Entertainment That Got Me Through 2017: #12, Doki Doki Literature Club


It’s been a hard year. I saw exactly one film in theaters, my favorite albums weren’t as phenomenal as my favorites in years past, and I can’t leave my phone in my pocket for one hour without the discourse shifting to the President’s tweets, another beloved celebrity being exposed as a sexual assailant, or some other Hell. So over the next twelve days, I’ll be counting down twelve pieces of entertainment that kept me sane in 2017.

12. Doki Doki Literature Club (PC, OSX, Linux), by Dan Salvato

Though many of my favorite games are slight masterpieces in minimalism for iOS – I’m still playing Threes! on a daily basis – I was unable to find one that truly stuck with me. But the one non-blockbuster game that stuck with me this year is one that I haven’t even played.

Available for any operating system through itch.io and Steam, Doki Doki Literature Club is a natural consequence of the years-old prevailing culture on YouTube of watching other people play video games in addition to – or in more and more cases rather than – playing them yourself.

A visual novel, much of the game plays little different than the way one might flip through a book. Faced with the prospect of inhabiting an after-school literature club with four young girls, players will take responsibility to voice all four: Yuri, Monika, Sayori, and Natsuki. That might all sound soul-crushingly ordinary, but the true viewing experience escalates in seeing players experience the games many twists and turns as the game quietly abandons the pretense that it’s an ordinary dating sim.

(Note: Only watch the below video if you have no intention of experiencing the game in its entirety.)

Those twists and turns I won’t get too into here, because the way the game makes them land is pretty important to the whole experience, but it veers between gradually easing or alarmingly rushing into really heavy stuff: depression, self-harm, child abuse, and suicide.

In many ways, it reminds me of Toby Fox’s tour de force Undertale, not just for its singular vision (executed here by Dan Salvato, previously only known for working on mods for Super Smash Bros. games, including development of the popular mod Project M) or its outrageous moments, but for its uses of save files in the game’s diegesis. Anyone who found Undertale compelling should take a short tumble with Doki Doki Literature Club, particularly for its replayability: much is to be gained from poring over the girls’ poems and seeking alternate endings.

My personal favorite watch is the socially awkward Super Smash Bros. champion, Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman, playing through it. He’d later get his sister, his producer, and fellow Smash champion Justin “Plup” McGrath to join him in voicing the characters on another playthrough, but his reactions his first time around are a pleasure.

(Note: If you’re impatient, the fun stuff starts happening around three hours and forty-five minutes in, with it kicking into high gear around fifteen minutes later.)

Watching other people play video games, outside of competitive gaming, has become far more pronounced a routine for me this past year, and Doki Doki Literature Club spoke to all of the best parts of that habit.

Just watch out when you play it.


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The person falling here is me: The best of the Cranberries

Before immolating with self-importance, signaled by the release of “Zombie” in 1994, Dolores O’Riordan led a gifted dream pop whose rhythm section was hard rock tough. It put into her relief her impressive voice, one capable of unexpected and, at the band’s most strident, self-parodic ululations. But it could thicken when required. She could coo and bray. Noel Hogan wrote licks that nodded toward Johnny Marr and The Sundays’ David Gauvrin but owed much to a cluster of eighties Ameri-indie bands: the Posies, Smithereens, late Replacements, like that. Examined as a historical moment, the Cranberries’ breakout should not have happened but for this confluence of circumstances, helped mightily by Island Records’ promotional staff. Bet that U2 dough helped. Continue reading

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Worst Songs Ever: Paul Anka’s “(You’re) Having My Baby”

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.

Paul Anka’s (You’re) Having My Baby
PEAK CHART POSITION: #1 in August 1974

It begins with acoustic guitar before the flutes that recall Elton John’s “Daniel” emerge, like a tray of Lobster Thermidor, from the galley, unmistakeable. His Highness enters his royal chambers. “I can see it/Your face is glowing,” he sings, in a voice that sounds as if he’s giving birth to the baby through his larynx. The “it” is, presumably, the satisfaction of a woman who knows she’s pregnant because His Majesty wanted her knocked up, her labor preserving the line of succession. But His Majesty is generous. He allows Odia Coates, the herald of his beneficence, to affirm her pride. “I’m a woman in love,” she reassures him, like a victim of an ideological purge forced to acknowledge her sins.

