The Life and Times of Shaye Saint John

Can’t stop watching Shaye Saint John videos on YouTube. I wanted to post a few that I thought were the best, but they all do what they do in more or less the same way and to an equal degree. You may as well just visit the Shaye Saint John YouTube channel, Elastic Spastic Plastic Fantastic. If you watch a lot of it, you’ll find some common themes including grotesquerie, trash, repetition, vanity, confusing allusions to nonsense concepts, and inhuman behavior. Each video features the character Shaye Saint John, a horribly disfigured woman who at one time may have been a performer of some kind or a movie star. She wears a manikin mask on her face and her arms and legs are made of wood. In many of the videos, Shaye speaks to doll with a burnt face whom she calls Kiki. The imagery of the videos drills into your brain and messes with your subconsciousness. Repeated phrases, non-linear progression, confusing signals, and the familiar yet unfamiliar parody of shallow female behavior all work together to create this very unnerving and uncanny presentation. Shaye videos are all, without exception, terrifying.

In the video above, Shaye Saint John is doing her thing in a haunted house for Halloween. It seems like it would be a good fit, because Shaye is monstrous and scary, but she’s almost too scary. What Shaye is seems to transcend the campy illusion of scariness that you get at most haunted houses. Yes, it’s just a person wearing a frightening mask, but it’s kind of apparent that the real person underneath the mask is also pretty frightening. I like how the little kids who encounter her are truly weirded out. She calls them trash and delicious brats and asks if they got scoliosis for Halloween. The one kid can’t even stick around long enough to collect his candy.

While researching into the origin of these videos, I was sad to learn that the creator, Fornier, passed away in 2010. I’m glad that the very perplexing and difficult work he left behind is still well-loved and widely distributed. There remains a beautiful html website, circa 2001, left over from when there used to be a Shaye store that sold t shirts and dvds. I don’t suppose it’s still active, but I’m glad someone cared enough to pay the hosting fees to leave the site up.

Battle of B-R5RB

I’ve been fascinated over the last day or two with stories of the incredible MMORPG battle that occurred on EVE online. I won’t get into the meta-game politics that allowed such an event to happen; I’m not really the best one to do that. I don’t play the game (or any video games, for that matter), and kind of forgot the game existed since I first heard about it in college. But the numbers are staggering and a thing to marvel at: The fight took place over a total of 21 hours and involved 7,548 players. The Eve Online servers were barely able to support all of the activity, but miraculously they held on, hosting the wanton destruction an estimated $300,000 worth of in-game capital. Reports suggest that 75 Titan-class battle stations were lost, a unit which takes almost 8 weeks to build and which costs a ridiculous amount of resources. Before the B-R5RB bloodbath, the record for most Titans lost in a single battle was 12. In all, something like 600 capital-class ships were destroyed.

Coordinated battles like this are what cooperative gaming is all about, but B-R5RB is something different. Never have so many players acted in such a systemized fashion for so long a period. It is being hailed as the biggest battle ever in gaming. Having observed a few total war-style MMORPGs like PlantetSide and Urban Dead, I am astonished at depth of organization and administrative attention that goes into building the game’s enormous player federations, and the sheer obedience demonstrated by the rank and file of these armies is nothing short of miraculous. Trying to organize any kind of coordinated strike in an MMORPG universe is like trying to herd cats. People live in different time zones and have different real world obligations which keep them from putting in the hours needed to be able to pull off anything interesting or meaningful. Most of the time, you log into a game like Eve Online, and you are plunged into an emergent chaos of tens of thousands of independent actors all playing their own games, with different goals and purposes. To see any kind of collective will expressed on the order of what was seen January 27, 2014 in the B-R5RB system of New Eden is a thing to behold and wonder at. Let it be noted that for many individuals involved in the battle, their losses were real and substantive. The destruction of each ship represented hour and hours of effort and preparation and resource management. Many are still stocked over what happened. Some have quit the game, unable to muster the motivation to rebuild and start all over again. One has to ask what could have inspired so many to throw away what was so precious to them in such a reckless manner. Reading through the forums and the statements given by some of the alliance leaders, it seems that in many cases the reason was glory and excitement about being part of something truly unique and rare. As the capital ships began to enter the fray, it became clear to everyone involved that they were participating in something that they would probably never see again in their gaming lives. They knew that they were taking part in something that would be remembered in gaming lore. They were, all of them together, making one heck of a story.

Two weeks after the battle, CCP Games, the developer behind Eve Online, created a beautiful and eerie starship graveyard on the spot where the battle occurred as a commemoration of the event and a tribute to the gamers who participated and allowed it to happen. Other MMORPG devs should take note. Usually these virtual worlds within which a online games take place remain static. They are usually treated as decorative arenas where the players’ behaviors and actions can be freely expressed but never preserved. I am pleased to see developers put time into to building vestigial signifiers into the environment to document major events in the community’s shared memory. I’m not going to say things like this make virtual spaces come alive, but it does make them mean something. It gives them identities and emotional correlatvies.

Pointless Dog Shooting

The saddest part about this rottweiler’s being shot is that the dog was not being exceedingly aggressive. You can tell that he’s a good dog. He’s loyal to his owner. He wanted to rescue him. But he probably wasn’t going to hurt any of the police officers.

Very sad.

