Monday, March 31, 2014

The Bait-and-Switch: Discourses of Oppression and Self-Aggrandizement

Alright, as promised, my obligatory piece responding to Daniel Snyder's letter about retaining the current name for the NFL team from Washington. I've written about this a bit before in a different context, but this? This is a game-changer. So, well, let's do this.

Get ready for an onslaught of hot-headed opinions and
jargony ranting about the same ol' same ol' from me.
Ooookay. So there's a lot to unpack from this dude's letter. Like, way a lot. Essentially, if I was to come up with a "thesis," I'd say that Snyder is pulling another one out of Schopenhauer's strategems (29), that is, the bait-and-switch; this line of argumentation, basically, "How can you be concerned with sports teams when there are people in abject poverty on reservations? When indigenous women are three times more likely to experience sexual assault than white women?" And  he's doing it in order to stubbornly dig his heels in because he basically masturbates to his own reflection.

But first, I want to talk about how he's using a "selective agreement" strategy I've talked about before; that is, he's using the opinions of indigenous persons that jive with his own as evidence for why he's "right" and ignoring the opinions of indigenous persons that disagree with him. I'm going to take  this one further, though. He professes in his letter that he gave a survey to some tribes, and they picked the poverty and  stuff as the most pressing or whatever. As a pseudo-scientist, I'd like to see the survey instrument he used, because I have a stinky smell under my nose, and think it's the questions. My guess is, they were worded in such a way to manipulate respondents into providing answers supporting his assertion that indigenous people care "the most" about aid to reservations. Even without the survey or data in front of me, I'm sure it's not that the respondents don't care at all about whether the R-word is used as DC's name, but rather that they are concerned immediately about the poverty because, well, they're living it, and so emphasize that more in their answers.

Think of it this way. They're basically in a state of duress when answering the survey, and the questions are phrased in a way making them believe they have to choose between food or changing the football team's name. If their fucking stomach hurts because they haven't had a square meal in days, of course they're going to pick something that could alleviate that real pain. Duh. No-brainer. (Note: I keep talking about food, but  make  no  mistake, there are a slew of inhumane conditions on reservations. That's just a quick example.)

Also, again, as a pseudo-scientist, I doubt that sample was really representative of indigenous persons across the country- there's a reason he picked the tribes and peoples he picked, and I have a sneaking suspicion he knew the people he was asking would be more likely to share views closer to his. In other words, my gut tells me he picked people that exemplify those atrocious conditions, because he knew they would care more about aid to reservations than anything else the indigenous populations in the US are struggling with. 

But even if not all the people taking the survey are experiencing the worst of the reservation system, again, I'd bet my boots that the question wording led them right to where Snyder would want them to go. 

That being said, even if the survey was entirely coercion-free and objective, and even if the sample was representative, there's still the fact that there are lots of people that think the R-word has no place as a sports franchise name. And it's one thing to do something like keep on making  a remake of an old franchise, despite lots of fan reaction in the negative*; it's another to keep on doing something people find offensive and hurtful, just because not everybody does. When something is hurtful, it's more cowardly to side with those that aren't hurt- because those that aren't are in agreement with those in power. They pose no threat, present no challenge to the status quo. Not that their feelings are invalid, but their opinions ultimately serve the majority, rather than the oppressed.

Here's the thing. As I said before, I bet some of the questions made it seem like an either-or, feed indigenous children or change the mascot. But I think presenting it that way is just poppy-cock. It doesn't have to be an "either-or," it's only an "either-or" because white people want to relieve their white guilt while still retaining their hegemonic power and control.

Because notice what he's doing in that letter. He spews all sorts of (valid) stats about some of the troubling conditions indigenous persons in the US experience every day. In doing so, he's distracting people reading from the original topic, his team's name. Rather than discussing why so many indigenous people think the team's name is racist, he starts a pity-party about indigenous people, as if that's the only thing we should care about. 
I get frustrated whenever this bait-and-switch strategy gets used during any discussion, but it's particularly dirty in situations where the topic is this very one or the closely related one of appropriated indigenous iconography (meant to "honor" indigenous cultures, be it mascots, slogans, costumes, or hipster fashions) because of how frequently it's used as basically a cop-out. Not only does it serve to move the conversation away from its original subject matter, but it also works as an implicit ad hominem in any situation, but in ones on this particular subject, it's as if to say the individual(s) arguing for the removal of racist iconography in any way are being selfish or insensitive because they're deliberately ignoring the poverty, violence, etc. on reservations. That the people saying something is racist are willfully ignorant of those struggles; that they're selfish, bleeding-heart liberal elitists that are hypersensitive and overly politically correct at the expense of other indigenous persons  that are suffering right now; that they care more about their pseudo-intellectual pontifications about symbols and metaphor than  the real world tragedies every day that need fixing; that they "have no idea" what's "really going on" and are ungrateful that they aren't also living in squalor

It's an attempt to guilt anyone in disagreement for that disagreement by convincing them the other issue is of a greater moral concern, that the original problem is petty, at best, while the new one is concrete and terrible. 

He goes even further, though. Because for a good chunk of the letter, he's portraying his foundation as a stand-in for
Mighty Whitey that takes on the White Man's Burden- the white charity will help those poor, defenseless, uneducated injuns! He went to investigate whether it's racist or not (by hitting up the Torrez-Martinez Cahuilla tribe in California), "discovered" the poverty, and knew he had to take action, GOD BLESS HIM! Ugh. And we should think he's a saint because he's (supposedly) going to let indigenous people run the show- what an innovator, he's letting indigenous people make their own decisions! He takes the valid claim that the logo is racist, makes it irrelevant, then turns the discussion into one about how wonderful and awesome he is for starting this foundation because he's going to help and save so many poor, unfortunate souls.

