Knights and flags and anthems and Taylor Swift on the radio. Happy Australia Day!

Australia Day Sketch - Edited

Seriously, Happy fuckin’ Australia Day. That weird holiday when people across the country are able to cover themselves in the Jack and Cross (a slang term for the Australian flag I just invented at this moment) without automatically being judged as racist bogans, parading how fair dinkum Aussie they are in a bizarre parody of national pride ripped heavily from July 4th episodes of American television.  Ozzie! Ozzie! Ozzie! and all that. I’d sooner deck myself in the green and gold, but that’s me.

The lead-up’s been a particularly strange one this year. It’s always a bit of a political wank, as both sides of whatever line you happen to be watching cloak their own ideas of “what it means to be Australian” (or some such crap) within the language of patriotism and nationalism. There were the usual articles about how for the Indigenous community Australia Day, the anniversary of the convicts being disembarked from the First Fleet (and, in the mature-rated history books, the crazy, drunken orgy that followed), is also the anniversary of the beginning of the bloody White European conquest of the continent. Some better (passionate arguments made quite reasonably, by members of the Indigenous community and supporters with proven records fighting for aboriginal rights, for a less culturally insensitive date), some worse (social media hipster liberals ’embarrassed’ by displays of national affection on a culturally insensitive date). But a lot of the air time seems to have been taken up by other controversies (loosely using the word here) this year.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten raised the old Republican debate in an Australia Day eve speech, reckoning that it’s about time we thought about cutting ties with the English Royal Family and figuring things out for ourselves. This is at odds with Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s reintroduction of rewarding people the government likes with knight and damehoods. One winner was (now) Sir Angus Houston, former Air Chief Marshall of the RAAF and Chief of the ADF, recently in charge of the search for MH370 (by all accounts a top bloke deserving of the right to put ‘Sir’ in front of his name). Another winner? Prince Philip. I shit you not, Prince Philip, the goddamn Duke of Edinburgh is now a Knight of the Order of Australia. ‘Cause he served in the Royal Navy and is the titular Duke of Edinburgh of the Duke of Edinburgh Award. I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve to be a Knight of the Order of Australia, it just seems like pretty small change compared to some of his other titles. Given His Lordship’s (or is it His Majesty’s? Royal Highness’?) sense of humour, I’d like to know what his reaction was when he was informed. Apparently it hasn’t gone down well with Mr Abbott’s own government who, aside from not all sharing his monarchist leanings, are upset that he’s disregarded his own word to use the honour to award prominent Australians (rather than foreign royals).

At the same time, the old argument about the need to change the flag to one that doesn’t give prime position to that of a foreign country did the rounds (as it always does this time of year). While I’m partial to switching to some version of the Eureka Flag, a pattern with some real history and meaning beyond ‘won a magazine competition about a century ago,’ but I don’t expect we’ll see a change any time soon. Unless the Kiwis change there’s first. Fun stuff.

Then of course there was the joy that came from a proposal by the National Australia Day Council encouraging all Aussies to get up at noon (Eastern Daylight Savings Time I’m assuming) and sing the two official verses of the national anthem. Personally, I wanted to kick the shins of whoever came up with that jingoistic tripe. Not only do Australians have a long, storied history of disrespect, flippancy and irreverence for such displays (the ANZACs of the First World War, for example, had a reputation for refusing to salute no matter how hard their British officers tried), but we had to endure the long-winded complaints by pseudo-intellectual lefties like myself telling people exactly why it was such an un-Australian suggestion. We needn’t have bothered worrying. Nobody gave a shit, and nobody sang the anthem.

But the real controversy, the real issue that rocked the nation, was Taylor Swift’s inclusion then exclusion from Triple J’s Hottest 100 list. The Hottest 100 is an annual cultural phenomenon in Australia, receiving millions of votes and listened to at any party, pub or gathering worth a damn. Run by the major public youth broadcaster, it tends to act as a cultural litmus test of what is relevant that extends across genres, leaping from punk and heavy metal to dance and hip hop. Given that the Js are listened to by the kind of folk who eschew commercial radio for being too commercial (and are unable to recognise a tautology when they say one) there was plenty of anguish over a campaign started on Buzzfeed to get Shake it Off by Swift onto the list. Seriously, people were not fuckin’ happy, which only fuelled the anti-hipster fires. Triple J remained relatively mum over the issue, finally announcing before the broadcast that she had been disqualified because of the Buzzfeed campaign (and a social media bandwagon jump by KFC). And again, people were not fuckin’ happy. It was probably the right decision by Triple J, who couldn’t let the lovers and haters get away with “troll[ing] the polls” lest it set a precedent. I don’t imagine Swift is shedding any tears over her disqualification, she certainly doesn’t need the press like so many of the other artists on the Hottest 100 list, and it really was an act of trolling. Still, while I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Tay Tay I don’t hate her, and it would have been a bit of a laugh if she managed to win. It certainly wouldn’t have been as bad as last year when Royals by Lorde was beaten for the top spot by Riptide by Vance Joy. Lorde was bloody robbed.

