Poetry Practise

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This article contains amateur poetry written in verse (barring the two short ones at the end). I’ve wished to write poetry for quite a long while now, and being part of the BTSB crew gives me the opportunity to actually publish it, as well as the chance to review it at a later date.

Of writing poetry, I have the following to say. Firstly, it is surprisingly difficult. I had four major points to consider; rhythm, metre, rhymes, and general expression of what I wanted to say. For me, I feel as the rhythm was the most difficult aspect (it remains far from natural in what I present in this article) – perhaps this is felt by other ESL speakers and writers as well. Secondly, writing poetry feels weird. I constantly felt like I was, in an indescribable way, pitting myself against someone or something. Lastly, whilst I thought trying my hand at poetry was extremely enjoyable, sometimes I felt like abandoning it all and writing an article about something easier and, more importantly, less personal.

The short verse-snippets in this article tell of the lives (usually in a mocking tone) of the Nine Worthies, a set of heroes named by 14th century French author Jacques de Longuyon. The Nine Worthies include the following characters, listed in order of appearance in this article; Hector of Troy, Julius Caesar, Joshua, King David, Judas Maccabeus, King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon. Alexander the Great is, of course, the 9th Worthy, but I opted not to write about him at this time.

In my poetry, I thought it wise to allude to the KJB and Shakespeare’s works to show off what I had read before. Likewise I found it difficult to resist the opportunity to include puns and wordplay. Unfortunately, these factors might make understanding what I aimed to say difficult – and therefore ruin the poetry. This is somewhat ironic, as I have always thought that reading amateur poetry was annoying specifically for this reason. With that being said, I had fun in trying out poetry, and hopefully you, the reader, might be inspired to give it a go one day.

 

Here we lay our scene, played by writer lone,

accompan’d by nine Princes of ages lost.

Set betwixt mind and map, in realms unknown;

wherein man meets Human, at an untold cost.

Should thou seeketh sorry savoury purpose

for wit-working writ in this-like domain,

know thus: it is jealousy of sweet corpus

given life by Poets born nevermore again.

Righteous removal of hatred and hope

mine noble effort doth aim to achieve,

purposing to will a will: graciously cope

with thine deficits, and thyself not deceive.

An unjoyous task be an unsightly view,

howbeit combined, us ten may our sins subdue.

 

 

Down in the deep darks of Underworld dwelleth thou now, paragon.

Once-worsted warrior, won by Worthy wrath, answer I: wert thou war’s pawn?

Virtue or Vice, venture we to weigh, be Man’s grim glory-greed by nature:

opinions oppos’d ought to cull, ere culling come their feature?

Heracles-hatched held thou not, as title; heroic deeds were-

thy toil to Troy’s tale. Thus, live in legend, lacking mine rage to incur.

 

 

Follow we hence an Ancient with another,

driven to decimate this well-Worthy rank

with cruelty akin to that conferr’d by brother

and heavy heir, whose heart in happy jealousy sank.

Then fall, res publica! no father, mother,

no dictator can truly-taught treachery thank;

bloody betrayal will any bond-breath smother,

right-rooted trust from former-friends’ souls yank.

 

Thy death promis’d propagators prosperity,

power war-won, and Divinity dismal:

most bounteous boons by bandit-business.

Follow’d annihilation of austerity;

th’estate of august Athens’ heirs, turned abysmal-

thy life and reign tainted, by want of wiseness.

 

 

Now after the death of Kaiser, our words spin

backwards in time, speaking of asp y Nun-son,

whose deceitful deeds Worthy-worth, held by his kin-

worth the while, deems only I, of being justly undone:

the tribes of th’Twelve would without thou have won.

O Clandestine conqueror; ill cit-servant;

thy victories aptly amount to Cain and one.

In viperous Vices wert thou fervent,

epithets of these Worthy, bestowed by the observant.

 

 

Comes next not Nero, but an other

of his kind; a sonorous song-writing King,

whose fiery feud with fiendish Foe slayed tother.

A Man hosting Heavenly heart, with offspring

of Greatness well-deserving; to this cling,

since thy sovereign sling better never brought.

Saviour-spawning for, honour thy memory we ought.

 

 

Writ or sang, may be songs of gallant heroes

which here world hath witnessed manifold-

many ascrib’d fame, some reduced to zeroes;

thy name thine ruin foretold, fair friar of old.

Holofernes himself hesitated,

in revealing thy nature and natural-name.

Designated traitor, art thou ill-fated

to suffer the slings and arrows of defame?

Revolting as thine atrocious acts are,

take in this: from Iscariot’s vile will art thou far.

 

 

Dragon-descendant boast thee thy title, bear king;

Lord of the castle, Protector of a table-

grandeur and chagrin both did thy knights thou bring.

Lo! of their fearsome feats tell many a fable.

In stories, yea, unmatched remains thy glory,

as testament to power of the auditory.

Without contest, likewise was fair thy Queen,

whose affairs arduous were deemed obscene.

Fine a match in matrimony; thou and her!

save there a sea of spears had between thee been.