Call me stubborn, but I don't really want to join this guy in his circle-jerk. It's misguided at best, entirely corrupt at worst. 

And it seems entirely shallow and hollow to me. Like he's just trying to buy off any naysayers. You see this a lot from people with money, they think it can get them out of trouble any and every time- they throw money at the problem, and it goes away. Because, let's face it, often times, it does get them out of trouble, the problem does go away. It's fucked up, but it's true. But of course, Snyder isn't stupid- he's an asshole. So instead of just giving a lump sum and more overtly throwing money at what he's now declared the real problem (because remember, bait-and-switch), he's packaging it  as an ongoing  thing through this foundation. Now, do I think  the foundation in itself is bad? Heavens, no- it's a great thing, a fabulous idea. But I don't like the context in which it's being formulated, and it feels more like blood money than genuine aid. And it feels hollow- if Snyder was to really put his money where his mouth is, he'd change the franchise name and create a foundation to provide aid to indigenous communities. Because in order for white people to believe indigenous people can handle a real infrastructure and improve socioeconomic conditions on the reservations they've been forced to live, white people need to respect indigenous people- and they won't do that if they have a jersey with a gorram racial epithet in their closet. I'm not saying the change to the franchise needs to come first, but it would help foster the respect necessary to reduce the pity and objectification preventing indigenous autonomy- since the r-word is in itself a form of objectification, after all. But no, I don't like blood money. Nor do my own people- that's why the Lakota Sioux have on numerous occasions refused money awarded them in lawsuits over the Black Hills- federal courts acknowledge that the seizure of the lands was illegal, yet the lands themselves aren't offered, just money. So the Lakota Sioux refuse to take monetary compensation in lieu of what the US government has promised and the lands they deem sacred- and it's not like the choice has ever been easy. And here's the rub: It's noble when a white person in a movie or on TV (or in history, yeah) refuses to be bought off, but Native Americans are criticized and demonized for doing it. Fuck that. (Of course, I'm not saying the tribes the money from Snyder's foundation may end up going to should say no- I can't make that call, for myriad reasons. I'm just saying, this whole, "let me donate money to placate you so I can keep what I want and by the way I'm a hero" thing is fucked up.)

And here's another rub: I have another hunch that if there was a national poll  done, or if every single person in the US that has an opinion on this (non-opinions don't count, here, since another strategy to uphold the status quo is say, "Well, nobody cares except you.") was asked, the vast majority of people that want it to stay the same would be white, and  yeah, there would be a majority in favor of keeping the r-word. And that means money. It'd cost lots of money to change the name and merchandise. And if Snyder went ahead and had them do that, he'd run the risk of losing some of that audience. And while one  would think that'd be fine (because if people decided to change teams over removal of a racial epithet, then, well, those people would prolly belong with these folks), when it comes to capitalism, that's just plain bad news. Creating a foundation that won't take any of the team's money? That runs absolutely no risk whatsoever.

Along those lines, I had someone ask me, "What if part of the  team's profits every year went to the foundation?" I'll admit, that'd prolly be less icky-feeling, because that's guaranteed revenue. But.. I actually think it'd be worse. It'd be as if the team itself was paying indigenous peoples directly to use the name, and it would more closely mean tacit approval of the r-word mascot than a foundation based off of donations. A foundation run by indigenous people can, in time, become its own entity; one tied monetarily to a white-run franchise wouldn't. But regardless, Snyder wouldn't do that, anyway. The letter isn't clear on where the money will come from, but I highly  doubt it'll be direct from the franchise, because that's just bad business, from an entirely monetary perspective. Even if the startup funds have come from the team, my guess is they'll come up with some bullshit "transition plan" wherein it'll turn over to the outside donations page, and then, you know, die.

Although, I dunno, if Snyder was concerned about safe monetary practices, perhaps he should have picked a different person to be the CEO of the foundation. 

A sort-of sidenote: I had already written the above paragraph about paying things off (I've done a LOT of editing of this essay, so things have been moving around- but that was actually the first paragraph I wrote, days ago) when I saw this article from the Native Appropriations FB feed. (Native Appropriations is also where I found out about Snyder's letter from in the first place, to be entirely honest.) I kind of want to go toe-to-toe with this guy, because I think there's a HUGE difference between schools on reservations, whose student bodies are made up mostly of native students, that are run by native Americans... it's a HUGE difference between THOSE mascots having indigenous iconography and schools off-res doing it- a boy whose grand-dad very well could have been the model for the  mascot wearing it on his basketball jersey is fine, but a boy whose grand-dad could have killed the model... And I'd point him to stuff like this study, and emphasize that it doesn't have to be an either-or thing- that making it as such is exactly what people like Snyder want us to do. 

Plus, and maybe this is a stretch, and prolly a controversial stand to take, but... well... if Snyder is only surveying people on-res, he's surveying natives that are the majority in their area. I know it's kind of selfish, but native Americans that are living on reservations aren't surrounded by white people all the time, white people that don't "get it," that are constantly appropriating iconography and imagery that an indigenous person in their midst may find sacred, or at least whose ancestors did; that don't care whether something they're doing is hurtful. On-res people have it hard, but so do people off-res- it's a difference in kind, not validity. I'd remind Gyasi Ross that claiming the concerns of off-res indigenous peoples are invalid and moot is the "divide" part of "divide and conquer." And I'm sick of my people being conquered over and over again. He's doing indigenous persons like myself and my relatives (some who do live on-res, I might add) an extreme disservice by assuming we don't care about the poor socioeconomic conditions for our on-res cousins, and, frankly, he sounds like an asshole because of it. (Okay, I prolly wouldn't say the "asshole" part, but yeah.)

