and try to have each of them bouncing off each other. And then we have ones that take two entities that don't really deserve to be alongside each other. There the ones that people joke about with their buddies, hoping that someone from the industry was listening. Some of these involve celebrities who encapsulate their own world which somehow ends up colliding with a superhero and others are Archie Meets The Punisher. Now I'm going to get to the former later on, but the latter is something important to consider because it deals with a thing I call Crossover Juxtaposition Humor.

CJH is self-explanatory. It's humor that comes from the juxtaposition of the entities in the crossover. The dissonance between the two worlds, whether subtle or blatant is going to be addressed. And since it's going to be addressed, it's possible that the creators will want to get a few laughs at how characters react to each others' customs or quirks. That kind of humor is usually what works for the comedic crossover akin to how the intensifying of the conflicts is what makes the serious crossover so great. The thing about CJH is that it also can come from what the entities represent and who they are marketed towards. When the shift becomes so jarring, the amount of humor that stems from it goes from just the way that the characters bounce off each other but rather the fact that the two are in the same place. Hence, Archie Meets The Punisher. Now that's not to say that a crossover can't be serious if an innocent, innocuous series meshes with a gritty, hardcore series, but when such a difference is made it becomes a lot harder to take it as seriously. And when a crossover like that takes advantage of such immense differences, it's when CJH reaches its finest level.

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That's where TV crossovers come along. The thing about TV is that there aren't that many serious crossovers to speak of. And if they are, they are either using comic book entities or become greatly overshadowed by their more comedic counterparts. Another thing is that the ones that usually end up being more memorable come from animation shows. That's not to say that live-action crossovers can't happen nor do they not exist, but they tend to respect each others worlds and only make references or cameos when its convenient for them. When it comes to the sort of humor that a TV crossover displays, there really are only two categories. The aforementioned CJH and meta humor. CJH in TV crossovers is very strong, especially in animated shows as they can show better the contrast of visual styles that the two shows have with the addition of animation. Sometimes it's taken even further by converting the characters from one show into the art style of the other, like the Jimmy Timmy Power Hour. That can be funny, but it can also be weird, as it could prove the point that the series is more fitting in its original form than going out of its boundaries. Along with that are the more jarring kind of CJH like in the Green Loontern where Duck Dodgers teamed up with the Green Lantern of all things. And as for the meta humor, you need to look no further than A Star Is Burns when the Simpsons get a visit from Jay Sherman.

Now when I said that a crossover is usually made simply for the purpose of making money, that doesn't necessarily make all the crossovers in the world terrible. A lot of what the mainstream entertainment industry makes is for some sort of financial gain. But whether that is the main purpose or not, its always best to hide that fact at all costs and instead do your damn best to entertain. A good crossover does that as well as take the opportunities that the crossover can offer and makes exceptional use of CJH if it needs it. One of my favorite shows, Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law can be considered a crossover as it takes various Hanna Barbara properties and revolves episodes around one of them meeting Harvey Birdman and delving into ways to make them relevant for the show. In Green Loontern, Duck Dodgers was not only able to use the power of the Green Lantern rings to hilarious effect, but the way that the characters responded to his antics allowed for a lot of funny moments to flourish because they're not used to that kind of tomfoolery. In A Star Is Burns, not only are there some funny moments that come from the similarities between Homer and Jay Sherman and how Homer feels that Sherman may be seen as the better version of himself around his own house but there is a lot of jokes poked at how begrudgingly the crossover had to come to fruition as well as making fun of crossovers in general. In more action-packed, dramatic crossovers, the greatness comes from the various conflicts. The characters not getting along, their enemies causing tons of ruckus and chaos, the gravitas of the event itself as it tears into the fabric of the world. A handful of comic books relish in how destructive and intense the situation can get. Furthermore, a good crossover can use the ideas that each entity represents and play with them to express an interesting message that maybe couldn't be dealt with by simply having the two of them separate.

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Having that all said, let's not deny that since crossovers are usually just made for money that there will be some that just whore themselves out for your cash. You know the old saying that "if you made a movie with X and Y and all they did was drink coffee, I'd go see it?". Well, as funny as that may be, some people do take that sentence seriously and change drinking coffee to fighting. Yes, in the world of film, crossover is just another synonym for easy cash cow. Why try to do more with two established characters when you could just show them off in the same room and have them fight? It certainly does give the public what they want. And it may be a fun idea but the novelty ends up wearing off because they just use it as a way to show off these two characters together at last and nothing else. Had they cared more about the entities, that energy would show more in the product and the product could become something more than a subpar smackdown of the century of the week. Worse than that is when one entity ends up overpowering the other rather than letting the two work better in harmony. What's worse than that is when a crossover gets too meta. A Star Is Burns did well to keep the 4th wall breaking in check, but in another work, that wall could be broken with poor execution or it could be broken so much that what ends up happening is that you have a Panzer IV of mediocre meta-humor that steamrolls you out of any enjoyment for the product. When it's overly emphasizes it proves to the viewer just how much of a gimmick the crossover is much more than if you just had a pointless fight between them break out.

As you're reading this, I'm going to assume that you have two questions. One may be "why are crossovers usually between two entities and not more?" and another may be "what about video game crossovers?". Let's take the first one. I'm going to remind you once again about the superficial nature that crossovers are made because it is that reason that crossovers are limited to two. One of the things that makes the crossover marketable is that it's for a brief moment. It is a once-in-a-lifetime parade that must be seen by all. The thing is that like parades, crossovers can be costly. For them to be done, either well or sloppily, you need to put a lot of money and time into making it. Along with that, there may be some legal disputes here and there that will have to be addressed. It could take a very long time for the two to finally come together and be released out to the world. In that case, adding one or two or three more is starts to become a larger problem because you have to dedicate not only more time, money and maybe legal disputes but you also have to make it more episodes or movies or comics to develop it properly. It may not be all that bad to make more entries to better the effect of the crossover, but the wonder of the crossover is lost when more of them occur either because of the fear of audiences rolling their eyes at how trite the display is or fear that they'll have to put more effort into it. The restrictions is the reason that there aren't too many longer crossover series whether they be of two entities or more. Which is a shame because one could experiment a lot more with crossovers.

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Video game crossovers, on the other hand, are along the lines of movie crossovers but more fun. Most of them really just involve characters from various different places being together in one place and either fighting, racing or being faces in a puzzle game like Tetris or Puyo Puyo. It's no doubt awesome to play a game in which you can beat up Sonic as Mario or vice versa, but they're just in the same room together and nothing else. It may be a stretch to call them crossovers as they're more like a collection of cameos. Other times the crossover has entities that aren't related to video games like when Marvel goes to fight Capcom or how Nicktoons Unite takes four different shows and throws them together in a boring action platformer. Sometimes it's the two of them together in a place for no reason like when Mario and Sonic were in the Olympics. What would make an interesting crossover is something along the likes of Professor Layton vs Pheonix Wright: Ace Attorney as it combines the gameplay mechanics that the two of them have to offer as well as making the story and confrontations between the two characters fun. Those sort of crossovers are rare in video game, but it would be great to see more of those. Considering that Mario and Sonic have become more chummy around each other lately I wouldn't be surprised if there was one between them any time. At least I hope so because that would be awesome.

Despite what I've said about crossovers being mainly about the money, there is no denying that crossovers are a wonderful thing. They make the imagination soar to incredible heights and they can be some really fun experiences. Even bad crossovers have interesting ideas to them, even if it's only because of that what if being explored a bit. It's a shame that in order for crossovers to happen they have to occur for a sense of relevance or to rile people up to spend whatever money they have to witness it or waste their time for what could be a poor payoff. Certainly if there was more integrity that came to the practice of crossovers, they could explore some greater territory and expand themselves from being a one-shot fireworks display if they so wished to tackle the crossover further. And if the universes that come together increase, it would be even better to see what could come out of it. As they stand though, they're relatively good. Sure, there's some flops here and soulless cash grabs there but there are still some that can capture the beauty behind the process and capture a lot more of the brilliance behind the concept. If they go the extra step, good for them, but if not, I'm sure they could do just fine.

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The Demise of SweetFrog

Jul 09 2014 06:39 PM | thebluespectre in Editorials

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The world is constantly changing; they’ve even stopped making frozen yogurt near where I work. Fresh out of college last year, I found myself in need of a job in a market already saturated with people exactly like me, and ended up working for a major retail chain until further notice. With barely more money than before and a creeping sense of doom, there were days I needed something to look forward to during my lunch break. Little did I know that there was a neon green frozen yogurt shop within walking distance of my job- nobody seemed to notice, despite the place’s uncanny appearance. This place was just another meaningless storefront with no history. That’s probably why it’s closed now.

There was nothing particularly special about SweetFrog. The frozen yogurt (or “frogurt”) stand was one of a rapidly spreading chain, which simply did not work for that location; haphazardly shelved between sports equipment and jewelry in a medium-size town’s shopping complex, unnoticed despite gaudy decorations and banners, fiberglass statues of grinning mascots. There is another frozen yogurt stand two blocks away from where the old one once stood, with a disturbingly similar paint job, with distressingly similar menu items. This SweetFrog hardly ever had customers inside, attracting either parent-nagging children (only ever seen once) or jaded teenagers (again, only seen once). The only signs this restaurant was ever present are some novelty t-shirts and a few neon-pink paper cups left sailing on a landlocked town’s trade winds. The knee-high snow of winter 2013 was simply too much for this little froggie to handle.

SweetFrog was not without its merits, or it would have lasted far less than the year I knew it. No other frogurt stand I knew would offer mochi as a topping; a sort of gumdrop made from pulverized rice and sugar, notable for staying soft at low temperatures which would make corn syrup gummies turn to stone in mere seconds. Along with normal fruit chunks were jelly-like “popper” spheres, fruit juice in a compact package. The frozen yogurt itself came in a small variety of flavors, with four flavors of the month at any given time, pumpkin for October and mint for December. Certain adjacent flavors had a swirl nozzle allowing the two streams to blend into one, showing some foresight into what customers would want to combine in the first place. It was perfectly feasible to build a semi-healthy fruit salad on top of unsweetened plain yogurt one day, and completely splurge on cookie crumbles and Nutella sauce the next, a paradox that was both curious and delicious.

This store was no two-bit café, offering nothing special then wondering why no money enters their coffers. Even in the short time I knew it, SweetFrog was constantly evolving, or possibly metamorphosizing if one insists on puns. Within the first few months they introduced loyalty cards, the same as Starbucks; buy ten orders and the eleventh is free. Their merch soon followed, stuffed animal frogs and t-shirts with designs both benign and...

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Questionable. I never saw anyone buying one, nor did I see a single doll leave the shelves- though this may have been a combination of overstock and very fast employees. Even right before the store closed they still put out a banner advertising their new smoothies, none of which I ever got to try. My loyalty card has two stamps on it, and it will only ever have two stamps on it.

To Western eyes, SweetFrog’s design might be garish. The pinks and neon greens and cyan blues are an aesthetic somewhere between a yoga studio and the hunger-inducing reds and yellows of late 20th century McDonald’s, before they installed faux wood paneling in an attempt to be classy. The boy and girl frog mascots (named Scoop and Cookie) seem to be from another world entirely, un-ironic compared to the plastic-headed kings and businesslike jack-in-the-boxes mocking themselves in adverts, choosing instead to hold a spoon and offer frogurt in earnest. The truth is, SweetFrog truly is from another world, if South Korea is that different from North America. SweetFrog’s founder Derek Cha emigrated from South Korea at the age of 12, and opened the first stand in Richmond, VA in the year 2009. Everything about SweetFrog’s presentation is a synthesis between Korean and American values.

