Stuntman, Actor, Action Designer, SAG-AFTRA

After years of secrecy, I’m pleased to finally announce my involvement in God of War Ragnarök as the stuntman for Kratos as well as various other characters. Even more exciting, our action design studio SuperAlloy Interactive assisted with combat choreography and provided stunt coordination and stunt work for the game and key characters. Thank you all!

Prodigal Son (1981)
敗家仔
Starring Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung, Lam Ching Ying, Frankie Chan, Peter Chan Lung, Dick Wei, Chung Faat, James Tien
Directed by Sammo Hung
Produced by Raymond Chow
Action by Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Lam Ching-Ying, and Billy Chan Wui-Ngai

Beat Sheet

Opening Image
0:00 Leung Jan (Yuen Biao) earns respect through a fraud. He’s not a man yet.

Theme
1:00-5:00 Leung Jan beats up some locals. Turns out his handler Yee Tung Choi (Peter Chan Lung) paid guys to get beaten by him. “Brick Man” (Wu Ma) bribes handler to pay him off and not fight him.
Great action comedy scene here. Pristine shapes on display.

Setup
6:00 Uncle wants to make sure Leung Jan never gets hurt, as he’s the master’s only son. Leung Jan beats up his training partners (played by Lee Hoi Sang and Chin Yuet-Sang), who are paid to get beaten. Interrupted by his gangster friend who invites him to opera. At the opera, he gawks over lead actress, but she turns him down. Turns out she’s a man, a wing chun expert named Leung Yee Tai (Lam Ching Ying). Great fight, hilarious scene. Long setup!

Catalyst
12:00 Leung Yee Tai is established as the master, the inciting incident that will change Leung Jan’s life.

Debate
13:00 Leung Jan confronts Leung Yee Tai, who smacks Leung Jan around and reveals he’s a fraud. Leung Jan confronts his training partners, who don’t hold back. Leung Jan is dejected.
Various fun action scenes that incorporate Peking Opera performance with Sammo’s Wing Chun choreography. Hard to find scenes like this today.

B Story
22:00 Leung Jan asks Leung Yee Tai to take him as a student, but he’s rejected.

Break Into 2
23:00 Leung Jan’s father buys the opera troupe so he can become Leung Yee Tai’s helper. Leung Jan also tells his helper Yee Tung Choi to attack him. This introduces a hilarious Pink Panther moment.

Fun & Games
26:00 Leung Jan goes with Leung Yee Tai to opera. We learn that whoever plays General Kwan has to remain silent. Meanwhile, Ngai Fei (Frankie Chan) arrives in town, a cowboy looking for a challenge (complete with Ennio Morricone-style music). More random beatings from Leung Jan’s helper.
29:00 The General Kwan performer flees town after seducing a local’s wife and the man now wants him dead (hilarious moment: Leung Yee Tai’s like, “Yeah, GTFO.”) So Leung Jan plays General Kwan, mistaken for the other guy, but has to remain silent while fighting. Amazing comedic gag.
35:00 Meanwhile, a one armed fighter (James Tien) challenges Ngai Fei, who breaks his other arm but holds back. We can’t help but like Ngai Fei. Great anti-villain setup.
39:00 Ngai Fei and his helpers (Dick Wei and Chung Faat) meet with Leung Jan and Leung Yee Tai for dinner and challenges Leung Yee Tai. Following this is a top-notch fight between Leung Yee Tai and Ngai Fei. Leung Yee Tai is forced to concede because of his asthma, and Ngai Fei holds back again.
45:00 Reveal that Ngai Fei is his master’s favorite son, and so his handlers are paid to protect him and assassinate anyone who might harm him. Great mirroring of hero and villain, setting up a very interesting finale.

Midpoint
47:30 Ngai’s handlers hire guards to attack Leung Yee Tai, who’s a threat to their master. They massacre the troupe and burn the opera house down. Rad fire fight. Leung Jan and Leung Yee Tai get away by the skin of their teeth. Leung Jan’s arm is broken.

Bad Guys Close In
56:00 Leung Yee Tai brings Leung Jan to his brother Wong Wa Po (Sammo Hung), whose calligraphy scene is perfectly timed comedic relief. Wa Po’s daughter Twiggy (Ho Wai-Han) treats them, Wa Po plays super-dad while defending his daughter. He and Leung Yee Tai argue as brothers over Leung Jan, who is caught between two masters.
1:14 Wa Po coaches Leung Jan in how to speak to Leung Yee Tai, who accepts Leung Jan as a pupil. Competitive training scenes with both Leung Yee Tai, who teaches close-quarters fighting, and Wa Po who teaches long-distance, and dirtier, fighting.
Note: This training scene comes in really late! Fantastic action.

All Is Lost
1:28 Leung Yee Tai grows ill, so Leung Jan takes him back home. He meets his handler again, Yee Tung Choi, who talks to him through the water after doing some divination. Sammo’s witty humor at work again. (Very late ‘all is lost’ moment.)
1:32 Ngai Fei finds them and feared that they died in the fire, but is relieved that he still has a challenger. However, Leung Yee Tai accuses him of starting the fire and slaughtering the opera.

Dark Night of the Soul
1:35 Ngai Fei’s handlers kill Leung Yee Tai to keep him from fighting their master. (Normally, this moment would come around 1:20. And yet it works perfectly well here.)

Break Into 2
1:36 Leung Jan burns incense for Leung Yee Tai, and Ngai Fei makes good by killing his handlers. He refuses to take advantage of his position and accepts Leung Jan’s challenge.

Finale
1:38 Final fight between Leung Jan and Ngai Fei. Leung Jan puts all his skills to use. Massive payoff.

Closing Image
1:45 Leung Jan becomes a man.

Final thoughts:

The Prodigal Son has hands-down the best Wing Chun shapes ever put on film. Donnie Yen innovated the art for the modern viewer, but don’t discount this one!

Well, I didn’t totally leave social media. I left Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I’m still on LinkedIn and YouTube, and Telegram is quasi-social media, but these latter platforms don’t have the problems plaguing the other ones. Since people have asked me why I’m leaving, here’s a concise blog post explaining it.

1. Addictive

If you’re not addicted to social media, good for you. I was addicted, so I cut off the supply.

2. Predatory

It’s not exactly novel to say that social media culture sucks. A close friend would sometimes post stuff that was so ridiculous that I had to call him and ask him, “Did you really mean that?” Of course he’d say, “No, not really, what I meant was…” and we’d have a good conversation and come away understanding each other better than ever. Good conversations like these are not had on social media.

(One counter-example to this was when I ran a Facebook Group called Point N Click Adventure Fans Unite, which was very successful. The culture was productive and non-inflammatory, partially by virtue of the subject matter selecting for non-inflammatory people, partially by a ‘hands-off’ speech policy. Incidents were infrequent, maybe 5 per year in a group of ~10,000 members. I banned maybe 2 people.)

On the same token, social media algorithms filters what information goes downstream to your followers. If you earned 500,000 followers posting memes, and now you want to use your audience to spread awareness about animal abuse, the algorithm will not bridge that content to your followers, even if you see some novel connection between the two. I spent years building an audience around action and stunts. Then I became interested in the anthropology of violence and media, but the algorithm either couldn’t bridge action with anthropology, or my followers didn’t care. There was no way to tell whether I needed to cater the data better to my audience (not censorship), or the algorithm considered this stuff “taboo” (censorship).

All of this is in service of selling ads to you. The customers on Social Media are the people who pay to run ads. You’re a metric, and you’re subject to the algorithm. If you’re in the business of creating content for an audience, you need a more direct communication line to your customers. Social media appears to be this communication line, but it’s almost Autistic in its focus. Any attempt to change course will be met with dead silence.

People love to complain about tech censorship like this, but complaining is for wimps. So I left. Now I don’t complain.

3. Ineffective

Some people get contracts and jobs through social media. In traditional stunts, Facebook was the best platform for this, and Instagram second. Since leaving the traditional stunt world in 2018, I didn’t get a single contract from Facebook or Instagram. Twitter is good for networking with artists to get small motion capture jobs, but 99% of my work has come from in-person events, word of mouth, sharing YouTube videos, and LinkedIn messaging.

