Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Brown" "White" "Tanned" "Olive" "Other"

These are the options for skin colour at ModelMayhem,com to insert into model profiles. It enables photographers to search for us by skin colour, or gives a photographer / makeup artist a sense of the model's skin type (for the former, lighting would be an issue; for the latter, foundation types).

I currently have "Olive" picked as my skin type, but I can't say I like it.

You see, whenever I go out for pizza with a friend, he always orders a pizza with cheese(s) and olives. The olives that come out are always black. And whenever I go to the supermarket, olives are green.

Neither of these are indicative of my real skin colour, which is either white or tanned with a yellow undertone. And yet I have to pick Olive, because it definitely isn't an "Other" or any of the other skin colours listed.

I know that Olive is supposed to be this safe alternative to "yellow" seeing as the term "yellow" has all sorts of unpleasant connotations and is now loaded with overt racism. But I'm not sure it helps to deny that yes, my skin undertone is yellow. When I was growing up, I remember thinking that being white-skinned was a good thing. We would see all these advertisements for Hazeline Snow White and think that having white skin was the best thing evar!

(I actually tried washing my face with the Hazeline cream. I thought it was a kind of soap, and that it would help get whatever dirt was on my face and make it whiter. I would wake up at 5am and the first thing I did was wash my face with it. Don't ask me what kind of logic this makes. I was 8.)

Once in a while, whenever I discuss makeup with other people, eventually our conversation gets to foundation, and the difficulty of finding foundation. For my black friends, it's finding a foundation that's as dark as their skintone, and even those "Noir" tones aren't nearly dark enough to match and even out their actual skintone. For me, it's finding a foundation that doesn't make me look like I'm wearing a mask, and just looks like my natural skintone whenever I'm not tanned. But my black friends will say "black" and I will say "yellow".

It feels odd to say "yellow" too. But why can't I say "yellow"? What other terms do I have to describe my particular skin colour? 'Cos it ain't beige.

The Curse of Perfectionism

I've been posting in this blog only for a few months. I've tried to make it good so far, and I've got a small following (I have a following?! WTF, people, don't you have better things to do?! <3), not to mention, I've got an awesome blogging gig at It's awesome.

But I've been reading and reading, and knowing that there are so many better writers than I am, sometimes I feel I fall short. I was having trouble articulating how I felt. There was something missing, I thought, something that my blog needs, my writing needs, all of it - there's somewhere where I'm falling short. Whenever I wrote posts, I'd wonder if I got it right, or committed some ridiculous fail.

Sady at Tiger Beatdown got my feelings down pat, without meaning to:
I’m saying I miss being in that place where being wrong always felt like an option, an acceptable option, because I was learning. The problem, I think, is that I believe I know what I am talking about now, and am talking about it more to share thoughts that are already formed than to work out new ideas. And I don’t like that feeling. I don’t like repeating myself.  I’m actually doing this thing, now, on Tiger Beatdown, where I talk against myself – take things I thought I was certain of, and see if I can poke any holes in them – and while that’s annoying to witness, and makes me look like some wacky “post-feminist” person at times, it’s at least a quest for the new.

And I so know how she feels! Now, mind you, Sady's been writing for a year now, and I've barely even gotten started! So, it's more than bothersome for me to be feeling this way, when I'm sure there're so many other ways I could be a better writer.

The solution, as always, is just to keep on writing. It keeps the discipline of writing going. No matter what, I should have something every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. Even if I write it all in one day and schedule it. It keeps me going.

Right now, jobless as I am, it seems that that's the only which will.

*goes back to teaspooning*

Monday, October 26, 2009

Re-Centering Geography, or, How To Sound Like A Complete Jackass

I was talking to Ay-Leen the Peacemaker the other night about grad school options, and she mentioned that the University of California has "a very strong Far East Studies program". We were both surprised at this. And then I said, "that's kinda strange. You'd figure that the Far East for California would be more Near West."

Remember what I said about Eurocentrism? Part of it is reinforced by our geographical language. The Orient used to be the Middle-East, and began encompassing more of Asia as time went by, and it's a term used to center the European (or, now, neo-European) experience as normal, which everything else is measured against.

So I thought, maybe the next time someone calls Asia the Far East, I'll ask, "whose East? Yours or mine?"

When they inevitably ask why, I'll rightly point out to them that when I am flying to someplace like Chicago (which I've been doing to get to Halifax - since Halifax is right smack dab across the planet from Malaysia, it doesn't matter which direction I fly. Both ways take an equally long time), I fly east, to the United States, so where I'm thinking from, the United States are closer if I fly east.

This requires some mind-jiggering which could prove truly useful in re-centering our experiences and realizing just how different perspectives can be. For example, the Far East for a place like California would probably be Europe! The West, for East Asian countries like Japan, Korea, and the like, would be a place like Europe, but the States would be East of them!

The mind, it boggles. <3

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Malaysiana: This Is The Only Malaysia We Have

I am currently finishing off Leela Gandhi's Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction. It's been a very good read so far - I've had so many moments of recognition within the book, I don't even know where to start with it! But while reading, Gandhi discusses the counter-narrative that Rushdie provides. She notes, "Rushdie's invective against India here ... is ... characteristic of his larger oeuvre. ... we might consider the fact that Rushdie's narrative renditions of [India] have always been pathologically and unequivocally reductive."

