Saturday, 8 December 2018

They Are Not Amused: Underlying Religious Impulses

Does anyone read blogs anymore?  Hard to know.  Leave a comment?

I was thinking again. And I read this thought-provoking article by Andrew Sullivan today, and had that old familiar feeling. That feeling of having been thinking the same sort of thing myself for some time, and not knowing if anyone but me was on the same page.  I don't have anything quite the same to offer, but here is an account of my own related experiences:

As I've written about before at length, I grew up in the kind of Christian church where it was not ok to say "Merry Christmas."  In fact, though I grew up in a Protestant church whose doctrine wasn't terribly different from any other such place in practice, there were definitely some oddities people raised Mormon or Jehovah's Witness might recognize:

Avoidance of the word "church" and "pastor" and "sermon" and "Christmas" and so on were all How It Was Done. This meant that we certainly went to church every Sunday and listened to sermons by men who were functioning as pastors, but we didn't call any of it that.  Predictably, this meant all of it happened in a cloud of deniability George Orwell would have recognized.  The sentence "I didn't agree with what the pastor said in his Christmas sermon at church this week" simply couldn't exist.  You'd be left with "I didn't agree ____ this week."

Needless to say, not only were "Christmas" and "church" on the list of words that decent, clued-in, accepted insiders did not use (about our own activities anyway, having "holiday" or "winter" events, rather than "Christmas" ones like other less spiritually enlightened groups), but the usual swear words, racial epithets and body-function words were all of course verboten as well, especially if you wanted to keep your status as a public figure.

Our group was status-based, like any other human group, and so there were all of these words and ideas that were viewed as "problematic" and would end up getting one de-platformed and publicly shunned and shamed and generally cut out of the dating pool. (I know of what I speak) I grew up seeing the thing happen, where guys would tour around the country, teaching our non-church church groups their understanding of Christianity, but then a single misstep in terms of word choice or concept, a fair or unfair association with someone or something deemed problematic, and that man disappeared from public view, within that church world, reputation irrevocably destroyed. "Bad teaching."  "Bad doctrine."  "Heresy." It was always a man speaking as it was a patriarchy, but it was the sort of patriarchy in which women had an equal opportunity to be offended by anything, and character assassinate people right along with the men.  And character assassinate they did.  Humourlessly.

It was like a contest in which those who found the most things offensive or problematic were the who'd woken up spiritually, and those who didn't claim to feel that offence were manifestly spiritually asleep, and obviously, troublingly part of toxic, befouled mainstream society, rather than our enlightened subgroup.

Humour was a particularly sticky area.  Humour was never really used much for sermons, which were about reverence and correctness and sacrifice, and were not about our entertainment or catharsis. But in personal life too, one had to be in very carefully chosen company to get away with telling or repeating jokes with a sexual, religious, drunken or body-function based punchline. Being witty or funny did not really gain one any status as a public figure in our group. Sisters, cousins, aunts and friend's brothers might alike suddenly get the serious face and "have a word" about the incorrectness of one's speech and deportment.

Of course, in theory you could always do or say whatever you liked, but you had to be ready for some gimlet-eyed person to bring a truly Victorian attitude into the conversation, and hint broadly (or state plainly) that your speech or your humour was evidence of you being a bad person, and clearly too much a comfortable, unthinking part of the evil, flawed system that was society, rather than carefully separate from it, in our church that we didn't call church. That you were poisoning and corrupting the conversation, if not the room itself with your toxic contributions.

I'm sure you can see where I'm headed with all of this: In my 20s, I "wandered" into the evil system that was late 20th century Western society, with its music and alcohol, its rape and theft and addictions and mental illness and toxic, corrupting content in movies, music and television, all ready to enjoy the freedom I thought would be out here. I thought I'd be able to listen to whatever songs I liked, watch whatever TV shows and movies I wanted, and talk to or hang out with whomever I liked, even publicly talking about religion, sex, body-functions or whatever, without someone going sour-faced and telling me they saw certain evidence that I was a bad person, and clearly part of the evil system that is society. Without anyone deciding I was unfit to have respect, a voice, a job, a relationship.

Well, I'm not sure I need to write the rest of this. I think you know how the world outside my prim, censorious, stiff, culty little church looks to me, now that I'm out here.