Did you dump any social media platforms? Why? Join the conversation on my Telegram channel at t.me/ericjacobus.

I’m a pretty careful stuntman, but often the injuries we withstand happen in the more mundane parts of life. I’ve taken various steps to change my lifestyle so that I don’t get injured, both on and off set, and so here are 5 of those things that I do, which, according to expert opinion, are “wrong.”

Even ISIS Think Donald Trump Is A Total Nutjob

1. Not sitting while working

I write, edit, and do all my work (except reading) at a standing desk. I’ve done this since 2011. Before using a standing desk I had a constant, nagging pain between my shoulder blades and was dealing with various lower back pain issues. This slowly went away when I started using a standing desk, an ergonomic mouse, and a standing mat. Definitely worth a small investment. It helps me avoid unnecessary pains when I need to hit the ground as a stuntman.

What they say: consensus is coming around, but many still will argue that “your knees can’t take it”, “you should alternate between standing and sitting”, etc. I don’t see any evidence that your knees will suffer from this, unless you’re obese, which is a separate issue that won’t be resolved by using a standing desk. And if you need to sit, it’s probably more correct to squat.

Links: Ergonomic mouse – $17 (Note: I’ve found that a 30-45 degree angle is best for an ergo mouse, as opposed to a near 90 degree angle, but find something that’s comfortable for you.)
Anti-fatigue mat – $40
Standing desk – too many to list on Amazon, find one that is to your liking, though finding one with shelves is increasingly difficult

2. Eating one meal a day

I just eat a big dinner. Some days I’ll have a small snack mid-afternoon. On Shabbat (Saturday) and Sunday I’ll eat breakfast with my family, making that two meals, but in general I eat one meal a day and have done so since 2019. It doesn’t seem we’re built to eat more than two meals a day. And even if I’m doing a “4K Day” (something I coined after burning 4700 calories one day doing a mix of motion-matching navigation and combat for Demon’s Souls) I’ll still only eat one meal. I don’t get sleepy in the afternoon, something that you want to avoid if you’re writing, editing, stunting, or anything! (Note: I eat healthy. This probably won’t work out for you if you eat garbage, which is a separate issue.)

What they say: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” “Calories in, calories out.” “Food gives you energy.” Doctors are very quiet about fasting in general. They use BMI (body mass index) to claim that you’re overweight. One doctor told me I was overweight and could still drink 2 drinks a day. And a lot of these punks are fat. I don’t take history lessons from people who can’t read, so I definitely won’t take health advice from a fat guy in a lab coat.

3. Not washing my face

I haven’t washed my face since 2015, unless it’s literally “dirty” (which happens maybe every few months). Your skin’s good at fixing itself. The less stuff you put on it, the better. This doesn’t translate to better stunt performance but I can put my face on camera pretty easily, which is often a requirement in stunts.

What they say: “Washing helps you maintain a healthy complexion.” We all followed this advice in high school and medicated our faces with all the chemicals they wanted us to buy. In the end, we all had acne. Let your face do the work.

4. Resting for 24 hours on Shabbat (Saturday)

It’s difficult to take a full day off if your work requires you to work on that day. Stunt performers are often bound up in this restriction. But there is wisdom here. We develop work-inertia during the week, and then we can’t stop, and we burn out. And even if we leave the office or come home from a shoot, we keep working at home on something – the garden, the roof, the bathroom, an editing project. Sometimes it takes a divine decree to break us out of the cycle.

What they say: consensus agrees that taking a rest day is good, but they’ll also say out the other side of their mouths that we can hold off on rest to take a job and just catch up another day. All in the service of “career.” People who put their careers above everything else wonder why they end up being slaves to their work. So I’ve boldly told clients (big clients, like freaking Netflix) that I can’t do work on Shabbat. Period. And they’ve always accommodated me. The crew of Army of the Dead rushed to get me off set on Friday evening. Stand your ground! People respect that.

5. I don’t believe in myself

We’re often told, “Believe in yourself.” I bought into this credo my entire life. Some live it as a holy mantra. But whenever depression or addiction – alcohol, gender issues (different story!), buying compulsions – reared its ugly head in my life, my “self” was the first thing that failed. I studied to keep my “self” from mentally failing, exercised to avoid physically failing. I became physically stronger and more self-aware, but my “self” continued to fail, almost at a more rapid clip. So I gave up control and stopped propping my “self” up as a personal god. This made it easy to see the light at the end of the tunnel during hard times. I was then more ready to take on huge risks. Pushing beyond one’s physical and mental limitations is not a problem when faith is externalized. Otherwise, one’s faith is contingent upon maintaining a god-like appearance and unwavering emotional Stoicism, which are interdependent. When one fails, the whole system goes.

Also, our mirror neuron systems throw shade on the idea that we can rationally decide our actions through critical thinking. Critical thinking is a process, not a filter. Believing the romantic lie will lead us down some awful paths.

Note: This is not the same as “trust your gut.” Often our initial knee-jerk reactions hold grains of truth, and while one should process this appropriately to avoid issuing reactive responses, our guts might still be telling us something. When a stunt seems dangerous, I trust my gut and avoid it. Often we’ll resort to “believing in ourselves” to overcome these gut reactions. Very different!

What they say: When they say, “Believe in yourself,” often they mean, “Worship yourself.” Ultimately, that’s exactly what it does mean. This is a recipe for disaster, one these same people will readily exploit when you fail.

What “wrong” things do you do that keep you from peril?

I don’t like to sugar-coated my reviews of action films, and I never have. I wrote action movie reviews back in 1998, and later on some people involved in those films saw the reviews and complained. As a stuntman, this probably lost me some jobs, but I’ve earned some jobs too, since smart directors and animators want the best, and posting a “hell yeah” for every new Marvel series fight scene doesn’t draw in smart directors.

So in the service of truth, I’ll tear these fight scenes apart for you and expose their raw meaty bits for all to see.

Opening shot: cliche opener. Camera dollies back to reveal triangle choreo. We know exactly what will happen because this is such a typical shot. For a fight with so much blood, there’s no real shock value to the opener.

Sanada’s sword comes across as weak, something traditional sword choreographers would have laughed at. The throat and stomach cuts don’t phase these guys, even though it bleeds them. Yet an empty-handed neck-grab is effective. The crossed swords is a good shape but these ninjas are too tame. You need threatening enemies to make a formidable hero. When the enemies flail about, the hero can do cool stuff all day, but it won’t mean anything.

Ninja throws a high kick, a dumb move against a sword. He has a sword sheath. Is it empty? Did he lose his sword in some choreo that got edited out? Also, final stab through head comes down at weird angle. They could’ve used a closeup on his bleeding eyes, too. This is also very tame.

This segment is a failure on all levels. Sanada’s the best Japanese kicker in film history and they made him shove a 185-pound stunt guy with a kick. You can’t make a good looking kick with this. Bad choreo, shooting, and editing. He deserves better.

Stunt guys stand around box stepping until they get hit. You could fix this with shooting and editing, but the choreo is still stale.

The spear through the head deserves a closeup. That’s a fatality. But instead they continue to a stunt fall that lacks shock since the stuntman antics the fall too early. Sends the wrong message. The spear should do the killing, not the fall. Bad payoff. Also very tame.

The random cutouts to wide shots keep us from seeing what’s going on. Also, Sanada has to repeat-kill everyone, like guy on left getting stabbed then tripped (cool kick). Sanada would have been powerful if they let him do more one-hit kills.

These running ninjas have no plan. They just run up and get hit. Camera hides the second one, but the first runner is so eggy it hurts. Cool move by Sanada at the beginning, though. He looks far better and economical than anyone else.

Ninja does the box step until he gets killed. Nice deadman at the end. A deadman is when they move a performer and then use a wire to stop them in an opposing direction. Good impact, but this is the wrong finisher for the fight. Should’ve been a spear through the brain. Again, very tame.

