Game Review -- Riviera: The Promised Land

I intended to grab this game months before I actually did. What reminded me of Riviera: The Promised Land, a Wonderswan Color title that first saw English translation on the Game Boy Advance, was actually this month’s behemoth, Final Fantasy XIII. When the first wave of reactions from Japan hit the net -- most of them bemoaning the lack of towns and strict linearity -- the numerous reviews that likened Riviera to a visual novel found their way back into my conscious memory. The major trend in game design for RPGs has been dubbed “streamlining” by people who like it. People who don’t characterize it as a dumbing down or “nerfing” of the genre’s distinguishing mechanics. Riviera is one of the best examples of streamlining in a Japanese developed RPG, and it was released way back in 2002.

A frank discussion of mechanics is in order. Riviera: The Promised Land does not allow the player to control the minute movements of the in-game characters. Movement is simplified to entering a single command to progress from one room to another. Exploring the rooms requires movement points. Interacting with objects in a room takes movement points called TP (for reasons I don’t pretend to remember), and in some cases activates a quick time event (i.e. timed button press/reflex tests, for those of you who are not savvy to game lingo) which awards points when completed correctly. Movement points are earned in battle, according to how efficiently the player handles the fight. The battle system is turn based -- the JRPG standard. But the battle system is also based entirely on items. The player chooses which formation the three characters will take, and the position determines how their attacks will work. Some characters using certain items will only attack the enemy directly adjacent; others using the same item might attack the whole enemy party.
Characters don’t level up with experience points. Their stats increase when they learn item skills, which they learn by using the items in battle. But items degrade after each use, so there’s a practice feature in which your characters can use items without taxing their limited durations. Upon completion of a dungeon sequence, the game assigns a grade to the characters based on the points earned in QTEs, battles, and how many turns it took to complete the dungeon. On top of all that, dialogue options determine the feelings of other party members towards the main character.

What might be called streamlining is actually a trade off between what is usually a useless mechanic and kitchen-sink complexity with the others. The game basically rewards the player for efficiency, and what are described as “visual novel” elements (the one button, menu based movement and lack of direct control) are the only genuine simplification involved. Truthfully, JRPGs of a certain type are actually just visual novels with lots of extraneous movement to provide the illusion of exploration and choice. Developer Sting cut the fat where there was actual fat instead of lobotomizing the gameplay.
Riviera also boasts some of the best music on the GBA, and the graphics, except for the repetitive dungeons, are quite good. The battle system features attack animations and voice samples that are impressive once and tedious each successive time the player watches them.

I think it’s a well made game, but some people are more interested in story than actually playing with mechanics and stats. I have trouble discussing the plots of games like this; the developers have cobbled together a cutesy Norse myth pastiche and filled it with anime/RPG stereotypes in possibly the most by-rote plot to exist in the canon of human storytelling -- saving the world from destruction. It seems to me that the subtle dating sim elements probably earn this game some sort of otaku (read: weeaboo) cred that is lost on me. Every character besides the protagonist is female, and true to form, the game offers the player a chance to peak at them bathing. If I cared, I might write about how Sting plays into the destructive tendencies of a certain sort of gamer -- the type who might own something like life sized Miku Hatsune dolls. I don’t care, though.

One thing that Riviera: The Promised Land did for which I’m ever grateful was to bring Sting to the attention of us American nerds. Before Atlus published Riviera, Sting was probably known only to a few Dreamcast collectors and RPG starved Gamecube owners for their two Evolution dungeon crawlers. Now they’re darlings of the handheld scene, developing innovative games like Knights in the Nightmare and more standard JRPG fare like the upcoming Hexyz Force.

The whole "streamlined" design trend is really just a way of catering to people who don't actually like RPGs and it actually stifles real innovation. While there's lots in Riviera that I don't care for -- amnesiac heroes are the lamest trope of all time (of ALL TIME) -- it's one of the few examples of a developer trying to eliminate pointless mechanics while not assuming the worst of its audience. As it turns out, Final Fantasy XIII is the exact opposite, holding the player's hand for about twenty hours before offering the player the option to do inconsequential things within the game world. I'd rather play a GBA port of an eight-year-old Wonderswan color game.


