Friday, September 23, 2011

Reposting my Facebook Rant That Was Then A OWL Rant and now a Blog Post.

I would like to highlight a problem I had with Bend It Like Beckham, specifically a false assumption in holds about character and sexuality. I have phrased my problem in the form of two rambling letters.

Dear Movies, 

Just because you have a gay character does not automatically mean I will care about them, their hopes and dreams, or even like them. There appears to be this harmful idea that “being gay” is a well-defined character trait. I can call a character "energetic", "zany", "sinister", all of those come with their own expressions of modality that are the hallmarks of any trope. But if the only thing I can say about a character is that they are "the gay one", that's Very Bad Writing, akin to a character being there to fulfil the role of “woman”- it's treating a noun as an adjective. 

To look at it another way, let's look a group most people are familiar with: the trio of Harry, Hermione and Ron from the ubiquitous Harry Potter series. Each character realizes a particular role in the films/books. Harry is the one who is “brave”, the hero and driver of the narrative. Hermione is there to be the “smart” one, to have the expeditionary/expository knowledge to help Harry be able to drive where he needs the story to go. Ron is there because every story needs a buffoon, and to keep Neville from being a main character and thus ending the series by the end of the first book by sheer bad-ass awesomeness. But what if we changed how we define a character? Harry: Brave, Ron: Supportive(I'll be nice), Hermione: Woman.

One of those things is not like the other. That kind of phrasing is not only a sweeping generalization of everything a woman could potentially be, it's sexist and disingenuous to boot. Tokenism in the worst way, and it spreads a harmful worldview that you can be completely defined by your gender. 

“But James, you snarky and slightly patronizing comment poster, you, what does this have to do Bend It Like Beckham, and why didn't Neville get his own spin-off?” I hear you cry. Well, the second question is far beyond the scope of this post, so I'll just stick with the first one. In the best Socratic tradition, I will answer this by posing another question, albeit one directed at the film as opposed to you, gentle reader, who patiently awaits enlightenment.

Dear Bend It Like Benton: 

You have a character who admits he is gay. Explain why, at any point in the movie, I ought to care about him. No one ever expects me to root for "the straight one" just because the character is straight. Since he is not the main character of the piece, having him come out to our protagonist must serve some sort of purpose in the story, right? Was it to prove that Jess wasn't prejudiced? It... might, but she seems like a pretty forward thinking young woman, I don't think that was ever called into question. That can't have been the function. So it had to be that it was important we know that Tony was gay for our understanding of Tony's character. It must be important to the story that we know who Tony is. 

Who is Tony?

He is friends with the main character. He has a crush on David Beckham. He likes soccer. He thinks the coach is cute.



That's it, really. I looked it up on IMDB, Tony doesn't have a last name. He's just Tony, “the gay one”. Huh.

Why don't we play a game? It's called "Remove the Coming-Out Scene." First, you cut the scene where Tony says he's gay. Then, watch the movie and tell me if losing this scene has any impact on the story in any meaningful way shape or form.

If there is any change, its on how we interpret his gesture to enter into a sham marriage so that Jess can play soccer in America. But for me, his sexuality doesn't really change the nature of the gesture (which is a noble one, which we could add to his character list if I was in a more charitable mood, but since it's this fake-out deus-ex-machina that is immediately dropped, I'm not going to). Let's say we didn't know he was gay. He;s still entering into a (romantically) loveless marriage of connivence to help a friend. And had it gone through, Hollywood probably would have forced a sequel where they really fall in love and please all those Tony/Jess shippers out there, but realistically we have to take the movie as a complete package, concrete in its habitus (isomorphically emergent with its own structural conditions). At the end of the day (and end of the move), straight, gay, bi, non... hell, the guy could only be attracted to bumblebees; his sexuality in no way changes the nature of the gesture. He is willing to enter into a lie to help a friend.

(And regardless: that's nice in all, but for a sacrifice to be meaningful, I have to think that he's giving up something worth while. “Oh no, he's giving up his life of... really liking David Beckham?” Seriously, movie. Who is this guy, why should I care? What does he do for a living? Does he have a job, other friends, does he like movies, music, anything at all besides David Beckham? Will his sham marriage keep him from really liking David Beckham? Because I'm pretty sure Jess also likes David Beckham.)

