Wednesday, 21 August 2019

The Temptation of Positive Stereotypes

One thing I've noticed now that my long spate of ignoring TV is over is how much the medium relies on stereotypes. They're pervasive, filling almost every show from edge to edge. I must admit though, that where I've noticed it most is in Kung Fu based films and TV shows where Chinese and Asian actors are almost always superpowered with martial arts. It makes me think of the song Kung Fu Fighting, which came out in the 1970s when martial arts films became popular in western cinema and playgrounds filled up with kids aping what they'd seen on screen. Since that time, when Bruce Lee was the top name in such things, through Jackie Chan, Jet Lee, Chow Yun Fat and others (Michelle Yeoh, for example), this stereotype of the Asian guy who knows fifty ways to kill a man with his pinky finger has persisted. It clings on like a limpet and I can see that it's cool. I like watching martial arts fights, marvel at Wire Fu and Wuxia but at the same time, it leave me uneasy.

In part that's because amongst all the 'wokeness' of our age, I haven't seen people saying that the Kung Fu martial artist isn't a helpful stereotype - that might be because the Internet is a big place, but it feels as if there's an element of purposeful neglect here. Because its cool we won't mention it. Because it makes the people who do it look tough and vigorous how can it be wrong to assume that all Asian people know how to fight that way? Surely, it's a compliment, just as assuming that all Chinese people are good at Maths or are Doctors is... ?


But, that isn't the argument we make for other ethnicities, we don't say that Black actors should be happy because they get to star in sports films, or in Jazz biodocumentaries. We acknowledge that those stereotypes are actually harmful and we try to negate them, just as we've started to see Hollywood do with the 'black dude dies first' trope that's dogged so many Science Fiction films.

Female actors have been pushing against typecasting as they grow older for as long as I can recall, but again, I haven't heard the same argument being made for Asian actors (and for the record I'm a white guy in my 40s who would like this whole mess sorted and put away for good).

So, even though we're apparently sanguine about this situation, we have to acknowledge that we're stereotyping everytime an Asian actor steps up to do Mongoose Strike or Drunken Master Style. This is what bothered me so much about the backlash against Ironfist, the fact that in seeking to denounce the idea that a white guy could be the saviour of Asia, the critics were doubling down on the idea that martial arts were only for Asians to use. By trying to undermine one cliche, they propped up another. I'm not sure which was the more harmful trope - all Asians know Kung Fu or the Messianic White Dude.

I suspect, in practice that Marvel simply should have tried to develop an Asian hero who didn't have the cliche attached and simply left Danny Rand on the shelf for another day.

But that's by the by, the fact is that this stereotype is fully in force, it's not going away and if we believe in the the quality of representation on screen, as well as the quantity, we should be protesting against it and pushing for more diverse roles for Asian actors.

And that said, let me leave you with a song....

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Book Review: Lucifer volume 3, book 1: The Infernal Comedy

Title: Lucifer: The Infernal Comedy
Image result for lucifer the infernal comedy
Publisher: DC Vertigo
Writer: Dan Watters
Artist: Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara (cover by Jock)

The third volume of Lucifer seems almost like it should be a strange event. Mike Carey's original run on the book ended with the title character flying off to explore other universes, if I recall correctly, never to return. Volume Two, by Holly Black was mostly set around a 'who killed God' murder mystery and now in Volume Three we find him in different circumstances, yet again. The only constants appear to be his status quo - the history from Sandman and the existence of Lux and Mazikeen (his bar and his right hand woman who may or may not be Hela from Norse mythology). It's best to treat these series as completely separate, I feel, despite the fact that they have the same central characters.

With that out of the way, let's consider the book itself. The story is compelling, one part being set in a town where Lucifer, and a strange group of people are trapped, amongst them William Blake which I guess is why the book is 'The Infernal Comedy', and where only the fallen angel seems motivated to try and escape. Elsewhere, a cop with a brain tumor tries to find the truth about his wife's death and instead discovers magic, madness, and monsters. 

