Is Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” a Christmas Song?

Every year, a few conversations begin to occur simultaneously before, on, and after Thanksgiving and continue through the new year. There are things you can expect to talk about with friends, family, coworkers, and passing acquaintances. Most are safe but, like all things holiday-related, are accompanied by a certain level of mild controversy and the potential to boil over until genuine disagreement.

Here are a few of the American holiday conversations one can be sure to experience annually:

  • “Can you believe _____ put up their Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving?”
  • “Guess which radio station already started playing Christmas music?”
  • “What’s your favorite Christmas song?”
  • “What’s your favorite Christmas movie?”
  • “We don’t say Happy Holidays in this house! It’s Christmas, damn it!’

It’s two of those that demand further inspection in this moment. Before answering the question of favorite Christmas song or favorite Christmas movie, we have to give further consideration of what constitutes a Christmas song or movie?

The Rise of the Unconventional Favorite Christmas Movie

Over the last few years, society has realized and embraced that Die Hard is a Christmas movie. This began, by most accounts, with a Cracked dot com article and now stretches across conversations, advertisements, and the internet. (My mother texted me this week that even an Xfinity ad recently highlighted Die Hard as a holiday favorite).

In response to this, it has become a meme to identify other unconventional Christmas movies, with examples including:

  • Batman Returns
  • Die Hard 2
  • Gremlins 
  • The Thing
  • The Thing (1982 remake)
  • Lethal Weapon 
  • The Shining 
  • Eyes Wide Shut
  • LA Confidential 

This conversation has been tackled by various blogs and writers, some of whom have tried to put the conversation entirely to bed by writing pieces like 538’s “The Best Movies That Are Kind Of About Christmas” or Vulture’s “10 Great Christmas-Adjacent Movies That Aren’t Die Hard”.

Music, meanwhile, works differently. It seems there is a clear line about whether something is or is not a Christmas song. It appears to be more straightforward: Christmas music is music for and about Christmas. (However, there are a few occasional comedic takes on what it is to be Christmas music, including popular comedian Brock Wilbur claiming every Ben Folds song is a Christmas song.)

Which brings me to the question I’ve asked here today…

Let’s Talk About “Happy Xmas (War is Over”) by John Lennon

This post is prologue so far. Here’s what I really want to talk about, what the top of the page exclaims, what I’ve been thinking about for years: is the song that begins with John Lennon whispering Merry Christmas to children really a Christmas song?

war-is-over
This song.

Originally I intended this to be a parody of such reads as “is gremlins a Christmas movie” and my own “why die hard 2 is a better christmas movie than die hard” or the recent, delightful “Is Holiday Classic It’s A Wonderful Life Secretly (or Actually) a Sci-Fi/Fantasy Movie?”

However, as I set out to write this, I realized that wasn’t the article I was writing. Continue reading “Is Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” a Christmas Song?”

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Why is Google Displaying False Info About GRRM’s Fire & Blood?

I have not read the latest George R. R. Martin book, but I do know a few things about it.

Here’s what I know:

  • Martin’s Fire & Blood came out on November 20th, 2018, and tells the story of the vintage Targaryens
  • The book was hotly anticipated by many fans, while many others asked “why did you write this instead of The Winds of Winter?”
  • It’s apparently packed with fan treatments and Easter Eggs, some of which involve literal eggs.
  • It’s getting mixed reviews
  • Google is displaying false information about Fire & Blood

No, this is not a book review of Fire & Blood. I haven’t even read it yet. This is about the fifth bullet point above, which I have not seen covered yet: why is Google displaying false information about this book in its search engine results pages?

This is not something I discovered myself, but was sent to me by writer Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein, who knows of my passion for a) George R. R. Martin’s works b) mistakes in Google’s knowledge graph and c) any overlap between SEO and my interests.

Here’s the screenshot he sent me yesterday morning, devoid of any explanation other than a text saying “Fire in the blood?”

screenshot-from-rob

And there went my day.

