Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

 Hello wonderful readers! RBB will be on break for the next bit. I'll resume acting out when I'm finally back in Malaysia (which should be on the 8th). In the meantime, take care, and have a fun time ushering in 2010!

Monday, December 28, 2009

I Write: Problems With SF

Here's an editorial by Nuno Fonseca, a Portuguese spec fic writer / editor at the WorldSF blog, talking about (I think, anyway, the text is dense - no fault of the writer) representation of minorities (e.g. women, LGBT) in World SF. A relevant tidbit:
Every time I see a flame war, a heated commentary discussion or simple online tantrum about the derision of a specific, be it gender-based, or around the colonialist-nationalistic axis, or about race discrimination, or even senseofwonder uberall-ism and whatnot, I feel happy and sad. Why? Because in most of these cases what we see is a plain bellyful attitude, even though it is a post-inclusive one. Let me explain.

I happen to live in a country where there are no women writing science fiction. Or black people. Or gay, or whatever you may think about as a specific. Oh it’s true there are a few one-off examples, but way too few. It is a country where the few people who do write SF, are inclusive ones, as it is possible in our global information society. The problem is not one of segregation, but a far more problematic one: we have been getting no one to include here. And this, I tell you, is the truly sad thing.


... the main problem remains that of the whole genre market itself and its poor expression. In the last couple of years, two main publishing houses (Saída de Emergência and Gailivro) have been betting on genre, with low but steady rising success. But mainly in Fantasy, because Portuguese SF works published in this timeframe just number… two. Though more are planned for the next year, fortunately. The rest of the publishing world just treats genre as non-existing or a fad, with the occasional one-offs.

So, you see, I marvel constantly when I see people passionately flaming editors for not including women in an anthology. Or whatever. And I also feel sad, because this is a “comfortable” discussion. Because people, be they women, black, foreign, gay, etc. do get published a lot in the anglo-speaking SF market. And because I remember that the SF fandom, writers, fans, publishers and editors, throughout the years, have been the most socially inclusive and tolerant and active people in the literary world.
There is a response to this post by Luis Filipe Silva, another Portuguese writer, and is pretty rage-making:
The fundamental question that arises from Nuno’s take is that a (literary) criticism about the state of a World SF done on a full stomach is substantially different from a criticism that has to crawl into the other people’s bins and live on crumbs.

By criticism we refer to the set of international authors complaining that there are not enough women to write SF or enough people of colour or of alternative sexualities - arguments which, I confess, always leave a hint of defending a particular, very personal condition, more than reflecting a generalized condition of the genre as they purport to be. On the other hand, I do not belong to any of these alleged conditions of exclusion nor do I live in a country where conflicts of race are socially dominant, so my opinion may be unfair. But in essence, it’s not as if we were still living in the 1950s, as if we hadn’t already gotten rid of a set of damaging social and cultural prejudices (so much that someone holding prejudices becomes a target for prejudice) – and by ignoring this change, the exclusion argument risks becoming stale and repetitive.

Perhaps in the end the real issue is about wishing a shift on the themes addressed by SF - say, from a technological vision of the future into a mystical vision – that will make SF closer to the cultural heart of the complaining person. It is natural that, as an example, the perspective of the all-American-hero not only has little to say to an Eastern citizen but, to a large extent, will be seen as offensive in a region formerly colonized by the West.

And yet, as well Nuno points out, that complaint is still done on a full stomach, because one of the benefits of colonization has been the legacy of English – as was the Latin here in the Iberian Peninsula (yes, Western Europe was once a colonized place - by the Romans...). It’s a legacy that allows authors to express themselves more easily in the global lingua franca, that helps them read and be read and, of course, engage in a debate with a fair amount of easiness, without the hassle of translation.

Admittedly, those crumbs we receive are full of nutrients - after all, our country has equal access to all works published in the Anglophone world - and, thanks to technology, there is now a true democracy that allows anyone to engage in those global debates.

I have to take umbrage to several things, and they don't just apply to these two fine gentlemen:

1) We don't "flame" editors for not including women and LGBT writers; we criticize them, because surprise surprise, women and LGBT folk happen to be part of the reading audience too! Thus it's generally in an editor's best interests to include stories that are representative of them. I thought we already had this covered when the Mammoth Book of Mind Blowing SF came out. OK, mockery happens, but you know what? If you say something ridiculous and nonsensical that dismisses valid concerns held by your reading audience, you deserve to be mocked.

2) Is it really a lack of writers in these countries? Or a lack of opportunities? In Malaysia, I knew a lot of people my age looking to get published, only to be turned off by the lack of a market, and the idea of sending our stories off to American publications (plus SASEs and stuff) was a turn-off. Also, I get the sense that horror is the leading genre in Malaysia and if there are markets for spec fic voices, I can't see 'em.

3) Well, yes, of course arguing the lack of representation in spec fic is a goddamn personal thing. Fuck the male privilege horse you rode in on, because this isn't an intellectual exercise; issues of representation are serious and personal, because when we read stories, we would like to find some stories that represent us. There are the narrow few perspectives which are overrepresented compared to many other minority perspectives. The fact that you can even pretend that these attitudes don't exist anymore or are so 1950's is a sign of privilege, because even while overt racism is rare, what makes you think you don't subconsciously hold racist attitudes? And did I really see the whole "being called a racist is a horrible thing" malarkey trotted out? 'Cos that's bullshit. Quit it.

4) And don't even talk to me about how these books simply aren't being bought. There are a ton of factors which contribute to this phenomenon: unconscious prejudice against minority writers whether on the publishers' or readers' part, lack of marketing, no one's paying attention, first week's sales aren't representative of how well a story is received, so on, so forth. It's like Hollywood all over again, Warner Brothers saying, "We won't make anymore movies with female leads because they don't sell." Do editors invest in translations if they have no guarantee the book will sell?

5) What is this "shifting SF from a technological vision to a mystical vision" nonsense here? I'm sorry, but last I checked, the image of the East being mystical and magical and mysterious is Orientalist, which incidentally, happens to be a racist stereotype. Maybe I, as an Asian woman, would like to see a technologically-advanced world that includes people like me, and, oh! oh! oh! how about, a narrator or main character just like me too, that would be a nice bonus. Is it so hard to imagine a technologically-advanced society that is culturally Asian? This doesn't have anything to do with shifting the videion, so much as expanding the types of themes, narratives, and stories told by the spec fic genre. (Now, I'm sure people are going to get defensive, but look here: this is an example of internalized racism, wherein we hold to stereotypes unconsciously. This is why we "complain" and "talk about" issues of racism and sexism: because if we don't challenge or deconstruct your own views, what kind of stories are we telling?)