I'll just say that noted atheist and wit Stephen Fry's main complaint about the language policing of modern society is that it is sanctimonious, anti-humour and dryly pious. Takes itself terribly seriously and punishes anyone who laughs at it or anything it has decided is sacred.  Well, I'm seeing neo-Victorianism all around, with things like gender and sexual orientation replacing the old issues of sexuality as Things Best Not To Talk About and Certainly Far Too Important To Use Humour To Explore Our Feelings About.

I'm seeing an enforced consensus of a particular brand of social uprightness that neither I, nor anyone I know, got to vote upon.

Sobering fact: I sacrificed acceptance in my birth culture, with its clear nostalgia for/insistence upon Victorian propriety, hymns and sermons (and Elizabethan translations of the bible), in order to get something new, and to get room to breathe.  To taste more freedom. To taste life. The one thing I thought I could count on about life in the world outside my church sect was that it would not be careful, humourless and boring.

Well, it doesn't feel terribly different out here now. Not nearly different enough. And none of this "new wokeness" feels at all new to me. Quite the opposite. Little has changed. They are not amused. Still.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Faith and Trust in the Mob

This was a long Facebook post, so I decided to put it on here:
I think that our society was built by a whole lot of people, including ancient Greeks and Romans, Arabs and Africans, Celts and other indigenous peoples. I think we have kept most of the good stuff, and are still in the process of getting rid of some vestigial bad stuff.

I believe in metaphors of roots and foundations. I think one of the worst things that happened during the transatlantic slave trade was that African people were cut off from their roots so that even now it is hard to rebuild any of that for anyone. I suspect Alex Haley would agree.

So the idea that we flail around and lash out blindly without forethought or plan, and just smash the old seems like a really bad idea. The idea that we call 2018 Western society as a whole “the patriarchy“ is hugely disrespectful to all of the women (like Marie Curie, Jane Austen, Queen Victoria, the suffragettes and all the other women throughout history) who worked to make modern society what it is. And to women currently devoting their lives to The System. Women with impressive titles and qualifications earned in it. Science is pretty useful, and is hardly 100% the creation of male people or European colonizers. Same thing with democracy and psychology and philosophy and economics and mathematics and literature and drama.Society shouldn't be lightly dismantled with no real agreement as to what to build in its place. Pretty sure no one wants to lump Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres into the terms "privilege" or "patriarchy," yet they are part of Western society.

So what I would like to see is the goal of including more people, rather than the smashing of what has been built. And I firmly believe that it is possible for us to include more people, and that it is equally possible, and historically far more likely that we could start a second Victorian Era, Middle Ages, or Stone Age, by misusing our wonderful technology or democratic or economic systems. Be careful with that stuff. Some of us are still using it to feed ourselves. And its a bit of a game of Jenga. (Please don't get me fired for having written this blog)

One of the things that a hard look at the much more problematic parts of the world reveals, is that the outcome of overthrowing a somewhat oppressive, “mixed bag” government can be far worse than leaving it alone, if one isn’t careful. In Iran and Russia and countless South American and African nations, the mob (sometimes incited by a foreign government like Britain or America) rose up and overthrew a slanted, inequitable society, destroying everything and resulting in chaos, confusion, pain and death(leaving the country unlivable), only to have tyranny then take advantage of the chaos and start the whole process over again, only worse. Chile, Cuba, Rwanda, Argentina, Iran etc.
France, even. Do we want The Terrors again on any scale at all?

I guess I have limitless faith in the human predilection for going WAY too far, and not knowing when to stop. I have NO faith in the mercy of mobs out looking for payback. It is very easy to get angry and outraged and stirred up into a mob frenzy and smash a mixed bag of good and bad things into a useless bag of broken things with sharp edges. I am not optimistic about outrage or mobs crying for change.

I am not hopeful as to the potential of mobs to create. To be fair. To heal things. To be wise or sensible. To make anything that will last.

People are telling and hearing different narratives.  So, which one has deeper emotional resonance for you?:

     a) people are at heart mean and oppressive and selfish by nature, and laws and witnesses, courts, committees and accountability need to be maintained. The future holds more of that ugly stuff we know from the past, given what has not been expunged from out history books. The vulnerable being forgotten at best and oppressed and exploited at worst. Mobs tearing down structure, only to have worse tyrants with better technology and strategies replace them.  A new, scarier, more subversive form of control. Bad news all around. (we were raised with this one)

     b) people are at heart, good, and anything else we see is mainly from upbringing and social conditioning.  The future holds better information, better socialization, and a whole lot more inclusion and equity all around. A kindler, gentler kind of human being. We will win because our ideas are fresh and right, while they are old and will die out with their outmoded dinosaur nonsense.  Good news all around. (we were not raised with this one, but it’s popular right now.)