An Evil Brand

Remember how much I hated Mountain Dew’s Game Fuel? How about those Energy Potions? In both cases, I railed not only at the awfulness of what I’ll charitably refer to as the flavor of these food products but at what they represented. Marketing something like a specific food as being for “gamers” or whoever is possibly insulting but mostly just gross. Food is more than just the sum of its bodily effects and identity is more than can be expressed by what you consume, in terms of both media and food. Products that market a food because of its effects and according to supposed social identity would rob us of that complexity. Gross.
Not to belabor this point, or the ones I made when critiquing Jacob Aranza’s Backward Masking Unmasked, but I found what is likely the zenith of this horrendous trend. No, it’s not the Blood Energy drink (which I haven’t seen in person yet); I’m talking about 1in3Trinity Energy Drink. Apparently, this stuff has infested convenience stores and local ethnic groceries for some time and I’d no clue. Not only that, but it’s part of a brand dedicated to using the name of what the owners presumably believe the Lord of the universe to sell junk like Ed Hardy knock-off t-shirts at $30-60 (!) a pop. Does plastering His name -- and even the symbols of His intervention in the drama of human existence -- on expensive junk count as blasphemy? I think He made mention of taking his name in vain somewhere (He doesn't like it). Perhaps the real question is whether or not the people behind the 1in3Trinity brand ever contemplated the possibility that maybe some things are too grave to use as marketing tools.

I told RockManXZ24 about this, and his first reaction, a trickle of bemused laughter, changed to something like irritation, and finally resentment. He agreed that such a challenge must be answered, and we set out to find this product and buy it while keeping a straight face. Say what you will; we were bored.

The nearest store that carried 1in3Trinity was a gas station in one of rougher parts of town. RockManXZ24 decided to bring his PSP so he could play Crimson Gem Saga in my car and nearly missed out on seeing the two arrests occurring simultaneously on opposite sides of the street. We eventually found the convenience store we were looking for and grabbed the remaining cans, which looked like they’d been sitting in the cooler for months untouched. We’d done a good job of not acting stupid up until we arrived at the counter and the attendant behind the register stopped for a moment after scanning our purchase. “These energy drinks?” the clerk asked us in a thick accent that nevertheless held the distinct affect of the incredulous. That’s when we failed to keep a straight face.

The actual drink is pretty foul, like most energy drinks. It’s brimming with artificial flavor, Taurine and B-vitamins, although not nearly so much caffeine compared to what I guess are the secular-humanist energy drinks. The website claims 1in3Trinity Energy Drink, “A special blend handed down from the flourishing vines and trees of the Holy Land… Fused with ‘Fruit of the Spirit.’” It tastes like sugar-free Red Bull with grape juice. For those not familiar with the New Testament, among the Fruits are peace, patience, gentleness and self-control. Is that what anybody drinks an energy drink to experience? If you do, write in and let me know. And I'll call you an idiot and a rube.

I well know that this isn’t unusual and that much of modern marketing revolves around targeting demographics and preying on their sense of identity as part of said demographic. While the Energy Potions and Game Fuel thing was lame enough to be insulting, they are comparatively innocuous. The really evil thing about 1in3Trinity products are their insistence on making religion into a marketing brand. It insults God, assuming that the people behind 1in3Trinity actually believe in Him, by reducing religion into a bland consumerist action. It then insults the religious by assuming that they’ll buy it. Unfortunately they’re basically right. Christians, who so often complain about holding so little clout in modern culture, react by curling into a circle-jerk of mindless religiosity based not on the immediacy of God within their personal lives, but consumerism. You shall know these by the number of Christian themed products they own.


The Sorcerer's House by Gene Wolfe

Do I really need to tell you that I liked The Sorcerer’s House? Probably I should mention that I like it better than An Evil Guest, but that might send the wrong message. I like An Evil Guest, too; I just like Mr. Wolfe’s new novel better. I think it was around the point in An Evil Guest when Cassie headed off to the South Seas that I came to a bifold conclusion. Firstly, I don’t really want to read Gene Wolfe just to guess at what he’s hiding in the margins of his narrative. Secondly, I love guessing at what’s going on in the margins of his narratives. These statements imply no paradox (at least that’s not the intent); I mean that I want to enjoy reading Wolfe’s novels as much as figuring them out.

As it usually does, a plot synopsis -- ex-con Baxter Dunn squats in a haunted house and mysteriously receives the deed to the property -- reduces the content to banality. What the reader should expect coming into The Sorcerer’s House is what he or she ought to expect from Gene Wolfe: a mash-up of myth and convention seen through the eyes of an unreliable narrator. Wolfe utilizes an epistolary format which was once a popular novelistic form, probably most familiar to contemporary readers from The Screwtape Letters. This plays to the author’s strength with unreliable first person accounts. Most of the letters (and hence the narrative) comes from Bax to his brother or his brother’s wife. As in actual letters, Bax summarizes and explains and writes in anecdotes, making it a quick read as well.