6) I'm not offended by all-(white, straight, male)-American perspectives and main characters. I'm offended by the fact that these perspectives are the dominant voices on the market, and marginalizing others in due process. I'm much more offended by the suggestion that this is okay and doesn't require indepth examination. I am infuriated by know-it-alls who assume that now that the problem is out in the open, it no longer requires discussion. I am appalled by the dismissal of the "exclusion arguments". This is not the first time we have spoken up against being excluded. It will not be the last. And if it gets "stale and repetitive" to you, maybe you should actually pay attention.

7) These benefits of colonization he's talking about.... where to start? Speaking English isn't a benefit, it's a necessity. Are minority writers always read? They may read but they may not get fair opportunity to be read. And if debates were really that easy to engage internationally - no wait, never mind, because they're not, taking into account different cultural environments and contexts, which cause people to talk past each other and not necessarily be on the same page as is going on here in this very post.

And I like the number 8. So I will add an 8th point: the rest of their points ring true - it IS difficult non-English spec fic to flourish outside their linguistic contexts. We do face prejudice on whether our books will be picked up or not. Genrecan be a difficult market, what with varying tastes and diverse opinions on what it really should be like bouncing around. Yes, it can get better, but it can't get better with folks trading on stereotypes and sweeping assumptions like the ones I've pointed out above to make their points. 

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Quintessentially Chinese?: Gender Norms and Hua Mulan

Recently, the trailer for the newest Mulan movie, by Jingle Ma, came to my attention:

I will have to be honest and say that tears came to my eyes while watching this trailer for the first time. For several reasons. 

Firstly, I am pretty starved for Chinese movies here. I mean, real Chinese movies. Even an Asian-American, or Asian-Canadian movie would be nice. They're very rare. Ping Pong Playa came closest, and it didn't have very wide distribution. Kung Fu Hustle, when it came into theatres here, made me exceedingly happy, but that was a while back. (And it was doubly awesome because it wasn't even dubbed.)

Secondly, I haven't seen a good movie with a strong Chinese heroine in a while, either. There was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and there was Hero, and there was also House of Flying Daggers, but you know what they all have in common? Most everybody dies. If they don't, they are generally completely side characters, destined to live out their lives in pain and grief and sadness and stuff. 

(You have to keep in mind, of course, that I grew up with the Heroic Trio, and lots of TV serials where the heroines who held their own could also generally have a somewhat happy ending.)

Thirdly, when was the last time we heard a woman's voice dominate the trailer? ......................................

I can't think of any recent ones either. 

And I love it. I love that we hear Vicky Zhao's voice, so loud and strident, proclaiming her loyalty to her mission and kingdom. I love that it's her demanding the soldiers, "are you afraid?!" and the soldiers respond with as much fervour as they can muster. The last time we saw something like this was in Pirates of the Caribbean 3, and it wasn't terribly inspiring, to me. 

It's the same in the longer trailer:

Again, her voice dominates the trailer, even though there's the odd line from male characters, mostly to let you know what the plot is. I also like the bit where Mulan, now a general, asks a man who's clearly her lover, "If I must die on the battlefield, will you go with me?"

The answer is so simple, so plain, without dramatics or declarations of love. "Yes." It lends a dignity to the scene that is often ruined in many Western films that's all about the romantic love, hypersexualized even though it doesn't have to be. 

In the new Mulan movie, our titular heroine won't be trying to desperately fit into patriarchal norms that dictate what people of her gender will do; she will be learning what it's like on the battlefield, what it's like to deliver the first blow, the fierceness of patriotism, the power of war, and the courage to stand up against the enemy. Not only that, but she will be recognized for her talent, and become a general of the army.

This is what happens in Lady General Hua Mulan as well - Mulan rises up the ranks of the army, and goes home to resume life as a woman after ten years of war. When her old comrades come to visit, they are shocked that she's a woman. You'll also note that the beginning of Lady General Hua Mulan is markedly different from the DIsney version: she is shown hunting at the very beginning, rather than waiting to be married off; her first reaction to the memo from the Army is to volunteer herself (her father's criticism is that she is too young) and to prove herself, she challenges her father, famous for his skill, and defeats him. 

However, even in this old movie, her experiences as a soldier are glossed over in favour of a "she was really awesome" summary towards the end. She becomes the perfect balance of yin-yang - able to be strategic and aggressive, or soft and genteel, at will and at the right times. I find it better than the Disney Mulan silliness, but I look forward to Jingle Ma's interpretation. From the news, it seems he's focused on her development as a soldier and will be really putting her through some trials, which is pretty exciting. 

In the original poem she is also a warrior who survives after twelve years of warfare, accorded high merits and offered an official post, which she refuses in exchange for a steed home. Once home, she simply changes her clothes and resumes her life. The poem ends: 

"The male rabbit's feet kick up and down,
The female rabbit's eyes are bewildered.
Two rabbits running close to the ground,
How can they tell if I am male or female?"

This isn't to say that Hua Mulan is our only Chinese superheroine. While it's true that the many wuxia and wushu stories available feature more male fighters than women, more stereotypically patriarchal storylines where there's a love interest waiting to be a prize, and excise women out of the story altogether, there tend to be notable female warriors who fight side by side male warriors. Even if they are told not to, they still will, and they are recognized for their skills and talents. 

It is a given, in all these Chinese media that I grew up with, that gender roles are natural: women are mothers and wives. Women have to resort to trickery to get the same education that men do. Women are objects to be possessed, as chattel to be bartered, as rewards. Nonetheless, women also work in the fields alongside men. (check out part 5 of Lady General Hua Mulan, in which she has an argument with some men about the roles of women. She points out that these roles, which are proof that women are inferior in the Western world, because it's "women's work," are necessary for a happy family life.) If they are especially talented, they are recognized for those talents. There isn't a hard line saying that women can never be as good as men as it seems so prevalent in Western schools of thought. Sure, we work twice as hard, but there are many different kinds of men out there: men who will refuse to mentor you, and men who will. You can't give up just because one person said you have to. 

Now, the thing about even these lax gender norms, China, like most of the rest of the world, is patriarchal. It doesn't have a good track record. Pre-unification China might have been interesting, but after unification, with kyriarchies put into place, it's not hard to see how easily gender norms got into place that oppressed women, what with the whole "bear a son or you're a failure" thing, and the foot-binding. Most of today's lax gender rules come about because of communism, where everybody had to do their fair share of work, even women, and hence, everyone got the same education and treatment. (The problem with this, of course, is that you can't treat women and men exactly the same, seeing as one gender is severely disadvantaged, culturally, compared to the other. Communists are not better than corporate capitalists in their treatment of mothers.)

It'll be interesting to see how these factor into the new Mulan movie. I hope it'll still be playing when I get home to Malaysia in early January. I'll let you know how it goes. There are also negotiations for its international distribution, so keep your fingers crossed!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Have A Very Merry Gendered Christmas Holiday!

It's Christmas Day! Merry Christmas to everybody who reads this blog that celebrates it! I will be doing... nothing, probably. Maybe making a pizza. Who knows! 