The Christian values inherent in SweetFrog are also alien in a mostly religion-free space such as the fast food industry. The “frog” part of the name apparently stands for “Fully Rely On God”, an acronym proudly displayed on the dispensers and trash bins. These messages don’t seem to be an order to convert so much as a symbol of all the good things a Christian is supposed to be doing; SweetFrog has no apparent agenda beyond making money through frogurt, and being a nice place to eat. The restaurants offer free wi-fi, always have a television running on Food Network, and allow people to use their restrooms regardless of whether they buy anything. SweetFrog doesn’t embrace religion through its iconography or its surrounding culture, but by doing what any good book tells you and being kind.

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But one town’s SweetFrog is gone, and it is only a symptom of an underlying problem. As far as I can tell, this restaurant was open for around a year; their doors opened in early 2013, they closed for the winter, celebrated a “Re-Grand Opening” the following spring, and then quietly folded in summer a few months later. A store came and went from that place, and was replaced with a bar and grill so quietly that few people noticed. How long will this new establishment last? One year, six months? Perhaps the bar and grill will gain popularity and become a permanent fixture in the town, and perhaps I will fly my SUV to the moon and back on a single tank of gasoline, without even requiring a permit from NASA first. A study by Ohio University concluded that approximately 60% of all restaurants fail within the first year, whether due to poor placement, poor service or just poor fortune. The chances of this new place staying in business are quite literally worse than a coin flip.

At the very least, SweetFrog had the grace to be replaced immediately after it went under. There are plenty of storefronts out there that remain empty until further notice, their next act to be announced, abandoned like a Geocities page rotating low-resolution image files for an audience of ghosts. What was once a spoke in the town’s hub of commerce is now an eyesore, a wound on the earth that not even nature can reclaim except with desperate weeds and heather. To know these abandoned buildings is to know the meaning of the term “urban decay”.

The definition of frustration is seeing a town die because of a lack of budget. There’s a reason I have a 22-minute commute to a job about 50 cents above minimum wage; this is a phenomenon happening all across the United States. There is no money because there are no careers because there is nobody hiring workers, because there is no money, and so few people know how to fix it that we continue to train our next generation for the conditions that might have existed three generations ago. I am far from the first person to notice this, and if this is news to anyone at all I would be shocked. We currently live in a world where the absolute minimum required to succeed at living comfortably is an overpriced house, an overpriced car that costs as much as the house, a college degree that will take a decade to pay off, enough money to pay for your children’s educations, not to mention feeding said dependents, and some way to have insurance on it all in case things go bad. It didn’t used to be this way, either.

Perhaps past generations used to have far less freedom in where their life would take them, but at least a person could be guaranteed a purpose. The “family business” used to be a common sight, and farms were often directly connected to their communities; if a kid could do nothing else, they could do what their parents once did. We didn’t want this, and in some ways our current lack of guidance is a blessing. Despite the United State’s school system’s best attempts at denying resources to teachers and ignoring students for being different than the standard, once a student graduates they are free to try their hand at anything that sparks their passion. The troubles come in when we don’t encourage passion at all, since it is so much simpler to work for the cash machine. There are no communities anymore, no neighbors working together, so few people with practical skills, no encouragement to seek practical skills. We are taught to sell products, maybe taught to assemble products, but so few of us remember how to make something for ourselves. With nobody left to offer anything, our towns shrink as we march on a pilgrimage from whatever distant star will pay us, small businesses hollowed out from starvation, town centers reduced to sand and grit. The most these empty stores can offer is my reflection in the front window, appropriately enough.

One of these storefronts used to be a children’s bookstore.

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The shelves are still there, stretching off into distances further than a child could count; each shelf once held storybooks, each of which had their own simple depth and promise of purpose. Hanging above is a silly paper border depicting the alphabet, the same as you might see in a grade school classroom that was never meant to be empty. The carpet is a rubber mat over supermarket-style linoleum tile, holding up a vast collection of empty air that even Atlas would have trouble lifting. Somehow, the two potted plastic bushes right behind the windows are the most humbling feature, a half-hearted attempt at classiness thrown up in the same way one might shield their body with a shower curtain. This bookstore is so long gone that I don’t remember its name- and yet I remember being taken there once, when I was young enough to be its target audience. Seeing this place empty does not invoke nostalgia so much as disappointment.

I use these places as examples because they didn't make any obvious mistakes. SweetFrog was situated right next to a supermarket, ready to attract people who were likely already hungry. The road it was on also happens to run right through the middle of the town, in between the industrial zone and the suburbs, so everyone could make it in time for lunch. The children's bookstore was right next to a women's clothing shop, a video game outlet, and a major retail store, all places a family with children might go and notice the place. Neither of these locations became a permanent fixture. These days, it takes more than a theoretically good business practice to stay afloat- it takes being a meaningful addition to a community.

The ridiculous part is, the town I’m getting these photographs from prides itself on projecting an air of wealth. Their suburbs are about as quiet and picturesque as they can get, and there are whole sections of town dedicated to housing rich folk on summer vacation, swathes of oceanfront property that are occupied for perhaps three or five months of the year. Meanwhile, their commercial district is falling apart at a rapid rate. Even businesses that would cater to high-income citizens suffer, such as this boating shop.

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It makes perfect sense that such a store would fail, given its expensive, rarely-bought product and distance from actual water, but when a town is flooded with the kinds of people who want to buy boats every summer and a boat store still can’t stay extant, there is a problem with how American communities work. Rather than do something to change this, we have allowed this building to stand here and be sad for years.

I’m not asking for SweetFrog back, or even the bookstore back. SweetFrog is a perfectly healthy chain that will survive without my business, and the Internet is replacing bookstores more every year. My only request is that an empty building needs to be filled by something instead of nothing. If a town cannot find a buyer for property in the commercial district, bulldoze it and replace it with something that has meaning. If poverty is a problem, construct a soup kitchen or a consignment store. If the town’s council considers a soup kitchen to be too ugly, remind them that keeping people in poverty is even uglier. Perhaps instead of another building, the wasted space could go towards a park or playground for the public to use, adding some beauty to a street that needs it. Even a pawn shop is better than leaving a store blank; a pawn shop is an earnest show of running a business, albeit one that directly benefits from the desperation of nearby people. We are in an age where we are learning just how hard our ancestors worked to give us what we take for granted. It’s up to us to build the towns we want instead of watching them crumble.

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The 2014 YouChew E3 Awards [by the Pope]

Jun 17 2014 06:40 AM | Nozdordomu in Editorials

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Welcome back to this year’s E3 Awards! As usual, all of the accolades have been chosen by you, and we’re here to celebrate the winners and shit on the losers. This year was rather slow and mediocre; as such, certain awards needed to be dropped because there just weren’t any nominees worth noticing. However, there were still enough quirks and triumphs for us to cheer for or laugh at today. Without further ado, here are the 2014 YouChew E3 Awards!

The “You Are Tearing Me Apart, Reggie!” Award
For the most unintentionally funny moment

This year, there weren’t too many unscripted goof-ups or hilariously bad attempts to show off. There were a few moments, however, that did tickle our funny bones.

The fact that Fable Legends looked like the world of Shrek, only to end up including ogres, led to a slew of “it’s all ogre now”-inspired quips. However, it could still never compare to what is usually the funniest things at these shows: technical fuckups.

Earlier in Sony’s conference, they were discussing their new Disney Infinity lineup, including Marvel heroes such as the Incredible Hulk. Later on, as a Sony exec was discussing Destiny, the Hulk apparently decided that he wanted more screentime, as a sudden outburst of HULK SMA- was heard before being abruptly cut off.

We can only assume that it was meant to be played during the Disney Infinity presentation, and somehow got played later on accident. The fact that the speaker just played along (“Hulk Smash is right!”) is admirable, but it was still pretty jarring, and had us rolling in stitches.

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The “My Body Wasn’t Ready” Award
For the biggest “Oh SNAP” moment of the show

As previously stated, this was a pretty boring year for the most part. There weren’t too many big reveals; it was mostly just updates on stuff we already knew about and sequels to franchises that we were expecting.

A couple of moments did catch us off guard, though. Pac-Man being announced for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS was a pretty big shocker; however, since Namco is working on the games, it wasn’t that far of a stretch to begin with.

No, the thing that nobody saw coming was an HD remastering of Grim Fandango on PlayStation 4.

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Cue TyrannosaurusReich’s sperm flowing out of your computer.

Despite being a beloved old-school gem, Grim Fandango has never been ported to Steam, GoG, or any consoles whatsoever. So nobody could've predicted it coming back, especially not like this. If it had just been ported over to PS4, that would've been good enough to celebrate; the fact that they’re remastering it, though, was a massive surprise, and a great one at that.

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The “Rock Band 3, Fucking Finally” Award
For the biggest bait and switch

In retrospect, Sunset Overdrive probably should’ve been one of the nominees for this award. The trailer started off looking like a generic shooter (which Microsoft had just been dedicating a large amount of their show towards) before switching gears into a colorful and lighthearted world. However, that was a switch from something bad to something good, and often for this award, it’s more fitting for it to be the other way around.

Enter Project Spark.

A decent looking game, up until Conker made his appearance…only to tell us that he still wasn’t getting a new game. One must ask: why Conker? Why did he need to be there if he’s not getting a new game? Why not just have Master Chief show up, or one of the Gears of War guys? It just makes no sense.

In the end, a video JonTron made about the reveal sums up our feelings rather nicely.

We feel you, Jon.

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“Jack Black’s Octagonal Emblem”
For the most cringe-worthy and painful game/presentation to sit through

This year was pretty straight-laced and dull, so there weren’t too many moments that made us recoil in our seats. The BioWare employee trying to appeal to the internet by going “ALL THE FEELSUH” was shameless pandering, yes, and the players of LittleBigPlanet 3 were pretty hard to watch. But for the worst in cringe-worthy pandering, we’ve gotta go with our favorite internet hermaphrodite, Aisha Tyler.

Get it? It’s funny, because she said a swear word! Ha ha ha! Get her, Adam Sandler, and Sath Mcfarland together and we’ll have ourselves a riot!

But seriously, Aisha, stop. If you want to come off as funny, then come up with funny lines. Because simply swearing isn’t funny.

Stop it, Aisha.

Just stop.

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The “ESPN Experience” Award
For the announcement/presentation that had the least to do with video games at a conference about video games

When Microsoft started off their show by saying they would only talk about games, it was a surprise. A delightful surprise that we would get more time for games, and an honest surprise that they wouldn’t spend half the show shelling out the Kinect and the Xbone’s media features like they have in past years. So instead, it was up to other companies to pick up the slack. And while they never got to “Xbox Go Home” levels of distraction, they were still pretty painful to sit through.

Sony spent far too much time discussing PlayStation Now and their other streaming services, but at least they got back to good games. Eventually. EA, however, did not. They spent a good third of their time showing off videos of people talking about games. People sitting in board rooms discussing how much they love Star Wars, or how hip and edgy the star of Mirror’s Edge is. That’s cool. How about some gameplay. No? Okay.

EA is the one who gave us the true ESPN experience this year, even if it wasn’t as excruciating as the Xbone’s reveal with their nonstop talk of “spoats”.