Because if I haven't made this clear enough already, let me do it now. We shouldn't have to choose between aid and respect. The fact that Snyder is making people do that is disgusting and colonialist. Giving aid is a way of avoiding giving autonomy. It's not that I don't care about the reservation system, it's that I ALSO care about representations and discourses. The Indigenous peoples of the US will not be able to stay out of poverty until we're thought of as equal citizens, Americans, and human-fucking-beings. As long  as a racial epithet against us is on billboards and jerseys and hats, as long as people still go, "Bobobobobo!" waving plastic tomahawks, as long as "Indian princesses" jiggle around  parties, we won't have equal rights and access to the economic and educative systems necessary to sustain a quality of life that's above devastating. 

So just to wrap this up, yes,  I'm glad there's a foundation now; I'm sad it came at the expense (or, more accurately, the money-saving) of keeping the  r-word as the name of D.C.'s team. I wish all the recipients of any of the monies given well, and I hope that somebody somewhere  will be able to knock some sense into this self-loving douchebag that is Dan Snyder. Either that, or he croaks soon and the person that takes over has more of a heart for others and less of a hard-on for theirself.

Over and out. 

*I have to point out something related: So Mr. Bay decided to nix the "alien" bullshit he had let leak at first, okay, fine. But  he also white-washed Shredder by making him this guy. And while sure, while I've never seen Mr. Fitcher do badly in a movie (nay, he's pretty awesome in everything), it's kind of sad Bay would go with original story for fanboys but mess things up for... racial hegemony. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Liebster Award

So while I would totally be a professional blogger, I don't really have the chops for it yet, nor the content (I don't think, anyway). Still, I have a few friends that also blog, and one in particular is becoming more and more of a Thing (she's been on panels for ACTUAL cons, has her own domain name now, and she even has a funding website). This friend of mine, Amanda, recently received a nifty blogging award, called a Liebster Award. And she shared the love with me. Look, I get a prize!

I've done some digging, and I can't seem to find an "official" Liebster page, and thus like eighty billion versions of the rules. So first, I'll sum this up a little.

What is a Liebster Award? It seems to me that it's an entirely online thing, for bloggers, by bloggers, as a means of promoting blogs that don't have huge-ass followings yet, but that are fun/entertaining/that the person bestowing it believes merit more followers. I'm also suspecting some of them have been used as a benevolent form of coercion to get the recipient to write again, heh. It can help people discover new blogs, too, if they bother to look at the other blogs nominated alongside their own.

What are the rules? If you accept the nomination, you give some sort of shout-out to the person that nominated you, answer the questions they ask you, then nominate more people whilst coming up with your own questions- and all of this involves a lot of hyperlinks and tagging and whatnot. ;) The number of questions seems rather solid at eleven, but the number of people to nominate fluctuates from five to twenty (in increments of five), and there always seems to be a goal of having a limit on the number of subscribers they have prior to nomination. You don't have to accept, of course. Also, it appears that at least one of the questions has to be about blogging. 

So, well, okay, I guess this just  makes for a good excuse to write a blog post. So here we go, first I'll answer the questions.

1) If you were trapped in a video game for the rest of your life, which game would you want it to be? Hands down, Journey. The ability to float around like that? And communicate by singing? And the potential for such wonderful camaraderie through music? Oy. I may get kind of lonely* in that world, but there are all the tapestries that come to life (when you sing at them!) for company, and again, other travelers you come across.  

2) Which spaceship would you like to explore the universe in? Oh gosh... So this is going to sound like it's coming out of nowhere, but I still remember both iterations of the theme song from this show... and it's the first show where Jewel Staite was a member of a rag-tag team of space explorers... I'm going to say The Christie from the show Space Cases

She's organic and at least  partially sentient, provides what the crew needs, and can friggin' fix herself. And  she also has some badass weaponry (in case some baddies show up). And I like the idea of "bonding" with the ship I'd spend so much time in, as if we'd be sorta friends. I'm sentimental like that.

3) What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started your blog? I wish I knew how important tagging is. I didn't do it before, but apparently because of that, my blog is hard to find, and the Thing to use to follow blogs now can't find blogs similar to mine (or, well, it could also be because I'm kind of a nobody, but meh). Also, as I was going through and trying to tag my posts, I effed something up and made an oooold post move to the top and don't know how to fix it and I'm grumpy about it. Poo. 

4) If you could have any mythical animal as a friend/pet/companion, what would it be and why? So there was a time when I would have screamed, "WINGED UNICORN!" But I've been through so much, that innocence is long-gone. I actually think my favorite mythological creature is (and has been for quite some time) the gryphon:

Originally, they had the back-end of a lion and the front-end (including talons) of an eagle. The types have evolved to combinations involving owls, hawks, and falcons on the front and pretty much any wild, hunting cat on the back. I'd probably stick with the original, although I'd prefer a golden eagle over a bald eagle. I'd want a gryphon because they're badass and I could ride one around like this, but, assuming this whole "friend" part is solid, I imagine it'd be as fiercely loyal and protective as I am. And, frankly, I could use a protector, because I'm always so busy taking care of everyone else, I don't take care of myself until it reaches hospital-worthy proportions (true story). I sometimes get so caught up in trying to help someone else, I end up shooting myself in the foot and pushing them away- and a companion like a gryphon would be able to tell me when I'm starting to act kind of crazy, and maybe keep me from getting hurt again. I'm also going to assume that my gryphon would be able to sniff out the assholes and douchebags before they get a chance to hurt me, too- I'm so easily duped, it's pathetic. And I also suspect that, despite the huge muscle and sort of rough exterior, they're also really soft and warm- talons aside, cuddling with one seems like it'd be rather lovely because I'd actually feel safe for a change, and I'd come closer to that innocent little girl that loved unicorns so much when I was little.  

