Sunday, November 8, 2015

Happy Mutant Hall of Fame - Theodore Geisel: Seuss I Am!

From porn star politician to mad genius of child-friendly rhyming stories, the second member of the Happy Mutant Hall of Fame, as picked by Mark Frauenfelder, is Theodor "Dr." Seuss Geisel, whose life story is fascinating and lengthy. Except instead of trying to skim over how an illustrator turned ad man came into the world of children's stories, and maybe noting he had made more adult art and drew political cartoons (after drawing propaganda pieces and ads for war bonds), the first third of the piece focused on the Sneetches (text only).

How has Seuss fared in the last 20 years? Since his death in 1991, his fame hasn't faded, and many of the above-linked resources were created in the years since 1995. (Remember, Wikipedia launched in January 2001). There is a lot more to read if you want to dive deeper. Or if you'd prefer, you can skip that and enjoy the animated short of The Sneetches (link to a slightly better quality video, lower quality embedded below).

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Happy Mutant Hall of Fame - Cicciolina: The Little Fleshy One

Welcome to the original Happy Mutant Hall of Fame, six short profiles on a few of the world's wonderfully unique individuals. (I say Original because I'll expand this list after getting through reviewing the book.)

The first mutant mini-profile confused me at first. On reflection, I somehow mentally classified the Handbook as something of a kooky fun book for the whole family, and it mostly is. But there is definitely some material you wouldn't discuss with mini-mutants, and the story of the porn star turned politician is probably one of them.

Gareth Branwyn wrote about Ilona Staller, the Hungarian-born Italian porn star who is also her stage name, Cicciolina (which translates as "little cuddly," "little fleshy one," and "little cabbage," according to Branwyn). She got into politics in the late 1970s, and in 1987, she was elected to the Italian parliament and continued to perform in hardcore porn. She offered to have sex with a number of men in need of peace and comfort, including Saddam Hussein (twice) and Osama bin Laden, saying "My breasts have only ever helped people while Bin Laden has killed thousands of innocent victims."

So how has she fared since 1995? Though she wasn't re-elected and hasn't held office since her one term, she continued to be active in politics into her 60s, and was remembered in English language pop media/news in 2013. Otherwise, she's mostly forgotten (or unknown) outside of Italy.

Work safe video: she inspiration for Pop Will Eat Itself's unofficial 1990 World Cup anthem, Touched By The Hand Of Cicciolina, as seen below:

Friday, July 10, 2015

Cyberpunk vs Ribofunk

Cyberpunk is a world of silicon chip implants, stainless steel, firtual reality, and grim computer hackers. It's fun to read about, but who wants to live that way?
Mark and Carla grab onto Paul Di Filippo's notion of Ribofunk, as coined for his collection of stories with the same name. As he said,
It's a neologism of my own inventing that I hope spreads like a memetic virus throughout the intellectual community. Ribo comes from the word ribosome, which I use as a shorthand for all biology, and funk indicates a stylistic component derived mostly from funk music... a hot, skittery style in contrast to the more laid back, cerebral style that you might find in some cyberpunk...
So what is ribofunk? Carla and Mark compared it to Cyberpunk as follows:

silicon carbon
computer hacking biohacking
designer drugs designer genes
control chaos
cyborg mutant
implants parasites
Neuromancer Blood Music
logic libido
Kraftwerk George Clinton
robotics artificial life
Chess Twister
How does this all look in reflection? Actually, quite contemporary. Biohacking is still a fringe topic, designer genes are far from main-stream and continue to evoke heated debates about the ethics and societal fairness of "designer babies." That debate has moved from theoretical potential of such actions and closer to reality as whole genome sequencing has significantly advanced in the past twenty years. In 1995, genome sequencing was just starting to pick up steam. Now the target is to cut the price to $1,000 USD for a complete human genome, which again comes with a range of technical, ethical and legal issues.

Artificial life and Blood Music are still future-tech, in terms of full-fledged realization, while George Clinton is still funky, and Twister is still kitschy.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Mr. Magoo Theory of Mutant Progress

When you think about it, Mr. Magoo's exploits are the perfect metaphor for mutant progress. Like this hapless cartoon geezer, we humans, in our nearsightedness, like to look down the path we've traveled and take credit for everything that's worked out, while conveniently ignoring (or blaming others for) all our screwups. in our arrogance, we can't see all the near disasters that chance has averted. Meanwhile, futurists try to develop forecasting methods to predict what's going to happen as we drive our fume-belching autos into the sunset -- forget about it! Life's more chaotic, complex, and strange than we could ever predict.
In Gareth Branwyn's short piece on the fortunate Mr. Magoo as the personification (or cartoonification?) of mutant progress, he doesn't get into the fact that the codger initially played second fiddle to a bear who had no lines, yet Magoo was popular enough to get a series of shorts and a few movies, kind of like humans who have stumbled into their current position, thinking they're the cat's pajamas instead of a series of happy accidents, in the face of all their (unwitting) efforts to undo their progress at every turn. But overall, still an apt stand-in for mutant progress (and if you have only seen this first short, don't worry - Mr. Magoo changes from an angry old music-hater to a jolly chap, more in keeping with the happy sort of mutants).