Final thoughts: Sanada looks good as always, but he needs a better team. This choreo lacks danger and shock, which contrasts with the violence. There’s no respect for the blade, no real payoffs based on MK lore. Missed opportunities everywhere.

The violence is so tame and is just your typical, cheap, visual effects-based blood. Anyone can do this level of blood now. Was this a budgetary issue? If so, this just means the priorities were out of whack. Blood should be everywhere in MK, and gore. Did they pull back to appease international censors? There’s probably a blood-less version out there too.

The choreo doesn’t live in the location. Sanada should’ve speared a guy through the head into a tree to show power. But there’s no interaction with any of the environment. This happens when the team pre-vizzes in a gym, but they can’t (or don’t) add anything on location.

The enemies are weak and dumb. That’s fine, but you have to kill them with one hit then, or the hero looks weak and dumb too. They also require multiple kill shots, so they’re also strong, yet they’re agile. So there’s no theme to the enemies. Too much time wasted on them.

The spear isn’t paid off properly. Rope dart choreo is cool but technically very difficult. If this is the intro for Scorpion’s spear, they missed a huge opportunity.

If the rest of the film’s action is like this, then MK is another failed attempt to capture the fun and shock value of the series. They need to be careful who they hire to make these things. Remember Tekken from 2009? No? Exactly.

Vaporwave is fascinating. Something about it is very soothing, despite being totally eerie.

I’ve used some Vaporwave aesthetics in some of my past videos:

I began obsessing over this strange sub-genre of music. The air of nostalgia you get from this stuff is mind-boggling. For example, if you’re an American born in the 80s, then one whiff of Kmartwave will rocket you into the past with a shot of energizing and depressing aesthetics all at once. You can practically smell the throw pillows and feel the L’eggs containers.

How do we explain this strange spell that Vaporwave puts over us?

We could try and explain Vaporwave by identifying its aesthetics: distorted music sampling, a VHS video filter with audio hiss, Japanese characters, short all-caps fonts, shopping malls, surrealism, and general nostalgia. Vaporwave artists will use North Korea, the Soviet Union, shopping malls, Windows 95, and Donald Trump for aesthetic inspiration.

The standard “theory” of Vaporwave might begin with an origin story of John Oswald sampling and warping a Dolly Parton song, coining the process “plunderphonics,” followed by the legal hurdles he encountered.

It’s tempting to plant a flag here, say Vaporwave is a “music of the people,” and call it a day, but that would be dating us. Plus, any political angle will have to account for those people who also claim Vaporwave.

The theory could then cite the psychological aspects of Vaporwave like hypnagogia, the transitional stage between being awake and asleep, and its nostalgic qualities.

These theorists – the entire Theory Machine really – writes endless volumes of boring stuff like this. The Wiki article is not much help. This Aesthetics wiki is slightly more descriptive:

Vaporwave is a music genre branching from electronic Chillwave. But the unique and iconic visual aesthetic cultivated alongside it is now, debatably, more popular and recognizable than the music itself. Vaporwave, as an aesthetic and movement, has been described as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on modern consumerism and the soulless glamour of late capitalism. Its purposeful vagueness has led to more overt and blatant offshoots of Vaporwave, like Fashwave (which attempts to co-opt a lot of Vaporwave  symbolism to promote a fascist ideology) or Laborwave (which removes the ambiguity of Vaporwave’s capitalist critiques in favor of promoting a Marxist ideology), though both of them also tend to blend in a lot of Synthwave aesthetics as well, leading to many people assuming the two aesthetics are the same.

Still, this reads like the symptoms on a pharmaceutical sleep aid. Describing Vaporwave like this would be like describing alcoholism as “drinking a lot of booze, sometimes hard liquor, sometimes beer, or wine, and not letting one’s self become sober. Some alcoholics also smoke cigarettes and gamble. Alcoholics get headaches, X% of them are men, and sometimes they drive their cars into oncoming traffic.”

This level of writing is acceptable for a 4th grader writing a book report. But a 4th grader has no idea of what a book is to an author, nor what alcoholism is to an alcoholic, nor what Vaporwave is to the Vaporwave-listener. The Theory Machine fails on this level.

Even as Vaporwave listeners, we don’t seem to know what Vaporwave is to us.

And yet we find ourselves escaping to Vaporwave to give us a strange feeling which will transport us somewhere else. Why do we feel that need? Does Vaporwave scratch that particular itch? Why are we curious of the eerie? What is the eerie?

Eerie vaporwave shopping mall feels

To really explain Vaporwave, we need to explain our strange desire to experience it.

Since we can’t explain this desire with the Theory Machine, we can try tackling the subject the way we’d tackle an addiction. Addictions aren’t tackled by listing their symptoms, but by getting behind the spirit of the thing.

As I’ve said before, I offer no red pills or checker pills or translucent pills for this.

Instead, there’s 【the deer】.

【the deer】

【the deer】 can help us understand the eerie, the inexplicable aspect of Vaporwave that we can’t put into words.

【the deer】is better understood in reverse. Once you get to the end of this post, you’ll have understood it! But if you’re more linear than that and want a nuts-and-bolts explanation before going forward, read what Eric Gans has to say here: A Brief Introduction to Generative Anthropology.

In short, 【the deer】 exists only in the eerie, in the in-between states of things. It’s neither this nor that. That’s what makes 【the deer】 a handy decoder ring for Vaporwave, and perhaps more.

Take Korean shamanism, for example. The Theory Machine would list the sacrificial animals, the colors of the sacred clothes, etc. You’ll find this in every Britannica. 【the deer】, however, would say that Korean Shamans are kind of… annoyed that they have to be shamans.

You can hear the scientists in the room snickering at Ms. Geul-Moon. She’s either lying, crazy, or misled. Neil would advise her to just take a pill. (Neil DeGrasse Tyson should agree to an actual debate. To date, he hasn’t had one.)

【the deer】, on the other hand, would say that Ms. Geul-Moon is just explaining the spirit of the thing at hand. She’s brutally honest about her situation. She’s at some place between here and there, and 【the deer】 has no problem saying, “Yep, that’s a shitty place to be.”

So, 【the deer】 is a sort of first-principle regarding the eerie. Vaporwave is eerie, so maybe 【the deer】 has something to say about it.

What the **** is Vaporwave?

We start by trying to isolate what Vaporwave is.

What aspect of Vaporwave is its most prominent? It’s not an anti-capitalist political statement, because we also have Trumpwave and fashwave. It’s not Japanophilic, because there’s also Juchewave and Sovietwave. Something else binds all Vaporwave.

One characteristic of Vaporwave is nostalgia.

Nostalgia is that emotion when you resurrect the past for a moment. Since the past is dead and buried, nostalgia disappears like sea foam in your hands. This ephemerality adds to nostalgia’s power as a coping mechanism.

But lots of things are nostalgic. This isn’t unique to Vaporwave.

There’s one other characteristic of Vaporwave that is particular to the genre: decay.

Decay is one of Vaporwave’s most eerie and appealing aspects.

If we combine this with Vaporwave’s odd focus on multimedia art around the time of Windows 95 and the PS1, we pinpoint what might be at the heart of the Vaporwave aesthetic:

Vaporwave is nostalgia for decay before the late 1990s.

Hear me out.

 

decay

In the past, all media was analog. Ancient media like Hammurabi’s code and the hieroglyphs were carved in stone and survived for millennia with only gradual decay. Paintings have survived for a thousand years. Books damaged by water can be restored, old records can be cleaned and replayed for probably a couple centuries, and a VHS is still good for (maybe) a hundred years.

Analog media has a broad range of decay. Its liminal state, the in-between period between its original art and total destruction, lasts for centuries. During this liminal state, analog media still serves its original artistic function. There’s still something there. It’s still art. Unless you burn it in the streets.