Myth equal the merits of eager exertion, Sir.

 

Tedious tales of warlocks, and Knights Green

may – perchance – fail to entertain those keen.

What is fiction? but display of smoke and air;

as Revels are ended, what remains on Scene?

Myth equal the merits of eager exertion, Sir.

 

 

Emperor.

mannered King

conquering, uniting, governing.

Inviolable, untouchable a ruler.

Father.

 

 

Of Bouillon hail thou, good God-Fear,

King of Jerusalem! oh dear!

Renouncing the title,

thought our man vital;

but he died after a single year.

 

Least Worst Podcast Ever

The WEE Studios Logo (No, they are not underwater)

 

The WEE Studios Logo (No, they are not underwater)

The WEE Studios Logo (No, they are not underwater)

Long time readers will know that I’ve written about podcasts before on a couple of occasions (and even attempted to host my own podcast for a little while, which, unfortunately, fell by the wayside), but today I want to focus on one in particular that is a bit different from some of the other podcasts I’ve talked about. Actually, that might be putting it mildly…

Most of the other podcasts I’ve mentioned before, such as This American Life and Get Up On This, are juggernauts in the podcasting world. This particular podcast does happen to be based on a juggernaut, namely The Simpsons, but is more like an indie production than a blockbuster.

Worst Episode Ever is a podcast “for people who love The Simpsons, by people who love The Simpsons, about how much [the hosts] hate The Simpsons.” Don’t take that the wrong way though, both Dan Mulhall and Jack Picone, the hosts, are diehard fans of The Simpsons. You’ll routinely hear them quote obscure jokes off the top of their head and Dan Mulhall himself even hosts a Simpsons trivia night at a bar in New York. The idea behind the podcast is to watch a “post-classic” episode (usually meaning something beyond season 8 or so) and then have an in-depth discussion about it before running it through their HIPPO grading system to place it in their list, the list being the ultimate goal of the podcast: to find the worst episode of The Simpsons ever.

So, I’m a diehard Simpsons fan too. Who knows how many times I’ve watched (and will continue to watch) episodes from season 2 to 8, and my friends have definitely heard me on a couple of occasions say “oh, this is like that moment in The Simpsons where…” However, before this podcast, I hadn’t watched the show in years, because, quite frankly, it’s a shell of its former self. I don’t think you can even compare the two anymore and I kind of hate the later seasons for being so bad, so, admittedly, there’s a bit of fun to be had hearing them tear into a particularly awful episode.

However, Worst Episode Ever, contrary to its name, isn’t actually a podcast of negativity. The hosts, along with any guests they might have that week, go into each episode trying to give it the benefit of the doubt. Better yet, their criticism isn’t limited to just saying something sucked. They actually try to understand why they disliked something, going to great lengths at times to discuss issues. Sometimes, they’ll posit a theory in one episode and then expand upon it in consecutive episodes. Jack Picone is himself a screenwriter, so he also tends to understand the inner mechanisms at work.

So far, so good, right? Well, it gets even better (though it might depend on who you ask…). Worst Episode Ever is ostensibly a podcast about The Simpsons, but it’s also a podcast filled with random characters and tangents that the hosts follow at their whim. A simple slip of the tongue with mispronouncing a word might lead to the creation of a cult-favorite character who appears throughout the rest of the show, examples include Groophic, Hemus, and Freet (more on them soon). Occasionally, Dan and Jack will even tell stories about their own childhoods or personal lives that are sometimes related to the episode they’re discussing and sometimes not so much… But they’re always hilarious.

The hosts, Jack Picone (left) and Dan Mulhall (right)

The hosts, Jack Picone (left) and Dan Mulhall (right)

This leads into one of the best things I can say about this podcast: Dan and Jack are relatable. They were just a couple of dudes living in New York who decided to create a podcast about The Simpsons and they’ve never lost that sense of being humble. They’re easy to reach on Twitter or Reddit, if you want to say something to them, and they’re also genuinely fond of  their fans.

If you’re interested in checking them out, and I highly recommend you do, you can find their podcast through any regular podcasting app as well as through weepodcast.com. They’ve also recently started a Patreon page so you can help support them with a monthly donation. Finally, if you have no interest in the Simpsons (and have still made it this far), they also have a 90s themed podcast called 90s Percentile that’s had a lot of great guests on it, including Laura Jane Grace, a previous subject in one of my own articles.

Jack and Dan just recently released their 100th episode of Worst Episode Ever (congrats, guys!) and a lot has happened during those 100 episodes: episodes have been ranked; theories have been made; trends have been observed; and characters have been created. As a starter’s guide for all of you, I’ve created a brief glossary of some of the more important terms you’ll need if you decide to hop in from where they are now (though I suggest going back and listening from the start).

