Tags: culture wars


One of these things is not like the other


A doesn't bother me at all. B does.

I have been trying to work out, since this morning, why it is that all this continual fuss about portrayals in fantasy bothers me so much, because it does bother me, quite a lot.

Portrayals in more everyday media do concern me. I'm fairly secure and confident in my own physique etc for the most part, largely because I consider my attraction to people to be my mind, but I do worry now and then when I 'pudge out' a bit who doesn't? Equally I don't want to devote myself to spending the sort of time needed to be Captain Six-Pack above and I'm OK with that, really. That's not to say the pressure isn't there so I do empathise with women who feel the social/media pressure to be the size zero model and who get complexes about that. I really do. Women aren't the only ones to suffer due to media portrayals, either in terms of looks or behaviour.

There's a massive disconnect for me, however, between making legitimate complaints about fashion portrayals and complaining about portrayals in comics, games, books etc. There's a huge difference for me between reality and fantasy. While I might feel a twinge not looking like Captain 6-Pack, he's a real person. Thor isn't. Of the two I'd much rather be Thor if it came down to it but at the same time I know Thor is entirely fictional and I can never be Thor. I don't feel even the slightest twinge of regret that I'm not Thor because he's fantastical, fictional. Fictional characters may inspire and entertain, you might aspire to some of their characteristics - a sense of justice perhaps, a level of honesty or confidence - but you surely don't aspire to BE them unless you're mentally ill in some way.
Demands to represent 'ordinary folk' in fantasy also strike me as odd. I don't really want to project MYSELF into a game because I am largely boring and ordinary and can't do anything cool. The only games I can think of that are exceptions are Silent Hill, Alan Wake, my Eclipse Phase character and the themes of a game I, myself, am working on. When I play a game I generally want to play something beyond myself, the superhero, the assassin, the secret agent, the starship ace. I want to play someone who is NOT like me. Why enter a fantasy world to just be yourself?

Heroes in fantasy and SF generally aren't normal people, they're archetypes. The word 'hero' is used for a reason. Go back to the folk stories, the Greek legends, the tales of gods and demigods and that's just what you find powerful archetypes, handsome, beautiful, strong, cruel. Sure, there's a place for the everyman hero now and then, either for comedic effect (Jack Burton), succeeding against the odds (Deeba) or for grounding the story in a more realistic way for empathy (Dagmar) but for escapist fantasy? Not so much.
In short, it jarrs, to have people want to de-hero the heroes, to remove the very thing that makes them noteworthy, larger than life, interesting, engaging characters that are fun to read about or to play. The vicarious greatness or capability that goes beyond the ordinary.
That's not it though, that's not the central nub of what bothers me about it.
Go back, mentally, in time. Think about the way horror comics were demonised and how they were defended. Think about BADD and the way D&D was treated as satanic and dangerous. Think about the campaigns against computer games. Think about the fuss over Elvis' hips or Iron Maiden's lyrics and album covers. How have we defended these hobbies in the past from the accusations made against them? How ridiculous do people's concerns about these things look now?
We've made great pains to point out that these are fantasies, that they are not real. That there are differences between reality and fantasy, that D&D doesn't involve worshipping strange gods or casting real magic. That you don't have to be a Satanist to like Heavy Metal. This has been backed up by psychological research, particular in gamers which shows that as a demographic we tend to have a heightened ability to tell reality from fantasy and treat them as separate things. I'm a big believer in this evidence and the point that reality and fantasy are distinct. Anyone who isn't a nutter can tell the difference between the two I reckon.
I think, having thought long and hard about it, that this is why people complaining about depictions in fantasy and SF (whatever the medium) bothers me so much. It's a betrayal of that defence made all the worse because it's the same nonsensical arguments but coming - this time - from within the hobbies. It's an 'admission' (and a false one) that there's no difference between reality and fantasy. It's agreeing with the Jack Chicks, Jack Thompsons, Pat Pullings and Andrea Dworkins of the world that fantasy cannot be  separated from reality and that it can corrupt and pervert people's viewpoints. It's saying a comic book can make you a murderer, that a computer game can make you a criminal, that a jazz mag can make you a rapist.
This is bullshit.
I do not accept that viewpoint and I object to the fantastical being hemmed in and neutered by people's RL hangups about this, that and the other. It's no longer escapism if you let yourself get tied down to reality. Bucking a genre conceit only works if there's a genre conceit there to buck. Cohen only works because of Conan. Nite Owl only works because of Batman. So it goes. Not everything has to be all things to all people and it's possible to innocently enjoy Twain's tales despite 'Nigger Jim' or Barsoom despite the fawning (if not entirely helpless) Martian princesses. It's possible to recreate what made the pulps great without being racist, to enjoy a pinup without being a misogynist. It bothers me to see otherwise intelligent people making the same mistakes as the aforementioned pompous arses and, even worse, to be taken seriously in so doing.