What facts is Google getting wrong about Fire & Blood?

At this point, let’s clarify what false information Google is displaying about Fire & Blood. Check out the screenshot below and you’ll immediately see it.
fire-&-blood-SERP.png
On the left, we have the Google News feed related to this subject. It includes three news stories, including an excellent article by the podcaster and professional fan-of-all-thing-Westeros Joanna Robinson.

On the right is where the trouble lies. Two major pieces of misinformation about George R. R. Martin’s Fire & Blood populate the Knowledge Graph (if you’re unsure what the Knowledge Graph is, I won’t redefine is here but you can read more about it in this article).

First, the cover itself, and then, the number of pages:

Knowledge-Graph-Fire-&-Blood

According to this Google result, one can read—via Google Books—the first 45 of 217 page of Fire & Blood. However, click that, and here’s what you’ll see:

george-mccartney-fire-in-the-blood

That’s right, Google will send you straight into the ebook for the novel Fire in the Blood, the same novel whose cover it was displaying above.

How did this happen?

Quite simply, there’s a disconnect going on within Google Books, which is then populating false information in Google’s Knowledge Graph, which is extending all the way up into the top of Google’s SERPs.

Such as in this case:

books-by-george-r-r-martin

Now, is this an issue with the book not being in Google Books? No, apparently not, as if one goes into specifically the Google Books section of Google, one will see this:

google-books

So, where does the problem—and the solution—lie? Let’s clarify, of course, that the problem is not intentional on the part of Google and simply the result of a mistake somewhere along the line.

It appears to be the responsibility of one of three entities to correct this at this point:

  1. Google Books, to correct this misinformation within Google Books and eliminate their confusion that Fire in the Blood for Fire & Blood, and
  2. Random House Publishing Group, who can use the “give feedback” or “claim this knowledge graph” options within the SERPs to correct this immediately
  3. Fans of GRRM and his works, who cannot claim this Knowledge Graph entry but can give swift and immediate feedback to Google.  

This isn’t to say that any of the above people are terrible at their jobs or anything of that sort. It’s tempting to say something like “this is the kind of thing that happens when search engines aren’t properly accounted for”, but I’m not certain even that’s fair.

Why this is something Google needs to solve immediately

As to whether or not this matters, the answer is yes: absolutely. This is atrocious customer service on the part of Google, to the extent that people might spend money on a book they do not want, under the impression they’re buying an entirely different book.

Of course, I’d like to point out that Google is doing some stuff right. Within the Knowledge Graph, Google is helping users find ebooks from their local libraries.

knowledge-graph-library

This is great move and something that can genuinely benefit both the users and the libraries. It’s a great thing to see, as it’s something that doesn’t directly benefit Google in any tangible or direct way, which is a rare improvement to see on Google’s end. 

Okay, but who is George McCartney and what is Fire in the Blood?

One last point: who is this other George M. and what is this book we are seeing?

To be clear, none of this is remotely the fault of author George McCartney. However, it is rather unfair to him, as there’s a good chance that people are buying his book via Google Books as I type this and will soon be attempting to get refunds once they realize Google sent them down the wrong rabbit hole.

It appears that McCartney is a writer of tartan noir thrillers and crime novels in the style of Elmore Leonard and Michael Connelly. Considering I kinda enjoy that kind of stuff—and my parents love those kinds of books—I might actually be picking up a copy of Fire in the Blood as a stocking stuffer.

And in case you haven’t seen it yet, this it the cover of George McCartney’s novel, Fire in the Blood:

fire-and-blood-cover

Anyway, that’s what I’ve got on this one. The ball’s in your court, Google. You handled it correctly when I pulled back the curtain on your Hobbit 2 mistakes. Let’s see you repeat it again and get this cleared up.

Enjoy this? Check out Does Jonathan Franzen Know What SEO Is?

