Garwulf's Corner #56 - Dear Internet

Dear Internet,

We really need to talk.

I often see people posting links to articles and op-ed columns, like mine, for discussion. In and of itself, there's nothing wrong with this – after all, discussion is the desired result for every single installment of this column. What IS wrong is that a certain number of you, when you disagree with what's in it, post a copy of the article from an archive website like with the express intent of denying page views to the publisher.

And this really needs to come to an end.

Collapse )

Robert B. Marks is the author of Diablo: Demonsbane, The EverQuest Companion, and Garwulf's Corner. His newest book, An Odyssey into Video Games and Pop Culture, is available in print and Kindle formats. He also has a Livejournal and is on Facebook.

Garwulf's Corner is made possible by the support of readers like you. If you would like to see more content like this, please visit the Patreon, and if you can, contribute.

Garwulf's Corner #55 - Useful Donkeys

A few years ago, one of the banes of my childhood resurfaced. I was watching the remastered Star Trek episodes premiere on CBS, but there was a problem – they were almost always scheduled behind a football game.

What this meant in practice was a frustration that I was all too familiar with – the already late episode start times were often delayed by up to three quarters of an hour, and in some cases episodes would be started in progress, losing more than half the episode. What made it particularly irksome was that sports in America have been televised nationally since 1951 – channels like CBS have no excuse not to know how long games are likely to run, and the fact that they were almost always going long suggests that they were being short-changed on the schedule.

This may seem petty for a Garwulf's Corner installment, but it does matter. And the reason it matters all comes down to content, and who makes it.

Television networks – along with traditional media in general – are likely at the beginning of a struggle for survival. More people than ever are electing to replace their cable – according to Variety last year, the numbers may be as high as 25% of American households no longer having a cable subscription, with around 17% relying on broadcast television, and the rest using streaming services like Netflix. This number is only likely to increase over time, and streaming services – providing commercial-free content upon demand – have most of the advantages in this struggle.

They are, you see, "useful donkeys."

Collapse )
Robert B. Marks is the author of Diablo: Demonsbane, The EverQuest Companion, and Garwulf's Corner. His newest book, An Odyssey into Video Games and Pop Culture, is available in print and Kindle formats. He also has a Livejournal and is on Facebook.

Garwulf's Corner is made possible by the support of readers like you (and there is no truth whatsoever to the rumours that Patreon funds are being used to create an extreme sports combination of football and Death Race). If you would like to see more content like this, please visit the Patreon, and if you can, contribute.

An open letter to the CBC: words mean something, and "genocide" means a LOT

Dear CBC,

I have been following some of your coverage of the debate regarding whether to remove the name of Sir John A. Macdonald from public schools.  While the debate is a complex one with a great deal to consider, I must take issue with your most recent article by Tori Cress, in particular this sentence: "But when it comes to schools named for Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, that sidenote ends up being several pages long, detailing a legacy of residential schools, racism, colonialism and genocide."

The use of the word "genocide" in this particular context is one that I find highly inappropriate, bordering on offensive.

As a Russian Jew, my family knows all too well what it is to be the victims of a genocide.  Every family story of my grandparents' generation when I was growing up ended in the words "and they were killed by the Nazis."  During World War II, Jews were rounded up and taken to concentration and work camps.  In the work camps, they were worked to death under conditions that made American slavery look gentle by comparison - in the concentration camps, they were put into gas chambers by the dozens at a time and murdered.  Six million of us died, and by the time the war ended, there were countries in Europe where Jews could no longer hold religious services because there were too few of them to make the required quorum, or "minyan."

Nothing even close to this has happened on Canadian soil.

In 1994, the Tutsi of Rwanda became victims of a genocide.  The weapon of choice was the machete.  Between half a million to a million were murdered by the Hutu within mere weeks, hundreds of thousands of widows raped, and hundreds of thousands of children made orphans.  Again, nothing like this has ever happened on Canadian soil.

Between 1914-1923, the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire became victims of genocide.  Those who weren't massacred outright were sent on death marches.  The death toll is approximated at 1.5 million.  Again, nothing like this has ever happened on Canadian soil.

In the 19th century, the native American tribes in the United States were subjected to a war of genocide by the American government.  Entire tribes were driven off their land and reduced to small populations of survivors by the U.S. Army in a campaign of extermination.  I can't say that nothing like this has ever happened on Canadian soil, because it has - in the 17th century, the Iroquois waged a war of genocide against the Huron, and assisted by the French, in 1649 the entire Huron nation was reduced to a few thousand survivors who had become refugees living under French rule.

