Thursday, January 30, 2014

Book Review: “Class” by Paul Fussell (1982)

The scathing indictment of America’s unspoken social strata remains just as relevant -- and biting -- as it did three decades ago. 

In America, class structure remains our ultimate taboo. Whereas we can talk about racial, gender and ethnic disparities and prejudices until we are collectively blue in the face, the topic, and even the idea, of a rigid social stratification system in the U.S. remains a discouraged subject of discourse.

The beauty of Paul Fussell’s “Class: A Guide Through the American Social System” is its willingness to state the apparent: that we, as Americans, live in a cultural system that, for better or worse, makes sure individuals remain in the same socioeconomic conditions they were born into. Despite being a 32-year-old tome, Fussell’s biting analysis of U.S. class structures remains astonishingly relevant; at times caustically humorous and at other times depressingly frank, it’s among the best primers (and indictments) I’ve ever read about the U.S. social system.

The crux of Fussell’s argument is that America, at least after the stagflation crisis of the late 1970s, had transformed into a nine-tiered caste system. At the top were out of sight old money inheritors, whom spend most of their lives in bubbles of self-selected ignorance (and also, as the author suggests, to ward off pesky expose journalists and grant seekers.) Just below them are the upper class, which consists primarily of individuals whose personal wealth is partly due to their lineage, and in part due to their own lines of work -- which, as Fussell explains, is accessible to them mostly because of their lineage. Whereas the mega-elitists live in the shadows, the author describes the uppers as “ostentatiously visible” public figures, the likes that run banks, head foundations and serve as chairs of think tanks. Beneath them are the upper middle class types, who have mostly earned their own keep. These are the kinds of people that make their fortune through law, medicine, oil real estate and shipping. A key characteristic of this class, he said, was a profound “inattentiveness to ideas,” and a marked aversion to lower class culture: as such, don’t expect to find people of the like frequenting areas with high bowling alley or religious fundamentalist penetration.

The middle class, he said, is a group of individuals in a constant “status panic,” professionals like geologists, programmers, engineers and marketers, whom are obsessed with “correctness” and perpetually fear losing their jobs. Beneath them are the high prole, described by the author as a “socially-demoted mass,” with a fundamental lack of occupational freedom or self-respect. As skilled workers, their utmost fear, Fussell states, is the loss of social status -- in short, slipping from high prole to even lower prole.

The mid-prole, the author said, are generally operators whom are under ceaseless supervision from higher-ups. Job insecurity, Fussell said, absolutely commands them. The low prole, designated as unskilled laborers, live in a state of social isolation -- their great fear, Fussell said, is sinking from lower class status to absolute poverty. The lowest in the caste system, Fussell argues, are the destitute -- the homeless and migrant workers -- and the institutionalized; those in prison and mental hospitals, primarily.

Peculiarly, one may examine Fussell as something of a mixture of the  upper and the middle class himself; the son of a corporate L.A. lawyer, he wound up fighting in World War II and attending the less-than-prestigious Pomona College before garnering a PhD from Harvard. As a globe-hopping literature teacher, perhaps the best way to describe the acerbic Fussell is an upper-class, reluctant “elitist” by way of middle class toil. Although he harps on the lower classes for the not-so-eloquent tastes, he’s actually most condemnatory of the middle classes, describing their rank as a generally contemptible gaggle of perpetually nervous and irredeemable pseudo-intellectuals.

The bulk of Fussell’s book is combing over the obvious differences in class speech, behavior and appearance -- in essence, imagine “The New Yorker” attempting to church up Jeff Foxworthy’s sundry writings, and you pretty much have the author’s prose right under your nose. He is most critical of what he calls a palpable “prole drift” within the culture, a reference to the general “dumbing down” of then-contemporary social artifacts. Sweetened beers, brick-box style housing, self-service gas stations, the difficulty of requesting special orders at big book chains and the emergence of belt buckle ads in the New York Times, the author suggests, are all indications of the country's slow decline into a general mid-to-low prole level of sophistication. Not that he's really championing the middle and upper classes, by any means, as in the very next chapter, he's chiding the higher classes for their unnecessary use of "mock profanities" and multi-syllabic responses as a means of sounding ritzier than they actually are.

The two most interesting segments of the book, however, involve the author’s condemnation of higher education (whose veneration and class-raising mechanics, he argues, is about as close as America gets to unconstitutional “titles of nobility”) and his adulation of a new “classless creative class,” which he simply refers to as “X” (hence, the namesake “Generation X,” according to some clearly unbiased sorts.)

Regarding college, Fussell said that during the Kennedy and LBJ years, a somewhat manufactured “boom” in post-high-school education enrollment has resulted in a glut of “qualified” personnel who, in his eyes, aren’t really “qualified.” He goes on to say that only about 13 percent of the 43 percent of Americans with any kind of post-high-school education received a true “college education” (imagine that -- elitism from an Ivy leaguer!), rendering diplomas from places like Seton Hall relatively meaningless. Using some fuzzy numbers on loan from some other researchers, he estimates that (with debt factored in, I am assuming), the overall wage increase that stems from a college education for the other 33 percent is hardly any larger than it is for those that never went to college in the first place.

It is perhaps Fussell’s lionization of the Reagan-era Bohemians -- which, as he describes them, sound nearly indistinguishable from today’s culturally motionless hipsters, right down to their bizarre proclivities for Schadenfreude humor -- that is the most querulous aspect of “Class.” In the hands of these self-aware, “nearly broke, but fuck you, I have a college degree” artistes, Fussell believes America has it saving grace -- an entire substrata of individuals whose prole proclivities, in conjunction with their upper-middle knowledge bases, can provide the nation its only feasible outlet for a trans-class cultural renaissance. Well, seeing as how things played out in the 1990s and 2000s -- and Fussell himself is still too dead to pony up to his ill-advised predictions -- I suppose there’s precious little to comment about there. The finale of the book is an itemized list of household belongings, which Fussell considers a “cheat sheet” to determine your official class ranking, as well as a few pages of reader questions -- it’s funny, to some degree, but at the same time, rather superfluous. Hey, you gotta’ find some reason to charge extra money for the reprint edition, I reckon.

Needless to say, if you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of class prejudices and the ills of social stratification, you’re not going to find much here. Fussell’s book is merely an aesthetic glimpse at the nature of stratification in U.S. society, which, at times, delves into the psychology of the masses. Michael Harrington, this Fussell chap clearly doesn’t intend on imitating.

After reading “Class,” I have to wonder if the author’s same classifications hold true in a post-recession economy. Whereas Fussell’s America was a nine-class system at the time of the book’s initial publication, the U.S. today seems a little less fluid in terms of class delineations. Yes, the super-rich and the rich continue to exist, as do the impoverished and the unfathomably impoverished, but it’s the middle class described by Fussell -- consisting of the upper middle, the middle, and the high and medium prole -- that perhaps can be consolidated. The middle and upper middle, I would argue, could better be described as a “surviving class” in 2014, whereas the high and medium prole I would consider an “endangered class.” The wealthy we could just describe as “thriving,” where the low proles would be considered “near-extinct.”

Alas, Fussell’s book -- while mildly outdated -- is still an intriguing read, and one with arguments that are quite hard to refute. I really liked the general dispassion of the author; it would be so easy for a book about the U.S. caste system to deteriorate into a long-winded rant about social inequality and institutional prejudices, but Fussell, admirably, keeps things pretty level-headed throughout -- his obvious disdain of the middles and his abhorrence of low prole kitsch notwithstanding, of course. If you’re sweet on the idea of an analytical -- yet agenda-free -- assessment of the American social order, “Class” is a seminal offering that, despite its sardonic humor, remains fairly descriptive and thorough in its accounts of what makes the U.S. strata the organelle it is.

Just don’t be pissed off when, upon finishing the tract, you realize that you, yourself, might just be a few rungs lower on the national pecking order than you’d prefer.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Krave S'mores Cereal Review!

Kellogg's long-awaited third entry in the "Krave" brand family has arrived...and it's, in a word, "freakin' delicious." 