(Shorter layman's terms: Rushdie's a jerk who simplifies India in a completely non-productive manner.)

So how to respond to this anti-colonial, anti-nationalistic prescriptive method? Gandhi suggests, "we might still observe that perhaos what postcolonialism literature needs is a properly romantic modality; a willingness to crtique, ameliorate and build upon the compositions of the colonial aftermath." (italics mine)

She concludes the chapter with the following quote:

"No, dear Rushdie, we do not want to build a repressive India. On the contrary, we are doing our best to build a liberal India, where we can all breathe freely. But in order to build this India, we have to preserve the India that exists. That may not be a pretty India, but it's the only India we have (Appignanesi & Maitlin, 1990, p.209)

I don't know why, but that really resonated with me, and I cried. I'm not sure why. Actually, I think I do know why but haven't found the words to say why, yet.

But I think it helps me synthesize exactly why I was mad during the whole Cowhead Fail aftermath, where people were all up in arms and angry, frightened that their fellow Malaysians would do such a thing, and reactionary, distancing themselves away from the entity of Malaysia, as if it was Malaysia at fault for housing such people. "What is our country coming to?" they demanded, as if it was Malaysia's fault and they had no part in it.

It felt as though they were trying to distance themselves from this one Malaysia, just to move on, as soon as possible, to this brand new Malaysia which they fought to achieve in the March elections, except that they're both the same Malaysia. It was tiresome to read email after email denouncing the state of the country - "we would never do that. Real Malaysians never do that. This country is going to hell." Because behind all those words, I could hear, "I don't care what this country is coming to now. I don't need this country and I refuse to have anything to do with a country that is going down the drain." All said without a consciousness that maybe, the country was finally falling apart due to the strain of all the tensions that we refused to address ... and continue to refuse addressing!

And I think the word I want is: despair. I was in despair because everyone was behaving like we should wash our hands of the whole thing, and in fact, this was merely a symptom of our troubles, not the cause, and moralizing over the state of the country - which is falling apart - wasn't doing anything productive to address the issues that causes the friction, and people were setting up this meme that somehow, Malaysia was this Separate Body, and they were Not Part Of It. Since they were Not Part Of It, they had every right somehow to judge it, and wring their hands, and moralize, and I am not sure exactly what came out of all that which was entirely productive.

But this - "we have to preserve what we've got to build what we want" approach - this makes sense to me.

Except, of course, Malaysia is on tenterhooks on exactly what to preserve. Everyone seems to be arguing about what Malaysia is supposed to be like, and arguing about what the future should be. It doesn't feel like anybody is talking about what we are, except, of course, going down the drain.

... So malang wan.

Friday, October 23, 2009

"I don't like your tone"

Tone argument. Example: "you shouldn't sound so angry when you talk. No one will pay attention to you if you speak in that way." Or "I don't like your tone / how you're talking to me, so I'm going to ignore what you're saying" [even if what you're saying has more validity than what I'm saying even if if you have every right to be angry but seeing as I have the upper hand here I'm going to dismiss you anyway.]

Or you could read this.

I understand that most times, a nice polite tone works a lot better than an angry tone. I like being nice to people myself. It helps keep things all sweet and shiny. Recently, I was very nice and calm to someone who decided to take a shit all over my opinions because he didn't like what I was saying. Did I get through to him? Hell no, but it was in a public forum so I thought I ought to be nice anyway, for the sake of anybody else coming across our argument. I don't think it worked, and that the argument has long been deleted after we had it.

So yes, I agree, being nice and reasonable is nice and reasonable.

But I can't help but wonder if people who trot out the tone argument really believe in the perfection ideal, where we have to be nice all the time and it works.

A long time ago, I had a disagreement with a friend about some semantics and he was right. I didn't realize at the time how he was right, because I had no idea what kind of emotional investment he had in the matter. Years later, when I realized how right he was and how he would have had difficulty explain to me how wrong and ignorant I was, I wondered if he mightn't have gotten through to me better if he'd just yelled at me and pointed out how my wrongness was hurting him.

It doesn't always work, being angry. But we have a right to anger! We have a right to have a space in which to scream and vent our frustration. We have a right to express how hurt we are, inflict our tears on others.

The tone argument doesn't really do much except dismiss that hurt and anger.

And you know what's the worst thing?

A person can be perfectly civil and say the most obnoxious things ever, hurtful things, implicit threats, but because they're saying it in this oh-so-polite and well-mannered way, everyone gives them a free pass. Why?

It's not how you say it, but what you say, that should matter when discussing things of great import, particularly when it discusses stuff in which other people are very invested in - when their quality of their lives depend on this issue, they should be able to discuss it wuthout fear of being told that they're not saying it the right way.

Because chances are, the people implicitly saying "be nice or else" are the ones with privilege who can afford to say not-nice things.... and they would get away with it because everyone else would excuse them - 'they don't know any better'.

What a lot of fucking noise.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ally Issues: Feeling Useless

I am not feeling my best today. Part of it is because my depression is kicking me around and laying me down. Part of it is some form of mental exhaustion which I'm not sure whether to attribute to my depression, or reading too much, or just staring at the computer too much.