Jennifer Kesler over at the Hathor Legacy has a post up about gendered holiday expectations. It made me think about what happens for the annual dinner my family used to have around this time of year.

Usually, my dad and brother cook. My mom's usually too tired from her work at her shop to work, but she will on occasion order stuff from Victoria Station (a steakhouse) and bring it home.

Me, I'm usually in charge of drinks. It means I get the dubious honour of digging out the drink dispenser and buying the drinks. What I tend to do is go out and buy several bottles of various soft drinks. The dispenser takes about three bottles. I'm also in charge of making the ice that will go into the dispenser to cool down the drinks. It has the added bonus of diluting the drinks a bit too, so it's not so sugary. Not that there's anything bad about this! Just. You know. So, the evening might start with a mix of Coca-Cola, Strawberry Fanta,

This happened a year or two and then it became routine.

Other than that, because we don't generally actually celebrate Christmas, everything else becomes more or less irrelevant. Our family friends don't always ask us if we're going to have a Christmas do, although they would check with us to see if we did. If we did, then they'd come to ours, because my dad's a good cook.  But if we didn't, then we'd get an invite to go somewhere else to eat. We don't do the whole buying presents thing (my mother buys things for family at random times of the year anyway).

I wonder whether it's just my family, or if it's something across the board for most middle-class Malaysian families like mine...

In any case, Merry Christmas, folks!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

10 Things I Love about The Princess and the Frog

(Mind you, as of this writing, I have seen The Princess and the Frog twice already. And will see it hopefully a third time soon. This isn't really a proper review, yet.)

1. Even if Tiana's father isn't there for most of the movie, there's still a very strong fatherly love presence. Tiana's mom, Eudora, voiced by Oprah Winfrey (who, incidentally, is the only really Famous Celebrity name in the cast list) also has a presence too. The first five minutes has a clip with both her parents which is just heartwarming.

2. Cajun = Acadian, with reference to that big-time Acadian love story, Evangeline. I missed this reference the first time around, but I think it was a wonderful thing to add to the story. I love Ray's solo about Evangeline.

3. The animal sidekicks have their own stories. Usually, the animal sidekicks start and end with the main character (Mushu and Crikey in Mulan, Meeko and the pug in Pocahontas, for example). Louis has a goal that doesn't have much to do with either Tiana and Naveen in the beginning. Ray was in love with Evangeline long before he even meets them. Ray's story continues after his encounter with Tiana and Naveen, too. This is pretty unusual, as far as Disney sidekicks go!

4. Mama Odie has a snake named Juju which is possibly the most multi-functional animal sidekick I have EVER seen. He doesn't have any lines, but frankly? He doesn't need any!

5. While I'm on the subject of Mama Odie - I don't like how she's all Christianized (whereas Facilier's voodoo is clearly based on stereotypes of voodoun, made to fit a more stereotypical Judeo-Christian mythology set) - but as a fairy godmother character, she is definitely different. She's the kind who guides the main character, much like Grandmother Willow, rather than grant wishes. I found it amusing how she tries to goad Tiana into having a non-Bechdel conversation with her, but Tiana doesn't give her that. XD "BLUE SKIES AND SUNSHIIIIIIIINE!"

6. Tiana dreams big. I think I cried a little bit more when her dream's crushed a little at the beginning, because I really identified with her - the whole, "you can dream big, but you'll be crushed". So I find this a very empowering movie for young girls to be growing up with, because Tiana keeps holding onto her dream anyway, despite the initial crush that would have turned off and defeated most people.

7. Charlotte, Tiana's white friend, is one of those characters I just want to hate. I do! She's so hilarious, though. Her privilege, both from her race and from her economic station, render her oblivious to so much, Yet, when the chips are down, she's there for Tiana, and has a genuinely good heart. I imagine a lot of folks will find her irritating anyway, and I sort of would, but her selfless act towards the end brings it all together. I like to think that even if Tiana hadn't run into Naveen, Charlotte would have come through for Tiana and helped her out anyway. Like I said above, most people would have been crushed by setbacks, and setbacks are usually in place because of a larger, unforgiving society that keeps individuals down. So, I like to think that Lotte would have been the kind to use her privilege to help her friend out, if she could get her head out of the sky for a bit.

8. Naveen has some serious character growth throughout the story, in a way that exceeds even my expectations. It's like the character growth the Beast goes through, but you can see how the process happens. Not only that, but he goes from self-entitled schmuck to someone willing to go through whatever it takes to make Tiana happy. It reminds me of the adage, "when you love someone, you set them free," and he really exemplifies that, preparing to do what it takes for Tiana to be happy on her own terms, rather than on his. And you know what? I really admire that. How many little boys are taught to do that? Not only that, but after the movie, I started ticking off all the Disney princes I could remember whose parents - BOTH of them - made an appearance.

9. Ray has a joke - "women love a man with a big back porch!" and he shows them his lit-up butt. I was thinking about this, wondering if it even refers to anything close to any stereotypes I've thought about. Then I figured, it's got to be a firefly-specific joke. And heck, why not? Fireflies would have their own culture! And it's not like no one would get it! I really found that neat. Also, I LOVE the fireflies song!

10. I am SO getting this soundtrack. Seriously, it is a solid, solid soundtrack. It's weird, because I don't hum any of the songs coming out of the theatre, and it's not really all that memorable that way? But the film is so well-backed-up with this soundtrack. I just want to bounce to the music. The street jazz, and kinda country rock, and the gospel song Mama Odie sings. Seriously, Anika Noni Rose has a powerful voice. I'm not used to Disney voice actors actually singing their own character's songs.

 I am so happy for all these little girls who will be growing up with Tiana as part of their childhood. And little boys, too.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Steampunking: Orientalism In Any Other Form...

 This was originally a Twitter rant and then I realized I'd already made several tweets and still wasn't finished, so I thought I'd bring it on here.

Minh-Ha at Racialicious has an amazing post up on a modern example of Orientalism which everybody should read. She nails it here:

Lagerfeld seems to anticipate this critique when he argues that his short film represents “the idea of China, not the reality. It has the spirit of, and is inspired by, but is unrelated to China.” Without meaning to, Lagerfeld describes precisely one of the core truths of Orientalism (a system of Western knowledge that, as Edward Said explains, “had since antiquity [imagined the Orient as] a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences”). Lagerfeld’s China, like the Orient Said discusses, is a European/American invention.
 It's a brilliant send-up of everything that's wrong with Orientalism, and yes, steampunks are utterly susceptible to this.

The last time I bothered engaging on a discussion of multi-culturalism within steampunk, it ended up being a long discussion on exactly what multiculturalism is, and how nothing is sacred. In fact, there was a lot of "people should feel free to share their culture," which contains the damning implication of "if you're possessive over your culture, then you're selfish, which makes you a bad person."