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Speaking of sports, though…

The “Exciting Dog Action!” Award
For the most boring game due to lack of innovation

While the “ESPN Experience” best described the doldrums of last year’s show, “Exciting Dog Action!” easily describes this one. Sequels. Reboots. Grimdark shooters. Fantasy games that all look identical and all have dragons. Hardly a shred of originality to be found. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was exactly what we were expecting. Assassin’s Creed Unity hardly shook things up. But above all else, what comes out every single year and never, ever, ever innovates?

EA Sports.

EA easily spent at least half of their time on stage talking about their “exciting” new sports games. Boxing, soccer, football, holy shit! It’s almost like they had this same talk last year! Oh wait, that’s probably because they did.

We get that there’s an audience for this genre, and we get that there’s only so much you can do with sports games beyond improving models and animations. That’s fine. But if you’ve got nothing impressive to show, don’t spend half of your show showing it. Seriously, it would be like if Nintendo spent half of their show talking about the new Star Fox in development even though there’s nothing to show, and just panning over that one rock and that one bird over and over again. And even then that would be better, because it’s a game that’s different.

EA, if you must continue your monopolistic, repetitive, blood-from-a-stone sports franchises, then fine, we can’t stop you. But for the love of god, keep it behind the stage so we don’t have to waste our time watching it.

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The “Girl-Wooden Plaque”
For the worst excuse of a "Girl Gamer"

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Gurl, you crazy.

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“Usher’s Plastic Disco Ball”
For the most shoehorned-in celebrity

This year was thankfully barren of celebrities for the most part. Even EA, with their usual shameless shelling out, didn’t have any celebrities on stage.

Well, all except one. Sort of.

It’s one thing to use a dead person’s speeches for the sake of promoting that which they stood for. Using a clip of MLK to promote equality? Warranted. Audio of JFK to get people to vote and help out in their country? Inspiring. But using Bruce Lee to promote your fighting game, and then propping up his shambling corpse in it to fight against? That’s just…creepy. Like, really, really creepy.

This isn’t the first time a dead person has been represented in a game, and it probably won’t be the last. But the idea of his spirit being crammed into a product by EA, it just feels…wrong. We’d say shame on you for doing this, Mr. Lee, but unfortunately, you didn’t have a choice.

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“Mr. Caffeine’s Bronze Coffee Mug”
For the worst performer of the show

God damn it, Ubisoft.

That’s four years in a row now. Four. How do you keep fucking up?

At least it’s not a new performer sucking this year; instead we get to keep the same dumb fucking face we’ve grown to loathe, Aisha Tyler.

To be fair, this year wasn’t too bad overall with annoying performers. Aaron Flynn, the “ALL THE FEELSUH” guy, was obnoxious for a few seconds. Shawn Layden, the new Sony CEO who couldn’t stop making hand gestures, was a little dumb. But nobody tried consistently to make us laugh and failed miserably more than Aisha Tyler.

There’s a sort of rule that applies to movies, and that’s that bad comedies are always the most painful to sit through. Because you can laugh at a bad horror, romance, or adventure movie, knowing that you’re laughing at its inadequacies. But you can’t laugh at bad comedy, because then you might think you’re actually laughing at the bad jokes. Instead, you just sit there in miserable silence.

Pop culture references. Irreverent swearing. The inability to keep a mood. An overall sense of annoyance. The fact that no one else came on stage to relieve us for even a brief few moments. The truth is, Aisha Tyler is still nowhere near as bad as Lord Doodly Doop The Great and Majestic, nor is she as annoying as Toby from a few years back. But the fact that she still annoys us, and that Ubisoft still hasn’t switched her out, is a problem.

Ubisoft, next year, at least try to get some fresh meat. Because while a new speaker may be bad, they probably won’t be as bad as Aisha. We hope.

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“The Concrete Donkey”
For the company that made the biggest ass out of themselves, in both presentation and content

Unlike last year, where there was a clear winner of this award, this year is a little more muddled. Most of the companies were just mediocre; they didn’t show us a lot of outstanding games, but at the same time they didn’t infuriate us.

That being said, though, crap is crap.

EA had the fewest games of interest; almost all of the games revealed were sports games, and many of the others were simply people talking about their development of the game instead of actually showing footage or gameplay of it. So they should win this award, right?

Well…not quite. Instead, the Concrete Donkey is being handed over to Ubisoft.

The irony is mind-boggling; just two years ago, they not only won the awards for the best game, but the best company for their overall excellence. And now, it’s come to this. Jarring transitions from lighthearted to grim and dour. A multitude of dance games. The many issues with Aisha as explained above. They did show off some cool looking games, such as Far Cry 4; many of them, though, were just the same old Tom Calancy bullshit we’ve come to expect. EA was crap, but at least it was consistent crap. Ubisoft was just all over the place, not knowing whether they wanted to have fun, be serious, or show us good games. The resulting mish-mash resulted in the most asinine ceremony of the year, and as such, we “award” them with the Concrete Donkey, an eternal testament to their crappiness.

Better luck next year, guys. Want a tip? Get rid of the chick with the boner.

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"Best in Show" (Game)
For the game that, through trailers, live demos, or other presentations, deserves the most praise and built the most hype

As boring of a year this may have been, there were still plenty of great games that came out of it. Some of them are ones we already knew about, such as Batman: Arkham Knight and Bayonetta 2. Others were delightful new announcements such as No Man’s Sky and Splatoon. But what else could get our adrenaline soaring like a legitimate, epic battle between two corporate executives?

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Okay, “legitimate” may be a stretch…

What could this epic battle between two heads of Nintendo have to do with anything? Well, it was a segue into Super Smash Bros, of course. But we all knew it was coming; we've been hankering for this game for the past year.

The hype machine for Smash wasn’t a quick burst like most E3 announcements are, but rather a slow burn that’s been building up since last year. The reveal of Mega Man at the last E3 is what set our hopes high, and they only got higher and higher as we’ve seen more gameplay footage, the reveals of Pac-Man, Palutenas, and our own Miis, as well as the chance to play the game for ourselves at Best Buys.

Many games showed us little tidbits of scripted gameplay or prerendered trailers, but few games gave us as much of an extensive glimpse as we got with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS.

As such, we award Smash as the best game of the show. Our bodies are ready. And, as we now know, so is Reggie’s.

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"Best in Show" (Company)
For the company that overall was of the highest quality and standard, in both presentation and content

It really wasn’t that big of a contest this year. Microsoft and Sony showed off some good games, but just didn’t have the right amount of pizazz or wonder. EA and Ubisoft flopped miserably in uniquely terrible ways. That left it to Nintendo to salvage E3.

And boy did they ever.

Super Smash Bros. New open-world Zelda. Hyrule Warriors. Kirby. Yoshi. The reveal that X is a sequel to Xenoblade. Bayonetta 2 with the first game included. Mario Maker. Splatoon. Hints at a new Star Fox. All this and more.

But what was the difference between this and other conferences? Other conferences showed off sequels to franchises as well as a few new IPs, right? So why all the Nintendo love?

Well, it wasn’t just the content, but also the presentation.

Nintendo’s conference was not only lighthearted and willing to joke with itself, but it was also slim and lean. The fact that it was only 45 minutes compared to Sony’s 2 hours was a bit disappointing, but each of those minutes was packed with important detail. Not a minute was spent on extraneous information (except maybe the Amiibos, but they actually look kind of interesting); instead, they showed us games, and they showed them fast. And then they spent the next few days still revealing new information, such as Code Name STEAM, a game by Intelligent Systems in which Abraham Lincoln creates a force to fight aliens.

Only Nintendo could come up with something so batshit insane.

There may not have been as many crap-your-pants reveals as in years past, or as many wow moments like Sony’s slam at Microsoft last year, but in a world of shit, this golden nugget floated to the top. So we gladly award Nintendo as the Best in Show for this year’s E3.

This means you’re all gonna buy a Wii U now, right?


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Once again, thanks Combuskenisawesome for the updated award emblems. They're always the highlights of the article.

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Bob Hoskins - A Memorial

May 26 2014 06:15 AM | HerrVarden in Editorials

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In this year, many famous deaths have impacted us all in various ways. While we may curse the year for robbing us of great talent, it's simply one of the inevitabilities of our world. It always feels bad that those with true ability will no longer continue to amaze us with their skills. Yet at the same time, that is not to say that all their work prior is in vain. To paraphrase Banksy, "we all die twice; once we let out our last breath, and again when our name is said for the very last time." Much of the greats' body of work lives on despite their actual bodies being buried in the ground. Their spirit reminds us of their greatness. In that regard, I would like to talk about an actor who, even though he's known to a great deal of us by two films, showed that there was a lot more to an actor than that. As you can imagine, that man is none other than Bob Hoskins.

To the commoner, Bob Hoskins wouldn't be much of a standout name, lest you were familiar with his Brooklyn accent in the two films that I've mentioned. Despite this, Hoskins was actually British, and worked in such films as The Long Good Friday, Ruby Blue, Mona Lisa, Hook, Pink Floyd's The Wall and countless others. Aside from playing a New Yorker, he was known to play Cockneys, gangsters and Cockney gangsters. But, he proved himself to be versatile enough to play J. Edgar Hoover and Nikita Khrushchev. Unfortunately, I have not looked at any of his other work, or at the very least his better work. Still, that's not to say that what little we do know isn't important in its own right. His roles as Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Mario Mario in Super Mario Brothers shaped his career and put him into the minds of many more people than would've known.

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On my side, I can say that his work in Who Framed Roger Rabbit has been a great influence on me. While the film had a great variety of concepts that I enjoyed, as well as a plethora of memorable scenes, it was Hoskins's acting that got me so engrossed in the production. It took me a while to appreciate just how great his ability was in the project. Mainly, it was the fact that for the most part Hoskins had to imagine the characters he had to interact with. It is very tricky to act without something in front of you, let alone perform the proper actions to make them seem real. Yet Hoskins made sure to take into consideration any nudges or fidgeting that would occur from the toons moving in any which way when the special effects couldn't do so well enough. He made sure to focus in the right spots and treat that empty space as if it were a solid being. His preparation for the role is cute in its own right, as he would play with his daughter who had imaginary friends of her own. As he kept recognizing their existence, he was able to project that onto the toons he would act alongside. It really shows his dedication to finding any way to make his performance better.

Along with that, he makes Eddie Valiant a more interesting take on the hard-boiled detective sort. While there's various instances where the joke is played straight, Hoskins makes sure that the character still contains a more joking and light-hearted side. It's done in a very subtle way, which I think is great because it can still maintain the cynical attitude that stays with a man who's been through it all, as well as give him more humanity and connection with the audience. That and with this tone, the more goofy-sounding jokes still give believability to his character. At the end of it all, Eddie Valiant is simply looking for the answers and trying to do good for the world. Another thing I admire about Hoskins is just how he enjoyed himself in the role. It may not be incredibly obvious to a person seeing it as his role requires him to be more jaded, but he takes advantage of hitting all the notes necessary in a film-noir archetype. He's an alcoholic, a snarker, a gritty-talker, and a man who doesn't like to be pushed around by anyone. He finds himself seduced by a femme fatale and pushed around by a bunch of mooks, and confronts anyone who's played him like a sap in the harshest of manners. His reactions always told you what he was feeling, so much so that if the film was mute, you would follow him perefectly. It was a role that he embraced so much that you too could see how much he enjoyed being part of the film. Simply put, when Hoskins was on, you were in for a great ride.

