Happy Valentine’s Day, Booker DeWitt

One of the few decisions you get to make that affects the gameplay of Bioshock Infinite, which of these symbolic textures Elizabeth will wear 'round her neck

One of the few decisions you get to make that affects the gameplay of Bioshock Infinite, which of these symbolic textures Elizabeth will wear ’round her neck

Booker DeWitt is the last guy I want saving my daughter. For Christ’s sake, he scalped people at Wounded Knee because he didn’t like being called “the White Injun”. I wouldn’t want Booker DeWitt taking my nineteen year old daughter to register to vote, let alone deliver her unharmed to New York, even if the liqour ‘takes the edge off.’ Didn’t he sell his own daughter to pay off his gambling debts? I don’t care if he regretted it, what kind of louse sells his baby? What kind of louse buys someone’s baby? The answer in both cases is Booker DeWitt, the ‘protagonist’ of the popular year-old game Bioshock Infinite, which I’m reviewing today. I would say ‘spoiler alert’ but this game is eleven months old, and I’m sure if you love firearm-related video games you’ll love Bioshock anyway, and if you don’t, well I guess cheat your way through with Vigors, like I did when the game became difficult, about 50% of the way through.

At the outset, Booker DeWitt is a husk of a man, a pawn in another man’s/woman’s game, being helplessly guided by his minders (the ‘twins’ Rosalind and Robert) to the next phase of his ‘deliver the girl/wipe away the debt’ poetic cycle. It’s as if you’re Alice in Wonderland and these two British ginger people are your Chesire Cat, in fact, the game alludes to this own helpless reference for its protagonist more than once. Booker DeWitt is Alice, through the looking glass, tumbling down the rabbit hole. His characteristic motivation is guilt for a whole list of unspeakable transgressions he and the player barely remember, evolving out of his failure to have protected the women of his past, namely, his wife and daughter, which is the standard reason widowed protagonists in video games do anything. Booker can’t seem to remember how much he owes, or what he owes, or to whom, like an amnesiac Han Solo; because traipsing through different dimensions apparently unchains your memories and erases your moral scruples, if indeed the chronologically contiguous Booker ever had scruples. Booker can’t even remember who ‘AD’ is, though they were important enough to warrant scarifying into his hand with what looks like a miniature cattle brand. Once your adventure gets properly under way, and you take off to the floating city of Columbia, Booker DeWitt gets a skyhook and immediately bludgeons a police officer to death with it; because DeWitt is all about mature themes. Nothing escapes the rain of blood portended by Booker DeWitt; he is Odysseus, Elizabeth, Athena, for by the wiles of DeWitt did the mighty sky-city of Columbia fall. Sing, Muse, of the wrath of Booker DeWitt and his repeating gun.

This deadbeat you play is integral to the story as both its grizzled anti-hero and it’s oppressive, paternalistic antagonist, that is to say, both of these characters are Booker DeWitt. This is where reviewing Bioshock gets a little tricky, but rest assured that there is no iteration of Booker DeWitt that can save Elizabeth from himself; no course of action can be taken which doesn’t result in Elizabeth having to willingly to sacrifice her freedom (which wasn’t that the point?) for your life, get tortured and indoctrinated by the bizarro you, and aged and abused face you years later while you lamely tell the spinster princess you really did mean to save her (unless you count dimensions where you fail and she dies.) For a game that speaks to the depth of infinity and invokes the breadth of time travel, the narrative possibilities of Bioshock Infinite are incredibly singular and deterministic. Why don’t the women of Bioshock just ditch this Typhoid Mary protagonist?