To which I say, so fucking what? Why the hell should I let the majority take what is already not mine, because of colonization in the past and present, and regurgitate it in their own vision, their own ideals? We have done that for years - taking Western ideals and imagining them to be the best, to be better than us. When Westerners do the same to us, it is without the same respect, but all the idealization and projection of what they think should be our identity.

When I hear, "I would love to see [marginal race] steampunk!" I immediately think, "what for?" For who is this show of multiculturalism? What sacrifices are you willing to make to ensure that the very culture you think should be a part of steampunk has its place? I have never seen anything like that. Instead, it's a bunch of white steampunks coming up with ideas inspired by marginal cultures. Cultural appropriation at its best, which, as said by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, "leaves its living sources on the margin, and pats itself on the back for being so cosmopolitan."

Lagerfield's argument is so very seductive - "we're not hurting anybody", it seems to say. "We're simply re-imagining them in what we would like them to be." It is like taking a human partner and making them do things that they feel doesn't suit them - "I love you and would never hurt you. I just think you should do this and that and this because it would make you even better," even as it erases who they really are. It's seductive because it does not overtly destroy, overtly hate. Instead, it shows a form of love, affection, for this thing which isn't really there, and must be built - must be tamed and civilized before we can trot it out into fine society.
So it is when steampunks try to re-imagine the Orient and re-make it in the image that they want it to be: basically, you just have to create a new map that erases the current map, create new peoples that erase the current peoples, and re-discover these strange savage lands all over again.

Here's the thing, steampunks: when you try to re-create the spirit, and only take the good, of exploration while ignoring the bad of it, and acknowledging that the bad of the colonial past has had truly harmful effects on people today, you betray the anti-racist movement, the same way white people who have taken the helm as white gatekeepers for racialized bodies have, you re-create colonialism, which once again seeks to assert a specific culture, all in the name of fun. You may not do this consciously, but without acknowledging the true past, your "mockery" of the past (and indeed many steampunks claim to want to mock the past by aping historical attitudes) merely becomes a re-creation.

Cross-posted to Silver Goggles.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Corporations Profiting And Voting With Our Dollars

 Sometime in March, the following advertisement was circulating:

I like how it has subtitles.

When it first came out, those who weren't cooing about how progressive it was, how great it was, was criticising it, saying, "well, of course, but in the end, there's only one reason to do such an ad - to make money. And we're all buying into it."

Well, of course we would, right? Because it's a positive ad. If the bank really espouses such values, then isn't it worthwhile supporting? Even though it's an example of capitalism at work?

Recently, the Methods Shiny Suds PSA campaign went viral, creating a chain of events across the feminist blogosphere. From the looks of it, it turned off a lot of potential consumers of Method from ever buying Method products ever again. Even I will be on the lookout for Method products and making a note to not buy them. And screed after screed was published of men who refused to give up their right to laugh at the idea of a woman being sexually harassed by soap bubbles.

I think to myself, if capitalism is the major ecomic system at the moment, then we should be praising ads like the one of the bank. Even if it's "done for profit" - of course it's done for profit. The systems of capitalism have been set up and ingrained so deep, it is impossible to topple it unless we created such a huge market crash and had to go back to subsistence farming, it would continue to be that way.

So I figure, if corporations are going to milk us, the people, the consumers, for profit, they better do it in a way that makes us happy. I think corporations have the responsibility to ensure that the world is as safe as possible. Why? Because they are so powerful. Whats the use of milking people for money, of having all these campaigns and funds and resources for us, if you're going to just make the world even worse for those of us who already have it bad?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Answering Stephen Fry: It's not Good Naturedness

QI, short for Quite Interesting, a TV game show in the UK, is brilliant television. The contestants are often funny (without necessarily plying on -isms), rapid-fire with their conversation, and informative at turns. I love this show and wish it would come out on DVDs so I can purchase them and hoard them and treasure them and hand them down to my children so they'll know intelligent humour while growing up.

But QI does have its privileged moments where I pause and go, "did you really just say that?" Fortunately, with the exception of Alan Davies who insists on plying his trade in using faux Spanish accents as a source of humour, they move on to something more amusing. Here's an example:

Alan: He's a villain, I know that much.
Stephen: That's basically it.
David: We're gay
Stephen: Or gay.
John: Gay villain
Stephen: Or a gay villain!
David: Or people think you're Australian so you get bar work.
John: The high-octane version of the English villain which is to get an English villain to play a German villain.
Stephen: Yes! As in the Die Hard films!
John: The Die Hard films which - it has some of my favourite dialogue of our great friend Alan Rickman, uh, when he says - after he's shot the man's head, uh... *mimics Alan Rickman* "Mr. Takagi, I will count to three. There will not be a four." And he shoots the man in the skull, and then goes downstairs later and he goes, "Mr. Takagi won't be joining us for the rest of his life."
[Back screens show pictures of Alan Rickman from Die Hard and Robin Hood.
Stephen: I know. There you can see him, I think on the left there from Die Hard and on the right, uh-
Emma: Robin Hood
Stephen: -Giving his Sheriff of Nottingham. Now, the extraordinary thing about Robin Hood, I mean, the two most famous Robin Hoods that I saw - those are the Erroll Flynn one, and the Kevin Costner one, so I said, Erroll Flynn and Kevin Costner, basically playing him as American.
Alan: Kevin Costner made no bones about it. Just comes straight from the airport. I can imagine him just getting his tights on in the back.
David: To be honest, I can't think it would have been a better film if he was struggling with a Dick van Dyke Cockney accent.
Stephen: I just wondered, is it because we're too good-natured to moan about it?
Alan: We're the last country left that won't scream 'racism!'
Stephen: Exactly. We don't shout, 'it's so racist to make us the villain.'
Emma: Or is it that, the villains, kind of have to be fiendishly clever, and they suspect, as if, something Machiavellian deep down, somewhere. Always.
Stephen: Absolutely. Tyrannical, because we are the country they fought, originally, to create their own country.
Emma: And we're essentially unwholesome. You know. Really. And we have bad teeth. That's the thing they can't, really forgive us for.
Stephen: British have broken teeth in the Simpsons as well.
David: Alan Rickman has got great teeth.
John: But he does this thing *mimics Alan Rockman again* where he's able to talk, without actually letting his lips touch his teeth, soo...*stops* Alan is so good at playing villains - *to the audience* as you all know - but he hates being good at playing villains. He wants to play the lovely guy in the white shirt, that comes in, you know-
Emma: He did, in Sense and Sensibility.
John: As Colonel Brandon, absolutely. But uh, he was at a party once - and you know kids are fantastic, they always say the thing they're not meant to say. This kid said to him *mimics kid voice* "Alan!" *switches to AlanRickman* "Yes?" *kid voice* "Why do you always play villains?!" Roo-gee! That's the last thing you want to say to him. And Alan went, *mimics Alan Rickman* "I don't play villains. I play interesting people."

