Monthly Archives: May 2013

Life Imitating Art?

Friends,

There is a long-running debate about whether or not violent media perpetuates violence in real life.  I remember this debate hit home with me as a child when I would read my GamePro and Electronic Gaming Monthly magazines and they would have letters, editorials and articles about the state of game-related legislation, ratings and content.  As a child who could feel his rights and freedoms potentially being infringed upon, I took the position that there was no harm in violent video games and for the life of me I could not understand why my parents reacted so irately when I told them I had seen the coolest game (Mortal Kombat) at a friend’s house.  It was them after all, who allowed me to watch Conan the Barbarian.

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This was okay

tumblr_lcbreasrBs1qcmiwko1_400 This, not so much

Now I don’t think I need to point out to you the conflict of interests I had in this regard as a child; how could I acknowledge any harm in sexy/violent games if I wanted to keep playing them with impunity?  Well, now I don’t have any such conflict because my video game playing is minimal and I’m like 28 now.  So what do I think now that I have the benefit of more experience and knowledge?  Have I recanted my juvenile assertions about the harmlessness of violent games?  Have I become the responsible adult hypocrite my childhood self would beat the shit out of?

Hardly.  Adult Me would beat the ever-living fuck out of a chubby bitch like Childhood Me.

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Less of a beatdown and more a rape, really.

However, my views have evolved some.  For one thing, you may remember me making reference to root causes at one point.  Or perhaps you remember another time when I talked about how we need to view violence in a broader context, because the currently-received narrow viewpoints don’t actually do anything to reduce occurrences of violence.  I gotta be fair and apply the same logic to my previously-held viewpoints regarding video-game (media) violence to see if they hold up.
So according to my own currently-held understanding of the world, does violent media have an effect on violence in the real world?  
Yes, but not in the way they say it does on the news or in parliament.

See we tend to frame the debate about video-game violence (all media violence really) on how it figured into the lives of school shooters or whatnot.  Everyone knows Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold played Doom prior to shooting up their high school back in 1999.  But you could easily make the counter-argument that not everyone who plays Doom shoots up their school, so it can’t be the game’s fault.  Whatever side you subscribe to, I think both sides miss the point.  You see it isn’t the digitized blood and guts of early first-person shooters that make people wanna kill people.

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Does this make you go into a kill-frenzy?

I think the larger problem is that video games like Doom tend to reinforce a good vs. evil duality.  This is really a structural problem and one I have alluded to in the past.  Often we tend tend to frame our conceptions of conflict in terms of us vs. them.  And since our side couldn’t possibly be the wrong side, and furthermore because our perfectly empirical objectivity (especially during times of emotional turmoil) would never allow us to take a flawed position, we tend to see the other side as more wrong, bad and irrationally evil as their opposition to us becomes more and more staunch and pronounced.

If you think about it this same type of duality is reinforced in much more (seemingly) benign ways than violent video games.  I remember watching cartoons like Care Bears as a kid, where you had evil assholes like No-Heart

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Pictured: Asshole

being absolutely evil for no reason.  We never see any depth to the character or find out his motivations (beyond the fact that he has no heart).  Now you may say that as a kids show we can afford to be light-hearted and vague about the antagonist’s motivations because important lessons are being taught.  Well, if you maintain that important lessons are being taught, you are implying that children’s programming serves as a kind of well…programming.  So while the kid is learning that he shouldn’t be an evil douche like No-Heart, he is also being programmed on a more sublime level to believe that evil douchebags like No-Heart exist, that is to say, people who do what we would call “evil” for no apparent, justifiable reason.

Think about it next time you are watching your favourite programming.  So often television shows and movies paint the antagonists as evil for evil’s sake.  Or if they are shown as having legit motivations, their actions in search of retribution are always shown to be disproportionate to the initial slight.  It’s hard to get on board with villains like this because evil is something morally upstanding people like us just don’t understand (Hint: because it doesn’t exist)

So when we watch media like The Sopranos, or Breaking Bador any number of other examples where the evil characters are shown not just to have motivations, but defensible motivations, we are shown a more realistic perspective.  We laud these shows because they show the causal chain which leads an evil character to do evil.  We see characters like Tony Soprano living the only life he has ever known while at the same time trying to do right by the people he cares about and stay afloat amongst the various everyday pressures of his line of work.  He is never irrationally malicious; on the contrary, when he is malicious, reasons are always given or implied.  Rather than being seem as a rake, we see Tony as an endearing, likeable character.  BUT HE KILLS PEOPLE (DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY) ALL THE TIME.  