There can be no doubt that much of the Canadian government's relations with our native peoples since Confederation has been shameful.  There can be no doubt that the Canadian government's actions included residential schools, racism, and colonialism.  But genocide is NOT among the government's sins, and to compare what has happened to our indiginous peoples in the last 150 years to the wholesale slaughter and extermination of millions is entirely insensitive and inconsiderate to those of us who actually HAVE lost loved ones and family members during very real genocides.

EDIT: It has been brought to my attention that there was a policy of forced relocation in Western Canada implemented by the Sir John A. Macdonald government using a starvation tactic that certainly comes close to the UN definition of genocide, if not crossing the line into it. If indeed the intent of this policy was the physical and/or biological destruction of the native tribes in question (as opposed just being a pressure tactic to force them into submission), then it does indeed cross the line into genocide, and my objection is withdrawn.

Doing diversity wrong

A couple of weeks before my Star Trek: Discovery column went up, Wired published an article of their own talking about the first proper trailer.  I didn't get around to reading it until today, but now that I have, I really have to take issue with something that was said in it:

"Lantern-jawed cis-het white men have been rightly cleared off the bridge in favor of a team that more accurately reflects the galaxy (and Gene Roddenberry's vision)."

Not only was that not Gene Roddenberry's vision, the article is flat-out doing diversity wrong.

Gene Roddenberry's vision was of a future where sexism and racism were long-forgotten things of the past.  He envisioned a 23rd century that had a place of dignity and respect for everybody, regardless of race, sex, or creed.  And that includes heterosexual white men.

As I pointed out in my column, the original Star Trek was revolutionary in terms of diversity, at least as far as the late 1960s went.  It had an Asian helmsman who was not an offensive cliche, and a black female communications officer (and this was at a time when black people were not cast in key roles so that they could be edited out prior to broadcast in the Southern United States).  Both of these were respected officers in good standing.  Half a century later, we should be able to do better, and the casting of Discovery does seem to reflect that.  There is no requirement that the captain be a heterosexual white male.

But, at the same time, Roddenberry's vision was a place where those "lantern-jawed cis-het white men" DO have a place on that bridge, just like everybody else.  You cannot "clear them off" without compromising Roddenberry's vision of a future with a place for everybody.

And more to the point, that's not diversity - if it's anything, it's affirmative action.  Diversity is about adding voices, not replacing or removing them.  If you're cheering the removal of anybody from the picture based on their race, sex, or creed, then you are practicing bigotry - pointing it towards what the far left considers a more acceptable target doesn't make it any less wrong.

When I watch Star Trek Discovery, I intend to fully enjoy the diversity of the cast.  But what I'm going to be celebrating is all the new voices that have been added - each one that didn't make it in the end is a loss that will leave the show a bit poorer.

Speculative Fiction Dialogue 101 (or, Why Hainly from Mass Effect: Andromeda is not bad writing)

So, as some people may be aware, Bioware has recently apologized for their presentation of Hainly, a transgender character from Mass Effect: Andromeda.  Some people have attacked the character and her dialogue for being a badly written character with bad dialogue.  Regarding this, however, there's something that I think needs to be explained (and, to be fair, this isn't obvious unless you've spent a few years writing fiction at a professional level) - it actually wasn't bad writing.  To explain why, well, it's basically "Speculative Fiction Dialogue 101."

Collapse )

Sometimes, you just have to look deeper

So, this morning I logged on to find this piece of art (and its artist) under fire for misogyny and even racism.

And, having looked at it, and looked into it, I feel that I really do have to raise an opposing voice.  I don't think that this picture is misogynist or racist, and I even think it communicates a positive message.

So, why is this?

First, context: according to the artist's DeviantArt page, this was drawn for a client as part of a fetish called "transformation" (an example of this fetish played straight up by the same artist can be found here).  So, right on the surface, we have a deliberate subversion of a fetish revolving around intelligent women being transformed into empty-headed sex objects.  One can certainly argue that the fetish itself is sexist or misogynist, but this picture is turning that fetish on its head.

Digging deeper, the picture starts with a woman where everything about her is fake.  Her hair colour is fake, her tan is fake (it's orange instead of a natural brown), her height is fake (she's wearing shoes that specifically make her look taller), her smile is fake, and there's even an implication that her breasts are fake.  Even her walk is an affectation, pushing her breasts and hindquarters out on display.  As the picture progresses, each image of her drops the affectations.  She loses the fake tan, the dyed hair, stops wearing shoes that make her look taller than she is, and the final image is just her - who she really is, in comfortable clothes, with no affectations.