The thing about QI is that often Stephen Fry answers his own question if no one else can give a forthcoming answer, but I think his answer here, as I indicated in the italics, is woefully incomplete, underestimating the largeness of the issue. Now, of course, there's no sense talking this Very Serious Thing into the show, which is, after all, supposed to be light and fun, but here's a further reason why the British don't cry "racism":

Some characters of color were created with roots dipped deep in racism and continuing their portrayal as characters of color might prove to be worse than having them turned into a white fool. For those of you who might be inclined to cry foul about having white people play the fool and that they’re unfairly Acceptable Targets, please note that white characters have the greatest range and diversity in mainstream media and that white characters are rarely stereotyped (unless they happen to be a part of another non-racial minority class). Consequently, for every white fool, you have a large ratio of other characters to serve as counterexamples. This does not exist with characters of color and so how they are drawn actually does have a social impact–but that’s another discussion.
- J. Chang, of Init_MovingPictures, posted at Racialicious.

That's the thing about Britain, particularly the dominant Anglo-Saxon Britons, who are white-skinned and Aryan. Brits can't scream racism because there's no racism to scream about. They can't say they're always type-cast as villains because they are not.

Children across the world devour story after story about English children solving mysteries and growing up. They learn, day after day, about how cultured England is, this emerald isle in a sea of storms. The English have heroes and myths of their own. I wanted to be English when I was growing up, and I devoured English literature as if it could fill some hole in me and take me away from my peers, who were not so erudite nor intelligent.

This is, of course, a false impression, set up by many things - the amount of English literature that pervades education today in developing countries, the idea that English is the lingua franca of the world, the systems of government set up by the leaving British as their Empire slowly eroded. Victoria is long dead, but her Empire took much longer to die. Why, it only released one of its last international holdings in my living memory. That's pretty recent, ya'll!

And frankly, if the English were to cry "RACISM!" I think everyone else in the world would laugh its fucking ass off at them. How long ago was it that Britain was in control of much of the third world and under its control, these countries were worse off than ever before? And the Britons laboured under the guise of the White Man's Burden to civilize these places, to pity these regions which clearly were not as well off - except of course there wasn't necessarily a lot of pity, but a lot of contempt for these countries which were places for free labour!

These actions, which were done over a century ago, still reverberate in behaviour today. Dead men have set up systems that are hard to dismantle today, because it is so ingrained into the very fibre of our beings. Even from the grave they make the work of anti-racists harder.

I don't live in the United Kingdom, so I don't hear a lot of moaning about how minorities are getting all the attention, to the detriment of "real Britons". It already happens here in North America - having the British shout 'racism!' is just adding fuel to the fire that sits in the firepit they created 200 years ago. They could, but it would be malicious and cold-hearted, and I'm under the impression that they've spent years trying to let go of malice and spitefulness.

It would be racist if the only examples of English people in mass media were a specific, stereotyped narrative that doesn't allow leeway for the audience to view the English as anything other than the stereotype. But the English have, as Chimamanda Adichie delineates quite nicely, "many stories".There are stories of the aristocrats and the stories of the poor. The stories of men and women. The stories of children in upper-middle-class and the stories of children living in the gutter, or townspeople and rural folk. The English have all these stories with which the English child finds confidence in his or her place in the world. So many others don't.

And that is why it's not racist for Hollywood to continually typecast Englishmen in the roles of villains.

Because for every English villain there are many English heroes. And Mr. Fry is one of them.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Today Is the International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers

 Yes it is!

Unfortunately, I was remiss and didn't make a blogpost about it. So, instead, I will give you a brief linkspam about it:

Global Voices Online:
December 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, a day which started  in 2003 as a memorial and vigil to the Sex workers killed in Seattle Washington and then evolved to an international day to call attention to the hate crimes committed against sex workers throughout the world.

Feminist Philosophers:
The day calls attention to hate crimes committed against sex workers all over the globe as well as the need to remove the stigma and discrimination that is perpetuated by custom and prohibitionist laws that has made violence against sex-workers acceptable.

The red umbrella has become an important symbol for Sex Workers Rights and it is increasingly being used on December 17: “First adopted by Venetian sex workers for an anti-violence march in 2002, red umbrellas have come to symbolize resistance against discrimination for sex workers worldwide.” with a Press Release that has RENE ROSS OF STEPPING STONE!! You know, of HALIFAX!!! It also has a quote from Jessica Yee.
In light of the continuing violence faced by sex workers across the country, four groups that advocate for sex workers in Canada demand an end to criminalization and the removal of current laws around sex work that put sex workers lives in danger. “Sex workers are caught in a strange Catch-22 situation” said Chris Bruckert, President of POWER and Associate Professor at the University of Ottawa’s Department of Criminology, “While our work itself is legal, it is illegal for us to communicate about it beforehand, live off the avails of our work or run a private worksite.” Émilie Laliberté, spokesperson for Montreal’s sex worker group Stella adds, “These laws stigmatize us and force us to work in isolation, making us more vulnerable to violence.”

“Sex work is not violent in and of itself,” adds Rene Ross, director of Stepping Stone in Halifax,  “It is the policies that criminalize sex workers’ lives and our work that foster violence against us”

International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe - ICRSE:
The impact of violence on sex workers affects all of us, including family, partners, friends communities, and colleagues. This year for the 2009, 17 December Campaign we want to have a special focus under the theme:
'PEOPLE CARE!' About us & we care about people. We are not alone.

You know that sex workers are not alone and that we are part of communities. In most of our countries we struggle against our governments for the recognition of the rights of sex workers to work; so they can take care of themselves and the people they love and do this under safe and healthy working and living conditions.The role of punitive laws in preventing sex workers from accessing the services and support they need has been recognised by the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon and Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS among many others.

Facts about Prostitution:
Both the Chicago and New York studies offer recommendations for better ways for law enforcement and community institutions to deal with prostitution. The suggestions sound like common sense – offer sex workers meaningful supportive services, including job training, affordable housing, health care and counseling. Start treating sex workers like human beings with civil and human rights, rather than criminals. And don't forget to address the problem at the source: the portion of the customer base who are eager to pay to exploit and abuse sex workers.

Audacia Ray's Thoughts on This Day:
There are a lot of different projects that sex workers and our allies must work on to ensure our rights: we must work to reduce stigma and encourage the general public to think of us as multi-faceted human beings; we must work to ensure our legal rights and protections not just from potentially violent clients but from law enforcement officers and the legal system; we must work to gain greater access to nonjudgmental health care services and providers who are educated on our needs; we must create culture and tell our stories to each other and the world at large; we must defend ourselves against people who supposedly have our best interests in mind yet won’t listen to our statements of needs; we must challenge bad health policies and distribution of funds at the local, national, and international levels; and last but not least - we must create networks of emotional and spiritual support so we can stay strong and continue to do this very exhausting work. But it’s hard to do even a sliver of that essential work when we are being killed, silenced by hate and fear and a deep and dangerous assumption that we are expendable, that no one will care when we do not come home.