These duel narratives dovetail as the book progresses and lead to the final page which really reinforces Lucifer's position as a rebel, a renegade, and a thorn in Heaven's side, which was rather lovely. The writing is compelling and well observed, possibly as a result of Neil Gaiman's direct oversight, and the new characters are interesting. They bring great new possibilities to the status quo, and numerous ways to upset the apple cart. Despite the title, the book seems to draw more on elements of The Tempest than The Divine Comedy, and its easy to see many of the characters in that light including the screwed up 'Prospero' who's orchestrating the whole thing.

The art has a pleasant vibe to it, while at the same time being darker than the fare you'll see in superhero books (as is entirely appropriate). It's clear and very evocative and in places reminded me of Mike Mignola's work. The colouring is good, and keeps the murky, grounded feel going, reminding us that Lucifer lives in the world and, from the point of view of this book, that means trouble, confusion and temptation, not bright heights and shining cities (unless its the Silver City, of course).

If you're a fan of the Sandman Universe I'd recommend picking this up. It has potential to be a great series.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Standing on the Outside

Image result for my existential crisis is having an existential crisisSo here we are again, standing on the outside, looking in. Twitter, of all things, seems to have kicked this bout of my extensionalist, ahem, Existentialist Crisis having an Existentialist Crisis. Partly its that sense of standing looking in at everyone else's perfect lives and careers when I'm still trying to work out what the hell I'm meant to be doing with mine. Like the spud in the cartoon, I'm wondering what my purpose is, and how I best achieve it. Even as I'm hoping it lies in writing and teaching, I'm forced to admit I honestly don't know.

It isn't just that though, it's also the amount of certainty I see online, certainty that this group or that will save the day, that this politician or that policy maker will wave a magic wand and make things different. To be honest, most days I'm not even certain what I want for lunch, let alone what I want to be in life or who should be running the country. I feel the same way I did about the Extinction Rebellion protests in London, I want to support them but, ultimately, the way the world works, the way systems work almost guarantee that there's no way change will happen; consequently all those people will be left with is the feeling of disappointment as their heroes turn out to have feet of clay.

Image result for snake oil salesmanI've seen it happen before, with countless leaders and celebrities, (consider how both Clinton and Blair fell from grace) and I'm left faintly bewildered that having been failed in the past people are so keen to hitch their wagon to yet another horse who will simply fail them. It's like a syndicate of snake oil salespeople just roll into town and offer different cures, and when one doesn't work, we just roll along to the next one. You might as well plaster "one born every minute" onto the populace's collective backs.

The issue is also that because human brains by building connections, once a person has been declared persona non grata, everything they've done is also seen that way - so we throw out ideas that might be perfectly good, and eminently sensible, because the person who advocated them couldn't eat a bacon sandwich or did something we think was beyond the pale. The ideas and policies they advocated may, actually, be perfectly good, but because they've become a problem, we throw the whole lot out and move onto the next grifter. And of course this can work the other way around with someone who's so Teflon coated they can brazen out anything. To raise the stakes of modern politics, anyone who wasn't Alexander Johnson would have been finished in politics around the time their many philanderings came to public light. Because he could just shrug it off as unimportant though, we've bought so much of the snake oil he's reached the positon of 'prime snake oil salesperson' trying to flog the naff idea of Brexit to the population and steering the UK over the edge of the cliff.

This issue of faces and 'connective tissue' by the way, is why I think so many companies don't let you see the horrors who run them, and instead keep us all distracted with the latest pretty people they've paid to do their advertising. Making a model, actress, or singer the face of their brands means we tap into a different set of connections than if an old geezer poled up on screen and said 'buy our stuff'. Even in cases where the owners are well known (Bill Gates and Richard Branson for example), a pretty face we either associate with cool things or with nothing at all is a better way to sell stuff.

Image result for Consume

Anyway, at present we have to add into the whole 'miracle cure' thing the increasingly fractious tensions between Left and Right, the ever growing reliance on blame seeking and tribalism. Perhaps it's Twitter's bubble effect at work but it feels as if so many people are just digging into their trenches and buckling down to bitch about things with their fellow travellers that nothing is ever going to reach them. To me, this political circle jerk is fundamentally pointless, it doesn't do anything useful, just makes people feel better for being 'pure' - and that seems poisonous because purity is a pointless goal. Nothing is purely one thing or another, success comes from mixing and matching elements rather than by exiling everything we don't agree with. Furthermore, by beginning the process of exiling we can end up going to extremes, which only makes the swing back, when it comes, all the more violent - guaranteeing that society, politics, and economics lurches from one extreme to another. In other words, we end up with a scenario that pleases almost nobody but for very loud, very stupid, people who don't think for themselves.

