Consume

Let’s do this. I have been mulling this over long enough I probably missed the window of relevance. I blame having a day job.

The FSF encourages people to not use the word consumer. By and large, I agree with this. Interacting with something means you are not just consuming it, you are understanding or interpreting it. Generally, I view listening to music or watching movies or reading books as consumption. Even though you are interacting with it on some internal level, you take it in and you don’t necessarily put it out (changed or otherwise). However, I see people moving away from that. They are implicitly, or explicitly, taking part in the creation of a work–or the world of the work–through design or serendipity.

Which brings me to the Protomen. And The Hunger Games.

By and large, fans of The Hunger Games and the Protomen are missing the point.

The Protomen are a group of musicians with stage names, costumes, and makeup who have created and perform a rock opera based on the Megaman games.

A photo  of two members of the Protomen at a concernet

The Protomen in 2008. Photo courtesy of millermz on Flickr. CC-BY

At the heart of the Megaman story, especially the Protomen’s version of it, are individuals who become tools that are used by both the oppressive society in which they live and those wishing to rebel against the society.

The Hunger Games is a book (and a trilogy) by Suzanne Collins as well as a very popular movie.

A photo of the three books in the Hunger Games trilogy

Photo courtesy of michi003 on Flickr. CC-BY.

At the heart of the Hunger Games are individuals who become tools that are used by both the oppressive society in which they live and those wishing to rebel against the society.

While nearly all the details of these two stories are different, they’re both about going against oppression and attempting to bring about the downfall of totalitarian regimes.

Both the Protomen and The Hunger Games have very devoted fans. Crazy devoted fans. These fans participate in their respective works rather than just consuming them. And the creators encourage this.

During my five face-to-face minutes with the Protomen, I asked about audience participation. Bakker told me about performing Act 1.

Towards the end of Act 1, Protoman and Megaman face off against each other. Protoman explains that while he had been created to save man, he decided man wasn’t worth saving. To prove this, he addresses the crowd:

Tell me now. Is there a man among you here?
Is there no one who will stand up and try to fight?
Tell me Man, is there not one in all your ranks? Is there not one who values courage over life?

And no one moves. The audience, Bakker explained to me, is watching the show and doesn’t want to ruin it. Through this they are creating the story. No one comes forward. No one will fight.

After getting over my desire to hug him and ask him to be my friend, I recognized that even knowing this, I wouldn’t break the show by standing beside Megaman. In general, the audience members are encouraged to participate. It’s even called for. The crowd has lines and the audience is excited to shout them. They demand the heroes’ deaths, they call for their heads. They ask to be saved. They chant the propaganda of Dr. Wiley. They declare themselves the dead. The audience is shown to clap, to raise their arms in the air. The show even begins with the audience being called to arms, again and again until they are hoarse from declaring their allegiance, before the music even starts. They are also discouraged from participating in non-sanctioned ways. If they clap at the wrong time, the Protomen make motions for the audience to stop. The band is directing the interaction of the audience with the show.

The audience is missing the point.

They are willingly, happily, becoming those oppressed by the society by taking part in it.

A photo of the Protomen playing at PAX Prime, 2010.

The Protomen in 2010. Photo courtesy of Technomancy on Flickr. CC-BY-SA

The Hunger Games is a book. I am not going to talk about the book. I am going to talk about the movie because, let’s be honest, the way the audience is called to participate in a book is hugely different than the audience being called to participate in a movie.

A photo of a mock Panem ID card from District 2.

I couldn't find a matching Protomen compatibly licensed Protomen photo, but they exist. Courtesy of Sarah_Ackerman on Flickr. CC-BY

My favorite example is Capitol Couture, a website with a .pn (for Panem, I assume). This calls for people to participate in the same Capitol culture condemned in the books. And people happily do so. They compete in contests of design and styling. They buy and wear shirts matching those participants in the Games wear (in the movie). They support their favorite contenders through stickers and shirts and declarations. They write fan fiction, bringing back the Games, creating new characters to participate in it, and torturing the old onces. I can’t tell you how many status updates of “May the odds be ever in your favor” I saw when the movie came out. Dear gods.

The audience is missing the point.

They are willingly, happily, becoming those oppressed by the society by taking part in it.

A photo of many people waiting in the rain to meet the actors in The Hunger Games.