And lest we forget that shows like this have pretty mature themes and are not designed to appeal to children.  No, these shows are marketed to adults who have already been programmed since their childhood to view things in terms of good and evil.  But instead of having the desirable effect of educating people that there is no such thing as a good vs. evil duality in real life, I find the more common outcome is that people tend to idolize characters like Tony Soprano and Walter White while still viewing real-life transgressors as evil.  Essentially they have learned nothing from the truth lurking in fiction and have instead built a fantasy around someone who challenges the status quo in ways they do not.  Interpretation fail.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a purpose to having character’s who are good and evil.  In summer blockbuster type movies for example, where there is an emphasis on special effects and plot is relegated to afterthought status, having too complex a villain can take away from the enjoyment of having the CGI Low-Orbit Ion-Cannon destroy him and his base.  After all, if empathy is generated, you might feel pangs of regret seeing him destroyed so roundly.  As an aside, this was actually one of the cooler aspects of 2012’s Dredd 3D.  The villain, MaMa, gets summarily wasted by

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Dredd at movie’s end but as you see her fall through the window to her death it’s hard not to consider her horrible past which the narrative had earlier gone on at length to divulge. She is most certainly a sympathetic character (although she is admittedly vicious), and her summary execution at the hands of Dredd seems like it was a conscious decision by the filmmakers to be an indictment of totalitarian law enforcement as well as our “punishment” approach to crime.  Here was a rare example of a blockbuster style of movie that also did enough character exposition to paint morality in shades of grey.  Great Job!

I hope my point here is clear.  There’s is a reason why TV Tropes tells its contributors not to use real life examples for the good/evil alignment page.  In their words:

“Due to the controversial nature of this trope, and not to mention, it’s considered shoe-horning  to categorize people with these kind of tropes, there will be no real-life examples under these circumstances, since it invites an ‘Edit War.’  

I feel that bit about shoe-horning is particularly important as labeling someone with either a positive or negative distinction negates the whole system(s) which contributed to their disposition and actions at any given time.  You may notice this is me up to my old tricks again, but I really can’ t talk about this shit enough.  Really look at the entertainment, news stories, and opinions you take in and make an effort to scan them for signs of superstitious concepts like good and evil.  You may find they are more prevalent than you would assume in a technologically and scientifically advanced society.

Let me wrap up by explicitly relating the perpetuation of the good vs. evil duality to the proliferation of violence.  To do so, I want to cite Lt. Col. (Ret.) David Grossman’s book, On Killing.  I found one of the most profound parts of that book was where he talked about how militaries around the world have traditionally coaxed young men into killing other young men by establishing some distance or separation from the enemy.  This separation has been along many lines: while Bolshevik leaders may have played up socio-economic distance to incite the oppressed poor of Russia to kill their fellow Russians, the Nazis emphasized genetic and religious distance to dehumanize the Jews and ultimately make the prospect of executing them more palatable to the wretched post-WW1 German population.  At the most basic level, if you want to create distance you play up the good vs. evil angle, painting your side as good and the other side as evil.  If you want to see the ultimate outcome of dehumanizing people like this look no further than the news, where undoubtedly there will be a story somewhere about one group of people killing another group of people for supposedly righteous reasons.

Insofar as our video games reinforce a clear line between good and evil they are harming us by encouraging us to see the world through the lens of duality.  But I think the premise that digitized blood makes people kill is flawed.  By my rationale, my parents should have been less concerned about me playing Mortal Kombat, with its largely morally-ambiguous characters, than they should have been about me playing Super Mario Bros. where the message that evil, giant turtle-dinosaurs are laying in wait to kidnap and rape my girlfriend was constantly being hammered into my head.

Best,

-Andre Guantanamo

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Astapor Syndrome

Friends,

Another weekend gone and so another episode of Game of Thrones has aired.  I have been enjoying this season so far (minus the whole Theon Greyjoy sub-plot, which is just difficult to watch) but I have noticed a trend.  Namely, Daeneryus Targaryan likes to free her some slaves.  Now this compassion for the oppressed isn’t exactly a new thing, as you’ll remember that her standing up for female captives about to be raped by Dothraki raiders in Season 1 is what set in motion the events leading to her husband, Khal Drogo’s death,

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Remember to always use Polysporin on you sword-wounds. 

and later, the birth of her dragons.