Nearly two years ago, I reviewed Kellogg's (then) brand new double-shot of breakfast cereals: Krave Chocolate (which tasted like chocolate, despite having an exterior shell that looked like your standard Shredded Wheat chunks) and Krave Double Chocolate, which was both your traditional coal-block chocolate hue AND your standard hyper-sugary choco-offering. I enjoyed both, for the most part, and like everybody else in America, I have been impatiently waiting for Kellogg's to release a third member for the Krave IP family. While I was hoping for something extra ridiculous (a "Triple Chocolate" variation, perhaps?), the tertiary variation the company actually did trot out is something way more amazing than anything I could've dreamed up: ladies and gentlemen, I give you...Krave S'MORES.

Periodically, I will get comments and e-mails from folks asking me if the stuff I say on this blog is what I actually think, in real life. While I will continue to make you guess as to my true inclinations regarding everything else on this site, I want this to be unmistakable: Krave S'mores is one of the most delicious things I have ever put in my mouth, and I'm 100 percent sincere when I say it's already one of the greatest breakfast cereals of all time. This stuff isn't just an excellent addendum to the brand, it's an absolute masterpiece of cereal-engineering.

The back packaging of the box tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the target audience of the product. Whereas most cereals have puzzles and cut-out masks and mail-in information for novelty premiums that generally take half a year to arrive at your house, the Krave S'mores product art is something of a pastiche of your celebrity-obsessed rags -- clearly, not the kind of stuff most eight-year-olds would really be into. Even the CGI-like design of the anti-mascots (a chocolate bar that may or may not be Hershey's and a lightly toasted marshmallow) seem to reek of a certain adult sensibility -- and the inclusion of the founding Krave cereal bits as hyper-jealous paparazzi (why most co-branded cereals ALWAYS rely upon the intra-family rivalry gimmick, anyway?) is just the hypothetical icing atop the purely metaphorical cake here.

The cereal bits themselves aren't the most impressive specimens in the world -- they look just like your regular Krave chunks, after all -- but that's not necessarily a negative. I mean, why monkey around with an already proven formula for success? Furthermore, I have to give Kellogg's proper dap for the vacuum sealed plastic pouch the contents are shipped in. That stuff felt futuristic and sturdy as shit, folks.

As this cereal biopsy clearly shows, the guts of the new cereal consist of a gooey paste that, as the product name implies, would appear to be one part melted chocolate bar goo and one point silver streak of marshmallow paste. The internal gunk doesn't really have a distinct smell, per se, but the overall product definitely has an aroma altogether different than its fore-bearers.

More than anything, I would say the product exudes something of a vanilla aroma -- which, really, is a scent/flavor/texture that you would think a lot more cereal producers would want to imitate, but whatever. There's definitely a nice crunch to the cereal chunks (a harder feat for cereal engineers to accomplish than it appears), but ultimately, it's the taste and texture of the product that really puts this thing over the top. Imagine that...the FLAVOR of a cereal being its utmost selling point. 

Describing the overall taste of Krave S'mores is a bit difficult, because depending on how much marshmallow paste is in an individual chunk, the overall flavor of the cereal varies from almost peanut-butter-tasting (comparable to the Reese's cereal, I would say) to almost white chocolate-ish. I don't think I've ever eaten a cereal that had the same general taste as this one, and that is most certainly a positive. As difficult as it may be to explain how the food feels, this much, I can assure you: it tastes quite goddamn great.

Of course, with an ample serving of your favorite milk-like solute (I opted for off-brand soy myself), an already delicious product becomes even more incredible. I may be prone to hyperbole every now and then, but I can state -- with nary a sarcastic molecule in my body -- that Krave S'mores is one of the best cereals I have ever tasted. The greatness of the cereal is so hard to put into words, but then again, cereal is for eatin' and not deconstructin', I suppose.

So, just how good is this stuff, you may be asking? Well, I popped open a fresh box on a Saturday morning, and by late evening, the entire cardboard box was just a collection of beige dust. That's right, it was so darned tasty that I ate an entire package over the course of about six or eight hours. And I promise you, I wasn't high on anything at the time...

...well, except for the natural high that can only come about via eating large quantities of a delectable, new-wave breakfast cereal, anyway.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Gayniggers from Outer Space!

A bizarre beyond words Scandinavian spoof about a race of black extra-terrestrials who want to rid planet Earth of all its female occupants. Sound offensive? Well…kinda’, but it’s also a really fun and deliciously campy short film unlike anything you’ve probably ever seen. 

NOTE: Although I really shouldn't have to say this -- at all -- we here at THE INTERNET IS IN AMERICA in no, way, shape or form encourage or promote racism or homophobia in any of its vile incarnations. All usages of terms classically defined as racial or sexual slurs in this article are used within the diagetic context of the film; that said, reader discretion, obviously, is advised from here on out. -- Thx, Mgmt. 

When I was in my early teens, I received this thing in the mail called the Video Screams catalog. I ordered it through the back pages of Fangoria, and it was, in every sense of the word, awesome. Every couple of months, I would get these updated mini-catalogs, informing me of all of the weird-ass, out-of-print VHS tapes they had recently unearthed. Their offerings were mostly horror-related (remember, this was back when finding even a copy of “The Evil Dead” on video was a difficult task), but they also specialized in all sorts of bizarre delights -- sci-fi, obscure westerns, post-apocalyptic nonsense, even a couple of rare concert videos. Hell, I even remember them offering the original episodes of “Pokemon” that gave Japanese kids seizures on one flier -- in a pre-pre-YouTube universe, this was pretty much the only way to encounter the weirder pop-culture elements out there. 

Of all the titles that I encountered in those catalogs, the one that stayed with me the longest was a video called “Gayniggers from Outer Space,” which I assumed to be some kind of bizarre, if not wholly offensive, editorial joke. I mean, really…just look at the title! Even as a ribald comedy, there’s just no way anything with a title THAT un-P.C. could possibly exist. It just couldn’t. 

And, here we are, a good 15 years after I received my last edition of the Video Screams newsletter, and I decide to do a quick YouTube search. As it turns out, “Gayniggers from Outer Space” is indeed a REAL movie, and it’s WAY weirder than I ever imagined a film with such a moniker could be. 

Our heroes. as you no doubt see for yourself, are among the bulgiest protagonists in the history of film.

With a title like “Gayniggers from Outer Space,” I’m not sure if any amount of exposition would suffice, but here goes. The film, all 27 raging minutes of it, is the brainchild of Danish comedian Morten Lindberg, whom according to his Wikipedia profile, has also fronted several “easy listening” bands. Released in 1992, most of the cast consists of real gay actors, and the tone of the film is clearly satirical, parodying both sci-fi and blaxploitation stylings. Despite the confrontational title, the film itself is surprisingly subdued…albeit, not without its fair share of ham-fisted, sodomy-centric jokes, as you’ll soon see for yourself…

In terms of cinematography, the film is primarily a black and white affair. Following an upfront ad for some abstruse beer brand (boy, the troubles their marketing department must have been having at the time!) and some pre-title credits, we hear a breathless narrator explain to us what a “gaynigger” is, exactly. Apparently, they are intergalactic beings from the planet “Anus” -- I suppose giving them “Uranus” for a home world was just too subtle. As the voiceover explains, the “gayniggers” can communicate via some telepathic device, and their culture is one totally devoid of female beings. Their shtick, then, is that the roam around the universe, locating inhabited planets and “liberating” oppressed males from the blight of women. So, yeah, they’re kind of like Galactus, if Galactus was really, really misogynistic. And gay. And…well, you know what the title of this movie is. 

From there, we’re introduced to the crew of the Ring Muscalatoris II. For those of you wondering if the name of the ship is some sort of abstruse pun, I’m not really sure -- unless muscaltoris (which kind of sounds like muscularis, which has something to do with the digestive tract) has some sort of meaning in Danish that I’m unaware of, anyway. 

Yet surprisingly, the movie has nothing at all to do with the "Men's Rights" Movement.