Binary media doesn’t decay, at least not like analog media. Music CDs are spirals of 1s and 0s, but they still wear out, usually faster than analog media. When the CD laser begins mistaking 0s for 1s, it’s not music anymore. It becomes noise. Old DVDs glitch and stop being movies. Old files won’t open. That one Kindle book is no longer available.

Binary media doesn’t decay. Either it’s entirely there, or it’s garbage. It has no liminal state. Broken binary media is no longer itself. It’s dead. It stops being art.

We have nostalgia for these liminal states in analog media, because those are the states in which we experience most analog media. We experienced most of our VHS tapes with some acceptable level of tracking issues, audio tapes with hiss, and game systems with analog video noise.

Why the Liminal is Creepy

liminal lĭm′ə-nəl

adj. Intermediate between two states, conditions, or regions; transitional or indeterminate.
adj. Existing at the limen. Used of stimuli.
Pertaining to the threshold or entrance; hence, relating to the beginning or first stage; inceptive; inchoative.
Source

The liminal is the threshold, the place between inside and outside, neither here nor there. That’s a crazy place to be! How can you be neither inside nor outside? They’ll kill a goat just to get out of there!

H. Clay Trumbull, Threshold Covenant (New York, 1896) p. 15

The liminal state of analog media is creepy. Liminal states are generally just weird, and very aesthetic. Here’s an interesting take on creepy, aesthetic, liminal places:

There is a liminal between everything. Man and beast, heaven and earth, winter and spring, spoon and fork. Strange objects symbolize the liminal.

A man is first alive, and then he’s dead. The liminal state between these two phases of nature is terrifying. It’s the “Saigon Execution” moment. It’s also the deathbed, and the zombie.

This state of being, neither alive nor dead, can’t be categorized. Liminal states in general can’t be categorized. They’re undifferentiated. States of undifferentiation terrify us because they evade symbolic language.

The Need for Symbols

Humans use symbolic language to decode the world into meaningful ideas. Symbolic language requires categories. A boy is a boy, and a man is a man. The liminal state between boy and man defies category, and thereby defies language itself. This state is compared with death, and it’s not uncommon for the boy to emerge from the liminal state with a new name. The boy is dead. Now a man is in his place.

The priesthood will try and convince you that human, symbolic language is on a spectrum between banana and alien. 【the deer】 cannot help these people. If you’d like a much smarter, and challenging, understanding of human language, again, 【the deer】 points to Gans, this time to his Origin of Language.

The taboo, liminal space between life and death has puzzled many. You’re not dead, but you’re not really alive either. How do we categorize you? Throw you outside into the bush! Now you’re categorized as leopard food.

The [South Africans] formerly buried their dead, but now only chiefs and persons of consequence are interred. “When they think that death is approaching, they carry out the sick person into a thicket near the kraal, and leave him to expire alone; for they have a great dread of being near, or touching, a corpse, and imagine that death brings misfortune on the living when it occurs in a hut or kraal.” (p. 357)

George Thompson: Travels and Adventures in Southern Africa (London, 1827)

Modern hospice is a much nicer. Not all new things are dumb.

Liminal states defy language. How do we process them? This data is injected into the emotional centers of our brains. This is straight-up PTSD. These emotional memories need to be moved into rational, symbolic domains, quick.

Pills cannot do this work for us. EMDR helps, but there are other, better weapons.

【the deer】 is our weapon. 【the deer】 is the ultimate anti-PTSD device.

Day of the Dead provides some interesting insight into the liminal between life and death. The Theory Machine will drone on about how quaint the festival is, while totally missing the damn point. They’ll talk aesthetics: skeleton facepaint, pan de muertos, and colorful paper. These people are in the business of doing 4th grade book reports. We can totally ignore them. Instead, we’ll use 【the deer】.

【the deer】’s understanding of Day of the Dead:

Day of the Dead gives concrete, symbolic meaning to the liminal space between life and death. Performing a death ritual moves data from your emotional memory into your rational, symbolic memory.

This is how you remove PTSD from the community. You can do your own research, but it’s generally accepted, even by the Theory Machine, that mental health in ancient, ritual society was really damned good.

The people who work for the Theory Machine, however, don’t like categories. Categories, to them, are too absolutist. They will say that humans, dead or alive, are all the same carbon junk. Perhaps pickup trucks don’t necessarily have beds, and 2+2 can equal a lot of things. This kind of thinking has been called postmodernism.

If postmodern thinking is opposed to categories, then a postmodern thinker will store data in the emotional parts of their brains. PTSD and depression are immanent. Don’t bother listening to postmodern thinkers.

The Liminality of Human Culture

Music about uncertainty, films about transitions from one place to another, the story arc of the character from beginning to end. The liminal space between here and there, between life and death, and between new and decaying, is aesthetic.

All art is liminal in some way, by virtue of it being analog. Because the real world is analog.

Binary decay, by contrast, has no liminal. There’s no aesthetic. If binary media decays, there’s no liminal, and the art disappears. If art disappears, there’s no culture.

Some say we haven’t had culture since 2010. Maybe it’s because pop culture no longer decays.

Of course buildings and paintings still decay, but those represent less than 0.1% of our pop culture. Our gods aren’t granite statues or massive murals. Granite gods decay and can be toppled, which undermines their divinity.

No, our gods are delivered to us digitally via our streaming platform of choice. And these gods are just as perfect today as they were 20 years ago. You can’t protest and topple Captain America. You can only disappear him permanently.

Censorship leaves burned books and bones behind. It’s analog and aesthetic.

But disappearing something digitally is totally strange, unnatural, and non-aesthetic.

There’s no longer an aesthetic, and so there’s no more culture. If humans produce anything with their hands, it’s culture. If we aren’t producing culture, are we still human?

Aside from airport bookstores and some blurays in the checkout line, and clothing lines, the media distribution system for pop culture is almost entirely binary. Streaming and DRM is either on or off. You don’t really own your mediaSoon you won’t own your seat. Or your toothbrush. Or anything.

Multimedia platforms will allow some old media to avoid decay. Acceptable items that avoid the censer will be remastered, up-rezzed, and re-released.

The rest of the media are off the shelves, left to decay until they’re forgotten. It’s far easier than burning it in the street.

When we listen to Vaporwave, we grasp for that moment of decay. The decay of culture.

The postmodern way of thinking, with its aversion to categories, is spreading throughout the entire Theory Machine. It’s no wonder it can’t explain anything, whereas 【the deer】 has no problems explaining anything.

Maybe 【the deer】 can help us further. Maybe it can help us let go of the past, and begin working on actual solutions.

  • Continue the conversation below, or chat with me in my Telegram channel at t.me/ericjacobus.

Another day, another book burned, another body on the pyre. Are they allowed to do that? How do they get away with it? We’re baffled. We can’t answer these questions with our current toolkit.

Since we work in media, we need to understand censorship, which means understanding the priesthood. The rational part of our brains recoils at the very thought of a priesthood. But the remaining 90% of the brain might understand it perfectly well, if we can wake it up.

Someone is unleashing a lot of stuff downstream at us. Anecdotal news, social media, and streaming services, all great diversions, all stink like shit. At the source is our answer. Getting there seems to be like trying to run a sailboat up rapids. It’s actually easier than that.

Who’s behind the stream? Is it AI? Are aliens running things? Lizard people? Put the glasses on! No. These unfalsifiable hypotheses are the media’s everlasting gobstoppers. Good for ads, bad for fact-finding missions. We won’t even humor them.

It’s obvious who is pumping this stuff downstream. They have blue check marks, they do all the news interviews, they pop up in documentaries, and you’ve seen their movie collections. But they would never call themselves a priesthood. They say, “There is no priesthood.” They’re just like you and me, right? Kind of.

There’s always a priesthood. The question is whether or not this priesthood is legitimate. So with some used books we’ll devise a test to determine what makes a priesthood legit. We’ll run this simple test, and the strip will read either red or green.

If our priesthood fails this test, that doesn’t mean we can kick them out or burn their temple down. They’re the priesthood. We can’t just kick them out.

But we can identify their turf, language, and distribution channels. We can then avoid it like the plague.

