Tuesday construction update: the PIPES HAVE ARRIVED.

A brief moment above the earth before they are buried for decades.

Half the new building has been clawed down.


On another subject that will roam allllll over the place: You may ask if they've discovered a new Maxfield Parrish painting.


Bioshock Infinite. Since a few people - very few, statistically - expressed interest in hearing more, I will inflict them on everyone else. Of course you are free to move along below the fold, where more content awaits along with more disturbing revelations from the world of Richie Rich, but you might find this interesting if you’re interested in how this art form works. And it is an art form.

The game looks like this:

These are details of screenshots of the game, not rendered pictures designed to think you everything looks like this. Everything does. The clouds move; the leaves wave; motes of dust dance in the sunbeams. The airships float above. It's just a remarkable world. It's Columbia.

It's a horrible place.


Bioshock Infinite: Okay, since a few people - very few, statistically - expressed interest in hearing more, I will inflict them on everyone else. Of course you are free to move along below the fold, where more content awaits along with more disturbing revelations from the world of Richie Rich, but you might find this interesting if you’re interested in how this art form works. And it is an art form.

The game looks like this:

It is a city floating in the sky. The year is 1912 or so. You have to assume it’s a parallel world, since we don’t have anti-gravity technology. You have to surpass your conceptions of realistic engineering, just as the first games required you to believe in a city of skyscrapers at the bottom of the sea.

But you did believe. As you walked around the deserted city, hearing the groans of metal, the drip of water (yes, yes, I know, if there was a crack at that pressure it would have shot in like a knife; I’ve seen sub movies!) you believed, and it doesn’t take much time in Columbia before the buildings floating in the clouds, bobbing up and down with a hypnotizing grace and serenity, looks not only plausible but utterly engrossing. It doesn’t take much time before you wished you lived there - its rather excessively earnest religiosity aside. But we’ll get to that.

You learn how to play by exploring the world, wandering through the beautiful streets on a day when everyone’s out for a civic celebration. When the action begins it’s literally a shock - jolting, jarring, confusing. And you run. How do you get from island to island? You thrust your magnetic grappling hook at the rails above, and off you fly. The first time I did that it was literally thrilling;
goose bumps. Could almost feel the wind in my face. But the time when you use the rail to escape from the collapsing building where Elizabeth had been imprisoned was that, times 10, with the ending of that scene - dropping her, falling into water - an absolute thunderclap.

Let me back up.

Interesting assumption built into the game: if you’re playing it, you’re a guy. If you’re not, you’re going to be a guy, and that’s that. Probably safe, but I’m sure there are complaints about this. For all I know the expansion pack makes you play as a female; that would be interesting. But since the assumption is you are comfortable being a Pinkerton agent with the Ur-American name of Booker DeWitt, then you’re going to be subject to female charms, and please do not harangue me with how this is cisnormative propaganda. There’s a piece at npr.com today about how male gamers do not realize they have male gamer privilege, because they’re used to playing games where they play men, unlike women who have to play men no matter what.

Would a game that required men to play as women be criticized, or applauded?

Would it sell well?

The NPR piece details the wretched treatment many women get from male gamers, which is deplorable. Full stop. Rude children emboldened by the mask of the mob. But the list begins with assumptions that seem less about “privilege” than hectoring everyone until they admit the author is a better person than most other gamers.

1. “I can choose to remain completely oblivious, or indifferent to the harassment that many women face in gaming spaces” is an example of “privilege.”

Brother, if you think that choosing to be conscious of it will diminish the amount of “privilege” someone reads into your life, you have no idea. Your capacity to contain “privilege” is determined by the amount someone else wishes to prove you have.

Anyway. Most of these games are for males - not necessarily men, but males - and the culture of those players is generally adolescent, id-driven, steeped in other video-game styles: fantasy quests or cartoon criminality. If they have no idea how to treat women online it's because because they were never taught. Women are foreign, and do not belong in the only aspect of the culture they regard as theirs, where they can set the rules. Told that it’s sexist to hold open the door, they shrug and let it bang in other people’s faces.