As a sidenote, my favorite Magic: The Gathering deck I own is one I constructed myself in 2007, comprised of some older "griffin" cards and things related (like one that gives another creature flying and then TURNS INTO A GRIFFIN when/if that creature dies). When I made it, griffins were just getting started as a Thing in Magic, so the deck isn't the best: older griffins cost a LOT of mana to get out, so it's usually really slow-going, and sometimes I don't even get a single griffin out before having my ass handed to me when playing with this deck. But it's still my favorite, because the creatures are mostly griffins (and some angels, like this one, my favorite angel that I own**). I have a friend with some newer griffins he's let me look at before, and I'm kind of tempted to do some selective online purchasing at some point and revamping the deck to make it work better, because the deck has that sentimental aspect to it- and while I'll prolly never deconstruct it, I'd be totes cool with improving it. But. Then I think, But how often would I be able to use it? And I decide not to, because the answer is, Prolly not enough to merit the cost. I have more important things to spend the money on, like my car, or my dog, or my health. Making adult decisions sucks, folks. Ugh. 

5) What fictional world is your home away from home? The DC Universe, specifically Gotham City. If only because of all of the settings in which my dreams take place, Gotham is the setting with the highest proportion of occurrence. Even when not dreaming about Bruce Wayne or (Dick Greyson- I left a recurring dream about him out of that post, since it was already way long), I find myself regularly dreaming about living in Gotham City in some capacity and being a do-gooder, again, in some capacity- reporter, non-profit advocate, mayor, lawyer, teacher. I'm always doing something good for the people in my city, and I'm my own, non-violent version of Batman each time. In those dreams, I feel strong, capable, confident, and beautiful, and I wish to God I could feel that way in my actual life, when awake, but I can't, try as I may. I come close sometimes, I do, but things always get in the way and the feeling in the real world gets ripped from me by the next wad of shit the universe decides to throw in my eyes. But as I've said before, I don't want to give up, I choose not to, and I'll keep fighting, and Gotham kind of symbolizes that in my head, just as much as Batman himself. 

6) If you could be any fictional character for a day, who would it be? This one  had me hung up for a while, but I finally figured it out. Catherine Winslow from the movie The Winslow Boy, based on the play of the same name (to my shame, I haven't read the play, but as there are extra scenes involving Catherine in the movie, I'm sticking with my guns, here). She's a suffragette and progressive, smart as Hell, and tough as nails. She has a lot to do with getting her brother out of the pickle forming the basis for the story, and she even gets the dashing lawyer in the end. 

7) What daily (or semi-daily) activity/chore do you wish you could get by without doing? Doing my hair. I hate my hair, it never cooperates, and it's just getting uglier and uglier as I get older. And I have grey hairs, and I'm only 28. Sigh.

8) What is your number one pet peeve? Empty words. I hate it when people are fake with me, or say something because they think it'd be easier for me to hear that, rather than the truth. Or when people are unable to follow through because they promised something they couldn't give. I'm so sick of people letting me down, and it all comes back to false promises and useless niceties. Just be real with me, don't bullshit me because you don't want to hurt me then-and-there- it hurts more when it's dragged out and I'm given reason to hope, only to have said hope crushed later on. Crap like this has been happening to me my entire life, and I hate it. 

9) If you had to pick an apocalypse, which one would you pick? This is kinda cheating, but...

10) What job did you want as a kid? What job would you want if you didn't have to worry about making money? I just wanted to teach English and history. Then some people told me I was "too smart" for that and needed to get a Ph.D. Ugh. Why  did I listen? Sigh. Anyhoo, now, if money wasn't an issue, and I'm also adding if I could do it instantly (because I am SO DONE WITH BEING IN SCHOOL), I'd say special ed. teacher. And yeah, as I said above, I'd also be a professional blogger, too- I'd go around and give TED talks and discuss how the media and pop culture can both reinforce and break down hegemonic discourses, can be a tool of oppression but also a source for liberation, etc. Yeah. 

11) What is your favorite color, and what is your favorite nerdy thing corresponding to that color? Silver. I love silver. And it's hard to find nice clothes that come in silver that don't look tacky, let me tell you- grey is usually pretty casual, but a good silver piece of clothing can be really sexy. My favorite blouse is a silver halter with beading at the top, goes great under this new blazer I got from work that's black with black roses embroidered all over it... Ahem, where was I? Oh yeah, so nerdy thing corresponding to that color... A friend of mine gave me a silver bracelet with the word "Dracarys" engraved on it for my birthday. I love it. And in case you don't know what I mean, this...  always followed by this:

So I feel a little badass when I wear it. I don't really have anything else that's nerdy and silver, and meh, I associate my favorite comic book and video game characters with more traditional colors, like red and black and yellow and blue. And I took the question literal, as in something I own. And I'm sticking with the bracelet as such. But if we're going for the "fictional thing of that color" interpretation, then it'd be Anduril, the sword Aragorn gets in The Return of the King

So that's my story. Now the problem is, nominating other blogs. I can't re-nominate my roommie (but I can TOTALLY PLUG HER ANYWAY) (also, I am ENTIRELY UNSURPRISED you posted your own Liebster entry before me, Chels), and uh... I don't really follow many small-time blogs, so let's give this a try. Now I did think  hard about this, so if I'm tagging you for it, it means I either want to help motivate you into writing more, or I think you write enough and am just giving you props.

No One is Paying Me for This

Thumbz and Logik

Episcopalian "in" Planet Earth

John E.K. Carter

Glowy Stones

So, now, your questions, lovelies:

1) If you could have coffee with an historical figure, alive or dead, where would you take them, what would you order, and, of course, who would it be? 