Heather Corinna tweeted:
On the Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers as a supportive move ask yourself how any of your words or actions might enable violence.

*waves little "YOU ARE NOT ALONE!" flag*

x-posted to the Redux Edition

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Grooming Habits: The Poop Edition!

My friend Talulah Mankiller recently wrote a post about pooping. Namely, her troubles with pooping in public poop places and how she got over that. I was deeply amused about her reticence to poop in public places, because my BFF and I, when we lived in the university residences, we had a similar problem, but in the opposite way.

Being that the rest of this post is about poop, readers who can't stand to read about that sort of thing are advised to move on!

We lived in a tall residence. Each floor had 4 suites for undergrad housing - each suite had one double room, four singles, one shower, one washroom, I guess so if someone's showering, everyone else can still go pee.

There are, of course, problems with 6 people sharing one washroom, and that being the problem of smell. After taking a dump, some of us took to spraying air deodorant into the washroom, as if that actually made the problem any better.

I am not naturally a reticent person about bodily functions. People poop, pee and have all sorts of snot in their bodies which is gross. I come from a family where we constantly had reading material next to the toilet seat. My parents, when they void themselves, often keep the door ajar.

However, there is just something about the possibility of the lingering smell after voiding oneself that was simply not on. My BFF and I shared this idea that it was somehow embarrassing to use the dorm washroom to poop in.

Also? The dorm washrooms were not particularly attractive. You'd have to take your chances with the toilet paper - we ran out of toilet paper at alarming rates.

Fortunately for us, the residences plus several other buildings on campus are connected to each other! Whenever we felt the need to take a dump and happened to be online, one would ping the other and say, "I need to use the Sobey's washroom."

The Sobey building is mostly used by Commerce students. It was funded by the Sobey Corporation of Atlantic Canada. It has pretty washrooms! And the toilet paper there never runs out. Not only that, but we could mosey on down and take a dump, and if other people came in after us, who could they possibly suspect of having left behind that foul smell, if any?

Also, being that going down to the Sobey washroom might also entail the start of moseying around the rest of whatever campus buildings were connected, it became a way to bond with my BFF. Public washrooms, when empty, are pretty creepy to be in! But when you have a BFF there to chat with you, somehow it all seems better! And we would chat about anything - classmates, school, friends, family, or just random stuff as one might discuss with BFFs.

Once we were done, we would mosey on back to our rooms, secure in the knowledge that no one knew we had gone to void ourselves, we hadn't contributed to our suites losing more toilet paper, and if poop clogged the toilet, it was no fault of ours.

And that was our thing for the two years we lived in residence, folks! Good times.

Monday, December 14, 2009

On Support Systems

In "class, culture, and moving away from home," Hugo Schwyzer muses about what it means when people choose to live closer to home, or at home, while attending university, which he saw as rather limiting, because, he had been told, college was about "having new experiences, creating a new identity, developing one’s own emotional, spiritual, and intellectual autonomy without interference from one’s family of origin". He then meandered off into musings about this topic.

I understood his talk about individualism. I understood the desire to get away from restrictions of the family, the ideal of broadening one's horizons far away from family and family friends, to be forced to become independent (which I never mustered, being 25 and still without a career), to be thrown into a void where I would have to start ground up. I think I've done quite nicely. I have a support system of friends, I chose really well my educational institution which has made university a joy to go through, and I like to think I know Halifax pretty well already.

What I didn't understand was why he was so confounded, so baffled, by the choice not to leave. I have had my fair share of being annoyed at people who insist on going home every other weekend to be with families, missing out on important meetings for projects, whilst I must wait several months before I get to see my own kin again. When I go home, I find it increasingly harder to leave - partly because I have a bit of a white-knight complex and can't bear to see my family fall apart without me there.

Families are important. For the lucky ones, they are support systems, places to return to for comfort. Theoretically, family helps you out when you're in need. I say theoretically because my family has often never helped me in ways I needed help the most.

So some of us choose our families. I choose my friends carefully and love each of them with all the fierce one might see reserved for family members. I know if I'm down and out, and need a place to crash, someone will be there. Recently I had a friend stay at my place, sleeping on my couch, using my spare key. I offered him my roof, my food, my couch, my Internet connection (he brought his own router!), because that's just what I was taught to do for friends when they are down and out and in need of a place to stay.

When I chose Canada, and my university, I knew I was choosing a place to come to which was smack dab across the planet from my family. I made the decision to move and build a life away from family, in a place where I have none, because my experiences with family have been torturous - I was expected to be close to a family that had no way of knowing how to be close to me. It was a struggle, trying to be emotionally filial to a family that didn't know how to treat me. I purposefully chose a place where it would be difficult to visit me - in order to get here, they would have to fly several hours, on a long-haul flight that is never comfortable. (And this is true, because when my family came over for my graduation, the first thing my brother did was give me a dirty look and say in a grouchy, gnarly tone, "am never visiting you again!")

But not everyone makes the same decision. Not everyone had the hankering to go find myself the way my brother and I did. Not everyone is driven to leave for different experiences. Most of my peers that I know of just wanted a degree in a good university, then a good job. And that's fine too.

I envy people who have loving families nearby, who visit often, because I cannot visit my own family often. But I daresay it's offset by having loving friends, who, while I don't visit often, are usually there for me.

When one has no blood-relatives to rely on, one must rely on the ties of friendship. I would say my friends, although they may be different from me by virtue of class, race, gender or ability, are still great friends, closer to me than family.

My mother used to point out to me that the ties of friendship aren't as strong as the ties of family. That there are things no one outside the family could ever hope to understand, and that family ties place a greater obligation on kin to come to one's aid.

As I grow older, I see that this is practical advice. But I would like for ties to be more than that. If I'm in trouble, I don't want kin to help me out of obligation, just because they happen to share some genetics in common with me. I don't really care for the idea that I have to take on someone I don't particularly like, just because they're kin. To give that sort of care seems a bit empty to me. This isn't to say I wouldn't do it; of course I would, because I'm not that kind of churlish person.

Yet there is something to be said about a support system that's entrenched in true affection. About someone seeking you out because they really like you, and want you as company. About people who get together not out of familial obligation but because they take joy in being in each other's presence.

It's a more fragile support system, to be sure, but one I appreciate deeply. Even when far away from home, one still seeks people. But that's my decision, and some others prefer the solidity of actual family around. And that's awesome too. There's something about people you've grown up with who still help out, who aren't turned off by what they know of you, who look out for you.

 But the bottom line is, no matter who they are, we'd still need them. There's something lovely about knowing that.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

My 9/11 Aftermath

 Like many other people, I remember where I was when 9/11 happened. I was downstairs with my mum, listening to her talk to a friend, and we got a phone call, which my brother took. He said "What?" and hung up, ran upstairs, and after that I heard, "Shit."

After the third such expletive, I went upstairs, where my brother stood in front of the television in my parents' master bedroom, watching CNN.