I hope you like really, really juvenile puns, because the protagonists of the film have among the most spectacularly crass names you can think of: Captain B. Dick, Sgt. Shaved Balls, Mr. Schwul (a German speaking “gaynigger” who professes faith in an excrement worshiping religion), trusty data manager Dr. D. Ildo and new recruit Agent Arminass, who is fresh out of Gay Agent School. So, uh, I think it kinda goes without saying, but yeah, if you don’t have a taste for bad taste, you may want to abandon ship while you still can.

Following an “ultra swip-over” (which I suppose is equivalent to our Anglo-Saxon “ultra sweep-overs”) of Earth, the crew members are AGHAST at the voluminous number of female humans just prattling about. They make an emergency call to the President of the Intergalactic Federation of Gay Planets and get the go-ahead for a mass extermination campaign. A distraught Arminass is assuaged by Capt. Dick, who assures the rookie that a successful job on Earth might earn him “the sign of the brown ring,” and thusly, make him a true “gaynigger” in the eyes of his peers. 

One of the “gayniggers” is beamed down to Earth, and he encounters a fairly trampy looking woman on a city street. He immediately zaps her with a blaster, while another crew member uses a brain-scanning device to observe heterosexual kissing, which grosses everybody out. 

After the crew examine a “female termination map” and scope out some data on Russia, the “gayniggers” select the Ukraine for their first foray to eliminate the scourge of womanhood. After Schwul shoots a couple of peasant women, he receives hugs from several male villagers and merrily prances about in a field. All of the earth males in the film, it is perhaps worth noting, seem all too receptive of this mass female pogrom. Could it be that the film, in addition to being a satire about homophobia, is also a parable for gender discrimination? Hey, it was made by Europeans, after all. 

By the way, that starfish thing in the background is called the "holy asshole." No, seriously.

Next, the crew pinpoints Asia, where according to their on-board computers, all the women eat “with branches, have yellow skin and are very unfriendly.” This leads to sequence in Beijing, in which Dr. Ildo rescues a henpecked dude wrapping up chopsticks by shooting two, and I quote, “bad smelling females.” After being advised that Germans may not like “dark skinned” peoples, another “gaynigger” heads to Hamburg, where he blasts away a woman who is endlessly haranguing her boat-scrubbing husband. Well, diagetically, we’re never told WHAT the relationship between the earth men and earth women in the film is, but I reckon we have permission to fill in our own blanks, no? 

After all of the females on earth have been obliterated, the “gayniggers” are beamed back up, and enter an “inner sanctum” in which they ask the “higher gaynigger forces” to help them select a new ambassador for the planet…who will help the men give birth to only male children. And no, the movie doesn’t even bother explaining how that works, either. 

After all the crew members shove their hands in “holy asshole” (a sequence with a groovy disco soundtrack okaying throughout, it is worth noting), Dr. Ildo is selected to be the new “gaynigger” prime minister of earth. As part of the arrangement, he undergoes a transformation, in which he shape shifts into a fairly European looking fellow with Elvis-like hair. So, uh, does that constitute some sort of comment on racial intolerance? Imagine that: a film with the term “nigger” in the title, which also serves as a critique of social prejudices. 

Who'd think the "Gayniggers" would've opted for the pink jumpsuits?

In an homage to “The Wizard of Oz,” the black and white film transitions to full color for the movie’s final sequence, which consists of a bunch of white men swimming together and eating bananas. To officially designate Dr. Ildo as the planet’s new ambassador, he undergoes a ritual in which “the holy gaynigger seed” is poured over his head, while the rest of the crew resolves to continuing traveling the cosmos, in an epic quest to rid the universe of womanhood. And like that, this half-hour long art film is fin

Well, uh, that was kinda’ weird. To the best of my knowledge, the director of the film isn’t gay, but a majority of the crew were. Methinks Mr. Lindberg’s film is some sort of parody about the alleged “homosexual agenda,” that being the supposed concept that gays are conspiring to turn the entire planet into same-sex-attractees. With that in mind, “Gayniggers from Outer Space” is something of a visual representation of the Moral Majority’s great fear of homosexuality -- that, alike communism and fascism, it’s an amorphous thing that can slowly creep over the planet -- as many an alien threat in shlocky 1950s sci-fi movies -- and completely invert our value systems.  

At first glance, the film seems pretty blunt, but the more you think about what you just witnessed, the more you begin to mull the deeper subtext of the narrative. Is the film mocking radical feminism, or is it criticizing the male power structure? And what about that racial element? Does the film sarcastically posit black individuals as a social “threat” on par with homosexuals to the hardcore right, and what may it be implying about cultural prejudices? There must be a reason why the prime minister turned white, no?

Perhaps I am reading too much into a film…especially considering the hyper-ironic-sensationalistic title. That said, “Gayniggers from Outer Space” is actually a fairly well-made comedy, with quite a bit of (possible) social commentary going on. Is it a crude, one-joke affair, or is it actually about something deeper and more profound than the namesake would lead you to believe? I just reckon you’ll have to figure this one out on your own, folks

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Why U.S. Drug Policies Should Be Based on the NES Game “Narc”

Looking for a way to reform how America responds to drug trafficking? A 1990 Nintendo Entertainment System release gives us the perfect solution. 

Among today’s youth culture, the general consensus is that the “War on Drugs” has been a big, fat, racist, ineffective cultural misstep that’s done nothing but drain taxpayer money and ruin the lives of the nation’s urban and rural poor. It’s not drugs themselves that have decimated the nation’s impoverished enclaves, they say, but the institutionalized jihad against drugs that has truly resulted in the plight of so many millions of Americans. Because, as we all know, it’s NOT the fact that meth and crack turn people into slobbering, one-track-minded maniacs with no respect for the social code that’s the problem here -- indeed, legalizing all illicit substances and commoditizing them, the popular thought goes, is what would really remedy our culture’s ills. The generational support of decriminalization of drugs is so widespread, that official language seems to have been co-opted, Orwellian style: take one gander at this suspiciously confrontational Wikipedia entry on Singapore’s incredibly strict drug laws…especially the key reference point at the end, in which the term “drug” appears to have been softened into the kinder, gentler euphemism of “therapeutic goods.”

Call me a bit old-fashioned, but methinks that’s a load of bullshit, and then some. As someone who has actually LIVED amongst the meth and pill-addicted, I can tell you quite sincerely that the rub here ISN’T Johnny Law roughing up rubes, but kinda’ the reality that mind-decimating substances lower the culture’s inhibitions, dissuade them from upholding cultural norms like “having a job” and “being there for their families,” and give the drug addicted and the drug manufacturing a strong incentive to never attempt to alter their lives through legal activities. If you honestly believe this so-called “War on Drugs” is the actual problem, perchance you should take a ride through the foothills of Appalachia, were pill pushers and crank salesmen live in absolutely chaotic squalor, sans impediment from law enforcement whatsoever.

While being in support of tougher drug laws in this day and age makes you slightly less popular than a cross-burning baby seal clubber, I believe it is CRUCIAL that we, as a collective culture, get our respective acts together and address the nation’s ongoing drug epidemic as the serious, criminal blight that it is. For far too long, we’ve prided ourselves on a solutions set that entails the decriminalization of low-level possession, all the while exonerating drug runners from their nebulous behaviors due to “addiction” and “economic isolation.” Well, if you ask me, enough is enough, folks, and it’s time we swung all the way back around and once again got T-O-U-G-H on drugs.

Community-based drug treatments are ineffective shams, and mandatory minimums do precious little to keep the majority of traffickers off the city streets. Clearly, the hyper-liberal solutions AND the hyper-conservative solutions ain’t working, and while the most promising evidence-based drug addiction solutions are unlikely to ever be implemented in the U.S., that’s not to say we can’t get a tad more aggressive in our enforcement policies. And the best part? We already have the perfect template in front of us to reframe the nation’s drug laws; ladies and gentlemen, I present to you “Narc” on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

For the uninitiated, “Narc” began life as a hyper violent, anti-drug-use arcade game, which, ironically, was later remade as a crappy “Grand Theft Auto” clone in the mid 2000s with a strong pro-drug-use message. Of course, the most popular iteration of the title was the NES port, which, while somewhat stylistically different from its arcade inspiration, is a fairly faithful adaptation, nonetheless.