I was inspired today by Feminists with Disabilities (cunningly, cleverly shortened to "FWD", ha!) to write a post about steampunk and how disablism would intersect in the subculture. I could find examples of steampunk wheelchairs (mostly of Dr. Loveless from the movie Wild Wild West) but I guess, no one's really thought about it.

Or rather, they have but just as another awesome thing to steampunk up, which sounds awfully unsettling to me, as if the wheelchair is just a prop, rather than an actual tool to aid mobility.

I had to pause though, and wonder whether it was worthwhile writing about disability issues within steampunk. There aren't a lot of visibly-disabled people in steampunk, are there? But even if there weren't in my limited sphere of knowledge, that doesn't mean there aren't any, and even one steampunk with disabilities would make it worthwhile to think about the issue.

At the same time, I have this nasty prickly little feeling inside me which tells me, "what right do you have to write about this issue? You're perfectly able-bodied. You're so able-bodied you've been holding write-ins at the Paperchase Cafe for years. It's not like you've ever done anything to be a good ally to people with disabilities."

The horrible thing is that the voice is right.

I'm wondering though, if it would be worse if I let the voice hold me back. That I have to wonder is, I think, pretty bad. Able-bodied people can talk about disability issues, and do, all the time. I'll probably fuck up at some point, but that happens, right?

So my conclusion is, to let that voice hold me back from being an ally would be even more horrible.

I've made it a point to remind people with privilege to stand up for those without privilege where they can, because every drop counts. It was be ridiculous, not to mention hypocritical, if I didn't do the same.

I better go do something useful.

ETA: I just noticed I was linked at FWD so some of you may be coming from there, and I just wanted to say I totally wrote the post. Callouts on any Fail are welcome.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Steampunking: Are Steampunk Westerns Non-Eurocentric? No

My friend Ay-Leen the Peacemaker is putting together a project called Beyond Victoriana, which will focus on examples of steampunk beyond the typical Eurocentric sampling at the moment, which is predominantly centered around England. Ay-Leen is also taking examples of North American steampunk, and people are citing Wild West / Weird West examples, such as Wild Wild West (TV show and movie).

I myself suggested some Japanese examples which could be counted as steampunk, although I have several reservations about them myself. Mainly because when I think non-Eurocentric, I keep this in mind:

"... By Europeans, we refer not only to Europe per se, but also to the "neo-Europeans" of the Americas, Australia, and elsewhere. ... The residual traces of centuries of axiomatic European domination inform the general culture, the everyday language, and the media, engendering a fictitious sense of the innate superiority of European-derived cultures and peoples."
(Ella Shohat / Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism, pg 1)

Somewhere on the next page:

"... [Eurocentric discourse] ... renders history as a sequence of empires: Pax Romana, Pax Hispanica, Pax Britannica, Pax Americana."

Which brings me to the question: are Wild West / Weird West examples really non-Eurocentric examples?

Geographically, this may well be the case since they're not in Europe.

However, if we take into account all parties involved - the Chinese labourers, the Native Americans, the black slaves, and the descendents of Europeans (neo-Europeans), the power dynamics indicate very strongly that no matter how geographically removed America is from Europe, the power dynamics remain rested in the hands of the neo-Europeans, which renders Wild West examples that do not prominantly feature visible minorities still Eurocentric.

(Which is also why even the Japanese steampunk examples I cite may be Eurocentric after all - they tend to be Japanese interpretations of the Western steampunk aesthetic. This doesn't make them non-Japanese steampunk examples - they were produced by Japanese people. As kaigou points out, these works are part of a body of literature by members of a specific group - in this case, Japanese (and thus, not European, nor even neo-European). So, it is Japanese steampunk. But does it mean they're non-Eurocentric? Question for another day!)

Of course, detractors will disagree with me and accuse me of messing with details. But the fact remains - Eurocentrism doesn't just mean geographically centered in Europe. Eurocentrism refers not just to geopolitical space, but also to narratives, culture, and discourse. Wild West / Weird West narratives which feature neo-European main characters, narratives and discourse are, thusly Eurocentric. However, it means that a Wild West narrative which features Native American / Aboriginal culture / discourse would be non-Eurocentric.

Hmmmm..... must seek such Native American appearances in steampunk media.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why I Don't Miss High School: More thoughts of feminism and children

So, while thinking further on children and feminism, and how they are inextricably linked, I gradually came to realize why I don't really like education systems as they are set up now.

Whenever I go home to Malaysia, I try to make it a point to visit my old high school. Partly to catch up with the teachers, let them know I'm still alive. Some of is it, although I don't miss high school, I still do feel some sense of loyalty towards it. Also, I tend to go in shorts andI guess I'm a little rebel who likes causing a fuss because the teachers are all like "OMG why are you in shorts! The headmistress will kick you out!"

I would occasionally chat with them about their job, and it turns out, Malaysian teachers, particularly government teachers, are ridiculously overworked and underpaid. Ain't that the truth for pretty much every oppressed class, eh. Besides having to teach the students, often 30 - 40 students in a class, they also have to attend other courses to keep them updated on changes in syllabi or just how to be better teachers, and they have to do a fuckton of administrative work too- filling out this or that form... to prove they're doing work.