Why is that rude? Doesn’t she have arms? Can’t she open the effin’ door for herself?

So anyone looking for male privilege and heteronormative privilege - dreary, filmy prisms for viewing the world on a constant basis - would be angry not only at the gender role the player is forced to assume, but the voyeuristic introduction to main female character. First the grainy film of the experiments they were performing on this talented individual, then the unsettling but enchanting observations from behind the two-way mirror - which, I should note, makes your character uncomfortable, and not just because he’s seeing how she’s grown up in a gilded cage.

It’s the design of Elizabeth that hits the player in his most vulnerable spot. Utter self-possession, intelligent, curious. And then you meet her and she throws books at you and then you’re allies.

Gamer fantasy! Rescuing the princess in the castle! Yes. But very much no, if you’ve played the game. She leads the way out, after all.

You free her; she gets to run around on the Boardwalk in Columbia and dance with people on the beach; she’s intoxicated by freedom and it’s marvelous to behold, but: you’re guarded. Your protective role - your job, after all - is practical, but has an another aspect the player is expected to provide. In the previous Bioshock games, which have nothing to do with the plot of this one, paternal emotion is a big factor. You were literally the Big Daddy in the second game. This game brings that thread forward, just as it reproduces some sound effects and the voice of the vending machine, reinforcing the connection between the previous worlds and this one. But Elizabeth is not a child, and as the game goes on you can’t help but think that for all the danger and confusion, this is the most amazing first date ever.

The brilliance of the game is the way it produces that emotion in the player and never references it in the game, creating a tension that arises from your reaction to Elizabeth and the game’s hesitance to admit it. So far, anyway. If I had to guess I’d say Booker is in his late 30s, and Elizabeth is 21. Close enough for possibility; far away enough for a man like DeWitt to tamp down what he’s feeling, especially since this is a job.

When you have to shoot someone to protect her, she’s appalled; she calls you a monster. You figure she doesn’t understand, and eventually she does. But this is how the game gets into your head: you walk into a restroom, and there are soldiers. They see you and open fire. You defend yourself. It’s justified. She understands. But when you replay the level you know they’re there, and you shoot first, catch them unaware. And you think: will she judge me for this?

Because that’s the Bioshock series: ethical choices affect the game. Except in the bathroom instance. She’s hardened by then. Hell, she throws you a coin.

I hate when she does that. But I’ll get to that. My point is that this is a game specifically aimed at straight males, and when I read the reviews afterwards I’ll be interested to see how many criticize this for its non-inclusiveness. But you can’t make it inclusive without changing it, and changing the very essence that makes it work for the target audience. That is not diversity; that is conformity.

You can’t change that without suggesting that there’s something distasteful and retrograde about wanting to save a damsel in distress. That it might reinforce Wrong Thinking. Even though you’re not a classic Protector figure - the game informs you at some point that Elizabeth can take care of herself in a fight, and will actually throw you ammo or health to help you. Ah, but that just privileges you again, doesn’t it? She doesn’t have any weapons. She’s not fighting on her behalf.

Well, except for that part where she cold-cocks you with a wrench because you’re a mercenary bastard, sure.

Mind you, these are things I think when not playing the game, when I read all these stories about Privilege and Bad Gamer Boys. Let’s look at the privilege the main character has. There’s one such assumption, early in the game: because you’re new to Columbia, and white, it’s assumed you want to be baptized. After that the (white male) police are shooting at you. The (white male) rebel faction is shooting at you. The (white male) Robber Baron is shooting at you. When you finally hook up with the anarchist network, you get a stern, mean talking-too by two Black revolutionaries who’ve taken your means of escape, tell you you’d best go get the guns from the Chinaman, and kick your white ass out of the dirigible.

