There was a mass shooting in Buffalo, NY. Ten dead.

This is a bigger deal than the ~60 murders that happen in Buffalo every year because of the shooter’s beliefs, which were rather naughty. He belonged to the far right. He believed in something called “The Great Replacement”. The FBI is conducting forensic analysis of his keyboard to see if he ever typed offensive hate-slogans like “subscribe to Pewdiepie”, but sadly he probably did.

Social media is effervescing with the usual mixture of anger, sorrow, sloganeering, conspiracies, and bizarre object-level claims about reality. In particular, people seem fascinated with the idea that the media ignores right wing terrorism; or that it calls terrorists “lone wolves” if they’re white.

For example:

Look at the breezy confidence of these tweets. They’re not saying the media might call him a lone wolf. They’re saying it will. That it has.

Is this true? I’m going to cheat by actually looking at what the media’s saying.

CNN: “The 18-year-old man who allegedly shot and killed 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket Saturday afternoon was motivated by hate, authorities said.”

ABC: “Authorities say the shooting was motivated by racial hatred.”

Axios: “The suspect allegedly published racist writings before the attack.”

Fox News: “U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland called the attack ‘a hate crime and an act of racially-motivated violent extremism.'”

NBC News: “The Buffalo supermarket shooting suspect allegedly posted an apparent manifesto repeatedly citing ‘great replacement’ theory”

Buffalo News: “Racist manifesto details hateful views, methodical planning of accused gunman”

LA Times: “Buffalo shooting is an ugly culmination of California’s ‘great replacement’ theory”

WSJ: “the writer describes himself as a fascist, white supremacist and racist”

The Grauniad: “Hate-based crime has been getting worse in recent years, largely cultivated in the cauldron of darkest reaches of the internet”

Associated Press: “racially motivated violent extremism.”

Ten stories from large, reputable sources.

Zero out of ten describe the attacker as a “lone wolf”.

Ten out of ten connect him to right wing causes, or quote officials who have done the same.

In fact, Googling “Buffalo + ‘lone wolf'” serves no relevant results, just people handwringing about how everyone is calling the shooter a lone wolf.

This is the epitome of “making up a guy to get mad at”. Nobody is doing this thing. Nobody at all. “The sooner we can dispense of this absolutely ridiculous descriptor, the better.” We can’t “dispense” of a descriptor that nobody’s using.

Twitter almost feels like a window into an alternate universe at this point. These people live in a world where every newspaper headline and news station chyron is referring to the shooter as a “lone wolf”. So why are their messages appearing in my world, where the most casual investigation shows this to be false? Quantum entanglement anomaly? I wish these visitors from Dimension X would specify whether their tweets relate to their home planet or to the world that I live in, similar to how Marvel Comics distinguishes between Earth-616 and Earth-1610 timelines. It would be less confusing.

“Lone wolf” means something relatively specific: a terrorist that plans and executes an attack aloneIt doesn’t mean “the shooter is unmotivated by ideology” or “the shooter has no political views”.  No semantic boundary exists between “lone wolf” and “terrorist” and “white supremacist”. You can be all of those things at once. It’s less a question of “what did you do?” or “why did you do it?” and more a question of “who did you do it for?”

Did you blow up a migrant hostel with two tons of ANFO because you’re nuts? Then you’re a lone wolf. Did you do it on the orders of Combat 18? Then you’re part of a terrorist group. But there’s a huge fuzzy area in between, where blame becomes hard to assign. What counts as a terrorist group? What counts as acting alone? What counts as being nuts? We end up asking existential questions about the nature of free will and causality.

Yes, the killer was influenced by 4chan’s /pol/ board. Is the board causally responsible for the terrorist attack (in the sense that if moot hadn’t renewed 4chan’s domain name in 2004, ten people in Buffalo would now be alive?) Possibly. But that’s not the same as moral responsibility. It’s also possible that Payton Gendry was a psychologically broken person, and that without /pol/ he would have fallen down some other rabbit hole (or would have encountered the same reading material elsewhere, and would have been radicalized the same way). We can’t conduct a scientific a/b test involving two Payton Gendrons,  one exposed to /pol/ and one that wasn’t. We’ll never know. Calling/pol/ a terrorist network feels very tenuous, in the same way as calling William Powell a “terrorist leader” because someone copied a bomb recipe from The Anarchist Cookbook.

A lot of people want to use the shooter’s ideological stance as a weapon against mainstream conservatism. If you’ve spoken critically about immigration, you’re promoting “Great Replacement” conspiracy theories, and a direct causal line can be drawn from you to the killer.

