Archives for category: Social Criticism

Movies shape our view of the world. We are socialized not just by our parents and peers, but by the stories we consume, and movies are one of the most predominant storytellers of our current era. This makes the content of films of paramount importance. We can learn courage and determination from John McClane. We can learn responsibility from Spider-Man. We can learn about changing the world from Neo. Our virtues are shaped by the heroes we learn to emulate, since the very practice of storytelling puts the protagonist on a pedestal. A generation growing up on anti-heroes is likely to be as cynical and morose as their paragons, learning that these are admiral qualities to embody.

Rick

Rick is genuinely a bad and miserable person. The show is quite clear on that. Fans struggle to emulate against him rather than from him because of the nature of the protagonist pedestal. Similar things can be said of Bojack Horseman. I know these are TV shows. Shut up.

SJWs seem to be aware of this, and so a new spat of movie trends throw women and ethnic minorities into the protagonist role, allowing these demographics to see a hero that they can relate to. This then allows black youths to learn responsibility from Miles Morales rather than Peter Parker. We now have Katniss Everdeen to teach us how to be fearless, and Melissa McCarthy to teach us how to bust ghosts.

This seems to anger some people. Those who think that women can’t bust ghosts or that black youths can’t be responsible decry this new trend as ruining film. There are those who, regardless of quality, think that these kinds of movies just shouldn’t even be made. Soon, films won’t have white men at all, and it’ll be the great replacement all over again! It’s that cancer Feminism running amok once more!

Ghostbusters

What’s next? A remake of Leprechaun with a female leprechaun!? UNACCEPTABLE! Leprechauns can’t be female!

Let’s take a deeper look at our lessons from these common tropes. We might learn to be responsible, but it’s a responsibility to our tribe at the exclusion of the Other. We might learn courage, but it’s a courage to defend the normal rather than a courage of standing up as someone different. We might learn to change the world, but if we’re changing it into an exact copy of what has come before, this type of change is more an enforcement of the status quo rather than its repudiation.

Is this trend truly feminist? Carol Gilligan, a notable feminist, would likely disagree. All of our ethical systems since the ancient Greeks have been philosophized by men. And not just any kind of men, but men who grew up in societies that did not care about women at all. This means that these ethical systems that they devised were not informed by the situations of women whatsoever. Gilligan decided to ask the question, what if we considered women when thinking of ethical systems? Thus arose the ethics of care.

The ethics of care is born in contrast to what is typically called the ethics of justice. The ethics of justice represent systems of ethics that see moral situations in objective terms. There is a right answer, whether that rightness is determined deontologically or consequentially, and that right answer is determined in the abstract. The ethics of care seeks to find rightness is the salvaging of relationships, of meeting needs, and existing in concrete situations that are determined by the individuals and the relationships they share. While Gilligan does not dismiss the intentions of justice, she does seek to imbue care into that system in order to incorporate women’s perspectives into the ethical discourse.

in a different voice

This is coming from a book, one of the least predominant storytellers of our current era.

If this is a feminist ethic, then very few of these movies are actually feminist at all. The latest Terminator movie (Dark Fate) perfectly encapsulates this distinction. The villain is literally an unfeeling machine that will not stop. Regardless of how many Hispanic women you throw into this movie, it is a film defined by a relationship that cannot be repaired. Patriarchal ethics exist in a Manichean dichotomy that pits absolute, rigid and uncompromising evil against absolute (though occasionally nuanced) good. Feminist ethics cannot exist in this universe because the way the villain is written. If these kinds of stories are what shape our virtues, when we look at our universe, it is much easier to see our own antagonists as dogmatically inflexible monsters who cannot be bargained with. What this means is that Doctor Strange is actually more feminist than the 2016 Ghostbusters film because it conceives of a solution wherein the villain (after some degree of coercion, sure) settles their score through a dialogue. The villainy of the ghosts allows no such relationship.

The socialization that these kinds of films are expanding is actually patriarchal in nature. They indoctrinate their viewers into an ethic of domination, of a good guy with a gun ultimately crushing a bad guy with a gun, but now the good guy can be a good black woman with a gun. Those angry with these films correctly assert that they are propaganda, as all stories are propaganda for the ideology that underlie them, Die Hard as much as Into The Spider-Verse, it’s just that the propaganda isn’t feminist.

Post-Script: For those who read the title and expected a listicle, and still made it this far, congratulations on your attention span!

New year, new beginnings. Time to start fresh. Throw the old ‘you’ into the trash fire from whence you came and rise like a new, slightly-less-trashy phoenix. That’s what we all seem to want: not just a new beginning, but to be rid of the mistakes of the past. We are no longer that horrid person who doesn’t eat well or doesn’t call their mom. We are better, and it’s best that we just forget that jerk we used to be.

DumpsterFire2

Rise from the ashes!

How do you measure a beginning? Is the beginning of a house when the lot is cleared or when the first nail is driven? When the architect completes the design or when they first dream up the idea? What about World War II? Did it start with the invasion of Poland or China? With the machinations or the election of Hitler? Or was the stage set by the end of the first War, simmering for decades? What about the current tensions with Iran? There are those alive today who have lived through the assassination of Suleimani and the coup of Mosaddegh. Sometimes we long for the simplicity of a beginning because it gives us the convenience of dismissing everything that has come before.

