Sunday Poems 67: Donkey Kong says: "Trans rights, OK!"

Hi all, it's another Sunday. Being online is normally pretty depressing. I'm sure you have your own version of this. It used to be a lot more challenging, logistically, to keep abreast of all that is bad in the world. Now, only a little bit too much time spent on twitter reveals the barrage of frightful things rich and powerful people do and say every day. This week brought a new expose on celebrated director Bryan Singer, who has spent decades sexually assaulting teenagers in Hollywood. We had massive layoffs of journalists at Buzzfeed and the Washington Post. Something which at the very least looks an awful lot like a coup is currently in progress in Venezuela. It's a lot to keep up with. It's miserable. It's also our responsibility to do our best to keep up with all of this horror, with the goal of understanding it, so that we can fight, and build a better world.

Last weekend featured a heartening event which was a great break from all of the awful. A video essayist who works on YouTube under the handle Hbomberguy started livestreaming the notoriously bad and bloated video game Donkey Kong 64 for the Nintendo 64 to raise money for a UK-based charity Mermaids, which supports trans youth. DK64 is set in a relatively open world, with five different apes you can switch between whose goal is to collect hundreds of bananas which are scattered around willy-nilly, as well as dozens of golden bananas which are the reward for doing various other inane minigames. I was eight years old when the game was released. I loved playing video games when I was a kid, but even the gentlest scared the hell out of me. My memories of DK64 are mostly of wandering around, trying to jump from place to place, mostly missing those landings, and running away from grumpy anthropomorphic lizards.

Hbomberguy, real name Harry Brewis, started his stream with the goal of raising a few thousand dollars for Mermaids, after the charity lost funding due to a letter-writing campaign started by a very disappointing comedy writer. I’ve followed Hbomberguy’s work for a few years, his is an entertaining and leftist example of a medium mostly dominated by reactionary right wing voices on YouTube. When I first tuned into the stream, the donations were at 4000$, already a non-trivial amount for almost any charity. By the time the stream ended after 57 hours, a grand total of 340,000$ had been gathered.

To watch someone else play a game may seem like an undesirable, second rate experience, but watching a friend play was so much of the experience of growing up with games. The text of the game becomes a script, the friend with the controller becomes the actor, and the rest of us, the delighted audience, shout improv prompts, questioning the script, driving the actor and their character onward. The Hbomberguy stream became the largest possible basement room with all of us gathered around the corner small TV. The audience in this case was tens of thousands tuning in at any given time, but also a roster of dozens of guests who would rotate on and off the stream like on a televised charity-thon. The guest list included many fellow YouTubers and others famous trans activists, and those names included Chelsea Manning, Mara Wilson, Natalie Wynn from ContraPoints, and author Chuck Tingle. A few minutes after the American socialist politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined the stream an exhausted Harris, tilting and sweaty, in a black tank top, sheepishly interrupts a policy discussion to say, “I’d love to talk more about trans rights and the marginal tax rate, but I would also - I need to ask, do you know how to turn on the power in Frantic Factory in Donkey Kong 64?”

Did the journey of the Kongs to take back their bananas from an evil lizard king become a analogy of the fight for trans rights? It’s possible that investment in the game’s text developed, though I haven’t seen enough of the stream’s 57 hours to say for myself. It’s not really important whether that metaphor works though, because the bringing together of so many progressive and trans voices and the the feeling of ‘anyone could show up’ was enough to make it the biggest and best basement gaming session ever. In an essay from the 50’s, French theorist Roland Barthes wrote of wrestling as a venue where the audience sees the conflicts of their day play out through the archetypes of the wrestlers which suffer, sweat, and battle in the ring before them. Perhaps game streams can be the inverse sort of entertainment, a place where the action on the screen, while entertaining, is just an excuse to gather and talk about how exactly we can build that better world we’re hoping for.

Sunday is a good day to rearrange the bookshelf. There are so many ways to order your shelves. By subject, alphabetical by title, alphabetical by author--I even know someone whose library is organized in order of year of birth of each author. It doesn’t really matter how you organize your books. For me, the value that comes from organizing is that you can find your books quickly, whether I need to loan a book to a friend, check a source, or find some pages to curl up with on any day of the week. I guarantee you’ll come across a book you’d forgotten you had. Maybe you lost track of it for good reason, but maybe it’ll be like running into an old friend again.

Below is a poem. If you like what you read please consider sharing with a friend. As always, I’m here to chat if you have any questions. Have a great week, everybody.

a future drags itself from winded branches

notes from the afternoon:  

a calling  
from the lawn.

letting go of white noise  
a new issue with a broken ornament  
christmas newsworthy

another time of the year  
i'm writing about summer  
tying hair back.

the snow is deep across the windowsills  
a jar of water frozen outside  
snowflakes star shaped  
something glowing  
you can wrap yourself around.

and you almost thaw.

Theodore Fox is a poet living on unceded Indigenous lands on Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal Island.
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