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As far as I can tell, Bob Hoskins was a standard professional actor, being well-versed in his field and astute about a variety of other subjects but also sincere and easy-going. One of my favorite quotes of his was that when asked what he owed to his parents, he said "Confidence. My mum used to say to me, "If somebody doesn't like you, fuck 'em, they've got bad taste." In other times I've seen him in interviews, it was evident how down to earth and happy he was. Perhaps in some way it was fitting that he didn't become that large of a household name. The reasonable amount of fame he received was sufficient for him and he wouldn't properly fit into the greater mainstream scene. Still, it wouldn't have hurt him, as he certainly had enough talent to reach those heights. In the few years before his death, he had retired acting after Snow White And The Huntsman, mainly due to his Parkinsons becoming more prevalent. While that ruined the likelihood of him being in any further films, it still is a shame to see such a talented man go. In turn I feel bad, as I do with many actors who have died, for not knowing more about his work before his death. But I know that the one work that I do know him from will always stay with me, mostly because of the wonderful performance that he gave in it. Rest in peace, Mr. Hoskins.


Ah, Bob Hoskins. Where have you been all this time? Playing a gangster or a working-class type in all manners of character acting, for sure. Winning awards at Cannes, I can see. While I haven’t seen much of you until now, when you made the headlines, I know you’ve been getting steady work in Britain. I also know that you passed away less than a month ago, and now all I can do is apostrophize. I didn’t expect to meet you in my lifetime, but it’s still sad to see you go.

That said, I feel like the wrong person to write about Hoskins. I haven’t seen The Long Good Friday, though I’ve heard it’s really good. I haven’t seen Mona Lisa, which looks like the kind of film I’d love and is on my long “to watch” list. Hell, I haven’t even seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which I really should have seen by now. That’s probably Hoskins’ most well-known picture, at least for Americans, but the only thing I know about Eddie Valiant is that Toon killed his brother. The only films for which I know Bob Hoskins are Hook, in which he played the thankless but memorable role of Smee, Hook’s underling; and, of course, the infamous cult sensation, the Super Mario Bros. movie.

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I have a long and complicated history with Super Mario Bros. My earliest memory of the film goes back to age four or five, when my brother and I crowded around the TV to watch the VCR. We were both crazy about Mario back then, and although I can’t remember what we initially thought of the film, it must have caught us off guard. I vividly remember the Yoshi puppet, the Bob-omb, the weird scene where Mario and Luigi walk the dinosaur at the club, the freaky Goombas, and the brothers in their “stompers” (the last one’s on the cover, so that helps). Everything else is fuzzy. I have to admit, though, that Bob Hoskins’ Mario Mario (canon!) was the only live-action Mario I knew about until I came to YouChew. The nostalgia was strong enough to convince me to see the film again, which I did about two years ago.

Maybe now isn’t the time to admit that I don’t really like the Super Mario Bros. movie. It’s just hard for me to appreciate a film that’s as much a mess onscreen as it is off screen. Super Mario Bros. had a very troubled production, to say the least, with conflict between the studio and the directors over the film’s tone, copious budget overruns and shooting delays, and a ton of bizarre story and character choices. Mario is a father figure to Luigi? Koopa has a dominatrix wife? Toad is a folk singer? “Trust the fungus?” Argh, just thinking about the movie makes my head hurt. All the conflicting elements at play make the conflict uneven and muddled, and the set design feels like a retread of Total Recall’s Mars. It’s an interesting failure, for sure, but a failure nonetheless. That said, I understand why so many people, especially on this forum, like it. It has the great virtue of never being boring. It makes the best use of “Walk the Dinosaur” in film. It has this unique oddball charm that makes it watchable throughout. And although he’s a bit of an unsung hero when the film’s discussed, I think Hoskins deserves a lot of the credit for that.

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Truth be told, Bob Hoskins gives the best performance in Super Mario Bros. It’s not the best performance of his career, but it is the most admirable. Dennis Hopper overacts a bit too much as Koopa and John Leguizamo seems miscast as Luigi, but Hoskins fits Mario better than you’d think, especially since Mario had little to no personality before the film came out. Before Nintendo made him a happy-go-lucky jumper, Hoskins had the good sense to take his working-class personality and apply it to the Italian plumber. His eye-rolling cynicism and everyman appeal make a nice contrast to Luigi’s idealism, and his professionalism ensures that Mario never seems self-aware. Some actors would play Mario if it meant a paycheck or pleasing their kids, and although Hoskins did take a big paycheck, that’s never evident in the final product. If nothing else, I have to admire Hoskins for committing so fully to his role. Hoskins went through more trouble for this film than most actors go through in their careers. Not everyone could survive a shoot like Super Mario Bros., which was apparently so painful for all the principal actors, Hoskins included, that they would frequently go off set during filming and get drunk.

Funnily enough, Hoskins never knew that the Mario film was based on a video game until he found his son Jack playing it. Bob later went on to call Super Mario Bros. the worst film he ever did, probably due the long bouts of drinking it inspired and the damage it did to his American career (though he kept making films in Britain). Jack, on the other hand, loves it and praises Bob's performance. Having grown up and read the negative reviews, he’s decided that he doesn’t care. “It’s no one's intention to ruin the classics,” he says; “if you remember your past enjoyments, then it would definitely keep your childhood memories alive and safely locked in your head forever." There you have it. Even though Bob suffered and drank a great deal to appear in Super Mario Bros., he gave enjoyment and many fond memories to all kinds of Mario- and movie-loving children. A lot of actors would love to achieve that, I bet, for children have all the influence. Several of those children, including James Rolfe, have grown up and continued to praise and defend the film online. Despite my disliking of the film, I say more power to them – especially if it keeps Bob Hoskins’ memory alive and locked in all our minds.

Although it’s tempting to lament Hoskins’ death at the unfair hands of Parkinson’s disease, or to complain that his swan song is a drippy Kristen Stewart film, I know it doesn’t really matter in the end. Bob Hoskins had a fulfilling career, a more fulfilling life than I can imagine, and a memorable role in a very memorable film based on a video game. Few video game films deserve that adjective. And, few actors deserve as much appreciation, admiration, and downright respect as Hoskin does. I know one thing: he’ll always be Mario for me.

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A special outline of Game Grumps

May 20 2014 06:59 PM | zacheatscrackers in Editorials

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"Fuckin' boopin' ass game!" - JonTron

One's grump. The other is not so grump. You know the drill.

Game Grumps is a web-show created by Arin Hanson (Egoraptor) and Jon Jafari (JonTron) that involves them doing commentary on various games. Both of them were previously known for their own respective productions. Egoraptor is, of course, famous for the Awesome Series, along with Sequelitis and Girlchan in Paradise, among other things. JonTron is famous for, naturally, the JonTron Show on YouTube, along with a spin-off channel focusing on League of Legends. He's also involved in Polaris and Blistered Thumbs on That Guy With The Glasses. Due to the history of these internet personalities, many fans were both skeptical and excited for this show. Many speculations were formed about it at the time, and many different assumptions and viewpoints were expressed; among them were how well they would gel together and how well their styles of humor would work on the same video.

An interesting note is that the Grumps are often referred to as their real names as opposed to their internet aliases to drive home the "two dudes just playin' gamez" concept. Game Grumps came to fruition due to an argument between Arin and Jon about whether Wolf and Fox from StarFox were clones while they were playing Super Smash Brothers Brawl. A friend they were with told them that they were being needlessly grumpy over the game... and the rest is history. The two internet personalities created the channel on July 10th, 2012, and began the first era of Game Grumps with a Kirby Superstar play-through on the 18th. What set GG apart from the typical Let's Play was the lack of focus on the game mechanics, which at the time was seen as rather fresh and interesting.

It indeed was.

What made the show work wasn't specifically because it was so different from other Let's Plays, as mentioned before. The duo typically strayed away from LP hallmarks, yes, but they did it in favor of spontaneous conversation, vulgar, often goofball humor, a TON of gratuitous yelling and frequently (and hilariously) pointing out absurdities in the games themselves as opposed to just being different for the sake of it. To extenuate the supposed differentiation intention, Arin and Jon had made it clear several times that the videos weren't Let's Plays. Among the best early GG videos are the Goof Troop, Sonic '06 (although the length is an issue for some people) and Kirby Superstar series', along with the Chuckie Cheese and Mary-Kate and Ashley one-offs.

Beyond the challenges and quirks that made the show a blast to watch, though, was the dynamic between Jon and Arin. It was clear from the get-go that they were close friends and enjoyed each others' company, but their personalities and ideals often clashed, leading to many hilarious moments and rather though-provoking arguments. Both were rather hot-blooded and ready to go into mad tangents at the drop of a hat, but Jon seemed to do it more often. There was also Barry, their intrepid and sarcastic editor who soon developed a following and memetic worship from viewers. Some of the show's most insane and hysterical moments come from his little touches, so that's not a bad thing by any means.

Although the show, like any popular one, was polarizing from the very beginning, it quickly attracted a large fan-base that spawned tons of remixes, fan-art and a (usually) strong relationship between the Grumps themselves and viewers. Due to the massive popularity, the channel spawned numerous series' outside of the main one (Game Grumps, obviously); GG VS, GG Animated, Guest Grumps, Steam Train, Steam Rolled and Table Flip, along with several special holiday-themed series' (although just about everything after the Animated series began almost a year later).

In spite of the hilarious humor, numerous memorable episodes and endless memes, however, the series was definitely not without its flaws.

It was arguably around the time the Naughty Bear video was released where the Grumps began to really show signs of decreasing in quality. The duo seriously started to lose their humorous edge (to those that found them funny in the first place, anyway), hints became consistently ignored, which they blamed on the game's design as opposed to their own lack of attention, and some of their most notorious habits (ECH and Arin's often poorly formed opinions, among other things) became near impossible to bear. Even before that, though, the Grumps frequently stopped playing games out of nowhere either due to minor frustrations or simply losing interest a couple parts in. Not only that, but several fans felt that the Sonic '06 play-through went on a bit too long. Many instances within the YouTube comments and in various forums show that the show's decline can be pointed to as just as much a result of the constant bickering between individuals and idiotic mindsets as the shortcomings of the duo themselves.

Then, on June 25th, 2013, Jon left, causing quite the uproar amongst viewers due to the abruptness of it. His replacement was Dan Avidan (Danny Sexbang) of NinjaSexParty fame. The already large divide between the fans continued to grow at an increasingly fast pace and it was utterly obliterated upon the introduction of Steam Train, RIGHT AFTER Jon departing no less. At the time, you could count the amount of people taking this in stride on one hand. All of this thankfully cooled down after a while, however, and Danny eventually grew on the fans.

Danny indeed stuck out like a sore thumb for a while, being a bit too similar to Arin and agreeing with more or less everything he said, but the Wind Waker HD play-through revealed some rather dark secrets regarding Danny, causing many viewers (including me) to sympathize with him. He also developed a penchant for telling crazy stories and generally just wanting nothing more than to fuck around, which soon caused most to overlook his less defined days. The introduction of all the new series' listed above after Steam Train, along with new Grumps Ross O'Donovan/RubberRoss and Suzy Hanson/Mortem3r, garnered attention and a lot of positive feedback. Ross became the channel's go-to affectionate punching bag and a frequent source of faux-blame and Suzy became well known for being a friendly lass with a surprising penchant for occasional trash-talking and macrebe comments.