And yes, there are four strong female characters (though I don’t imagine this game passes the Bechdel Test): Elizabeth, her mom, Lady Comstock, Rosalind Lutece, and the anarchist Daisy Fitzroy. Elizabeth and Rosalind/Robert are both characters with a power well beyond anything Booker can comprehend; Rosalind can exist anywhere and everywhere (And also as Robert, her dimensional ‘twin’); Elizabeth can open tears into different dimensions. Daisy Fitzroy is the charismatic leader of a violent Socalist revolution called the Vox Populi, who orient themselves against the robber-baron industrialist Founder class. There might be some modern political commentary there, but it’s kind of subtle, like a tablespoon of wasabi. Apparently studying all that Bible didn’t do the alternate version of Booker DeWitt much good; in that life you actually killed your wife, instead of just having her die in childbirth in your proximity, to protect an increasingly weird premise that no one can know your daughter was adopted (regardless of the particulars, when you see the apartments he keeps Elizabeth in, I had to think; Comstock had to be like the Daddy Warbucks to Booker’s Herbie.) And when I stop to consider that Booker couldn’t even start his quest without Rosalind & Robert bringing him into the right dimension to do so, the whole purpose of Booker as anything other than a vehicle of destruction eludes me, for me, his heroism fades as the bodies pile up, as the game exacts its wretched spectacle. It seems like Elizabeth and Rosalind could have gotten her back into Booker’s dimension without his help.

Booker DeWitt is every trope of protecting women by violence taken to its logical, self-destructive endpoint; wherein the arms you secured to protect the damsel are the ones she’s speared by.  Booker DeWitt is one of those male characters who needs a damsel like Elizabeth to care about and want to protect to find his own redeeming qualities; without her he’s the thorny, aggressive, ‘conflicted and intense’ guy, swept up in the stormy sea of his self-made problems; luckily game designers succeeded in making Elizabeth an appealing and engaging adventure companion, without whom you cannot complete the game. She also changes outfits several times, suggesting Booker never washes his clothes. Booker DeWitt is no good for the population of the cities in Columbia, whose complexity and additions of interiors like restaurants, bars, shops, amusement arcades, public transport and stuff like banks inevitably allude to; if there are banks, there must be depositors; but the majority of these venues are empty except for enemies (typically law enforcement, weird steampunk arcani fighters, or robots with machine guns who look like George Washington.) It’s implied that the residents are evacuated, or in hiding, but am I the only one who feels conflicted about Booker’s role in their destruction? I mean everything seemed to be going great in Columbia until Booker DeWitt showed up.

The plurality of dimensions in Bioshock Infinite can’t even redeem Booker; it seems every decision he makes or doesn’t make spins him off into a new, worse self. The Booker DeWitt who got himself baptized after The Battle of Wounded Knee eventually becomes the aged, maniacal Father Comstock, who, desperate for a related heir and sterile (from all the transdimensional rifting) purchases his infant daughter from the Booker DeWitt who did not get baptized, as he’s desperate enough (from actual gambling debts?) to sell her. Still other Bookers linger in the transdimensional lurch, including a rogue Booker who scalps Founders for shock value (until he dies for the cause of the Vox Populi), and a shattered Booker who managed to decapitate his infant daughter on the edge of a Lutece tear while attempting to buy/sell her.  (In the ordinary timeline, the infant loses a pinky finger instead.)

Dear readers, do you think I am being too harsh with Mr. DeWitt? Or with his character designers? After all, doesn’t Bioshock also have Elizabeth and Rosalind, both strong female characters in their own right? Aren’t there half a hundred Booker Dewitts out there in other games, calling themselves Dante or Desmond or Blake or Snake or Kratos? Is it fair, criticizing the industry for its most venable archetypes, indeed, why go to the steakhouse if I can’t stand the blood? After all, it’s just a game, you think, not for real; the anonymous legion of 18-to-24 year olds don’t really nourish a fantasy of being like Booker DeWitt; they just identify with him enough to play as him for the entirety of Bioshock Infinite, which is about a hundred to one hundred and twenty hours long. That’s only like an entire workweek of being Booker DeWitt; a drop in the bucket for the video game careerist.

So Happy Valentine’s Day, Booker DeWitt, you inglorious bastard, you, and may exploding zeppelins be ever at your back, and the sun shine warmly upon your razed, abandoned cities.