WTF, right?

Ever since reading Herland, I realize that teachers don't get enough fucking credit for the job they do, which is, essentially, the job of Making People.

The adage "it takes a village to raise a child" is flipped on its head in our education systems, wherein it takes a few teachers to raise whole villages of children! On top of having to do other administrative work, too!

Isn't that unfair?

Being a teacher is really a calling. You've got to want to work with kids, and moreover, I think teachers really have to be creative in learning how to work with different kinds of children. However, our education systems aren't set up for teachers to have flexibility in dealing with the wide ranges of personalities in a single classroom.

In Herland, the educators are versed in a vast number of topics, especially child psychology. Education is a field in which all innovation springs from, because if it's good for the child, then it must be good for the adults, too.

And even if we say love is good for children, well, isn't love good for adults too?

Instead, we throw teachers with only so much love and patience and expect them to overstretch their mental and emotional resources with limited physical resources. There's a set syllabus which teachers must follow, and how well they did is reflected, apparently, in our standardized exams. They cannot explore their students anymore than they can explore alternative teaching methods, because there simply isn't enough time nor resources.

It's highly unfair. Because it's unfair to the teachers, it ends up being unfair to the students, who are supposed beneficiaries of our education system, and we all end up being victims as a result of this flawed system made by bureaucrats who are trying to churn out workers for to maintain an economy. They are not trying to Make People.

It's pretty fucking tragic, when I think about it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Malaysiana: Belated Thoughts on Cowhead Fail

A while back, there were some dumb shenanigans in Malaysia, involving the protestations of a few crazy people against the building of a Hindu temple in what they felt was a Muslim area. For some dumb reason I do not understand, they took this seriously, and there were photographers floating around showing pictures of these dudes walking around with a cow's head - like, a real cow's head, not some papier-mache doohickey - in order to make their point.

Aside from how utterly stupid this display was, which caused a bit of an uproar, there's not much I can say about that incident per se.

What I want to address are the reactions to the incident, which I will now refer to as Cowhead Fail.

Specifically, the lack of reaction. There were a lot of emails floating around about how "real Muslims don't do this" and "how can this happen in this day and age" and "why are people so barbaric". Which is fine for the first few times, but eventually it all boiled down to a lot of moral posturing over how we are obviously so much better than that, omg our international reputation is getting ruined, look we totes can get along with each other, hand-wring hand-wring hand-wring.

The problem with race in Malaysia isn't that we talk about it, and yet we don't talk about it. When we do talk about it, it's either to heighten our difference or to discuss how well we get along with each other! And when it comes to crucial moments like this, we are surreptiously silent on the issue, unwilling to confront the problems that led to such an incident happening.

In a few ways, I can personally see it as a general lack of tolerance for other groups that has been simmering all along, but only now really broke the surface. Or it could be something's been going on in Malaysia recently I don't understand. Maybe these Malay-Muslims felt disenfranchised over the distribution of privilege across the country and took it out in the only way they knew how. Who knows, maybe their grievances were valid, if not their method of airing their grievances.

Without addressing the causes, we cannot cure the symptoms, and it seems to me more is done to prove how racially united we are, instead of studying the ways we are divided.

It bothers me because it feels like a band-aid solution to talk about how we would never do such a thing, what a barbaric act, how intolerant, we're better than that - because, really, are we really better than that? Or are we as bad, but unwilling to confront it?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fun With Glow Magazine, November 2009

Hey folks! It's Fun with Glow Magazine, again, in which I flip through Glow magazine to identify just how racially representative the media in the magazine is! I get Glow for free since I spend plenty on my Shoppers Optimum. I actually do love this magazine, but hell if I'm going to not make fun of how whitewashed it is.

And this month, it's a double-doozy since there's a special issue on Montreal's Fashion Week!! So let's get through the main magazine!

COVER: White.
Vichy ad: white
Pantene stuff: white, white, white, white.
Aveeno: White
Table of contentts: white
Revlon: White. I don't know, she could pass as black.
Vichy: White, blue-eyed
Marc Anthony: white, white, white
Editorial and L'Oreal: white, white
Juicy Couture ads: white boy, white woman
Aveeno ad: Unsure! Olive skin.
Makeup-tip: White, blue-eyed.
CoverGirl: white
Beauty Talk - Hair update: Black! White, white, white, white white, Asian, white, white,
More Beauty talk, on lipsticks: white
Covergirl: White (Drew Barrymore)
Alizabeth Arden: White
Michael Kors interview: Black woman on the runway, white, white, white, white, white, white
Calorie Confusion: white
Geox: White
J'adore Dior: White
Smashbox: white
Vera Wang: WhiteGarnier Fructis: white
Hairstyle splash pages! Let's go: white, white white white
It's also time to judge the hairstyles of A-listers: Ginnifer Goodwin, Lindsay Lohan, January Jones, Fergie, Zoe Saldana, Lady Gaga
Hat ad: white model
On hair colours: white. And then we have to judge the hair colour of actresses such as: Emma Watson (white), Isla Fisher (white), Blake Lively (white), Eva Mendes (white), Rashida Jones (white)
John Freida: white
Fitness page: black
MetaboLife: white
Sex column: white guy, white woman, white woman
Birth control ad: White, white, black
Cetaphil page: white
Pantene splash page: White
Dove: white
femMED: white (possibly mixed)
Getting Eco-Fit editorial splash page: black model (in hot pink exercise clothes, running down this lovely fall scenery)
Pantene: white, white, STACY LONDON!!!!!, and a Dr. Jeni Thomas, senior scientist for Pantene (also white)

I gotta say though, Glow magazine also has some nice splash pages of products, and there's an article on good vegetables featuring absolutely no human beings consuming said vegetables. And the graphic setup is done in such a fun, funky way too. See, you CAN have pretty images without the pretty people.

