Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Art's responsibility

The last few days I've been knee-jerking arguing in favor of privilege (something that I mostly argue against) and sexism in video games. It's been surreal. But here are a couple of takeaways that make all the people in the front row smack their foreheads:

1. The people most threatened by the removal of a privilege are the quickest to deny its existence both in terms of the discussion and the thing itself. They jump to prove it's not there.

2. It seems that most people (men) who don't believe that video games have in the past, do so now, and plan to continue to do so in the future commit acts of sexism against women in terms of design and writing seem to be pretty emotionally stunted individuals. Fascinating. I bet there are complimentary line graphs for Bronies and Guys Who Think Women Who Complain About Sexism in Videogames Are Just Ball Busting Bitches.

3. Clarifying something so that people can more clearly hate it makes you as much of a target as if you argued that thing. I.e.:

"No guys, that's not privilege, this is privilege"
"I'm just saying: if you want to hate on something, hate on it right"

And I tried to watch Salem last night. God that sucked. It sparked a conversation with my wife, however, on if art has a responsibility to history, or if art has a responsibility to people it portrays. I'm not sure if I phrased that correctly, but it's close enough to arrive at my conclusion which is: no. Art's only obligation is to its own subject matter. And if art is responsible and intelligent, it will do its best to exemplify that subject matter. By that I mean art should try to use it's subject matter to say something meaningful, or will say something meaningful about it's subject matter.

To that end, Salem is not art. Wife was appalled by its cheap cash-in of genuine human, specifically woman, suffering just to have an hour slot of TV to fill. And she's right. It absolutely did that, but I think it did that because of the deeper problem of the show not having a proper obligation to its subject matter. Instead of weaving a faithful recreation that calls into question the sanity of the people involved, or even just a gripping recreation, or instead of weaving a nuanced supernatural narrative that examines man's relationship with women, and man and woman's relationship with the divine, we get lots of shallow motivations, fickle women that try to equate minor pain to being a prisoner of war, and weird Saw like sequences of self-mutilation that disappear faster than whatever point they were trying to make. Oh, and a crooked priest. No one saw that coming. What a let down.

And then there's that new Avril Lavigne video that has the internet upset about appropriations. I said it once, I'll say it again: I thought Avril Lavigne blew her brains out in the 80s when she realized no one thought she was funny anymore.

Kind of like privilege, I feel a little like cultural appropriation is one of those white guilt conversations where it's difficult to tell when it's right to engage. Much like the privilege discussion, it's super valuable on a certain level (like the level where we stop doing black face and giving black characters to white actors), but then there's the Tumblr level in which anything that isn't genderless sex mannequins standing absolutely still and making prolonged eye contact is automatically sexist, misogynist, privileged, racist, appropriationist, homophobic. Not  Halal. Those are all incredibly valuable conversations and they all have a strong backbone of truth, but Tumblr probably isn't equipped to handle adult conversations.

So Avril dances around singing about Hello Kitty and sushi (or chocolate, or none of those things. Who knows what noises her mouth makes) doing her best to look like some J-pop sweet heart while her indentured servants dance behind her. It's a really fucking stupid video. And websites like Jezebel (which I like) get mad about cultural appropriation. Which might be valid. But I can't help but think there are two issues here:

1. What's the difference between appropriation and "has Japanese stuff in it"? It seems like all these Tumblr-esque conversations pushes those two lines closer and closer to each other until they're sitting right on top of each other and privilege becomes "alive" and appropriation becomes "has knowledge of other places." Like Jeff Winger said: "Not being racist has become the new racism." And there's the larger problem of:

2. It just sucks. Unlike the larger problems of sexism, oppression, and appropriation at large, this song is a terrible piece of crap (though if I had to choose, I'd choose this song over her stupid faux-post-punk stuff that got her popular in the first place) that will disappear in months, or possibly a year if it by some chance is up for an award. Even if it wins an award, like Best Song of The Year, it'll vaporize. Remember that chick Vitamin-C (I think that's her name) that existed, like, ten years ago that everyone was mad at for reasons?

Much like art's responsibility, maybe we should hold artist's feet to the fire for making bad art. It's more of a global thing, right? If Avril was a more serious musician, she probably would have been at least a little more thoughtful of how she incorporated those Mooninite slave girls into her video. Plus, isolating Avril and making an example of her is a little like blaming Michael Bay for making a terrible movie: you're absolutely right, but he's too dumb to understand what you're talking about.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Talking with my wife tonight, we talked quite a bit about the idea of privilege, and why I'm tired of hearing about it.

First, it is absolutely vital that everyone on the planet keeps an eye out for their own assumptions and why they have them. It would have helped Mitt Romney look significantly less retarded, for example. And people who say things like, "Why don't they just speak English," or, "Well, I haven't ever heard that (as if somehow ignorance undoes reality)," do definitely need to do some privilege checking. But here's the problem I have:

There's a tendency in children's movie writing to make simple things the object. In watching a documentary on the Bronie phenomena, they discussed how the cartoon is all about friendship and teaching lessons and junk. How didactic of it. I can't help but feel that in media aimed at children there's this unfortunate tendency to make the given the point. Yes: of course you're friends. So were Luke and Han and Enkidu and Gilgamesh, but so the fuck what? What next? And then what? Well, and then Luke and Han murder the shit out of a space murderball, and Enkidu and Gilgamesh murder some stuff. But with children's stuff, the fact that Enkidu has a friend is the ultimate point. The fact that Luke has a friend is the central theme. You'll note that older children's faire doesn't make the simple the ultimate.

When was the last time you felt scandalized that a woman or a black man were seen out and about voting? You'd have to scrounge quite thoroughly to encounter such a person in America. And if you did, it's probably be in the perennially stereotypable South.

That's how it is with privilege. It's basic, it's given, it isn't the end result, but the step right before, "Yeah? So?" It's the morning shit just after the coffee and before you leave the house: necessary, but you don't really make a big deal out of it (usually). Yes, Mitt, we all know you're ridiculously wealthy. Yeah? So? Ah. I see. You are crazy constipated.

This notion of "check your privilege" has become something like describing your disgusting I-had-nothing-but-whiskey-and-Taco-Bell morning shits to total strangers in that if you do that, there can be no more conversation. It's a real showstopper. If you make privilege the point of all discussions about racial sensitivity, well, there can't really be anything after the ultimate point, can there? Imagine how many conversations must be stopped cold because someone's told they need to "check their privilege." Oh shit, I am white, so that bars me from speaking about anything. I guess you win. Or don't. Or whatever: we're arguing, not playing checkers. Is there really a winner?

But again, I am white, and I made sure to visit the best porcelain bowl before I hit the road.

Yeah? So?