Is Geek Blogging Dead?

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Apr 052019
Today in The Cube:

Wow. Two posts from me in a single week? How lucky are you guys? Anyway, enjoy my ramblings…

Every month or so, a discussion thread on Twitter spreads like wildfire through the ranks of the Geek and Nerd Blog Community. The topic? “Is Nerd/Geek Blogging Dead?”
And, just like Rev. Lovejoy trying to give advice to Ned Flanders (“Short answer yes with an if, long answer no… with a but.”) there’s no straight-up affirmative or negative way to decide whether it is or not. Some say yes, some say no, some say it’s just evolved into other media, like dinosaurs evolving into chickens.
Now, let me firstly preface this piece by stating, unequivocally, that I’m not one of the Great Geek Bloggers, so I don't come to this with their experience and perspective. I’m a lesser light at best, probably more accurately described as a hanger-on. The big bloggers (the West Week Ever’s and the Dinosaur Dracula’s and so forth) actually put out consistent content and drive conversations. That ain’t me.
But, I certainly tried. Back in 2010, like a kid from the sticks who thumbed a ride to New York City with stars in his eyes, I entered into the blogging scene - after reading all the “right” articles and so forth - with a dream of hitting it big and getting richer than astronauts. I started this blog, bought my domain name, produced my content, signed up for ad thingies (whatever they’re called), started a Twitter profile to promote it, and just waited for the hits, clicks, comments and money to roll in like a tide.
Not surprising, right? By the time I’d entered the market, there were a ton of other nerd/geek blogs out there, large and small, doing what I'd envisioned, but doing it better. And, honestly, trying to keep up with the latest nerd news, carve out a new niche for myself in cyberspace, and keep the blog going - in addition to having an actual job and a life - ended up being way too much. And in the end the blog went to the wayside, to be occasionally picked up again with the best intentions before being put down again. I think that’s the case for a lot of us. Honestly, there have been plenty of times I’ve planned to just shut the blog down, only to hesitate. And I’ve been glad that I’ve waited and that it’s still there, so I can foist stuff like this on the illiterate general public (I kid because I love, folks).
I’ve been active otherwise. I wrote movie and comics reviews for what I only recently discovered is a now-defunct Canadian website, I’ve been writing on wargaming hobby subjects for over a year now at, and I’ve had my writing and opinions featured on other sites and even on podcasts (which is always a treat).
But is the Nerd/Geek Blog writ-large now a thing of the past? There are a lot of them still out there, still doggedly putting out great content. But are they the force they once were?
No, likely not. Media, and how we consume it, has changed at warp speed in the last 10 years, never mind the last 20. Blogs were likely already becoming obsolete when YouTube came into the picture and folks decided to put their content on video instead of the written word. I’ve also heard that the demise of certain aggregators, etc., that made accessing blogs easier helped ease them out of the collective consciousness.
Another thing is the podcast revolution. Y’know, it used to be, everybody had an idea for a novel. Then they had an idea for a play. Then they had an idea for a screenplay. Then they had an idea for a novel, again. Then they had an idea for a blog, and now they have an idea for a podcast. Podcasting, which its low cost of entry, and viability for consumption in a variety of venues (let’s face it, you have to sit down and read a blog, but you can listen to a podcast at work, in the car, while doing chores, as you drift off to sleep, etc.), has supplanted the blog in a lot of ways, and quite a few geek bloggers have jumped into the podcasting arena.
Some folks assert that people just don’t read anymore, and that that's killed the blog. Maybe that’s true, but so much of the internet and its content remains texted-based that I just kind of rebel against a simple conclusion like that. As an example: People on Twitter, now that they have 280 characters to work with, are writing MORE, not less, and threads discussing topics have become more numerous. People are reading and writing, still, and in huge numbers, just in different ways.
Another issue, and maybe it's just me, but it’s hard to find blogs to read. Most are one-man ventures that aren’t focused on making money (or expending it) so… bloggers don’t advertise. They only way I’ve found blogs to read is, essentially, via word-of-mouth. Now, I’ve heard of the so-called halcyon days of nerd blogging when the bloggers would band together and promote one another, but apparently those days, like the Second Age of Middle-Earth, have passed into the Grey Havens.
I think it seems like I may be avoiding the question, so let me answer it bluntly: Is nerd blogging dead?
Yes, if taken in a global sense. The days when a nerd blog was going to set the world on fire and become a massive cultural influencer that would earn money to send your kids to college have passed (if those days ever existed), and likely passed 10 years ago. But I think that goes for every kind of blogging, not just nerd blogging. Blogs were a step in the evolution of what those annoying culture mavens used to call "Web 2.0," and now there are other media taking their place. We’re moving on from silent movies to talkies.
And that’s ok. It happens. Nobody uses horse-drawn buggies anymore (I mean, except the Amish, but they’re not likely to read this).
However, an unspoken assumption in all of this is that a large audience for a geek blog is possible, even desired. A geek blog, by its very nature, is niche, and will appeal, likely, to a small field of like-minded people. These are the people that a blogger would like to have read and respond to their posts. A huge audience brings with it some positives, but also minuses.
Now, in a smaller sense, in the personal, community sense, nerd blogs are not dead. Great content is being pumped out every day, every week. A blog only dies when its creator decides that, ultimately, they don’t want to do it anymore. Blogging, in the first place, isn’t supposed to be about getting and building an audience or making money - just like any form or art or creative expression out there. Blogging is about writing about what you like, what’s important to you, and then releasing it out into the aether. If it attracts a following (and pecuniary remuneration), so much the better. It’s being intentional, it’s being authentic in your goals, that matters in blogging. That’s at the heart of the thing.
If you’re having fun, you’re doing it right, and the blog will keep on going.

