Me and NASCAR and Me

I went to my first NASCAR Sprint Cup race last weekend. Ostensibly with one of my best friends, though he spent the entirety of the race asleep in our tent. His other friends are pretty nice, though, and it was a fun and interesting experience. I got sunburnt, and not enough sleep the night before, but that’s okay.

I’ve been not-following NASCAR long enough that watching the race was an interesting exercise in detached observation. I don’t have a favorite driver (since Bobby Labonte wandered off the scene), nor do I have a “nemesis” driver (though I can see why people just have a hate-on for Kyle Busch), and my rooting interests are somewhat academic. I’m eager to see Danica Patrick do well, if only to help prove that male dominance of racing is largely cultural, and not tied to some mystical masculine traits only available with the addition of some testosterone. And of course, any kind of “brand loyalty” (like, Pepsi drinks can go fuck themselves because Jeff Gordon) is not my game at all.

That said, I like racing. I’m not a huge fan of noise for its sake, or even cars really, which I sometimes think as strange from a man who grew up in Metro Detroit. But I like the competition and the strategy. I like seeing how different cars perform in identical conditions, and I like seeing the edges to which the drivers will push in order to gain the advantage.

Also, the thing that has always struck me about NASCAR especially is that it seems like it’s actually, under the hood so to speak, the nerdiest of the major American “sports.” There’s so much more involved, especially now, than some raw love of cars or the skill of the drivers. The forces involved, the engineering necessary to govern it all, the numbers numbers numbers. (Baseball might be the next nerdiest sport, but only because stats nerds have made it so, speaking of numbers.) And I get why nerds tend to stay away, and it mostly has to do with the culture that NASCAR has inherited in unbroken line down from the moonshiner days, which I certainly saw on full display last weekend.

So I get the discomfort there, and the general reaction away. It’s just a shame, is all. There’s a lot for nerds, math and physics nerds in particular, to sink their teeth into. There’s an underlying grace and purity to the competition that can be fascinating, when viewed that way.

And yeah, I’ll probably go back to that particular race next year.

I Love Maps, Part 1

I love maps. Maps maps mapsy maps.

Despite the scorn they sometimes get, I especially love fantasy and role-playing maps. There’s something about all their crinkly edges, the mysterious empty spaces, especially outside the bounds of the primary story. Something about it makes me want to dive in and discover how the map and terrain differ, so to speak. Nothing quite sets the imagination to flight quite like it, for me.

I found the map featured above while looking for a good, detailed map of Middle Earth (why? cuz). This comes from a game I never played, but kind of wish I had, Middle Earth Role Playing, by Iron Crown Enterprises. I enjoy me some Lord of the Rings, including playing the MMO, but there is something about having been over the familiar terrain a thousand times that made this map in particular stand out. I love all the edges and expanses and unexplored possibilities here. I know it’s not “canon” but, hell, I play the MMO. Obviously I’m not concerned with canon, overmuch.

Full version of the map is here.

Engage As Intended

As usual, I don’t intend anything prescriptive by what I’m about to say–I’m just kind of musing on art and story and experimenting with the conclusions that the musings bring me to. This is may well be a theme around here. Disclaimer out of the way, I’ll proceed.

The beautiful freedom of the modern age is that we as consumers can engage with art in almost any way we choose. In fact, the recombinant engagement that a lot of people choose across the internet, from fanfic to vids to Tumblr gifsets to mashups, makes literal a lot of what we talk about when we say that genre is a sort extended artistic conversation. To greater and lesser extents, the creators of recombinant and transformative art are directly engaging with the art in question, interrogating and deconstructing it in really unique and enlightening ways.

This is very cool, and I applaud it.

One of the other ways we’ve started to engage with media and art, lately, is the almighty binge. I remember the first time I binged on a show–the first time I could binge on a show–was when I got the first two or three seasons of Stargate SG-1 on DVD. As I recall, I spent a few days on the futon in my wife’s apartment (before she was my wife, of course) mainlining Jack O’Neill and Daniel Jackson and Samantha Carter and Teal’c like a fiend. Couldn’t get enough. It was glorious. It was a temptation I simply could not resist, if I could even conceive of resistance as an option.

I’ve discovered a few things about binging in the years since, though. One is that it leaves me wanting more where there is no more. I was lucky, back then. I ended up getting all of the DVDs that were out at the time, and got caught up to where Stargate SG-1 was when it jumped over to the Sci-Fi Channel. So then I had more on a weekly basis for about half a year, every year. But binging on a show that’s already done, when I’m watching all there is of it… that’s kind of a bummer.

The other thing I realized is that the binge leaves everything… more muddied. There really isn’t a chance to reflect on what I’ve watched, let it sink in, let any anticipation build. My wife and I are catching up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. right now, after leaving it for most of the year. But, for various reasons, we can’t really binge on it. We get in about two episode a week, and that’s it. So, as of this typing, Skye is in near-death coma and has been since Saturday night. I probably won’t get to see the follow-up episode for another week-plus, given our weekend plans.

That’s cool. I’m down with that. It gives me time to think a bit on it, gives it time to mature, to “season” I guess.  I don’t need to rush through it.

One of the other things I’m finding is that people work on the weekly TV show as its own art form, within its own constraints. I think I first encountered this idea in a blog post by John Scalzi (don’t ask me to go spelunking through his archives for it; I’ll get lost down some 300 meter shaft), where he was advising, in his calm-headed way, that This New Medium did not mean the death of That Old Medium, that people had said the same thing about That Old Medium back when it was new. The idea being that stories will find their natural place, that if there’s a story that can only really be told in Smell-O-Vision, it will be best told in Smell-O-Vision but that won’t mean we can’t still create stories for the “traditional” cinema. We won’t have to create everything for Smell-O-Vision.

I’ll call this A Scalzian Principle (but not The Scalzian Principle–the dude has too many to grant any of them the definitive article).

Anyway, it has occurred to me that, especially with older shows, but still with new shows, there is a reward to watching them more or less as they were originally intended to be seen. Now, in a lot of cases, especially let’s say pre-2000ish, this did actually mean you could watch them in any particular order. A lot of them did feature the dreaded reset button, the horror of ungrowing characters and static, immutable situations. But I’m also coming to appreciate this constraint that the creators had to work in. How do you make Thomas Magnum’s exploits suspenseful when you know he and Rick and TC and Higgins are still going to be alive at the end of the episode?

I could probably write a whole other blog post answering that question, so I won’t try to get to it here. I’ll think about writing it another time, though. Suffice to say that I’m finding it both interesting and instructive to see the art in that kind of constraint. How is it handled, how is it done well, how does it fall down?

But, well, also I’m just enjoying the shows for the sake of the shows themselves. Just watching them as they are, as they were intended to be watched.