Twitter’s saying this, but Twitter is a bad website. Big boy journalists are getting in on the action too. Here’s Talia Lavin, in Rolling Stone:  The Buffalo Shooter Isn’t a ‘Lone Wolf.’ He’s a Mainstream Republican

I don’t blame her for the headline, which she didn’t write. I blame her for the stuff after the headline, though, which she did.

The argument seems to be “Tucker Carlson is worried about birth rates declining, and the killer is worried about birth rates declining, so let’s draw a causal link between Tucker Carlson and the killer, based off no evidence. Don’t question it. They’re both on the same side.”

But there’s no sign that the killer was a Tucker Carlson fan, or had anything but contempt for the Republican Party. He cites NZ shooter Brenton Tarrant as an influence. From his manifesto: [1]Which is being scrubbed from the internet, in the name of “not spreading the killer’s views”. This has the side effect that any idiot can claim Payton Gendry said something, and … Continue reading

On p157, he says “conservatism is dead. Thank god. Now let us bury it and move on to something of worth.” On p31, he includes an antisemitic collage of Fox News hosts, each with a Star of David over their faces. The implication appears to be “Fox News is run by Jewish globalists”. Was he really inspired an avid Tucker Carlson fan?

The fact that he and Carlson may have agreed on some points is neither here nor there. This man – insofar as he has a firm political outlook – is probably an eco-fascist, as Tarrant was. I doubt Tucker Carlson has ever endorsed such a viewpoint on his show or even knows what it is.

Your political opponents are not all secretly the same. This must be the most prevalent fallacy in politics.  I used to see it on boards like Free Republic, where you’d hear about how Obama was going to rally his army of Islamic terrorists and Godless atheists and Marxist college grads and Hispanic anchor babies and devil-worshipping Satanists to overthrow America. They seemed to believe that all of these (vastly different) people were all working on the same team.

This isn’t how it works. Conservatism isn’t a monolithic hivemind any more than liberalism is, but Lavin has no interest in that kind of nuance. To her, life is a chessboard. There’s her side, then there’s the enemy side. All conservatives are secretly working from the same playbook.

It’s an awful piece, full of emotive verbiage and factual mistakes (Alito did not coin the phrase “domestic supply of infants”, he quoted it from a 2008 CDC report about adoption). Also, it’s written like shit. Aren’t journalists supposed to be eloquent?

“The Republican Party’s embrace of nativism has been more of a full-on dash than a slow slide, and it has been catalyzed by the vast constellation of right-wing media.”

Can an “embrace” be a “full-on dash” which is “catalyzed” by a “constellation”? This sentence has five metaphors and four make no sense with any of the others.

“Far from ebbing as Trump has ceased to be the party’s sole center, however, the tide of white animus has become even more central to a new crop of Congresspeople and candidates.”

How does a “tide of white animus” become “even more central” to a “crop”? What’s a “sole center”? Is there any other kind?

But hey, I’m glad to have Ms Lavin writing this stuff, if it leaves her too busy to pursue her side hustle as an internet Nazi hunter.

 

 

References

References
1 Which is being scrubbed from the internet, in the name of “not spreading the killer’s views”. This has the side effect that any idiot can claim Payton Gendry said something, and nobody can effectively disprove or debunk it.

Why is it being hidden from the world like weapons-grade plutonium? It’s not scary or interesting. It’s a profoundly nerdy document, proving something that’s already been proven to Valhalla and back: mass shooters are not cool. The part where he cites the white birthrate to two decimal places has a Leeroy Jenkins energy. “I’m getting a 32.33 percentage, repeating of course, chance of survival!”

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The 1980s were grim years of faceless corporatism, and this was felt in the decade’s cartoons. Who made He-Man & Masters Of The Universe? Nobody knew. It appeared on your TV once a week, as if by magic. You knew the studio, of course: millions of grownups still have conditioned Pavlovian reactions to the Nelvana bear, the bouncing DIC ball, the “Filmation presents…”.  But you kinda forgot that human beings created the show. No kid could name one of them.

This changed in the 90s, when a fad for “creator driven” content meant networks began branding shows around their lead creative personnel. Everyone knew The Simpsons was “made” by Matt Groening, and Ren and Stimpy was “made” by John Kricfalusi. It was easy to believe that the show was the sole creation of a wacky genius doodling in his artist loft.

This creator-driven approach could backfire. Sometimes “creators” were self-destructive assholes. Sometimes they were untalented hacks who’d lucked into (or stolen) their one good idea. Associating a brand with a (flawed, complex) person means the brand can easily become toxic: attempts to restart Ren & Stimpy now face the obstacle of John Kricfalusi’s personal life, and The Simpsons‘ wholesome “stick it to the man” satire becomes tough to laugh at if you think Matt Groening took executive-class flights on the Lolita Express.