Of course, summary and quick pacing probably make some of the narrative hard to digest (in fact, the characters who receive Bax’s letters write back to tell him so). People who aren’t already familiar or fans of Wolfe will probably bristle at how easy Bax reports things like finding himself with a talking pet fox or how his butler’s dog calls his cell phone to report intruders. Personally, I think that I would’ve found this funny even had I not been familiar with the Wolfe oeuvre. In fact, much of this book strikes me as subtly humorous. At one point, Bax writes a letter to his brother, who has been incarcerated, hesitating to describe the dinner he enjoys because he remembers the awfulness of prison food. He then spends the next two pages talking about his amazing meal.

All of Wolfe’s work operates on more than one level. Part of what makes him challenging is that even the literal parts of the story can be mystifying. There’s probably a half dozen theories about what’s going on in the time between The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator, and probably half of those are actually compelling. But Wolfe’s novels also operate on tropological and anagogical levels. This is as true with The Sorcerer’s House as it is for his other novels, in spite of the relatively easy literal narrative. I almost fear that I like this novel because those levels of interpretation seem so much easier to arrive at than they did in Wolfe’s previous.

There are things that might be considered flaws (the twist ending was telegraphed) but they don’t really detract from the fun. I think that’s the best way to describe The Sorcerer’s House, but then, I’m the sort of person who notices that Winker is a fox-spirit, a kitsune, and that fox spirits are frequently benefactors or predators of the down-on-his-luck scholar in Chinese (at least more so than Japanese) literature. Wolfe knows this; Baxter Dunn has two PhDs. That’s the sort of thing that other people don’t notice, or maybe roll their eyes at. It just makes me go, “Ohhhhh, Gene, you literary rascal.”


Storm Warriors (The Pang Brothers, 2009)

When I was still a full time student, I had the luxury of acquainting myself with the considerable portion of my university’s student body which would openly admit to their abject nerdiness. I also was lucky enough to get to know various ex-patriot and exchange students who came from the Chinese speaking world. There was (and likely still is) a good deal of overlap between these two segments; plenty classmates of both origins regaled me of their opinions on Hong Kong movies and comic books and other Asian cultural imports that had made at least some headway into the United States.

One of those cultural imports was Ma Wing Shing’s "Storm Riders" comic book and Andrew Lau’s 1998 film adaptation. Early in my college experience, it became apparent that there wasn’t much parity between the American kids who were interested in Hong Kong film and the kids who actually hailed from the city and culture that created it. The Americans were usually into Jackie Chan, John Woo, and occasionally CAT III films, while the Chinese speaking students from Hong Kong, Taiwan and China liked to talk to me about the Young and Dangerous series, Stephen Chow comedies (Kung Fu Hustle had only just come out) and “arty” movies by Fruit Chan, Tsai Ming-liang, and Wong Kar Wai. They like Nicholas Tse and Daniel Wu, actors that some of the American HK movie fans couldn’t stand (honestly, though, I never met anybody in person who liked Edison Chen).

If agreement was ever reached on anything when these two segments interacted, it was Johnnie To and Andrew Lau's film, The Storm Riders. I’m not sure why everyone seemed to like this movie in college, but they did. Since Comics One was still in business back then, I was able to read a good portion of what was available in English, including translations of a “light novel” which narrated the early career of Nameless, an important character in the “Storm Riders” universe.

I preface this review of The Storm Warriors with this information because it is indeed pertinent, something that us amateur critics on the internet frequently forget, or otherwise ignore. I recall too, a media studies class in which we discussed critical and popular reaction to films, as well as the different ways films are received worldwide. Do the films change, or is it that viewers are different? The answer to that question is obvious, and I feel the need to point that out here, as that cultural disparity, however diminished you may believe it now is, clearly effects how people feel about The Storm Warriors.

As a movie itself, The Storm Warriors isn’t particularly good. It has literally no plot -- as in the classical sense of a cohesive flow of narrative events -- and the characters are two dimensional. When the trailers appeared online, I was annoyed by how much they looked like Zack Snyder’s 300, but the offending scenes are mercifully short, although directors Danny and Oxide Pang still overuse slow-mo. If comparable to anything, The Storm Warriors parallels the recent direct to DVD animated movies aimed at specific niche audiences, like the DragonLance: Dragons of Autumn and Twilight or Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. Where it diverges is in its huge budget and cast of respected or at least popular stars. Otherwise, The Storm Warriors is clearly meant to appeal to fans of the "Storm Riders" comics and will be impenetrable to others.