A good deal of the bad aftertaste of Jon's leave has passed due to the cast doing their best to establish new things and move on from the Golden Age of the channel. Unfortunately, the polarizing views of the show itself have yet to relent, however, and there's no end in sight in terms of arguing and petty bullshit. Again, though, that's to be expected of fan-bases of popular web-shows, and Game Grumps is certainly no different.

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In a couple months, the show will have completed its second year, and all things considered, you can tell that the show has come a long way regardless of any roadblocks in the past.

What started off as simply two popular dudes on the web deciding to do a show together morphed into an internet phenomenon and one of YouTube's more notable attractions. To some, it might not seem like much, but to fans of gaming and, well, funny shit online in general, it's huge. The proverbial commentary cocoon sprouted into a beautiful butterfly and has become more popular than anyone initially expected, and there's no end in sight. Despite many complaints that the channel was dying and was becoming more a business than just a laid-back, funny thing for gamers to watch, Game Grumps is still as hilarious and interesting as ever despite everything it has gone through. Although the show will always inspire different viewpoints and will always have its flaws, its success is inarguable and it's near impossible to resist at least watching a few videos every once in a while.

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Spectre’s Quest: Patriotic Red Bull!

May 04 2014 07:46 PM | thebluespectre in Editorials

Have you ever got the feeling that you were missing out on something? Like, the flavor of some product that has been out for years yet ignored by everyone? Here's an example for you; I’ve never bought a single can of Red Bull. In fact, I’ve never had Rockstar, or Monster, or any of these tall cans of pure energy. I come from a family that’s fairly sensitive to caffeine, so I never really bothered with anything more caffeinated than regular coffee or tea. Many of my friends in high school would regularly gulp down double servings of the sweet-scented grog with little to no effect, while I could only observe in quiet wonder. What, I asked myself, was so special about these beverages?

Red Bull is one of the oldest modern energy drinks, first produced in Austria in 1987. There have been energy drinks before Red Bull, but this is the product that set today’s standards of design; taurine, caffeine and sugar, served in a narrow can with an iconic label, sponsoring extreme sports events. This formula has been successful, and I aim to find out why.

While I was out buying a few cans, I found that there have been three novelty flavors released in 2012- cranberry red, lime silver, and blueberry blue- which were still in stock more than a year later, despite all appearances of never having been restocked. Only the sterile atmosphere of the market kept dust from forming on the cardboard 4-packs, each branded with the outline of a charging bull. I was leery of these drinks at first, since any beverage that hasn’t been consumed for that long would definitely have problems. Yet… those cans would also be like a time capsule, a frozen moment in time desperate to be shared with the rest of the world. Plus, if I was going to have a new experience, it might as well be a rarer experience. I picked up samples of each flavor and prepared myself.

Red Bull Classic

I figured I should have a control group. After all, I can’t give an honest opinion about a beverage if I’ve never sampled it before. Compared to an average North American cola can, the traditional one-serving Red Bull can is slim, taller than it is wide, seemingly designed to be easy to grip. There are much larger servings out there, overgrown tankards with more than two cans worth of beverage within, but I like the smaller design. This can’s design evokes some alien battery of unknown construction, sending a uniform chill into my hand as it saps heat. Better try it before it gets warm.

Pulling the tab feels different from a normal cola can. There is more resistance in the aluminum, built thinner yet stiffer, reinforced. The tab does not fold open a hole so much as punch it with the crack of a gunshot. Red Bull is differently carbonated as well, a sort of short “phut” rather than the slow, sustained fizz of a cola can. I can see the mist burst forth in a faint cloud. It smells like… energy drink. The aroma is artificial, with a hint of aspartame even if there is none. Here goes nothing.

Red Bull has a light texture, like a sort of thin apple juice. Unlike cola or juice cocktail, this drink doesn’t cling to my mouth, or stick to my teeth. I want to say it’s because Red Bull uses sugar instead of corn syrup, but that would only be an educated guess. The carbonation that accompanies it is light and subtle, a sort of background noise instead of a carbon dioxide burn. Red Bull does its best to be inoffensive and downright pleasant to drink.

Notice that I have not described the flavor, nor the taste. Sadly, Red Bull has a flavor that is both mystifying and disappointing. I can describe it as sugar and energy, but not much else applies to it. Whatever it is supposed to be, my tongue becomes numb to it after a few swigs so I only feel bubbles sliding down my throat. It’s not terrible, only underwhelming.

Actually, there is one flavor that this reminds me of. Imagine, if you will, your grandmother’s house. Next to your grandmother is a candy dish. There is no chocolate in there, nor gumdrops, nor mints. She only has the most basic of hard candies, like a lollipop without a handle or a Jolly Rancher without a wrapper. They come in many shapes, ribbons and drops, but this one is unidentifiable. This is the single melted blob of hard candy at the bottom of the dish, the one you pick at when you dig too greedily and too deep, desperately prying the last dollop of sugar from your grandma. You stick the jagged shard of candy in your mouth and wonder what kind of fruit it is supposed to be, while wondering if you have anything better to do with your afternoon. This piece of candy has done nothing to satisfy any desire you might have, but it is sweet so you take it regardless. That is the experience of drinking a can of original Red Bull.

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Red Bull: Red Edition

After experiencing normal Red Bull for the first time, my hopes were not high for the flavored editions. Plus, I’m not feeling a thing! Red Bull has this reputation as being twice as powerful as a cup of coffee, but all I feel is disappointment and an aftertaste. Nonetheless, I will clear my mind and try another.

Red is supposed to inspire aggression and feelings of strength, and I get that vibe from this can. The flavored editions all have a more “dignified” appearance than the default can; normal Red Bull is designed to look like a checkered flag, but these are all in solid colors with more emphasis on the bull mascot, rendered larger and in silhouette. The particular way light reflects off of the can is very photogenic, if that makes sense.

When I crack open the Red Edition, my nose is instantly battered by sour candy winds. The carbonation is as faint as always, only now with a stronger, more defined flavor. It is tart, very tart. The flavor itself resembles any three-dollar cranberry cocktail you would buy at a supermarket, threaded with carbon dioxide for a slight fizz. Red Edition manages to taste far cleaner than a normal cranberry cocktail, because of its lesser sugar content. A cocktail is normally supersaturated with corn syrup, so much that it coats the tongue purple and forms rings around your teeth. I wouldn’t call the flavor better, but it captures the essence of a cranberry cocktail well.

Acttuallyy, raw cranberrries don’’t taste anything likke cranberry conncentraate either. I’m ffairly sure that tthe Red Bulll companny just put some pecttin in the mix and ccalled it “”cranberry”, allowing the placebo effecct to do the rest. In fact, tthe ingredients llist is almost exxactly the same as a noormal Red Bull, exxept with “natural flavors”” instead of “natural and artificial fflavors”. The ddescription on the can nnever explicitly promised fruit juice. It’’s sweet, and tthat’s all that matters. It slides down my throat easier than that othher stuff. In fact, I’’d say it was the best flavor so far.

I’ve got tthis weird twitch goinng on. I thhink I might be tired from sitting arround indoors. I’’m going to go ffor a walk.

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Red Bull: Silver Edition

Okay, my head’s clear now. I’ve figured out what normal Red Bull tastes like, you won’t believe what normal Red Bull tastes like. Apples. It tastes like diluted apple juice that’s been kept in a plastic bag at room temperature for a while, like prison wine, not that I know what prison wine tastes like because I’ve never been to prison, never even visited one to see a relative or an ex-girlfriend, not even once. Or maybe I just like the sound of the word “apples”. Apples. Apples.

I’m glad I went for a walk, because I got to have Red Bull Silver while I was out. The special editions have very adult looking cans, which makes me wonder why everything has to be so dignified and adult these days, like we can’t enjoy a soft drink unless it looks like I pulled it out of Hugh Hefner’s mini bar if he has a mini bar, I have no idea if he does. So when I opened this can it did the usual “phut” thing it sprayed mist again, but it has a really light scent that I had to fish around to notice, kind of like how some fishermen hope the police don’t notice they don’t have a license because thirty dollars or more for one season is frankly ridiculous, I swear. This is lime flavored, right?

It’s more like a SweeTarts candy. You know, the pellets of powdered sugar compressed with fruit flavor and dye that really burn when you bite down on them, man I really want a SweeTart right now. That is exactly what a Silver Red Bull tastes like, probably the exact same ingredients, maybe even better than a SweeTart. I wouldn’t say it tastes like a lime though, because this can of sweet beverage tastes silver while a lime tastes green more than anything, green being a sort of earthy and organic scent not that organic means anything anymore, kind of like how this drink isn’t really lime.

I’m kind of thinking of Sprite or Sierra Mist or Surge or Mountain Dew or some other citrus soda pop right now, but that’s not what Silver Edition tastes like. Maybe if you squint really very extremely hard, it’s like a watered down, carbonated limeade, and since limeade is usually strong enough to remove stains from bathroom tiles that’s not a bad trade-off. Eeven the sour taste onnly linngers for aabout a seccond or so, like somme sort of reminder of whatt I was supposed to be ddoing here today instead of hikinng arround in the woods for ffifteen minutes or maybe morre. TThe ingredientss are all screwy arttificial stuff too, like “Glycerol Esters of Wwood Rosin”, which ssounds like the name of an old lady ffrom outer space. Also, why does SSilver Red Bull have “Blue 1 dye”” in it??

Great, tthe twitch is back, and now my heart feells all slow. I haaven’t been eatinng very healthy llately, and it shows. Got to get out excuse me.

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Red Bull: Blue Edition

Those scoundrels. Those LIARS. Have you seen the supermarkets, looked between the aisles to know what is really in your muffins? Let me tell you about the blueberry muffin. That confectionary demiurge, that yeast-burdened paste pretending to be cake through a mountain of syrup, is nothing but a lie meant to make mankind forget true blueberry behind its merest shadow. Have you ever questioned how or where blueberries can be picked in the dead, fallen depths of winter or farther? Have you ever wondered how the flavor of a limited resource such as a blueberry can be shared with a whole country when the farms are so much smaller than the population they feed? The answer is that these “blueberries” are pretenders to the throne, mere alchemical chimera born of artificial flavors and enough binding reagents to roll it up in a little ball. You consume the fruits of the living dead, and are told it is manna. No longer!

Blue Edition Red Bull claims many potencies I refuse to believe, such as the stimulating nature of its ingredients, but do not think you can brew a beverage with the same nature as those pernicious indigo dots that fill my muffin and tell me it is a fruit, not that it ever claimed to be a fruit. As usual for the unwitting minions of false deities, they wheedle and call it blueberry flavored, which I cannot quite disagree with. Except this brew is harsher, more sour, impregnated with astringency that the pretender usually lacks. Without being blunted by the syrup extracts usually found in these sweet lies most foul, whoever consumes this Red Bull is privileged with every blemish and birthmark the chemical carries. In some respects, there is nobility in how it tries to be more like real blueberries, flavor carried in a burst of juice rather than the jaw-exhausting morass of a muffin. Aparrently, this allso contains ffifty percennt of my daily intake of “”pantothenic acid”, whatever thaat means. This stuff also didn’’t turn my tongue purpple, wwhich is sort of a disssapointment.

I have no iddea wwhat I was typping for the last few paragraphs. Outsidde, back in aa moment.