I went back and played “Narc” the other day, and I realized that, within all of that frenzied, 8-bit, button-mashing mayhem, there actually were quite a few policy recommendations to be found throughout the game (which, oddly, was censored by Nintendo to remove ALL references to illicit drugs, despite the game itself being the most blatant anti-drug propaganda this side of “Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue.”)

So, what lessons can we, as a nation still struggling with an ongoing drug problem epidemic, learn from this 25 year old video game? Well, here are four key takeaways from the title that I believe could go a long ways in solving some of America’s contemporary drug addiction and trafficking woes…

Lesson Number One:

To combat America's drug crimes, we need a new breed of cop. A super-cop, if you will...

It's glaringly apparent that today's DEA agents are not equipped with either the right personnel or the legal leeway to get their respective  jobs done. All of that nonsense about "habeas corpus" and "non-lethal" restraint is clearly preventing drug cops from doing what they need to do to keep our cities safe, and in "Narc," we see a downright glorious remedy to the ailment: it's time to create a new kind of cop, with much more jurisdictional power. 

First off, the old DEA agent garb has to go. A black uniform, a couple of batons, and a plastic shield? Please, that's not going to stop the animalistic dope peddlers that clog America's gutters and trailer parks. What we need is what "Narc" envisions, an army of police officers rocking bright pastel hues, wearing motorcycle helmets and doing their job with their bare arms exposed, just as our Founding Fathers wanted. Similarly, those old SWAT vans and cop cars won't suffice here: what we require are bitchin' sports cars, that are the direct color wheel inversion of the uniforms the police personnel wear. I think we can all agree: when crack rock-snorting Captain Planet villains start stacking 200 foot tall pillars all over our bridges, the old cruiser just ain't going to cut it to keep us safe. 

Lesson Number Two:

The way we punish drug criminals in America is far too lenient. Harsher penalties...much harsher penalties...are now called for. 

One of the absolute most important things "Narc" demonstrates is the need to grant greater jurisdictional powers to DEA agents. Currently, the only thing DEA agents are allowed to do is arrest people, which isn't enough by any stretch of the imagination. What we require are cops that have the legal ability to circumvent drug crime the best way they deem fit, and if that includes shooting homeless people with rocket launchers because they won't get out of the way...why not give 'em said abilities? 

Drug criminals, clearly, are among the most dangerous kinds of criminals out there. They walk around the alleyways of our towns and villages, clad in their Beat Poet regalia, launching heroin needles the size of bedposts at random individuals. If you think handing out a cute little citation is going to get them to change their ways, you're just fooling yourself. If we really want to solve the country's drug woes, we've got to follow the lead set by "Narc" -- forget three strikes and you're out, we need to be eyeing "one strike, and you're guts will be splattered all over the sidewalk." 

Lesson Number Three:

By cracking down on drugs, we're also cracking down on various other forms of crime, which are closely tied to the illicit substance trade.

Drugs, like the intangible hand of Satan himself, touch upon virtually every kind of evil that a society must deal with. Take a look at the city streets in "Narc" -- all pot-hole-riddled purgatories, where XXX theaters and liquor stores dot the landscape like cancerous furuncles. And let's not fool ourselves, folks: when drugs get into the equation, even more crimes are sure to follow suit. 

Since the drug trade requires cutthroat opportunists, perhaps its not all that surprising that it attracts those that are already involved in nefarious doings. Take for example, the level in "Narc," in which local drug runners have convinced homicidal, knife-wielding clowns to serve as city watchmen, or the level in which the opening of a marijuana greenhouse leads to a fleet of heavy-artillery-lugging Vietnam veterans moving to town and randomly shooting up anything and everything that moves. As "Narc" clearly demonstrates, the associated risks with the drug trade are too dangerous to ignore: today, it's homeless junkies shooting up next to dumpsters, and tomorrow, the whole damn state will be overrun by pipe bomb-tossing scientists. 

Lesson Number Four:

It's time to go after the heads of drug cartels, no matter how imposing they may appear.  

The ignorant may look at "Narc" and disregard it as hyper-conservative propaganda. Well, know-it-alls, as fate would have it, "Narc" actually concludes with a indictment of big business trafficking as the core of the nation's drug woes. You see, it's not the peddlers and users and traffickers that are most responsible for America's descent from World Superpower to Socialist Dope Smoke Utopia; rather, it's the heads of multinationals, who use their economic clout to mask huge shipments of illicit goods into the hands of American babies. What "Narc" tell us is unmistakable: if you ever want to rid the U.S. of A of its drug problem, you're going to have to relentlessly pursue the heads of the operations. 

Oh, I know: going after such figures may be daunting, especially when you realize that most drug kingpins are eight foot tall "M.O.D.O.K.s" wearing Cuban pimp hats that can shoot fireballs out of their mouths. Even scarier, I suppose, is the game's contention that the Pablo Escobars of the world are actually gigantic skull demons, who can only be killed after being shot one million times with missile launchers. That said, this daunting task is pivotal to combating the drug plight that rots all of the country: and as an economic bonus, we'd also be privy to all of their gold bullions, which always keep locked in a card-protected safe within their inner sanctum.

No one is going to call the "Narc" drug policy plan easy to implement, nor is anyone likely to call it an easy sell for today's drug-weaned masses. However, as violent crime in America continues to plunge, perhaps it's worth a grassroots putsch in peacetime, as the proliferation of new wave drugs that turn people into gangrened lepers slowly make their way into America's quaint villages and towns. 

To some, the "Narc" model may be a bit extreme, but in these times, "extreme" is precisely what we need to turn the tide in the "War on Drugs." Time to decriminalize and focus on rehabilitation, you say? Poppycock, as we all know it's nigh time to once again get tough on crime -- Nintendo-style.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Book Review: “Undisputed Truth” by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman (2013)

Iron Mike’s tell-all autobiography is every bit as crazy as you’d imagine it to be. But what’s even more shocking is just how insightful and enlightening a read it ultimately turns out to be.

“Whenever the last trumpet shall sound, I will present myself before the sovereign judge with this book in my hand, and loudly proclaim, thus have I acted; these were my thoughts; such was I. With equal freedom and veracity have I related what was laudable or wicked, I have concealed no crimes, added no virtues; and if I have sometimes introduced superfluous ornament, it was merely to occupy a void occasioned by defect of memory: I may have supposed that certain, which I only knew to be probable, but have never asserted as truth, a conscious falsehood. Such as I was, I have declared myself; sometimes vile and despicable, at others, virtuous, generous and sublime; even as thou hast read my inmost soul: Power eternal! assemble round thy throne an innumerable throng of my fellow-mortals, let them listen to my confessions, let them blush at my depravity, let them tremble at my sufferings; let each in his turn expose with equal sincerity the failings, the wanderings of his heart, and, if he dare, aver, I was better than that man.”
-- Jean Jacques Rousseau,
The Confessions,” 1782

"This book is dedicated to all the outcasts -- everyone who has ever been mesmerized, marginalized, tranquilized, beaten down and falsely accused. And incapable of receiving love."
-- Mike Tyson,

I don’t think anyone other than Mike Tyson himself can fully grasp the unbearable guilt that willed “Undisputed Truth” into existence. His almost 600-page autobiography is less a standard recounting of his life as it is a typed confession, a laundry list of the sordid deeds that both nourished his monstrous ego and rattled the most decent part of his soul to its breaking point. Reading “Undisputed Truth” is like watching a flooded vessel explode from the inside out -- the only thing more tragic than the sight is its sickly beauty, the kind of destruction so spectacular you can’t help but stare at it in awed amazement. Your personal opinion of Mr. Tyson probably won’t be altered by the contents of the book -- if you think he’s a megalomaniacal fruitcake now, you’ll still hold such as self-evident -- but after reading the tome, you'll at least partially understand Tyson’s demeanor and attitude. His stories herein may not absolve him of his many, many debaucheries and disgraces throughout his lifetime, but the the book does do something almost as astounding: it actually allows you to rationalize his actions and doings, and eventually come to empathize with one of the most universally despised public figures of the last quarter century.