A teen idol and songwriter who can claim “Summer’s Gone” and The Tonight Show theme as credits, Paul Anka enjoyed the early seventies success that kissed Frankie Valli, Neil Sedaka, and other pre-rock favorites who had to court The Tonight Show‘s market share despite being in their thirties. Listening to “(You’re) Having My Baby” is a queasy experience, akin to digesting the parentheses around the subject-linking verb; the “you” is an afterthought, a peripheral worry. No thoughts of women’s lib trouble Anka’s nights. Throughout there is a sense in which he has never known a moment when women weren’t supposed to exist to have their husband’s children. A few years earlier Crosby Stills Nash & Young mewled about triads. But 1974, the year when, in the counterculture’s last and fullest triumph, Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency, the #1 singles represented a dispiriting retrenchment: Grand Funk with a Little Eva song; Ringo Starr taking it back to the Eisenhower administration; John Denver immortalized sunshine with a hit of staggering immobility. As for good guys, Cher and Elton John brought the queerness, in every sense of the word; George McCrae, Barry White, and the Hues Corporation brought proto-disco lightness; Billy Swan was in his own world; otherwise, dat’s dat.

With “(You’re) Having My Baby,” we’re back to nicotine-stained shag carpets and foodstuffs suggested by Campbell’s Soup recipes: living as if the troublesome parts of the sixties legacy didn’t exist yet accepting some of the new freedoms. In Paul Anka’s case, this meant affirming his right to name an heir after persuading his lover not to take that birth control pill, which, if you belonged to the generation over thirty in 1974 was some kind of triumph.

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Martin Luther King and white men in power

At one of the memorial services in Central Park after the murder, a radical speaker shouted, “You have killed the last good nigger!” This posturing exclamation was not meant to dishonor King, but to speak of his kind as something gone by, its season over. And perhaps so. The inclination of white leaders to characterize everything unpleasant to themselves in black response to American conditions as a desecration of King’s memory was a sordid footnote to what they had named “the redemptive moment.”

–Elizabeth Hardwick, “The Apotheosis of Martin Luther King”

In this country we are taught history so ineptly that it amounts to a conspiracy against the student: a deliberate effort, on which school districts spend millions, to obfuscate and suppress for the sake of a meretricious idea of progress. To believe in progress means abjuring a sense of being implicated in the data and names we ask our children to memorize. Although we teach the Civil War and Japanese internment camps, their remoteness from us renders them as significant as the crowning of Charlemagne. One of the many conclusions we can draw from these phenomena is that we understand how white men, trembling at the thought of losing power, respond to the fullest extent of their authority.

The fates of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, James Baldwin wrote in a 1972 meditation on King’s funeral, was sealed “the moment they attempted to release the black American struggle from the domestic context and relate it to the struggles of the poor and the nonwhite all over the world.”

To hold this view, it is not necessary to see CIA infiltrators in, or under, every black or dissenting bed: one need merely consider what the successful promulgation of this point of view would mean for American authority in the world. Slaveholders do not allow their slaves to compare notes: American slavery, until this hour, prevents any meaningful dialogue between the poor white and the black, in order to prevent the poor white from recognizing that he, too, is a slave. The contempt with which American leaders treat American blacks is very obvious; what is not so obvious is that they treat the bulk of the American people with the very same contempt. But it will be sub-zero weather in a very distant August when the American people find the guts to recognize this fact. They will recognize it only when they have exhausted every conceivable means of avoiding it.