The truth is there are no firm beginnings. Our world is beset by temporal gradients. History is a long series of blurred events bleeding into one another. So it goes with our own lives. However, we try desperately to reject this reality. The question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, is a repudiation of evolution in favour of enforcing a concrete origin. The Sorites paradox offers a much better reflection of reality for acknowledging the ambiguity of beginnings.

egg came first

It’s just inconsiderate

If we want to change, we need to take into account, not just the entirety of our lives, but the context of the history around us. We would need to accommodate our previous habits, the caliber of our will, the willingness of our surroundings to accept our change, the conditions that shaped both our selves and our environment, and then the maintenance of that change in the face of the constant flux of both our selves and our environments.

Who do you think has a better shot at overcoming trauma? The person who accepts that it happened, recognizes their triggers, and has developed the necessary skills in the face of those things, or the person who chooses to begin anew? The problem is that whether we believe in starting fresh or not, the reality of the world around us and the psychological history within us will carry on regardless. What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas, that would be absurd; it just adds another drop to the soup of our collected experiences.

The alcoholic who relapses after 10 years of sobriety is not starting from scratch, just as the Resolutioner at the gym is not a tabula rasa upon which a lifestyle of fitness can now be engraved. We shouldn’t live our lives denying the gradual evolution of our selves. We shouldn’t accept yearly incremental distinctions as any more valuable than our astrological signs. Make change by growing out of who you’ve always been, not because some doomed-to-fail tradition tells you it’s time.

The traditional motto of the police department is to “Serve and Protect.” The police are supposed to protect the innocent from the criminal, so it might come as shocking that the Hong Kong protesters are calling for the abolition of the Hong Kong police department. Of course, Westerners might read this and think, “Well, obviously they would want to get rid of the police! They live under the tyrannical regime of COMMUNISTS!” No one would bat an eye at someone wanting to abolish the Gestapo in Nazi Germany. Not in a modern context, anyway. The police becomes the arm of government oppression when the system is rigged against the people (or a specific demographic of people). Whoever dictates what is legal and what is criminal uses the intrinsic violence of the police (to either restrain, detain, or attack) as the power to enforce its decision.

fascit police

Don’t look at me, I just enforce what’s right and wrong. Who decides what’s right or wrong? Stop asking questions.

For added nuance, the Black Lives Matter movement made a similar call to abolish the police in the United States. When white supremacy is the systemic norm, black people become viewed as criminally-inclined compared to their white counterparts, so the police become the manifestation of that racist imbalance. When race is criminalized, when poverty is criminalized, when mental health is criminalized, when drug abuse is criminalized, then intrinsic police violence becomes directed at those demographic. Getting rid of the cops, in theory, would force us to confront the problems within these demographics non-violently.

If drug use was no longer illegal, then we would need to help drug addicts instead of locking them up. Treatment would become the default. If we could no longer lock up the poor, we would have to find them stable housing and make sure they had enough to support themselves so they would no longer need to game the system in order to survive. Mental health would somewhat ironically become a health issue, and those whose underlying issues causes them to act out in anti-social behaviours could only be helped instead of punished. We would probably have to shift our cultural view of violence as being the solution to all our problems so that those who commit violence to solve their problems would do less of that, too. We would need to refocus on rehabilitation as a solution, on help as a solution, on compassion as a solution. Cuz if we didn’t, society would collapse into a miasma of inhuman chaos and brutality!!

And that’s the thing about abolishing the police. If the monopoly on “legitimate” violence dissolves, a power vacuum appears. It’s why libertarianism is a terrible idea: if the government is abolished, then those with the most power (corporations) would step up and dominate with their unchecked and unregulated sovereignty. If the police disappear, then those currently with power, and this could be as little power as an abusive husband to as much power as a drug kingpin, will be able to execute that power without regulation.

emot-ab

Quick! Call the BLM movement to remove him from the house!

This isn’t to disregard the absolutely solid arguments that both the Hong Kong protesters and Black Lives Matter movement make. The police, without a doubt, are the arm of systemic oppression within the state apparatus. The goal should always be anarchism. The issue is always the method of achieving that. The problem with libertarianism (or anarcho-capitalism) is that it wishes for anarchy within the cultural context of today. If we cede police power to anarchism within our current societal context, the violence that exists within our world now will continue to manifest itself; simply in new, unchecked ways.

I believe in a more incrementalist approach: similar to social workers whose goals are ultimately to end the apprehension of children from families, the goal of the police should be to work themselves out of a job. We obviously need to work on cultural transition, poverty reduction, race relations, mental health issues, and so on, but so long as power imbalances exist, then having a police force that is even minimally under popular control (in that we in the West have a small say in who writes their paychecks and holds them accountable) is better than allowing the unchecked power of some other violent agency to shape our legal and social framework. What we need is a new world. In order to reach that new world, we should no longer look at the police as a static necessity, but as a dynamic institution geared towards its own demise.