Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A few unpopular opinions

If you know me, you know that I've never been a "mainstream culture" kind of person. And I'm not a "counter-culture" person, either. I try and evaluate things based on their own merit (in economist terms, on their utility to me) and not on what somebody thinks their utility to me should be. Exempli gratia, I don't listen to the rap flavor of the month, or to its indie equivalent. I don't pay attention to fashion, because fashion does not get me anywhere--this implies that I don't purposely wear what's popular only because it's popular, but on the other hand, I don't purposely avoid what's popular only because it's popular. And there are a few phenomena that are exceedingly popular that I just don't much agree with.

That is to say, I don't like Family Guy, and I don't like Halo.

If you don't know Family Guy, there are two relevant pieces of information related to it. First, it is a television show in the mold of The Simpsons or South Park, all of which are ultimately more funny for their references to other media than for their own content. I've got no problem with that in general (see the Kingdom of Loathing). Second, it is the singular most popular television show among college students (and among a lot of high school sutdents as well). If you poke around a little in Facebook--probably the best barometer of college trends that we have--you will find that at the very top of the TV shows list in the nation sits Family Guy. So long story short, Family Guy is very popular.

I have no idea why.

My argument against the show has two main points: first, the references are too obscure to be funny; and secondly (and more importantly) the insertion of the references are utterly nonsensical. Case study: one particular episode of the show that centered around "Asiantown." At first, I thought "great, ethnic jokes, that's right up my alley!" The first external reference in the show occurred when one of the characters went to a grocery store and reached for a carton of orange juice. Inexplicably, he was then in the middle of a black and white line drawn auto race. It had to be explained to me that this was a really good parody of a 1980s music video. A while later in the episode, another character (Peter) wasn't doing anything but sitting "up in the attic, reading his book." Then, Peter is shown riding on top of a pterodactyl. Again, this reference had to be explained to me--it turned out this was a depiction of Never-Ending Story.

Now, if you're an expert on 1980s-early 1990s pop culture, those are probably really funny references. I am not. And I have a problem believing that a significant portion of college students are. Given that they're not, I don't see how any college student finds as much humor in this show as most of them seem to. But if you did understand these references, then the show would be amazingly hilarious, right? I'm skeptical of that as well.

The reason why is because the insertion of all those references does not add anything to the show. They simply do not make sense. The aforementioned episode dealt with Asiantown, but neither the 80s music video reference nor the pterodactyl clip had anything at all to do with the plot of the episode. This has the unfortunate effect of making this (and in fact every) episode seem discontinuous and jarring. All of this isn't to say that the show is uniformly uninteresting: to its credit, the Asiantown episode did include an acceptably high number of ethnic jokes. The show is often amusing one minute and mind-bogglingly obscure the next, with no relational or topical tie from the generally humorous plot to the arcane reference. Therefore, with all of the interruptions and non sequntur, this show is slightly humorous at best and irritatingly disjoint at worst.

As for Halo... ah, Halo. You'd think this game were the Holy Grail and the Philosopher's Stone rolled into one. Anywhere one goes at a college (and I'd have to guess, particularly here at Tech), you can always see at least someone playing Halo. A few of my friends on my floor are particularly into it; one of them predicted "When Halo 3 comes out, GPAs at Tech are going to drop." I don't doubt this at all.

Those unfamiliar with the game are probably wondering "so what's the big deal about it?" I've played the game, and I'm wondering that too. It's a multiplayer first-person shooter in the vein of Perfect Dark and Goldeneye from the N64 glory days, but with better graphics... that's about all I can say of Halo. Seriously, I can't for the life of me figure out what all the buzz is about. Yes, it's a decent game. Yes, it can be fun to play. And yes, I think Microsoft has done a good job being the black monolith that's guiding the evolution of console video games toward online play. Besides the online capabilities, though, I don't see a great deal of innovation from Halo. Nor is there anything special about the game at all.

But the game does have its detractors. Namely, the game is way too hard to learn. First off, the controls are dismayingly complex. I guess I'm into old-school multiplayer games; take Mario Kart. In Mario Kart, there are 5 buttons plus the control stick that have an important function in the game. In Halo, you've got 9 plus two control sticks. Minor point, but it does make the game a bit overwhelming. Another factor that makes the game hard to learn is the vast number of rules that may or may not be present at any given time. Sometimes the radar works, sometimes it does not. Sometimes you can get awesome weapons, sometimes you get pistols. Sometimes players are invisible, sometimes you can fall off the level, and sometimes you can drive vehicles or shoot turrets. The worst part? Everyone who likes to play this game is already really, really good at it. Starting out, you're thrust into a level that everyone knows but you, and everyone but you is running around with some idea of how to kill people. And because everyone is so concerned with getting points for themselves, nobody is really willing to teach you.

In summary, I could learn how to play the game, but it would take a lot of effort. And because I really don't see what's so great about the game in the first place, I'm not sure that much effort would be worth it.

1 comment:

Tyrome said...

thank you for insulting the actual items themselves and not the supporters thereof. i do not feel like i am a lesser human being because i love family guy and i just happen to get all of the references and think they are funny. *shrugs* as for halo, i appreciate it. i'm no good at it, but i enjoy playing it.

seriously though. family guy, in my opinion is awesome. and you're entitled to your opinion, and thank you for being respectful about it because you could start a pretty good blood feud with something like that....or five year old jelly beans from old millie fuss's cabinet....yeah. one word "FOOD!!!" ahh that yeff.