Christ, are other countries’ national days like this?

Keeping Faith in Dragon Age: Inquisition, Part Two: a question raised, perhaps answered.

So, continuing on from last week, there is a god and its name is Bioware. At least as far the world within Dragon Age: Inquisition (and the other titles made by this particular developer) is concerned. What does this mean?

At a glance, not a lot. On one hand, academically, the idea of audience participation as an act of ritual or faith is not a new one, nor is the idea of art creator as god of that particular work. Just look at the cultural treatment of the Star Wars franchise and George Lucas’ role over it. I once heard the Original Trilogy compared to the Qur’an and the Extended Universe and Sequel Trilogy compared to the Hadiths. Not the best analogy in the world, but not the worst either. On the less academic hand, as I said last week, we tend to spend most of that glance slaying bears, wolves, demons and dragons. ‘Cause slaying dragons is fuckin’ wonderful.

The Inquisitor did raise her mighty sword, and with a lion-hearted roar did issue her challenge, "Come at me bro!" And lo, the dragon came at her.
The Inquisitor did raise her mighty sword, and with a lion-hearted roar did issue her challenge, “Come at me bro!”
And lo, the dragon came at her.

But one of the things I’ve loved about DA:I‘s portrayal of belief has been the subversive* way that it compares the faith of its characters in the guiding hand of “the Maker” with the faith of gamers in the guiding hand of the developers. Let’s think about it this way: there are certain expectations that we as audience and participants have of the media that we consume, and we have faith that these expectations will be met. Within the above mentioned passive media these expectations can be as simple as expecting action in an action movie, singing and dancing in a Bollywood film, and spectacularly shot images meant to convey how depressing and meaningless humanity really is in anything by Lars von Trier. In superhero comics and cartoons we expect the villain to get away at the end of the episode (not least so the series can continue). In detective fiction we expect an answer as to “who’dunnit?” (even if we don’t always expect justice). When watching a horror movie we expect the protagonists (for want of better word) to do stupid things like split up, forget to charge their phones and generally not seek help from anyone useful so that the villain has the opportunity to pick them off in whatever gruesome manner they prefer. Our expectations are used by creators as shorthand to avoid lengthy and unnecessary exposition, and as tropes to drive the narrative forward. Video games have an additional layer of expectations laid on top of them, again often separated by genre and developer, in the form of mechanics.

In RPGs like DA:I (and other games by Bioware for that matter), we have certain expectations about how the mechanics will deliver the narrative. We expect an antagonist with impossible power and dreams of conquering/destroying the world. We expect a number of companion characters and allies who fill out certain archetypes and react accordingly to the story and the player’s decisions. We expect our avatar to either be given some power or weapon that for some reason is the only method of defeating the antagonist, or given the task of achieving/retrieving said weapon or power, through happenstance, destiny or the will of god. But Bioware’s writers were aware of this and used it to further drive the narrative.

Most self aware games, like most self aware media in my experience, tend to be examples of satire, mockery, or (at their artistic best) deconstruction. Horror films have Scream. Video games have the Saints Row franchise, which revels in the inherent ridiculousness inherent in common video game tropes with a straight face and the occasional knowing wink. Or Sunset Overdrive, which openly points out and laughs at the flaws of video game logic. DA:I isn’t satire, and I wouldn’t call it a deconstruction without some serious mental gymnastics, but it is fairly self-aware. Your avatar is given a mark, ‘the anchor’, right at the beginning of the game, that is the only threat to the game’s villain. Even when you learn that the anchor is just old magic, and that the reason it fused with you was simple accident and happenstance, the characters most defined by their faith (such as Cassandra) point out how convenient it was that you just happened to be in the exact right spot at the exact right time to become exactly what was needed. So convenient that it’s not a particularly difficult leap to assume that some divine planning was in play. Because it was.

I know I’m starting to sound repetitive right now, but I can’t stress the fact enough. The writers planned every twist, every coincidence and the consequences of every choice. The lore, the history, the rules, the science of the world. The artists designed and drew, the programmers made it a virtual reality. No matter the details of my character’s history that I’ve ‘headcanoned’ it is still limited by the decisions and narrative given by the game’s designers. Her destiny is still predetermined. We, the players, know that. We have faith in that. So when the characters and story appeals to our character’s faith in a fictional god or religion, they are in fact appealing to the player’s faith in the game. Exhausted and wounded (spoiler alert) after your first encounter with the game’s antagonist, the Elder One, your army defeated and your camp at Haven destroyed, the character Mother Giselle tells your character to have faith that all is not lost, to have faith that things will get better. She is also telling you, the player, to have faith in the game and its designers. Of course they aren’t going to end it there, of course you’re going to get stronger and wiser and ultimately defeat the villain of the piece. That’s how linear video game story mechanics work.