2) Is your blog today what it was when you started? If not, how has it changed, and do you like those changes?

3) If you were going to guest-appear on Dancing with the Stars, what celebrity would you want to be paired with?

4) Is there a dish you've never made and want to try your hands at someday (and what is it, if that's a yes)?

5) What is your favorite (fictional) uniform?

6) If all cars suddenly disappeared, but you had the power to replace them with some alternate means of transportation (real or fictional), what would you choose? 

7) How long does it usually take you to write a blog post?

8) If you could be (or could have been) an extra on the set of any movie or tv show, what movie or show would it be, and what purpose would you serve? What shenanigans would you get into on-set?

9) If you had to die by the hand of a fictional character, who would you choose as your executioner and what would be their method?

10) If you could listen to the thoughts of one species of animal, what would that be?

11) If you were sucked into a vortex and spat out into a fictional world, what genre would you most want to be caught in?

And I guess that's it. Kinda anti-climactic. But yeah, fellow bloggers, go forth and do things!

This is actually Amanda.

*Actually, I'd prolly get reeeally gorram lonely sometimes. Sigh. I'm like that IRL, though, so meh. Same song, different verse. HAH! Get it? Because of all the music?

**I know a lot of people have angel decks, but I never acquired enough angels to make one of my own when I was still buying cards frequently. I play every so often still, but I haven't bought new Magic cards since 2009. Alas. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Final Frontier, Episode 1: 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture'

Update: I originally posted this in... like... October or something ridiculously long  ago, but when I was adding tags, it somehow got moved to the top. Sorry, I have no idea how the frak to fix it. :(

A few weeks ago, I bought the Blu-Ray box set of the movies from Star Trek: The Original Series. I'm inching my way through the actual series and have some ideas for blog posts there (that "Corbomite Maneuver" episode is SO RIPE for identity and international relations theory, and the draft has been sitting here for over three months...), but I thought I'd do some reviews/overthinkings of the movies as I go through them. Because, to my shame, I've never seen any of them all the way  through; or if I did, I was so little, I'll basically be watching them for the first time. My method will be taking little notes in a Word document as the movie is playing, then going back to them to try and get some themes and philosophizing out of the movies in something more orderly than, essentially, live-Tweeting or some kinda jazz. If anyone is interested in me live-Tweeting any movies, be they  these or others, though, since I'm not entirely terrible at peanut-gallery-ing, give me some suggestions/requests in the comments. (Just know that if it's not on Netflix, I'd of course need to have my own copy in order for that to work.)

Today's film  is Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

To get started, three things in the pre-movie phase. First, way too many previews, Paramount. Seriously, I watched almost an entire episode of Crash Course: U.S. History during the previews. Get it together.

Second, I'm curious as to who this woman on the poster is. Can't say I'm familiar with her off the top of my head, but I'm vaguely aware of much of the mythos and whatnot of the Star Trek universe, so mayhap it'll come back to me. If not, oh well. Although I gotta say, this speaks to the whole "pioneering" aspect of the original series, and I don't mean in the space-exploration sense, but with respect to women  and people of color actually having important roles in a series. Yay Roddenbery. 

Third, um, why the  heck is the theme to The Next Generation playing for the menu screen? This movie is about Kirk, not Picard. Who the frak packaged these??????

Okay. So a quick Wikisearch teaches me that Jerry Goldsmith composed the music, and  it was remixed to serve as the theme to Next Gen. Cool beans- I like his soundtracks a lot. 

So the not-so-thoughtful reflection is that the movie could probably have been at least twenty minutes shorter because of all of the sweeping shots of the Enterprise and the ship it encounters. Lens flares are to the reboot what pan-shots of ships are to this one. 

Now more importantly, I see two major themes or conflicts in this  movie. The first and central one for most of the time is the classic Old v. New one. It involves the now-Admiral Kirk and the current captain of the Enterprise, a young man named Decker whom Kirk had personally recommended to take over the ship. As this conflict usually goes, the previous person in charge "has" to take over (by asserting some area of expertise the  young upstart doesn't have- in this case, "five years' space exploration"  or something along those lines; as in, "I've been to space more. Neener.")- so literally the old person  pulling seniority- but they  aren't familiar with how things have changed since the last time they were around. Naturally, there comes a moment  when Kirk's unfamiliarity with how the electronics and power on the ship have been changed, and he gives a command that, if executed, would have blown up the ship- and Decker's intervention saves everyone. This pisses Kirk off, until Decker explains, but the older man soon throws a tantrum and it takes Bones being, as usual, the conduit for exposition, to state it pretty plainly- Kirk is somewhat obsessed with the Enterprise and it makes him dangerous to have at the helm. 

I did see this conflict extend more, though- Spock sort of gives Decker a hard time, too, and whether that's the bromance between him and Kirk, or you know, it's not, I'm not sure, but I think  this helps set up the choice Decker makes in the end  of the movie. He's the new guy, and with Spock's arrival, even though Decker is quite pleased to have him aboard (because it seems Spock has kept up-to-date with the evolution of Starfleet technology, unlike, I dunno, the rest of the gorram original crew that is somehow still on board), Decker's position on the ship is entirely unnecessary and obsolete. Which is ironic, as he's the new guy. But Spock has that unique position of bringing with him the knowledge of the new while the experience and connection of the old. So what can Decker do? He likely could have gone back to Starfleet and captained another ship, oh sure, but I doubt that would have been satisfactory. 