Worst Episode Ever Glossary for Newbies

  • Groophic: Originated from a mispronunciation of “graphic,” Groophic started off as a Muzzy-like creature lecturing kids on remembering to wear their bike helmets before transitioning into a conspiracy-theory believing creature who still occasionally lectures kids on remembering to wear their bike helmets.
  • Hemus: A hillbilly prospector who started life by ending every sentence with “It’s me, Hemus!” Sadly, he doesn’t do that as much anymore… But is a cult favorite nevertheless.
  • Freet: The introduction of Freet was something that Jack was definitely not amused by and it also gave-way to their new rule of each character needing to have three characteristics in order to be a fully-fleshed out character. Here are Freet’s: he likes to collect stamps; he’s never been in love, but he’s putting himself out there; and he enjoys cryptograms.
  • Lala: A term for lawyers that only lawyers are allowed to use. Dan himself is a lawyer, but Jack uses the term sometimes, much to Dan’s chagrin.
  • Little Ghost Girl: A little ghost girl who was eaten by Groophic and sounds like Werner Herzog.
  • The Bus Stop: Where all of their characters hang out. As they wait for the bus to get home, they’ll occasionally pop in and join the podcast for a bit. The bus never seems to arrive so that stop is pretty crowded by now.
  • HIPPO: The official ranking system. It has four categories, which are humor, integrity, production, and originality. Each gets a grade from 0 to 5 though humor and integrity are given more weight than production and originality. In the very early days of the podcast, the hosts used to simply add each episode to their list based on their gut feeling, but about 15 episodes in, they started using this system.

Wanderlust Au Naturel

Elina Wanderlust Cover

 

We’re all familiar with the stereotype of a young girl who goes travelling alone, oftentimes in Asia, and reports back home with Instagram photos of majestic mountaintops and awe-inspiring waterfalls. The captions include inspirational quotes and ooze strong, universal love for everything and everyone. The phenomenon of exceptional desire to explore is known by the term wanderlust, and this trend of discovering faraway lands and curious cultures has been strikingly visible in the western world for years. Sure, the urge to unearth what is new is a natural part of being human – the fact that in recent decades we have grown to know this trend of travelling is not telling us anything fresh about us people per se. We have wanted to see and conquer since ancient times, I daresay – but moving on from all the clichés, in this article, I am going to explore wanderlust itself.

Photo by Elina Virva

Photo by Elina Virva

The biggest and most straightforward reason as to why travelling has become more and more popular during the age of airplanes, and beyond, is simply economic growth. The development from such small salaries that they only cover every-day necessities to plumper wallets and affordable plane tickets may have had its ups and downs along the way of hundreds of years. However, spending on amusement has been self-evident for decades now, mostly in the western  countries, to be exact.

Thus, we can easily argue that travelling has become mundane years ago, partly because of monetary reasons. Contrarily, backpacking in foreign forests and admiring our earth from thousands of metres above is not every-day life for each young high school graduate, who form the majority of wanderlust campaigners. Take me, for example. I grew up in a small town, or to tell the truth, some country roads’ worth outside of a very small town. My quotidian view was a tall pine forest, a couple of birds flying about the backyard, and a silent lake. It took a car ride to even step out of the land owned by my family and relatives. I lived there for some 15 years, and the same year I graduated from the local high school, I was off to southern Europe, alone. Having spent a year volunteering and travelling around France and a little bit of Italy, having met and said goodbye to people from all around the world, having sensed something very different from the pine of the past, I now claim to understand wanderlust.

Photo by Elina Virva

Photo by Elina Virva

Discovering doesn’t always have to be cheesy and Instagram-captioned, it can also be silent and slow. Leaving family and Finland was hardly an easy step to take for the 19-year-old small town girl that I was, and during the first six months I didn’t encounter many #nofilter worth moments. It was mostly feeling helpless, homesick, lonely and tired from the constant combat with French and the French. I had a hard time learning how to do la bise and master the lengthy politeness poetry that was needed to act natural amongst the natives. It shocked a Northern newbie how every shop closed their doors at 7 pm, well before what would still be wonted working time in Scandinavia, the empire of efficiency. I struggled with being forced to take two hours for la sieste at lunch and then working late, while my inner self of the thousand lakes was crying for a faster pace.

This is a part of exploring a new culture that doesn’t always get exactly highlighted, but it still is a crucial part of the process. It is impossible to understand a different culture without trying to get accustomed to it, making mistakes and learning from them, and eventually, reaching that point where you feel comfortable within your brand-new home. For me, the process of fitting in peaked at around 7 months of living on French soil, and when it was the time to leave again, I had become so much of a stranger to my Nordic roots that I had to adjust again. When I, the grand, grown globetrotter, dragged my overweight valise again across the humble Helsinki-Vantaa airport, my family made sure to comment on my eccentric intonation and use of unnatural idioms in Finnish. Meanwhile, I had to gather all my strength to remember how Finns greet each other and, on my way back to life pre-wanders, to bury the idea of dropping by a boulangerie to purchase some Sunday croissants. Only after having been back in Finland for some three months, I felt at home again.