So, again, what does this mean? It makes the game’s narrative more compelling, whether we roleplay a religious character or not, since it compares our faith in the game with the faith of the NPCs driving the narrative. It makes the characters and their struggles more relatable, since their faith in the Maker’s plan is reflected by our own. It makes for a strong, compelling story that explores themes like the place of institutionalised religion in politics and power, race relations, and, of course faith, with confidence that everyone understands exactly what they’re trying to get across.

If I can string together a coherent post on the subject, there might be a part three next week.

 

*I’ve been trying to cut down on using that word, but I can’t think of a better one at this exact moment.

“Oh, did my accent throw you off?” Or why I’m loving Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a lot of stupid bloody fun. A lot of fun. The combat is quick and frenetic, the air boost (a double jump mechanic) is a nice addition that adds another dimension to the battlefield, the enemies are varied enough to keep things interesting (though repetition is inevitable) and the loot is, as expected, plentiful. There are flaws, of course. Clearing the same areas over again to complete side quests can be a slog, as can be navigating ‘platforming sections’ around insta-death lava. The campaign feels a little short (something that will probably be ‘fixed’ with DLC). A few characters skip being fun and go straight to being annoying (for example I think the internet so far has come to the agreement that Pickle sucks, though I don’t have anything against the kid personally, but hey I loved Tiny Tina right from the beginning). The Borderlands series lives and dies on its sense of humour though (crude, full of pop-culture references and not everyone’s cup of tea) and The Pre-Sequel delivers not just in spades, but in Australian spades (which are generally poisonous, covered in sharp teeth and usually aquatic).

This isn’t surprising given that the game was developed by Canberra based company 2K Australia, and just about every review I’ve read makes mention of it. Locations like ‘The Grabba’ (which many a cricket fan will notice as joke on The Gabba), references to a ‘First Fleet’ arriving on the already occupied moon Elpis (also part of Australia’s colonial history), outlaw bosses called Red Belly (who wear armour based upon the bush ranger Ned Kelly), a quest that’s an ode to ‘Banjo’ Paterson given by an NPC named Peepot and the absolutely hilarious talking shotgun ‘Boganella’ (I think I’ve already explained what a bogan is) give the game a distinct cultural flavour.

Given my own self-superior Australian nationalism (that I’m sure has come through in previous posts) it’s not surprising that I’d enjoy seeing such a strong Australianess (that is now a word) in a mainstream game, but what I really love about The Pre-Sequel is that they got it so right. I think the fact that Australian writers were writing Australian stereotypes kept the referential humour on the right side of the line between funny and cringe-inducing. Part of this is because they don’t rely on the typical icons and symbols to create that Aussie image. There’s no glaring Harbour Bridge, Opera House or Bondi Beach equivalents, creating a Space Sydney for a few iconic money-shots (and it would be Sydney, since what the fuck does anyone remember about Melbourne’s skyline?). There’s not any space crocodiles, kangaroos and emus. Nor is there a Kraggon Hunter or Shuggarath Dundee. The real joy, however, comes from the fact that they actually talk like Australians do. I’m not talking about the slang either, especially since there’s more than a little would be considered ‘old-fashioned’ at best (can’t remember ever hearing someone use the word ‘bonzer,’ even ironically, but I hope it makes a comeback – it’s a lotta fun to say). What I’m talking about is that the Aussie NPCs have a consistent grammatically Aussie way of speaking.

I think I counter example first might help me explain what I mean a little better. A few years ago I was a reading some science fiction novel I picked up on the kindle store for 99 cents or some other small amount. I can’t remember which one exactly, and that isn’t important right now. What is important is that it was written by an Yank, with a couple of Yank protagonists that encountered a working class, salt-of-the-earth, old-fashioned slang spouting Australian. Anyway, the character used a word that stuck with me because it was inconsistent with the slang and background he’d been using up to that point. That word was ‘tussle’. Sounds a bit ridiculous, I know, but when this largely forgotten character said he’d been hurt in a fucking ‘tussle’ I… winced… maybe… I forget, but I definitely reacted. Because this hard-swearing, hard-drinking, outback-living stereotype would never use a word like ‘tussle’. He’d say he was in a ‘punch-up’. Or if he’s really fair dinkum (heh) he might’ve called it a ‘blue’. Hell, he might’ve just called it a fight. But no bloody way would he call it a goddamn ‘tussle.’ Same as there’s no bloody way we’d “throw another shrimp on the barbie,” since we say ‘prawn’ not ‘shrimp’ (and as much as we love seafood you’re far more likely to see a piece of lamb and a few snags on an Australian barbecue).