The book -- which was essentially ghostwritten by “Private Parts” scribe Larry Sloman -- begins with Tyson discussing his 1991 rape case against Desiree Washington, and how he tried to do some Santeria rituals to sway the outcome of the trial. He then starts recalling his childhood, growing up in Brownsville, New York, in the late 1970s.

Folks, all I can say is that after reading about Mike’s childhood, nearly everything he went on to do in life -- no matter how depraved or disgusting -- is kinda’ understandable. He claims to have been doing home invasions at the age of 10 and spending much of his elementary school years living in abandoned buildings -- perhaps its worth noting that he says that he never actually "attended" school in the traditional sense, arriving only to eat breakfast and lunch before playing hooky.

Up until the age of 15, he said he slept in the same bed with his mom, even while she had sex with men. On one occasion, he recalls her scalding one of her lovers with boiling water, and watching his mom pop his pustules with a blowtorch afterward. His after-school activities consisted mostly of scaring pigeons off roofs as a gofer for local drug runners and snatching gold chains off subway passengers. At the tender age of 11, he was fist fighting grown men (his mentor, he claims, was some dude that used to shadowbox while high on weed), constantly getting the shit beat out of him by his mother (who loaded him up on Thorazine to control him) and robbing special ed students for gambling money. Perpetually in trouble with the law, he said he basically had a "time share" at the local juvenile detention center.

Eventually, Mike was sent to the Tryon School for Boys, where he was taught how to box by Bobby Stewart -- a guard that had a proclivity for engaging in fisticuffs with the center's underage residents. Displaying impressive raw talent, Tyson was then sent to live with elderly boxing trainer Cus D'amato -- a paranoid socialist that hated Ronald Reagan and was so fearful that International Boxing Commission goons would plant drugs on him that he sewed his own jacket pockets shut.

Training with Cus and Teddy Atlas, Mike Tyson said his fascination with pugilism began to flourish after watching the first Ray Leonard/Roberto Duran bout. Patterning himself after Muhammad Ali, a young Tyson said that he spent his teen years reading Tolstoy, Adam Smith and Nietzsche (so he could better understand "the hearts of men") and absorbing all of D'amato's aphorisms -- including the battle cry of making all his opponents "causes a lie" before the opening bell sounded. Battling a major eating addiction, he said one of the hardest parts of his regiment was abstaining from sexual activity; as such, he describes his life as revolving around "training and jerking off" for several years.

As a junior amateur, a 14-year-old Tyson was battling 22-year-old men. After his mother's death, Tyson returned to Brownsville, and mourned her passing by smoking PCP and going on a robbing spree. In Dec. 1982, Tyson experienced his first loss at the U.S. Amateur Championships. He was 16, while his opponent was nearly a decade older.

Tyson talks about his shortcomings at the 1984 Summer Olympics, and we get a role call of his first 8 professional fights -- all knockout wins, by the way. He recalls hanging out in the New York social scene, meeting people like Raul Julia and Drew Barrymore, the celebrity that impressed him most being former WWF Champion Bruno Sammartino.

Tyson discusses his early philosophy on boxing, parroting D'amato's famed "the way you fight your fights is the way you live your life" quip, as well as describing how he feels his opponent's "spirit" prior to a fight -- before the bout even starts, he claimed to have been able to tell whether or not a competitor was "a pussy," or "oh shit, he's coming here to fight." He had an undercard bout scheduled at Madison Square Garden once; after it was cancelled, he gleefully talks about visiting a whorehouse to celebrate.

D'amato then dies, and Mike talks about speaking to a photograph of him, and how being at the bank reminded him of his mentor and always made him weep. "I fight my heart out, give it my best," he said. "But when it's over, there's no Cus to tell me how I did, no mother to show my clippings to."

From there, Mike's handlers becomes a trifecta of individuals -- Steve Lott, Jimmy Jacobs and Bill Cayton. As Mike keeps chalking up more victories, he continues to party with prostitutes, go out on lavish drinking sprees in upstate New York and steal quotes from his biggest idols; among them, football great Jim Brown and in, Apocalypse, the X-Men villain.

On Nov. 22, 1986, Tyson defeats Trevor Berbick to claim his first World Heavyweight boxing championship -- at the age of 20, making him the youngest such champ in the sport's history. Even more impressive? He said that he was "leaking" from a bad case of the clap throughout the entire bout. On the precipice of international stardom, he recalls a foreboding quote from Lenin: "freedom is a very dangerous thing. We should ration it very closely."

Immediately after winning his first belt, Tyson said he found himself torn between his dual lives in high society and his old Brownsville stomping grounds. He recalls hanging out with Rick James and Carlton Banks at bars and having sex with groupies while literally wearing his championship strap; he also talks about trekking to his home turf, where he would buy sneakers for the homeless and pass out $25,000 a night like Robin Hood. The money he got from doing an anti-drug PSA, he said, was used to fund the coke distributing operations of his childhood friends.

Tyson continues to tear through challengers left and right: Tony Tucker, Tyrell Biggs, Michael Spinks, Larry Holmes. The last one, he said, was revenge on behalf of his childhood icon, Muhammad Ali. He encounters Barbara Streisand, and tells her how sexy he thinks her nose is.

Tyson then marries sitcom star Robin Givens, whom he said had a "Herdipus complex." He pays for the funeral of famed pimp Iceberg Slim, and Jimmy Jacobs passes away. Drama with Givens and her mother begins almost instantly, with Tyson alleging that their goal was to either goad him into a pricey divorce or take over his finances by having him locked up in a mental institution. Meanwhile, Tyson gets into a series of street brawls with a guy named Mitch Green, and after an infamous 20/20 interview, he and Givens officially call it quits. He says the president of his bank held a party the day Givens and her mom was officially taken off his bank account -- "fuck them bitches," the pres allegedly stated.

After the divorce, Tyson took his man-ho exploits to dizzying new heights. Waxing poetically, he said his excesses were borne of a broken heart -- "love leaves a black mark " on it, he said. He hooks up with fight promoter Don King, whom he calls "a reptilian motherfucker" who hates whites and an individual guilty of "contaminating his barometer." Mike visits Mexico, and he's upset that there are people in the world that actually live in conditions worse than his as a child. "That shame of being poor gave me more pain in life than anything," he said.

As a PR stunt, he was baptized in an event which featured Reverend Jesse Jackson. Immediately afterwards, Tyson said he went back to his hotel and nailed a choir girl. He then recounts tales of punking out Kennan Ivory Wayans, Brad Pitt and Wesley Snipes, and this one time he showed Frank Bruno his pubic hair.

Prior to a bout against Carl Williams, Tyson experiences his first of MANY HIV scares, and talks about being so upset with Don King this one time, he ended up kicking him in the head. That actually becomes something of a recurring motif throughout the book -- every time Don gets the shit beat out of him, feel free to do a shot, kids.

Then we come to Tyson's 1990 bout against James "Buster" Douglas in Japan. He says that he lost because he was too busy banging Japanese maids and that Douglas got a slow count on a previous knockdown. Following his first pro loss, he returns to the Catskills, and spends some time with D'amato's widowed wife, Camille. His sister dies, his first son is born, and he trains for a bout against Razor Ruddock. Tyson accuses King of placing Thorazine in his food, and making him watch Nazi documentaries when all he wanted to do was watch cartoons.

Then we come to a lengthy passage about the Desiree Washington rape trial. All you need to know there is that Tyson had arguably the shittiest defense team anyone has ever had, and most likely, ever will have.

Before going to Indiana for a five year prison stay, we're introduced to Daddy Tyson, an absolutely impossible deacon-pimp who once drove all the way from New York to North Carolina and back to retrieve a shotgun to shot a dude that pissed him off once. His pa, whom said "all I know is pimping and the bible," dies shortly thereafter, and Tyson recounts his years behind bars.