Sugar-Free Red Bull:



Now that I’m awake, and my clinic reassures me that my insurance covers what happened yesterday, I’m glad to give a retrospect on the Red, White, and Blue editions of Red Bull. Red was probably the best in that it tasted exactly like what it claimed to be. Silver was acceptable and did its job well, but wasn’t anything unusual. Blue, lastly, was just sad, and is incidentally the one that is easiest to find in stock as a grocery store. As an aside, apparently the Silver edition is hardest to find right now, so if you really need lime beverages you might have to go for Baja Mountain Dew or something. You can count me out, though; I've had enough of energy drinks, partially because my doctor told me to never touch Red Bull again. In fact, I’m about done with artificial energy drinks. It’s just kombucha tea from now on, and man is this stuff smooth. Another cup would be great right now.

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Windows XP Retrospective

Apr 03 2014 11:00 PM | Crazy Luigi in Editorials

Windows is starting up.

On Christmas Day of 2013, I had heard from a relative of mine (who heard it from his own computer guy) that once 2014 came to pass, the computer software known as Windows XP would be having its last update(s) real soon. By the time this article comes up, it may very well have already gotten its last update that would help make those computers feel more secure. While there are still about two more years left on this system's life-cycle before it truly bites the bullet and becomes a system that's permanently obsolete, it really does signify how old of a software this type of system really is. In 2001 (the year that Windows XP was first released to the public), it was considered one of those computers that it felt like practically everyone had to have in their business or home or something like that in order to have a fun and safe time with the Internet. Yet here we are over a decade later with not only Windows updating its software with stuff like Vista, 7, 8, and 8.1 (and real soon, 9), but Apple, Linux, and even Google (and to a lesser extent, Amazon) have also (re-)emerged as major competition towards Microsoft's PC and laptop market. Not only that, but new markets like smartphones, tablets, video game consoles, and even a thing called "smart-watches" have emerged as strong technological environments that make PCs almost feel like they'll be a thing of the past.

It does feel kind of sad to see that a device that many people on this site have used at one point or another is about to kick the bucket for good. It had some pretty interesting aspects that truly affected how we used our computers, for better or for worst. Not only that, but there were also a lot of memories that truly influenced how much change it had brought up on the Internet. Still, as humans, we do have this everlasting need to evolve ourselves to make bigger and better things that the masses could benefit from, and in our modern day society, we just so happen to offer a bit more power than what Windows XP has. In fact, we also have an apparent interest in special applications that may or may not be built into our newer systems that could do things that we likely won't use in the first place, such as using Netflix or Hulu. With that said, there have been many positive things about Windows XP that we might have taken for granted at the time of its release.

Windows XP was unveiled officially to the media during the month of August 2001 and eventually was released to the public for all to see on October of the same year, and its impact that would be put onto the public was something that took time to do, yet when it came up, it showed off just fine. As a new web browser, it helped standardize what was, at the time, an increase of power by being a 32 bit processing unit instead of a 16 bit processing unit. To give out a proper understanding of what that means, think of an operating system like Windows 95 as a console similar to that of the original Playstation or a Nintendo 64; it was good for what it was as a computer at the time, but it could get pretty unstable every once in a while if you leave it on for too long (think one of those early educational Charlie Brown PC games as an example of sorts there). Windows XP, on the other hand, allowed for it to start out with a video game like Halo pretty easily with very little issues in the process. This helped show off that this operating system would have more of an impact than some people would have thought it had.

Chances are more likely than not that you've not only seen this, but also loved it at one point or another.

For starters, by allowing for more memory in a PC, it allowed more users to do things that would have normally been limited to just supercomputers that only a select few people had at the time. Programs like Direct-X and Photoshop that had aspects about them that were just "pretty good" beforehand got upgraded to make them really good in not only the mid-2000's era, but also to this day. Not only that, but the improved memory spaces that would be on further operating systems would help make not only video game systems like the NES, the SNES, and the Sega Genesis easier to emulate, but it also allowed for a system as recent (keeping in mind the same era where Windows XP was the most prevalent system) as the Nintendo 64 (and later on, the Gamecube and even the Nintendo DS) to work with little to no hiccups whatsoever. There was also some improved flash capabilities that came through which helped make people like Egoraptor and Eddsworld (R.I.P. Edd Gould) stand out as fun people to look through in the future. However, what felt like a major aspect that many of feel like we've overlooked as a whole is the video editing capabilities that we have.

Before Windows XP, there weren't really any major video editing software tools that you could use to edit videos with since the applications were pretty primitive and the ones that did exist didn't have enough memory to really make something major with them. Sure you can save them onto your PC for whatever reason possible, but there wasn't really much of a purpose to having them out on 16-bit computers since no major websites were created for them at that time, especially when looking at stuff like the Space Jam website. With Windows XP, it allowed users to have a purpose to create new videos for themselves for free and do whatever kinds of crazy shit they want to do, regardless of how good or bad it looks now. Not only did Windows XP help give video files like .avi and .mp4 hold more of a purpose these days, but they also helped influence video hosting websites like EbaumsWorld and StupidVideos to come up and set up a new environment for us to use for future reference. I say that because its through websites like that which helped put up YouTube and its personal influencers like DailyMotion, Vimeo, and blip.tv to set up videos for people like us to set up our personal YouTube Poops through hundreds upon thousands, if not millions of people under an easy method! Still, while Windows XP did help set up some good things about the Internet, it also helped bring up some very bad aspects that needed some serious fixing up to work with.

When thinking about WIndows XP, you usually think of one of the most "popular" web browsers around in Internet Explorer. That is partially due to how during the early days of Windows XP, it was pretty much the only major way users could access things online alongside AOL, and in those times, that was truly something else for an experience. With Internet Explorer 6, it brought out the absolute worst of finding thing on the Internet to date, what with it being filled with exploitable ways of not only being filled up with viruses, but also means of crashing your PC due to some very exploitable hidden details that Internet Explorer 6 had when no other web browser afterwards, regardless of whether you still use Internet Explorer after 6 or not, had ever used them since then! When considering that combined with how Microsoft went and almost monopolized the web browsing universe and how newer web browsers made by Mozilla and Google ended up showing off some aspects of web browsing better than Internet Explorer despite some of its many improvements it made afterwards, and it's almost no wonder why Internet Explorer has the reputation that it has in the first place! Still, having a web browser crash during the start of an operating system's life cycle is nothing compared to an ever-lasting legacy that it had left behind for the rest of its days.

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Imagine working with that all day long.

Another major problem that I had briefly mentioned was viruses; while they definitely weren't anything new nor were they anything close to safe for PCs to have beforehand, the way they were implemented throughout most areas of the Internet helped make them become the single most annoying and killable ways you could ever destroy some of your PCs, especially if you weren't wise to know what to do there. When it came to viruses before Windows XP, while they still did some dangerous things on your PCs, they at least had some interesting methods of putting them out onto either MS-DOS systems or on Windows 95/98/ME computers, as well as some pretty strange results coming out of it in the process (with danooct's YouTube channel giving off some proper examples of just that). Starting out with Windows XP systems onward, however, they implemented some of these viruses in the most douchebaggy, Hellbent methods possible. Some of these viruses ended up being displayed as annoying pop-ups that you couldn't get out of unless you pressed the Ctrl+Alt+Delete method on your keyboard and quit that method that ran; the end result from the virus would either be that you clicked on a button to have it take you to a fake virus scanning method that'd be ready to con (and infect) you or you'd end up losing your Internet data if you quit the method that was running. Either way, it was still annoying to see, but that's just the tip of the iceberg on that shit.

When Windows XP came out, it introduced an interesting little folder called "system32". That folder was a very nifty way for it to store important things onto your PC so that it always ran it properly no matter what. However, it also introduced a horrible exploit that can still be rampant on certain PCs to this day; with Windows XP and other 32-bit PCs, you could write a small little batch code that allowed you to write down something along the words of "delete the C disk drive that holds the system32 folder" (I'm not typing the exact code down here lest I accidentally end up deleting my own PC in the process) and it would end up being able to quarantine very important files for the system to run on. In the end, all that you'd have left is a blank black screen with a FATAL error on your system, with there being no other choices than to either try and find a way to revert your system back to normal (which not many people knew how to do in the first place) or you'd more likely have to install a new version of Windows XP or whatever system you had onto it with all of your data being left behind in the process. While this little piece of code is still a bitch to have been discovered and exploitative to some people, it is something you could outright avoid altogether provided you stay away from batch files like this. However, not even the best kind of protection can prevent you from seeing fake virus protecting applications.

What would usually be the worst of the bunch that not many people could avoid outright are the viruses that pretend to act like a company like McAfee, Norton, Malwarebytes, or AVG and help you catch them while pretty much infecting your system on the inside-out. These viruses have the looks and styles that they need to have in order to pretend to be trustworthy pieces of data when they really have that special something that infect your system before you know it. By having it look like an actual virus blocker combined with putting in secretive data that can allow it to infect whatever it wants to infect, they make for some of the biggest dickbag viruses that we as computing users have ever seen yet! Once it has its way onto your system, it would then mess with your files in ways that only massive dicks would by making a great majority of your files (even game files like Solitare and 3D Pinball) inaccessible through simple methods and force you to input a credit card number in order for you to try and "un-infect" your PC. That is probably the absolute worst way to infect a PC yet since not only is it more common to get than ransomware viruses, but it also has the potential to lead to phishing, which is basically people having access to your credit card information and using it for their pleasure. Really, combining serious damage with potential threats helped make browsing on Windows XP almost feel like a minefield when first starting out; in a way, it still kind of is on other PCs to this day.

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It's especially a pain in the ass when you can't even understand what the fuck it's trying to say here!

With this in mind, I personally had some pretty interesting and unique moments with Windows XP. I had started out as a person that was not really caring too much about stuff like the Internet since I basically was the person that liked playing video games on my Nintendo 64 and sometimes on the Windows 95 PC that I had up until sometime in the early 2000's (I'm thinking either 2002 or 2003 here). Anyways, when it came to upgrading my PC back in the early 2000's, I won't lie and say that I wasn't hesitant with upgrading my system into Windows XP because I was still attached to the system in a sense. However, once I had no choice but to integrate into these new Windows XP computers that my grandparents and my mom had (let's just say that I had an interesting little way of living sometimes throughout my childhood), I had grown to eventually love playing with stuff on there. From simple games like Billiards and checkers to some unique online slot games to even playing a new sort of game they had called Pinball 3-D, I had realized that there was a whole new way of looking through things online. It also didn't take long until I started going more outward into the online world for the first time in my life, and to be fair, most of that stuff was involving things that a normal, young kid (that's also a fan of all sports) would look at, such as Nickelodeon's website, places focusing on video games, and other stuff like that. However, it's when I started venturing out at I think the age of 12 that I started noticing some... interesting things online with Windows XP.

From that point in time with Windows XP, I had my life change in ways I had not expected. Whether it was for the better or the worst, I'm not 100% sure on, though. For starters, some of the art that I had seen on stuff like Super Mario and Pokemon would invariably lead me to some pornographic websites that had allowed me to secretly see porn online at an age that I wasn't really supposed to have. Not only that, but some of my interests ended up growing from simple things like having me not being much of a music person beforehand to listening to lots of different music now (although I know I don't show that on here), as well as gaining more interest in the artistic style of life. It also let me be introduced to the idea of having multiple PCs for the first time in my life, although one time was involving a very slow PC and some virus attacks that threatened my first PC's performance. Not only that, but there were growths of newer, major websites like Wikipedia and YouTube that would still have quite a grasp on our society to this day, as well as introduce websites like MySpace that would fall almost as quickly as they would rise outright. I especially had a nice growth from hating to write down stuff for school to enjoying writing to the point where I can say that I have helped out a Writing Staff of sorts for a website. Even with Windows XP, there have been some people that had to use Windows XP's Movie Maker in order to make YouTube Poops like SuperYoshi, Pimpsahoy, IAmTheGang, and many more people that I have likely forgotten about; it even had myself try and take a stab at making one back when YouTube Poops were making a major boom onto the Internet! Seeing quite a movement like this happen truly made this era quite a unique experience that we'll probably never experience in our lives ever again.