If he was gay, and it was just accepted (i.e. no coming-out scene), then that would be great. I love to have gay characters who's sexuality isn't used as way to milk pathos from the narrative. As is, its used as disposable emotionality. “Huh, this bit of the film needs punching up, let's cram an awkward-yet-endearing “I'm gay” scene to pad out the run time and make us seem topical.” Who is Tony? It doesn't matter, he's just there to help the protagonist go kick a ball in a country that has an entirely different definition of the word 'football'. I need to know that Tony is something other than a manifestation of the main characters subconscious need for a perfect male friend who loves everything she does (Soccer. David Beckham. Soccer) without wanting to get in her pants.

There's a lovely test called the Bechdel Test, which a movie only passes if it meets the following criteria: 

1.It has to have at least two women in it,
2.Who talk to each other,
3.About something other than a man.

I'd like to compliment the Bechdel Test with something I call The Prager Test. A movie passes the Prager test if:

1.It has a homosexual character
2.Who talks to the main character
3.About something other than a crush, or the main character's interests and problems.

Your character is gay? Fine, that's great. But it's not enough. Work with that, do something with that, define your character as, well, someone more than a one-dimensional plot point. Please. This heteronormative indifference is ever so aggravating. 

Anyone needs me, My Little Pony Season 2 just started up, so I have to re-watch the premiere and finish my twelve volume series “Why Glee is the worst thing on television since My Mother The Car” 

I remain, yours &c.,

James Campbell-Prager

(Corollary: Putting the gay character in peril does not mean I have any interest in seeing them live over dying. This holds true of "adorable" yet bratty children. If I simply hate them, I may be thrilled that they died. This is what's known as “Adric Syndrome” )

tl;dr: You're in university now. If you can't be bothered to read long things, drop out. Now. I'm dead serious. You will be crushed without mercy by an uncaring education structure that expects your reading skills to be at least at a grade eight level.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

If On A Costal Street A Traveler...

A Poem, aware of its pretentions. Apologies and defiance.  

For reasons all my Own
I walked the darkened streets that are
a minor city's passageways.

To satisfy my cravings for a summer's wish
still unfulfilled,
I purchased late at night
two sandwiches of ice cream,
And continued out into the cool September air.

In my endless search for symbolism
I said why I had purchased two.
It was not just the sale.
The other was for absent friends.

The fool's gesture impressed no one
And none.
In any case I ate them both.

Eblis O'Shaughnessy
Could never dream or destroy.
To him I stand in opposition.
No skill or trade have I,
Merely endless dreams,
And the personal destruction that is creation

The living worlds
Lately writ by me
Have in their antecedent
A thousand others
That I failed to bring to life.

I have given up much of myself
Of late.
If only to give the flood of words
A fitting resting place,
Perhaps to give my tired mind
A little breathing space.

The phrases that seem so profound
Written in the moment on a chill autumn's night
(Whilst eating colder-still ice cream)
Once put to paper seem paltry things.
A dumb show filled with noise
Concealing empty meanings.

In lieu of absent, distant friends
I turn to doggrel verse.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Fairy Logic

Fairy Logic, at least in the Craicéailte School, is unifying rather than fragmentary. To the largely Sylphic disciples of Craicéailte, there is no paradox in Zeno or rather, nothing of concern. That Achilles will never outrun the Turtle, while at the same time will naturally outpace it in seconds is not an issue that needs fixing. To many of the fay, accepting the contradictory is as natural as breathing, both statements are true. A paradox is not something to be solved but celebrated. To a Craicéailte, that you can empirically disprove a paradox of Zeno is irrelevant. In their fashion, Craicéailtes reject the idea of repeatable causality. Solvitur ambulando might have given credence to one point of view a one particular moment, but that is no indication that it will do so ever again. Holmes' maxim has no place in their world. Why rule out the impossible, when it so often occurs?

This is best expressed in the central Craicéailte concept known as Liused's Apophthegm, for which we shall take a brief detour to first contextualize before discussing its impact.