Alongside another inmate, Tyson said he cooked up a grandiose commissary scheme using fan-sent money. He reads the work of Che, Mao and Arthur Ashe while having furtive sex with visitors sporting crotchless undergarments, and other inmates pay Mike to listen to his friends on the West Coast have sex over a phone line. He ends up having an affair with an in-house drug counselor (even getting her knocked up), while receiving visits from the likes of James Brown and Tupac -- whom once tried to start an impromptu concert during one of his visitation stays. In a lot of ways, the book does seem to read like a Bizarro version of "Forrest Gump" at times.

And so, Tyson is released early, and one of the first things he does is buy some lion cubs, whom proceed to piss and shit all over Don King's townhouse. By now, keeping up with all of Tyson's out-of-wedlock kids is sort of like following the Dewey Cox life story; after chalking up some easy wins over the likes of Buster Mathis and Frank Bruno, the first Tyson/Holyfield bout is arranged, and Mike blames that particular loss on the following things: Evander kept headbutting him, his opponent was probably on steroids and the referee was most likely drunk.

Mike remarries, and he continues to ho it up, anyway. Holyfield/Tyson II goes down -- the infamous "ear biting" fiasco -- and Tyson claims referee Mills Lane was biased and didn't call a couple of pre-chew headbutts on Holyfield's behalf. Riots ensue, and Tyson gets banned by the NSAC for an entire year.

Shortly after the bout, Tyson gets in a motorcycle wreck, tries to stab Don King with a fork and is diagnosed with dysthymic disorder. He makes a mint off an appearance at WrestleMania, claiming that his erroneous promos about "Cold Stone" Steve Austin could simply be attributed to the fact that he had munchies at the time of the interviews.

Owing $13 million in back taxes, Tyson ultimately winds up with a 2-year prison sentence in Maryland. He receives visits from JFK, Jr., whom he said was largely responsible for his early release. After doing some community service at Tent City, Tyson is reinstated, and he beats up a less-than-impressive gallery of tomato cans, like Orlin Norris (whom he said used to stare at him from the crowd at press conferences, Clubber Lang style) and Julius Francis, whom was actually paid by a U.K. newspaper to place an ad on the bottom of the boxing shoes he wore heading into the bout.

More lawsuits follow, and after reading a book about Alexander the Great, Tyson starts walking around in the desert while high. He threatens to eat the children of Lennox Lewis, beats up some more cans, and talks about using the Whizzinator to cheat on pre-fight drug screenings. Apparently, he forgot to do that for his Andrew Golota bout, though.

From there, he starts incorporating the terms "convicted rapist" and "Zoloft" into his fight promos, and he gets accused of raping a K-Mart employee. After 9/11, his Las Vegas compound is raided -- Tyson alleges that a well-known, yet curiously unnamed, boxer was trying to set him up by sending his girlfriend over to claim to be kidnapped. Despite the incident, Tyson says that he would later go on to smoke weed with the mysterious fighter, as something of an peace offering.

He hangs out in Europe for awhile, stating that sex clubs in Germany are too much, even for himself. Then, he travels to Jamaica and fears that he contracts AIDS from a Cuban prostitute. That last one kinda' resulted in his divorce, surprisingly.

In the build-up to his 2002 Lennox Lewis bout, he said that he did numerous promotional stops -- including the one that predicated the infamous "leg-biting" brawl" -- while high on coke. Referring to his infamous "Until you love me" post-scrap statements, he said he was simply channeling his mother, and her colorful way with terms such as "punk white boy." He said that he did at least one interview with Rita Cosby while completely strung out on Maui Wowie.

After his loss to Lenox, Tyson pretty much bottoms out. He said he started hanging out drug dens, with 20 girlfriends at a time. It was around this time that he got his Maori-inspired face tattoo; he said he wanted to cover up his own face, which he hated, with anything. His original idea, he recalled, involved hearts.

After a facile bout against Clifford Etienne (who is quite possibly the only athlete in the world to ever have a life story more gloriously fucked up than Mike's), Tyson talks about getting into a fight with Don King in Florida, in which he chased him across I-95 while carrying a half pound brick of weed in his pocket. He beats up some Puerto Rican fans, declares bankruptcy (he said his staffers had to Google what "Chapter 11" meant) and said he had to start eating Frosted Flakes and Twizzlers for dinner...while still having lavish shopping sprees at Rodeo Drive retailers.

After flirting with never-to-transpire K1 bouts against Bob Sapp and Jerome Le Banner, Tyson recalled visiting Michael Jackson, whom he said was hanging out with some straight up "thug kids." He then loses fights to Danny Williams and Kevin McBride, pretty much spelling the end of his boxing career.

Post-retirement, Tyson starts doing drugs and alcohol like crazy, while hanging out with a lot of rich Jewish people. He starts seeing a counselor named Marilyn Murray in 2005, who explains to him how he's "an egomaniac addicted to chaos." Tyson likes her so much, he said he wanted her to move to Russia with him.

He then takes a Eurasian tour, where he claims to have turned the Romanian mafia onto cocaine. He talks about how smart the call girls in Chechnya are, and recalls taking several arduous "cocaine dumps" in Portugal and Amsterdam. He soon starts passing out at strip clubs (where he said dancers hopped up on"sissy drugs" like MDMA stole his fried chicken) and begins experimenting with both morphine drips and Cialis.

In 2006, he gets busted for coke in Phoenix, and gets sent to a rehab facility in L.A. for sex addiction and drug use. He works on his "mother issues" and stars in a 2008 documentary (which he said opened his eyes to the "Greek tragedy" of his own existence) and balloons all the way up to 360 pounds. At the time, he meets a new lover named Kiki, who gets sent to jail while pregnant with Tyson's child.

Shortly thereafter, Tyson said he falls back into "cocaine hell," where he gorges himself on coke, hookers and cookies nonstop. At the time, he recalled having just $7,000 in his bank account, when he owed at least $8,000 a month in child support payments. His child Exodus dies, and he has to bury his own kid using fan-sent contributions. He winds up marrying Kiki in Vegas, noting that their pastor looked like one-time WWF manager Slick.

He gets sent to an extremely shitty rehab center, where patients live in a glorified trailer park and he accuses his counselor of stealing his eight ball. As lackluster as it was, you can't argue with its results, though; he said he spent half a day there, and has only had one cocaine relapse since.

Tyson converts to veganism shortly thereafter, and makes appearances on Oprah and the Italian version of "Dancing with the Stars." At one point, he was scheduled to star in a satirical HBO program called "Da Brick," but sadly, it never really came together. Between the filming of "The Hangover" and its sequel, he said he lost nearly 100 pounds.

On a trip to Mecca, Tyson has some profound thoughts about the afterlife, stating that he would much rather burn in hell with his friends than commingle with strangers in heaven. He gets inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, makes guest appearances on "How I Met Your Mother" and "Law and Order," and starts doing a one-man show in Vegas, from which the title of the book is derived. Ironically, his first stop on a 2013 national tour of "Undisputed Truth" was in Indianapolis, the same city where he was imprisoned for nearly half a decade. He revisits the facility and reflecting upon his current lot in life, makes the following observation: "I won't make much money, but I can do what I love to do. And just by doing what you love to do, out of love, good things happen."

Towards the tail end of the book, Tyson discusses starting his charitable organization, and heckling Mitt Romney at the Pac/Marquez IV bout with some street kids. Stating that self-destruction is in his genetic code (he compares his parents to two deep roller pigeons -- as Hannibal Lector told us all those years ago, the offspring of such pairings have an unfortunate tendency to splatter themselves on pavement), he now goes to bed at 7 pm, constantly assailed by the fear that his wife and children will leave him. "Dying on your shield," he concludes, "is a sucker's game."

Of all things, Tyson elects to close the book by talking about famous love letters throughout history. He compares Robin Givens to Napoleon's distant lover, and said that a suicide pact letter sent by Heinrich von Kleist to Henriette Vogel always makes Kiki cry. His life, he said, has been "one foot in heaven" and "one foot in hell." It's a fitting closing simile, no doubt, for a man whose entire life has been a mad swing between polar extremes; from untold wealth to unfathomable poverty, from international glory to virtual bankruptcy, from disciplined asceticism to maddening excess.