Balea: have no idea! You don't see her eyes, and only a shoulder.
Nutrition editorial: asian...? *flips page* Yeap.
Vaseline: LOL! I can't even begin to describe this advertisement but it's full page and it looks completely awesome and hilarious.
Allude: Look! Legs!
Herbal essences: white, black, asian, white
Diet Coke: It's my favourite funky shot with a black woman and what looks like a full-blown natural afro. Love.
Style splash pages: white, white. White white white.
Tresemme: White hairstylist, working on a white woman.

And now for the fashion shoot with the white emo-looking model. One somewhat medieval looking outfit, followed by a buncha emo-looking oufits, average price range of $100 and the cheapest damned item are a pair of $13 legwarmers from Le Chateau. Seriously? $315 for a BELT? Seriously, $650 for BOOTS?$50 for SHORTS? $340 for a VEST? FUCK THIS SHIT.

White, white, - FOOD! Four pages of food! <3
Dove self-esteem workshop: white
Adacel: White family
Vtech: White mom, white kid
Editorial page on volunteering: white kid
Editorial on newfoundland: a lot of white peop-le, one hapa dude , one asian chick, or two, I can't tell.
Infusion ad: white
Perfect 10 box covers: white white whi- no wait, that's the same model.

And now, Montreal Fashion Week special! Cover: White chick! White, white, white, white, white, white, white, white, white, white, white, white, white dude, white dude, white dude, blacvk dude, white dude, white dude, whitewhite woman, white white, asian chick and asian dude (in this bit talking about Dinh Ba Nguyen! Yay!) whie, white, , white, white, . Oooh, celebrities. More white models. Back cover: white.

Thus concludes Fun with Glow Magazine for November!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Co-Signing: An Open Letter to Feministing

I haven't been to Feministing in over a year because I felt it was a bit too 101 for me, and by that time, I had found other spaces which were more challenging. However, I feel the need to co-sign this, related to the continued able-ism demonstrated by Feministing staff and commenters. Any sort of -ism should be challenged, even - no, especially - if it happens in a feminist space like Feministing.

Dear Feministing,

I’ve been reading you guys for a while now. I haven’t always liked everything you do or say, but I think that you bring some important issues to my attention and sometimes some good conversations happen on your website.

But, you know, in recent months I’ve become increasingly disturbed by the exclusionary language and attitudes I see on your site, most particularly in reference to people with disabilities and people in lower social classes. You have a pretty poor track record on even covering disability issues, and the casual ableism which I see in your comment threads and sometimes in your very posts is extremely grating. It is especially irritating to see dismissive responses from site administrators when this issue is brought up.

Today’s post on chivalry was the last straw. Courtney used the line “If having my car door opened makes me feel like lover man thinks I’m an invalid, not so feminist.” This is offensive.

I’d like to point you to a piece I wrote recently, “Why Inclusionary Language Matters,” because I think you need to read it. Using ableist language is not just offensive, it’s antifeminist. And I would really appreciate it if y’all would stop doing it and stop tolerating it in your comment threads. I would also love to see y’all including more posts talking about topics related to disability and disability issues.

Please address this. Feminism includes people with disabilities. Disability is a feminist issue. Please make Feministing more inclusionary.

Thank You,

s.e. smith/meloukhia (meloukhia at gmail dot com)

Original post here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Library Love

Nova Scotia has a library system linking all the university libraries together, from the Cape Breton University to the Agricultural College. You can get books from any of these libraries delivered to the library of your choice for pickup. This means a wide variety of books at your disposal.

Although I find that if at all possible, I like to go to the libraries themselves to pick up the books, and browse around the shelves. After all, the books are arranged by subject matter too, so there're a bunch of books together all relating to the same subject from different angles within the same shelf.

I love picking up books from the library to peek through the contents and decide whether or not to take them home. I love that I don't have to pay for them at the counter.

I'm very much a cyber-inclined person; I spend a great deal of time reading and writing blogs, catching up with the rest of the world on the Internet, and this is one of the few ways I stay connected to the rest of the world. But you know, sometimes there are times when you don't want o be connected to the rest of the world and just want to retreat inside.

With books, I can do that. I can pull into myself and forget about the rest of the world. They're also not so hard on my eyes.

And I love the physicality of books. I love opening them up, like it's a lover's secret I'm hearing for the first time. I run my eyes over the text quickly or slowly, or repeatedly over the same paragraph that I find particularly interesting. I can flip the pages and savour the sound - it sounds like kissing. Books are always different, and libraries always have something new to share.