Still, the memories that we might have with Windows XP will be quite an experience that will take a long time for us to really forget about them. While it is true that some members here might have never really had a Windows XP computer in their lifetimes, there are definitely aspects that won't be taken away from us even as Microsoft ventures to try and go from a good computing experience to a... let's just say more interesting cultivation of ideals that appear to mix-and-match together into a blurred line on what is truly a computing experience and what is more about a multimedia extravaganza. From advancing technologies on aspects like quality of pictures and videos to more extreme viruses that act like fake prompts that you can't escape from so easily, there was definitely an experience that not many other computing system's could say they had in their lifetimes. If you had your own memories of working with Windows XP computers, such as how this piece will probably be the last article where I did the majority of my work on my Windows XP system that I currently have, now would probably be the best time to share them while you still can. Otherwise, it is finally time to honor the past and look forward to a brighter future, for without it, we might not have greater personal experiences at hand.

Windows is shutting down...

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The Christmas Classics And Caustics Collab

Dec 23 2013 01:55 PM | HerrVarden in Editorials

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Ah, December. It's the time that kids pray for snow days and adults pray that they don't have to shovel the driveway out. But more relevantly, it's the time when people prepare to celebrate Christmas. Christmas has long been a tradition that has managed to impact everyone around them. Though it certainly has been difficult to come to a consensus nowadays. It's either the time where people learn to be kind and loving to one another, or when they become greedy and selfish. You're bound to come across a humble Santa Claus and a grouchy Scrooge around this month. The holiday's divisive nature is not completely unwarranted, as it's roots have long been a dispute. It appears to have connections to St. Nicholas, and also to the birth of Jesus. Then came the issue that some people though Christmas was choking the likes of Hannukah and Kwanzaa, and so came the issue of saying "Happy Holidays". After that came the issue of commercialization, which made people feel as though the values that the holiday was trying to capture were being sucked away as fast as money was on gifts. If that wasn't bad enough, there was also the issue of smaller bits of the holiday that managed to get on our nerves. We're here to basically talk about both sides of the coin, the things that we adore and abhor about the yuletide pastime. So let's eat some Christmas turkey and throw out that fruitcake and dive into one of the most recognized holidays in the world!

HerrVarden (Films For The Festivities):

It's safe to say that when Christmas comes around, it's the best time for all the sappy films to come out. It's mainly due to that feeling of relaxation that manages to dumb your senses down just enough so that you can enjoy any silliness involving Santa or getting the proper gift. These movies may be cheesy, but they brand a special kind of cheese that you get every once in a while. It's the kind of cheese that you put on select breads, crackers or wines and simply savor each second of it rather than have it for the sake of having it. Though that's not to say that there aren't some kinds of Christmas cheese that end up making you feel like you ate a whole ball of moss. For you see Christmas films are a volatile kind of campy. It's not like a summer blockbuster where there aren't as many rules to apply. They require precision and convoluted calculations so that they can be considered not only Christmas films, but also Christmas classics. See, a good example of the difference between the two is Die Hard. Die Hard works a summer blockbuster because it has explosions, fighting, guns, smart-ass jokes and a likeable protagonist. It does not work as a Christmas classic because it does not carry with it the essence of what the holiday is supposed to represent. You can throw as many ornaments and snow in the film as you please, but it is always going be a set-piece...nothing more, nothing less. It's still a good film regardless, but I don't think it really represents the holidays and much as people would make it seem as it does.

But getting away from my little pet peeve there, let's get to talking about some Christmas films. Specifically I want to talk about two because they summarize a lot of what the holidays represents to some. First off, I'd like to go with my favorite choice. It's a very tough thing to choose your favorite out of all of them. You have Home Alone which teaches us that we should be together for the holidays and Joe Pesci will struggle a lot to not swear. Then there's It's A Wonderful Life which teaches you about your self worth and how bad Jimmy Stewart's stutter really is. And we can't forget about A Christmas Story which teaches you that the world sucks whether you get that BB gun or not. There's more to list, no doubt, but by far one of the greatest ones, at least in my eyes, has to be Joyeux Noel.
I remember seeing this in a French class and really enjoying it. Not simply because it was a French film that didn't throw me off with some bizarre quirk or nakedness, but because it made me think a lot more than most Christmas classics do.

This film talks about WWI at first, which is as fitting to the occasion as saying "Yippie kai yay, motherfuckers". The story really hits hard that this is a war mentality as you have the kids in classrooms from both sides of the war praising their country while slandering the enemies. It focuses on the French, Scottish and Germans, whom are fighting in the barracks as per usual. Along with that, there are some side-stories scattered within the soldiers, which while having their own significance, are superseded by the grander theme. It's your typical war film up until the point that Christmas comes by and it slowly leads up to a truce. Now, this isn't one of those famous film ass-pulls as this really did happen, though I wouldn't mind too much if it was because the way they present the concept is magnificent. It's common that war films and Christmas films tend to have a huge amount of sappy sentimentality that can sometimes make it seem like they're trying too hard to make you cry. Hell, with the two together, you figure that they're gonna throw in a cancer-ridden orphan boy in the mix singing an aria. Joyeux Noel's emotional side isn't exaggerated like that though.

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It plays it up at the level that's necessary and the gravity of the situation is actually very powerful. The soldiers begin to create the truce by singing festive tunes, which might seem corny at first, but the music moves elegantly and expresses a connection between these men who are more focused on hating one another. Eventually a ceasefire is achieved and all the soldiers decide to get to know one another. They talk about their family and exchange chocolate and champagne, along with celebrating a mass and playing soccer. They show their humanity in the midst of the war and they find it so hard to continue even though that's what happens. The great beauty of the movie though is that while it shows this optimism that nears the border of "too romanticized", it still grounds the story by having the people who participate in the cease-fire be punished. It's heart-wrenching when you see that after that split second of humility that they have to be set back into the mindset of hatred. One part that really shows this is when you have the priest who held the mass be scolded by a bishop who then preaches to the soldiers about how the Germans are evil. You can even see in some of the soldiers' faces the same amount of mixed feelings and pain that is present on the priest. This film manages to take the bittersweetness of the situation along with the ever so present message of "good will towards all men" that Christmas represents and makes you feel that even in the darkest times, a sliver of light can always creep by and illuminate the world for a while.

With such a wonderful film, it's a shame that I have to now switch to the mean-spirited Grinch here and talk about bad Christmas films. There are some that are terrible, but you can't help but like. Jingle All The Way and the Jim Carrey The Grinch are the prime examples of this, though some might argue that Elf is that as well. But then there's the ones that are simply garbage, bar none (see: The Santa Clause). Originally I was thinking about putting A Christmas Story here, but I wasn't sure if I was saying that because I didn't quite enjoy it's uniquely dated presentation and annoying acting choices or if I was just being a contrarian curmudgeon, so instead I had to think really hard about the worst film. I hate to be predictable with a piece like this, but we can't deny that Christmas With The Kranks is probably the worst one.

Yet another winter wreck starting the Tool Man, this film is basically going to make all those who scoff at the holiday scoff even more. It talks about the Kranks, who generally celebrate the holidays up until the point that their daughter leaves to the Peace Corps. So, realizing that they're going to celebrate Christmas without her, they decide to take a cruise to the Carribean, which in turns means that they're not going to bother setting up all the things they need to do over the holidays. That in turn angers their residence which might as well be called Moraltown because it's just as putrid and hypocritical. It seems like there was a better script that was basically supposed to subvert the idea of Christmas, sort of acting as a satire of the culture surrounding it. T That is not necessarily a bad thing, films that make commentary about how obsessive or all-consuming Christmas can be can work. It simply requires good comedy, a proper understanding of what's wrong with the way Christmas is conducted and a moral that doesn't necessarily have to resort to an overblown chicle. Christmas With The Kranks is neither of those things. Rather it becomes a futile attempt to brush off a somewhat unique idea of a couple not following with the usual Christmas traditions by throwing in all the bad parts of Christmas classics to bury it. Oh and this too:

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This film is basically a nasty guilt trip for a person who doesn't feel like setting a Christmas tree. The town does everything they can to force them into the spirit of the holidays, and having them set up decorations and what-have-you, and they form a campaign to go after the Kranks simply because they don't want to set up their house with a bunch of lights. But what's made worse is that you can't root for the Kranks because they cave in at the end. See, the premise would have worked well if they were just trying to celebrate the holiday in a new way and figured that they didn't need to set up anything because their daughter is away. That way it would make the community look vain in their attempts to "unite" themselves and not let the Kranks celebrate in the way they wish to. Hell, when the twist comes that the daughter is coming home, rather than them telling her "Sorry honey, we're going on a cruise. Maybe we can set something up so you can join us", they decide to go into the madness that they were trying so hard not to fall into. That in turn makes them unlikeable because rather than representing the holiday as a time where people don't need to be held to such absurd standards to have a merry time, they are instead acting like a bunch of psychopaths on Black Friday who represent everything wrong with the capitalist nature of the holiday. It's all made worse by the terrible comedy and the forced morality, which is a bad sign since a lot of Christmas films usually can get away with that. If there was a concise way to describe the film, it's basically "if you don't celebrate Christmas with decorations on your house, a pine tree, fruitcake, stockings and snow, fuck you".

Crazy Luigi (Music For The Questioned Soul):

Music has usually been a big part of our lifestyles, even when we may think otherwise. Whether it comes from video games, sports events, or even travelling to a different destination of sorts, music will always find a way to enter our lives in some form... unless you're deaf, but that's beside the point. However, when it comes to the month of December (and sometimes be as early as the beginning of November), local media places like radio stations and even town halls can easily remind you without warning that we are now entering the Christmas Spirit. With this time, either one of two thoughts can come into your mind: either you're ecstatic to hear joyous music like "Winter Wonderland" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" come on or you feel disdain over how repetitive hearing the same songs you heard every year beforehand come back once again. Personally, I'm more torn with myself on what I should be feeling, and that is more due to how I view Christmas music these days..

On one hand, we're pretty much given a break from music that would be considered banal and inane towards our society. You know songs like "We Can't Stop" by Miley Cyrus and "Gas Pedal" by Sage the Gemini and IamSu? Well those songs are just very few examples of songs that are not only absolute shitty to listen to, but also sadly promote negative behaviors that we seriously don't need to see in a time like this. When it comes to Christmas music, the general idea of what they represent involve the basic positivity and good-will not only what the holiday represents, but also what we should strive to look at a bit more often ourselves. It's through songs like "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" that help really get to have a sense of better understanding on the December holidays are like for all people, regardless of race, creed, or nationality. In fact, there are still quite a few artists that have been able to either make really great covers towards such Christmas songs or have even been able to write their own Christmas songs altogether.

