A quick look at Kendrick Lamar’s HiiiPoWeR movement

Kendrick Lamar has solidified his place at the very top of modern hip-hop, releasing not one but four critically acclaimed albums since 2012. His style has changed almost yearly since the beginning of his career in 2004, switching from the hard, underground style of hip-hop typical for most artists early on to the jazz and soul influenced To Pimp a Butterfly and to the weird mixture between modern and old-school rap found in DAMN., his latest release. But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed about Kendrick throughout the years and that is the manner he carries himself in off-stage. He keeps his personal affairs more or less private and stays out of the spotlight, despite being one of the most popular artists of the decade. He rarely shows up on TV, because he rarely does anything that would merit any public attention, unless of course he announces a new album. For a man of his caliber of fame, Kendrick Lamar remains a surprisingly private person.

A good explanation for this is his stated philosophy around the time Section.80 dropped. HiiiPoWeR, as he describes it, is a movement, a sort of religion. The three ‘i’s stand for heart, honor and respect, virtues that he and his cohort think man should live. As Ab-soul explains in one of his songs, the idea behind it is to inspire the betterment of the current generation within what he sees as a chaotic and destructive society. In an interview for The Come Up Show, Kendrick summed the idea up rather neatly: “Hiiipower, it basically is the simplest form of representing just being above all the madness, all the bullshit. No matter what the world is going through, you’re always going to keep your dignity and carry yourself with this manner that it don’t phase you. Whatever you think negative is in your life. Overcoming that and still having that self-respect.”

Now, with all this in mind, it becomes rather apparent that the HiiiPoWeR movement isn’t actually a new phenomenon. In fact, it resembles the ideas of stoicism, a philosophical school of thought that emerged and grew exponentially during the 3rd century AD in Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. In a nutshell, stoicism teaches self-control and mental fortitude in the face of the whatever perils one may face in the world. Stoics aimed to cleanse themselves of destructive emotions like envy, fear, anger and hatred, and live in agreement with nature, or the outside world in general , if one were to appropriate the ideas to the modern world directly.

The parallels are all there, though HiiiPoWeR lacks the other aspects of stoicism (ie naturalistic ethics, logic, etc.). What Kendrick, and everyone else involved with the movement, espouses is the belief that a better world can be forged by a generation of people who live in complete harmony with both themselves and the randomness of the world around them, and in that sense he certainly does his best to lead by example, or did, as the current status of the movement remains unclear and neither Kendrick nor close friends of his like Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q have, to my knowledge, so much as mentioned it in the past few years. Maybe that’s exactly the point; maybe the idea doesn’t need to be stated in order to exist, maybe Kendrick and co. merely planted the seed and left it to grow. Another possibility is that it always has and always will exist in one way or the other – according to Kendrick, HiiiPoWeR was a way of life for many influential figures of the past like Huey Newton, Martin Luther King Jr,  Marcus Garvey and Tupac Shakur. The thought of Kendrick, Tupac and Epictetus sharing the same, or a rather similar, philosophical view of life is a rather amusing one.

On Snowpiercer and subtlety

It’s been four years since Snowpiercer hit cinemas around the world and by now it has been all but forgotten. To be sure, the movie is not spectacular by any stretch of the imagination – the dialogue feels clunky and unnatural, the CGI is at best serviceable and at worst is so ridiculous it completely destroys immersion, there are plenty of inconsistencies and plot holes that are blatantly obvious to anyone paying attention; in the words of Slavoj Žižek “and sho on and sho on”. Snowpiercer is a fundamentally flawed movie, though one might be inclined to cut it some slack considering its B-level budget of just 40 million dollars.

But what Snowpiercer lacks in pacing and general film making merit it makes up for in the way that it presents its story and builds its world. Excluding a few moments that might throw you for a loop, the train and its inhabitants offer much and more in terms of visual storytelling. Yes, there are large info dumps on occasion, but they aren’t particularly well thought out or written and prove to be much less useful than the seemingly unimportant interactions between the characters.