Fans of the Storm Riders comic books, of course, aren’t going to be all that concerned about Cloud and Wind’s character development, or need an explanation of whom Nameless and Lord Godless are. They’re already quite familiar with these and other details. The Storm Warriors’ only redeeming aspect, and possibly the only concern of its directors, are its visuals. The visuals don’t redeem the movie to the point that one might call it good, but, in as much as the digitally crafted sets don’t call undue attention to themselves in their ubiquity, are comparatively admirable.

Asian critics (admittedly less so than audiences) found the movie passable, if not enjoyable. Westerners did not. In at least a couple instances, comments flew between reader and reviewer over whether or not the reviewer failed to get the appeal of The Storm Warriors because he or she wasn’t Asian. While I don’t pretend to know the mindset of the people who posted those statements, I feel that explicating and expounding upon them is my right. Of course you don’t have to be racially Asian to “get” a movie such as the one in question, just as you don’t have to be a fifteen year old girl to “get” Twilight or ethnically English to “get” Sherlock Holmes. It does help, though. And if you're not, having some understanding of where such stories are coming from and to whom they are directed helps too.

Ma Wing Shing’s audience, as best as I can tell, is largely comprised of young boys, and has been for decades.To a thirteen-year-old boy, a character like Cloud's brooding and flashy appearance are both an appeal and an idealization of an adolescent sense of masculinity. To an audience that has grown up with Wind and Cloud, for whom their brooding and flowy hair and cartoonishly designed swords are more than over-ornamentation, The Storm Warriors probably curries a degree of favor that it won’t from people who are familiar with them only through the 1998 film. This goes especially for those who only liked the 1998 film because it proved that Hong Kong cinema wasn’t completely dead after the ’97 handover.

Furthermore, The Storm Warriors exemplifies the part of the wuxia tradition least exposed to the west. When most Westerners think of martial arts movies (regardless of classifications like wuxia or chambara) they think of Bruce Lee. But well before Bruce Lee there was Buddha’s Palm and Temple of the Red Lotus, not to mention literary characters like Nezha or Sun Wukong. Complaints about the lack of authentic martial arts ignore the authenticity of storytelling and film. The Storm Warriors is nothing if not a distinctly Hong Kong film in terms of genre.

None of these things ameliorate those faults that other critics found with the film. Their responses remain valid. But I have read so much positive reaction to The Storm Warriors coming from people who would have grown up with it or at least with things similar to it and yet so much dismissal and even resentment from those who have not that the difference cannot be ignored. True art often transcends cultural boundaries. The Storm Warriors at least reminds us that not all foreign films are true art, and that the world is still not flat. It might be wise for some people to keep that in mind when they take an unambitious foreign film to task for not catering to their tastes.


Attack of the Joyful Goddess (Chang Cheh, 1983)

I remember waiting for a DVD copy of Attack of the Joyful Goddess to surface in the market, because back when I first began collecting I was a more frugal and suspicious of online retailers than I am now. It eventually came in the form of a 2-disc set with Men on the Hour, a film starring Pearl Cheung (though she’s really not in it enough) and a death trap filled tower. I didn’t realize that a clean, widescreen print of Men on the Hour should have surprised and excited me; I was only too happy to finally see Attack of the Joyful Goddess. Why was I so excited for this movie? Look at the name.

Like seemingly every Chang Cheh film from around this time, Attack of the Joyful Goddess opens with a demo against an empty sound stage. Unlike most of Chang’s films, actors in full opera make-up and attire perform the opening sequence, in which a chicken is sacrificed among all of the flipping and weapon handling. A narrator explains backstage rituals of Chinese Opera, allowing the viewer who isn’t deeply familiar with Chinese theater and religious conventions some context for all of the supernatural events in the film.

I won’t speak at length about the plot for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the real fun of this movie comes from the almost unpredictable -- although never actually scary -- interventions of ghosts, spirits, and Joy Gods. The second reason is because this film suffers the same ignoble dubbing as Nine Demons. The English script coins names such as “Handsome” and “Rainbow” for its characters and the actors don’t manage much in the way of inflection, much less emotion or character. The dub team did almost as poor a job on this film as they did with Nine Demons, which is especially sad since there was much more to work with in this film. In fact, the title itself is a misnomer, as the titular character is not a goddess, but a god, the deified spirit of a boy emperor who crawled into a costume trunk during an opera performance and suffocated. Who is responsible for the gender confusion? The dub at least refers to the “Joy God.”

