Recommendation Dump, February 2016

Another offloading of recommendations is upon us, or upon the reader, really. A broad selection this time, from articles to TV to a flash game.

Tig Notaro: Live – I found out about this through the Netflix documentary Tig, which I would also recommend. Tig Notaro went through several tragedies at once (multiple illnesses, the death of her mother, and finally a cancer diagnosis) and, being a stand-up comedian, started writing jokes about it all. She did a set at the comedy club Largo, and delivered all that material for the first time, with no idea what to expect from the audience. They loved it. Louie CK, who was backstage during this, convinced her to put the recording of that show out for the world to listen to. You can read his post about it here, it’s pretty interesting.

So six or seven months after I saw the documentary I finally bought the thing. The show is very funny, which is all you can ask for from most comedy. But it’s also terrific to hear someone be so forthright about their experience with death. On another level, it’s fascinating to see both Tig and the audience coping with this tragedy through comedy. And the ending is just perfect. I highly recommend this to anyone who is a human. It’s only five bucks on iTunes, six if you want to get the deluxe edition (comes with a story Tig told at the Moth.)

Three Articles about Campaign Logos – I started down this rabbit hole because I noticed that both the Rand Paul and Ted Cruz campaign logos feature a flame, and I wondered if there was anything to that. Not really, it turns out. And I can’t exactly look at the history of campaign logos, because there isn’t one. Turns out the Obama “O” really changed the game, and before that it was just a bunch of flags and names. This article from Down with Design discusses that, and shows the campaign logos from the general election candidates from the past twenty years. This video and article from Bloomberg goes into the history and importance of campaign logos some more with design expert Sagi Haviv. And this Observer piece by designer Chris Stout-Hazard, the first one I found when doing my search, ranks all of the 2016 campaign logos in an insightful, snarky, hilarious way.

I’ve become more and more interested in design and branding, and each of these articles is an excellent resource for anyone with a similar interest—or for someone interested in politics, and how politicians brand themselves.

Quotidian – A flash game. At first I thought this would be kind of like Papers Please, focusing on repetitious, mundane tasks. Not so much. The game is more of an absurdist comedy. The only game mechanic is a series of prompts (Press T to turn on Tap, Press Y to nod, etc) which occur in the same order each day, and lead the faceless, nameless protagonist you control through their boring life. While some of these prompts are funny in their own right (trying to get to sleep is as hellish as the IRL act, and had me cracking up every time) most of the humor derives from the contrast between the changing world, descending into an apocalyptic nightmare realm, and the dry, unchanging prompts. I’d love to give examples, but the game is unfortunately incredibly short, and I’m afraid I’d ruin the humor. Just play it, it’s fabulous.

Occupied – I found this show just scrolling through the recently added section of Netflix, and after reading the description I immediately added it to my list. It’s a Norwegian television show in which a green party Prime Minister of Norway shuts down all oil production in an effort to move to more green energy solutions. Following this, the Prime Minister is kidnapped and threatened with a war with Russia if he does not resume oil production. The Prime Minister agrees, and Russians move into Norway to oversee refineries and wells, and ensure that they get what they want. The Norwegian public and world at large simply believe it to be an economic arrangement, but as time drags on and the Russians still haven’t left, people begin to realize that Norway is being occupied.

The first thing that struck me about the show is that the countries are real. It’s seems like most war fiction these days centers around terrorists, nazis, or some nondescript, made-up organization or country. The fact that the show is about current day countries, just ones that are altered slightly by the course of time, makes it grittier. It makes the speculation more interesting. The show is bound by real world borders, not just some fantasy world totally fabricated by the writer, which can bend to the needs of plot.

The next thing that struck me is the moral gradient of the show. It’s not black and white, but it’s also not a sea of gray. The Russians are clearly in the wrong, but the Russians as individuals cover a large spectrum of morality. The Norwegians are the same way. It’s interesting to see how each and every main character, no matter how much they attempt to stay neutral, is eventually pulled onto one side of the conflict—and to see how far they are pulled.

The show is slow in terms of the overarching story of the occupation, and the escalating conflict, which I also enjoyed. The individual episode plots, in contrast, are fairly quick-paced, which is nice. There were also several major plot points that caught me completely off-guard. Maybe it’s because the show gives away so much. Rather than trying to keep everything a secret to be revealed in an awesome twist, Occupied reveals a lot, because in a political thriller it’s more interesting to know what a person’s motivation is, and wonder how they’ll outmaneuver there enemies to reach their goals. So there’s a sense that you mostly know what’s up, and it’s surprising when something completely unexpected happens.

An example of how awesome this show is: There are two married characters who have affairs, and neither of those affairs is revealed, or even developed much. It’s just something relevant to those characters in the affairs and what they’re going through, and it doesn’t have to be used to create some trite romantic drama.

Hopefully the show is renewed for a second season, because the first season makes no attempt to resolve things—but the show isn’t a total tease. The ending is satisfyingly climactic, and it’s not keeping things in arrested development.

So there’s no reason not to watch it. The ten episodes on Netflix are well worth your time.

Well, there you have it: four (or six, really) fantastic things to check out.

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