For your viewing pleasure, the first short featuring Mr. Magoo: The Ragtime Bear (1949)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Normals, Unhappy Mutants and Happy Mutants

What is a happy mutant? Simply put, one who is fond of new ideas and high weirdness, with a DIY sensibility to make their own fun with the power of their brain; not to be confused with Normals and Unhappy Mutants:
Sea-Monkeys, a real man-modified miracle of nature!
(note: link includes embedded auto-playing video)
  • Normal (neophobic sixpackus), folks concerned about "fitting in" and stability. But give 'em a good shock and behold! Mutation!
  • Unhappy Mutant (neophilic pessimisticus), seek new experiences of a dark sort, miserable folks who reinforce their miserable attitudes. If they crash and burn, they might swing back and become 'born again normals'.
  • Happy Mutant (neophilic optimisticus), also seek out new experiences but of the opposite end of the spectrum, desiring novelty of the gleeful sort. But without sufficient infusions of new, their grey goo could turn dull and normal.
Further examples of these different classes of creatures:

Stuff They Like
Happy Mutant Normal Unhappy Mutant
Brazil Sleepless in Seattle Faces of Death
They Might be Giants Janet Jackson GG Allin
The Happy Mutant Handbook The Bridges of Madison County Apocalypse Culture
Silly Putty Golf balls Nunchakus
Basil Wolverton Leroy Neiman Joe Coleman
Church of the SubGenius Church of Elvis Church of Satan
Sea Monkey Irish Setter Scorpion
Twister Checkers Russian Roulette
Archie McPhee Lillian Vernon Amok
"Why Be Normal?" "I'm with Stupid" "Charlie Don't Surf"
Pranks White Collar Crime Scams

How have these examples of Happy Mutant hijinks aged? In 1996, when this review of the Happy Mutant Handbook was written, the review might have seemed like some zesty breadcrumbs on an exciting trail into a great unknown, with the Handbook itself serving as a collection of teaser trailers for the even larger mysteries of the wider, weirder world out there. But with the ever-expanding internet, as seen in the links above, more of this kooky kind of novelty is just a click away!

Some of this is still fresh, with Brazil retaining it's place as a cult classic, while some have ebbed and flowed, like the comeback of They Might Be Giants as a "nerd-rock institution." According to the current overview on Wikipedia, bOING bOING had a maximum circulation of 17,500 copies, then transitioned from zine to website in 1995, dropping the zine all together in 1996, and it has grown and changed since then. The Church of the SubGenius also lives on, like an endless supply of sea monkeys, which oddly aren't available from Archie McPhee, the thriving internet store of weird and wonderful items.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Forward [Rewind]

Where were you in '95? How did you discover things that were new, weird and wonderful? As the Royal Pingdom blog notes, the internet was "petite" at 23,500 websites, Internet Explorer version 1 came out with the brand new Windows 95. Compare that to today's stats, with 960 MILLION websites and counting, Internet Explorer is up to version 11 (which is nothing compared to Firefox's rapid release schedule, similar to Google Chrome, with new versions every month and a half), while desktop and computers have been overtaken by a myriad of smart devices as the majority source of internet usage, often used while doing something else, like watching TV.

In short, the internet is a huge, ever-present source of information and distractions now, drastically different from two decades ago. In a Harvard Business Review article on disruptive technologies from 1995, the bulk of the article focuses on hard drive sizes decreasing, and there's a brief discussion of personal computers and Apple's generally ill-fated Newton.

Copyright 1995; cover design by Chip Wass (scanned)
This is all to say, in 1995 it made sense for Bruce Sterling, a notable sci-fi author who helped define the cyberpunk genre, to rant and rave about "The World's Greatest Neurozine" called bOING bOING makes sense, like it makes sense to subscribe to dozens of such niche publications.

Now, it's all1 online! A book of archaic London street slang (also gathered in a quick list)! A digitized catalog of dental instruments (probably not pig iron, though)! Gay Catholic psychics from New Jersey who levitated tables and blew spirit trumpets at the court of Emperor Napoleon? Well, maybe not that one, because I think he made it up from a few different real things (St. Joseph of Cupertino, the Flying Friar, spirit trumpets, and Napoleon's controversial psychic abilities). You can even find archives of zines online, if you want to get back into the zine scene of the past.

So why revisit this document from days of yore? Why even take the time to scan and correct the colors on your old book2? Nostalgia, mostly, and to fulfill an old dream of my high school self. Back then, I thought "why isn't there a website for the Happy Mutant Handbook?" I even wrote notes in the margins, had ideas of what to add. So I wrote to Will Kreth, who is credited in the front as "Online Editor." He asked for an example of what kind of website stuff I could do, and back in 1998, I might have been able to cobble something together. But I didn't, so my idea ended there, mostly.

But nostalgia holds on. Now I want to see how everything has aged, and what the happy mutants behind this are up to now, 20 years later. Are they still "serving up a highly personal melange of well-forged irony and profoundly healthy cynicism, reaffirms your faith in the future"? How does this future-now look? Join me, Mr. EveryGoon Esquire, as I look back and look beyond.

1. Well, not all online. It takes a while to digitize all of human history. Anyway, there are also shadowy corners of the internet, the areas not reached by usual search methods, and dig even deeper and you can find various sorts of darknets.

2. I'm also something of casual archivist, so when the best image was this cover, I wanted to start expanding the online presence of the HMHB by adding a decent cover scan, while keeping some of the worn appearance of my personal copy.

Thanks to Karl Winegardner's code for footnotes. One note: if you're using that code in Blogger, you might find that Blogger tries to make the page-independent IDs tie back to a specific Blogger draft page every time you edit the page in Compose view, so beware of weird "fixes" that Blogger might automatically introduce to this nice bit of code. My suggestion is to udate your post while in HTML mode, after making sure there's no extra URL junk in those floating references.