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But she has been really amping up her bleeding heart sensibilities in the last few episodes.  There was a plot arc in the first few episodes of the season where, upon arriving in the city of Astapor, she resolved to free all of the city’s slave-soldiers at great personal cost.  Although admittedly she did end up tricking the slavers which culminated in perhaps the series’ best sequence thus far.

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“DRACARYS!”

Fast-forward to last night’s episode, “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” and we see that Daenerys (SPOILER ALERT) is up to her old tricks again.  This time her and her army arrive at the city of Yunkai, and while Ser Friendzone* Jorah makes it explicitly clear that the city has no strategic value, Daenerys has this overwhelming hankeing to liberate the city’s 200,000 slaves.  Furthermore, she demands that the city masters free all of their slaves and load them up with food and riches as recompense for their years of servitude.  Presumably these slaves will go on to live free, happy, and prosperous lives.

Does anyone else see a problem here?

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Take that scene I posted the link to in the second paragraph; she tells thousands of slave-soldiers who have been brainwashed to be obedient, fearless and self-sacrificing their whole lives, that they are now free.  They can either seek life elsewhere or voluntarily join her in taking back Westeros.

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Well, no surprise here, rather than pursue an unfamiliar and foreign lifestyle, these trained killers would rather keep on killing with the nominal distinction that they are now free.  And even though I don’t know how the liberation of Yunkai’s slaves will play out, I can only imagine that the slaves there are similarly ill-prepared for freedom.

Now I don’t want to be misunderstood here; I am not advocating for slavery, or opposing emancipation, but I think that simply telling someone they are free after years of conditioning them to be slaves can’t really work.

Remember this scene from The Matrix?  The key part is when Morpheus tells Neo,

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“Most of these people are not ready to be unplugged.  And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependant on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”

Do you see what I’m getting at here or were you looking at the woman in the red dress?

Whether you wanna call it Stockholm Syndrome or learned helplessness, or simply being a house nigger, I think there are many disenfranchised people (most of the population) that have been so conditioned to see themselves as lowly that they will happily fight for scraps from the table their whole lives rather than attempt to take a seat.

As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” -Proverbs 23:7

Relating this idea back to Game of Thrones, a liberator like Daenerys would realistically (I’m aware of the irony of that word in this context) face a slave population that would largely reject the idea of freedom (or perhaps go on to take their own slaves, like the renegados during the Barbary slaving-era) and she herself would probably have some nagging doubts about the volition of her army of “free men.”

This is one of the things I like about this show: You can watch it absently and take it for face-value or read between the lines and see that there are some important questions it raises.

Best.

-Andre Guantanamo

*This joke was made by my friend, Matt.  Gotta give credit where credit is due

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The Most Useless Threat There Is

Friends,

I’ve been lying awake all night in spite of what was a very tiring (and very good) Thursday yesterday.  I was gonna wait out the whole night and get up with the sun, but at 4am you just have to say fuck it, time to get up!  Lying in bed awake all night is one of those things that has been pretty common for me lately but I don’t react to insomnia with the same stress that I used to react to it with in the past.  This is primarily because I don’t have any pressing engagements that I have to be well-rested or up early for (shout-out to all my under-employed mafuccas with nothing to wake up for in the am lol).

Anyhow, I want to speak briefly about something that has been going through my head these last few hours as I stared up at my ceiling.  You see, the past two days I have had two people threaten to call the cops on me.  The first one was on Wednesday and it was this chick who always seems to be wandering in my apartment hallway, drifting between the apartments of two of my neighbours whom  I suspect whom I am very certain are drug addicts.  So right there I am convinced this girl is up to no good.  But she doesn’t cause any problems so I kind of just look at her with impotent disdain.  That is until two days ago when she wore out her welcome among my building’s residents but didn’t want to leave the building.  She kept hammering on my neighbour, Carol’s door and I could hear Carol telling her to go away.

At this point enough was enough; whatever chemical adventures Carol may or may not be into, she is a sweet lady and she has always been nice to me.  So I went into the hallway and the conversation I had with the girl had me asking her if she even lived in the building and if she could please stop knocking cause obviously Carol didn’t want her around and she was causing a disturbance.  This chick didn’t seem very bright to me and this was confirmed when she accused me of harassing her and said she would call the cops if I didn’t stop.

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I thought this was rich and volunteered to call the cops for her.  I think this threw her for a loop because she seemed positively relieved when Carol relented and let her in.

One important thing to note is that I handled this situation well; I didn’t antagonize her and I remained calm.

Fast forward to the next day (yesterday).