Things are comparatively good right now, in the context of the entire world, in the context of all of human history. To say otherwise is the definition of privilege. To say we can make it better? We had better.

And I think it’s relevant, when trying to create a more equitable future, to ask what Nelly McClung would think of it.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Core Virtues

I'm bingeing Jessica Jones Season Two, and I noted two episodes in, that the central theme (just as Season One's was "consent") is clearly "dealing with the past/your shit." (and "keeping self-control so you don't repeat past mistakes" and "women being vicious and men being weak.")
    It strikes me that this "dealing" thing is a sacred cow of mine.  A core virtue.  And core virtues can make us stupid. We put our pet virtue up above all other considerations, and we get tipped off balance. By something important, but not all-important. 
    We can prioritize "rights" so much that we lose sight of the necessity for "responsibilities." We can prioritize "diversity" so much we lose sight of the importance of "unity/being able to work together."  For many of us, there's only room for one sacred cow. Being balanced and open is hard.
    Thing is, when we follow one core virtue and neglect all the other ones, we are easily, as a society, polarized into two or more warring groups who can't even talk to one another, let alone work together.  We rally around the flag of "free speech" or "the family" or "social justice" and we fail to notice that that flag is in a little livestock pen.  That we've been penned in.  Divided, we fall more easily.
    One time, I was troubled by a person who clearly didn't deal with anything problematic, whose life axiom is "Think happy thoughts. If it's not a happy thought, don't think about it and it will likely go away. It does no good to think about troubling things." And so I spoke of needing to "deal."  I felt pretty responsible and adult pointing that out.  Because I've seen m any, many TV shows about people fleeing their troubled pasts.
   But right away, I was asked what "dealing" even means.  ("What even is "dealing"?)  And I realized I was having trouble even thinking, let alone explaining to a closed-minded objector, about what my core virtue ("deal with problematic stuff, or it will become your Jungian nemesis figure") really meant. I just believed in it passionately without knowing why.  And people who don't deal with anything make me very uneasy.
    This is very cultural.  It's my growing up strenuously objecting to a church culture in which one wasn't to ever discuss anything we didn't already know we'd agree upon, lest there be "discussion." "Discussion" (but not communication or "dealing") broke out in my church and it blew up.  It was successfully quelled in my family by my father, who had seen discussion and trying to speak about troubling stuff break out in his own family growing up, and watched it all end in acrimonious divorce.  The lesson, he felt, was "there's no use arguing." So to this day, we don't talk much. It's my watching generations of not dealing with anything reach critical mass and implode.  It's watching situations at jobs and more social ones go nuclear because of a collective policy of passive aggression and snark over blunt directness, of adhering to a long list of topics not to be broached or in any way dealt with. Of fearing "dealing."
    But it's a personal core virtue.  A sacred cow.  Something to watch out for.  Because there's other stuff.  Other stuff that's also important. 
    Back to Jessica Jones and her superheroic jeans.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

What the Urge to Create is Fueled By (According to G.K. Chesterton)

    "Once I remember walking with a prosperous publisher, who made a remark which I have often heard before; it is, indeed, almost a motto of our modern world. I had heard it once too often, and I saw suddenly that there was nothing in it.
     The publisher said of somebody, "That man will get on; he believes in himself."
    And I remember as I lifted my head to listen, my eye caught an omnibus on which was written "Hanwell" [Insane Asylum]. I said to him "Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the super-men. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums."
    He said mildly that there were a good number of men after all who believed in themselves and were not in lunatic asylums.
    "Yes, there are" I retorted, "and you of all people ought to know them. That drunken poet from who you would not take a dreary tragedy, he believed in himself. That elderly minister with an epic from whom you were hiding in a back room, he believed in himself. If you consider your business sense instead of your ugly individualistic philosophy, you would know that believing in himself is one of the commonest signs of a rotter. Actors who can't act believe in themselves; and debtors who won't pay. It would be much truer to say that a man will certainly fail because he believes in himself. Complete self-confidence is not merely a sin; complete self-confidence is a weakness. Believing utterly in one's self is a hysterical and superstitious belief like believing in Joanna Southcote [a self-proclaimed religious prophetess of the Victorian era]: the man who has it has "Hanwell" written on his face as it is written on that omnibus."
    And to this my friend the publisher made this very deep and effective reply, "Well, if a man is not to believe in himself, in what is he to believe?"
    After a long pause I replied "I will go home and write a book in answer to that question." This is the book that I have written in answer to it."
-G.K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy"
And yet, sometimes it's healthy to pursue madness.  Because there is a form of grey, ground-down, deathly sanity that is far worse than any madness.  Better to let that madness coalesce into some shareable, forwardable, downloadable, streamable form and spread it to the world. 