And that brings me to the main point of this article – the art of subtly delivering your desired message to the audience. The world of Snowpiercer revolves around class conflict, and this main theme is made abundantly clear in the very beginning of the movie. But the true reason for this conflict, the underlying issues that drive the age-old battle between the rich and the poor, in our world as well as that of Snowpiercer. The symbolism is fairly easy to decipher, provided you can stomach through the movie without succumbing to the desire to chuck yourself off a bridge.

In short – the train that is the last safehaven of humanity, the Snowpiercer, represents our planet, our only home that is slowly running out of resources and, not so slowly, becoming a victim of our inability to come together and act for the good of our species (and I know, this one is weird seeing as the actual Earth in the movie is already uninhabitable due to this very reason, but that is just a consequence of the poorly planned premise; seriously, why would what’s left of our race board a train that they know will take them on an endless merry-go-round with no hope of a better future?). The engine is “too big to fail” theory. Now, one cannot be sure of what exactly director and writer Bong Joon Ho had in mind while creating the script, but to me it could only represent one of two things – banks or capitalism. Plenty has been said and written regarding the idea that some banking institutions are simply too big to fail, so instead of diving into the issue myself, I will direct you to a helpful article by Business Insider that should give you a decent idea of what exactly the phrase means. I’d like to look into the questions that Snowpiercer posits regarding capitalism and, more importantly, its effect on us as individuals. And this is by no means something that hasn’t been discussed to death within the film industry. Fight Club is one of the movies that spring to mind immediately, and it offers an alternative to Snowpiercer’s approach. Where Bong uses symbolism to plant the idea in the viewer’s head and let it grow naturally, David Fincher utilizes inner monologues and pointed dialogue between Edward Norton and Brad Pitt’s characters to lay bare the underlying themes. Fight Club explores what Palahniuk, the author of the source material, sees as a failed generation of consumers, of blind followers who have keeled over and allowed themselves to be walked over by those above them in the social hierarchy. Ed Norton’s character, who remains unnamed throughout both the book and the movie, is a cog in the capitalist machine’s wheel, a man who is completely void of personality and uniqueness. It’s a story that most of us can relate to at some point in our lives, when we realize that our time is wasted doing something completely meaningless for someone we honestly do not care about just because we would rather not die of starvation. Or maybe because we’re simply used to our current routine. Whatever your interpretation, the message is very on the nose.

Snowpiercer does the opposite. We’re aware of the main source of conflict, the driving force of the story, and the movie runs its course in a fairly straight-forward manner, pretty much exactly what you would expect from an action movie with a limited budget, but the underlying reasons for the emergence are only hinted at. For the unobservant, Ed Harris’ character might be the ultimate evil on the Train, with his nonchalant disregard for the struggles of his fellow man, despite his vast knowledge of everything that has gone on, both before and during the time frame of the movie. But that assumption would be missing the point. The children being put into the bowels of the engine to replace broken parts aren’t there because of humanity’s evil nature,they’re there because certain humans are trapped in the loop of attempting to fix a system that, while once proving incredibly useful, is broken beyond repair and is in need of a drastic overhaul. The kids are the panicked effort of the scared upper class to revitalize the dying source of their superiority. But hold on, isn’t the upper class too busy taking drugs and partying? No it isn’t, because that isn’t the upper class. And that is the most interesting part of Snowpiercer’s social commentary. The so-called elites are presented as a bunch of young people looking for a good time. They’re caged in in just the same way as the poor in the opposite part of the train. While the poor resort to cannibalism, the rich turn to drugs to mask the actual horror of their predicament. A few people at the very top oversee the processes that take place and shape the world they live in, but they seem unable to control or influence them. It’s a wild ride that no one can stop and no one quite understands, with the possible exception of Ed Harris’ character who could be seen as a sort of faux-benevolent dictator, or what they called an absolute monarch back in the day, especially the type that got their heads lobbed off by angry crowds of commoners.