Y’see using correct sounding slang isn’t enough, you need to use the right words, grammar and cultural quirks. That’s what makes the NPCs in The Pre-Sequel so refreshing, especially Janey Springs (I’d assume named after Alice Springs) who is the most vocal of the Aussie vocals. Little things like that Janey uses ‘ruddy’ instead of ‘bloody’ and the matter of fact way she tells us “Yep, gonna hurt lots” when we act as a human spark plug, the speed with which Red and Belly speak with each other (we tend to speak very quickly), a Scav using the adjective ‘sick-arse’, the name ‘Scav’ itself (The Pre-Sequel’s version of Bandits from the previous games) which is just shortened from ‘Scavenger’ (shortened words being the bulk of Australia’s additions to the English language), an echo recording of a graphic designer (complaining about incorrect font used on the Oz kits) who appropriately sounds like a Bondi Hipster

I’m not foolish enough to imagine that the “foreign writers don’t know how we talk!” problem is unique to Australia. I imagine that Belgians grind their teeth at their portrayal on French television, and God knows Aussie writers aren’t always kind to New Zealanders (even in The Pre-Sequel there’s a distinct-sounding, ‘bruv’-spouting Gladstone Katoa). But that’s for other people to worry about. I also know that I’d be enjoying this game without the Australianess, if Janey was flirting with Athena in an American accent or in Chinese. As I said in the first paragraph, it’s a lot of fun. But right now, if you ask me what I love most about this game I’d tell you it’s driving through Burraburra with a familiar accent telling me how much Kraggons suck. And they really do suck.

I’m hoping though that any future DLC will include an enemy called a ‘drop bear’. That would be awesome.

Nope, can’t think of one.

Well, I’m gonna guess that it’s safe to assume everyone’s heard about the assault by a lone gunman on the Canadian Parliament and War Memorial (where an unarmed soldier was killed). A senseless act of violence, and apparently not the only senseless act of violence perpetrated in Canada by another senseless jackass cloaked in the figurative banner of Jihad (though the police are saying the two acts are unconnected). I can’t speak for the media in Canada, but the news down here in Oz was a weird – but not unexpected – mix of pollies (and people in the know) saying “we’re good, we take safety seriously and are confident in the strength of our counter-terrorism measures to stop something like this happening here,” and others saying “we’re so much like Canada! It could happen here too! Be afraid! Be very afraid!” This followed an incident earlier in the week when Australians were once again reminded that we should be scared of young, angry, Muslim men/boys, after a 17 year old twat from Western Sydney ranted on an Islamic State propaganda film. It seems radical Islam is still frightening.

I’m a firm believer that the greatest threat to radical Islam is moderate Islam, and one the best ways to strengthen moderate Islam is through inclusiveness, positive example and normalisation in our media, writing characters that for whom their religion is a defining characteristic rather than the defining characteristic. To strengthen the Islamic community within the greater community and combat ignorance. At some point in the future I’d like to write about this in a bit more detail, but had a thought I felt like sharing. You see while I was at work monotonously packing boxes (gotta pay for this decadent blogger’s lifestyle somehow, hookers and cocaine ain’t cheap) something occurred to me. I could not think of a single Muslim character on what is probably the pinnacle of western pop-culture, perhaps the most pervasive show in the world. I could not remember seeing any named, speaking Muslims in The Simpsons. Seriously, try and think of one. A google search brought up a kid named Bashir and his parents with the surname ‘Bin Laden’ (sigh) in an episode where Homer thinks Bashir’s dad is a terrorist (I’ve seen kicks to the face with more subtlety) from Season 20 in 2008 (showing just how long it’s been since I watched The Simpsons regularly). If the kid’s wikia page can be trusted he’s only appeared in four episodes, including the first, in the last six years. That’s it.

That’s a bit weird. I mean, I can think of Hindus, Buddhists, multiple Jews and atheists all part of a regularly recurring and literally colourful cast (even if it is a little light on Asian characters beyond the traditional stereotypes). But apparently there’s only one Muslim kid and his parents in the entire of Springfield, used in a blunt force morality tale about how ‘not all persons of Middle Eastern appearance are terrorists.” Doesn’t seem very inclusive or normalising.

Kill the Moon? Not like we’ve been given anything better to do

There was a lot wrong with last week’s episode of Doctor Who, from its title (Kill the Moon) to its science to its plot to its moral dilemma. The Doctor takes Clara and a school girl we met the episode before named Courtney to the moon, where they hook up with a trio of (“third-hand”) astronauts in a (“second-hand”) shuttle investigating why the moon has suddenly put on enough mass to give it the same gravitational pull as earth. Spoiler alert! The moon is a giant bloody egg that’s about to hatch and they want to blow it up before that happens. Sort of. One of them wants to. Because tides and stuff. Oh and there’s space spiders that are apparently just giant bacteria but still have mouths, fangs and spin webs.

Alright, proper explanation. The Doctor, Clara and Courtney land the TARDIS on a space shuttle loaded with nuclear bombs and three astronauts (one of whom is played by the actress that was Ros on Spooks. Loved that show) crash-landing on the moon, which has gained 1.3 billion odd tonnes and has messed with Earth’s tides so bad that they “drown whole cities.” The astronauts are there to find out what’s wrong and… blow a chunk off it I guess? That’s never entirely explained. They visit a Mexican (really? Mexican? not, say, Chinese?) mineral survey station covered in cobwebs with a dead crew, fight a couple of spiders (that are just bacteria with very spider-like qualities), kill two out of three astronauts (thankfully not Space-Ros) and briefly let us believe this might be a horror episode. After another space walk the Doctor figures out that the moon is an egg containing a giant life-form, the source of the extra mass and gravity, which is about to hatch breaking the moon in the process. Space-Ros asks how to kill it. The Doctor says with all those nuclear bombs they brought along. Clara and Courtney aren’t keen on “blaming a baby for kicking.” The Doctor says it’s your moon you decide and disappears with his TARDIS, leaving the other three to argue it out. And there’s this week’s moral dilemma. Clara calls it an impossible choice between an innocent life and the future of all of humanity. I’d call it bullshit.