(But to be fair, Chesterton wouldn't have called that madness, really.  He was a fan of expression and creativity. I just felt for those untalented hacks who believed in their own work and yearned to share it with an uncaring world.  Because I used to and I miss that.)

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Why I Liked the Individual Bits that made up "The Last Jedi," but Hated the Movie Pretty Hard

needless to say, SPOILERS.

This isn't a blog post.  It's a copied and pasted Facebook comment that seemed to keep growing:

The Last Jedi was FULL of really fun bits which all added up to inconsequential nothing or transparent and pointless stalling to fill out the time, and often felt like nothing less than a targeted attack upon/dismantling/strip-mining/fracking of the original movies. It felt like it was always rushed in presenting things that ultimately didn't matter anyway. Many of the scenes could simply have been cut with no effect whatsoever on what passed for an overall story or direction. There was nothing holding the characters back from enacting the space climax scene at some point before the movie had started/before all the casualties became necessary.

The main thing that many viewers felt, without even going all analytical on it, is the fact that movies of this kind are built on dramatic setups, followed (sometimes in the next film) by satisfying, climactic payoffsThe Last Jedi started by rubbing the viewers' noses in the fact that it was going to be built around a large number of dramatic setups, including ones brought forward from the previous movie... followed by a series of jumbled letdowns. You could almost hear the sound of a balloon deflating with each one.  And sometimes, rather than a hugely disappointing payoff, there was just a whole lot of nothing.  No payoff at all.  

Now, that's just bad storytelling. Subverts expectations, alright.  By not delivering on a promise, thereby pissing viewers off and leaving them feeling tricked and misled.  And by a bad storyteller, not by a genuinely innovative, creative or clever spinner of space yarns.  One whose story somehow made less sense than The Phantom Menace.

Worst failing of all, Rey, the film's protagonist, is lovely and charming and well acted, but the characterization is boring as hell.  At least we knew little Jake Lloyd was going to grow up to be Darth Vader.  Rey seems like she'll never grow to become anything, neither bad nor good.   She seems to think she is Mary Poppins, already perfectly perfect in every way.

Writing 101: Rey needs conflict.  She needs to at least have the risk of maybe losing.  At some point.  She needs to have to try again after failing, for example, having a hand cut off.  (almost every interesting Star Wars character is improved by having a hand cut off.)  

What Rey does not need is to be tediously right all the time about everything, and beat everyone at everything all the time. She can beat Kylo Ren at light saber duelling.  She is wiser than Luke or Yoda and doesn't actually need either of them.  She doesn't need jedi lessons.  When the time comes, it seems she ought to be the one training Luke.  (I know, in the age of millennial falcons, she's "just special" like all girls are special, and her gender is supposed to be deeply empowering, all on its own.  Like Jonathan Pageau points out, she's the best at everything, from the beginning, and better than all the guys, just because she just is.  She came like that. No lessons need to be learned. She simply needs to be freed and she'll empower herself, once toxic male Fynn stops grabbing her by the hand and trying to save her, not seeing her unique value and the fact that she never needs to be saved. (Not like him, Kylo, Luke and the other dudes).  Success at no cost. No austere Jedi lifestyle here. Just free, inborn empowerment. The millennial dream.  What an important lesson for girls!) 

But meanwhile in movieland, the character is crying out for some depth.  Not just an empty McGuffin.  Right now she's failing to keep up with Watto and Boss Nass for depth.  In fact, she's tied for last place with Bossk, IG88 and Salacious Crumb.  At this point her parents might as well be Female Rebel Soldier #3 and Bespin City's Lobot for how much we're able to care about them.  It doesn't matter.  The "Rey's parents" thing is as boring and pointless and misleading as everything else.  The fact that we're supposed to care about a backstory that's being withheld years longer even than "Who is Luke's father?" is ruined  by the fact that the movie isn't explained by, and does not require its characters to have backstories.  It's too busy whizzing around in CG space, in a terrible mad rush to tell us... nothing much of anything at all.