We should be able to come away from this exercise with a testing strip that can be used on any priesthood we encounter. Maybe one of them will make the strip turn green.

Or we could resign to the water cooler to bitch about tech censorship. But we’re working remotely and have no water cooler. So it’s time to pull the sailboat out of the river, and see what we can learn.

A brief history of censership (not a misspelling)

In a recent post I argued that social media algorithms aren’t censoring you. They’re just doing keeping things relevant on social media platforms to give users the experience they’ve been promised. If the promised experience of a social media platform is rage and selling a lot of ads, then you should buy some of its stock.

AI aren’t people. Despite what Peter Diamandis might say, they can’t tell a funny joke or a write good story. AI can’t censor because AI only does what it’s told by its authors.

The AI can’t censor, because that’s a job for priests only. And AI can’t be priests. Only people can censor, and not just any people.

For all of human history the priesthood has been responsible for maintaining the human order. They record and maintain the rules, act as spokespeople (or hire spokespeople), perform sacrifices, etc. We might not really care about this stuff. We don’t visit their temple after all, but the priesthood makes sure the rain comes. They’ll take responsibility for it anyway. If it doesn’t rain, it’s because we didn’t go to the temple.

One important tool of the priesthood is the censer, where they burn incense for the gods. The priesthood has very strict guidelines for what can go into a censer and who can use one. They’ll kill your ass if you break this law.

The fire of a censer cleanses the impurities of whatever is put into it. Golden idols imbibed with spirits can be melted down and turned into coins or spoons or whatever. Animals are reduced to their pure, white bones that will look good on a necklace. And burning an unholy book results in a pile of dark, useless ashes. The gods will destroy what they don’t approve of.

Gold and animals are approved offerings. Books are not. By burning a book the priest might be offering dangerous, strange fire. So with the swapping of a vowel, a handy tool in our handy bag of lexicon tricks, we can call this a censor instead. Now we can burn whatever we want to test its purity.

Our priests know better than to burn books in the streets. Too much baggage associated with book-burning. Too many bad memories.

So a clever tactic developed by the priesthood today is ensuring censored objects are less and less available. Anyone who recreates, reprints, or remasters the object is in violation. Criterion ensures that holy items never disappear. There will always be a remaster of Kurosawa’s films (the approved items can often be good, you know).

But the unholy items… well, the gods simply… fix that stuff. Banned objects now have a tendency to drop off the planet. No distribution, no reprinting with a new introduction by an esteemed professor, no remastering to an 8K disc.

(This is a fine time to shamelessly plug my theory that Vaporwave is nostalgia for gradual media decay.)

Don’t worry, you can still get all your favorite banned movies on Laserdisc and VHS, Karen. These may or may not be within your budget. You can do your banned movie nights. The stuff is decaying, so nobody cares.

At any rate, this is why we call the cleansing act of book-burning “censor-ship“. Nothing is new, except words.

And whatever you do, you absolutely cannot touch a censer, which means you cannot be a censor, if you’re not in the priesthood. Think you can censor a book? You tried, and you failed. These gods will not accept your burnt offering, Karen. You are not authorized, Karen. Criterion and Yale will remaster and reprint the things you destroy a thousand times over. Don’t even try being a censor if you’re not in the priesthood.

Want to be authorized? You’ll die before you can become a censor, Karen.

(No offense to the Karens of this world. I’m only using their language to make a very serious point.)

Image result for book burning

Pills Won’t Save Us

All this talk about the priesthood… is it rational thinking? No. Did people once think like this? Yes. This is ancient thinking, done by ancient people. But these people also cut off a finger to stop nose bleeds. Why would we want to think like that? Aren’t we beyond that now? Neil DeGrasse Tyson says they were full of shit. There’s a pill for that. Science!

We’re trained to use rationality and Science to filter the world. When the toaster breaks, we don’t call a shaman. Rationality saves us a trip to the doctor’s office. Rationality is useful for a lot of things.

Ancient thinking is not rational. It functions in the realm of the sacred world. Toasters malfunction in the profane, material world. We need a new way of thinking in order to deal with this other world. We do not need a pill.

If we put ourselves in the shoes of Cortes, standing in Tenochtitlan, in front of ten thousand corpses with hearts ripped out, we’re trained to filter this scene through rationality. We’re left scratching our heads. Were they hungry? Were they misled? Maybe we avoid the question by engaging in the Science of historical dissonance.

Our rational minds are totally unprepared to deal with the likes of the sacred world. We’re totally baffled. If an Aztec attempted to explain the blood debt requirements of the calendar, we’d get the guy on pills immediately.

And yet, isn’t our current situation just as baffling? How do we explain tech censorship? How do we explain how a joke can destroy you? Aren’t we supposed to debate this stuff or something? Instead we find a pile of corpses with their hearts ripped out, and we’re as baffled as Cortes.

Critical thinking can do a lot of things. It can reverse engineer a jet fighter or an Intel processor or a nuclear reactor. It can’t reverse-engineer the performance art of the priesthood. The sacred is a one-way flow of information. Creation myths are md5 encoded, directions to the temple are written in an indecipherable language that only 500 people can read, and the criteria for banned objects changes with the wind.

We continue to be baffled. We reach for a red pill, or a clear pill, or something to help us get through the day. To help us avoid being destroyed.

The pills help, for a moment. Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s starry pill might alleviate the occasional seizure exorcism, but it has an area of effect that will spill into that precious remaining 90% of our brains and render us drooling zombies at Cosmos House. A built-in feature of the pill is submission to the pill-maker.

No. If we want to understand censorship, and the priesthood, we need to understand the sacred, which means understanding our ancient neighbors, who really understood the sacred. No red pills or clear pills or checker pills can get us there. Throw the pill box out. It has only confused us.

Horse Shit River

We have to start our investigation at the relentless stream of shit that the priesthood spews downstream, because that’s where we live. That’s all we know.

Horse Shit River is the 24-hour cycle of news that doesn’t affect us, a stream of raving reviews of garbage media that we don’t like, and opinions we don’t want to hear. It all smells like horse shit.

Let’s examine the 24-hour anecdotal news cycle. The journalist is tasked with selecting anecdotes that fit the story arc. This is shit news for selling ads. It’s not actual information that can guide us.

In a hypothetical forest, elves and orcs live together, but they have two different news channels. Elf News says, “The forest belongs to the elves.” Stories of orcs stomping elves to death and clear-cutting the forest for their log cabins litter the news ticker.

Then there’s Orc News, which says, “The orc refugees need a home.” Stories of elves burning orc homes and killing orc babies with magic lassos are the typical stories here.

Elf News does not report orc baby deaths, and Orc News does not report elf-stomping. No orc would watch Elf News, nor vice versa.

There’s also fake news propagated by both sides, which is rarely retracted, never with much notice.

Fake news, whether from elves and orcs, is unacceptable, and real accounts of violence are horrific, whether perpetrated against orcs or elves. And yet Horse Shit River rages through the mythical forest too, stinking it up, and so reasonable orcs and elves hate each other. The horse shit drives them insane.

In our world, we’re not too bothered by Horse Shit River. We’ve turned off the app notifications, installed ad blockers, and moved over to RSS.

But our friends, family, and coworkers seem to drink and bathe in this stuff. We have fact-checked it and can produce a compelling report that the news outlets on both sides are just ad-selling corporations.

They don’t give a damn. Or they have the nerve to say, “I don’t pay attention to the news,” and yet they have a subscription list a mile long of YouTubers ranting about current events, and they follow Twitter users who do nothing but report on exactly half of the anecdotal news out there. They fill their heads with this stuff and seem very up to date about incidents in distant lands which shouldn’t matter to them, and they’re generally pissed off at the other side, who are ruining everything.

They’re just as bad as the elves and orcs.

A Cosmology – Humanity’s Thought Core

We don’t like this horse shit, because we reject the cosmology around here. This isn’t critical thinking. This is something deeper down. It’s as if our very bones absolutely hate this stuff. Can we explain it? Do we need to?