Why "Television’s Golden Age" is Leaving Me Cold

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Apr 042019
Today in The Cube:

Even as late as three years ago, the death of scripted TV was being bandied about in the press.
Reality TV shows, which saw their rise begin with “Survivor” and its ilk, were cheaper to produce and didn’t need scripts, stables of actors, or a large film crew, and still drew in boffo ratings. Reality TV was, like an invasive vine brought into your yard because you thought it looked good at the garden center, taking over.
You could see it all over every channel, whether network or cable. Even places like The Learning Channel (TLC) and The History Channel, which had beforehand produced ostensibly educational programming, fell into step with others and reality ruled where edutainment had once held sway.
But somewhere along the way, something magical happened, and scripted TV was saved, and made a comeback in a big way. Indeed, in 2018, nearly 500 new scripted shows hit the airwaves and the streaming services - a record-setting number.
Now there’s not just a good number of scripted TV shows out there, of all kinds, but abundance to feed a cyclops.
Now, instead of a graveyard of scripted TV, we’re being told that we’re living in Television’s Golden Age - and that we’re lucky to do so.
Personally, I’d kind of like to get off this particular ride.
Television’s Golden Age has left me cold.
Let me tell you why.

The roots of the scripted TV “revolution” of the mid-2010s, I think, has its roots in the 1990s with the success of NBC’s “Must-See TV” lineup on Thursdays, famously bulwarked for most of the decade by Seinfeld, surely the first modern progenitor of “appointment viewing.”
After that, we had the “premium must-sees,” like The Sopranos and Sex in the City, as well as Six Feet Under and The Wire and others - all programs that generated a lot of buzz and press but were on premium channels and, therefore, not readily available to those of us with basic cable.
Must-see dramas became more democratized when basic-cable channel AMC produced both Mad Men and Breaking Bad, blockbuster hits that began to set a new standard for storytelling and content in primetime programming.
And then Netflix began producing their own shows, with their two most high-profile early offerings being Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. Netflix introduced a novelty that has since been embraced by most other streaming services: Releasing all episodes of a new show's season at once, instead of weekly, as most other conventional TV channels did.
This created the phenomenon of “bingable streaming TV," allowing you to watch episode after episode and, later, season after season, uninterrupted.
The popular and critical success of Netflix’s offerings emboldened other services to produce their own scripted TV shows (and other programming as well). Competition heated up among streamers to attract new subscribers, and between streamers and traditional TV for eyes and advertising dollars, creating the push to outdo each other with the quality and addictiveness of their scripted shows.
Scripted TV was saved. Television’s Golden Age was inaugurated.