We best honor the memory of King by treating our fellow men and women with kindness and with the curiosity of meeting fellow citizens whose cultural, racial, and sexual differences are as stark as those separating a cat from a mollusk, and by recognizing that the differences should fascinate and draw the best from us. We’re all the same, the cliche goes. No — we’re all different. Self-recognition is hard.

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They disorganized my people, made us all loners: The most powerful civil rights protest anthems

A decade ago, home by midnight and out of my head, I heard on the local NPR affiliate what quite obviously sounded like John Coltrane’s sax. The exquisiteness with which he purports to expire at the end of a crucial bar just after the four-minute mark but return with renewed vigor destroyed me; always with Coltrane this separate peace between terseness and the rococo. Elvin Jones’ drums landed at the right spots: periods at the end of fiery sentences. This was “Alabama,” I learned later. When I considered this playlist I wanted what has become one of my essential pieces of music — desert island, if you will — topping it.

As the imminence of my own minority statutes grows and mixes with an awareness of death, the songs below fail to keep at an aesthetic, not to mention temporal, distance the achievements of the man whom we commemorate tomorrow. In 2018 I live these songs.

I included a few chestnuts for the sake of historical continuity and stopped with Joey Badas$’ “Land of the Free,” which I disliked last April but now has accrued the weight of an tattered prophecy.

1. John Coltrane – Alabama
2. The Neville Brothers – Sister Rosa
3. Sly and the Family Stone – Don’t Call Me Nigga, Whitey
4. Mavis Staples – We Shall Not Be Moved
5. The Impressions – People Get Ready
6. A Tribe Called Quest – We the People
7. Sam Cooke – A Change Gonna Come
8. Public Enemy – By The Time I Get To Arizona
9. Merle Haggard – Irma Jackson
10. The Chi-Lites – (For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People
11. Aretha Franklin – Young, Gifted and Black
12. Donna Hathaway – To Be Young, Gifted And Black
13. James Brown – Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud
14. The Roots – Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round
15. The Staple Singers – Respect Yourself
16. Martha and the Vandellas – Dancing in the Street
17. D’Angelo and the Vanguard – The Charade
18. Kendrick Lamar – Alright
19. M.I.A. – Born Free
20. Lil Wayne – Georgia… Bush
21. Dead Prez – Police State
22. Joey Bada$$ – Land of the Free
23. Killer Mike – Reagan
24. Lupe Fiasco – Words I Never Said
25. Beyonce – Formation

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Singles 1/12

Three weeks’ hiatus and The Singles Jukebox returns, barely catching its breath as it breezed through a trio of Cardi B offerings and a trio of boring UK crooners. A fourth, responsible for 2017’s most streamed song, collaborates with one Marshall Mathers. 2018’s first award for I Underrated This Song goes to twenty-two-year-old singer-guitarist Nilufer Yanya; “Baby Luv” has the rough-hewn charm of a demo.

Cardi B ft. 21 Savage – Bartier Cardi (7)
Nilufer Yanya – Baby Luv (6)
BTS – Mic Drop (Steve Aoki remix) (6)
IAMDDB – Trophy (6)
Rex Orange County – Loving Is Easy (5)
Sam Fender – Greasy Spoon (5)
Bruno Mars ft. Cardi B – Finesse (Remix) (5)
Justin Timberlake – Filthy (4)
Superorganism – Something for Your M.I.N.D. (4)
Eminem ft. Ed Sheeran – River (4)
Ozuna ft. Cardi B – La Modelo (3)
Lewis Capaldi – Mercy (3)
Tom Walker – Leave a Light On (3)

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I was a humdrum person: the best of Frank Sinatra

Imagine a Francis Albert Sinatra less confidently masculine. Imagine, say, Francesca Alberta Sinatra, or, better, Frank performing in drag, or, better yet, Frank as Dean Stockwell in Blue Velvet. The voice, described as a clenched fist, now with its fingers loosening, loosening; it cradles sibilants insolently, treats long vowels with contempt.

