Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Movie Bob: Dark Matter

There are a few people whose opinions I don't always agree with, but who otherwise represent stable pillars in a sea of undulating childishness. People who would rather wait a while to let their thoughts take form, instead of racing to be the first to say something stupid. People that I sometimes look to for guidance on certain issues I feel unprepared to deal with. People whose opinions are more valuable than mine. People like Roger Ebert, Shamus Young and Pitchfork. And people like Bob Chipman.

So what happened to Bob?

Am I the only one who notices something deeply off-putting and hostile about his work in the last year? It isn't just me, is it? I remember the first Game Overthinker episodes. I remember when he addressed his watchers with less anger in his throat, and was less a slave to a time-limit(and to his "art"). The difference in tone between then and now is night and day. There is a level of toxicity present in his newer videos that, unless I'm imagining things, were once an exception rather than the rule.

There was a time when he presented himself as being on the same level as those who watched him. Did that change, or did he just get tired of pretending to be humble? He seemed to respect his audience to keep up, to at least give him some peace of mind, even if they stuck to their ground in the end. Has he given up on everyone who lets him keep doing this?

All he asked was for his audience to come along for the ride, to listen, to consider, and hopefully to be more informed people. There was a time where he would ask: "Am I wrong about this?". Now he doesn't even ask. Now he is right, and you are wrong. Now your compliance is expected, as if you are beneath him. He once encouraged people to comment, to e-mail him. His capacity for human interaction seems to be evolving backwards. At this rate, he'll be working for Fox News by the time I'm his age.

Most blogs(see: the one you're reading right now) tend to start off when the author is younger and more bitter with the world, and the posts will focus on rants and cynicism. Whether they stay that way or not can affect the popularity of the author, as well as the content they produce later on. I made this blog to start out mostly talking about the things that irritate me. Basically a dumping ground for all of the crap.

But I like to think I'll get better as I go along. I want to think that I have nowhere to go but up if I start at the bottom. For comparison, Bob's trajectory began at lofty heights and is in a nose-dive. Seeing his fall from grace has made me see that this can't work in the long run. Dinosaur Bike has to be about more than what I don't like. I said about Extra Credits that optimism can't be the only leg a show can stand on, and I guess the opposite is true too. Cynicism means nothing without contrast. I'll try to include a wider variety of subjects, not just those that grind my gears from now on. And maybe I won't be such a downer ALL of the time.

But back to Bob: What happened? What changed since then? Well, he got attention. He achieved fans. Shamus Young once said that this guy could pretty much start his own cult if he wanted to. That was a while back. I'm not sure how many people would be willing to drink the poison kool-aid today. His followers are more frustrated and unheard than loyal, if the comments sections in his content are any indication.

He also got a few more shows. Is it possible that the workload is just getting too much for him at this point? The guy has Escape to the Movies, The Game Overthinker, The Big Picture and now American Bob. Who needs four shows? Do you have any idea how hard it is to do one of these a week? I don't, at least not from experience. But I know no one else has the compulsive need to fit in 10 programs a month. I know it involves a lot of planning and draft work we don't see, and a lot of trial and error. Maybe he needs this to fill a void in his life, I don't know. I have no idea. I don't know this man. But I know when a person is lashing out. SOMETHING is causing this, and somehow I don't think Michael Bay, Tea Partiers, Jocks or snarky internet comments are to blame. Those are just salt in the wound, but what caused the wound?

It probably doesn't help when people like me write angry, knee-jerk responses on his blog. I should not have reacted so hastily. It's becoming clear to me that this is not a matter of someone being a dick for the attention, but someone in a lot of pain. This is not how a happy person with a fulfilling life behaves, and that's coming from a guy who's been going through emotional breakdowns quite a bit over the last couple of years.

And if I am right about this, maybe people like me are just enabling him? Maybe every time we tell him he's being ridiculous and insulting, that just makes him try harder and harder to prove us wrong, or something. I don't believe he is a troll. Is he just unable to reconcile himself with the fact that people don't like his embarrassing story arcs he's been putting into his videos, without a hint of irony? Is he upset that something he worked so hard on went over so poorly? His commentary on his 50th Game Overthinker episode is like watching someone fall down a flight of stairs, and then say: "I meant to do that!". I don't know who he's trying to convince at this point, him or us, but it's about as convincing as Groucho glasses.

Maybe just my talking about it and giving it attention is just making things worse? Maybe we need to just stop giving this guy the attention for a while. Maybe he needs a time out, but he can't have that if we keep acknowledging his outbursts.

And maybe it's something that's completely out of our control. Is the current political climate taking its toll on him? Or maybe being a, as he put it: "Z-list internet celebrity" got to his head? Maybe it's something we haven't even seen. Maybe a relative died, maybe he's not getting a lot of luck with the ladies, maybe he's hit a roadblock in his life that we aren't privy to. I don't know. I don't know if he's missing something in his life, or if he was ever whole to begin with. But I can see where this guy is headed if he doesn't slow down and ask for directions.

I do know that he used to enjoy what he did. He used to care about things. This is not the impression I've gotten from any of his shows in the last six months at least. There was so much potential here. It made me angry to see him throw away all civility to take the route of lesser online personalities, like the Angry Video Game Nerd, Ben Croshaw and Jim "Milk Tumours" Sterling. People for whom this is merely a job, an obligation they must slog through, for an audience they despise. To see him act this way is maddening at first, but it gets sadder the more I think about it.

I think what Bob Chipman needs is a vacation. In the words of John Lennon: "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." And both sides, him and his audience, trying to hammer the other side until they agree isn't helping anyone.

That's why I'm not going to enable him anymore. Not for a while at least. I won't watch his videos or read or comment on his articles. Not for the rest of this summer. I don't know what else I can do for someone who clearly needs help that an audience can't provide.

We don't have a lot of heroes of games criticism. Maybe he could never be one himself. But I believe he's better than this, and it's sad to see someone I respect crash and burn. If we don't leave this guy alone for a while, to sort this stuff out for himself, and if he doesn't allow himself that temporary exile, who knows where he might end up? I'd hate to think I was partly responsible if he ends up yelling about "THE GUV'MENT" on some fringe radio station.

"[T]he aim of argument, or discussion, should not be victory, but progress."

-Joseph Joubert

(Several photos here appear courtesy of don't really subscribe to their article on him, but I can't say I don't get where they're coming from either.)



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