But it was still an exciting era that rewarded strong personalities and odd perspectives. None of the tentpole shows of the 90s (Beavis and Butthead, South Park, Daria, King of the Hill) could have existed in the 80s. They were derided as juvenile toilet humor at the time. In hindsight, the reverse was true: it was the decade where TV animation grew up.

The 90s should have been Ralph Bakshi’s moment.

You might have heard of him. X Rated cartoons. Rotoscoping. Blaxploitation. He’s one of animation’s greatest auteurs, and his work is suffused by a violent, turbulent energy that elevates the lowbrow material. Ralph Bakshi isn’t always good, but he’s always Ralph Bakshi.

He’s a titan of 2D animation, but it’s easy to slip into past tense when discussing him. His classic films all date from 1972 to 1983, and by 1990 he hadn’t made anything good for a very long time. Was he still relevant?

His 1992 film Cool World was a devastating misfire. A jokeless, plotless, idealess nothingburger featuring bad animation and bad live action film composited in a bad way. Roger Ebert had the best pan.  Cool World marked the final death rattle of the adult animated film, with rubbish such as Heavy Metal 2K being the final meaningless puppeteering of the medium’s lifeless corpse.

But adult animation, it was believed, still had a future on the silver screen, where the stakes of a failure weren’t so high. And in the mid 1990s, HBO gave Bakshi a shot at redemption.

He “redeemed” himself with Spicy City.

It’s a sci-fi anthology show, hosted by an Elvira ripoff called Raven. In classic Bakshi fashion, most of the budget was spent drawing very large breasts. Truly, he is to boobs what Robert Crumb is to asses.[1]62.5 hours were spent workshopping a joke about the irony of a man called “back-she” being more interested in womens’ front sides but one of our financiers backed out, saying it was … Continue reading

The show (which was laughably advertised as the first “adults only” cartoon) failed miserably. It was a one season wonder, cancelled after six episodes.

But that means nothing, in and of itself. Maybe it was ahead of its time. Let’s find out.

I exhaustively deep-dived into Spicy City. Which means I watched three episodes that someone uploaded to Youtube.

Tears of a Clone

An eyeless detective is hired to track down a human blob’s missing “daughter” who somehow escaped his gravitational field.

…Or, as the show relates the plot: “Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah? Blah blah blah.”

Holy fuck, this is the talkiest cartoon I’ve ever seen. Where’s the action? The dialog scenes go on and on and on and on. I want to go back to nineteen-twenty-whenever and throw Max Fleischer’s  Phonofilm sound equipment in the Potomac in the hopes that cartoons remain silent.

Maybe it would help if the characters occasionally said things that weren’t cornball detective cliches, like “there’s just the small matter of my fee…”

That brings me to another issue: Spicy City’s setting.

The show aspires to an edgy cyberpunk aesthetic (the city itself is just Gibson’s Sprawl). But 59-year old Bakshi had no natural affinity for high tech worlds (or desire to learn) so he said “screw it” and went with film noir.

Think of the hackiest noir cliche you know: it’s here. A private eye who’s down on his luck? A dame in trouble? Smoke-filled clubs filled with sleazy characters? Fashions that consist of trenchcoats, fedoras, zoot suits, cocktail dresses, and pearl necklaces? All here.

Welcome to the future. We dress like this.

Bakshi’s cyberpunk world looks like a 1940s Hollywood film lot, with story choices to match. It’s so dated and old that it’s totally jarring when a character (for example) uses a computer. Yes, cyberpunk draws on noir. But Spicy City does so excessively, and the sci-fi plots (cloning, virtual reality, and cyborgs) are tonally incongruent with Bakshi’s world.

In short, nonsensical setting, weak story, twice as much dialog as necessary, and hideous character design. Fuck finding the girl, this guy needs to find his missing eyeballs.

Mano’s Hands

A bongo player called Mano Mantillo is the hottest thing in town. That’s Spicy City worldbuilding for you: an cyber-metropolis where everyone’s wild about bongos.

Mano’s hands made him a star, but they have a life of their own. When mob enforcers cut them off for nonpayment of debts, they begin strangling people.

Here we see Bakshi’s lifelong fascination with black/latino culture, mixed with the trope of the demon-possessed musician (Robert Johnson, The Devil and Daniel Mouse, Soul Music, Rock & Rule, and so on). In effect, it swaps one set of cliches for another.