People waiting to meet actors from The Hunger Games. Photo courtesy of R. B. Boyer on Flickr. CC-BY-SA

That’s really the worst part is that participating is not only easy, it’s fun. With the Protomen, it’s fun to be part of the crowd. It’s easy to get swept up in the emotion and the calls and your role. It’s easy to enjoy it. In The Hunger Games (movie), it’s really easy to get caught up in the glamor and style of the Capitol. You find yourself caring about the Games as a citizen of the Capitol watching in on TV would. You root for your favorites, you enjoy the spectacle, and you are manipulated just as they are.

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Cool

Tonight I am going to see the Protomen. Sure, I Fight Dragons and Br1ght Pr1mate are also playing, but let’s be honest, I’m going to see the Protomen. I once started writing a post about seeing them at PAX East 2011, but I could never bring myself to finish it. Mere words could not express how much I loved the show.

Mere words cannot express the unnatural, unfamiliar, bordering-on-mad lust I have for music of the Protomen. I don’t know why, but they make me shake and weak in the knees. They make me want to scream and shout and melt and grab the person nearest to me to hold me up. They make me feel like I did when I was in high school and wanted to be cool.

When I was younger, I tried to look cool. In fact, when I was younger I think I looked pretty cool. Sure, I spent part of my teenage years decked out in cutoffs and t-shirts. I also spent part of my teenage years like some cross-breed between a lazy person uncomfortable with their body, someone trying to look like a punk, and an unmitigated nerd.

I looked cool in my combat boots and fluffy skirts, my suit jackets and tight army-navy pants. My plaid shirts and clashing plaid skirts. I wore my dad’s leather police jacket. I had large, square black plastic glasses. I had great, uneven haircuts, brightly dyed, and often faded, hair, chipped nail polish, bracelets, rings, and necklaces. I had braces with the brightest pink bands the dentist could find.

Then I gained a lot of weight, stopped caring, and retreated into a sad little self-punishing world of wearing oversized t-shirts, size-twenty jeans, and unflattering short hair styles I didn’t need to comb.

Those were dark days. No one makes affordable, cool plus sized clothing. When you have no money, you can’t afford the nicer things, but even those weren’t my style. I looked awful in anything I tried on. I’d been chubby all my life, but at a size ten it was manageable. I could still be cool. After I got puffy, when nothing fit anymore, the mere mention of clothes shopping would send me to near tears. I refused to go with anyone else, for the most part, because I wanted to hide my shame.

I got older, and lost some of that weight. I’m still pretty puffy, but less puffy than I had been. I’ve reattempted “looking cool” at different times. At parties or, most notably, concerts I’d wear one of my three or four shirts that aren’t totally lame and try to convince myself that I was as stylish as I remember being. I know I’m not, or at least I think I’m not. I think I look awkward and funny. I think things don’t fit. I still get upset when I go clothes shopping, but it’s not as bad as it used to be.

The last time I saw the Protomen, I wore a purple sweater and purple leggings, a blue shirt with penguins on it, a short green skirt, and blue chucks. A little nerdy, a little cute. It wasn’t ideal, but it was enough to convince myself I was trying. I don’t know why I was trying, who I was trying to impress or show I was cool, but I was doing it anyway.

This morning, I thought about my day. Work, class, and then the show. Regardless of what I do, I will be sweaty and smell a little off by the time I get to the Middle East. I didn’t want to haul with me, on top of my gym clothes, another outfit. My bag is already not small and pretty full. I have no clue what I’ll do with it tonight. More things inside of it would be even worse.

Still half-asleep, I looked at my clean clothes, quickly assessed that it is still the case that none of my pants fit, that I still look funny in the shirts I have, and that none of the even remotely unlame ones are clean or appropriate for my somewhat respectable office job. I pulled on one pair of ill fitting jeans, a soft shirt, and my sweater. I looked at myself in the mirror and acknowledged that I wasn’t cool at all.

Then I realized that was okay.

Just like that I let go of wanting to look cool. At least for tonight, I am okay being the dork at the show. No one is going to care what I look like, and I’m going to be too tired (and too sore) to give a damn anyway. My hair will be a mess. I will step on the bottoms of my pants. I will have an obnoxiously bright yellow jacket tied around my waist. I won’t look cool and I won’t care.

(Although, I still hold out hope that Raul will meet me after the show, fall madly in love with me, and talk to me every night in his wonderful, wonderful voice.)