My French discoveries may not have always been Instagram worthy, but the sense of wanderlust I had been secretly growing inside of me for all my teenage years finally got satisfied.  I have come to learn to adjust; I have seen whole new types of trees, houses, manners, work ethics, coffee makers and dinner times; I have conquered a curious culture by adapting to it and learning from it – just for me. I travelled alone, and even though I made unforgettable friends along the way, it was still I who took the steps forward, who waited for the bus that was four hours late to go on a holiday on the coast by myself, who learnt which wine to order with a goat cheese salad in a Bordeaux restaurant, who found a way to an unseen place, who looked at it, and who remembered how to get back.

Photo by Elina Virva

Photo by Elina Virva

Above all: the grass still smelled the same, the sky still looked the familiar shade of blue, the every-day life still felt as ordinary as ever. Only the details were switched around just a little, so that I had to either adjust them or myself. I commenced what became the most difficult journey that I have ever taken, but it also taught me the most about life that I could have ever learnt in one year. And now, I’m happy at home, though as a little changed version of myself.

So, as certainly as is wanderlust a fundamental part of human nature, it doesn’t always equal what you see nowadays on glorious photos in social media. It takes a lot of effort to really explore, and most often than not, you will actually end up exploring yourself instead of a park, a city, or a mountain. One thing’s for sure: if you ever meet this magical motivation to go and see, the one that is known as wanderlust, you should listen to it. Instead of a foreign land, you might learn to conquer yourself. Now, if that is not a healthy hunger – wanting to grow as a person through learning to understand what is different – then what is?

Chief Editor’s Note: Biography, Killing Your Darlings

Elizabeth 2

I recently got hooked on a podcast called S-Town. As podcasts go, it’s not at all obscure. It was made by the same people who made Serial, and many of the the big UK and US papers gave it a writeup. The narrative centered around an eccentric denizen of rural Alabama, John B. McLemore. Initially he contacted a journalist, Brian Reed, about a possible murder and coverup conspiracy, and the story starts out as a kind of southern gothic detective jaunt. As the reporter uncovers more, the genre flips multiple times and the focus moves more tightly to McLemore. Ultimately it becomes a biography of this utterly baroque, layered character.

I am also at the moment taking Merja Polvinen’s course on autobiography, largely because the genre skeeves me out. An autobiography can be tastefully done when a life has been interesting and the writer-subject is outward looking towards some issue, cause, craft, zeitgeist, whatever. But generally, hearing the details of the life of a person I’ve never met feels like being thinly coated in slime. Same goes for biography, with the added problems inherent in one person representing another. Probably this distaste says as much about me as about the writers. I’ve been trying to better understand my aversion and the finer ethical points of writing about a real person’s life. After all, as an amateur journalist, don’t I sometimes partake in the same?

Portraying some real person closely, revealing their deeds, confided speech, foibles – this may be an act of love, but as D.H. says, anatomizing what you love kills it. To know about is intelligent, to know is vampirism at its purest.

Though I reject the library as tomb metaphor, sometimes I do think that we kill in the act of writing. A person, no matter how weak their action or deceptive their speech, possesses a kind of beauty and sympathy when witnessed living. Provided, of course, the witness adjusts her range appropriately. These same traits, fixed in writing, begin to stink of rot. As in so many things, the beauty is in the movement.

Closely rendered (auto)biography is like pinning an irridescent beetle to a board. Certain things just don’t survive being written.

By the end of S-Town, McLemore, initially an elusive and fantastic personality, had collapsed into a squalid list of details. I felt for him, the way I might feel for a taxidermied fox. It’s been a month since I tore through the seven part podcast, and I still sometimes feel the need for a bath on account of this experience.

What is to be written and what is not? An important question for a journalist and indeed for humanists of all stripes. What belongs in the public sphere and what constitutes a violation of a subject’s, dead or living, inner space (not to mention the reader’s)? These aren’t questions that can be answered generally. A quick google search of S-Town reveals convincing arguments for both sides, those who think McLemore should have been left well enough alone and those who think Reed stayed within bounds and even did service to McLemore’s life. It boils down to a matter of personal boundaries and tastes. When adventuring into the (auto)biographical genre, it is easy to suddenly find these boundaries overstepped, but perhaps there is value in that too, reflective and instructive.

Caveat lengthily expressed, I’d be remiss if I didn’t biographize briefly the deeds of one of my predecessors at the helm of BTSB.

I’ve never known a BTSB that wasn’t an active group of dedicated writers who cared as much for quality as for fellowship. This is because Kaisa Leino had been Editor in Chief a few years before I arrived and continued on for my first two years with the ’zine. She took the paper very seriously, and yet was a welcoming and supportive presence for new writers. I’ve heard rumor of ye olde dayes when apparently things were not so. By all accounts, Kaisa holds responsibility for what BTSB is now. As for me, Kaisa’s work on the paper has made my stint as Editor in Chief incredibly easy.

Kaisa received honorary recognition at the SUB 2017 anniversary dinner.

Kaisa received honorary recognition at the SUB 2017 anniversary dinner.