And this touches on all kinds of human institutions and organizations. There are whole theories of bureaucracy about how old fuddy-duddies (called "conservers") resist change and resent the young whipper-snappers that come in and want to "improve" things. But it doesn't need to be a formal institution for this sort of dynamic to present itself. I think we've probably all experienced it at some point, generally.

But specifically, consider that the main changes didn't have to do with protocol per se, but rather the technology on the Enterprise and how the different systems on board interact and make the whole ship run. Kirk's problem wasn't that he didn't understand Starfleet, or even how operations on his former ship would go on a normal day. His problem was that he was unaware of the evolution of the technologies used on the Enterprise. Meanwhile, younger members of Starfleet were being trained in the new technologies. He had no idea that a small change in how energy gets filtered through the ship could lead to catastrophic results if the systems on the ship were used the same way. No clue.

I think this is pretty apt for comparison to how quickly technology changes, how large those changes can be, and how easy it is to not realize technology has evolved so much so quickly. I'm guessing most (if not all) people reading this are under forty. It's the 25-35s I'm going to aim this particular part at, because  I feel like people within that age range are more like Spock (or a combination of him and Kirk); people older than that are like Kirk; and our younger siblings, cousins, etc. are like Decker. See, people in their early twenties or younger are growing up in a time where having the Internet on your phone is everyday and expected, not special. People around my age are young enough to get it and incorporate it without much hassle, but we very distinctly remember  when  stuff like that was a surprise or something exceptionally special- we prolly even remember a time when a CAR phone was amazing, let alone a mobile. And our parents? They remember a time before the Internet was available even at the home, let alone on a mobile telephonic devise. And it can be really hard for this last group to adapt sometimes because  as they do things the way they're used to, they don't realize things are being done entirely differently all around them.

I don't intend to sound like my generation is the most important in a normative sense, but I think it's our duty to sort of attempt to be like a combination of Bones and Spock. The latter does sort of give Decker  a rough time a little, but he also is able to adapt and understand the technologies that have developed since he  left the Enterprise  (and  this is from Vulcan, might I add). Meanwhile, Bones acted as the expository voice of reason with Kirk, reminding him he needs to cool his jets and give Decker (read: new technology) an honest chance. And importantly, Bones reminded Kirk that his  behavior is, at the very least self-destructive; at worst, it's threatening to everyone around him.

And there's an unfortunate truth to that today for people that don't digitize, use cell phones, etc. Setting aside the rather crude and mean treatment you may get if you don't have a cell phone (which, no, I don't agree with), there are strategic disadvantages to not having the Internet at least within the home: most job applications are online now; banks and insurance companies insist on using email and digital account services; utilities and housing properties prefer digital statements to paper; etc. 
And Word Processors and/or email addresses are required for a lot of parts of job applications, for college papers and requirements (like signing up for classes, accepting financial aid, etc.); and we often need a computer/printer for printing things at home, like boarding passes, tickets to events, or coupons. While sure, a body could go to the library to use the Internet (and the library printer, if necessary) for any  of these things, the time and inconvenience it would entail to make an outing of every attempt to handle your finances or get a coupon would be staggering.  And sure, some people may manage their study time better if they could only do it at a library, but what about things like  course registration, where there's only a specific period in which they can do it, and the time they'd lose getting to a library?

And personal inconvenience gets in the way, too. Since cell phones are so ruddy popular, the instinct  for a lot of people is  to expect the other person to use a GPS program in a smart phone, to text an address or date/time of some event, to have someone call from a specific destination in order to confirm a timeframe or "the plan," as it were, or to "check in" easier as they're out and about to keep someone concerned about them up-to-speed*. It's just kind of expected that people have cell phones today, and whether that's good or bad isn't the issue, it's the fact that society is structured that way. It wasn't like that even ten years ago, when I was still in high school; but my sister that graduated last year is too young to remember when it wasn't weird to be cell-phone-less. 

So it's in the best interest of generations not used to the digitization to try to adapt. But it's sometimes difficult to understand this. And I find younger people that have never known a world without cell phones and home Internet  have trouble explaining this to people that don't get it, and they're kind of unable to help directly, however much they may want to. So it's sort of up to the people in the middle to help out and foster adaptation and understanding as technologies evolve.

And that leads into the second major theme, one that actually doesn't really show up until the last twenty minutes (less, even) of the movie. It'd be lamesauce  to go after that female I mentioned before, Ilia, because hers is a pretty generic "consciousness" thing- she gets killed,  then a copy of her, with all of her memories, gets sent to the ship. Battlestar Galactica goes after that pretty much the. entire. series.

No, what I want to get at is the evolution of humans as a species. Because remember when I said Decker  "makes  a choice"? He chooses to merge himself  with a living machine, what he, Kirk, Bones, and Spock (again, through blatant  expository dialogue) come to realize is the Voyager 6 satalite (a made-up edition to the real-life Voyager program)- it conveniently got sucked into a wormhole at some point, was shat out near some organic robots that found it and gave it their own, organic technology, then shot back toward Earth. 

Now I talked before about the evolution of technology, but what happens when that gets combined with evolutionary biology? The dudes on the Enterprise, with yet another hammer of un-subtlety, muse about whether they witnessed the "birth of a new species," and it makes me wonder, what's the line between human and not-human? And this is different from the question in BSG- it's the reverse. The conflict in BSG is about what it takes to be human; I think Star Trek asks what it takes to be  not human. 