The day started off grey and overcast so when it got sunny and clear in the mid-afternoon I was all about getting to the park, getting my tan on , doing some yoga, and working on a monologue for an upcoming audition.  Now for the record, I bike wherever the fuck I want, and rather than let broad sweeping by-laws prohibiting sidewalk-biking define the parameters of where I cycle, I let common sense prevail and try to avoid the sidewalk if its crowded.

Bearing that in mind I was biking on the road and I crossed onto the sidewalk at a driveway 20 feet before the beginning of the park so as to avoid hopping the curb.  Now some crossing-guard who I had biked past saw me do this and yelled some shit.  I stopped and took out my earphones and he told me I had to get off the sidewalk to which I responded, “No, I don’t,” to which he responded, “Then you’ll get a fine!” to which I yelled back, “I won’t pay it,” as I biked away and into the park.

I settled somewhere in the middle of the park, unfurled my mat and wouldn’t you know it, when he saw that I had stopped, he tentatively thought it over a sec and made his way over to give me grief.

I’d like to tell you about it, but I happened to have my camera running (Please make sure you read the video description).

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I think I ‘clonkered his bonkers’

So yeah, I moved up from harassment to blackmail apparently and unlike the chick from the day before, this guy actually made good on his threat to call the cops.

The cop was actually cool about it and he kind of seemed embarrassed to be there, inferring that decorum dictated he follow up on a complaint made by a fellow municipal worker in uniform.  I was sympathetic to the position he was in and I had since calmed down (notice how gassed I was in that video, especially at the beginning).  I explained that regardless of whether I thought that guy was out of line I should not have escalated it like I did.  The cop seemed to appreciate my earnestness; I can only imagine he has dealt with countless fucktards all too willing to take a trifling matter like this to the supreme court.  I told the cop I would go find the old man and apologize for letting the situation escalate (though not for biking on the sidewalk) but I never got the chance because he finished his shift before I finished frolicking in the park.

Now I’ve been in this lamentable position before: rewind to October 2012 and I entered Toys R’ Us looking for a Batman mask to complete my Bane costume,

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only to be stopped and told that I had to surrender my knapsack => I just realized that I detailed this encounter in an earlier post so I won’t rewrite it.  But the end result was the same as my encounter with Johnny Crossing-Guard: I was not in the wrong but I let my emotions get the best of me and I got suckered into a conflict.  As someone who sees a lot of civil disobedience in my future, I can’t afford to be so careless.

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I take ‘violence’ to mean even violent language and causing hurt feelings

When I mulled over this post in my preceding hours of insomnia, I had crafted the title to encapsulate a certain idea of how futile threats of calling the cops were (Threatening to call the cops is an ultimatum; a Hail Mary thrown by people with no power when they are in way over their heads.  Anyone who has a legit reason to call 5-0 simply calls 5-0).  However, now that this post is written I’m not really sure what it’s about.  Hmmm, let’s just say that the moral of the story is that I’m a badass who is above the law and I’m looking to go 3 for 3 today and hopefully get accused of something more serious than harassment or blackmail.

For serious though, be polite and respectful to everyone you meet even if they are being cunty.  I fact, if they are being cunty they probably need politeness and courtesy even more.

Best,

-Andre Guantanamo

P.S. I feel like I may have left the wrong impression with my contrasting attitudes toward the crossing-guard and the cop.  It’s not like I have less respect for crossing-guards; they perform a valuable service (within the context of our obsolete infrastructure and modes of transportation).  I was heated when the crossing-guard spoke with me and I had chilled out when the cop approached me.  Pus, the cop approached me respectfully and wasn’t barking orders and threats.

Most importantly, he was acting in the capacity of a peace officer, trying to keep John Q. Public from killing each other and whatnot.  Had he started trying to give me tickets and enforcing statutes and regulations there probably would have been a different dynamic to our conversation.  One hopes I would have behaved like an adult, not dishonouring myself, instead of like an idiot as I had a few minutes earlier.

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Filed under Deconstruction, hamilton

A Study in Anti-Heroics

Friendos,

The other night someone posted an image on 4chan outlining the next few movies Marvel will be releasing over the next three summers.  There were definitely some I’m stoked for, like this summer’s “The Wolverine” and of course the second Avengers film which I believe is slated for a summer 2015 release.

However, the one notable omission for me among all of these upcoming movies is the film I have been waiting for for about 20 years now:

Hell yesVenom.