As stupid as the plot, premise and pseudo-science were (really, really fucking stupid) it was the pseudo-philosophical drama that left a bad taste in my mouth. It was a play on the pretty standard “would you take a life to save a life/lives?” trope that pops up in any literature where the protagonist/s have an issue with killing, used to build artificial tension and establish the protagonists’ moral superiority over everyone who’d answer with a “yep.” Then again there wasn’t any reason given as to why the answer should have been “nope” beyond “it’s wrong to nuke a giant baby squid/insect/thing” and quite frankly I just didn’t find that particularly convincing. They should have blown up the moon. They don’t and everything works out fine, but they should have.

Kill the moon panel 1 - edited

Kill the moon panel 2 - edited
Decision made!

Philosophically I understand the argument against killing the creature, even if my utilitarian sensibilities disagrees. It’s a question (to butcher and simplify some pretty complex ideas) of whether or not you’re responsible for the consequences of your inactions as well as your actions. If it’s just the latter than ending a life is morally wrong regardless of how many other lives it might save (in my experience Immanuel Kant is the bloke most cited when making this argument). As a trope in fiction I don’t have a particular problem with it being used and I’ve seen it used in other mediums, stories and contexts pretty effectively. We see it all the time in superhero stories, where a Thou shall not kill clause keeps the all-powerful beings on the right side of the moral line. More than a few good stories examine how easy it is to stay on the other side of that line once it’s crossed (like the ‘A Better World episodes in the Justice League animated series or a few key arcs in the police procedural comic series Powers). Funny thing about a lot of those superheroes though is they don’t have much of an issue with regular law enforcement officers using lethal force, since regular police aren’t bullet-proof, super strong or the goddamn Batman but still have a right to defend themselves. Following that, Batman (depending on the writer) uses his unwillingness to kill to place himself morally above the rogues of his gallery, assassins with ‘codes of honour,’ and lethal vigilantes, but not morally above the cops of Gotham. He then has to deal with the consequences of his non-lethal actions. And there lies my biggest issue with Kill the Moon.

You see, the Doctor doesn’t provide any information to Clara, Courtney and Space-Ros with any information beyond “it’s an egg and it’s hatching in an hour and a half” before he buggers off in the TARDIS. It’s not surprising that Space-Ros is worried about pieces of egg shell the size of small countries raining down upon earth (though detonating a bunch of nuclear bombs inside the moon’s crust might have similar results, I’m no scientist) and is concerned that a space creature that ways at least 1.3 billion tonnes might be a dangerous thing to have waking up next door to the planet we all live on. The people of Earth, who have so far spent the past ten years dealing with the cataclysmic results of this creature’s growth spurt, agree that a preventative strike might be a good idea and indicate this by switching off their lights. Despite some brief second thoughts, Clara ignores the majority opinion and aborts the detonation. Because this is Doctor Who. This turns out to be the right move because at that moment the Doctor picks up and takes them to a beach to watch the hatching. The ‘shell’ disintegrates (I don’t think that’s how billions of tonnes of rock would work), the creature flies away after laying a fresh moon and even Space-Ros is grateful. Everything works out. Because this is Doctor Who.

They should have blown up the moon.

Standing on the beach watching the creature fly away the Doctor announces that it marks a turning point towards a new age of human space exploration because for once the humans turned towards the sky, saw something scary and didn’t blow it up. Which is patronising as balls. Humanity had good reason to want to blow it up given the information available and would have merely been exorcising their right to self-defence against an extraterrestrial threat. By ignoring the decision of the people of Earth, who were just thinking of the children (won’t someone please think of the children?), the show places Clara and (by proxy) the Doctor on some sort of higher moral plane since they would never cross that line (unless they’re Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen or plenty of other villains) unlike the rest of us short-sighted, selfish bastards. Worse than that though is that the problem solves itself. The old moon dissolves, a new moon is laid and the giant space thing flies away. There is no negative consequence for inaction, no negative consequence for not blowing up the moon. Without negative consequence for both the yes or no camps it ceases to be a moral dilemma and merely becomes artificial tension based on misinformation. With the information they had, they should have blown up the fucking moon. For the children.

I know I’m sounding like a broken record at this point, and you may not be totally convinced that blowing up the moon would be the right thing to do, but without knowing the ending or without being genre savvy enough to know that everything works out alright in Doctor Who what would you have done?