Libraries are not much like boyfriends, since they have no needs, so they don't have anything to whine about, be passive-aggressive about, to demand. Libraries don't move at will and are always waiting, with open bookshelves (oh, those pesky opening hours!) waiting for me to open my mind. It's a love that keeps on giving so long as I pay my library fees. Every book I pick up is an opportunity for learning, for knowing more, for feeding the continual hunger and quenching the continual thirst for more knowledge, for greater understanding. It is the perfect supplementary for everything I read online.

I daresay libraries are more constant than lovers.

Libraries + Internet = Win

One day I would like to open a cafe with a wide variety of books on wall-to-wall shelves for my customers' perusal and offer WiFi at the same time. There will be cubicles for people to work on laptops and computer stations for those who can't afford their own computers. It'll be a library cyber cafe that will combine it all and it will be glorious.

Ah, pipe dreams....

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mother Nature is Her Own Vagina

Now that I have your attention.

I was watching Nausicaa the other night with some friends, followed by Princess Mononoke. It's interesting to watch them one after the other, particularly Nausicaa first, because they both have the same theme: the reconciliation of Man and Nature. It's a difficult question and both Nausicaa and Mononoke-hime really do their best to show the best and worst of human nature coming to the fore.

It's clear that in both, human progress is shown as working against nature. It's quite remarkable how most of us make this assumption that progress is measured by how well we can control our environment and thus, nature. The problem with this, of course, s that nature retaliates. In Nausicaa, nature retaliates against the humans poisoning the ground by growing poisonous plants that take root in the bodies of large Ohmu, giant insects that have begun to roam the earth. Using the bodies of the Ohmu as fertilizer, the plants become forests, that are eventually called the Wastelands as humans cannot breathe in the spores that the plants release without dying.

Within Mononoke-hime, nature retaliates in the form of nature gods - the wolf god Moro, the boar gods Ottoko and Nago, and other beasts that safeguard the forests of the Shishigami (Deer god) do their best to discourage human beings from cutting down forests, and even if they do cut down forests, they try to re-grow the forests.

I particularly understood the depiction of nature gods in Mononoke-hime because it's very similar to the folklore I grew up with. Like with many other old pagan folk beliefs, in Malaysia, our forests are not just a collection of trees. They are the homes of spirits older and more ancient than humans. Among them are the leftover ghosts of past civlizations. In the ground lies our ancestors, who lie in peace until their rest is disturbed by rude visitors.

Humans make a big deal out of trying to control nature, really. We hew down trees to build houses that eventually crumble. We plant farms and use poison to destroy the bugs. We try to subjugate Mother Nature.

The plain fact is that we can totally die today and Mother Nature could totally get along just fine without us. Because the earth can cleanse itself. It just needs a few bacteria and it can regrow.

In Nausicaa, the forests of the Wasteland take in the poisons left in the soils after the Seven Days of Fire, and Nausicaa notices that the trees take in the poison, and process it, before rotting into what is essentially clean soil. When the so-called poisonous plants grow out of clean soil and water, they aren't poisonous at all.

Mononoke-hime doesn't have that though. The forests are guarded by spirits which are malevolent (like poisons) but they're not lacking compassion, as evidence by Moro taking in San as an infant child.

Neither forest, however, is against humans per se. Humans cutting down forests isn't a problem - it's when they do so indiscriminately without putting in the effort to replenish the forest after being done with it, is the biggest problem. You can cut down trees, but what are you going to give in return?

I've come to the conclusion that Tataraba, the iron forge town in Mononoke-hime, could have co-existed with the gods and the Shishigami's forest.

When I was growing up, my dad would take me hiking. He would tell me, before I took a pee, or if I wanted to take something from the forest, I had to ask permission first. I had to be aware that I was not part of the forest, and therefore was not part of the natural eco-system, and so, if I wanted to do something that's pretty much a natural biological function, I had to be careful and ask permission, because I was essentially pee-ing in someone else's house.

We're no longer used to thinking this way about the world, unfortunately. We erase whole forests in favour of creating new housing projects, without thinking about how that's going to affect the weather and local ecology.

If we keep taking away from Mother Nature like this, we shouldn't be surprised when She retaliates, namely by withholding her cleansing powers.

It's the lack of awe of the world that prevents us from working with nature. We assume it's there for our consumption, taking for granted that the earth will yield under our machines and our schedules, do what we want it to do. But it's not, and it's got to come to a head eventually.

Mother Nature is her own vagina. Our industrialization is the well-intentioned douche that is trying to improve things but instead, even while it clears away the bad, it also clears away the good, and that is the good which is necessary for the earth's continued health.

In Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues is one called "My Angry Vagina," which exhorts, "work with my vagina."

We should work with Mother Nature, not against her. Until we recognize this on a larger scale than small environmentalist groups, we're not going to get very far.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Quintessentially Chinese?: Filial Piety Edition

The online flaming of Shanghainese Lou Jing has been disturbing on many levels: the appalling racism, the objectification, and the complete ignorance of this monoculture's denizens to what constitutes racist acts of statements have been ridiculous.