For the so-called punchy numbers at any rate — but you can’t punch without a fist, no? The ballads, as forlorn as war footage, require no camp. I discovered Sinatra on his death, “In the Wee Small Hours” in particular, in which Sinatra plays subject and object (“You’d be hers if only she would call”) and went from there (Entertainment Weekly published a most useful album guide after his death; still don’t own Frank Sinatra Conducts Tone Poems of Color). And I wouldn’t change a thing about the way in which he rumbles into nothingness at the close of “A Cottage for Sale.” I couldn’t ignore some standards, so I hope placing She Shot Me Down‘s “A Long Night” beside “Angel Eyes” and “I’m a Fool to Want You” re-contexualizes things. Dipping into the Columbia years will be one of my spring projects.

This list could be a hundred strong.

1. One For My Baby (And One for the Road)
2. I’ve Got You Under My Skin
3. Too Marvelous for Words
4. Come Fly With Me
5. Angel Eyes
6. A Long Night
7. I’m a Fool to Want You
8. Hey Look, No Cryin’
9. The Nearness of You
10. Old Devil Moon
11. A Cottage for Sale
12. In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning
13. It Was a Very Good Year
14. You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To
15. What Is This Thing Called Love?
16. I Get Along Without You Very Well
17. Fly Me to the Moon
18. When No One Cares
19. Night and Day
20. You Make Me Feel So Young
21. Young at Heart
22. What’s New?
23. Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars
24. Why Try to Change Me Now
25. That’s Life

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The peril of cable news misogynists

As we inch toward another presidential campaign in which the odds are even that several Democratic finalists for the nomination will be a woman, a woman of color, or both, Scott Lemieux worries about the presence of media misogyny, despite the exit of several notorious figures:

Mark Halperin was an early and highly influential Trump adopter, as well as someone who was on America’s “liberal” news network on a constant basis. It was apparently known by virtually everybody at NBC that Matt Lauer was a massive sexist asshole (not to mention, in an important and related point, a featherweight whose knowledge of public policy appears to be somewhere between Donald Trump’s and the NBC peacock’s) when he was sent onstage to badger Hillary Clinton about inane trivia before tossing softballs to his asshole misogynist buddy Donald Trump. And so on and so on and so on. Given that Democrats can’t and won’t stop running women for high office, this is a very serious problem and a big part of the story of how we ended up with President Trump.

Expect Kamala Harris or Kirsten Gillibrand to get The Treatment in eighteen months, especially if the Democrats pick up seats in the midterm elections as expected.

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Worst Songs Ever: Aerosmith’s “Angel”

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.

Aerosmith’s “Angel”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #3 in May 1988.

I suppose Aerosmith deserved the hit. After the tentative minor triumph of Done with Mirrors did middling business in 1985, the Boston band sought the input of Desmond Child, that midwife of countless pop hits, for whom anonymity is his lode star. Thus, “Angel” was born, and, sad to say, it was Young Soto’s intro to Aerosmith, and it worked — “Angel” was no different from Poison’s “I Won’t Forget You,” Bon Jovi’s “Never Say Goodbye,” and Whitesnake’s “Is This Love.” As a middle schooler who knew about Aerosmith as the band involved with the Run DMC cover of “Walk This Way,” it was a, ah, a different Aerosomith. Permanent Vacation feels like a tentative toe in the water, an attempt at a mainstream hit that they could no longer score with their own songwriting. Strings signify seriousness of intent, even when mellotrons trigger them. Continue reading

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The best of 1931

Until the moment I published, William Wellman’s Night Nurse made the list.

1. M (Fritz Lang)
2. City Lights (Charlie Chaplin)
3. Tabu (F.W. Murnau/Robert Flaherty)
4. La Chienne (Jean Renoir)
5. The Miracle Woman (Frank Capra)
6. Frankenstein (James Whale)
7. The Public Enemy (William Wellman)
8. Platinum Blonde (Frank Capra)
9. Le Million (René Clair)
10. Bad Girl (Frank Borzage)

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Donald Trump, governing by narrowcasting

A few conclusions drawn from Trump’s Latest Remarks Pt. LVII:

1. Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Mexicans as rapists and murderers. Judge Curriel’s inability to render a fair decision. The good people on both sides of the Charlottesville protests. These are things he has said, irrespective of the presence of Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller.