Female Genre Art Redux

So this came up, yet again...

The crux point for me where understanding failed - and I do TRY to understand - was in the comparison of these two images:

If you object to the one on the left I can't see why you wouldn't also object to the one on the right. Aesthetically perhaps, yes, you might like one or the other more on grounds of proportionality, pose, execution etc (Zel's good, but still) but on content? Both depict female characters of unconventional build (Amazonian/broad). Both are similarly covered up. The Trollette is dressed perhaps more pragmatically for her little hunting trip. The amazon on the right is wearing useless armour this is bulky, revealing and not much use as armour. She's also striking the impractical sexy pose and is passive.

The trollette is exposing a little more flesh (not much, that midrift is leather armour, not skin, and those are shorts, not a miniskirt). If it weren't for the right hand amazon's boots there wouldn't be much in it.

I regard these two images as being essentially the same. Indeed I'd favour the trollette as a more positive image of an unconventional female fantasy figure. More realistic figure/shape, active stance, accomplished etc.

Apparently not though, though that's the opinion of someone I respect.

I recall a trip to London once, going around an art gallery following an elderly American couple. The woman was at least consistent in what works of the great masters of art down the ages she didn't like, which amounted to anything with bare breasts, which she thought was disgusting.

Even the process of TRYING to understand and work out what's objectionable seems to cause more trouble than it's worth. I'm about ready to give up.

Are friends the new family, or not?

Yes and no.

I'm certainly closer to my friends than I am to some of my family and my family is relatively small and relatively scattered compared to a lot of families. I only really feel close to my parents. By and large my friends have been there for me over the years though and I'm closer to them, can tell them things, do things with them, understand them and be understood by them more than most of my family.

The difference lies in something more primal I think. It's very, very, very hard to abandon family, harder than friends - no matter how close you are. Even if you fall out there's some sort of bond or societal expectation that family HAS to look out for each other.

So, I wouldn't say the two are equivalent, but close and probably closer with every passing generation as family loses its societal legitimacy - up to a point - and the people you choose to associate and share with take more and more primacy.

What's more important to you, ethics or value? Fair trade or cheap?

Tricky one.

Ethics are important but there's also pragmatism to consider. Being ethical is a luxury that you have to be able to afford because any time ethics come into it the price tends to go up whether it's freerange chickens or fairtrade chocolate.

We try to buy local, ethically where we can but staples tend to be bought on a pragmatic basis (price) while luxuries, when we're splashing out anyway, we tend to go for the ethical side more.

It's a sad fact, and something that Hugh Fernley Whittingstall et al still can't seem to get their heads around, that you can't always afford to be ethical.

That's at a personal level. At a geopolitical level I expect better of our governments and the double-standards being shown towards the Middle East revolts (and arms deals) is a case in point. When people talk about an 'ethical foreign policy' I expect one. If practicalities get in the way, be bloody honest about it as I am with where I get chicken.
Global Frequency

Will humanity ever be united?

