July 24, 2010

what is it about some villains . . . ?

When I think of truly great villains, it's not the Emperor Palpatine, the Joker, or the Hannibal Lecter who gives me the chills. It's Dolores Umbridge, HAL 9000, Grand Moff Tarkin, Nurse Ratched, Annie Wilkes and Noah Cross who make me feel like the world is a scary fucking place.

Why is that? Why is it that I can enjoy the Joker's theatricality but still go to sleep at night but hope to God that I never come across a Dolores Umbridge? Why does Hannibal Lecter delight me while HAL terrifies me? Why does a rich old man like Noah Cross scare me more than the Dark Lord of the Sith?

Even though iconic villains kill more people and spread more mayhem, why does it feel like these more unassuming characters do more damage? Is it because what they do seems more real somehow? Is it because these examples of ordinary evil are closer and more widespread than we often like to admit? I don't mean these questions rhetorically, either. I'm genuinely interested in figuring this out.

What do you think?

July 23, 2010

"luke . . . i am your father" (h/t postbourgie)

Over at PostBourgie, a comment left by Paula says:

I guess my problem is that it’s very easy to see why Breitbart gets away w/ this shit. He’s playing on the always-persistent, niggling idea that minorities are there to hustle a system that gives them an unearned advantage over whites. Because we’re a nation of either cowards, intellectually immature, or sadly undereducated, we never confront these underlying issues of bias. What I see people in the lefty blogosphere doing now is not so very different from what the NAACP, Vilsack, and Obama have done — which is to separate themselves from the “poison” as fast as possible with as much bluster and self-righteousness as possible. It’s Breitbart’s/NAACP/Obama’s fault!!
It’s never OUR fault, of course. It’s never our responsibility to accept failings that come a result of social conditioning that may take centuries to erase. Just as Vilsack et al must have initially assumed that Sherrod was a “bad” person who had no connection to anything they were doing in the name of equality, we’re now assuming that Breitbart is some toad who is not really a part of us, that his power exists independent of our society’s willingness to support him.
In other words - life imitates Star Wars.

July 21, 2010

Fandom really sucks sometimes

I gotta get something off my chest right quick:I participate in fandom. Can't help it. I'm a nerd.

And if you thought corporate America was a cesspool of head-up-the-ass privilege and soul-crushing oppression, you haven't seen the depths to which fandom can go. At least corporate America has the decency to lie about not being sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, and full of class elitism. At least you could say that in corporate America, it's all about the Almighty Dollar and the Bottom Line, so you can kind of sweep all the shit they do under that particular Umbrella of Evil.

But fandom - oh, man! Not only are people not making any money off fandom (so have less excuse to put people through that shit), but oftentimes the whole point of the way they indulge in fucked up oppressive dynamics is part of the fun. It's not like gangs where the different oppressions keep to their turf for the most part: racism over here, sexism over there, homophobia and transphobia a few blocks down, ableism by corner. Oh, no! It's not that fucking nice! Those fuckers hang out in clusters. When you see racism, you can bet your ass that sexism (fuck it - let's just say misogyny) is on its way. If you get a glimpse of trans fail, you may as well don your anti-homophobia suit because the anti-queer shit is right around the corner. And despite its "handicap," the ableist train is never late.

And the most fucked-up Jedi mind trick in all this is that no matter how clearly you can see it and point it out and explain it . . .

  • They didn't mean to, so it doesn't count
  • You weren't polite about it, so it doesn't count
  • There are More Important Things To Talk About, so it doesn't count
  • You're obviously paranoid (aka "sensitive"), so it doesn't count
  • They never heard it before, so it doesn't count
  • You didn't cite your sources, so it doesn't count
And even when it does count, you bring it on yourself by . . .
  • Dressing like that
  • Talking about that
  • Thinking about that so much
Don't you know? It's far more important that you don't harsh the squee than it is for you to feel included like other human beings.

July 15, 2010

aesthetics, canon, and social justice at SWPD

There are a couple of great posts at Stuff White People Do about To Kill A Mockingbird that get into aesthetics, culture, canon, and social justice. Be sure to read the comments because that's where the real action is.