In a good movie, like Empire, the Empire strikes back... and wins.  And the hero fails.  In this movie?  The New Order strikes back.  And... boringly, fails.  After all the buildup, Snoke fails.  Kylo Ren fails. Luke fails. Poe fails. Finn fails. You know who doesn't fail?  The hero.  Rey. And, even more boringly, she doesn't really win either. She just... nothings. The Vice Admiral wins hugely, overshadowing Luke's shadowplay, by topping him for being right and being a martyr and saving everyone.  Now why didn't she tell Poe she was going to do it, and do it before the film started?

In 1977, Star Wars: A New Hope was a movie full of subverted tropes and unexpected reversals and innovated gender roles, especially for its time. But the Gen Xer one-trick pony's only trick is to reverse or flip expectations. And that's it. The troll, pirate, vampire, robot, witch, serial killer or demon is actually a supa cool brooding anti-hero you'll be cheering for. The charming prince, noble knight, helpful priest, heroic vampire-hunter, hero, cop or military general is actually... the Bad Guy! (this was surprising for the first decade or so. Until it became Every Time.) And all of the 2 dimensional characters' genders could be inverted without changing anything else about the characters whatsoever. 

Post modernism. It's all about flipping everything.  Mother Knows Best in Tim the Toolman Taylor's house.  The reptilian ninjas from the New York sewers are pizza-scarfing saviours rather than the terrifying unnatural threat. The werewolf plays basketball. Starsky and Hutch are buffoons. Charlie Brown and friends swear and fart instead of being sweet and telling the true meaning of Christmas (South Park). Give it a try: think of something pre-90s, and turn everything on its head.  Dorothy is actually the villain of Oz, and the "witch" is the hero. The Sheriff of Nottingham is a fair ruler with a dangerous outlaw bandit to contend with, troubling his woods.  Tarzan is an African tribeswoman descended from a line of female chiefs, but who is shipwrecked in England where she needs to run a corporation. The Hardy Girls are sisters who narrowly escape being caught smuggling counterfeiting plates.

George Lucas was ahead of his time doing this "subverted expectations" stuff in the 70s, when The Princess Bride and Shrek and Spawn, Twilight, Dexter and Deadpool wouldn't hit the screen for a decade or so. He was at least fifteen years ahead of most of his peers in the industry. He was doing Oedipus instead of Prince Charming. Luke was in danger of killing his father and marrying his sister (and the prophet/oracle figure wasn't warning him, even though it hadn't happened yet and Obiwan and Yoda both knew. Weird.)  Now, a Gen Xer is going to feel all edgy "flipping" all of that.  Flipping Oedipus.

But: If you try to flip Star Wars: A New Hope and the next two movies upside down, you simply turn it back right-side-up again, back to a much more traditional fairy tale. You get more old-fashioned female characters. One-dimensional male heroes and villains. Galactic senators are all males again. The Empire isn't a racist and sexist tyranny anymore, but has become an oddly diverse, equal opportunity group of space Nazis.
Vader is secretly Luke's evil uncle, who killed Anakin Skywalker (Luke's father and the rightful king). Greedo shoots first, and Luke gets shanghaied off Tatooine to slave away aboard the Colonial Falcon, under the shifty pirate bootlegger Han Solo and his bestial first mate, Chewbacca, who wields a space whip. Luke has to kill the treacherous Han Solo and does, defeating his henchman Chewbacca first, to escape and continue his adventure to kill his evil uncle Vader, and marry the princess. R2D2 doesn't understand anything and therefore needs everything explained to him by the smarter, sensible C3P0, which is all supposed to be very cute.  The witch/Emperor is female again, and merely assists King Vader rather than being his superior. The wise woman/oracle isn't Yoda anymore. The princess doesn't use a weapon and doesn't run the war anymore. Alderaan is saved in the last act. The Rebellion is run by a man again, instead of the venerable Mon Mothma. Luke is secretly a prince, and gets the girl (Leia) in the end, and she isn't his sister. Luke has to kill Vader in a light saber battle, and does.   Jabba is an empress/madam/evil queen/female trader.  The helpless Ewoks need to be saved from the Empire entirely, rather than just being helped out a bit. 

If you "flip" Oedipus, you get the story of a young woman who is killed by her mother and whose father doesn't, therefore, marry her.  (Or something else that doesn't work. That is trying way too hard to be clever, but lacks the gears to get up that hill.) 