I would like to think so. There's more that unites us than divides us and the increasingly ubiquitous nature of telecommunications binds us together more, even if travel is becoming expensive again. Of course, that greater communication also means clashes. It's like Douglas Adams' Babel Fish 'Caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation' - OK, well not quite, that accolade goes to religion, but the point is that with greater communication people get to hear about each other and memes clash.

Twenty, even ten or perhaps even five years ago, a religious nut setting fire to a Koran in Florida would not even be heard about by a religious nut in a Muslim state who then feels he has to up the ante by killing someone. Greater communication brings these memes and their zombies into conflict and they fight to see who wins. Unfortunately that means that two of the very worst memes humanity has managed to come up with - Christianity and Islam - are now embroiled in a war for meat-based processing power across cyberspace as much as meatspace. I'd refer you to the hilarious 'Everybody Draw Mohammed Day' as a prime example of one of the battlegrounds.

Eventually somebody will win and call me biased but I do tend to think that will, eventually, by secular, liberal, leftist, Western values. They've proven themselves to be resilient and desirable (ultimately it was the desire to be western, combined with economic issues, that collapsed the USSR) and also - at least in that incarnation - have some fact and rationality behind them. Sure, we have our own problems with lunatic memes like the American Tea Party or the UK's various NIMBY organisations and Daily Mail readers but things have, generally, been steadily improving bit by bit since The Enlightenment.

I'm optimistic that fact will win out eventually and, honestly, we're all in this together, like it or not. The facts tend to win out over desires in the end. Just ask a breatharian. If you can.

Matters Matrimonial

The tip of my pinky finger is approximately one centimetre across.

This is subdivided into 10 millimetres. A millimetre is approximately the width of a grain of rice.

A micrometer is about the size of a pore on a surgical mask - viruses can still get through, though bacteria can't - to give you some idea.

A nanometre is approximately the same size as one end of a carbon nano-tube, those useful things that we're going to use building tiny machines. Calling them nano-machines is a bit of a misnomer as - obviously - they're going to have to be bigger than that.

A picometre is roughly the same size as the wavelength of a gamma ray.

A femtometre is roughly the same size as a proton, or thereabouts. Some theorise we could build machines at this scale, rather than nano scale, and this would be 'alchemy' in a sense.

An attometre? Well, we descent further into the subatomic here and that's the size of quarks.

The zeptometre is even smaller, now we're talking about preons, the building blocks OF quarks.

Now we're down to a yoctometre, that's about the size of neutrinos, they sleet through most matter without being detected.

Way down, much further than this, down several powers of ten we arrive at the planck scale. This is theoretically as small as anything in the physical universe can get. This is the realm of 'quantum foam' and 'superstrings'.

Some go further and posit that on some deeper level still the universe is 'information' and information can be expressed as ones and zeros, its presence and its absence.

That zero.

That absence.

THAT is how much of a fuck I give about the Royal wedding.

Oh, of course I give a fuck about the things surrounding it. I give a fuck that the country is grinding to a halt for the sake of a meaningless toff to get hitched and pump out more blueblood babies post-haste. I give a fuck that people are being given another day off (nice). I definitely give a fuck that I can't watch the news these days without seeing Nicholas - bloody - Witchall toadying up. I give a fuck that we seem to have stepped back 100 years in time in terms of deference to a bunch of stuck-up Germans with no more claim to real fame than Paris - fucking - Hilton.

Oh yes. I give a fuck about it that way, tangentially. Just not the thing itself.

Of course, we all know the real reason they're making a big deal of it and they're doing it now. It takes more than a single dose of commoner genes to correct the damage of centuries and William is losing his boyish good looks so fast it looks like he's melting. It seems Charles' 'lizard' DNA is rapidly asserting itself so we've had to sacrifice a princess to the dragon post-haste. Perhaps in another ten generations of them marrying relative commoners they'll produce some offspring that DOESN'T look like the progeny of a misguided attempt to breed dumbo and an angler fish, but I'm not holding out hope.

If you want me on wedding day I'll be drowning my screams in console games and work.