There has been no more enduring figure of second wave Craicéailte thought than Doctor Mell Liused (1693? - 1740). Liused was both a logician and temporal physicist, although it is the second discipline for which she is best know. Her work in that field was so revolutionary that next to none of her contemporaries grasped her mathematics or gating theories. Her work was to remain forgotten and ignored until it was rediscovered by Adalmar Wesserman in the late 1940s, who would both expand upon it and restore the good doctor's position in the eyes of physicists.

However, it is not her work on gating mechanics that is of interest to us. She remains a “patron saint” to Craicéailtes after her death owing to a series of documents know as the Gwrn-Mell Letters. In her youth Liused had studied under Dr. Gwrn Hywel (1651-1742) at Glorianna University in Gyre-Carling, and afterwords worked with him for a number of years. After Cordeilla III founded Ard Rí College (Fairy's first institution devoted purely to the study of worldgates) in far off Andlang, Liused did what was unthinkable in those days and travelled all the way to its Endymion chapter in Dome, where she would remain for the rest of her life. Until her early death, she would remain in constant correspondence with Dr. Hywel, and from the letters that survive we have a fascinating look at the life and times of intellectuals of the period.

In many ways, both doctors were of among the last of their era. Although he would die before the pogroms started, in Gyre-Carling Dr. Hywel was witness to rise of the neo-glamour movements that would see the deaths of thousands of academics and students in the century to come. To the neo-glamourists, the study of scientific principles was a rejection of everything a fairy was, they considered persons like Hywel to be species traitors. The extent of their destruction and the set-back to knowledge that their reign entailed is far beyond the scope of this book, so we shall touch upon it no further.

While the neo-glamour movement never had any force in Andlang, the economic and social toll of the Ranrike War would decimate the youth of the kingdom. There would be only of handful of young people able to attend universities, and it would be a long time before academic knowledge would be increased and improved by anyone educated in Andlang colleges.

For Liused and Hywel, then, theirs was the last flourishing of intellect before a dark age, and nowhere is this better reflected in Hywel's admonishments to his former student, who had been introduced to Craicéailtism at Ard Rí. For Hywel, Craicéailte thought was a form of scholastic nihilism, a rejection of everything a teacher should stand for. He sought to illustrate this by drawing attention to what he called the Pixie Dilemma. In brief, this is the demonstrative fact that, according to scientific law, a pixie cannot fly. Their delicate, lacy wings simply don't have the power or lift to make a creature of that body mass fly. But pixies do fly, regardless of their size or encumbrance.

Hywel believed that the Craicéailte approach was a destructive one to the pursuit of answers. The paradox of pixie flight, the solution to which (no doubt) lay tangled in science and magic, should be treated as a contradiction and be unravelled and solved. That the Craicéailtes wanted to celebrate the paradox was criminal, a learned fairy ought to find answers, not revel in their absence.

It was in Liused's response in 1711 where we find what we know call her eponymous Apophthegm. Their letters were written in the Vulgar-Carling dialect of south-western Sylphic, I am indebted to Mateo Cwna for the translation.

A theory that is contradictory in itself cannot begin to explain the contradictions inherent within it. As persons of learning, we are expected to dismiss any such theory on principle. This is also true for any two theories that, should one be “correct”, the other is automatically “wrong”. And yet on the emotive, psychological level we accept both the reverse and the obverse all the time.

Do we not often hate one we love the most? Is there not often lust for one we wish to destroy? Why then can this acceptance of the contradictory not continue onto the physical plane? Why must the impossible be rejected in favour of partisan positions on that most subjective of nouns, the ever elusive Truth?

To accept that they are both true is not say that they should not be examined, debated or discussed. But it is a rejection of the concept of 'impossible'. We celebrate that which is contradictory because it shows that learning is without bounds. To 'take a side' is limiting. To accept both and build upon it is to leave the labels and boundaries of normative thought behind.”

It is important to know that Liused would later note that Craicéailte thought is one that works best in the abstract. Unlike other thinkers of the same school, who went so far as reject not just objective truth but objective reality entirely, Liused stressed that one should never abandon realist practicality. “One can, if one so chooses, build a house in mid-air having accepted both 'theories' that it will both collapse and never collapse. To do so, however, is at best specious and imprudent, at worst, outright fatal.”

An Excerpt From The Beat Betwixt the Pixie's Wings: A Fairy's History of Thought
Dr. Seumas Kermichil
Endymion University Press, 1997