Not only has Lou Jing has been criticized for showing her face when she's a half-black Chinese, her mother has come under fire for 1) having an affair with an African-American man, 2) having and raising a child out of wedlock from that union, and 3) daring to show her face on any public platform for this stuff which she should be ashamed of.

Some selected comments have been translated here.

The slut-shaming combined with ugly racism really comes to the fore as it's slagged not just at Lou Jing's mother, but Lou Jing herself. I'm going to put aside the objectification of Lou Jing that has come out, ironically in support of her, and focus on Jennifer Kesler's comment:

"I’m sorry, are people actually giving Lou Jing crap because of her parents’ behavior? Am I understanding this properly?"
She said it here.
I responded with a description of the metaphysics involved with filial piety:

In Chinese family philosophy, what you do will reflect onto your family. So a parent’s crime will affect the child – whether it means the child will be haunted by the ghost of the parent’s crime, or will do the same thing continuing the line. Either way, as a child, if your parents do something bad, then you’re tainted. Goes both ways too – I was given a ton of crap for behaving badly because it would “reflect badly on my parents” and make it look like they’d done some shit to deserve the karma of having a horrible child the rest of society couldn’t approve of.
This metaphysical nonsense as an aspect which has always bothered me: filial piety.

The point of filial piety is that you're supposed to honour your parents, and do right by them. Right? Pretty straightforward stuff - your parents do a lot for you: they sacrifice time and energy on raising your sorry ass, support you and provide a roof over your head. In the society I grew up in, this investment of parents in children extends to supporting them throughout their tiertiary education. It makes sense - if you invest in your children and help them through the growing process up to the point where they can support themselves, then they'll be forever grateful and support you back when you're too old and crooked to support yourself.

Throw in some weird karma stuff: if you do something bad, then your kids are going to turn out bad. Because they learnt it from you, I presume, seeing as how parents are the first examples children have in life on how to live.

Which, in theory, should put the pressure on everybody involved to behave properly - parents behave properly because otherwise their kids will act up, and kids shouldn't act out because it makes their parents look bad.

Do we grok so far?

This bloody fucking theory, unfortunately, doesn't take into account a whole host of factors: class divisions means differing standards of behaviours between groups (and how!), disabilities, and influences from society at large.

Which means, since Lou Jing's mother was a slut who slept with a black man (omg a black man why a black man did you need black cock so damn much chinese not good enough for you is it), Lou Jing should be ashamed, because she comes from such low origins. Coming from such low origins, what does she have to be proud of? You'd have to do something like win the Nobel Prize to overcome the ignominity of being a union between a single mother and an absentee (non-Chinese!) father. Otherwise, the actions of your parents will haunt your life, be something to be ashamed of even though you, yourself, did nothing wrong.

And it goes both ways too - the actions of a child behaving badly makes it look like their parents are doing something wrong, hence why they've got a rotten child. Combine this with the perfectionist syndrome that plenty of East Asian families seem to exhibit and you have a clusterfuck of individual insecurities that include juggling personal happiness with perfect outward behaviour, putting on a good act to save face for your family.

I get that the concept of filial piety is supposed to create children who hold themselves accountable for their actions, in fear of the consequences of hurting the ones who give them the greatest support. I bet there are some people who think that if Lou Jing really cared for her mother at all, she would never have gone onto the public stage to "show herself off" (thus also revealing her mother's shame to the world).

The concept in practice though? Is often used to justify abuse of children: 'if I don't teach them right (e.g. beat them, verbally abuse them) then they're never learn to behave properly' - and children are supposed to be thankful.

It's used to silence others: 'if you cared about your parents, you wouldn't talk that way to your elders [because you make them look bad].' (This is particularly tied to age-ism.)

It's used to discourage alternative modes of parenting which might be more wholesome for the child: 'why do you let your child do X thing? Aren't you afraid what might happen if they get in trouble? What if what if what if?' - and is a form of peer pressure that forces people to conform to a specific standard way of living and functioning within society.

I'm all for accountability to the larger community. That's part of working towards social justice. But this is a concept that is the bane of a lot of misfit kids like myself, because it prevents us from becoming whole until we break free from the family home and learn how to live with ourselves without bowing to social pressure.

Good luck, Lou Jing and Mrs. Lou.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Roman Polanski Raped A Child

I do not understand Polanski's defenders.

Now, I've not seen many Polanski movies. I think the only one I've ever watched was Macbeth. It was a decent movie. I've never seen any of his critically-acclaimed movies. Hell, Polanski as a filmmaker hardly even made a blip on my radar when I was younger. Possibly because I was in Malaysia and we only ever get the blockbuster stuff, none of this schmancy film festival stuff.

But let's make it clear: he raped a child.

Never mind that he raped her 30 years ago. Honestly, that should make it worse, not better. Running away to another country? How could the government there have slept properly knowing they're harbouring a man clearly flouting laws that are put in place to protect innocent people? And he flouted it, too. He pleaded guilty, and never showed any remorse, only gave excuses. How can people excuse this?

Oh, but Roman Polanski is a great artist.

I've known for a while that Hollywood wasn't the bastion of liberalism, but the outpouring of support for Polanski has been ridiculous. The worst part is, I don't even know why, why oh why, would they support someone who denies the severity of his crime with statements like this:

“If I had killed somebody, it wouldn’t have had so much appeal to the press, you see? But… f—ing, you see, and the young girls. Judges want to f— young girls. Juries want to f— young girls. Everyone wants to f— young girls!”

