Tuesday, May 25, 2010

If You Can't Use SF Terms Correctly, Don't Use Them at All

Buzzwords bug me. In my job as a communications specialist, I do my best to discourage and avoid them whenever possible.

Even worse is when a word, generally something that has formerly been obscure, is flung into the public spotlight, seized by marketers, business types, coolhunters, and yeah, sometimes well-intentioned readers who misinterpret the word or phrase, and is then used incorrectly, polluting its meaning among the minds of the public.

Worst of all is when a term from speculative fiction is abused in this fashion.

"Tween" has been a victim of this trend. It started shortly after Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies catapulted Tolkien's masterpiece back into mainstream consciousness and someone, somewhere seized on this little piece of hobbit vocabulary.

And I hate it.

Which is not to say that I hate the word tween in and of itself. What bugs me is how it has been so massively misapplied and how widely it's used.

You can't turn on the TV or go into a mall these days with out banging into some piece of marketing or throwaway pop culture commentary referring to tweens. Problem is, those who are employing the word are referring to children, usually between the ages of 10 and 14, which is exactly not what Tolkien was referring to when he invented the word.

Anyone who actually paid attention to what Tolkien wrote (and I'm not talking about the hyper obsessive types who can tell you exactly how many days' walk it is from Beorn's Hall to Dale) knows that tween is a term hobbits use for a halfling in his or her 20's. It's a time that's seen by hobbits as a second part of adolescence, probably due to the fact that hobbits tend to live longer than the average human.

In the real world, because medical science, lifestyle and diet have extended the modern lifespan usually into the 80's, and because these days many people in the developed world who are in their 20's are in an extended phase of adolescence (at least compared to previous generations, since they tend to be still in the process of getting an education, without major financial commitments like homes of their own, without permanent relationships or children, and often without careers), the term tween quite accurately applies, and let's face it, probably should be used.

10-14-year-olds, however, do not fit the definition of Tolkien's invented word. Rather, the term that's been used for this group up until very recently should be brought back: pre-teen.

Sadly, I doubt mainstream marketers and opinion pushers will come to their senses any time soon. The misuse of tween is something I'll have to do my best to ignore for the time being.

So what other SF words or phrases do you think have been misused by mainstream pop culture?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Happy birthday Pacman

It's hard to believe it, but Pacman is 30 years old today. All in all, he's not doing too bad for a guy who's basically just a big giant head who never stops snacking even when he's being chased by the undead.
Admittedly though, he was more than that... Pacman was a marketing atomic bomb that exploded into pop culture near the end of the Cold War. First he chomped his way to the top of the arcades, and then spawned numerous spin-off videogames (as I've mentioned on previous occasions, Pacman may have come first, but Ms Pacman is my first videogame love). You couldn't turn around without running into a Pacman (or some other member of his clan) stand-up arcade game, table-top arcade game, handy portable mini arcade replica consol, or Atari cartridge.
Then the golden boy had to sink his teeth (or whatever he used to eat those little white pellets) into the Saturday morning cartoon scene. Was the Pacman cartoon stupid? Yes, it was, but as a kid I watched it... and I'll bet you did too, fanboy!
And speaking of appetites, Pacman cereal followed pretty soon after. Mmmmm... dehydrated marshmellows in faded pastel colours shaped like Pacman and the ghostmonsters! The deliciousness of a weekend morning meal with no nutritional value whatsoever! Bolstered of course by those crunchy little yellow balls (hey! I know what you're thinking! that's enough of that! save that kind of dirtiness for your interpretation of the London 2012 mascots!) that were already stale when you opened the box and went soggy in 2 seconds flat when immersed in milk, and probably, despite their resemblance to cornpops, probably had no nutritional value either. My brother and I used to love this stuff. For a couple of years, Pacman our cereal of choice when the family hit the road for our summer trip.
Whether you played him, watched him or ate him (that doesn't sound gross, does it?), if you were around in the early 80's, Pacman was a fact of life.
Happy birthday, Pacman!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mascot Madness

London has unveiled its official mascots for the 2012 Olympics, and it looks like for the second Games in a row, SF has had a hefty amount of influence on the designers.

My first impression was that they look like the one-eyed bastard children of Gumby and one of the repair droids from the pod race scene in The Phantom Menace (minus the rice-picker hats, that is). Now I'm starting to wonder (especially with the opening sequence in the backstory video on the Games' site) if they're more along the lines of rejects from Skynet's T1000 factory. Or maybe ambulatory detached eystalks from the trash compactor monster in Star Wars.

And those are just the clean comparisons. Let's not even get into the resemblance these things have to Mr/Ms Garrison's runaway penis from Southpark.

Don't get me wrong, in a way, it's cool the London designers have attempted to come up with futuristic mascots, and I appreciate the somewhat steampunkish made-in-the-garage-by-a-mechanic feel of the characters' origin. But with all of England's long history and layered culture, couldn't the Games' organizers have drawn inspiration from something other than Kryten's self-designed ambulatory unit from Red Dwarf?

Of course, this lineup has made its debut just a couple of months after the Vancouver Olympics, which had its own mediocre mascots. Quachi, Sumi, Miga and Mukmuk were allegedly inspired by First Nations culture, but all you had to do was look at them and see they weren't remotely similar to any aboriginal art on display in BC. No, these critters looked more like really amateurish, failed attempts at anime sketches. You just know that if Pikachu and the rest of the Pokemon gang were picking players for a dodgeball game, no-one would want the Vancouver mascots on their team.

I guess that puts the onus on Sochi 2014, and the hosts of the 2016 Games, to break the pattern and create mascots that - especially if they're SFnal in nature - are actually cool.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Happy Star Wars Day

It's been a rough couple of days at work, but I got a nice pick-me-up
today when I checked my Facebook and noticed a message from a friend:
"May the 4th be with you!"

Yeah, I know that gag is old and kind of lame, but I'd completely
forgotten about it, and it was just what I needed. Nothing like a
little geek humour when you're down.

So happy Star Wars Day, everyone!

Sent from my iPhone