About those revolutionaries: Vox Populi. If the “Bioshock” predecessors teach us anything, it’s mistrust the opposition as much as you mistrust the order they’re fighting. But there are moments in the game that let your imagination fill in the social structure of Columbia. Plot points are revealed by audio recordings you find and play; a few are from a Black custodian who describes events with rue and amusement, and later you come across him cleaning a floor, talking to himself in the voice he used on the recordings. When he sees you, sees the White Man, he shifts to a jokey nosier yassir tone that makes you mad, because you know it’s a face he has to wear because of where he lives and what it is.

I’ve played a few games that had bathrooms. This is the first that has a Colored Bathroom. The custodian was swabbing the floor and looked down and asked me please to leave, sir, because it’ll be trouble for both of us.

You can’t interact with him. In the future, you will. You’ll be able to walk up and pull out a Silver Eagle and flip him a dollar, because he could probably use it - but that situation will have its own complications. You’ll be unhappy with a yassir thank you sir response, because you’re not that guy who tosses a dollar to the Negro and walks away thinking “I’m glad I made George happy” and believes that’s the extent of his social responsibilities. But you don’t want to make too much of a point of it, lest the custodian think you’re one of the anarchists. He might talk. You also don’t want to be the guy who’s just so proud of himself because he makes a point of tipping Negroes, because that’s charity for the sake of your own self-image.

And so you’ll go on throughout the game ignoring the custodians, and at some point realize: oh. Look who I became. Look who I am.

But that’s the future, when everyone, and I mean everyone in the game is an interactive element, and you’re wearing a headset that pipes your speech to the game engine.

By the way: if you’re African-American playing the game, the washroom scenario puts you in the place of a decent white guy who’s just trying to get through the day and really doesn't have the opportunity to upend the social order right now. You have to stand there and deal with What Is. That would be a moment when you experience White Status, but there’s little about that makes you feel as you have Privilege. In your impotence, the Status feels like a curse.

Anyway. One of the unguarded moments of happiness, for her: you come across a stage play of Duke and Dimwit, who are the Goofus and Gallant of Columbia, more or less. Morality plays intended to instill good citizenship. She talks about how she loved reading those stories when she was growing up. You see Duke and Dimwit dolls in stores, Duke and Dimwit mechanical puppet-shows in a waiting room arcade. It accumulates to give you a sense of a parallel culture, a world with its own tropes and pop culture and theology, a vernacular you grasp immediately while recognizing you don’t share its familiarity.

There’s a moment where you’re exploring an area on the Boardwalk, and come across a fellow in the Duke costume with a big Duke head on the ground, smoking a cigarette, taking a break, looking bored and unhappy. And that’s the inessential detail you add to all the other things you noted and you made your way through the world.

They compile to make the world seem inhabited, but there’s also an ideological component, since the Bioshock games are always about societies organized around a particular principle, taken to its zealous extreme. The first was about Randian individualism; the second about selfless altruism. Neither really worked out too well. “Infinite” bites off much more: patriotism, xenophobia, charismatic religious sects, race relations (or the lack thereof) and robber-baron capitalism. It is a reductio ad extremis of every strain of thought in the early part of the 20th century, and it would be a shame if the casual player mistook its critiques on the extremes of the ideas as a critique on the ideas themselves, thinking that the game was slamming the very idea of love of country, faith, industry, and so on. It isn't, any more than the first was an endorsement of collectivism or the second a refutation of selflessness.

About the coin: When she flips me the coin I feel like I’m being played, and you have to know Bioshock to get what I mean. I don’t trust her entirely. I don’t want to distrust her. I’m not exactly sure who I am, except that I don’t like who I’ve been. There’s no other art form like it.

Plus, you get to shoot fireballs out of your hand. Long story.

Anyway: this is the game. This is not something you see between scenes of running around past pixellated backgrounds. It’s all like this.