I didn’t love “Mano’s Hands”. It has less dialog and it’s certainly gruesome enough, but the premise is dated and lame. Is this really what we’re doing with the “world’s first adult cartoon show”? Ripping off EC Comics and The Addams Family?

By the way, Mano is Spanish for hand, so the episode’s title is “Hand’s hands”. I wonder why his surname isn’t Martillo, which is an eighth-note bongo pattern. Mantillo simply means “mulch”.

“Love Is a Download”

Same setup as “Tears of a Clone”. A private detective is hired to track down a missing girl. However, the client is clearly an abusive stalker, and the PI develops feelings for the girl.

Here the action takes place in virtual reality. Essentially, it’s Baby’s First Cyberpunk Plot: “what if virtual reality was better than real life?” The detective’s an obese slug in reality, and the girl’s a battered victim. But in cyberspace he’s a buff stud, and she’s a…helpless geisha? Empowering stuff, ladies.

Bakshi’s cultural references finally leave the 1940s. The stalker Jake (who appears as a shark in the VR game) is dressed like a Miami Vice extra. Again, it doesn’t quite work in a cyberpunk setting, but at least it’s not ridiculously off.

I was confused by the choice to make the woman gorgeous in the real life. Shouldn’t she be ugly, like the male detective? I guess she had to be attractive for Jake to have an interest in controlling her. But couldn’t he have a different motive (maybe he’s after her inheritance)? I don’t know. In a show about the gritty side of life, it’s strange that woman aren’t ever allowed to be unattractive.

I have mixed feelings about “Love is a Download”. The main problem is that the virtual reality sequences are incredibly long and overwhelm the episode. I think this is because they’re barely animated and must have cost virtually nothing to create. It’s like watching a slideshow.

So that’s my taste of Spicy City. 

Maybe I saw the three worst episodes. Unlucky. I’ve now watched 50% of the show, and probably won’t bother with the other 50%.

It has no spark to it. It wants to be the edgiest thing on TV but it comes off as dated, lame, and “OK boomer”. The basic plots are all 20-50 years old. Raven is excellently animated but the rest of the show is just barely acceptable. The adult content seems tame next to, say, South Park, or even less famous fare like Crapston Villas. As a sci-fi drama it doesn’t even reach Aeon Flux’s knees.

But I don’t regret watching it, because I had an epiphany about Bakshi.

He’s not a creator. He’s an enhancer.

Fritz the Cat is Robert Crumb.

Wizards is Vaughn Bode.

Lord of the Rings is JRR Tolkien.

Fire and Ice is Frank Frazetta.

In all these cases, Bakshi acts as an amenuensis, an artistic midwife, adapting the art of someone else into film. He does a creditable job, capturing what’s great about the original and infusing his own style and personality. But he’s not building castles in the sky: he’s working from a foundation already established. That’s what he’s always been good at. You do not allow him to create something from the ground up.

He’s like a podcast host who can “riff” hilariously in a room full of funny people, but who could never carry a solo comedy act. Spicy City demonstrates what that looks like: a dull, derivative slog with plentiful boobs but no clear sense of what it is.

Bakshi fans in 1997 had no idea of the drought that was about to follow. The lone and level sands stretch far away.

References

References
1 62.5 hours were spent workshopping a joke about the irony of a man called “back-she” being more interested in womens’ front sides but one of our financiers backed out, saying it was tasteless in light of the war in Ukraine. We don’t understand the connection but regret any offense.
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In movies and shows from the 50s/60s, the standard handwavium explanation for how the superhero got his powers was “nuclear radiation”. Around 2000, it became “genetic engineering”. But in the 80s and 90s, it was “vat of toxic waste.”

As a kid, I kind of assumed that there were barrels of green goo lying around all over the place, and that if I fell into one my life would radically change. I probably wasn’t wrong.

The “green goo” trope is found everywhere, from The Killing Joke to The Toxic Avenger to CHUD. It even worked its way to children’s shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Secret Life of Alex Mack. Pick three random Goosebumps titles: at least one will have green goo on the cover. Nickelodeon game shows traditionally ended with the loser getting “slimed”. The most cliche’d videogame baddie – facing stiff competition from the Spider(tm), the Bat(tm), and the Skeleton(tm) – was the Sentient Pile of Green Slime(c)(tm)(r).

Usually we weren’t told what the green goo actually was. Medical waste? Phlegm? Minced-up Dubliners? The true answer was always “a barrel full of glowing green Plot Device”, and attempts to be more specific always backfired. Andy Sidaris’s 1987 shlockfest Hard Ticket to Hawaii involved a snake “infected with deadly toxins from cancer-infested rats.” That’s a real line from the movie.