Except I don’t find it particularly golden. 
I’ve noticed some problems with this new age. First, I find it nearly impossible to continue watching many of the new shows being produced, simply because their quality suffers after the first season.
I’m continually left with the feeling that Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and other streaming services (and, increasingly, the legacy networks and cable/premium channels) are willing to throw money at show runners with a good idea for a first season… without much of a plan for what they’re going to do afterwards.
I can say without hyperbole that the first season of Netflix’s House of Cards was the best and most riveting season of television I’ve ever seen, bar none. 
Season Two was... very good. Season Three was bad. And I quit the show after watching a single episode of Season Four, because things had gotten so far away from the show's original promise.
Other programs have suffered from the same disease of uneven quality, including Orange is the New Black, Making a Murderer, Hemlock Grove, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and so forth.
It makes me… unwilling and uninterested to invest my time in a new show simply because the likelihood that it will disappoint is, sadly, pretty high. I'd rather re-watch Frasier or Friends for the 100th time instead.

Second, each of the new shows’ episodes is explicitly made - cleverly, with Byzantine design - to be “bingable,” complete with intricate plots that rival the contrivances of many operas, large casts of characters and frequent cliffhanger endings.
It’s as though the television industry has enslaved a billion monkeys to peck at a billion typewriters, and every single one of them has read the collected works of Edgar Ride Burroughs. 
For me, at least, this leads to a thoroughly exhausting and unsatisfying viewing experience. Working through even good shows in a 10-episode “season” again and again, only to continually reach another season-ender with a cliffhanger designed to drag you into the NEXT season is the very worst kind of tease, without a payoff of any kind. It’s the reason my wife and I have simply stopped watching some shows in the midst of a season, even ones we like. It’s become too much of an investment of mental bandwidth.

The other problem I’ve noticed with so many of these “Golden Age” series is… well, they’re unremittingly dark.
For Example: Hulu, which struck on a “hit-of-the-moment” success with “A Handmaid’s Tale” (a cultural criticism podcast I listen to chided the show for being “too on the nose” - and they’re right), has, in that program, a show that some critics have dubbed simply “bleak.” My wife, a fan of the show, was disappointed in the most recent (second) season, feeling that it just didn’t go anywhere, except into stark realms of butchery. 
I read the book upon which it is based, and I know what the show is getting at culturally, but it’s a great example of the kind of abattoir excesses that the Golden Age of Television seems to extoll as artistic brilliance: grim, color-desaturated depictions of violence as a stand-in for realism; whispers and shudders as a stand-in for dialogue; extreme close-ups of characters staring with moist eyes into the middle distance as a stand-in for acting.
I’m just not interested in being depressed by what I watch. I want to enjoy it, not be distressed by it.
I was interested, for instance, in watching the “Haunting of Hill House” show on Netflix when it premiered around Halloween last year. I like scary movies and ghost stories particularly. But when I read that it was a show based around the trauma of grief, I decided it wasn’t for me.
Isn’t entertainment supposed to be… y’know, an escape? So, if we’re binge-watching 10-episode seasons of utter demoralizing shock as entertainment, how do we escape what we’d meant to be our escape?
I fully realize that there are a lot of shows that aren’t just an unrelenting palette of gray skies and human suffering, but they’re not the ones that get the media focus, or the advertising.

Smoky Saucy Savory

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Mar 262019

Expeller pressed canola oil, vital wheat gluten, and H2O are on the menu as Sarah and Brian test out six vegan deli meats. They struggle through the funky smells, seedy bits, and weird spice combinations in search of the number one, most edible faux sandwich meat... so that you don't have to.


Ep 5: Tour De Ponce, Atlanta

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Mar 102019

Where we take a journey along Atlanta’s Ponce De Leon Avenue from start to finish, stopping at some favorites and trying some places we’ve been wanting to check out during our eight years living in the city.