If anything must be said, it is this; this is Chang’s talkiest movie since the trouble-youth pics he made for Shaw Brothers before his first sojourn to Taiwan in the mid-seventies. This baffled me the first time I watched it. When the leading man in the troupe finds out that the director actually wants to prostitute his sweetheart, the show’s leading female, to the local magistrate, I expected to see a massive brawl in which the whole troupe would eventually start fighting. At least, that’s how it would’ve happened if this had been Magnificent Ruffians or Killer Army. Rather, threats are made and tensions mount, and when violence does break out, it’s quick and nasty and not choreographed like an opera scene. Characters act something closer to actual human beings in Attack of the Joyful Goddess than they do in most of Chang’s other films.

That’s not to say that the film is realistic. It is a film about supernatural revenge, after all. Chang really manages to escape the pitfalls of his other fantasy and opera based films by keeping the opera confined to the stage and the supernatural confined to quick bursts until the finale. Without even so much a budget as he had at Shaw Brothers, Chang and his co-directors (frequent stars and action choreographers Lu Feng and Chiang Sheng) rely on the same methods of representing the supernatural as they would in Nine Demons: jump cuts, colored disco lighting, wire work. Thankfully, all of this, along with pyrotechnics and cut-rate animation is saved, mostly, until the finale, in which all hell breaks loose. The finale, the only real action scene in the movie, is probably the wildest thing that Chang filmed after leaving Shaw Brothers, that brief period of working in the mainland included.
I won’t try and claim that Attack of the Joyful Goddess is a misunderstood classic. It’s an above average film of its type and a more ambitious film than I first thought. It is, however, flatly shot and thematically weak. I also won’t pretend to understand the references to all of the operas the troupe performs, other than they seem to be performing shows portraying characters that would scare ghosts and demons. Still, unlike Nine Demons, this film might actually be decent if seen as it was originally intended, in its original aspect ratio and language.

Still, if you just want the wacky stuff, this isn’t really where it’s at (the ending excepted).


Trailer Analysis -- Wu-Tang Vs the Golden Phoenix

When talking to people about kung fu movies, even professed fans of the genre, I've noticed that a lot of people get hung up on bad dubs, damaged prints, and rarity, as though those things were part of the genre itself and not a matter circumstance. I recall watching Martial Arts of Shaolin, Jet Li's collaboration with Lau Kar-Leung, on the remastered Hong Kong DVD when an acquaintance asserted that it would be more fun to watch on VHS. Another viewer avered that the digital remaster looked too clean, and that a cheesy dub would add to its "personality." I have no problem with people who like the old dubs, especially those who first experienced Hong Kong movies in drive-in theaters or on late night/Saturday afternoon TV. But I quite like seeing movies as they were intended. Print degradation doesn't make a movie better, and these kids were eighteen; they didn't grow up seeing movies like Martial Arts of Shaolin at the drive-in or the grindhouse. Claiming to enjoy poor-quality or damaged film prints because it reminds you of an experience you actually never had makes you the genre movie equivalent of that painfully bourgeois kid who claimed to really like The Sex Pistols out of spite for the kids who listened to Green Day.

Nevertheless, I can't deny the charm of The RZA's homage to the genre he's been sampling for decades. Yes, it has lots of fake scratch marks and the special effects are... not good, but unlike those other guys (with whom I no longer watch movies) RZA really did watch kung fu and Shaw Brothers flicks at the 42nd Street theater back in the seventies and early eighties. He's been working with the legendary Robert Tai, director of Ninja: The Final Duel, for a while now, although I was under the impression that it was on a movie called The Man with the Iron Fist. Apparently, that's a separate project.

It's good to see Robert Tai and Chi Kuan Chun working with new talent as well as stuntmen who have been around since the heyday of the seventies. Wu-Tang Vs the Golden Phoenix might turn out to be total trash, but at the very least, it looks like it'll be fun, which can cover up a multitude of sins. Self-conscious cheese/camp notwithstanding, this looks like something to watch out for.


Tsop siht etorw lived eht.

