E Lit Blog: Bots and Trope
I love everything that is weird and funny and takes people out of their comfort zone. I hate heights, yet I love roller coasters. I was never more afraid and exhilarated when I went snorkeling over a World War 2 wreck along the coast of Aruba. My fear of heights was on the reverse. I was above this thing that’s so deep and why wasn’t I falling. However, the schools of brightly colored fish of all shapes and sizes swimming by undeterred by the fat guy splashing around in a near-panic at the surface allowed me moments of joy amidst my fears of drowning. That’s pretty much the way I feel about Twitter and a host of other online content. “Bots,” Kevin’s selection offers me the weird comedic vibe that I crave. “Trope” offers me the scary. “Trope” has plenty of weird to go around as well. However, the dark screen has me looking into unknown depths. Aruba part deux.
“Bot’s,” by Rob Dubbin pulls much of its content from the Twitter-verse. I’m already flailing in the ocean at the mere mention of Twitter. I can’t even blame my generation for my lack of knowledge in using Twitter. “Bots” was a great way to explore that world without drowning in it.
The home page of the site allows readers to pop in and out of the various bots presented. Bots are, to be brief, bits of software that collect and create words and phrases from Twitter and other online sources. Sometimes the words and phrases generated make sense. Sometimes what is created makes no sense at all. That is the draw for me.
I particularly enjoyed the bot, PENTAMETRON. I love Shakespeare. I’m not obsessed by the man, but I do enjoy reading his works. Collateral damage of being an English teacher for nearly 20 years. This particular bot was created by a sound artist. Having known a few Audio Recording specialists in my life through vocational teaching, one can already assume, the young man is, “Looking for a Beat.” Upon diving into the bot, the viewer finds this to be true. PENTAMETRON searches the Twitter-verse and collects any and all tweets that happen to be written in Iambic Pentameter. “Romeo and Juliet” was written in Iambic Pentameter, as was most of Willy Shakes most memorable pieces. I must say I enjoyed swimming around in this one…when it worked. I also think this bot would be a wonder to use in a ninth grade English class to help in teaching Shakespeare’s plays and other works.
REAL HUMAN PRAISE was my next favorite selection from “Bots”. Rob Dubbin, according to his bio, is a writer and content generator for the likes of Rotten Tomatoes and The Colbert Report. This one stood out because of how it dealt with he idea of swapping names and situations between journalists and actual events. The idea of Fake News was presented on the home page. I found the approach comical and filled with satire. However, if some of the random one liners found its way to an uneducated public then perhaps some misbegotten deeds could be misbegotten. Sharks come in many shapes and sizes. Some swim and some write for news programs. Sharks scare me, because you never know where one is going to come from. Learned that in Aruba. Trope had me feeling the same way.
“Trope” starts off with some really cool sounds. I like to watch people tap dance. The sounds at the beginning reminded me of that. Or like water bubbles popping. Then, like a shark, the first narrator comes out of the pitch-black screen and says some pretty shocking things that deal with sexuality and masculinity.
The walking sounds between segments help keeps things flowing along. While I could not figure out how to get the visuals working, the eight minutes or so of audio that played reminded me a great deal of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Both the album and the video from the 1980s tell a story about someone dealing with a particularly difficult time in their life. The main, most noticeable narrator in “Trope” mentions not going to the dentist until after the apocalypse. The main character in Pink Floyd’s The Wall choses to forego any type of medical care after tough love has failed him.
The main narrator in “Trope” then goes on to say that when her teeth fall out she intends to send them to someone – minus the invoice of course. There is a scene in The Wall where the main character for some reason, shaves off his nipples. I got the same kind of creepy vibe.
The varying of music also reminded me of The Wall. During the playing of that album (just dated myself), Pink Floyd uses a variety of music genres to enhance the dark or light tones that are presented as the tale flows along. Heavier rock style songs showed anger and frustration. Soothing songs reflected times when the main character was relaxed … or sedated. “Trope,” by Sarah Waterson, Elena Knox, and Cristyn Davies employ that same technique. I loved the rendition of Muskrat Love. I loved all of the 80s music that just came swimming in. The whispering was used to drop thoughts and ideas much the way the voice tracks in The Wall helped listeners feeling what the main character was going through in his mind.
For someone who is afraid of heights, yet not afraid to put himself in those types of positions, I’m glad that some of my initial experiences with Electronic Literature began here. As I failed to mention earlier, in Aruba, I learned that as long as I had the right people with me and the right equipment on, there was no way I was going to drown. “Bots” and “Trope” helped me to swim a little better into waters I have no idea about. The mix and twist of fear and humor are just what this land lover needed to get me swimming with a bit more confidence.