An example of an artist that has held a magnificent voice that could make almost any Christmas song sound better in its own way is Josh Groban. When listening to Josh singing, regardless of whether it's in English or Italian, you know that whatever the song he's singing, it's usually going to sound magnificent with his voice around (with an arguable exception being his contribution to the 25th anniversary of "We Are The World"), and the songs that relate to the holiday season certainly are no question. In addition, I personally own a few of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's CDs, and when it comes to how they do Christmas music, they create an atmosphere that not too many groups could create with the amount of people and instruments they have working with them, and for the most part, they produce songs that are pretty enjoyable to listen to during the month of December, original or otherwise. Speaking of original songs, who better to look for artists that could come up with nice, original Christmas music than the The Beatles and their individual members? Not only does the group have the song "Christmastime (Is Here Again)", but the individual members also celebrated with their own ways with "Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)" by John Lennon (with a hint of Yoko Ono inside), "Wonderful Christmastime" by Paul McCartney (and Wings), "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" by George Harrison, and even Ringo Starr releasing his own Christmas album. Admittedly, while some of those songs might not have lasted through the test of time, it does show that if the right mindset comes into play, you could have enjoyable holiday songs celebrating what the holiday represents.

Still, while there are songs that represent the joys of Christmas, there are other songs that you just plain get sick and tired of listening to over and over again during every December, if not earlier than that. If you ever go through a day's worth of listening to Christmas music on the radio, you'll notice something about either Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (instrumental or not) or Frosty the Snowman come up, and considering that those songs always get played every single day during that time, you'd be hard-pressed to not dislike either song eventually. Not only that, but there are also some songs that can rub people off the wrong way on how screwed up their songs can truly be by having them sung about a Christmas-related theme, such as "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" or "Christmas Shoes" having some pretty iffy ideas on how their topics were dealt with. What probably makes these notions feel even worse is that any new Christmas songs that you hear these days, it feels more likely that it's going to be someone covering a song like "Oh Holy Night" or "Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire" than someone trying to create something new and original. Even worse, the artists that do try to come up with something new for Christmas songs are either more negative about the holiday spirit or would go the route of Justin Beiber's "Mistletoe": people forgetting about it after a year or two of its existence. It's probably the lack of originality these days that can make someone hate Christmas music for a reason now.

The idea of Christmas music being uplifting is nice, but at the same time, there are still some Christmas songs that I enjoy listening to despite having a more saddening or glum feeling regarding them. For example, while I haven't really heard much of the song "Last Christmas" by Wham! in the past, the song does come up the radio from time to time again, and despite it being a break-up song that has Christmas involved in its chorus, there's something about it that gives off a feeling of happiness that I somehow don't get from other, cheerier Christmas songs. Another song that comes to mind on how sad Christmas time could be for some people that I could also still enjoy is the more popular and well-known "Blue Christmas" by Elvis Presley, which has a more somber environment that somehow also feels strangely comforting during this time of year in the process. Hell, even I can admit that the Christmas version of "We Are The World" (known better as "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid) can be pretty enjoyable to listen to, as well as some songs that you don't hear on the radio that list out the negatives of Christmas can be fun to listen to when you're in the right mood for listening to these kinds of songs. Still, when I think about what type of Christmas music I enjoy a bit more than others, the songs that I could find a bit more enjoyment over more often than not pointed out the negatives of the holiday instead of the positives. To me, that kind of shows a bit of a sad type of failure on the part of the promoters of Christmas songs.

At the end of the day, however, music is pretty much a subject of personal tastes over anything else. While someone like me can get sick and tired of the Spanish sung "Feliz Navidad" by Jose Feliciano since it's pretty repeats itself for three minutes with some different changes in music making it sound like it's different when it really isn't, someone else like a young child could get into a song like that and Frosty the Snowman due to its magical whimsy that it has. At the same time, a song that more describes the winter holiday like "Winter Wonderland" may be great to listen to if you live in a place like New York, Pennsylvania, or Alaska, which has plenty of snow involved, but might appear to be a bit pointless in places like Arizona, Florida, or even Hawaii where little to no snow would appear in these places whatsoever due to the heat that comes through these states. Even songs from cartoons like "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" and "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown" can still be enjoyed by people from all ages, regardless of whether the songs are in actual context relating towards the show or if it's just the audio being heard through something like the radio. Really, it's all about how one views Christmas music that makes an opinion on it stand out from anything else. So whether you're sitting by the fire listening to "Let It Snow" and watching a Christmas film like "A Christmas Story" or if you're just treating the month of December like any other month with nothing truly special going on, the idea of wishing good-will towards others alongside spending more quality time with family and friends can still be something that we could take fond measures of what we're like as humans before moving on to a brand new year of hope.

supreme_slayer (Simply Giving):

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Charity might be one of those things that most anyone can talk about and say is good, as its name alone tells of good will and helping others, which is especially a strong sentiment around the holidays. However. charity for me it hits home on a personal level, especially during Christmas time, for a good number of reasons. Not only have I been greatly involved in a few charitable organizations in the past such as Red Cross and those which seek to assist the physically and mentally handicapped, but as I was growing up in a household of five children we were what many would consider “poor”. In years I was too young to recollect my mother would even be forced to go without food herself to keep the rest of us fed, but that's not something I want to discuss now. In the years I DO remember, while we certainly did have all of the essentials we needed to live, whenever the holidays came around there was quite the stress in our household over what presents my mother would be able to afford for us.
Sometimes, if things went well that year, we would get mountains of presents and things such as foosball tables or video games, but more often than that I can remember the years when very little boxes were found beneath the tree. However, we never, ever went without more than these few toys, as a man dressed in a santa outfit would visit our home in those meager years and drop off big bags of toys. We of course believed when we were younger this was the real santa, but in actuality it was a kind soul from a local organization which collected presents for the less fortunate—known by us as Community Christmas, though I'm not sure if that's what people typically call these things. Most of the time when I was younger these presents would be wrapped in secret by my mother, but as we got a bit older she decided not to bother, and gave us our gifts just as they had come. While clad in giant, unattractive trash bags, we didn't care about the lack of wrapping and would eagerly dig in to find out what else we had gotten for the year.
Inevitably, there would be essentials such as hats and socks, but those few teddy bears, coloring books, light-ups and other such toys always made us much happier that season than we would have been without. As an adult now, I could say that I'd be fine without any presents from anyone, but as a child, there's a lot of expectation there, and it would be heart crushing for the one and only time you are supposed to get the things you wanted to end up a bust. For this reason, now knowing what was really going on all those years, I have a special spot in my heart for charities such as those that give presents to children. Whether it be Toys For Tots, Community Christmas, or anything less known, it's a great feeling to me, knowing that a child won't be left wishing there were something beneath their family's tree.
Of course at the same time, there are many other kinds of organizations and charities in the world, and especially around the holidays they ramp up their own collection campaigns. After all, it is the season of giving. You can't exactly be angry at someone for trying to help their community or a greater cause out. However, we do have to admit, and all likely know, that it becomes extremely overbearing and grinds on us over time. At every street corner, at every store, someone is jingling a bell in front of a bucket, asking us if we want to donate a dollar here or a dollar there, if we want to purchase something to donate, and so on. There certainly is nothing wrong with giving, but everyone has their own limits, and being bombarded with all of this makes many turn a bit sour or cold to the concept altogether.

The store I work for even did this with a charity for military families where people would donate toys, and of course I had to hear every excuse in the book as a result. Many of my coworkers didn't even like to ask customers if they wanted to donate or not because it seemed like a burden to them, though for reasons already explained I had no personal qualms with it. From an outside perspective, all of this can seem cynical and mean, though it's very easy to think of all these charities in a negative sense when put in the other's shoes, trying to scrounge us for every penny using our emotions and the excuse of “it's the holidays”. You think that giving a bit will make you feel better and somehow make it stop, but it just keeps going and going and you're expected to donate more and more ("I've already donated to something else" isn't really much an excuse) until the holidays finally pass and everyone has slept off their eggnog, returning to status quo.

Tofucakecan (The Shopping Query):

There are some things in life that I’ll never do. Skydiving…pursuing a career in the armed forces…noodling (yes there’s actually something called noodling). Why won’t I do these things? Because they all have an inherent element of danger and the reward doesn’t outweigh the risk.
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In various parts of Europe, adrenaline junkies take part in a ridiculous “tradition” called “The Running of the Bulls”. A practice that became popular in areas that held bullfights, a group of bulls are let loose on a specially blocked of path that usually leads to the arena where the bullfight was to occur. Participants run along the same path and run the risk of being seriously injured or killed, and yes, people have died while doing this. I’ll be just fine going to my grave and never having run with the bulls.

Why am I bringing up this European tradition in an article about Christmas? Because in the United States we have an equally dangerous tradition we celebrate during the Christmas season. It has become so popular in recent years that people line up hours before it starts to take part in it, often sitting outside in freezing temperatures. Many people take time off from work to attend, and some businesses even give people the day off. It happens in every city across the country, and just like The Running of the Bulls, people get injured regularly and some people have even died taking part. The only difference is that our event doesn’t have any bulls…well not literally.

If you haven’t figured out, I’m talking about Black Friday; the busiest shopping day of the year in the United States. Some accounts will tell you the name “Black Friday” comes from retailers who spend January to November operating in the red, and the sales from day after Thanksgiving put them “in the black”. I’m more inclined to believe that the term comes from the retail workers and the dread they feel when they’re face to face with thousands of hostile consumers sprinting to get a Tickle-Me-Elmo for 50% off at 3am.

The holiday has become such a train wreck in recent years that Black Friday is becoming more known for crazy behavior than crazy deals. On top of that, retailers are constantly trying to out-do each other in order to increase sales, and that includes opening earlier and earlier each year. I was working in a small electronics store during Black Friday 2002, and we opened at 6am, which seemed early but still reasonable. Black Friday 2003 was a different story. The store I was working at opened at 5am, which meant that the workers had to be there by 4:30am. I lived half an hour away so I had to leave my house by 4am, and I had to wake up at 3:30am just to get ready. This, to me, felt absolutely ridiculous. Thanksgiving was supposed to be about family, stuffing your face, and being able to relax and slow down. At 5am, the customers came flooding through our doors, and within five minutes there was a 20 foot line at the registers (which basically went up to the front doors). Everyone working stayed until at least 6pm (12 hours) and some worked straight to closing time (15 hours). I was lucky enough to be able to leave retail work for many years after that. But on Black Friday 2012, I found myself back in retail due to a struggling economy, and this time I was working for the largest retailer in the world, Wal-Mart. I had to come in at 10pm on Thanksgiving night, and work until 5am Friday morning. Then I had to come back in at 3pm Friday and work until 10pm.

In recent years there has been a sort of “moral backlash” against Black Friday, many people are fed up with the unabashed consumerism from the retailers and the greed of the customers who act like they would buy horse manure if it was on sale. K-mart came under fire this year for starting Black Friday at 6am on Thursday and staying open for 41 hours straight. That’s right; Black Friday has become so huge it’s taking over Thanksgiving too. And the backlash came from both employees and customers alike. Some claimed that they were treating their employees unfairly and therefore didn’t deserve the customers, while others were of the opinion that “K-mart employees don’t have to work there if they don’t like the work schedule. I love a good deal as much as the next person, but personally I’d rather stay home in my pajamas the day after Thanksgiving instead of asking retail workers to give up their holiday or time to sleep, so I can save a few bucks on a new TV. Then I’d go buy the TV online during “Cyber Monday”.

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