Not terribly helpful if you want to make the true threat to the Resistance/Rebellion Lite the evil "toxic masculinity" (toxic Star Wars masculinity: running around with sabers and blasters, flying too fast, risking your life and disobeying the overcautious, controlling older adult figures who don't get it, which one would recognize from any other Disney movie, and, say, Harry Potter).  

Here, for your edification are two articles celebrating 2017's use of nerd properties to throw a preachy, tedious spotlight on toxic masculinity: First, second.

And... if you flip things, it's not a star war anymore. It's fleeing refugees and suicide bombers, rather than rebel soldiers with military attacks. Rey doesn't get to be "Commander Rey."
Vice Admiral Holdo can't be bothered with boots, medals or a uniform with insignia. Star Wars becomes Star Trek, with mostly talking/arguing, and insoluble ethical dilemmas.  Kirk/Vice Admiral Holdo opts for not sending out a fighter craft with the hopes of the movement resting on the shoulders of one lone hero, but instead, prefers to do things like sacrifice the Rebel base ship Enterprise, set on self-destruct, to blow up the enemy ship/threat to the Federation.  In Star Trek, this threat is usually the work of less evolved, testosterone-poisoned neanderthal aliens who can't stop raging long enough to sit down and talk/work things out. Beings who haven't been told that the future, and the past in a galaxy long long ago and far, far away, are alike female.  After saving everyone, Spock/Luke/Holdo dies, with the possibility of appearing in the next movie anyway. Star Wars III: The Search for Luke. (Put a Gen Xer on the job of jawa-ing the movies and Kirk sacrifices his life for 3 minutes instead of Spock dying for real, and instead of Leia being shot with a stun blaster by a stormtrooper while talking with R2D2, Leia shoots her best rebel soldier in the head with a stun blaster and R2D2 doesn't have anything much to say about anything at all.  What a twist!)

So, Star Wars, it turns out, is beyond the scope of a Gen Xer's hack job. Especially one with all of Kylo Ren's understanding of and respect for the past.  Jawas don't build new droids. You can't just flip everything, guys. Can't just jumble the pieces and put your Star Wars Lego minifig's heads on random bodies and  subtly change the spaceships' shapes a bit with a few pieces swapped out here or there, or some new colours.  You have to make something.  You'd need to actually bring in something new. You'd actually need to know something about human history, psychology, philosophy, religion, Jung, fairy tales and ancient myth, and then subvert or flip that newly-acquired source material, not try to flip the already-flipped Star Wars rehash of mythology that you inherited.   You'd need to be capable of doing Star Wars again, yourself, rather than just recycling it.  You'd need to be able to create. To invent more Star Wars.  (Like they did somewhat in the two computer-generated cartoon series, which are both far less derivative than the big budget Hollywood sound and fury signifying nothing shows.)

The best symbolism in The Last Jedi is when Anakin/Luke's light sabre from A New Hope is being fought over by "I'm searching for hope, insight and spiritualism" and her opponent "the past must DIE... just 'cuz" and that saber represents Star Wars: A New Hope itself.  And between the two of them, they tear it in half so it doesn't work anymore. That torch that Luke churlishly tossed over his shoulder instead of passing it to Rey.  Just as the new guys have done with the franchise. The past must be chucked over one's shoulder. It's 2017.  And that stuff's toxic and old.

Oedipus is very old, yes.

The best-written, complex, unmuddled character of The Last Jedi was the erstwhile Ben Solo, Han's very own all-too-millennial falcon. In a movie that came out in 2017, even Han Solo and Leia Organa were naturally going to have spawned a lazy, whiny, conflicted, angry baby with no respect for the past, and a cynical, pragmatic (yet somehow naive, starry-eyed) nihilism to offer the world in lieu of hope. He's a destructive, angry victim, mirror to Poe's quipping, privileged competence. Kylo's pain isn't the loss of his mother, or having no father; it's his sketchy uncle/Jedi camp counsellor coming in and being inappropriate at night when he's sleeping, unsheathing his... saber. #kylotoo

And it's people who are my age who are to blame for Hollywood right now. The movies. The scandals. The complicitness with sexual exploitation. The cover ups of same. The hypocrisy regarding it. The backlash to it. The backlash to the backlash. We-a culpa.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Has Dating Changed Much Since the Middle Ages?