I've read a lot of books from 2013, and I'd have to say that this one has probably been my favorite. Like the bleakest epic poem you could ever read or the most dizzying near-crash experience once could imagine, "Undisputed Truth" is a traumatic, no-holds-barred descent into the pit of one's greatest fears, a tome that not only confronts a platoon of personal demons, but actually revels in the one-by-one admission of past sins.

Mike Tyson's life story is about the quest for greatness, the individual will to survive and the fallibility of our desires. As such, "Undisputed Truth"is really about a different kind of fighter; not the multimillionaire celebrity that boxes on Pay-Per-View, but the guilt-ridden, conscience burdened brawler that, whether we'd like to admit it or not, resides in all of our souls. Mike's story is so distressing, and exhilarating then, for obvious reasons; it's because his story, for better or worse, just so happens to be our story, as well.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Look Back at the TurboGrafx-16 Launch Titles

Or, how one of the most criminally underappreciated consoles of all-time ended up having one of the greatest Day One release line-ups in the history of gaming…

I don’t think I’m really telling you anything you don’t already know when I say, bluntly, that modern video gaming sucks. Everything is either crappy iOS shovelware or multi-billion dollar rehashes of the same old, same old. Creativity in gaming at this point isn’t just stifled, it’s practically an embalmed corpse; with so much by-the-numbers drivel out there, I can safely say my interest in contemporary gaming is absolutely nil heading into 2014.

I’m not really sure where video gaming, as an art form, went astray, but it was probably somewhere around the last console cycle. With Sony and Microsoft shatting out the same franchises over and over (while Nintendo made a fortune off atrocious non-games and uneventful remakes of remakes that their delusional fan base never cried foul about), there was never really an incentive for publishers to, you know, try something new, and pioneering, and against-the-grain. Really, the Sega Dreamcast was the last commercial home console that even ATTEMPTED to grant gamers wholly unique properties in lieu of focusing on cash cow operations, and that sort of revolutionary industry thinking, I am afraid, just ain’t around anymore.

Amazing how the industry used to be ALL about the innovation, and the experimentation, and actually STRIVING to be cutting edge and ahead-of-the-curve instead of being complacent. The big difference between gaming circa 1994 and gaming circa 2014 is that the industry THEN was anchored around exploration and advancing the art form, while today, it’s just about staying financially sustainable as hardware manufacturers and software producers.

While the Playstation4 and Xbox One were released a couple months back to overwhelming hype (and virtually zero fanfare from gamers themselves), perhaps it is worth taking a trip back to 1989, to reflect on the launch of a DIFFERENT kind of gaming experience.

The NEC TurboGrafx-16 (known in Japan as the PC Engine), was the first true 16-bit home console to reach the U.S., besting the Sega Genesis by a couple of weeks. While the console remained a distant third to the Genny and the SNES in America, over the years, the machine has attracted a huge cult following, and for good reason. While the hardware may not have been extraordinarily popular at the time, looking back at the console’s software now reveals a truly innovative system, loaded with all sorts of kick-ass games that, even now, outshine some of the best and brightest on Sega and Nintendo’s much more popular 16-bit players.

Wondering what you missed out on the Day One release of the TG-16? Well, in short, what you missed out on was sheer awesomeness, through and through…

Alien Crush

There really aren’t that many beloved video pinball game franchises out there, but the “Crush” series is certainly one of the few. With a weirdo moniker that makes it sound like a bad 1980s teen sci-fi comedy, “Alien Crush,” at first glance anyway, appears about as intriguing as a loaf of white bread. But then, you boot this little baby up in your TG-16, an you realize you are dealing with anything BUT your standard virtual silver ball sim.

It’s pretty hard to make a spooky and atmospheric video game in general, so the fact that a GODDAMN PINBALL GAME exists that is as creepy as “Alien Crush” is in and of itself something of a miniature wonder. The gameplay is pretty standard, but that’s not really a bad thing at all; the visuals are really detailed, the controls are smooth as silk and all of the bonus rooms gives the game additional replay value.

Of course, it’s really hard to talk about the game without talking about its biggest pro, which is its addictiveness. Despite consisting of a fairly limited playing field, the simplistic joy of the experience will no doubt keep you glued to your controller; with such character and engrossing gameplay, there’s no denying that “Alien Crush” is one of the finer pinball games of the 16-bit era, and a game that easily smacks the shit out of ANY pinball sim you may have encountered on the NES.

My Score: 8 out of 10

China Warrior

“China Warrior” is something of a graphical showcase for the then-new hardware, whose extra-large characters would’ve been positively impossible to render on the Master System or NES. Fundamentally, the title is a “Kung Fu Master” variation, although with a few environmental tweaks tossed into the gameplay -- for example, every now and then, you’ve gotta’ stop kicking an unlimited number of ass to periodically hop over rolling boulders and dodge what appears to be flying shovels. Hey, I never said the game made any sense.

The retroactive hate heaped upon this game is utterly shocking to me. IGN gave the game a 1.5 out of 10 in a Wii re-release review, which in my eyes, is absolutely unfathomable. Sure, the graphics for the game haven’t aged all that well, and sure, the always-scrolling-right gameplay is a bit restrictive, but overall, I actually enjoyed “China Warrior” quite a bit.

For one thing, the gameplay is smooth and fun, and pretty challenging WITHOUT being cheap. You’re always having to make snap directional judgments -- do you duck here or leap? -- which can be figured out quite easily after just a few level runs. That, and the boss fights, which more or less are a primitive precursor to “Street Fighter,” are pretty involving and surprisingly technical for the timeframe. Sure, it’s not an all-time classic by any stretch, but at the same time? You’d have to be a real stick in the mud NOT to get a few hours of enjoyment out of this one.

My Score: 7 out of 10

Dungeon Explorer

"Dungeon Explorer" is really two different types of games. The main overworld looks and plays a lot like "The Legend of Zelda" and "Crystalis," only with WAY less emphasis on combat. That may put off some action enthusiasts, but I assure you: the makers of this game MORE than make up for it with the insane amount of action that goes in inside the game's numerous dungeon levels.

The game may structurally sound like "Zelda," but it plays more like "Gauntlet," with a million billion enemies on screen at once. The same way the gargantuan hordes of enemies in "Dead Rising" demonstrated the tech power of the 360, I suppose "Dungeon Explorer" demonstrates the 16-bit horsepower of NEC's console.

With that in mind, there are really two major problems with the game -- they're not exactly experience-breaking issues, but remain nuisances nonetheless. For one thing, the enemies spawn from these little portals int he floor, and they keep generating baddies until you effectively demolish the whirlpool. With literally dozens of adversaries onscreen at once, perhaps you can see why this may be troublesome. Even worse, however, is that when enemies drop power-ups, your little piddly arrow attack CAN'T penetrate past the objects and kill your foes! Ultimately, those dropped inventory pieces become blockades, and to say that it's just a wee bit annoying is kind of an understatement. While not an extraordinary game by any stretch, "Dungeon Explorer" is still a fairly enjoyable little experience, with satisfying -- albeit a tad simplistic -- gameplay. Fans of endlessly slaying monsters in pitch black caverns? You may want to take note of this one.

My Score: 6 out of 10

Keith Courage in Alpha Zones

“Keith Courage” was obviously NEC’s attempt to establish a Mario-esque company mascot, and the title is certainly one hell of a platformer, regardless of its obvious similarities to Nintendo’s much-beloved spokes-plumber.

When the game boots up, you take control of an "Alex Kidd"-ish avatar, who is armed with a rinky-dink little saber. Blobs fall out of the sky, and after you vanquish them, they drop coins. Collect enough coins, and you can visit the myriad shops that populate the landscape, and purchase health potions and other power-ups. This being a late 1980s platformer, there's also plenty of hopping and bopping, although nothing in the game is really all that difficult.