The one good thing about this episode comes at the end when the Doctor drops Clara and Courtney back at their school and Clara emotionally calls him in his shit and announces that she’s “done.” I’m not sure if this is the writers being self-aware enough to recognise when they stick a middle finger up at their audiences and characters, but I really hope so. Otherwise we might be seeing more crappy episodes like this.

Is that the best you can do? How insulting.

What’s the worst English language word you can think of? That word that you only pull out to express your displeasure at the very worst of traffic jams or to describe some self-important waste of skin trying to cut the queue at the bank. Maybe that word that gets your blood boiling and everyone knows never to say whenever you’re within earshot. Personally I shudder whenever I hear the word yummy spoken aloud, but I expect most people would cite more extreme examples. F-bombs, Sugar Honey Iced Tea, the odd bit of blasphemy, both the clinical and slang terms for reproductive organs and, of course, the big C. That’s the one I think we need to talk about internet, because that’s the one I’ve been seeing a lot of lately.

Earlier this week I read an article by Zoe Quinn on Cracked.com about her recent experiences as the internet’s most hated person. If you don’t know anything about the recent GamerGate controversy (or the Quinnspiracy or whatever else they were calling it), lucky you. Because it’s bloody stupid. Just another chapter of gamer culture’s ridiculously misogynistic treatment of women, with the key difference this time being that they tried to use ‘concern over journalistic ethics’ to lend credibility to their anger that women don’t want to sleep with them. It’s not an issue I can write about with a perspective worth reading. I’m a young, straight, white male who’s not part of the industry and never been subjected to the kind of stupidity that women (and racial/sexual minorities) have to deal with beyond a few high-pitched voices back when I still tried playing CoD online. But I kept track of the … debate … as did many others. As I did when the internet’s wrath was focused on Anita Sarkeesian and Jennifer Hepler, (hell, Sarkeesian is still under attack). Amongst all the rape-threats and poorly spelt character-attacks there’s a word I keep seeing, and quite frankly think a lot of people need to get over using.

Right, before this continues I’d like to put a great big warning here. While I have nothing against a bit of profanity I do understand that not everyone wants to read it (especially in bulk), and it’ll probably get heavy in the next few paragraphs (since it’s hard to talk about using a word without, well, using it) so: Language Warning.

Continue reading “Is that the best you can do? How insulting.”

Can I still listen to their music?

I hate it when an artist I like does something I don’t.

Last week Max MacKinnon, also known as MC Eso of Australian hip hop act Bliss n Eso, came under fire after posting three misogynistic photos to Instagram with equally misogynistic tags taken during his visit to Madame Tussauds (a wax museum) in Beverley Hills, L.A. The worst was arguably a picture of him posting with an ‘angry’ expression and raised fist towards a wax statue of Rihanna with the caption “Where did ya throw those fucking car keys woman!?! #smackmybitch #shelovesthewayithurts.” (Haha, it’s funny because Chris Brown beat the crap out of her. Wait, no it fucking isn’t, and never will be). The other pictures were of him with his hand by the wax Lady Gaga’s crotch and crawling beneath Raquel Welch with a club, both with pretty bad captions. Outrage was inevitable, an apology was given, then another one on their Youtube channel (what I found most notable was that it condemned the threats and abuse that fans began throwing against the people upset by the pictures). Their management said it was a stupid lapse of judgement.

As far as this kind of scandal goes, it’s pretty small-time. Bliss n Eso have managed some international success but this is really only news-worthy down here in Oz, and even then hasn’t exactly been filling the front pages. Then of course by most standards Eso’s actions (to be clear, not defending him here) aren’t even close to as bad as what some celebrities have gotten away with, or things that have been said and done that are ignored and forgotten. Repeatedly.

For the vast majority of people I expect it’s a bit of a “who cares?” moment. Well, I care, because Bliss n Eso’s particular message of peace and love (delivered with enough aggression and profanity to strongly imply an “or else we’ll break your face”) has had a spot on my playlists since high school. And as I read some of the better articles commenting on the inherent issues raised by Eso’s pictures (those issues being the fact that people find it socially acceptable to joke about domestic abuse and that others dismissed the outrage as simply “not having a sense of humour”) I began asking myself the question: at what point do you stop listening (watching/reading/paying-attention-to) an artist that has done something wrong?

It’s a subjective question with a lot of answers, but I think it roughly comes down to whether you can separate artist, art and action. Or, ’cause I’m starting to feel pretentious, can you separate the crap they do from the crap they make?

This is more difficult when the art in question is part of the problem. Take the music of everyone’s favourite chauvinistic punching bag, at least for a while, Robin Thicke (I’m using the word ‘art’ very loosely and Thicke because he’s a recent mainstream example). Blurred Lines, his hit song (for some god-forsaken reason I cannot fathom, since it’s a crap song even if you ignore the lyrics) garnered a whole lot of controversy, rightly or wrongly depending on who you listen to (as long as you don’t listen to Thicke himself). His following album Paula, an attempt to woo back his now ex-wife Paula Patton, didn’t fare particularly well either.