Why Doesn’t Google Know About The Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Smaug?

An investigation into a major hole in Google’s knowledge

I discovered something strange yesterday. It began when, in an effort to make a stupid joke on Twitter, I tried to figure out the names of the Hobbit movies. What baffled me was that this quickly turned out to be a harder task than anticipated when Google refused to tell me the name of the 2nd Hobbit movie.

Now, to clarify, I’ve never seen a single Hobbit. While I’m a big Game of Thrones fan and I understand that George R. R. Martin’s work would not exist without J. R. R. Tolkien’s, I also think that Peter Jackson doesn’t make movies I enjoy and that three Hobbit movies seemed like nothing more than a money grab.

These are the things I knew—or, at least, thought I knew, before I started using Google to get some answers:

  • There is one Hobbit book (which I’ve read and mostly liked) and three Hobbit movies.
  • Peter Jackson made the three Hobbit movies. By all accounts, he probably should’ve just made one. But he did, certainly, make three.
  • The first is called “The Big Journey” or something. The second is called “The Hobbit Versus the Dragon Smaug.” And the third is The War of the Five Battles or something.
  • Yes, I knew these weren’t exactly what they were called, which is why I had to google this.

My awareness of The Hobbit has remained heightened over the last several years, largely due to the ongoing YouTube series On Cinema, in which Gregg Turkington repeatedly mentions The Hobbit movies as some of his favorite movies.

on-cinema-hobbit
A moment from an early gem by Tim and Gregg

Turkington’s obsession with The Hobbit—and his self-proclaimed status as a #hobbithead—is one of the most compelling running themes in On Cinema, including his running belief that a write-in vote will help The Hobbit sweep the Oscars.

As mentioned before, this went from a simple search of “hobbit movies” to going down a bizarre search engine rabbit hole, in which I realized that the Google Knowledge Graph appears to have no knowledge regarding The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

This entire thing is a perfect blend of two major interests of mine: search engines and pop culture. For an example of something else I’ve written in this vein, check out the article I wrote and accompanying research about Game of Thrones and fan theories.

Before we continue this investigation, let’s briefly discuss what the Google Knowledge Graph is. If you are among the initiated with a thorough (or at least competent) understanding of Google’s Knowledge Graph, feel free to skip past this next section and jump back into the Hobbit stuff. Continue reading “Why Doesn’t Google Know About The Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Smaug?”

Why Your Westworld Fan Theory is Not a Fan Theory

Madness descended upon the internet earlier this week when the Westworld showrunners stormed into a the /r/westworld subreddit for what proved to be one of the larger online pranks in recent history.

The gist of the prank was simple: the Westworld team announced that they would be spoiling the entirety of the show for the Westworld superfans. Their logic was that the fans of Westworld seem to love guessing spoilers, so they might as well have them all revealed in advance.

In reality, they had crafted a beautiful new Rickroll. You can view it here:

This was a clever stunt, a well-executed, but most importantly: the Westworld team had created a genius act of public shaming that should bring into focus the absurdity of many aspects of internet fan culture.

The real message here is this: The very concept of fan theories needs major examination. Continue reading “Why Your Westworld Fan Theory is Not a Fan Theory”

The Homage is Not Enough: on the Limits of Nostalgia-First Narratives

In the summer of 2016 everyone started telling me that I had to watch a show called Stranger Things. I was reluctant. The reluctance came from the way it was sold: the entire series was one large nostalgia fest for ‘80s Spielberg, Stephen King novels, and Dungeons and Dragons.

It’s not that I don’t like Stephen King or Indiana Jones or battling bugbears. But I had just finished consuming two pieces of media that banked heavily on nostalgia and ham-fisted homages: the show Mr. Robot and the novel Ready Player One.

ready-player-one-back-future
A poster for the upcoming Ready Player One, which this is not a review of.