However, the game also throws you a curveball; halfway through each stage, your avatar transforms into a MECH WARRIOR, complete with a huge-ass cyber-sword, as you hack and slash your way through sundry underworlds, populated by all sorts of weird-ass enemies and tricky bosses. The constant stylistic and pace shifting feels a little clumsy at first, but after awhile, you'll find the atypical rhythm to be quite enjoyable. In a genre glutted with formulaic offerings, "Keith Courage" stands out as one of the more entertaining and inventive pre-"Sonic the Hedgehog" offerings. It's a seriously fun title, and if you're a fan of platforming, you owe it to yourself to play through it at least once.

My Score: 8 out of 10 

Power Golf

Of all the TG-16 launch games, this one is probably my least favorite. Despite its pastel graphics (which, for the time, we're actually quite impressive), there really isn't a whole lot here to make it stand out from the nine billion other golf games out there in the late 1980s -- it may be prettier than any of the NES links games, but it's not really much of an improvement, gameplay wise.

There's not really a whole lot to say about "Power Golf." You get to choose between three avatars and hit up a couple of different courses -- which, ultimately, don't seem to fluctuate that much in terms of aesthetics. Not surprisingly, the crux of the game revolves around meters and timing your shots just right; a fairly uncomplicated game, you'll probably figure out all of the game's nuances after just a round or two of play. If you're looking for a deep, "Tecmo Super Bowl" or "NHL'94" type of simulation experience, you're likely to be greatly disappointed by this one.

"Power Golf" isn't a terrible game, per se, it's just that it's so formulaic. The gameplay is by-the-numbers, and there's not a whole lot of challenge to the overall experience. Since everything is meter-based, the game gets a bit tiresome after awhile, and it's unarguably the least stimulating launch game for the system, in spite of its candy-colored visuals. Some more respectable sports games would eventually make their way to the TG-16, but unfortunately, the console's first genre foray is far from a stellar outing.

My Score: 5 out of 10


Just about everybody out there with more than one brain cell agrees that the TG-16 was far and away the greatest home console EVER for 2D SHMUPS, besting even the illustrious line-up of space shooters on the Sega Genesis.

While “R-Type” on the TG-16 isn’t the best genre title of the like, it’s no doubt a tremendously fun little experience, with impressive visuals, super-awesome music and addictive -- and challenging as all hell -- space shooting action. As much as I loved the Master System version of the title, this is clearly the superior port, and a title that blows away a good 90 percent of the SHMUP titles ever released on the NES.

It’s both easy and hard to explain what makes this game so appealing. Granted, there’s not a whole lot to the gameplay, but the gameplay that is there is undeniably engrossing, and intricate, and incredibly fun, all the while providing a tough-as-nails gaming experience that even the most grizzled of “Galaga” enthusiasts would find challenging. All in all, this is just a great little genre title, and the type of instantly accessible gaming that’s almost impossible to put down.

My Score: 8 out of 10

The Legendary Axe

Somewhere between “Castlevania,” “Super Mario Bros.,” “Golden Axe” and “Altered Beast,” there exists “The Legendary Axe,” a really fun arcade-style action-platformer in which you commander a caveman that proceeds to indiscriminately kick the asses of all things in the universe.

The game is a bit on the short side, but there's no denying how awesome this all-too-brief experience is, either. As the game progresses, your attack bar increases, allowing you to mete out more damage as you go further in the title. Believe it or not, "leveling up" in action and platforming games way back then wasn't exactly the norm, so it definitely added a bit of uniqueness to the experience. The stages themselves look great, with plenty of tough enemies and hidden treasure troves, and some of the boss fights are just downright awesome: my favorite is probably the battle against the sentient boulder, which you have to defeat by use of a conveniently placed safety rope dangling from the opening of a cavern.

As before, the game's greatest weakness is it's length -- had this one been a little bit lengthier and just a tad more nuanced in the gameplay department, it would have been far and away the best launch title for the fledgling system (and the developers of the game did make those crucial improvements for "The Legendary Axe 2," which is definitely one of the absolute best games to be found on the TG-16.) As is though, it's still a really fun game, and an instantly accessible platformer with a distinct style and some really, really nice gameplay touches. If you dig arcade platformers like "Ninja Gaiden" and "Ghosts N Goblins" (and are in pursuit of some way easier experiences), then "The Legendary Axe" is a game I would highly recommend tracking down.

My Score: 8 out of 10

Victory Run

"Victory Run" is pretty much a blatant clone of "Out Run," which peculiarly, had its own official TG-16 release a little later on in the console's life cycle. While I don't think it's necessarily as enjoyable as Sega's arcade racer -- nor as much fun as stuff like "Rad Racer" or "Formula One: Built to Win" on the NES -- "Victory Run" remains a respectable little title, that's certainly quite fun in short spurts.

The gameplay in "Victory Run" is very simplistic: you have a finite amount of time to cruise from checkpoint to checkpoint. If you collide with other traffic, or veer off road, you're penalized a few precious seconds. The hairpin turns aren't too bad, and most gamers will have little difficulty memorizing track layouts. It's a solid arcade racer, through and through, and the graphics and music aren't too shabby, either.

Now, as for the game's shortcomings: the tracks are all a bit too familiar feeling, and the on-road obstacles tend to repeat ad nausem. That huge ass transfer truck, in particular, is especially annoying, and requires god-like reflexes to avoid most of the time. Really, the thing that hurts the game most is also one of the game's coolest features: the day-and-night cycle feature. While it is pretty awesome watching the sun rise and set during races, the nighttime racing is extremely frustrating, and will no doubt lead you to many fender benders and unintended off-road adventures. Would it really have killed the designers to include a headlight feature here?

My Score: 6 out of 10


Next to "Power Golf," probably my least favorite launch title game for the TG-16. In essence, it's a spiritual sequel to "Kung Fu Master," but with WAY more frustrating controls and gameplay components. It's structurally the same as "China Warrior," but it does everything worse, in my opinion.

The gameplay in "Vigilante" is about as basic as it gets. You play a generic ass-kicker, and you travel from left to right, kicking ass. It's really standard stuff, but it's marred by two major design missteps: one, you have a very limited number of attacks, and two, your enemies have the ability to grab you, which depletes your health bar in no time at all. To be fair, you can shake them off by hitting the directional pad, but it's a very, very difficult attack to avoid.

The graphics are OK, and the music is fairly forgettable. The stages look nice, and the game certainly plays better than the dreadful Sega Master System version of the game, but it's still a fairly ho-hum experience, through and through. Simply put, beat em up fans can do WORLDS better than this mediocre side scroller.

My Score: 5 out of 10

So, let's recap, shall we? There were nine U.S. TG-16 launch games, of which four registered at least an 8 out of 10. One game was a solid seven, and two more boasted above-average ratings of 6 out of 10. All in all, just two of the nine titles were really lackluster, and even then, they weren't astoundingly terrible games.

Compared to some other console launch line-ups, the TurboGrafx-16 may not have had the sheer quantity of, oh say, the Sega Dreamcast or the Game Boy Advance, but it certainly beats the slim pickings of the U.S. SNES and Genesis launch software library, for sure. I suppose you could say that the TG-16 launch was mildly marred by the lack of a Day One killer app -- as good as a majority of the games were, I really wouldn't call any of them all-time masterpieces -- but at the same time, you definitely got a lot of variety, and a majority of the titles, even now, hold up quite well.

Really, the TG-16 is one of the most underappreciated consoles out there, probably the best all-around commercially unsuccessful system not named the Dreamcast. The launch line-up, as great as it was, was really the tip of the iceberg, though. With a half-decade life span (not to mention the later release of a region-free CD add-on), there's close to 600 or so games playable on the unit, including some of the absolute best titles of the 16-bit era --seriously, if you have't played "Soldier Blade" or "Bomberman '94," you don't know what you're missing, folks.

With scant quality offerings on the horizon for the new-wave consoles, perhaps now is the most opportune time to revisit NEC's unheralded console? If you're a true blue old school gamer -- with a particular penchant for the unique and challenging -- spending some quality time with the TG-16 might just be the best resolution you could make for the New Year.