Happily, during SUB’s anniversary dinner this March, Kaisa received due recognition. I was quite pleased, and I know the other BTSB regulars in the audience were as well, to hear her acheivements appreciated and recognized complete with sweet certificate.

It is good to be remembered, to be known about, if not anatomized. So if my congratulations seem general, it is out of profound respect to a person who has shaped a small, but I like to think significant in it’s sphere, ’zine about which I also care deeply.

So please enjoy this small issue! Petteri also navigates the perilous waters of writing about the admired departed with a poem that lovingly satirizes his heroes. Danielle takes us deep into the psyche in the safe vessel of fiction. Elina brings wanderlust home in a personal essay and Missy questions the nature of shame in Finland and the United States. I revise my opinion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Jesper has something to say about people who have something to say about the Simpsons, and Inka admits to being wrong about mornings.

 

Editors in Chief past and present looking damn dapper.

Editors in Chief past and present looking damn dapper.

Forge bravely on – if anatomizing a person is wrong, we can all happily anatomize ideas!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Girly and Brutal After 20 Years

Buffy-the-Vampire-Slayer-TV-Series

WBuffy-the-Vampire-Slayer-TV-Serieshen Buffy the Vampire Slayer first aired, I should have been well within the borders of its target audience – teenage weirdo with a taste for anything dark. Maybe I would have been into it had I encountered the show on my own, but it was the stuff of girly sleepovers and watching parties at the time.

So instead of being introduced to Buffy as a campy, episodic horror-mystery mashup, I was introduced to it as “You hafta see this! Ohmygawd Angel is so hawt!” I then spent a weekend in a basement den with three girls eating trash, experimenting with makeup, and listening to running commentary on the physical perfection of season 1-2′s mopey-faced love interest. I was too busy grasping at the tatters of my poor masculinity to appreciate the funky monster costumes, snappy characters, awkward fight sequences, and ridiculous plot arcs.

After that weekend, I refused to watch Buffy again, even with college friends who clearly regarded it as savvy comedy rather than a chance to ogle awkwardly bulky shirtless dudes.

That is until this December when I got snowed in at a friend’s place in Portland (it snows so rarely that the city just shuts down when it does). We wound up watching the musical episode from season six, and it struck me: this show is brutal. The musical episode is 45 minutes of upbeat song and dance around fear of commitment, control issues, sexual manipulation, and self destructive depression. The song and dance presentation encourages you to laugh through these dark topics until the very end when the music stops, the narrative looks you in the eye and says, you know all these things are daily realities, right?

So, when I got back to Helsinki and my borrowed Netflix subscription, I watched all seven seasons in a span of two months. I can definitely say young Elizabeth missed out.

Although my reservations differ from those of my 17 year old self, it’s not a perfect show. Season 4, with its blond, Iowan plot arc, sags under the weight of fake good mental health and implicit patriotism. While Buffy is all about strong women, the show could have handled sex and gender a bit better. “Nice” women aren’t supposed to like rough sex, there is such a thing as too many partners for a woman but not a man, and lesbians are cool but gay men are ugh-gaaaay in Buffy. On the other hand, it does feel pretty realistic to the climate for queer teenagers and 20 something women in the late 90s to early 00s in the US.

The first two seasons are delicious candy with their rubbery monsters, hamfisted fight scenes, and satirized high school angst. As the show progresses, it gets into the ugly problems that often accompany the transition into independent adulthood, albeit usually couched as a metaphor involving a witch who can flay a man at a glance or a vampire with a synthetic soul. The metaphor has kept the comment relevant, however, not to mention entertaining. Even if the socio-cultural climate of the show has aged, the problems it laughingly outlines in fake blood and prosthetic makeup recur through modern society.

More subtle is the shift from childhood black and white morality to an adult’s grey rainbow. The hero remains righteous, but increasingly ambiguous scenarios confront the viewer until, no matter how attached you’ve grown to Buffy, you have to ask if the “good and righteous” response is really the path of least harm in certain situations, especially where people and feelings are concerned.

The show also provokes the viewer more directly. This paragraph and the next should be ambiguous, but may veer into spoiler territory. Be warned. For several seasons the show serves up cartoonish violence – a lot of funny villain death and a little melodramatic heroic death or suffering. Then a villain falls into a coma after one of these cartoonish fights, and she just lies there handcuffed to the hospital bed, looking very human with her makeup removed. And the season’s final boss villain, a dad figure to the comatose woman, formerly jovially evil, brokenly snot cries. She just lies there and eventually the handcuffs come off. She does not wake up for a long time.

In another instance, a beloved support character dies of natural causes prompting an entire episode of very realistic grief. For a full episode our hero desperately tries to do CPR on a cold body and hears ribs crack, stares at walls, vomits in a hallway and tries to hide it under a towel, returns to look at the corpse as though it may come back to life and get up. The viewer tunes in expecting silly, entertaining death and instead watches real death for a harrowing 45 minutes.