I regret ever thinking that it was a good idea to critique non-fiction writing on this blog. Aside from books covering genre films, the sort of non-fiction I read really doesn’t fit the theme of “brain slop.” How exactly would I write about G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man in a way that will actually fit the, uh, unique tone of the rest of my blog? I suppose that a case against Chesterton being adopted into the horrible cult of Christian “cool” would be sort of relevant, but that cultural trend is a perfect example of fun that makes itself.

But something that fit was bound to present itself, as foolish things so often do. This subject actually caught my attention on the clearance rack at a nearby Half Priced Books. Perusing the $3 and under section every couple of weeks has become a habit of sorts, and the community college students that work the registers apparently look forward to seeing what I purchase. In fact, they’re usually more excited about seeing what I buy than I am about actually reading it.

Jacob Aranza’s Backward Masking Unmasked was one of the more unusually masochistic experiences resulting from these excursions. Aranza’s silliness and arrogance amused me, but in some spots, his prose reminds me of the ESL students I used to tutor. An actual quote on page four: “While speaking recently with Jeff Pollard, former lead singer of the nationally known rock group ‘Louisiana LaRue,’ also the one who lead Kerry Livgreen of the rock group ‘Kansas’ to Christ; he stated a view of backward masking that I very much agree with.” Ending on a preposition is the least wrong thing about that sentence.

In spite of having already heard many of his accusations from other attention-seeking pastors, Aranza still surprised me a few times for reasons other than ignorance of prosaic style and grammar. The man apparently has no grasp of sarcasm. “This is the front of the latest Styx release, an open admission to the use of backward masking,” declares Pastor Jacob on the first page. “By order of the Majority for Musical Morality, this album contains secret backwards messages and the songs…” is the supposed admission. He also relays utterly insane quotes (like Gene Simmons claiming that he always wanted to be a cannibal) that most thinking people would assume the product of overzealous showmanship, while providing his own eye-rollers, such as, “Queen’s top song ‘We Are the Champions’ is the unofficial national anthem for gays (homosexuals)...” Gay people consider themselves a separate nation?

And really, the strangest thing about Aranza’s insistence that he can actually hear backwards messages on albums where clearly none exist is his even greater insistence that everybody else can hear them too. Try listening to “Another One Bites the Dust” backwards and tell me if you can actually hear, “Decide to smoke marijuana, marijuana, marijuana.” And did you know that The Eagles’ “Hotel California” is actually about Anton LaVey’s founding the Satanic Church? According to Aranza, “Yes, Satan organized his own religion” is a back-masked message on the song. One wonders if he realizes that among the Church of Satan’s core tenants is materialism. LaVey brand Satanists are many things, often, but actual Devil-worship cannot be counted among their peculiarities and iniquities, because they don’t actually believe in the Devil’s existence.

Pastor Aranza would know that if he had actually familiarized himself with LaVey’s writing. But then, that would require him to evaluate things like rock music and the Church of Satan at face value and contend with them on a mere earthly level. KISS is a band of hedonists, not devil worshippers, and they make it clear, if not in their manner and method, than certainly in their music. Aranza, one might assume, knows in his heart of hearts that he lacks the light critical thinking and rhetorical skill necessary to coax the Lord’s sheep from the glamour of Dionysian revelry evoked by the rock’n’roll of the fifties, sixties, and seventies, and back into the equally barren, but comparatively bland chorus of contemporary, “mainstream” American Protestantism. Unable to contend with reality, Aranza searches for strawmen woven backwards into music, convinced of some sort of clandestine satanic plot to lure the children of America into debauchery with catchy tunes.

At some point it stops being funny and starts being sad. Backwards Masking Unmasked conveys the depth of American Christianity’s wrongheaded approach to culture, and does so completely unwittingly: when young people ignore the church in favor of potentially destructive vices, it is because of the influence of occult beings, not because young people chose to ignore the church. Aranza never supposes that perhaps he and his fellow pastors failed to instruct their flocks on the possibility of better, more fulfilling alternatives to the shallow navel-gazing pop culture or the empty self-destruction of drug culture. People like Aranza probably aren’t even aware that genuinely fulfilling alternatives exist. The goals of such people in 2010 are slightly different (rock music is no longer the main target) but the methods have only hardly changed.

Believe it or not, this isn't the only hidden message in this post! Jacob Aranza was the first to find the other one, and he believes it too!


Could this be your EMT?

I'm trying to comfort myself, so tell me which scenario is less awful: did an instructor find this too funny to not share, did somebody flunk a quiz on purpose for the lulz, or is this entirely fake?

None of those possibilities are really doing the trick.