I realize that many of you may not be familiar with Venom so lemme give you a rundown:
Venom is the pairing of disgraced reporter Eddie Brock and an alien symbiote costume originally worn by Spider-Man. Since Brock hated Peter Parker for ruining his journalism career and the symbiote hated Spider-Man for rejecting it (it amped up his aggression) the two made a perfect pairing and were drawn to each other.
The character started out as a villain and nemesis to Spider-Man but eventually evolved into an anti-hero (the anti-hero) of the early 90s. He was like what Stone Cold Steve Austin was to the WWF in the late 90s; proof that morality had shades of grey and that sometimes people wanna cheer for the bad guy.
If you ever saw the third Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movie, Venom makes an appearance toward the end after Topher Grace’s Eddie Brock merges with the black alien goo.

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I had mixed feelings about this character: For starters, I liked Grace’s sleazy portrayal of Brock and it was a believable arc into obsession and madness, but the costumed appearance was a little off (too scrawny) and he never referred to himself as “we” like in the comics.  Also the character was a straight-up villain (not even a sympathetic one like sandman) with no qualms about harming an innocent Mary-Jane.  And if there is one thing Venom is adamant about it’s protecting “innocents.”  And since there was no redeeming aspect to him, there was none of Spider-Man’s internal conflict about stopping him,

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which is one of the things which makes their relationship so interesting.  However, this was understandable considering that he only appears in the movie’s third act and there are two other villains already.  Still, it would have been nice to see more of the complex relationship between him and Spidey.
Short of that I would happily watch a movie about Venom which basically picked up where he “died” in SM3.  Since that trilogy is done and they have since rebooted the Spider-Man franchise, it obviously wouldn’t (couldn’t) be a movie which followed the continued battles between Venom and the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man, but that’s okay because Venom actually had a life and career in California after his earlier career as Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis.

If it were up to me…

Venom’s survival after his apparent death in SM3 could be easily explained away (this is a comic book universe after all).

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They smartly left Venom open for resurrection by showing the symbiote re-accepting Brock seconds before the pumpkin bomb asploded.

In his weakened state he hitch-hikes/stows away out to California, utilizing the costume’s camouflage ability which was never explored in SM3.  Upon reaching San Francisco he could meet up with his father and that relationship could be explored like it was in the “Lethal Protector” story arc while he stumbles upon a crime ring in SF or Oakland. Having already been painted as an asshole in SM3, his better nature could be explored by showing how he protects fellow outcasts (like the SF homeless) as he learns to move on from his defeat at the hands of Spider-Man.
The obvious good thing about this approach is that they could avoid doing an origin story which would necessarily have to involve Spider-Man, who as a Marvel A-lister would necessarily have to steal the show.
Fuck that; we know where Venom came from already and even if the Sam Raimi Spider-Man’s story ended, Venom’s is ripe to be explored.  Simply do a quick montage like during the opening credits of X-Men Origins: Wolverine

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to show how he moved from SM3 to San Francisco and BAM you have an adequately explained hero and possibilities for awesomeness.
There is literally so many places to go with this and Marvel has already proven that a B-list hero can carry a movie.

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Ghost Rider

Even more significantly, a C-lister like Blade not only carried a movie but spawned a trilogy.

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Ultimately if the story is good it doesnt matter how much cultural clout the character has.  After all, the fact that I’d never heard of The Watchmen prior to seeing a trailer for the film didn’t detract from my enjoyment of it.

***

Realistically, do I think I will see the continuing adventures of Topher Grace’s Venom?  No, but I am more concerned with seeing any portrayal of the character than I am with seeing a specific actor’s portrayal (even if I didn’t really take any issue with that actor’s portrayal and feel that the backlash against him was unwarranted).  Hopefully the new rebooted Amazing Spider-Man franchise starring Andrew Garfield will make good use of the character in a way that Raimi’s franchise did not.

So far, the first film in that rebo0t featured the Lizard as a villain,

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while the upcoming sequel features Electro and Rhino,

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three villains who were absent from the Raimi trilogy.  These choices make sense because Spider-Man’s rogues gallery is second perhaps only to Batman’s in size, so repeating various villains in unnecessary.  That said, if one villain deserves a repeat appearance in the third film, it is Eddie Brock’s Venom.  As well as being a key character in any story arc involving the symbiotes (such as Maximum Carnage, Lethal Protector, Separation Anxiety, etc.),

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More than world peace , I would like to see the cinematic equivalent of this drawing.

he is a dark reminder to Spider-man of everything he does not want to be but could easily become if he gave free rein to his emotions.

Best,

-Andre Guantanamo

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