The video above has received over 5 million views and has generated a lot of criticism of the Hawthorne, CA police department over their use of force. I think at the moment of the shooting, the police responded appropriately. You’ll notice the dog leaps at the officer holding the gun right before he fires the first shot. Perceiving himself to be under attack by a menacing animal, the officer was simply defending himself. The real cause for criticism, I think, is the series of decisions made by the police leading up to the incident. The man in the video has been identified as Leon Rosby. He was being arrested for “interference with officers” because his “loud, distracting music (from the individual’s vehicle) and his intentional walking within close proximity to armed officers, while holding an 80-pound Rottweiler on a long leash-line … created an increasingly dangerous situation and demanded officers’ focus away from the matter at hand.” (police statement) So this was apparently an obstruction arrest, but it’s pretty clear from the video footage that Rosby was not interfering with the police in any significant way. He was taunting them and taking pictures of him with his phone, but he has a legal right to do all of those things. He does not enter the crime scene and he does not address any of the officers directly. If the police felt that Robsy’s actions were obstructing their work, they should have given him warning, and they should informed him of the consequences of what he was doing. When they first approach Rosby, instead of offering to talk they tell him he is being arrested. Rosby peacefully submits. There is no obstruction here. He’s letting the police do whatever they want.

I don’t think anyone in this video has done anything wrong: Rosby, the police, even Max the dog, everyone responded appropriately and predictably to the event. True, Rosby didn’t have to taunt the police, the police didn’t have to arrest Rosby, and the dog could have not jumped at the one of the officers, but it makes sense that all of them did do these things. That the outcome would transpire as it did is tragic.

Franklin County Records

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About a month ago this story started showing up on the librarian listservs about the destruction of a newly discovered trove of centuries-old county documents in rural North Carolina. The story was made public after the county’s historical society began protesting the action on the group’s Facebook page. A blogger, who lives in the South and writes a great deal about civil war history and various local happenings, took notice and did some investigation into the matter. As the story has unfolded, she has—in a manner, I must admit, is not completely journalistic—collected the facts and has arranged them into a more-or-less coherent narrative. She published this logical timeline of events, which I think is the best telling of the story to date. Here’s a brief summary of what happened:

The Clerk of Court in Franklin County, NC opened the long-sealed basement of the county courthouse and found boxes and boxes of very old documents. Having no idea what they were, she invited the Franklin County Heritage Society to examine the material and I guess decide if any of it had historical value. It was determined that the documents were county records, dating as far back as the 1840s. The find generated a great amount of interest within the community. Several volunteers began creating an inventory of the items. Area businesses offered to contribute office space to the effort. People were really excited

That summer, while the Clerk of Court was letting town residents assess, appraise, and in some cases gawk at the old papers downstairs, the County Manager was conferring with people from the North Carolina State Archives about what to do with the boxes and boxes of unidentified papers it suddenly had on its hands. After reviewing some documentation that it had on hand about the supposed contents of Franklin County’s records, the State Archives determined that the documents in question were primarily ““duplicates, confidential, drafts, or duplicated in another records series that has been saved” and recommended that everything be destroyed. So, on December 6, 2013 about a half dozen men showed up at the courthouse in a white van, wearing hazmat suits, and, in compliance with the County Manager’s orders, they collected the entire archives and incinerated it later that evening.

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As the story began to grow on the internet, the Director of the State Archives found it necessary to draft an open letter, published Franklin County’s local newspaper, defending the Archives rationale. You can find it posted on the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources blog here.

I actually find this letter the most interesting part about the whole story. When you read it everything seems to check out. He says things like “Appraisal of these records was done using established professional standards within the state and the archival field across the country” and “Many of the records in question have been eligible for destruction since the 1960s and have routinely been destroyed in other counties in the state in accordance with the schedule,” trying to make it sound like the destruction of centuries old documents is a perfectly common and regular thing for a state archive to do. He writes this letter with the perfect mixture of professional authority and bureaucratic tedium, and it leads you to think, indeed, competent people were put to work on this and they went out and did the job right. But if you analyze some of the assertions he makes, you begin to see that there are some major inconsistencies in his account of things. He says:

“Based on an inventory submitted to our office by Patricia Burnette Chastain, the Clerk of Superior Court, it was determined that a majority of the documents in the basement were financial records that were decades past the recommended period of retention.”

This inventory that he mentions was the list of documents compiled by the Heritage Society people, a list which even they admit was hastily constructed and mostly incomplete. But the very fact that his office would use documentation pieced together by amateur historians rather than a true inventory rigorously constructed by trained archivists suggests that he probably didn’t have the evidence he needed to make the determination that he did. He certainly isn’t in a position to say that records were appraised with established professional standards common throughout the archival field. I would argue also that what he says about retention schedules and destruction eligibility isn’t relevant to the documents in question and that those standards were misapplied due to his office’s lack of understanding about what it was they were reviewing. Retention policy is a component of records management: you keep a record until it is no longer useful to be knowledgeable about the thing it records. Records can become archival, however, when the record has outlived its original intended purpose but becomes useful for research of another kind or is believed to be of future use to researchers for historical perspective. Cherry states that “If the records are not identified as archival, once retention is reached, the local agency may elect to destroy them, as was the case in Franklin County,“ but I don’t see how the N.C. State Archives couldn’t have interpreted the Franklin Records as archival. The people of the county, whose shared history is conveyed in those records, demonstrated their interest the material, so much so that they were wiling to comb through it and give it order. Historical value of the documents seems abundantly clear. They did all the things that historical artifacts are supposed to do: elicit fascination, kindle imagination, provoke questions about past occurrences, recreate the conditions of life in a place as it once had been.

What has happened here, and what happens everywhere in the modern world all the time, is that memory is being devoured by an automatic and ill-considered present. We have this entity of government which is supposed to be responsible for the retention and preservation of public memory, arrogantly betraying its own mission and purpose so that it might function more efficiently and at lower cost. It is a willful suppression of complexity, because the simplicity of a system of fixed rules is easier. I don’t fault them. It’s a big job that they’re doing, and there needs to be rules to guide the work. But at least acknowledge the system’s shortcomings and own up to it when you’ve incinerating thousands of precious historical documents by mistake.

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