The priesthood and all its duties always coalesce around a central cosmology. A cosmology is more than just a story. A cosmology is a device which mediates between the subject (you) and reality (everything else).

(I’ve struggled to find a better word that cosmology. Words like ideology and religion are loaded with baggage, and terms like kernel and operating system are too mechanical and don’t function in the same order. “Cosmology” conjures up images of palm readers and horoscopes, but it’s the best I’ve got.)

Armed with a compelling cosmology, a priesthood acquires the insanely powerful position of being the liaison between you and reality.

Without a compelling cosmology, they’re just crazies who shout at pedestrians.

You might have noticed a lot of crazies shouting at pedestrians lately. Many of them live downtown under tarps. But a lot of crazies shouting at pedestrians have blue check marks on Twitter.

Our poor, misled friends and family religiously follow and parrot these Verified Accounts. We often ask, “Why do you listen to these crazies?”

By carefully picking anecdotes that serve the narrative, Verified Accounts restrict their audience’s field of view so they don’t come upon non-conforming anecdotes. Bringing a non-conforming anecdote into the discussion is strictly forbidden. This person will be fact-checked, cancelled, forced to apologize, and placed on permanent probation. In a cult, at least they give you a mat to sleep on.

And yet, these Verified Accounts, and all their followers, will look you in the eye and say with a straight face, “There is no priesthood.”

We’re in the business of truth-seeking. We’re not in the business of joining a cult. We see a lot of normal, well-meaning people doing this. We’d like to stop our friends, family, and coworkers from following suit. Our loved ones will try and lure us toward the cult with clickbait anecdotes, but we won’t respond with counter-anecdotes. Because if our knight takes their pawn, then their rook takes our knight, and then…

We’re done playing anecdote chess.

This priesthood might be immune from rationality. So we need to learn to think in terms of the sacred, just to understand what’s happening. Jung can’t help us in these parts. Even Frazer, after giving us the a map or two, will inform us that we’re on our own.

The Polluting Source of Horse Shit River

Having pulled our pathetic sailboat out of the raging rapids, we decide to walk along the river, upstream, to uncover the source of the relentless flow of horse shit that’s polluting the waters of our modern world.

Most folks here in the valley are content dealing with their shitty river. Some make a decent living blogging and editorializing about it. Others make money analyzing it. Some sell “Welcome to Horse Shit River” t-shirts. They’re all in the horse shit business and they reek of it everywhere they go.

We’d rather not be in the business of dealing with horse shit. We just want to know where it’s coming from. We go upstream to try and locate this massive horse-shit-generator.

Going upstream, through a lot of overgrowth and past some impressive crags, we encounter schools, movie theaters, coal mines and a big trucking company with a lot of rock piles. None of them are the source of the horse shit.

Beyond these is a large factory on the river’s edge. Looking upstream from the factory we spot clean, fishable water. So this factory is definitely the horse-shit-generator.

They’re also on Google Maps. We could have driven here. This place is no secret. But nobody comes here.

Upon arrival at the factory, we’re shocked to discover an “OPEN” sign on the front door. Inside, a lady named Betty invites us to a free tour. Nobody’s taken a free tour since the factory opened, so we take the nice lady up on her offer and hop on the golf cart.

The Factory tour begins with a video acknowledging the stream of horse shit flowing into the river. They spend a lot of money on horse-shit offsets. We accept this and continue on.

We learn that the factory produces a widget. This widget isn’t just some fidget spinner to sooth our OCD. This widget is an easy-to-understand guide for the perplexed that fits comfortably in our palm.

This widget has three characteristics: reliability, verifiability, and power. Betty describes these in detail:

1. The widget is reliable.

The widget’s springs and gears have been designed by the best in the business, and it’ll run forever. For all we know it’s been running since the beginning of time. Its permanence guarantees the widget will withstand anything thrown at it.

The widget’s workings represent the permanent cycles of the cosmos. Just as the battle between Apsu and Tiamat created the world, Romulus and Remus created Rome, and the oppressed fighting their oppressors created entire governments, the permanence of the cosmic cycle is thus represented by this widget and makes it very reliable.

This cosmic order deals primarily with human affairs, which is an ethic. When our ancient ancestors realized they could kill each other with tools, and animals could not, they became paralyzed in the face of mutual destruction. An ethics of violence resulted.

The human mirror neuron system is a rapacious, violence generator, uniquely capable of total, mutual destruction (and to our credit, we can also build cool skyscrapers). Our capacity for total destruction requires an incentive not to totally mutually destroy. The widget has that ethic baked in. It must.

The widget would be very unethical if it destroyed all humans. Anti-humanism is actually pretty rational, but it has no place in a cosmology. Total destruction means nobody will be left to enjoy the widget. There would be no point, then.

The widget must assure its owners that total, mutual destruction is not immanent. We’re secure in knowing that, at least for the Widget’s user, there’s no sunset on our human endeavors. Thus the widget is reliable.

2. The widget is verifiable.

The widget’s cosmology is verified by science and history. This widget can explain just about anything on Wikipedia. The revolution of Mercury? The English Civil War? Maple syrup? The widget explains all. Perhaps Wikipedia uses this same widget…

A defunct widget company once sold a widget called Widget 43 which also explained almost anything, but in a very different way. Unfortunately the ethic was, let’s just say, of its time. Widget 43 seemed to be burning down a lot of cities. So people stopped using Widget 43.

You can still get Widget 43 on eBay. You can find even older widgets if you know where to look. Some will get you invited to a conference for their novelty. Others will get you thrown on the pyre.

If this here widget can’t explain something, Betty says this is no problem. Someone can update the Wikipedia entry, write a press release to correct the error, or issue a memo that will make its way to every leader in the world. Do you have these editing privileges? Would you like to have them? The widget has these instructions, but they’re useless for you, Karen. Who are these instructions for? Are they instructions for priests!?

Anyway, this seems like a handy widget, but being curious folks, we think of a couple things off the top of our heads that the widget can’t explain, stuff that Wiki authors won’t bother addressing. Betty has heard this song and dance before. She assures us that the third aspect of the widget will convince us that this is the widget to take home.

3. The widget is powerful.

If you use this widget, you will become powerful, more powerful than you ever imagined. See, this widget is a power-seeker. You can use this widget in your home, school, corporation, government office, or Twitter account, and if you follow the power instructions, it will suck up power like a vacuum, and deposit it into your very own power account.

When the widget is near two or more people in a hierarchical relationship, for example a director and a PA, an elected official and a voter, or a Maleficent and a king, it registers a power imbalance. As the beholder, if you address the power imbalance and reduce the power differential between the two parties, the delta in power change is transferred to your account.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because all our friends, family, and coworkers have this widget. Patriots, immigrants, punk rockers, religious extremists, farmers, academics, and our Twitter friends around the world all have this widget. Some vote, some take to Twitter, and others punch pedestrians. All are ways to add to one’s power account.

When we have racked up a big enough power account, we might become Verified. Maybe we’ll be able to edit Wikipedia, or write that press release. Refer to #2 above for instructions. Just don’t fuck up and expose a crack in the Matrix.

The widget also comes with a warning written in 75 different languages: “Do not to reveal the amount of power in your power accounts.” The reason for this should be obvious. Revealing our power level gives other widget users an opportunity, no, an incentive, to knock our legs out from under us. They’ll do anything, from digging up 10-year-old tweets to fishing through your subscriptions, to take you down.

If other widget users smell power, they will take it. Because that’s how this widget works. For everyone. Even the people you hate. It’s the perpetual cycle of the cosmos, baked into this widget. Can you play at this game, Karen?

If you can, you will gain enough power to become the mediator between people and reality. This is the path to joining the priesthood.

And this is why, if you use this widget, you must deny the existence of the priesthood. Or you’ll find yourself on the pyre.

We thank Betty for the tour. She offers us a free widget, but we politely refuse and exit through the gift shop. “Come back again!” says the kind, old Betty. She’s not offended, she’s just happy she could talk to someone.