At, where I was a member since May of that year, we couldn't stop talking about it. Members were making calls to make each those of ours in NYC were all right.

And inevitably, there were discussions which made me freak out.

Because 9/11 was perpetrated by "Muslim terrorists" and I lived in a Muslim country.

When Malaysia pronounced solidarity with other Islamic countries, I was actually quite proud. It was a dangerous move to make, pronouncing that we were a Muslim country at a time when the world hated Muslims. Not only that, but Muslims all over the world, particularly in America, would face discrimination and a lot of rage, and I thought it was a nice gesture for my country to announce solidarity with them.

But I was still fearful enough that I had to ask, "I am a Malaysian, and Malaysia is a Muslim country. Do you hate me?" Of course they didn't. In the abstract world of the Internet, there, I was loved for being a writer and an active participant. They didn't care one whit where I came from.

But I had my Ping Timeout moment when a member posted a picture.

It was a picture of the Petronas Twin towers. Underneath it was a caption that read something like this:
The Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpuer are the world's tallest buildings. They stand as a symbol of Islamic civilization.

As one might expect the actual picture was marred by a cleverly photoshopped plane, about to crash into them.When other members saw it, they remarked how tasteless it was, and basically, waited for me to get in there to see it.

I could have laughed it off, because after all, SO was, on a very light level then, somewhat a place for trolls, to troll and withstand trolls. Tastelessness is one of their hallmarks. We had a forum set aside specifically for people to hone their flaming skills. I'd learned by then not to take much on the Internet seriously, to walk away (and show I was walking away in a post) if I saw something I was contemptuous of.

I could not do that in that thread. I don't remember what I responded, but I remember it was hateful and shout-y. Possibly a "Fuck you, asshole." I like to think it was more poisonous than that, although in reality, it probably wasn't. I was known then as one of the "nice girls".

I remember being seized by a fear. Shock, at first, that someone could think of even photoshopping that. My country had no involvement in the tragedy, save for the few of us who actually lost loved ones there.

Not only that, but the Petronas Twin Towers certainly did not stand as a symbol of Islamic civilization to me.. It was an achievement of Malaysia's progress towards industrialization and participation in the world's sphere. It was a status symbol to make our mark on the world, even temporarily, in the World Records. Although the motifs on the thing are supposedly Muslim, they never struck me that way.

That, and it was just a petty thing to think, you know? Yes, let's totally get revenge for 3,000 dead by killing another few thousand. That makes everything better. That really pays off the blood debt. Really, nothing to do with making amends for fucking up the Middle East.

But what was truly terrifying was the knowledge that had Angry America become so rageful that they wanted to declare war on Malaysia, and send the US military to invade us, the first thing they would have toppled would have been the Twin Towers. If America had wanted to, America could have destroyed us. America still has that power. Look what it has done to Afghanistan, look what it has done to Iraq.

Hell, if a few individual Americans had wanted to destroy us, I have no doubt that they could get together and figure out a way to ram our Twin Towers. After all, who was getting profiled after 9/11?

I refused to step inside the thread again. I hashed my feelings out with someone else, a friend who probably understood more about the issue than he let on, being a Jew, and he recognized my rage was my own, and said nothing to defend the action.

The guy who posted it AIMed me in panic. He hadn't realized I was Malaysian. He was horrified that he had upset someone so much. I don't remember what I said to him, but it didn't really make me feel any better. If no one on the forum had been Malaysian, then he would have been free to post the picture anyway and not caught shit. It makes me wonder, would anyone else have called him out on bigoted behaviour? Sad to say, I think not.

Living here, sometimes I don't think Americans understand just how much events here reverberate across the world, and thus, how much responsibility America has as a role model. Those who have some inkling usually hold it as a reason to interfere, to intervene, to go places where America really shouldn't be messing in.

But we in Malaysia felt it. We are smack dab on the other side of the planet, and even we were affected enough to follow it closely.

Now, almost eight years after the event, I still feel the anxiety of America abusing its power. I rooted for Obama because I thought he would do what he needed to pull out of the Middle-East. When he sent in more troops, I ultimately felt betrayed, although I did not vote him in. Although I know, intellectually, that America is losing its grip, that it is waning, that it must or it will crumble in a spectacular fall at some point, I still fear America.

This is not an indictment of Americans. I do not fear individual Americans. When I meet an American, I do not automatically fear them. It is not the American I fear. It is the entity of U.S.A., which is bigger than an American, which will last longer any any single mortal American, which has nuclear war heads and power to deploy them.

I do not often feel this fear, because I do not often think about America much in the context of world politics. When I think about America, it is often about issues within it, and how it applies to issues I have encountered, either in Canada or my home country. I don't live with this fear, certainly.

But I won't deny that when I remember 9/11, I remember I fear America.

Friday, December 11, 2009

8 Memorable Musical Moments

Cycads tagged me. Can you believe that?! Cheh!

Anyway, this is a hard meme, you guys. ;_;

1) So, to begin with, I took piano lessons starting age 5 or so. We bought a piano that was a full eight years older, so yes, a piano that was older than me, second-hand. Every good middle-class kid had to learn how to play piano. My parents saw it as an opportunity they never had, my mum thought if I was ever out of a job, at least I could teach piano, and my dad figured that learning new things, which one does when capable of wielding an instrument, is a good thing to head off things like Alzheimer's. Either way, growing up, a piano in the house was a kind of marker, a cultural cue that one had arrived. I grew up with the usual stuff - Beethoven and Mozart, the former particularly, as my dad was very fond of the Pastoral. I never really felt very moved until we bought a CD with Tchaikovsky music, and this was the first track:

My soul was sold.

2) I was at some point the only one in my family who liked mainstream stuff, in particular the Scorpions. I had a few tapes (oh yes, those 8-track tapes!) of mostly Scorpion albums, and some other rock songs, like Bon Jovi. Ostensibly, these fellows at the pasar malam were selling soundtracks, but really, they're just mix tapes with a couple of the songs from the actual soundtrack. Great prices though. RM 10 for a tape? Not a bad price, all in all.

I played a lot of Scorpions. When I got my own room, I would turn on Scorpions really loud and sing. I never realized that people could hear me singing. The maids told me one day, laughing. I was deeply embarrassed. I tended to sing Rock You Like A Hurricane the loudest. (My favourite song was Rhythm of Love, which, in retrospect, is a pretty dirty song for a, 11-year-old to be singing.)

3) We had these old speakers which must have come from the 80's. When we bought a new Aiwa CD player, it had speakers of its own, and my brother eventually figured out how to hook the old speakers to the computer in his room (that was where our family computer used to be). It went downhill from there, and eery so often (and by every so often I mean "every night for several weeks"), this would blast from his room:


4) My brother was heavily into comics. Like video games, comics seemed to me, then and now, like something one had to have extraordinary love and patience for, because you only get an issue a month, and the stories don't necessarily end, which means you wait and wait for a story to resolve itself, and they went on forever. Video games at least end, but you still need the patience to figure shit out in games, learn how to play it, and get to the ending. I left the playing to my brother and watched him as he did. I also read a few comics he brought home. He had a lot. Of course, I particularly liked the comics which featured female main characters, such as Kabuki, and Shi, and Dawn, and I bought my very own Catwoman #0. I was also very fascinated by the Lady Death mythos.

