Tentacle Bento And The Futility of Censorship

It was 25 years ago that Urotsukidōji was released, and slowly seeped its way over to the West, on a variety of dodgy, Nth-generation bootleg copies whose resemblance to a snuff movie in terms of quality, only enhanced the feeling that what you were watching was extremely wrong. But, it appears, tentacles and schoolgirls remain a combination capable of creating controversy, as Soda Pop Miniatures found out.

This small, independent company decided, for their next project, to make a card game called Tentacle Bento, and get funding for it through Kickstarter, a favourite site for fundraising projects outside the normal scope of business. According to the official description,  “Each game puts you in the enviable position of being a horrid, tentacle flailing, slime oozing monster from outer space.  Cleverly disguised (of course) as an adorable, and newly enrolled student at Takoashi University, an all-girls school nestled in scenic Japan.”

Kickstarter didn’t object. The project rolled along merrily, raising funds and hitting its goals. And then, perhaps inevitably, the morality police got word and, for want of a better phrase, the shits hit the fans…

Leading the charge from their pulpit were the likes of Insert Credit, with po-faced proclamations like the following:

There are, to my mind, a lot of things wrong with this. For one thing, rape is not cute. Amnesty International states that 1 in 3 women is molested, sexually assaulted, or otherwise beaten in her lifetime. I’ve heard many advocates say this number is low, due to under-reporting. And it’s not cute, and should never be depicted with such saccharine sweetness as Tentacle Bento does. It is terribly damaging to anyone it happens to.

Miss the point, much? It’s pretty obvious that the satirical thrust of the game is largely based on its combination of two genres of anime that share a high-school setting, but are radically different in tone and theme. You have the tenticular horror of Urotsukidōji, but also have a million and one cutesy, soap operas that play out against the same background. [If I remain vague on the titles of these, it’s because I’d never watch one, and indeed, the increasing preponderance of these is one of the factors that led to my departure from anime fandom a decade or so ago]. It’s basically no different from Buffy the Vampire Slayer in this regard, which similarly merged genres.

Of course, in reality, rape is not cute. But we’re not discussing reality, or anything even fractionally connected to it. This is a work of fiction, and as such, fictional rape can be absolutely anything the creators want it to be, from horrific to erotic. The un-named author of the piece doesn’t quite get round to clarifying which of his (I’m assuming it’s a man, because members of the morality police usually are – with the noted exception of Mary Whitehouse) credentials allow him to dictate to an artist what they should or should not be doing with their art. I wonder what Mr. Insert Credit would make of this 1814 woodcut etching by Hokusai, one of the most renowned Japanese artists of the time:

As usual, we have an absolute failure to differentiate adequately between reality, and stuff that’s about as far from reality as can possibly be imagined. Even if the game is “about” tentacle rape – possible, but denied by the creator – and even if someone was of a weak enough mindset to be convinced by a card-game that such behaviour was okay (extremely dubious), they’d still be lacking several key factors – notably tentacles and a supply of Japanese schoolgirls. Tasteless? Probably. But posing any threat to society? Totally not. And that should be an absolute minimum requirement before you call for any kind of suppression. Not so, Mr. Credit, who is of the opinion that just because he doesn’t like something, It Must Be Stopped.

I’m not the morality police, but I’d like to make a citizen’s arrest. Do not support Tentacle Bento. Instead, write to Kickstarter (the link at the bottom), and complain about the content. Kickstarter is a big enough company that it should be filtering this sort of thing. The company should not help to facilitate the idea that rape is no big deal.

I see. So, you don’t want to censor, just yank the sole funding method out from under the project – which would, effectively, censor it. Great piece of double-think there, Mr. Credit. It’s an easy target to pick on, but the logic applied here needs also to be applied to just about every form of popular culture, from movies through TV series, comics, video games, music, and so on, which depict things in far more explicit detail than Bento, where whatever happens is almost entirely in the players’ minds. Murder “is not cute,” and is – by definition – “terribly damaging to anyone it happens to.” You wouldn’t know it by looking at, oh, the entire output of Hollywood. This isn’t even a slippery slope. By criticizing Bento, you’re already gone all the way at the bottom of the slope, and are looking up at all pop culture.