There are many more points worth analyzing in the movie, like the fake eggs, the empty guns, the pregnant kindergarten teacher that goes commando on the group of people from the tail section of the train, Tilda Swinton’s servile character. The list goes on and each of these examples represents a different aspect of our modern lives and ties into the more personal story of the shortcomings and harm of an unrestrained capitalist world that has done away with all pretenses to equality and equal opportunity. A runaway train with no stop in sight.

If nothing else, Snowpiercer is an interesting movie and certainly has a lot to say. It has that weird B-movie appeal to it, while still featuring actors like the late great John Hurt, Tilda Swinton and Chris Evans. Its flaws are obvious and frustrating, but Snowpiercer remains a decent watch and well worth a try if you don’t mind its thematics.

Under 800: Six years of Terraria

Terraria has long been hailed as the video game industry’s biggest indie success story and today, more than six years after the initial release, it’s easy to see why.

Much and more could be said of the game itself. It has it all – satisfying mechanics, interesting artwork, beautifully simplistic world design. But the one thing that truly sets Terraria apart is the sheer breadth of content within its 240 MB size. An immense multitude of monsters and friendly NPCs make each stage of the game new and interesting. Going into the battle against The Wall of Flesh, one might begin to think that they’ve seen everything the game has to offer. And they’d be completely wrong. Defeating the Underworld boss ushers in a new era – suddenly the world becomes a dangerous place once again. Enemies hit you like a ton of bricks despite your wearing that ‘good’ Molten Armor set you spent hours putting together. Your weapons turn into toothpicks, no longer capable of one-shotting any regular monster that was unfortunate enough to cross paths with you. The cave bats you’d started seeing as a nuisance rather than a threat take a bite out of Alice’s muffin on opposites day and become more akin to pigs with wings. Terraria keeps you on your toes and consistently throws a challenge at you even as you trick yourself into believing that you’re at the top of the food chain and it’s all ‘been there, done that’ from here on out.

Tens of bosses, hundreds of enemy types and variations, multiple NPCs, each with their own quirks and unique look. Dungeons, biomes, random events that turn your home into a difficult to defend stronghold. Couple all of that with the hundreds of different armor, weapon and accessory sets, as well as the pets and mounts, and you begin to realize that there is a Marianna’s trench worth of content underneath the sympathetic 16-bit graphics. The sandbox nature of Terraria makes for some surprisingly immersive environments and allows the player to create their own storylines. With a nigh on endless catalogue of blocks and decorative items to choose from, you’re free to create any structure your mind can conjure up.

An unexpected aspect of the game is its Lovecraftian influence, and how well said influence translates into the game world. Many of the bosses are gigantic creatures with unusual proportions and, in some cases, vaguely humanoid features. All of them are mysterious beings that dwarf the player character in both size and ability. The Moon Lord, for example, gives off a peculiar vibe, that of something ancient and immensely powerful, with knowledge that far surpasses our own. Skeletron’s dungeon is a cyclopean structure, made of a type of brick that is unbreakable before Hardmode, adding to the feeling of wonder and fascination. The examples pile on and on as the game makes the player feel like an insignificant part of an independent world. What’s beyond the ocean? What’s in Terrarian space? Where do all the creatures come from and where do you, the player character, come from? It’s impossible to answer these questions, possibly because the answers are beyond the player character’s comprehension. Terraria offers an authentic, if heavily simplified, way of experiencing Lovecraft’s ideas.

It’s hard to scratch the surface of Terraria in less than eight hundred words while also successfully convincing those uninitiated that it’s worth their time and money. A good way of gauging the quality of a piece of software is by looking at how dedicated its creators are to improving and enhancing it. Re-Logic is still working on the game, pumping out updates on a semi-regular basis, and seems inclined to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. The developers actively interact with the community and make changes and adjustments based on popular demand.

Twenty million sales later, Terraria remains true to its roots and hasn’t fallen into the trap of adding useless features just for the sake of not admitting that the game has completely lost its direction and is as a result fading into obscurity, much like the decade’s gaming monolith that Terraria was most commonly compared to in its infancy.

The game can be found here.