The fighting is the least of it, to me.



Our weekly look at the look of other weeks. The commercial culture, examples low and high, mean and great.

The weekly Borden: It’s always unnerving when Elsie gets down on all fours.

You wonder: is this how she has to behave when she’s out in the human world, doing her job? As we learned last week she can go to the department store with husband and daughter, and everyone’s stand on their back hooves, but this - with its utterly regrettable implication of interspecies love - suggests she has to be more cow-like when the job requires.

Actually, it’s just an earlier ad from the days before it concentrated on the family dynamics. Here Elsie is the one who’s reacting to a lecture. She’s a big nervous about the effects of “magic” on her milk, and instead of imagining a variety of scientific improvements, thinks about conjurers and necromancy and perhaps a dove flying out of her mouth.



If you’re thinking “hmm, that might be a trademark. Unless they’re running an ad to promote glassed milk for all.” Trademark.

What, by blind instinct and lack of an alternative?

Says a site that's all about glass history:

This was the proprietary name for a process used by the Owens-Illinois Glass Company where the surface of the hot, just produced bottles, were sprayed on the body, shoulder, and neck (not base or the top of the finish) with a stannic chloride vapor that allowed the tin to bond to the outer surface and providing scratch resistance and durability to the bottles.  (Information courtesy of Phil Perry, engineer with that company.)  This process - and the embossed notation of it ( in script) on the base of many Owens-Illinois products - began in 1940 and continued up until at least the mid-1950s.

Owens-Illinois had merged with Corning Glass in 1935, and become Owens-Corning by 1938; whether they bottles said Owens-Illinois I don’t know, or care. I do know that glass bottles showed up in the store a few years ago, and I thought "there's an attractive container with retro appeal! Such solidity, such heft. I should buy some." It was twice as expensive and three times as heavy, had a deposit, so that never happened. One of those situations where you completely understand why a new form of packaging drove the old out. The old pictures of milkmen in uniforms are charming, but when do you want to wait for the milk, or forget to put the right amount on the order form?


Most gorgeous beer ad of the 40s:

Red Top was a Cincinnati brewery, the 14th largest in the country at the start of the Fifties - and out of business by 1957. The name remains at the top of a brewery:




Playtex made a disposable diaper before Pampers, and when the box says “no more diaper drudgery,” it meant something. Relief from the prospect of washing dozens of white towels filled with feces must have been a housewife’s dream. Note: only the pad was flushable; the outer waterproof portion was reused.

I wonder if women were more likely to have number 3 or number 4 because they thought these new Drypers would at least make that part easier.



I’ve talked about these before, somewhere in the Product archives. This is notable for the name in the background:

Weiboldt’s was a Chicago-area department store that went out of business in the late 80s. Wikipedia says:

Wieboldt's was known for giving S&H Green Stamps with purchases and had redemption centers located in their stores. The State St. location included a large redemption center. Customers would choose items based on the number of stamps turned in for redemption.

Yes, well, that explains the ad. Hand in glove. But there’s also this:

You hope and pray it's stlll around. Find the address . . . Google . . .

What the hell was the point of that, exactly?

Ah, but there's more.

In the 1940s and 1950s they sponsored a radio program featuring The Cinnamon Bear. Later they had a television program called The Cinnamon Bear. The shows were stories of how Cinnamon Bear takes his young friends on a trip to maybe land in search of the silver star. A stuffed teddy bear version could be purchased from the stores for $2.98 in the 1950s. Santa would give out free Cinnamon Bear buttons to children visiting Santa. The program was first produced by Glen Heisch and Elizabeth Heisch in 1937 in Hollywood and syndicated around the country.

Only a few episodes survive. Here's 53 seconds.

What a recap.



Finally: best Sealy Posturepedic ad ever, with an image they’d never use today.

There's a fellow you want to be well-rested and pain-free.

Usual usual here and there; see you around.



blog comments powered by Disqus