This wasn’t even the most fatuous criticisms of the game, which also included such amazing claims as “We’ve established in our culture that murder is bad. We haven’t done that for rape yet. Murder victims aren’t continually reminded of their attack through media.” Well, that’s alright then! Or even, “Because something is virtual does not mean it is fake. It exists and is real regardless of what form it is in.” Er… Reality check needed over there, stat.

Naturally, Kickstarter suddenly decided that the project which had been approved, running successfully (having raised over $30,000, more than double the amount needed) and even, by some accounts, been chosen as a “Staff Pick” for one day, was no longer acceptable. Well, no longer kinda acceptable. The project page is still up there, with the creators updating it post-suspension to let people know they’ve moved the drive back to their own site. Where a) it has already raised even more money – over $34,500 at the time of writing – and b) they won’t have to pay Kickstarter their hefty 5% “service fee”. Good to see a happy ending.

So, what, exactly have Mr. Credit and his fellow travellers actually achieved with their poorly-considered rants. They have brought a great deal of attention, funding and sales to a game that otherwise would largely have flown under the radar. A sizable number of people – including myself – won’t fund any more Kickstarter campaigns, because of them being a bunch of fucking cowards here. The resulting success of Tentacle Bento will undoubtedly lure other games creators in to the arena, thereby further “trivializing” rape, as the writers claim. And will their dubious campaign save even one woman from being raped, whether by tentacled slimebeasts from outer space or more prosaic methods? I think we all know the answer to that one.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to kick back with a nice bottle of Tentacle Grape and then go find some Japanese schoolgirls to molest, because not being offended by this clearly makes me a terrible, terrible person.

Rammstein Live: Mein Herz Brennt

Jobing.com Arena,
Phoenix AZ,
May 18th 2012

My first encounter with Rammstein was on the soundtrack of David Lynch’s Lost Highway in 1997, where I initially mistook them for Laibach – and wasn’t the first to do so. Somewhat snarkily, Laibach said, “They have proven once again that a good ‘copy’ can make more money on the market than the ‘original’. Anyhow, today we share the territory: Rammstein seem to be a kind of Laibach for adolescents and Laibach are Rammstein for grown-ups.” I’ve particularly wanted to see Rammstein live since hearing Rob Dyer’s tales of spectacles such as keyboard player Christian “Flake” Lorenz sailing out onto the audience in an inflatable boat. But I moved out to Arizona before they came back, and missed their 2001 tour so had to wait. And wait. Finally, I heard that they’d be playing here, and I’d get to see Rammstein live, 15 years after first hearing them – I think that’s a record, pipping the 14 years before I saw The Human League. At least until I ever see John Foxx (21 years and counting!).

We warmed up by rewatching their Live Aus Berlin DVD, which gave us an idea of what to expect: spectacle of the highest order, and a shit ton of pyrotechnics, in this case capped by lead singer Till Lindemann setting himself on fire to sing one song. But that, in itself, was some time ago, with the band now a decade older and wiser. Or not, since they still prove capable of creating controversy, even as Lindenann approaches his fiftieth birthday. There’s something both weird and strangely energizing about that face: rock stars are not supposed to be older than I am, especially the ones at the more “energetically corrupt” end of the spectrum: Al Jourgensen would be another such case of growing old disgracefully.

Chris and I made a day out of it, warming up by going to see The Avengers, having dinner, and then spending some time hanging out on a balcony at Westgate Center, playing “Spot the Rammstein attendee”. It really wasn’t hard, because just about no-one wears black in Arizona, particularly, between May and September: less a fashion choice than a survival requirement, in a land where you need oven-gloves to open your car-door in summer. It was, however, still interesting to note the broad spectrum of ages represented, from those who, like us, were around the band’s age, all the way down to high-school kids. On entrance, it was clear from the massive queues that merchandise was a large income generator – especially at $30 for a T-shirt. We opted not to bother with that, though did get a Rammstein flag, which will confuse the hell out of our neighbourhood come Memorial Day next Monday…