In truth, if you see a barrel of green chemical waste, it’s probably hexavalent chromium.

Also, you now have cancer.

Hexavalent chromium is one of the worst substances on Earth. It’s toxic and carcinogenic in almost any quantity, and through any route of absorption. You cannot drink it, breathe it, or get it on your skin. It causes blindness, asthma and cancer; ulcerates mucus membranes and skin; and damages germline DNA, so have fun reproducing.

A common gag in cartoons is that the supervillain throws the hero into a laughably overkill deathtrap (like a lake of boiling lava filled with spikes and flame-retardant sharks). Hexavalent chromium is the chemical version of that deathtrap: no matter how dead you are, you are still not dead enough for chromium-6.

From the British Health and Safety Executive:

Chromium (VI) can enter the body by:

  • Breathing in dust, fumes or mist
  • skin contact with solutions or solids
  • Swallowing it, through handling food when you have chromium dust on your hands
  • Health hazards:

Single exposure to hexavalent chromium compounds can cause:

  • irritation and inflammation of the nose and upper respiratory tract if such compounds are in the air;
  • irritation of the skin with skin contact – and for chromic acid, burns to the skin, possibly leading to ulcers;
  • eye damage from splashes.

Repeated exposure to hexavalent chromium compounds can cause:

  • damage to the nose, including ulcers and holes in the flap of tissue separating the nostrils (the nasal septum);
  • inflammation of the lungs;
  • allergic reactions in the skin and respiratory tract;
  • kidney damage;
  • cancer of the lung;
  • based on experimental data, concerns about potential effects on reproduction, in both male fertility and the development of unborn babies.

I don’t recommend bathing in hexavalent chromium. Consider using one of the many other fine elements on the periodic table instead (like lead or mercury). The HSE fact sheet doesn’t say whether you can boof hexavalent chromium, but that’s likely a bad idea too.

Chemically, it’s chromium in a highly oxidized +6 valence state. Its highly reactive nature makes it helpful for certain industrial applications, such as electroplating, anodising, and dye production. It can be alloyed with steel to increase its hardness. Mixed with sulphuric acid, it’s a powerful cleansing agent, but disposal of hexavalent chromium is so difficult that it’s typically not used for this purpose.

The aerospace sector is a big consumer of the stuff, proving the truth of the aviator’s aphorism: “if it’s good for the airplane, it’s bad for you.” Aluminium by nature corrodes easily, and hexavalent chromium (in conversion coatings and primers) is known as a “sacrificial anode” – essentially, a super-reactive skin that oxidises instead of the aluminium underneath. However, increasing regulations mean that “chrome-free paint” is now something of a selling point.

Everywhere in every industry, hexavalent chromium is being phased out wherever an even slightly viable alternative exists. It used to be far bigger. Tens of thousands of tons of it were manufactured per year in the 80s, and fortunately, many of those tons were disposed of correctly and legally. When they aren’t, things start to read like a Simpsons episode.

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — — Alberta Tillman stepped into her basement one day last November and discovered 1 1/2 feet of water. She flicked on the light and noticed that the water practically glowed a fluorescent yellow-green. Like many residents of this gritty industrial town across the Hudson River from New York City, Tillman learned only recently that, for more than four decades, she, her husband and their neighbors have been living next door to, down the street from or, in some cases, on top of toxic chromium waste.

[…]

“We called them chemical mountains,” said Thomas Burke, a Jersey City native and deputy commissioner of the state’s department of health. “I remember as a kid playing on them and jumping on them.” Companies discovered that they could dispose of the chromium slag by using it as landfill and in building foundations. The city and state did not object because chromium residue cost nothing, and state officials marveled at how it killed troublesome rodents.

Infectious, deadly toxins from chromium-infested rats.

Hexavalent chromium was the waste at issue in the famous Erin Brockovich case. Due to its extreme horribleness, chromium-6 leaks are associated with immense fines, and corporate decisionmakerrs going to prison. I have a new goal in life, by the way: to not ever be described as the “‘green ooze’ company chief” in a news article.

Incidentally, hexavalent chromium is not really green. It forms compounds that range in hue from lemon-yellow to orange to dark red. When waste is a dramatic neon green color, it usually means that the EPA is tracing a leak.

As a plot device, the green ooze is like radiation and genetic editing: lazy shorthand that says something about our cultural anxieties. But with the reality of hexavalent chromium,

Those Nickelodeon “sliming” shoes always seemed pretty unfair. But believe me. Believe me, you would richly deserve social ostracism. That stuff just isn’t it.

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