But where Eso and so many other artists are different is that it is not their creations that are problematic but their lives outside of it. Take for example Orson Scott Card, a man who’s Ender Saga books (the first of which, Ender’s Game, recently became a movie) is an incredibly well-regarded and influential piece of modern science fiction, but who is also a (now at least) very loud bigot. A lot of people I’ve known and a lot more people I’ve read who have loved Ender’s Game now refuse to buy his books any more (and warned me off buying them), with one of the key reasons being that they don’t want to give him any more money to spend on anti-gay campaigns. An alternate example is Roman Polanski, who fled to France rather than face sentencing for sexually assaulting a 13 year old girl, though that doesn’t seem to have hurt his career beyond needing to avoid countries with US extradition deals (for instance there’s cinematic classic the Pianist, which won 3 out of 7 Oscars it was nominated for including a Best Director for Polanski). Similar statements can be made about Woody Allen, without the conviction.

I suppose a key point here is that there aren’t any new albums due any time soon, nor are there any concerts that I know about or that I’m likely to buy a ticket for. I already own all of their music I’m going to listen to and I don’t expect I’ll be playing it where other people are going to hear it (I often seem to be one of those very rare people who actually admits to enjoying Aussie rap… probably for good reason), and none of that music to my knowledge condones violence against women (as above, peace and love or else). So surely it’s alright if I keep listening to the music I enjoy?

But.

There had been calls last week for Triple J, the big public youth station in Oz, to ban Bliss n Eso from their playlists similar to how commercial rock station Triple M (we love our triplets) removed KISS from their playlists after Gene Simmons told depression sufferers “Fuck you, then kill yourself.” Some news articles actually claimed the station has already done so, prompting the trio to denounce those articles on Twitter and Facebook, in a move that I expect was to prevent or limit some likely attacks by supporters against the station that has in the past ten years given them a great deal of airtime. I supported the Triple M KISS ban (’cause that kind of attitude towards mental illness is wrong), and if Triple J decided to ban Bliss n Eso I’d support that too (so is that kind of attitude towards domestic abuse). I don’t expect them to do it officially, just quietly keep them off the airwaves until the people that care don’t anymore. But I’d support a ban if it did happen.

I still wanna listen to them though.

Bugger it, I’ll just listen to some Seth Sentry instead.

First impressions of the new Doctor Who

Tardis sketch 2:8:14 Edited

It’s that time of the… year? Has it been a year since the end or beginning of the last season of Doctor Who? Hold on a second, I’m gonna check… Season 7 started in September 2012 and ended December 2013. Christ almighty, even if you don’t include both the Christmas specials and 50th anniversary thing it didn’t end til May 2013. That’s ten months to air 13 goddamn episodes! Did they plan to string it out for almost a year or was it just good luck? How long does it take to make one episode? What, did they spend four months arguing over exactly what shade of red his bloody bow tie was? Deep breath (topical). Moving on, starting with: Spoiler warnings.

The stars have aligned properly and the new season of Doctor Who has started. We’ve had two episodes thus far with Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor so I figure it’s a decent time to give some highly opinionated first impressions. I’m liking his performance so far, which seems understated yet animated, and I yet live in hope he’ll go all Malcolm Tucker (NSFW) on some poor bastard. Probably make a Cyberman cry. That would be awesome.

As for the episodes themselves? Well the first one (Deep Breath) didn’t blow me away and the second one (Into the Dalek) was better, but still not spectacular. Perhaps the biggest flaw for both was that they’d already been done better in previous seasons with The Christmas Invasion (S2E1, the introduction of David Tenant) and Dalek (S1E6, an episode about a crippled Dalek and the Doctor’s hatred of the species being overcome) respectively.

But I’m hopeful. While Deep Breath didn’t grab me aside from the best description of facial features I’ve heard in a while (“These are attack eyebrows!”) and the always chuckle-worthy Strax (I can’t stand Madame Vastra and Jenny anymore), Into the Dalek was a little more interesting and his attempt to bring the Dalek to the light side at the end felt a lot less contrived then some of the pseudo-philosophical monologues that poor Matt Smith had to deliver. They also seem to be going back to more self-contained ‘monster of the week’ stories with an underlying narrative that I’ll guess will come together in the last episodes of the season (like the appearance of the words “Bad Wolf” were for David Tennant and Christopher Eccleston’s Doctors), instead of the extended story-arcs of Matt Smith’s tenure (and thank God for that).

So yeah, hopeful enough to keep me watching for at least the first half of the season. I am praying that they get past the whole ‘Is the Doctor a good man?’ moralising that they seem to be leaning towards. Because it’s Doctor Who. The people who care about that kind of unnecessary characterisation (including myself) need less free time, and the target audience is too young to care.

Kitty not a cat, Aldi and Dahl, turning the Valve

Couple things caught my eye this past week.

Weird stuff first, turns out Hello Kitty isn’t a cat. Seriously, not a cat. Because that would be ridiculous. It certainly makes the fact that she owns an actual cat herself a little less creepy. Adding to that, according to the complex mythology of the Hello Kitty world, turns out she’s a pom. Lives in the suburbs of London eating apple pie. I’m gonna call bullshit till we see the quality of her dental work, but that’s just me.