Don’t get me wrong. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is primarily entertainment, but it will occasionally come upside your head, teeth bared and free of fear. The campy fun of the first few seasons slowly expands to encompass cleverly posed questioning of sociocultural constructs, without getting too po-faced. I especially appreciated the de- (and re-) construction of the masculine romantic hero in seasons 5-7. Too bad my 17 year old boy self couldn’t have seen that through all the shirtless Boreanaz.

Anime Review: Legend Of The Galactic Heroes

btsb_logh_picture

This article contains light spoilers.

My relationship with Japanese animation was always a complex one. Our generation grew up watching Dragon Ball Z and the likes on TV, but openly admitting that you like anime was considered slightly embarrassing for quite a long while. However, with the Internet becoming integrated into our daily lives and larger audiences gaining easier access to outstanding works like Studio Ghibli’s animated films, I feel as though anime also grew more popular. I’m unsure whether anime still stands at an equal rank to Western television for most people, but I think it definitely should – there are countless of anime that avoid the most common tropes of the medium and are great works in their own right. The foremost example for me is Legend of the Galactic Heroes, often hailed by its fans as ‘the endgame of anime’.

The Legend of the Galactic Heroes franchise consists of several adaptations. In addition to the 110-episode main anime series produced by Kitty Films over a period of nine years from 1988 to 1997 and the original science fiction novels the anime series is based on, there are numerous video games, two manga series, three films, two spin-off anime series, as well as a stage musical. To further complicate matters, anime studio Production I.G (responsible for the famous animated sequence in Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. I) is currently producing a remake of the main anime series, intended for release later this year. In light of this new adaptation, it is an altogether fitting time for me to write about the renowned space opera.

Although the main anime series, Legend of the Galactic Heroes (henceforth LOGH), is beloved by nearly all of those who have bothered to view the damn thing (at the time of writing, it boasts an impressive 9.1 rating on IMBD and is ranked as the 8th best anime on MAL), many anime fans abstain from watching it due to a number of issues. LOGH is notoriously difficult to get one’s hands on, the dated animation and extremely slow start bother those viewers more used to modern anime, and the length (110 episodes, roughly 25 minutes each) troubles others. Also, the nature of the series, being extremely dialogue-driven, scares off some of those simply expecting brainless action, sugary romance, or cute girls.

Fear not; LOGH has all those things mentioned above, too. The narrative sometimes switches focus to self-contained stories, often told in flashbacks, like the one seen in this clip – helping the viewer better bond with the series’ many characters.

Despite (or maybe just because of it) the series being chiefly dialogue-driven, its scope is, for the lack of a better term, gargantuan. As a fan of literary classics, this is perhaps why I enjoyed LOGH to the extent I did. The series bears remarkable similarities to Tolstoy’s masterpiece War and Peace, which is one of my favourite literary works. LOGH’s soundtrack likewise suggests connections to the classics: it consists mainly of classical music, with well-known pieces such as Mozart’s and Beethoven’s Symphonies blasting over pretty much whenever anything important happens.

As the name of the series suggests, it is set in space and the future. After a disastrous period of global wars, the surviving remnants of mankind have long since chosen to abandon Earth, and have successfully colonised thousands of planets across the wide galaxy. The series does not explicitly tell this to the viewer until Episode 40 – a gloomy and misanthropic episode – in which mankind’s history within the series’ narrative is explored in detail. I would recommend someone interested in LOGH to consider viewing this episode first, since it provides the viewer with extensive background knowledge of the setting without really spoiling anything.

An excerpt of Episode 40, starring the first Galactic Emperor: Rudolf the Great. This character is based on both Hitler and Sulla, meaning that he is, essentially, as evil as they come.

The main focus of the series is the seemingly everlasting space-war between two rival entities; the democratic Free Planets Alliance (FPA), and the monarchic Galactic Empire. The moral values of the two are further embodied in their high-ranking military commanders, Admiral Yang Wen-li of the FPA (who wishes to retire and become a historian), and Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Empire (who, in turn, desires to become Emperor and conquer the galaxy). Although the scope of LOGH spans across nearly every aspect of human life and the political spectrum, its main concern can be said to be the contrasting of the merits of absolute power with those of democratic freedom. This endeavour the series accomplishes with a level of insight and maturity unknownst to any other work of art I have encountered so far.

Admiral Yang exploring the natures of warfare and history with his protégé, Julian.

Reinhard’s posse and their celebratory customs. The series does an excellent job of portraying both sides of the conflict with dignity.

Even if Yang and Reinhard can be called the primary protagonists of the series, it devotes incredible attention to most every character. And there are quite a few characters; their names are often visible on the screen whenever they pop up for the first time in an episode, probably to remind the viewer of their name and military rank, or occupation in the case of civilians. Indeed, in spite of the series being a space opera at its core, some of the characters the series dedicates considerable focus towards are not high-ranking or otherwise famous men or women at all. The inclusion of such characters adds to the already impressive scope of the series and further suggests that LOGH can be, without a doubt, called an epic work.

High Admiral Ernst von Eisenach of the Galactic Empire. If I had to pick a favourite out of the many characters of LOGH, it would have to be him.