(Sidenote, and minor SPOILERS for BSG in this parenthetical aside: I'll admit, okay? This sort of does come up in the last few episodes. As the ship is literally falling apart, as in there are cracks within the hull, Adama decides to incorporate Cylon, organic technology into the hull to try and keep it together; the conflict there was, basically, "You're turning Galactica into a Cylon!" as in, "By adding these little blobs of organic goo to the cracks, you're changing the thing SO MUCH I CAN'T EVEN CONSIDER IT A BATTLESTAR ANY MORE!" And the answer never becomes entirely clear: Adama does it anyway, in order to save the ship and the people on-board, and I'm never under the impression he thinks Galactica isn't Galactica any longer, but he's one of the people against using the gel stuff in the first place, and once done, it gets conveniently not-dealt-with because of Reasons and Plot and Things.)

Because a new species when he entered the shining white light?

So this is human

but this isn't

Kirk says something about V'Ger, the Voyager-now-living thing, being able to have a "sense of purpose" now that Decker has merged with  it. Okay, cool, but what constitutes this being a new species entirely? Usually that "sense of purpose" would be the criteria for counting as human  in a sci-fi flick. 

I guess, perhaps, and I'm no evolutionary biologist, but perhaps this is because of how the whole "gene pool" thing works, and how cross-breeding leads to new things? Because eventually, the DNA gets different enough and it's a new species, right? But take plants for example, or better yet, apples. I love me some apples. Take a look at these:

These are all apples, right? But they're the result of specific breeding to create deliberate alterations in the offspring of the "parent" apples that were cross-bred together. A red apple gets mated with a green one, and you get a yellow one (maybe- this is hypothetical, you get the  gist). But the yellow one is still an apple.

Or when people of different races make babies, those babies are still human. That's not up for debate, either. Even the racist biologists in the  nineteenth century  thought different races were human, even if the differences were used as justification for colonization, slavery, etc. 

So if humans were able to merge our DNA with technology somehow, would that mean we were no longer, biologically speaking, human any longer? How many chromosomes or helixes or whatever in our genetic make-up would have to change before we were no longer human?

I mean, maybe that's why Darth is still a human- he lost his legs (and arms, and lungs, and part of his face, and prolly some other stuff...), but his DNA didn't alter. We don't really get to know what happens to Decker himself, but the last time we see him, he's staring at Ilia's double with lovey-dovey eyes, and I think we're supposed to be under the impression he lives on within V'Ger itself. So then, uh, would the resultant babies be the offspring Bones so terribly  jokes about "delivering"**?

I guess I find the conclusion that Decker's merging with V'Ger creates a whole new species troubling. Because being human is more than just biology. You know, that whole "human experience" thing? Yeah, it's pretty speceist, I'll admit. But why exclude an entity that was the result of the merging of an undisputed human with something else from humanity?

And what was the reason for that merging, anyway? You could say it was because, as stated before, Decker didn't see much of a future for himself on the Enterprise. But beyond that, his act saved the whole friggin' planet Earth. V'Ger was about to destroy it. It was an act of love, compassion, and sacrifice- some of the "defining" characteristics of humanity. I'd feel safe and secure being around a hybrid like Decker. 

I'd say Decker and any offspring from his merging with V'Ger would be leaps and bounds more human than Darth Cheney. 

Scary-ass shit, right?

*I also think  of cell phones as a potential increase in safety. For example, if you're on a long trip  and the car breaks down,  you don't have to rely on the graciousness of others in order to get help- you can call for it (barring you have the  bars), rather  than wait for someone to let you hitch a ride. If something bad does happen to you and you have your phone, the authorities can use that to figure out who you are and maybe  even trace your last steps (and this  isn't to say your ID won't help, but if your ID is missing, it's of no use; and your ID isn't going to clue them in on your last conversation). But  this  whole  "safety" thing isn't really the "everybody has a cell phone" culture, though, it's more like one of the externalities of that culture. 

**I blocked the joke word-for-word out of  my memory because it was so bad, but there was definitely something about "delivering" in there that just... I mean... UGH.

Monday, March 17, 2014


Ugh. I had surgery a few days ago- unexpected, to boot. I'm cool now (mmmm, codine), but I'll be straight and say there were a few days leading up to it I was gorram miserable. But upon reflection (because me), I think I handled (and am handling the aftermath of) the whole thing in good old fashioned Me Style. And by that, I mean with a wink  and a joke whenever possible.

For example, the day I finally stopped fighting the symptoms (i.e. PAAAAAAIN) and gave up was a day I teach. I knew I wouldn't make it through the whole lecture. To my displeasure, I planned on cutting it short and letting my kids out early so I could take an earlier bus home. So I announced that, "I realize this is exceptionally ironic, y'all, but... I'm not feeling well today. So we're getting out of here early."

They laughed, because the topic that day was...

Public health policy.

Add to it the fact that the bus I was planning on catching was really late, leading to me standing outside for over half an hour anyway, and we have some delicious, delicious irony on our hands. So I was chuckling to myself on the bus home, while I took my temperature, and while I made myself some soup and put my pajamas on before the sun was down. 

So the thing I went in for that needed operating, yeah, it hurt like a mofo. And it was, well, on my tukus. So that led to some pretty ripe opportunities for schoolyard-level humor.

"You're literally saving my ass," has been said at least four or five times since all this mumbo-jumbo began. Quips about how I have no dignity left, how at least I can still wipe my own ass, etc., abounded while I was in the hospital.

And while in excruciating pain during surgery prep (I hadn't had anything for the pain in almost eight hours), gripping the hospital bed so hard I was breaking the skin on my hands, the nurse  asked me what my pain level was on a scale of one to ten. I gritted my teeth and gruffed out, "Well, since I haven't given birth, let's go with 9.5. ::gasp:: I wouldn't wanna, like, delegitimize any women that've had babies."  The nurse laughed and went  with nine (apparently they don't do halves). Then the next morning, my surgeon's right-hand gal said she'd had women that had given birth before say the thing I was going through was worse.

"SHIT!" I exclaimed, slapping the rail of the hospital bed, "I shoulda said TEN!"