Recipes for People too Busy to Cook

Welcome Back, dear readers.

Today I want to share with you two recipes I’ve found that work great if your kitchen, like mine, is the shape of a sleeper roomette and has all of 8 square feet of counter space, which most Manhattan kitchens are (unless they are even worse.) These recipes are selected because they are pretty tasty without featuring expensive ingredients like beef tenderloin or fresh ginger or acai or whatever’s trendy in Brooklyn now. If your kitchen is better appointed than mine, and it’s in Manhattan, I beg of thee, don’t read this post, go get your manservant or Bobby Flay to read it; and have him cook you this dinner, so you can see how the other 90% lives.

Baked Meatballs

1 pound 80/20 ground meat (use beef, pork, veal, or lamb)
1 cup Italian breadcrumbs

2 eggs, beaten

Italian seasoning, to taste, plus salt and pepper

Procedure: Preheat your oven to 350-375 degrees Fahrenheit. In a bowl mix the first three ingredients with your hands until combined, then add spices. Form into 3/4-inch balls and place, ungreased, on a casserole dish (or a baking sheet, but it needs sides to catch the grease.) Bake for 25-30 minutes or until meatballs are crispy on the outside and cooked through on the inside. Serve with pasta & Marinara Sauce.

Marinara Sauce 

1 can of tomatoes (12.5-15oz.), San Marzano if you’re all gourmet like that

1/4 cup olive oil

1 packet of hot pepper seeds (like from a pizzeria)
1 tsp of Italian Seasoning, 

between three and seven cloves of garlic (to taste), minced
1 tsp dried basil, or, one sprig of fresh basil

Procedure: in a bowl,  mash the tomatoes with your hands, or a potato masher if you have one. Get a medium-sized skillet or saucepan, place it on your range. Observe that you are not using a deep pot, like for boiling pasta, but a saucepan, and fire up the range onto ‘high’. Pour the oil into the pan and add the minced garlic. Once it’s sizzling, but before it browns, add the mashed tomatoes and the spices. Reduce heat and let simmer for 20 minutes. Serve with pasta, or meatballs as above, or both. 

So as you can see, these recipes are pretty much the height of gourmet cooking for people who can’t be trouble to spend more than half an hour preparing a meal. For a variation, (since I’m sure you’ll make meatballs all the time now) try using lamb or veal instead of beef or pork, because I’m sure that’s how real Italians eat. 

Until Next Time, 


Snow in the Forecast

For my inaugural posting, I’m going to discuss the weather. Isn’t that the point of diaries and logbooks? It used to be.

This winter, we’ve had three or four (depending on your region) severe winter storms, each of which resulted in 7+ inches of snow, subzero temperatures, gusts of polar wind and the like. It was a winter so cold that parasitic beetles in Minnesota all froze to death beneath the oak bark, and for a weekend people were living like it was Antarctica. These winter storms are called ‘polar vortices’ send huge gusts of cold wind as far south as Atlanta; and for the past decade in the South, it has hardly ever snowed and stuck. You’ll recall how recently in Atlanta is snowed two inches, and children were stuck at school for the entire night; which would be nightmarish if I didn’t know how crazy kids in the South are about snow, which almost always predicts a snow day or a delayed opening, you spend those two hours rolling around in the snow, making snowmen, trying to get the experience of snow into yourself while it was there for the having. Kids in the South have a notion of snow like the Japanese have a notion of watching cherry-trees bloom; get outdoors and enjoy the beauty before it’s faded away into time. Even now, in New York, the sight of snow falling is so pleasing and beautiful I get a little giddy to see it, and find myself watching it for hours. I can recall one storm in North Carolina that created as much snow accumulation as I’ve seen on three separate occasions this winter, the last time, in an Amtrak train bound to New York, car vestibules caked with snow on the inside like I was riding the Polar Express. As I was nearing New York I struck up a conversation with John, my fellow passenger; he was heading to North Jersey from Florida to meet with his parole officer. An hour into our conversation I noticed he had an ‘SS’ tattooed on his hand, an inconspicous S on each his index and middle finger, not because he was racist, he assured me, but as a memento from his two-year prison stint. But I digress.