I'm taking medieval longsword lessons.  I'm also taking an online Chaucer course.
I'm doing a research paper on "Troilus and Criseyde," comparing Pandarus, who sets them up and encourages their affair, with Tinder and online dating sites and services.

I need people with modern dating experience to do my 15 question anonymous survey. You can just click boxes, or type in text. Zero knowledge of Chaucer required. I won't have any idea who responded to it.

Please lend me a hand by sharing this so single friends will consider doing it?

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Vulnerability and Forthrightness Are for Kids

I'm watching HarmonTown, alone, on my weekend.  And I'm thinking about what it's like to not look to be in terribly great shape, to have facial hair, to be middle-aged, and to have clearly failed to build a family to grow old with.  HarmonTown is about Dan Harmon, one of the misfit nerds who created shows like Community and Rick and Morty, which shows entertain and touch us similarly-spirited people on a deeper level than we can quite explain. We are filled with utter delight when Harmon, or Kevin Smith, or someone like that, depicts or talks about something that's an important part of our lives, but that previously hadn't really existed, as far as TVtonia and MovieLand were concerned.

I can watch documentaries like this one, and I can pretend to be outside of it.  I can "diagnose" or profile the guys in them: fat, smart, sensitive guys, who are still close with their mothers, who love animals, who tend to have messy/long hair and beards, who love fantasy and worlds of imagination and a mix of cerebral humour with potty jokes. Sometimes trying to get tough with tattoos and piercings, but still looking baby soft.  Man-children.  Nerds. Trekkers. Middle-aged men who collect toys and games from their childhoods, which childhoods they claim were pretty unhappy, but for those things they're collecting. Whatever.  Mostly lonely people who are part of our culture's ever-expanding vista of solitude and social alienation leading up to lonely death.

But I'm watching me, really.  And a whole lot of people I know.

There's a real sense in all of it of feeling like one has failed to grow up.  Hasn't managed to adult.  (Also... feeling like growing up would really suck.) Because (Biff!  Pam!  Pow!) comic books may have "grown up" enough to really make an impressive annual salary, but many of us who used to read them haven't.

And why would we?  Is there any reason other than "I have kids" to stop living like them?  Kids imagine.  They aren't held responsible to make a real home, or a real life.  They can make up elaborate fantasy worlds together and play in them.  They can argue for hours about which house they'd be in at Hogwarts, or what race they'd be in Middle-earth.  If they have special allergies, conditions, syndromes or needs, they just get more and more attention and stuff.  They've got no one to fool, really.  So they generally tell you straight up what they're thinking and feeling, without being afraid you will judge them.

Grown up people aren't like that. They don't share like that.  They can't afford to be vulnerable like that.  They need to maintain the illusion of adulthood.  Unlike some of us, they were no doubt raised that the "white lie" is absolutely essential to getting by in society. 

So, if you do share vulnerability, or tell your real feelings, people tend to say it's so brave. But really, they're thinking it's crazy.  A bad move.  Because it's a Really Bad Idea to be vulnerable. You have a persona to maintain.  Be vulnerable and open, let the mask slip and get seen for more of who you really are, and you might wreck it all. (this is not taking into account those not-really-being-human folks who aren't aware of having anything at all under that mask they paint daily. Because what can be said about them?)  Many adults are so adult they never let even themselves see a clear glimpse of what's going on behind their personas/roles.

For some of us though, sharing and being vulnerable isn't risking anything much.  Because we have conclusively failed to fool anyone with any kind of adult, successful, strong, competent, respectable, unbothered, content, relationship-worthy persona to begin with. 

In fact, we failed so badly at making one, that others around us make charity loaner personas for us to wear if we're going to be meeting their real friends.  Roles they hand to us at the door for us to put on, which personas they tossed together because we clearly need one. Personas that include the idea that we need to be "explained."  That we Won't Ever Get It.  That we Won't Change.  Personas that do the very opposite of what theirs do for them. Personas that tell everyone "He's not fine just the way he is, but tell him he's great, ok?"  Personas they hand us that it would be an utter delight to wreck utterly.