My brother brought home a CD sample with the Megadeth track "She-Wolf". I have no idea how connected it is to the actual Lady Death comics (I know the artist has done work for 'Deth). But it did spark my interest in metal music. He bought an actual copy of the Cryptic Writings album, although I listened to it more often than he did. I went on to buy more 'Deth music, and most of the songs which resonate with me deeply then were from the Youthanasia album:

This song really resonated with me then, and funnily enough, it still resonates with me today - the anger and the disappointment, the lack of knowledge and acceptance that I just don't know anything, and the intrinsic hope: "I know that somewhere, someone hears my voice."

5) Around the same time, yet another comic/CD collaboration came Gary Numan's Sacrifice album, illustrated by Joseph Michael Linser who created Dawn. Gary Numan is known as one of the first electronica artistes out there, and his 1996 album is very much a huge comeback for him after almost a decade of kind of meandering around with different musical styles. His music tends to be gritty, angrily agnostic, but among all of that, there is this wonderful love ballad that he wrote for the woman who would become his wife:

6) My family was big into New Age music, because.... they were more relaxing than most of the other popular music available. As one might expect, we had Enya, and we had Loreena McKennit. We had a buncha weird stuff, as well as classical music. We also had a CD called Middle Kingdom, part of a series of Chinese-inspired, fusion world music. It's by Noel Quinlan, although to tell the truth I had no idea it was Australian at the time and thought it was something neat from China. The album features a song in which the poem, Hua Mulan, is recited and mixed into the body of the song. Appropriately titled Mulan, I recently discovered it has a music video, which I shall share with you:

It came out way before the Disney Mulan movie, and frankly, the Disney version doesn't do the actual legend much justice. We're generally lucky in Malaysia that when a new media fad comes out, like the Disney Mulan movie, our TV stations and newspapers will be filled with articles about the subject for a while. We watched several documentaries about the identity of Hua Mulan as a historical figure, we read newspaper features about Hua Mulan's impact on Chinese culture, and generally, we probably get stuff American media doesn't bother with. As another example, when Troy, the one with Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom, first came out, we were inundated with articles on archaeological expeditions about the search for Troy, historical documentaries about the location, so on so forth.

7) Somewhere along the line, way after I hit Canadian shores, discovering awesome bands like local indie rock bands (such as the Turnstiles; one of their members was a Rhodes Scholar - I knew him personally and he is a truly sweet person. He is now going solo), power metal bands like Nightwish, and basically catching up on a lot of North American pop culture that I missed out on in Malaysia (somehow, a lot of the garbage got filtered down to us, although I can't say I missed out on the punk music), I discovered I have a thing for the more flambouyant years of David Bowie, which I definitely missed. He and Queen. I mean, we knew of them in Malaysia but it wasn't really in our media and cultural consciousness? I particularly liked his Ziggy Stardust concept album. Not a fan of the Thin White Duke phase though.

8) I like the number eight. Random trivia, I know. Anyway, I can't finish this meme without an anime soundtrack song. I don't watch a whole lot of anime, but there are some which are memorable partly for their soundtracks. This is the hardest bit to choose from, because anime directors pick some really good composers to work with! Yoko Kanno did the soundtrack for Escaflowne and Cowboy Bebop, and it's incredible to hear the shift from high-flown orchestral music of Escaflowne's battle songs to the jazz of Cowboy Bebop, and I don't ordinarily like jazz at all! (It's true. I hate improvisational jazz, and volunteering at the Jazz Festival for the shows featuring the jazz workshops drives me insane.) Her band, the Seatbelts, have also done soundtracks for other notable animes, like Trigun (another of my favourites), Macross and Ghost in the Shell. Another notable composer is Joe Hisaishi, who does soundtracks for many, if not all, the Studio Ghibli movies and has also done work on many Asian films, like A Tall Chinese Story.

The main theme song for the Cowboy Bebop movie, "Knock A Little Harder" is just great - good music, good lyrics, and I think a lot of people can really resonate with the song, and I like to listen to it when I'm in a dark place. I'll embed one with the lyrics:

Wow, it's done! (It took me several days to work on this meme.) I didn't even get to post about my recent discovery of Scott Joplin, who wrote a lot of ragtime music, and ABBA and the Beatles and Butterfingers and, and, and, sigh.

Now, I have to tag someone else! Who shall I tag?! Hmmmm... I want to tag someone famous. Someone like Renee of Womanist Musings, even though there's probably very little chance she'll actually see this and do the meme, but I really respect her and want to know what her taste in music is like.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Quick Thought

 So it has occurred to me, after reading post after post after post on rape culture, that here's where we are with progress, at this point of our civilization.

We can send men to the moon, but we can't protect women from being raped in their own bedrooms.

If that isn't profoundly disturbing, I don't know what is.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Turning Away From Religion: Rapture edition

So I was watching that "If You Use Contraceptives, You Will not Be Raptured" video that's been going around (transcript at Shakesville). I must confess that I don't actually get this Rapture thing, and how most people who believe in it really live their lives waiting for it.

It sort of is counter-productive to the idea of loving God, you know? Apparently, God put you on this earth so he could make your life miserable and see how well you bear it. If you do as he says, he rewards you. If not, you get sent to hell. Everything in your life is performed according to your fear of Hell, and wanting to go to that Good Place instead.

But as I said, it runs counter-productively to the whole, I respect God because He is in fact the Almighty, by ignoring that big thing which gives him that Almighty status in the first place - Life On Earth Itself. What kind of messed-up mindedness do people need to get to the point where they are driven to loathe or ignore the rest of the world, just so they can receive this reward of getting up to Heaven?

It's almost like saying this world that God Almighty created isn't good enough. Because it's filled with all these people who aren't the right kind of people, who have different mindsets and whatnot, and who will not worship God the same way.

Somewhere in a hadith or the Quran, there's a verse which goes something like, "I peopled the world all sorts of folks because I want you all to get to know each other." Which you know, sounds to me that God is trying to get us all to learn how to get along and be tolerant about different kinds of people, which isn't just limited to them black and brown folks, ya'll! If it were otherwise he would have put us on different planets, folks.

What is up with the concept of Rapture? Why is it so alluring? Is life so shitty for these folks they need to make sure to get off the world as soon as possible? Is the Rapture some sort of status symbol where they get to point and laugh at those suckers who didn't get to be Raptured? That's not very nice, is it? Am I missing something in the Bible which says, "And the Lord said, MOCK ye those who you perceive to be inferior to thee"?