First check out swpd: warmly embrace a racist novel (to kill a mockingbird). Then head over to swpd: force non-white students to read "great literature" that demeans them.

It's one of those rare discussions about an incendiary topic (especially down South where I'm from) where there is disagreement without denial, dismissal, and delusion.

Ethical stances, social justice, and 99Seats moment of unintended clarity

Over at Parabasis, 99Seats has a moment of "Unintended Clarity" regarding Don't Ask Don't Tell. But more important than his realization about the harm of DADT is when he says:
I honestly never thought I would have fit in that category...but apparently I do. It's pretty sobering to realize, especially as I go after people for other kinds of bigotry and discrimination.
It's shocking that this is the law of the land and massively unjust. And equally shocking that it took a comic book to make that clear to me.
How is it that 99Seats can do this without needing to be convinced that queer people are people and thus are the authorities on their own lives and experiences? How can he simply accept - without needing to debate or interrogate or play Devil's Advocate - that DADT hurts people who are queer? I asked as much in the comments to that post, to which Isaac gives a very thoughtful response. For whatever reason, I can't post my comment at Parabasis, so I'm doing it here.
I think both the person broadcasting the message and the person receiving the message have some shared responsibility for it is perceived, ultimately.
I know that Isaac is more clued in than most, but I think that people can take the wrong idea from this and use it in a way that ultimately upholds the status quo (in other words, keeps things fucked up). I can get behind the spirit of this statement, but my experience tells me that, in practice, it's used as a kind of tone argument that silences the very voices well-intentioned progressive (yet privileged) folks say they want to hear from. Not to mention, it puts the onus on the oppressed to accommodate, if not cater to, the sensibilities of the privileged if they want their agency recognized instead of constantly questioned (unless it's to assign blame - for example, "She had it coming for dressing like that").

To ride the philosophy train going on in another post for a moment, when it comes to social justice, I lean toward consequentialism when it comes to discrete acts (see here). At the risk of ostracizing myself (not like I've got much doing on except in my head), I am growing increasingly convinced that when discussing social justice issues, those who have the privilege and power need to shut the fuck up and listen until they are invited to speak*. And even then, only to address a specific point or answer a particular question. It is the most concrete and immediate way to shift the imbalance of authority (especially social and moral authority) that disproportionately privileges certain groups of people in certain situations that I've encountered or imagined thus far. That and killing people. Lots of people. Some of whom might actually deserving of it. Since few would want that, except for maybe the Joker, let's focus on discourse, shall we?

So, aside from taking up arms and killing people (which has its appeal on certain days), what has to happen to get people from "I don't know and I don't care" (or rather, "I do care, sorta, but I don't know what I don't know") to something more along the lines of what 99Seats did for DADT?

* I definitely include myself in this, particularly when it comes to trans and disability issues.

July 6, 2010

The Importance of Safe Spaces (via Womanist Musings)

From "The Importance of Safe Spaces" (via Womanist Musings):
I am a great fan of safe spaces. Because the heteronormative world is not a pleasant place. It just isn't.
It has constant little pricks always poking you over and over again. You open a book and there's straight people, you look out the window and there's lots of straight families, you turn on the television and lo, straight folks abound. Adverts are 99.9% straight, television is awash with straightness, the radio's playing yet another boy loves girl song. It's everywhere - and of course, the accompanying little whisper "you're not normal, not normal, not normal, not normal. You don't belong here." Which is damned irritating at times.
. . . . . . . . . .
Then we come to Safe Spaces. In a safe space, the sporks are absent (or at least massively blunted). Safe spaces are places where we do belong, places where we can relax. Places where we don't need to be on guard or afraid or constantly having our eyes sporked. For me, walking into a place I consider a safe Space is like 10 hours of therapy and a very large Bacardi (mock not my drinking habits). It's like taking off your tight shoes and tie after a very long day - except it's a day that has lasted months and the shoes are so tight you can hardly walk and the tie is stopping you from breathing properly.
Which is why we need to respect people's safe spaces. We need to recognize how important they are. We need to recognise when we are tourists in other people's safe spaces. In short, we need to make sure we don't take sporks with us into the safe spaces. Those eyes get sporked enough.