The folks running the Aldi Supermarket chain pulled copies of Roald Dahl’s classic kid’s book Revolting Rhymes from the shelf, because in the story of Cinderella the supposedly charming prince calls the poor girl a ‘slut’. Y’know, cause kids are fine with images of handsome princes chopping off the heads of people he doesn’t like, but say a naughty word and they’re guaranteed to end up delinquents and drug addicts and something else unpleasant that begins with D (for alliteration purposes). A lot of people seem to be having a go at Aldi for bowing to the pressure of a few wowsers, and I’m inclined to agree with them. Because it’s god-damned Roald Dahl. I pity the child that doesn’t get to enjoy his wonderful prose (revolting or otherwise) because mum freaked out over a word that rhymes with nut.

Third, the Australian Competition and Consumer (ACCC, the national consumer watchdog) is taking everybody’s favourite game publisher, Valve, to court over the returns policy of its popular digital distribution platform, Steam. More appropriately, they’re suing over its lack of a returns policy since Steam has long maintained a stance of not offering refunds or exchanges for games under any circumstances unless specifically required to by law.

Valve are saying that they’re cooperating with the Australian government, but I expect that a lot of people, and not just Aussies, are hoping for an ACCC win in this matter in the hopes that it might force the folks running Steam to change some pretty lousy terms and conditions. Australia is a multi-billion dollar market for games, and Steam has a market-share worth hundreds of millions. It might be bugger all when compared to the US, Japanese, Chinese and some European markets but it’s large enough to effect some change if the courts side against them. There’s been a lot of damn near unplayable and falsely advertised ‘games’ (notice the use of quotation marks) released under Steam’s Early Access and Greenlight programs, and I’ve heard a few people say that the possibility of returns might be the thing that finally forces some much needed quality control. Probably not, but one can dream.

A bit of inspiration from the Candy Kingdom’s power couple

If you asked me to name my favourite current TV shows, the awesome Adventure Time would be somewhere near the top of the list. Aside from the fact that it’s bloody hilarious for all ages in a way that’s reminiscent of Rocko’s Modern Life (a show I grew up watching and still as far as I’m concerned the best example of a well-rounded Australian character to have yet appeared on TV), it’s an absurdist deconstruction of the child hero/fantasy genre, a frequently heartbreaking depiction of loneliness and trauma in a post-apocalyptic world, and a discussion on the nature of power, heroism, prophecy and purpose. It’s stuff that I’d like to go into in more detail in the future, but today I’d like to talk about a vampire and a princess.

The thing I love most about this show is the characters. Finn the Human is good-natured and well-intentioned (he’s a hero in the most idealistic sense of the word) but makes frequent mistakes and has suffered some heavy trauma. The Ice King goes from the series’ primary and frankly ridiculous antagonist in the first seasons to a victim isolated from society because of mental illness. Supporting character Peppermint Butler is a demon-summoning dark magician who’s close friends with the show’s version of death. And we discovered this week that Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire Queen (two fantastic examples of well-written, deep and powerful female characters) used to date when Olivia Olsen (the actress who voices Marceline) informed a crowd at a book-signing.

Well, ‘discovered’ might be the wrong word to use here. ‘Confirmed’ would probably be better, since their shared history was implied a few times and it wasn’t hard to pick up on the subtext of a pair of exes who at the very least still cared about each other. It doesn’t look like this will be displayed in the show any time soon, however, with the apparent official reason being “it’s illegal” in several of the countries the show airs in (though you can’t help but wonder if it’s also to avoid the attention of certain pundits who like to get up in arms about all this homosexual propaganda that those damn lefties keep trying to feed to our children). It should also be remembered that the only overt romantics we’ve seen either character involved in have been straight (eg. there’s an episode when Marceline’s chauvinistic ex-boyfriend tricks Finn and Jake into removing her memory of their break-up). Regardless, thousands of fan fiction artists and authors whether they be weird or wonderful felt vindicated… then immediately scrambled to their tumblrs, deviant art pages and whatever else to flood the internet with even more. Some of it is great. Some of it is… well fan fiction… yeah… not to be talked about in polite company. Or within two hundred metres of any schools. Moving on.

Really it won’t have any noticeable effect on the show since it’s more confirming the canon rather than adding to it, and most of the show’s viewers are either to young to care or not the sort of folks who keep track of this sort of news (y’know, like parents). But I like to think this sort of acknowledgement is a positive thing. It might mean a few people feel more confident about themselves . It might mean that a few kids who don’t understand things now will find life easier later, having grown up with great characters that they can relate to. It increases the representation of the bi/same-sex community within popular culture. Every gain no matter how small is an achievement. It might mean that a few authors are a bit more confident in the strength of their own characters, are given ideas on how to make them better, or how to make the relationships between their characters more nuanced and real.

Hopefully we’ll see more.