In LOGH, not only do the characters get a voice. The series makes use of an omniscient narrator who narrates the heroic (and, at times, unheroic) deeds of the characters to the viewer. The narrator is given a considerable role whenever the series tackles on serious subjects such as war, fate, and death; his laconic style makes him very suitable for this. He also dates major events according to both the Empire and FPA calendars, as well as a third calendar system introduced later in the series. Moreover, the narrator delivers short yet touching eulogies for most of the many characters who die during the course of the series – this writer is not embarrassed to confess that these moments often saw him in tears.

The narrator doing his job. Watch with care; the content is extremely graphic – rivalled only by the series’ horrifying depiction of nuclear warfare against civilians during the fictional Westerland Massacre – obviously, a serious taboo in Japanese culture.

Before proceeding onto my final appraisal of the series, I feel as though I must present a warning of a sort, as a foreword. LOGH is lengthy and, at times, extremely dull. The sheer amount of characters combined with the depth of their characterisation will undoubtedly confuse even an experienced fan of anime. Furthermore, since many of the readers of BTSB are students, I should point out that it will probably be difficult for you to find the time to watch such a lengthy anime in the first place. Still, if you’re looking for a challenge and willing to deal with the fairly low-quality animation, I would recommend giving LOGH a try.

Then, to sum up. Yes, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is to me the greatest anime ever made, with Galaxy Express 999 and The Rose of Versailles being among the few anime series I would consider to be in the same ballpark. It is not flawless by any means – but many of its flaws appear to be caused by budgetary concerns as well as date of production, and these I am fortunate enough to be able to overlook. It’s basically War and Peace in space, with Beethoven and company as background music; something that I never really expected from an anime series. The storylines of several characters also draw heavily from Classical antiquity, which seems to me a big bonus. Granted, a few of the numerous story arcs are tiresome, but so is Pierre’s delving into the wonders of Freemasonry in War and Peace, so I’ll give this a pass.

Past BTSB reviewers have sometimes employed a star rating in closing out their articles. I personally am sceptical when it comes to rating art of any kind on a numerical scale – therefore I’ll refrain from doing so.

I remain convinced that Legend of the Galactic Heroes has plenty enough stars on its own, anyway.

The third opening to LOGH; song is called Sea of the Stars.

The Festival of Political Photography: A Visual Feast

Food Waste

Most of us think surprisingly little about something as essential as food. Even for conscious consumers, the daily necessity of eating creates a tendency to interact with food mainly through habit and ritual. But viewed from unfamiliar angles, mundane foodstuffs can look provocative.

This year The Festival of Political Photography focuses on food. Multiple exhibits around Helsinki recontextualize food production, distribution, and consumption, highlighting the politics, ethics, and humanitarian issues embedded in something everyone needs and most of us consume daily. The festival runs through May with exhibitions at the Finnish Museum of Photography, Virka, and Stoa.

Like most kids, I was taught not to waste my food, and like most urban adults I rely on supermarkets and restaurants to feed myself. Despite good upbringing and good intent, I am (and likely you are) implicated in a massive amount of waste before food even makes it to the plate.

The exhibitions at Virka focus on the wastefulness built into the food distribution systems of western countries. The show features several videos alongside still images. I gravitated towards Polish artist to kosie’s looped videos. Recorded with a hidden lapel cam while she worked as a waitress at a hotel breakfast buffet, the first video shows to kosie scraping plate after plate of food into the trash. Fruit salad, beans, toast, eggs, sausage, and porridge appear temptingly tasty as they tumble into the bin.

Dumpster Bagels

Photo by Sachi Yoshitsugu. A day’s worth of unsold bagels.

Her second video captures a dumpster diving session behind a supermarket. The camera angle, head height and overlooking a pair of hands, invites you into the scenario. I quickly found myself visually sorting the tossed buns, packaged bread, bruised fruit, and assorted vegetables, mentally filling up a shopping bag as the hands deftly made their own selection. Some of the food, especially the packaged items, is clearly still edible, appetizing even. Other items had been visibly spoiled only by the act of throwing them into a dirty bin.

To kosie’s videos are a distressing visualization of the dry statistics a quick google search spits out. Up to 40% of food on US supermarket shelves winds up in the trash. Through the whole farm to tummy process, one portion of food is lost or trashed for every portion that ends up on the table. Numbers vary between the United Nations, Business Insider, and Wired, but the estimates are all distressingly large.

Less immediately captivating if visually engaging in its own way is Filippo Zambon’s “Into the Bin,” images of trashed food framed by the neat square created by looking straight down a lined trash can. The colorful food tumbling abundantly over the folds of black plastic recalls Renaissance still life. The very state of being trashed imbues the food with aesthetic value, inviting the viewer to pluck the lovely yellow curve of an apple from a twining bed of leek greens. The images are pleasant to view but upsetting when aesthetic appreciation leads to consideration of what is wasted.