"This is Tom.  He's very negative, but he's just being so very funny. We just laugh. He doesn't mean any harm. He's single, but he won't date my fat cousin even though he's fat himself. He has a speech impediment, so don't comment on what accent you think he has."   "This is Bob.  He's a computer guy. Builds computers in his basement and all of his friends are computers.  And he loves spicy food. Like, to an unhealthy degree.  I hope he doesn't say anything sexist. He doesn't drink coffee or tea. Likely on prozac or something like that."   "This is Tim.  He's kind of autistic?  Like, not literally, but kind of... you know.  And we don't think he's gay, but he hasn't dated anyone since we've known him. And he loves those movies with swords and magic, but doesn't watch sports. Like, ever. So he won't really talk about hockey or football or anything in a normal way."  Apparently we need disclaimers.  "The following interaction may include mature conversations that get real and go beyond the niceties of small talk.  Viewer discretion is advised."

Mostly they get us very, very wrong, and mostly it really doesn't matter to them.  People just need to feel like they've got a handle on us.  "Guy who eats only tacos and has three cats.  Got it."  Even if that was you for one summer at age 15, and it was part of a contest, and your one cat died five years ago.

The mysterious thing is that anyone who looks at you and talks to you for about two minutes can see pretty much everything important about you.  It's not like you're mysterious or hard to figure out. But it's like they are still having trouble believing who you are.  Because you aren't quite like them, in small ways. So you're confusing to them.  You've got to be something other than how you come off, don't you? Because surely no one is actually how they come off? Just...

But maybe you don't know to feel the shame or try to hide anything about what you are. You don't know how to "get along," or "play the game" or "work the angles" or "put your best foot forward."  You put whichever foot is next forward.  Left after right.  In whatever shoes you happened to put on.  Maybe you knowingly and unknowingly commit any number of social faux pas, and it's not really worth it to you to bother with any of it. It's not like "playing the game" is going to make you win it in any appreciable sense.  It's not like you're a courtier in the palace of Louis XIV of France.  So you don't bother with a persona nearly as much as everyone else.  Don't have a corner of your brain that's working all day long, automatically helping you total up things that make you look good or win points with others.  So they treat you like someone without a face who therefore needs a mask handed to him at the door.

They're different.  They fake smiles, and cultivate a cute little vocabulary of evasions, non-answers and readily deniable, only half-said things. They know how to hint at their feelings and thoughts without committing to them in any way that one might be able to build on in future conversations.  Because they've got too much built to risk their own personas through being known more fully.  To let the personality past the PR men.  What would happen if people saw through their personas to the rest of them?  They might stand out.  Be harder to integrate into social events.  What pass for their friends right now might start forgetting to invite them to things. It might just be easier for everyone that way.

Well, for many of us, we don't have all that stuff to lose.  We look up the social hierarchy to those just above us, who have families and lovely homes and cottages and back yards, and who have occasionally invited us to them to do things, instead of just to bars, and often we know that they won't be continuing to include us.  Why?  Mostly because, in a hierarchy like that, if you even slightly piss off any one person who is higher up than you are (especially if they are part of both "A Couple," and also "A Family Whose Kids Play With Our Kids") you drop out of the running.  We can't help wishing we could fit, but we can't and won't change anything to try to fit.  We're pretty sure there's no use in thinking about it.

Family gets prioritized over friendship.  Every time.  (Or you lose your family.)  So, even if you have forged a number of strong friendships in your 20s, you can very rapidly lose those once your friends have families that then "outrank" you. And if any of your closest friends start living with someone who'd prefer you don't come around too much, perhaps having her own friends she'd rather have around, you've not going to be coming around much anymore.  That's it for you. They've graduated. You haven't.

(Of course you can always hope they'll break up and then you'll be persona mucho grata again, but that doesn't always work out either.)

We singletons also look "across" the social hierarchy to people who are managing to get by while being a lot like us, but who also seem to have some kind of group.  And these things are precious to us.  Often, we either can't really get/fit into these bands, clubs, teams, clubs and relationships to begin with ("Thanks for auditioning. We'll call you.")  Or these groups kind of fall apart due to internal stressors. We have to really watch we don't tear our little islands of being-with-other-people apart over petty stuff.  ("petty" is from the French word "petit(e)" for "small/unimportant.") 

And we look down the social hierarchy to those just below us who are un(der)employed and perhaps still living with their parents, or on social assistance, and who definitely have no kids or connections either.  And we hang out with them.  And when they meet our friends?  We're tempted to "explain" them.  After all, they're single. And have no jobs.  So we try.

And then we realize we're just as bad as everyone else at playing the game.  At climbing.  There are just different weight classes of playing the game.  And some of us are middle-weights trying to move up and lacking what it takes.

"Thanks for your... most interesting audition!  We'll call you!"