I had walked away from both Mr. Robot and Ready Player One with a general uneasiness, a queasiness, the stomach ache that comes from too much of any one sweet thing. In the case of both of these, that one thing was the overdose of both

  1. knowing that I had consumed something whose originality was constantly undermined by heavy doses of allusion and homage and
  2. knowing that I had consumed something for which I, a heterosexual white millennial male with an English degree and a penchant for science fiction and a job in digital marketing, was the target demographic.

When I finally did watch Stranger Things, it did not disappoint me in the way that Mr. Robot and Ready Player One both had. Sure, the entire thing has major IT and The Body vibes and there was even a moment where a character is reading Stephen King’s Cujo. The entire thing is, as Stephen King himself said, crowded with Stephen King easter eggs and nods:

But there’s something different about Stranger Things. Something deeper. More tactful, subdued, and thoughtful.

(Stranger Things is not the only nostalgic work that works. FX’s Fargo, crowded with references to O. Henry and Samuel Beckett and, naturally, the Coen Brothers, is a good example of another show that executes where others fail.)

What is it that made Stranger Things work while Ready Player One and Mr. Robot both, in this blogger’s opinion, come up short? It’s a very fine line, but also a bell that, once crossed, is hard to unring, regardless of whom it tolls for. Continue reading “The Homage is Not Enough: on the Limits of Nostalgia-First Narratives”

Why Game of Thrones Fan Should Hop on the Minnesota Vikings Bandwagon

We are nearly two weeks away from the Super Bowl. The Big Game. The Final Battle of the latest NFL season.

And while being a fan of the NFL can be trying (see this article from two years ago for more on the topic), this has been a good year to be a good Vikings fan. But rather than keep my Vikings fandom to myself, I would like to take this moment to try to convince all my fellow Game of Thrones fans that they should be Minnesota Vikings fans as well.

diggs.jpg
I will assume you’re already familiar with this moment.

Let’s consider a few reasons:

They are the Kings of the North.

This isn’t just something I say, although it is something I do say. During the latest season–upon clinching the NFC North title–shirts began circulating declaring the Vikings to be the “kings of the north.”

And it’s not just that they’re kings of the North. Defending the North has become a war cry among Vikings fans, just as the North has become a way to describe Minnesota itself. Continue reading “Why Game of Thrones Fan Should Hop on the Minnesota Vikings Bandwagon”

Some takes on 2017, before it ends

The end of 2017 is nigh. And with it, the top ten lists, the retrospectives, the predictions. Rather than the Top Books Published in 2017 or the Best Films of the Year or anything like this, here’s my list of opinions, ideas, and arguments that I have not already written about in 2017 and would like to make sure I write about before the year is up and they become potentially irrelevant.

So, here we go.

The Literature Takes

One. Are we living in Vonnegut’s unfinished final novel?

I’ve already written about how painfully the current world resembles a Vonnegut novel. But as nuclear war ticks closer, metaphors invade real life, and madmen in decline occupy the highest positions of power, it’s worth wondering if we might simply be living in Vonnegut’s world.

According to his book A Man Without a Country, Vonnegut had an unfinished novel at the end of his life, a novel with little-to-no prospect of ever being finished. He called it If God Were Alive Today and describes it as

“…about Gil Berman, thirty-six years my junior, a standup comedian at the end of the world. It is about making jokes while we are killing all the fish in the ocean, and touching off the last chunks or drops or whiffs of fossil fuel. But it will not let itself be finished.”

AManWithoutACountry

Is it possible that this is where we are right now? Is Vonnegut writing our history from a different place? Is this idea really dramatically different than Elon Musk saying we living in a simulation? Or the suggestion made by philosopher David Chalmers that we are not just in a simulation, but one that is breaking? Wouldn’t it be at least more reassuring to think that we are in a Vonnegut novel, rather than a computer program that is slowly breaking down? Continue reading “Some takes on 2017, before it ends”

Why Die Hard 2 is a Better Christmas Movie Than Die Hard

It’s the season of Die Hard. The season of “Die Hard is the best Christmas movie.” Or, at the very least, “did you know Die Hard is a Christmas movie.”  