The group didn’t bother with a traditional support act. Instead, they had Joe Letz, drummer with another industrial act, Combichrist, come out and play harshly-remixed versions of their own songs. Reaction was “mixed,” I think it’s fair to say: I quite liked the remixes, but also heard shouts of “Fuck off!” I can understand the latter, not being a fan of DJs trying to act like they are actual musicians, as Letz seemed to think. The most amusing thing was the spotlights shining onto the stage were set so low that crowd members in front of them could use them to do shadowpuppetry. Needless to say, this opportunity resulted in rabbits, birds and not a few middle fingers being projected onto the screen. Like I said: mixed.

Then the actual show started, in typically unique fashion. In front of the sound booth in the middle of the arena floor, a pedestal rose up out of the floor, and down from the ceiling, a gantry descended, to form a walkway between that and the stage. Down from the side, the band members entered in a torch-lit procession, via the pedestal and gantry to reach the stage. before getting things under way with Sonne. That set the tone for the next two hours, an amazing mix of thunderous rock and visual awesomeness. which was just about everything a concert should be. One big plus: no new album, just a greatest hits’ collection, so there were no obligatory new songs which no-one knew.  Mutter was the most-played album – six of the 20 songs played came off it – but all six studio albums were represented from 1995’s Herzeleid, through 2009’s Liebe ist für alle da.

About the only mark deducted would be for Lindemann’s almost complete lack of crowd interaction. The master is VNV Nation’s lead singer Ronan Harris, with The Aquabats’ MC Bat Commander close behind, both turning between song banter into an art-form, which makes the audience part of the show and creates a sense of “belonging” which is also part of the live experience. Here, Lindemann barely acknowledged the crowd, with a couple of “Danke schons” being about the extent of it. Lorenz did, however, repeat the sailing trick mentioned earlier, voyaging out into the crowd on a rubber dinghy – and looked a good deal steadier than the presumably early attempt at the stunt on the DVD, though his trip was considerably shorter.

YouTube video

That said, the one word that sums this up would be “spectacle”. The group’s love of fire is clearly completely undiminished by the passage of time.  Lindemann is a licensed pyrotechnician, and the event featured fire shooting up from the floor, down from the ceiling and out over the crowd, to the extent that there were times when the band clearly had to be rather precise with their stage positioning, to avoid become bassist flambe. Fireworks were wielded, worn and strapped to instruments, but the most impressive early display was for Mein Teil, a song inspired by the Armin Meiwes internet cannibal case. That had Lindeman dressed as a chef, wheeling a huge cooking pot onto the stage, into which the keyboard player ducked and dived, while Lindemann unleashed what can only be described as a flamethrower at it. Repeatedly.

However, my personal favorite was likely Du Hast. Above is a clip of another song from the show, but it’s a perfect reproduction of what we got to see at our show, and captures perfectly the delirious sense that anything could happen at any time. The more the show went on, the further the level of excess seemed to escalate. Band heading back, via the gantry, on their hands and knees, as the drummer’s “dogs”, and playing three songs while crammed on the tiny middle podium? Check. An absolute torrent of sparkly chaff being unleashed in Amerika? Check. Lindemann riding a giant penis on wheels, and drenching the front ten or so rows in white foam during the last song, Pussy? That’d be a check, too. And this is in addition to the images shown on top of the article, which accompanied Engel. Any one of these would have been a climactic moment at any other show. Here, they were just another memory.

I’ve seen some amazing live events; the ones that stand out aren’t necessarily the “best,” they just stick in the mind for one reason or another. Maybe something good, such as the apocalyptic Revolting Cocks show at the Astoria in January 1991. Maybe something bad, like The Cramps gig where I ended up in casualty after going under in the mosh pit. But this one hit the absolute sweet spot between epic and incredible. I’ve not paid sixty bucks for a ticket to attend any band previously, but there is absolutely no denying that Rammstein provided value for money, an experience that was worth the fifteen years’ wait, and which will stay in my mind for at least that long.