If you could live in the world of a particular book or film, which would it be?

Hmmm... probably Ian M Banks 'Culture'. A techno-enabled anarchistic transhuman star empire? Yes please. Immortality, boundless technology, the ability to go wherever and do whatever you want - essentially.

Most worlds from books or novels are set up to be 'interesting' which means lots of conflict and trouble. That's not a place you'd want to live in. While Banks' books cover 'flashpoints' of trouble they are exceptional circumstances in a universe that by and large is pretty damn awesome.

I'm not so enamoured of fantasy that I'm willing to move to a world without indoor plumbing and proper medicine, nor does the idea of a galactic war appeal since I know that I'd be next to useless in such situations. Bumming around the galaxy as a tourist however... that appeals.

The Unforgivable Sin

 I don't believe in 'sin', so for me question becomes one of 'the thing that goes against my personal code of ethics or wellbeing that I cannot forgive'  and... well, maybe I'm too easygoing but I think just about anything CAN be forgiven. People do hurt me and have upset me, sometimes very badly. I have been treated very shabbily by certain people in the past, betrayed, lied to, cheated on, spectacularly dumped. None of this is unforgivable in and of itself.

To me this sort of thing only becomes 'unforgivable sin' when it becomes a pattern of behaviour. When you forgive... and are taken for a ride again, and again, and a third time. I seem to operate an informal 'three strikes and you're out' rule. I'm pleased to discover that this sort of behaviour (being reasonably but not too forgiving) appears to be optimal, according to experiments with game theory.

Ever wish you were/weren't religious? Why/Why not?

Sometimes it's tempting to wish that I was. That level of absolute certainty about things is seductive, as is the idea of having all the answers without having to work for them. If I lived in the US I imagine there'd be a lot more social pressure brought to bear as well which might make it a lot easier with family and friends if one were religious. I don't though and there's no such pressure this side of the pond.

Alluring as all that is no... I definitely prefer the universe as it is, rather than as we might wish it would be. I place truth higher than comfort or safety and I think religion is a defiance or perversion of man's natural curiosity. It makes us settle, stop questioning and because it is founded on nothing but blind belief and the authority of its interpreters there can be no negotiated middle ground between opposing faiths.

The sheer amount of harm religion causes isn't worth the tiny amount of good it does - which can be accomplished by other means.

So no, other than in very rare moments of weakness I don't wish I were religious and even in those moments, I'm not really tempted at all.

What sort of world do you think our children will grow up into?

It's very hard to tell at this stage. Things appear to be reaching - slowly - the necessary crisis point for governments and businesses around the world to actually respond to them though experience tells us that they won't until things get really, really bad. This time that may be too late, but I'm optimistic that macro-engineering, sheer desperation and vast amounts of hurled money will solve the various problems that come up. It'll just be a rough ride.

Our children will be growing up into a tumultuous world of big changes, the forced moving-on from oil and the changes that's going to bring to geopolitics, the real rise of India and China to positions of economic and, perhaps, social dominance. The fading thrashings of the US as it is finally forced to admit it's no longer the world power it once was (I don't see them doing this with the relative grace of the British Empire) greater European integration and, hopefully, a revolution of democratic politics as the corporate domination of the socio-political structure reaches a point where it becomes unacceptable and obvious even to the common man.

Technology will continue to liberate and enslave in equal measure but the real problems are going to be energy and aging populations. Our children are likely to have to work hard for little reward and we're unlikely to be left much to give them. They'll have to support us, either directly or indirectly and this may create pressure to have larger families again, something the planet can ill afford.

It's hard to predict even five years into the future these days, given the pace of change, but I have a feel the environmental and energy crises will create a hiccough in Moore's Law and arrest development for a while. That and certain physical limitations and usefulness limitations. Do we need all this massive computing power in our pockets if we're not doing specialist applications? Not really...

It'll be changeable, turbulent, but it'll be a meaningful period, perhaps more so than our lifetimes.