2. As an example of base narrowcasting, or directing (if we can call this “governing” in any normal sense of the word) remarks and policy to the thirty-five percent of the electorate that sticks with him, Donald Trump surpasses Richard Nixon.

3. Hours before Trump’s remarks leaked, POLITICO published another article explaining why rural whites are racists voting for Republicans who deny them health care yet Democrats need them because “big tent.” I wonder if the Democrats interviewed in Michael Kruse will stand by what they said on the record.

4. “In his usual blunt way,” Jeremy Carl writes in National Review, “Trump cut to the core of the debate. As he’s said time and time again, the correct gauge of our immigration policy is what is best for actual American citizens—we’re running the greatest nation in the world, not the greenroom for Oprah’s next sob-story special.” I’ve seen towns in Florida as or more squalid than what Donald Trump imagines these undesirable immigrants flee; likewise Norwegians aren’t exactly coming in droves (NBC 6 Miami claimed just over three hundred Norwegians lived in South Florida; I wish I could find a link). Finally, do your research on the Center for Immigration Studies.

5. Also present at the White House meeting where Trump demonstrated his charm and generosity: Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; Representative Kevin McCarthy; Senator David Perdue of Georgia; Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas; and Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginian. Senator Dick Durbin, the only Democrat presented, is presumed to have leaked. The others have yet to comment.

6. “I want to be your greatest champion,” Donald Trump told Haitian Americans in September 2016.

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The best songs by teenagers

Interested as usual in keeping myself awake, my list includes songs I love recorded by performers in their teenage years. I took “teen pop” literally, not as shorthand for assembly line pop largely written and arranged by adults for teenage acts, although, of course, Korea and Japan have produced many latter-day triumphs that wreck havoc with categorization. All these tracks were singles except for the One Direction track — this quintet recorded album tracks superior to its singles, and “No Control” has a hysteria that I expect from hormones and illegal beer mixing in peculiar ways.

1. Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights
2. Debbie Gibson – Out of the Blue
3. Tiffany – I Think We’re Alone Now
4. New Kids on the Block – Step by Step
5. One Direction – No Control
6. OutKast – Player’s Ball
7. Color Me Badd – All 4 Love
8. BTS – I Need You
9. Earl Sweatshirt – Earl
10. 3T – Anything
11. Taylor Swift – Hey Stephen
12. Leslie Gore – You Don’t Own Me
13. Corina – Temptation
14. New Edition – Cool It Now
15. Debarge – All This Love
16. Tracie Spencer – This House
17. Backstreet Boys – Quit Playing Games (with My Heart)
18. Brockhampton – Junky
19. Jonas Brothers – Pom Poms
20. Foxy Brown – I Shot Ya (Remix)
21. Take That – Back For Good
22. Bay City Rollers – Saturday Night
23. Britney Spears – Oops!… I Did It Again
24. LL Cool J – Rock the Bells
25. Usher – You Make Me Wanna…
26. Miley Cyrus – Party in the USA
27. Christina Aguilera – What a Girl Wants
28. Tevin Campbell – Round and Round
29. Paramore – Misery Business
30. Ricky Nelson – Travelin’ Man
31. N Sync – Bye Bye Bye
32. Andy Gibb – I Just Want to Be Your Everything
33. Stevie Wonder – Uptight (Everything’s Alright)
34. The Jackson 5 – ABC
35. The Undertones – Teenage Kicks
36. Dizzee Rascal – Fix Up, Look Sharp
37. Kriss Kross – Jump
38. Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers – Why Do Fools Fall in Love
39. Roxanne Shante – Roxanne’s Revenge
40. The Slits – Typical Girls

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