Die Hard is, inarguably, a Christmas Movie. This is an accepted reality in our zeitgeist. Many have argued for it, with the majority of the arguments tracing their roots back to a simple Cracked article from 2009.

But what troubles me is that, lost in the shuffle of this omnipresent conversation is that its sequel, Die Hard 2, is everything that Die Hard is and more. More Christmas movie. More ’90s action movie. More Die Hard. Hence the subtitle, Die Harder.

Die-Hard-2.jpg

So, let’s investigate how Die Hard 2 is everything that Die Hard is, and more. Continue reading “Why Die Hard 2 is a Better Christmas Movie Than Die Hard”

9 Reasons to Start Reading Moby-Dick on its 166th Birthday

It’s no secret that I’m a pretty big Moby-Dick fan. Or, if it was a secret to you, then this might be the first thing you’ve read by me. Which is cool, if that’s the case (thanks!).

Anyway, in honor of Moby-Dick‘s 166th birthday, here are nine reasons that you finally need to read it. Now.

Ishmael is an extraordinarily funny narrator.

You’ve probably heard a lot of reasons to read Moby-Dick in your life. Great American novel and foundation of all literature and a genuine masterpiece and so on. But something that seems to be often lost in its recommendations is that it’s a genuine laugh riot.

Oddly enough, I’ve noticed a trend in which readers of Moby-Dick find it funny, yet think that the humor is something they’re discovering for the first time, like this listicle of all the sperm references and this thread in the /r/mobydick subreddit.

moby-dick-cover.jpg
Admittedly, not all of it is funny. The cover page is a little dull.

The reality is that, yes, Ishmael is a very funny narrator and Moby-Dick is a very funny book. As pointed out in this NPR article, it’s a good idea to read it looking for humor and “see almost immediately that Melville’s tongue couldn’t have been more in his cheek.” And yes, you’re not imagining it: there really are tons of phallus jokes, with the entire 95th chapter dedicated to “a very strange, enigmatical object” which is none other than a whale’s penis.

Ishmael is a wise and thoughtful and oddly progressive narrator.

He’s not just funny, of course. He’s also wise and poignant, with enigmatic, zenlike musings including:

“It is not down in any map any map; true places never are.”

And:

“Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.”

And:

“Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunk Christian.”

It’s that third one that has sparked endless conversation, centered around the relationship between the “heathen” Queequeg and his bedmate Ishmael. Of course, the line above isn’t the only reference to the depths and threads of their relationship. Throughout the entire book, Ishmael and Queequeg form an intimate bond, to the extent that Moby-Dick has been considered the first depiction of same-sex marriage in American literature.

Of course, there are many stories and subplots in Moby-Dick, but the liberal Ishmael (and his partner Queequeg) is a constant reason to keep reading. Continue reading “9 Reasons to Start Reading Moby-Dick on its 166th Birthday”

Surely Some Revelation Is At Hand: Classic Poetry and Donald Trump

I cannot recall where the prompt originated, but in either late 2016 or early 2017 I rewrote several classic poems to be about Donald Trump. I rediscovered them recently and could not think of a reason not to share them.

I don’t know that much more context is needed here. I would recommend reading the original poems before reading this reboots.

First, a re-imagining of “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats:

w-b-yeats
Thank you to this guy for writing the original.

The Third Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The eagle cannot hear the eagler;
Things fall apart; the party cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed pride is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The left lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of E Pluribus Unum
Troubles my sight: somewhere in lands of Florida,
A shape with lion’s rage and the hair of a dying man,
A gaze fierce and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its small hands, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant and angry.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That four years of carnage
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Washington to be born?

Continue reading “Surely Some Revelation Is At Hand: Classic Poetry and Donald Trump”