No, really? He said this only about ten years after his wife was murdered. Was he so bitter at the lack of press? Why was he so angry at how much attention he got for raping a young girl? Did he think no one would pay attention to him?

Because, after all, Roman Polanski is a great artist.

What does it say about the people who're pointing to the victim, saying, "she wants closure! So drop it! Let it rest!"? Do they not realize that there is no closure until there is justice? And even if she has put it behind her, do they think he's so important that he can get off scot-free for something he has done?

And make no mistake, we're not judging him per se, we are judging his actions. He did something. He raped a child. He needs to be held accountable for his actions. To do otherwise is to tell 13-year-old girls everywhere that no, if this happens to you, no justice will be dealt, and you will face the ordeal of being called a slut and questioned non-stop about details so they can catch you if you change a detail.

Because a 13-year-old girl matters very little in face of the fact that, no matter what he has done, Roman Polanski is a great artist.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Review: Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea

Ponyo was unfortunately only playing at the two more far-reaching cinemas in Halifax: Bayers Lake and Dartmouth Crossing. I'm not sure why Empire Theatres would do this, seeing as Miyazaki movies tend to resonate with those of us yuppies who live downtown, as opposed to out in the suburban boonies, but whatever.

Ponyo is, as a friend described it, "like the Little Mermaid, except cooler with no singing." Well... yes and no.

Ponyo is about a little fish-girl, the most magical of all her sisters and the daughter of the wizard hermit Fujimoto and Granmamare, a goddess of the sea. She sneaks out from her father's deep sea ship to the surface, where she is rescued from a jar by Sosuke, a little boy. The two of them immediately take to each other, and when Fujimoto tries to keep her home, she rebels by harnessing all her magic to transform into a human. The consequences? The little town that Sosuka lives close to is completely drowned underwater as the moon is pulled closer to the Earth.

Ponyo, of course, doesn't much care about this: she just wants to be with Sosuke. Sosuke doesn't have any idea about this: he just knows that Ponyo is a little fish he'd adopted from the sea and now turned into a little girl. Fujimoto goes all "GAH!"

As usual, Miyazaki gives us a cast of characters who are all perfectly believable and perfectly likable, even the overly neurotic Fujimoto (english version voiced by Liam Neeson, a fact which deeply amuses some of my friends). (I for one think Fujimoto looks rather like a prim David Bowie.) Lisa, like many mother figures in Miyazaki's many movies, is a solidly good mom, loving and although ruffled, still manages to maintain her patience with Sosuke. Her relationship with her husband is also a good relationship, although she's shown to get extremely upset when he breaks his promise to return home. Similarly, Fujimoto's relationship with Granmamare, however strange and distant it seems, is clearly loving and based on shared goals: to protect the sea.

The visuals of the movie are, as usual, breathtaking, as Miyazaki appears to have gone back to traditional animation instead of going for another CGI-enhanced feature. The opening credits, accompanied by a soaring aria composed by Joe Hisaishi, are simple, yet heart-tugging, drawings that nonetheless hint at the magical surrealism in store for the latter half of the movie. I found some of the camera panning to be a bit disconcerting - I thought it might be less so if it were on a small screen - but, on the whole, the seamlessness between primary world (of Sosuke, Lisa, et al) and the secondary world (Ponyo, Fujimoto, Granmamare) is completely on par for a Miyazaki course.

Once again, Miyazaki demonstrates a deep affection for children, giving them agency, feelings, sensitivity, and desires, when a lesser story-teller would have given them stereotypical childish behaviours. Even as Sosuke may come off as simple and naive, he's still a good-hearted kid, especially to the old ladies at the nursing home where Lisa works. A friend of mine kept commenting throughout the movie, "OMG good parenting!!!" - a sign of how few depictions of non-dysfunctional families there are in typical North American media there are these days. (I have never bought into the whole 'happy families are all the same, but all dysfunctional families are different' tripe.)

Exiting the theatre, I overheard someone comment, "there wasn't really a villain in the story." Here's another thing you have to understand about Miyazaki: he doesn't have concrete villains in his stories. The closest we get to an antagonist in Ponyo is Fujimoto, but for all his hatred for humanity, he still is deeply sympathetic, and is only trying his best. Here's another thing I learned: a story doesn't need a villain for a conflict. Sometimes, a conflict occurs when two well-meaning characters do things that set off a series of events.

Now, onto the voice-acting. I understand the point of dubs, I think. Some people just don't like subtitles. I didn't really have a problem with the English voice-acting in this movie, although I do think it would have been more appropriate to have had the Japanese version, since the story is set in Japan. Noah Cyrus and Frankie Jones did a fairly decent job, and everyone else was good. The end credits had to feature the Ponyo theme song with some over-synthesized over-produced pop version which was cool for like, five minutes, and then I quit understanding why it was even necessary in the first place.

For your listening and comparing pleasure:

Original song:

English bubblegum-pop version:

It's not that far off from the original lyrics of the song, or even the spirit of the song. I just don't like how it was deemed necessary to make this mix to make it more marketable. YMMV.