And, most importantly of all, the catalyst for this change is a book - it's knowledge.  One can't really say where she's going in the final transformation (it could be to a coffee shop to meet some friends), but the book and the backpack suggest that she is on her way to class to better herself.  And, in the final image, she is smiling - not the fake teeth-bearing smile as she walks that suggests a performance for others, but a small, natural smile suggesting true happiness.

The interpretation of art is subjective by nature, and I suppose that one can see racism in the change in her skin colour as she loses the tan, or misogyny in the shrinking of the breasts, but that really looks to me like people twisting themselves into a pretzel to be offended.  Instead, there's a clear message here (even if the artist did, as he said in the comments section on DeviantArt, just consider it a run-of-the-mill porn art commission) that in gaining knowledge lies learning that you can drop affectations and just be yourself - and that this is the path to true happiness.

I don't think that's offensive in the slightest.

Outrage culture and toys...

So, I found this in my morning woolgathering over the Internet, and it needed immediate comment.  For those who don't want to follow the link, a Playmobil toy of Martin Luther, put out to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, has come under fire for being antisemetic.  Now, for those who haven't followed my column on the Escapist, I am a Russian Jew, and my family has no shortage of horror stories from the old country of murderous antisemitism...and I really think this is the stupidest thing I have read all week.

Some comments about points in the article:

Collapse )

Fixing America’s Elections: An Outsider’s Perspective

Back when I was in my first year of university, I took a political science course as one of my electives.  The content was split between two terms: the United States, and Africa.  I came out of the course amazed that the United States could govern itself at all – it was a system designed around preventing abuses of government power at all costs.  Any of the three branches of government – the Executive (the President), the Legislative (Congress and the Senate), and the Judicial (the higher courts) – could strike down the work of any of the others.  So if, for example, somebody manages to strong-man their way into the Presidency and corrupt one of the other branches, the third could serve as effective damage control.

This provides a lot of checks and balances, but it also (quite deliberately) makes the U.S. Government difficult to manage.  The idea was that the difficulty in getting anything done would force people to compromise, which in theory leads to a more just system built upon consensus.  As an unintended consequence, however, this also means that should any single branch of government become obstructionist, it could hold back the other two, and bring the business of governance to a screeching halt.

Flash forward to today, and the United States seems to be something of a mess right now when it comes to their most recent election.  Depending on where you stand, you could be looking at it as anything from a general breakdown in sanity to the impending doom of the Republican party to a desperate battle against socialist liberals.  Either way, as the election is being reported right now, the American system is looking badly broken.

In a lot of ways, this has come about because of over two centuries of people trying to find workarounds to get things done and otherwise game the system for their own ends.  Suggestions on how to fix it are not in small supply – even my little brother has thrown his own into the ring.  But all too many of them are dealing with the symptoms of the problem, while leaving the underlying issues untreated.  The American political system as it stands is fixable.  What follows are my suggestions, as a Canadian and an outsider, as to what might work.

Collapse )

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the idea that was NOT well thought out

So, right after my wife and I watched Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (she hadn’t seen it), I came across this.

Wow.  It’s official: one of the next gender-flipped remakes is Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which has got to be one of the stupidest things I’ve heard in entertainment in a while.

So, here’s the thing – this is one case where the producers in question REALLY didn’t think this one through.  There is next to no way that this story can be gender flipped without coming across as misogynist.

Collapse )

Some thoughts before the Hugo Awards

So, first off, I’m not planning to watch the Hugo Awards tonight.  I’ve got a few reasons for it – for one thing, I don’t have to cover it for anybody, so there’s no professional need or desire to watch it as it happens.  And, after last time, let’s just say that when the “will they or won’t they?” is “burn down the Hugo Awards again,” pain avoidance becomes a worthwhile thing.

(But, do you know what IS on tonight?  LoadingReadyLive!  Seriously, it’s great comedy, and it’s happy, fun stuff, and they do it live on Twitch!  I’m going to watch that...we should all go and watch LoadingReadyLive...why are you looking at me like that?)

But...I haven’t sealed myself off in a bubble.  Every now and then I check in on it.  And today, just to check in and see what is happening, I did a Google search on “Hugo Awards,” and came across this article in The Guardian.

And I saw RED.
Collapse )

Update: Just took a deep breath, decided "what the hell," and read the list of winners, and...

Oh, thank God, they didn't blow it up this year.

There's a long way to go to undo the damage, but not throwing authors under the bus left, right, and centre is a good place to start.