Clear Waters

Wait a minute, I thought we were coming here to shut down this horse-shit-producing factory and clean up the river! People are suffering! Why did you bring us here?!

We look in our pocket, and we discover…

We have this very same widget, dangling from our keychain.

This is embarrassing, but is it surprising? Didn’t we kinda know it was there already? Didn’t we come here thinking that we could suck power out of this whole situation for our own benefit? Maybe we could, if we could play the game. With enough power, we could eventually censor the censors, and cancel the cancellers. But then we’d be promoting the use of the same, horrible widget. The horse shit would keep flowing.

The point isn’t to beat them and take over. The point isn’t to join their ranks. The whole point was to get away from the horse shit.

I threw my widget out, which triggered the deletion of its power account. 110,000 followers on FB, 13,000 on Instagram. All gone, like tears in horse shit river.

We don’t shut down the factory. We don’t clean up the river.

We just move upstream to crystal clear, fishable waters. What exactly is up here? Don’t know yet. Lots to see.

What don’t we see? What don’t we smell? People burning at the stake. It’s here where the air, the water, and the information airwaves are totally clear and free of horse shit.

We now have a testing kit, the ultimate horse-shit detector, to determine whether the priesthood is legit. What’s the test?

  1. Is there a priesthood? Answer: Always, inevitably, yes.
  2. What’s its cosmology? See 1-3 above.
  3. Does the priesthood lie? If so, do they burn you on the pyre when you notice?

The testing strip is blood red.

Below is an action breakdown that’s not so much about action. This post is more about the spirit behind action. Our subject is Mr. Udaka, a Noh theater performer and mask-maker. Noh theater stems from the 1300s, and like any theatrical art form Noh is a precursor to modern action. If you want to understand Japanese action with its emphasis on poses and unique beats between action, study Noh.

In Noh theater the performer wears a mask, not to just pretend to be a character, but to “enter the realm of gods” (1:09), becoming possessed by the character represented by the mask. In Udaka’s own words (2:06), “The actors use a mask, a Noh mask, without fail, in order to reincarnate past occurrences in present times. In other words, the actor wearing a Noh mask is not acting as a modern-day person, but as a spirit or wraith.”

The sacred history of Noh stems from its origins as “monkey music” (Saragaku, 1:51), which shares a common origin in the monkey king legend that is prominant China and India. We might see Noh as a fun cosplay enterprise, but we should take Udaka’s own words more seriously than this. Cosplayers would never admit to being possessed by Iron Man, but Udaka-san’s an honest man and admits that, in Noh, the dedicated performer becomes totally compromised by the spirit world.

In The Puppet of Desire: The Psychology of Hysteria, Possession, and Hypnosis (trans. Eugene Webb, Stanford University Press, 1991) Jean Michel Oughourlian posits that possession rites aren’t simple entertainment affairs. While the audience watches the possession rite for recreation (“re-creation” is very telling here), all possession rituals imbibe the subject with a sort of “spiritual package” that transmits traditional cultural norms in one big download. The subject becomes the spirit for a moment in time.

Why would someone subject themselves to a possession rite? In Oughourlian’s analysis of the raw data of anthropologists like Frazer and Levi-Strauss, possession rites are no different than hypnosis. The subject has a problem, anything from an addiction to a spat of envy or whatever else might disrupt the community (and could contaminate them). These problems in Oughourlian’s view stem from the ego’s attempts to “backdate” the subject’s desires before his rival’s. For example, bouts of envy over a woman SHOULD be easily resolved by reminding the subject that the woman belonged to someone else first. In that fantasy world rationality reigns king and envy over money and success could be quickly eliminated. But our egos are tasked with reversing time to legitimize our desires starting around age 2. We become convinced that our desires came first. To correct this reversed timeline, clinical help is sought.

Jean Michel Oughourlian on desire

The doctor, usually a shaman, attaches the “resolving spirit” to the subject through music, dancing, and other contagious art forms. The subject receives the spirit mostly against their will, but the spirit, a new trusted model for the subject, has the effect of correcting the misaligned timeline during the possession. The cathartic effect is: hey buddy, look at your jacked up timeline. Your friend had the girl first, then you came in and messed things up. The subject believes for a moment that they’ve had a self-realization, repairing (at least in part) the desire timeline. A hypnotist functions the same way, as does EMDR, both of which reposition emotional issues into rational parts of the brain for proper processing. After a brief exorcism ritual, the spirit leaves, and the subject is left with the embarrassing realization that they messed up, but with some additional tools (and maybe a restraining order) they can now right their wrongs.

Possession ritual in Venezuela

Noh theater is a large-scale possession rite. Anybody who wants to imbibe themselves with the spirit of the ancients just has to follow Mr. Udaka’s methods. He uses couched, dramatic terms when describing the possession experience (6:30): “When you can perform without thinking and it surfaces naturally, once you reach that level, you will be able to experience a shining instance of serendipity.” Serendipity is the clarity of the possession experience. At least, it’s clarifying in the sense that you’re taking on a spirit that’s not your own. Imbibing spirits is also another term for getting drunk off your ass. Careful which spirits you drink.

The pacing of Noh gives us some insights into modern, Japanese physical art forms. When looking at the style of the Japan Action Club, founded by Sonny Chiba, you see an emphasis on poses and silhouettes. These are theatrical for a reason: the Japan Action Club is the film extension of Japanese theater. Beats between movements, called ma, are critical to the overall action design. Japan Action Club (now Japan Action Enterprise, JAE) members criticized undercranking, a standard feature of Hong Kong action cinema, claiming that it threatened to eliminate the ma in between movements1. The action in Junya Takagi’s Bad History (1989) epitomizes ma with lengthy, uncut, wide takes.

Takagi Junya
Bad History (1989)

Note the timing between movements (ma).

The ma between movements in Japanese action, epitomized by the Japan Action Club from its theatrical roots, gives Japanese action its distinct flavor. It’s something I never understood or appreciated until I worked as a motion capture stuntman on a Japanese game and developed the action understanding to even see it myself. Do the spiritual foundations of Noh theater permeate Japanese ma-based action? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Udaka ends the lesson as he talks to his ancestors at a cemetery. He rightly claims that as Noh disappears Japan is becoming a “robotic country driven solely by pure economics” (7:52). Removing the sacred from the people is the task of tyrants who destroy shared tradition to prop up their regime as the sole center of deferral. Even if you don’t defer to the same gods as Mr. Udaka, you can agree with his implication: the death of Noh is the death of Japanese ancestor-worship, the death of shared Japanese tradition.

Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=108d4KnZPxo

Follow me on Telegram: t.me/ericjacobus.

Timestamps:
1:09 “I can enter the realm of gods.”
1:51 Started out as Saragaku “monkey music”, from the monkey king, deep ties to the sacred world
3:19 Making his own masks out of wood
5:20 “When you have to think while performing the Noh dance, for example when you start wondering what are the next lyrics, or shoudl I be dancing like this next… It’s not a good sign when your mind staerts wantering like that.
6:30 “When you can perform without thinking and it surfaces naturally, once you reach that level, you will be able to experience a shining instance of serendipity
7:11 Bisiting and speaking to ancestors
7:30 Desire to maintain sacred institutions like Noh, tea ceremony, flower arrangements (ikebana) and martial arts.

References:
1. Interview, Yutaka Nozawa, Dec 10 2020. Many thanks to Yutaka for his insights.

There’s been a lot of talk about censorship on social media lately. Lots of it is legit. A lot of it is just ignoring.

To ignore is to say, “Say what you want, I have the right to make sure nobody hears it.” To censor is to say, “Say what you want and I’ll get you shamed, fired, arrested, or killed.”

Most of us probably experience more ignoring.

Social media ignores content that is irrelevant. Your followers won’t see your content because the filter eliminates irrelevant crap to make everyone happy and consuming ads. It’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to do.

Most social media have a relevance-based distribution structure. The “relevance” is based on two things:

  1. broad social relevance
  2. your brand

I’m not a very topical guy, so the goal has always been to build a specific brand and capitalize off that, regardless of the latest TikTok dance move or whose hair the president is sniffing. Below is a quick analysis of all the major social media platforms and how branding seems to work on them.