Snow will be upon the city in some eight or nine hours, and I would suggest that you:

1. Park your car in a covered garage (if you have one or both of those things.) I have been watching people on Hillside Avenue park their cars in curbside parking that look like ski moguls in Sochi, flipping and flopping their SUVs all over the place, knowing that they’re going to be buried in another 16 inches of ploughed snow by tomorrow; do not engage in this false economy. Your ride will be looking like a damn iceberg. I would say the damage to the car paint from salt and sand and the labor of having to dig it back out would not be worth it. If you don’t live in a place where parking is incredibly hard to find (like New York) consider parking your car under a highway overpass or covered bridge, where I’m sure it won’t get in anyone’s way.

2. Buy everything, now is an excellent time to stock up on emergency reserves of groceries you never use and emergency liquor you hardly ever drink. Buy bottled water for no reason, five weeks worth of paper products, do your week’s grocery shopping, and fill the gas tank. Replenish the spam and canned beans in the fallout shelter and get a sack of limes so that you don’t get scurvy during your snowbound confinement. If you have Amazon Prime, order a backup generator, and if you don’t, well, you’re screwed, send your children outside to start gathering firewood before the first snowflakes hit the ground, or if you’re in Ireland, get a sack of coal from your local filling station (if you’re in the rural US, drive around the trailer parks until you find someone with firewood to sell. I’m sure whatever it costs, it’ll be a  bargain compared to freezing to death in the incoming winter storm.)

3. If the storm won’t begin until early morning, as this one will, go out to eat and savor an extremely black-tie affair of a meal, like the protagonist from War of the Worlds did, and order your dessert first. You never know.

4. Learn a board game or card game to play if the power goes out. But if the power does not go out, surf the web like you always do and binge on streaming music, apps & videos.

5. IF THE POWER GOES OUT, you might be screwed. Buildings with radiators are 50/50, depending on the boiler and hot water pumps. At Sarah Lawrence, power outages meant heat outages, though hot water was still running, oddly. Internal campus emails implored students with electricity to take in those without, so if you’re in a similar situation, try and cadge a spot on your friend’s couch or head to a warming shelter; fortunately power outages in the city proper are uncommon because of buried power lines. If you can use a proper fireplace, light fires; it doesn’t matter if the power’s out, it’s still pretty romantic unless the flue is shut or you suck at building fires.

6. IF THE POWER GOES OUT, I would not recommend using any kind of brazier in your house, modern homes don’t have that kind of drafty ventilation. If you feel dizzy, headachy, or drowsy while using your ill-advised brazier, extinguish it and leave for fresh air. Carbon monoxide poisoning is deadly.

7. IF THE POWER STAYS ON, check your email first thing and then call your hair salon. Sometimes they offer discounts on same-day services because of weather cancellations, and the stylists are already there so why not?

8. IF THE POWER STAYS ON, do NOT order anything from Seamless, it seems callous to the delivery men. I would call, but if you have to order delivery, tip more than usual for the weather, it blows out there.

9. IF THE POWER STAYS ON, BUT THE INTERNET DOES NOT, don’t call the cable company. They will be rolling around in the snow like snow-drunk 3rd graders from Atlanta, blissfully making snowmen at an afterschool that lasts till the next school day. Meanwhile, hundreds of Atlanta parents consider boarding school for their children.

10. Once the snow falls, if you have a porch, use a snow shovel to build up blocks of snow. You can make benches if you get sufficient accumulation.

On a slightly sadder note, I was supposed to be travelling today, and over Valentine’s, but that’s all been cancelled due to inclement weather. If I had just departed a day or two sooner… well. We always won’t have New Orleans, I guess, won’t we, REDACTED?

That’s it for tonight, folks. With love & as always…