Also, they were monitoring my bathroom visits, so every time  I did my thing in there, I had to tell my nurse. So I started making jokes along the lines of, "Mommy, I went in the potty!" at  them. Ultimately, two
 of the four nurses said I was one of their funnest patients in a while/long time. 

So why am I telling you all this?

Well, see, I'm handling it with such finesse because of my general outlook on life and how to approach a given situation. I was raised by my grandma and mom with a unique, I find helpful, outlook on how life works. I've honed it down and made it my own as I've become a growed-up, but the foundation is 

Happiness comes in moments.

That's what they'd tell me. My addition/personal redundancy is

It is fleeting and fickle.

I've been saying the first line to myself since I can remember, and the second one, I came up with that part a few years ago during a particularly dark experience. So what does this mean?

(Sidenote: I feel like I perchance have discussed this before, but, um, I don't really feel like going through all of my older posts................ Call me lazy, I call me... well, lazy. ;) )

It means happiness isn't easy. It's not something that's a given or a perpetual state. Sure, we may feel, like, tepid or content, but happiness? It comes and goes, and while there's mood and depression that can affect it, it relies almost entirely on circumstance and our willingness to seize an opportunity (or lack thereof, yes). Happiness doesn't just happen on its own, or if  it does, it's rare and doesn't last long- like you get happy because you find a twenty dollar bill on the ground, yeah, but that in itself doesn't last you the rest of the gorram year, right? No, usually happiness comes when you embrace chances for it as they present themselves. In order to be happy, you have to let yourself. Will it, even. 

Happiness means embracing moments and chances for joy, taking them into your hands (metaphorical or not) and running with them, milking them for all they're worth. It means when given the choice between laughing or crying, you choose laughter. It means finding pleasure out of the little things in life and letting that feeling take over. A sunset. Finding a dollar on the road. Making a really delicious meal for yourself. A smile from a stranger. A kiss from someone special. Realizing you have a coupon for half off any cheese product at Target. Making every green light on the way to something/somewhere. 

(AGH! I'm texting a friend literally right fucking now that said his whole day is better because he found something cool on Amazon. Stuff  like that, folks.)

And it also means manufacturing ways to be happy, too. You can't just expect good things to happen to you. God, my life? I expect for the worst and hope for the best, because history says that's the safest route (less disappointment that way, less pain). So then to make up for it, I try my damndest to create moments where I can be happy. I my invite someone over, even if I'd rather stay in my pajamas. I may go to the movie I'm not entirely interested in seeing with some friends, rather than staying home and vedging. I'll go see a live performance of a band I've never heard of, just so I can lose myself in the moment and the music. 

And it means holding onto those moments, being stubborn and defiant in the face of potential sadness, anger, etc. Finding silver lining. One thing may be bad, but at least some other thing is good, right? Or maybe there's something good to take out of it. It's a grey line dividing realism and pessimism, but I try to be as realistic as possible without ever giving up hope that things can and will get better. Happiness means doing your best to not be a glass-half-empty person. No, that doesn't mean you'll always be happy, but it makes it easier to be happy when the opportunity presents itself. Granted, there are times and situations where I'm just so used to things getting fucked up, I'm totally lost when they don't... But that doesn't mean I'm not happy, I'm just, um, confused; still milking it for all it's worth, though, absolutely, and putting all my strength into not letting old bad memories get in the way of making new and good ones. If anything, those previous negatives make  the present positives all the sweeter and more meaningful.

And that's so much of my life. Every time a friend actually follows through, is there for me, I'm so gorram grateful, for the act in itself, and for the fact that I wasn't treated like shit  for a change. When I got my car loan through the dealer, I was sobbing because I had been turned down by two banks already. When I got River, I was totally excited (and am still totally grateful and excited, really) because the last dog I had wanted was claimed by someone else at the shelter. I was blown away by the understanding and kindness I got from various bosses in light of my recent surgery, since the one I had as an undergrad caused me a lot more grief from authority figures. 

I could go on, but the point is, past pain gives me more reason to carpe diem the shit  out of life whenever I get the slightest chance. I make my own joy when I need to, and I dive in when an opportunity presents itself.

And happiness ebbs and flows, comes in and out all the time. It's okay if something that used to make you happy doesn't anymore- that's no reason to sulk, just find something else. And don't get sad if the euphoria fades; find a way to make a new one. You've got to fight for it, and if you're anything like me, you have to fight more often than not. 

So while there have been moments this past week where it's all I can do not to break down, and even though I do start crying after every visit to the nurse for gauze changes (not from the physical pain), I bounce back and try to enjoy myself somehow. This morning, for example, even though I really wanted to go home and curl up in to a ball, I instead took the friend that was driving's offer to go over to her place for a little while. Not just because I'm starving for human interaction, but because I feel safe with this person, and  I knew that even if  I did start crying, it'd be okay with her. And it was. And so I had a lovely time. 

Now, I know every person is different. What works for me specifically may not work for the next person. And vice versa.

Take clowns, for example. Or, you know, don't. Because I, like some people, am afraid of them- I made the mistake of hiding behind the couch as a little kid while my parents were watching I.T., and, well, yeah*. But  some people take enjoyment out of clowns, and  that's their right- and  I'd totally encourage them to seek clowns out if they were having a rough time of it (hah). 

Still. The general premise, that expecting happiness to be easy is pointless, stands, I think. You just have to find what works for you, that's all. 

I think this song by The Weepies does a good job with it.

Now, I have to go. My washer is leaking, so I've got to find my surfboard.

*I think it's pretty fucking telling when you Google Image search "clown" and get so many pictures of intentionally scary ones. Just sayin'.