Many of the images at the Finnish Museum of Photography are difficult to look at, visually aggressive and distressing. The exhibit focuses on methods of food production and distribution. The easiest photographs to view are from Tim Franco’s “Metamorpolis” series. Surreal in composition, the photos depict tiny farmers working in patchwork fields beneath towering skyscrapers. Franco captured these images of abrupt rural to urban transition in the Chinese countryside where rapid urbanization creates strange juxtapositions of steel and greenery, glass and dirt.

Tucked behind dividers that allow visitors to choose whether they will view the photos are images of factory farming and another series showing the human consequence of farming Monsanto soja using glyphosate herbicide in Argentina. These are shot in a photo journalistic style that highlights subject matter over aesthetic. Indeed, viewing bodies twisted and broken by exposure to high levels of herbicide as aesthetic would be a bit suspect. Yet there is something compelling in the stark black and white textures.

While some of the works can be painful, others have strange beauty. I highly recommend a visit to at least one of the exhibits. It’s easy to habitualize and ritualize something as essential as food. Stopping for a moment to view it from another angle, to think, can make the mundane surprisingly enlightening.

Chief Editor’s Note: The Texture of Sleep

Elizabeth 2

One of my minor hobbies is reading comment threads, even on sites as notorious for comment quality as youtube. Rarely is any one comment illuminating, but it’s fascinating to glean the overall linguistic texture of a group: the vocabulary they create and use together, what they permit to be said, how it is to be said, and how these boundaries are enforced. The comments on noise music uploads are bounded by very different rules than those governing comments on black metal uploads even though the genres draw from contiguous pools of listeners, creating distinctly textured emotional-verbal communities in complement, or sometimes weird juxtaposition, to the music.

During one of these bouts of textural appreciation, I first encountered reference to ASMR deep in the comments of a noise upload.

ASMR is also noise, but not music. Most of the videos work like this: a pretty, happy woman modestly dressed and well manicured appears in head and shoulders view seated somewhere in her home. If she speaks it’s in a whisper rocking slowly back and forth so that the sound moves from one side of the listener’s headphones to the other. Maybe she tells a story, chats like an old friend, or plays the role of a mother or a big sister putting the listener to sleep. Many videos feature sounds other than whispering. She may introduce items from around her home, a jewelry box, her favorite soap, a plastic makeup case and tap on these rhythmically while moving them in the same side to side motion to create a stereo soundscape. Some videos focus primarily on the sound. One video shows nothing more than two forks scratching a foam covered microphone.

Listeners who experience ASMR, audio sensory meridian response, feel something like tingles on their scalp, hair raising on the back of their neck, or an intense wave of sensation in and about the head. A variety of stimuli set it off the response, many of them particular sound textures. Some people draw parallels to orgasms, and compounded with most of the video makers being pretty young women, this has led to claims that ASMR is a sex thing, an assertion strongly rejected by most of the community. Personally, I’m inclined to think that the young women element has more to do with the stress and loneliness of modern life. I’ll guess that for most people, whispered comfort and acceptance have come from female voices.

Counter to both the sex and comfort hypotheses, there’s Ephemeral Rift. I have no clue what he’s doing unless its performance art. His videos contain the familiar ASMR elements, whispering, tapping, scratching, but with twists that hover ambiguously between the horrific and the bizarre. In one video we see a large, old box, behind which a plague doctor slowly shuffles. In a whisper muffled by his mask, he introduces himself as Corvus Clemmens. He then proceeds to tap and scratch the box occasionally whispering phrases about relaxation, sleep, and brain tingles, a routine familiar from ASMR videos but couched in a way that threatens or at least makes uncomfortable. If Corvus puts you to sleep, will you wake up?

Ephemeral Rift does many characters, such as Margaret, a red wig and a featureless white mask, possibly a mad cross-dresser in the mould of the Queen of Hearts. You can relax with Death or Satan. There’s a low key, sleep inducing simulated kidnapping. The weapon filled late night chat about suicide with a home invader video is as serene as any of the late night chat with big sister videos.

Perhaps Ephemeral Rift appeals to the same people who listen to horror stories to fall asleep. While horror novels may creep me out and I can’t really watch horror movies, there’s something inexplicably bland and comforting about a voice telling me these stories. Takes the teeth right out of them. Perhaps Ephemeral Rift’s videos remove the teeth from frightening subjects for some, much in the way that some people find death metal comforting.

There are many ways to seek relaxation and relief from the demands, anxieties, and fears of the world. And, apparently, many textures of sleep. It’s a weird world out there, but don’t forget to get outside your bubble from time to time. The world is filled with fascinating textures.

This issue brings you many delightful textures. Elina offers another poem as soothing and rough as the sea. In an interview with Eve, Caitlin reflects on how different life in Benin feels. Danielle tells about her preferred sonic experiences, and Hanna gives us a grainy yet poignant snapshot of the world’s end. Petteri draws our attention to the many elements involved in a classic anime in one article and laments and praises the travails of housekeeping in another. Timo lets us know just where the big wheel is rolling, and finally, I have a few things to say about pictures of food.

Whether trying something new or sticking with old favorites, dive into this issue for a moment of relaxation.