YouTube Branding

Branding on YouTube was a struggle for years. The brand was something like “cool, creative fight scenes”. With this brand, I peaked out at 1000 subscribers on my channel between 2005 and 2012.

Then I released Vader Strikes, it went viral, and my subscribers jumped to 10,000 overnight.

I then uploaded some short films to capitalize off my tenfold increase in viewership. Unfortunately most of the comments were, “Dude, where’s Vader?” We released some similar GoPro-filmed fps-style movies filmed the way we did Vader, but these weren’t received as well. So we released two more (superior) Vader films, which received a fraction of the original’s attention.

Two things happened here:

  1. I missed my chance to capitalize off Darth Vader. Had we followed up immediately with more, regular Vader content, we might have become the official “Star Wars fight brand“. This new audience didn’t care so much about the GoPro/FPS fight fight scenes, they just wanted Vader. When we released the 2 later Vader films, the enthusiasm was gone. Whether this was YouTube’s doing or the audience realized they had been conned into subscribing to some stunt guy’s channel, we lost most of our steam after the first release.
  2. I wasn’t conscious of our brand. The huge amount of traffic driven to the YouTube channel expected a “Star Wars brand“, but it was supposed to be a “cool, creative fight scene” brand. If I had wanted to brand us as the Star Wars fight scene channel, then this was the way to start it.

The YouTube channel slowly grew to around 20,000 subscribers over the next few years. Films like Rope A Dope helped boost the quality of subscribers. The brand changed and became “cool, creative action storytelling“.

We had a healthy stream of subscribers who then wanted “cool, creative action storytelling”. Seems most of the Vader fans had either walked away or turned away from the dark side to this better brand.

Then I released my first Tekken In Real Life video where I did Hwaorang’s movelist.

The video went viral, so made 30 more Tekken In Real Life (IRL) videos over the course of the next year, and my channel rocketed to about 120,000 subscribers. The good news was this landed me a job as Kratos, which more than made up for the year of labor that went into these videos.

The bad news was that I was now the Tekken IRL guy.

What’s the brand? I asked myself. Is it “Eric does video game stuff in real life“? Is it “creative action that transcends the film medium”? Or is it just “Tekken In Real Life”?

The Hotline Miami and Doom releases afterward didn’t mean much to this new subscriber base. Anything else we released got the comment, “Dude, where’s Tekken?” The brand had shifted to “Tekken IRL guy”.

This wasn’t entirely bad. I’ve made a living off doing motion capture ever since. But was I ready to shift brands? Or could I go back to the “cool, creative action storytelling” brand?

Blindsided: The Game did garner a heap of attention, so the better brand seemed to have stuck.

After doing God of War, I co-founded SuperAlloy and started making a bunch of 3D action films. This has had some positive results, but there’s been no huge uptick in subscribers or viewers:

Bottom line: YouTube is a solid distribution platform with a high preference for brand-relevance. Censorship issues aside, it continues to be the best video platform out there. Attempting to make money via ad revenue is a 60-hour-a-week job and not advised for people specializing in action movies. Making money via sponsorship is obviously doable but you’ll find yourself becoming a full-time editor. For action brand purposes the best use of YouTube is sending out YouTube links to secure contracts. Just be careful how you brand yourself, as your new subscribers might be expecting more of the thing that brought them there, and they won’t care about the stuff you made before that.

Facebook

My Facebook page sat at a thousand followers for years. In 2015, after Tekken IRL, it jumped to 50k. With a friend’s help I ran some ads and more than doubled that to 120k by end of 2016. Every one of the page’s followers wants Tekken. There’s almost zero traction on anything else. Brand is officially “Tekken IRL guy”.

Even Kung Fu vs. Zombies got almost nothing.

The last thing that received any traction was a video where I blew up a heavy bag.

News that I was Kratos got a bit of traction

Interestingly, this post requesting a Reddit AMA got a good chunk of traction:

But, only 0.5% of those likes (if any) translated into upvotes on Reddit:

Bottom line: I still have no idea what good a FB page is if you’re not selling vitamins or fitness classes. Translating a page like into a contract is almost impossible. Off-brand posts are almost totally invisible to your followers.

(As of writing this post I’m planning to shut down both my personal profile and public page. I know I said that a month ago. The only thing stopping me is some contact-gathering from my friends list.)

Twitter

My Twitter follower base has experienced a more steady increase over the course of 12 years. In 2020 I started posting action breakdown threads and I saw a slightly accelerated increase in followers. These breakdown posts averaged around 60 likes, many of which are very high quality eyes that could translate into contracts (stunt coordinator positions, consulting, etc.).

Then a political thing happened, and instead of posting about the political thing, I posted another action breakdown. It received 0 likes. It seems Twitter wanted me to be socially relevant first and brand-relevant second.

The last hot thread was the Red vs. Blue Zero breakdown.

Historical or anthropological threads like this one on the history of boxing get almost nothing. Maybe Twitter sees these as totally non-socially relevant.

Bottom line: Twitter followers are very high quality and personal and can translate easily to contracts. However, Twitter seems more geared toward social-relevance than brand-relevance. So conveying important info to one’s audience on Twitter can be tricky. Still, it’s better than Facebook for converting views into contracts.

Instagram

There’s a lot of temptation to advertise fitness products and get free junk on Instagram. I’ve done it a few times, but it was a huge time suck.

I capped out at around 14k subscribers on Instagram. Most of them wanted Tekken stuff. It was just too much effort. The 1-minute limit wasn’t enough to tell “cool, creative action stories” the way I do on YouTube.

Instagram is a good talent sourcing platform, but the top talent are at the tip top of the food chain. Good luck climbing that mountain.

I shut my Instagram account down. That sh*t is addictive.

LinkedIn

LI is great for tech, bad for stunts. You can post the best stunt reel or action choreography in the world on LinkedIn and it won’t go anywhere. But if you film yourself modeling a cube in 3D you’ll 50 contact requests from India.

(BTW: Here’s a quick, free way to get hired full-time at a game or movie studio next month. Go learn Unreal for a few weeks, make a 3D previz like this, and post it on LinkedIn. You’ll get hired. Filmmaking skills a plus.)

I don’t try to boost my LI followers with articles. My profile is for networking and getting contracts.

Bottom line: LinkedIn is a great way to generate contracts, but when it comes to entertainment, only techies need apply.

Blogging

Blogging every 6 months does nothing. Blogging regularly helps generate a steady audience. Posting something extremely important can launch you into the stratosphere. I posted once about how to author a Blu-Ray disc for an indie film and discovered I was the only blog on the planet to crack this issue. This single post translated into 5 contracts who all asked me to make their Blu-Ray BDCMFs, which came out to something like $3,000.

BTW thanks for reading this blog. I hope you’re subscribed!

Telegram

Telegram has a hierarchical channel feature. If you subscribe to my channel, you get my content unfiltered.

Try it out (you can even just view it in a browser): http://t.me/ericjacobus

Usually, by subscribing to a person’s channel you can look forward to a stream of unwanted rants and cat videos, but I promise I’ll keep things brand-relevant.

Final Thoughts

Branding is critical. If you build a brand that’s high in demand, you can expect to grow your audience.

If you just want to be culturally-relevant or topical, you’ll get tossed around like a rag doll, with the upside being a chance of being a viral sensation with a ton of ad revenue, or snagging a writing job for Vice.

How do you monetize your personal brand? There’s always ad revenue, sponsorships, or paid advertising. You could also direct ad traffic to a store to sell stuff. I had very little success doing this with Death Grip, Contour, and the other films we did and eventually shut our store down.

Or you turn your highest quality viewers into contracts – coordinating jobs, consulting, misc. production jobs, etc. Then you’re not worried about views and subs. Your #1 priority then is quality.

For this guy, I’m focusing on the blog and working on building my Telegram channel. So please subscribe to both!