Image result for rockem sockem robots
That leaves me in a situation where I just can't relate to this confidence that if x, y or z happen everything will be fine. I sense that we just don't know enough to be certain of anything at present and that scares me. And it makes me wonder if everyone secretly feels this way or if I'm on my own? Is it like being an adult where everyone's actually making it up as they go along?

Image result for my existential crisis is having an existential crisis
For a long time I've had the feeling that we don't actually understand the world we live in anymore and nothing's really shaken this - is this why I feel so unattached? And are the passionate believers in politicians and causes just reacting to that by clinging to things they do understand, even though it's doomed to failure? I mean, I'd like to dig into all those things that stop us changing things - not EU law, which I think is relatively benign, but the contracts with big congolomerates, the things that groups like the IMF have insisted upon etc, because that seems to be where the issues arise. If I'm honest I don't know if governments can change anything or if they're so tightly bound by bureaucracy and deals that the Prime Minister is a bit of a fig leaf.

Image result for my existential crisis is having an existential crisisAnd yes, I do realise I sound as if I'm being a snooty bugger, but I actually wonder if I'm just dense for not feeling this way. Am I missing something obvious? Am I deficient in some respect when I fail to feel impassioned by something somebody has said, or look at AOC and think 'you're cool but I give it ten years before you lose all your fans'?

Anyway, I don't know that I have any answers, likely not, I'm just taking a Twitter break (apart from the instance where I post this to there) and look there's a kitty. Everything's better with a kitty.


Monday, 5 August 2019

Green Politics: August 2019

Image result for environmentA few months have passed since the XR demonstrations and Greta Thunberg's visit to the UK. Let's take a moment to see if anything has actually changed.

The answer seems, basically, to be no. As expected, as soon as things went back to normal, the issue was quietly dropped, presumably filed as 'unimportant', at least in comparison to Brexit and ensuring that Jeremy Corbyn never becomes Prime Minister (which I confess fills me with despair that grown adults are more concerned with making sure their team wins than in doing what's right for the country). Things seem to be the same and the new British government is sticking to the 2050 deadline for making changes that Theresa May laid down. In other words, the current crop of politicians have decided to do nothing while the world burns. I say this, not to be spiteful, but because what 2050 often means is that the can is being kicked down the road so that someone else can deal with it. This is despite polling that suggests the desire to act on Climate Change is far higher among the British population than the desire to leave the EU.  It seems particularly tone deaf of No 10 to be doing nothing (which is all we can assume they're doing until they prove otherwise), when the desire in the country is to get on with fixing things and to alleviate the difficulties that will arise as the climate changes. Admittedly the 'ship of state' takes time to change direction but this seems to be ridiculous.

Image result for environmentThere's an utter tone deafness to the way Mr Johnson has handled things so far (admittedly this can be applied across the board, I mean Priti Patel as Home Secretary seems a bit like appointing Judge Death from the Judge Dredd comics to be Secretary of State for Health or Sauron to the Ministry of Defence). Hyperbole aside, I suspect, that like Trump in America, there's a move to deprioritise the environment even though it's fundamental to good trade, health, tourism, and so on. If we let it be squandered, it will affect everything else. George Monbiot tells us that the attitude of the super rich has changed. They're no longer concerned with saving the world, only getting away from it. Its a claim I find hard to refute, even if I think it's a horrifically short sighted one. As a Science Fiction writer, its all too easy to picture a dying world ringed by orbiting artificial Habitats for the rich while the poor die from easily treatable diseases below.

But that's just fiction, and we can't afford to dwell on that. Instead, we need facts. We need to know what's being done, how it's being measured, who's measuring it and what the end goal is. Are there interim goals for the supposed changes that are being put in place? In other words, can they prove that they aren't just putting on a show for the public while they get on with dismantling the environmental protections that the EU have brought into place for member states?

These are the things that I'm aiming to discover, mostly by pestering the government with FOI requests. Honestly, if this is an area you care about, I encourage you to do the same.