26.05.14

(TW: misogyny, violence, violence against women, death

The main story on the internet at the moment is a pretty difficult one for a lot of people. Yesterday in California, Elliot Rodger shot and killed 7 people after posting a video to youtube detailing his severe and terrifying hatred of women. This act of violent misogyny has sparked a massive conversation about the violence, whether actual, threatened or potential (all of which have serious consequences for women’s lives) that women face; for some, every single day.

If you’re up to it, the #YesAllWomen hashtag on twitter is worth a read, detailing the experiences women have with violence and misogyny, from supposedly minor to major. It inevitably needs to come with major trigger warnings for violence, sexual assault, physical and psychological abuse and death.

Some other interesting (but again, very hard to read) pieces on the shooting and the issues it raises include this piece on The Belle Jar about the problematic way the media has been reporting on this tragedy, especially speculations about Rodger’s mental health. s.e. smith has also written about the issue, focusing on the systemic violence that women (and indeed most people who do not identify as men) face and the fear we are constantly subjected to. Laurie Penny’s piece looks at the ‘not all men’ reaction that women often get when discussing male violence and misogyny. Beatrix Campbell’s piece is not directly about the shooting, but examines neoliberalism as a distinct form of patriarchy (though, be warned, she doesn’t engage with some issues in a particularly critical way).

Before moving on from this horrible subject, I want to take a moment in all the #YesAllWomen discussions to acknowledge that the ability to take such precautions as making knuckle dusters out of one’s keys, or (in jurisdictions that allow it) carrying small weapons like tasers and pepper spray, is not universally available to women. Quite apart from the fact that these precautions may make little difference, the US at least has a history of denying such measures of self-defence to women of colour and trans women. We have to always keep in mind the intersecting lines of identity that silence or lessen the impact of some voices in global discussions of violence.

If you’ve still got the energy for some more devastating and challenging commentary, read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ incredible long-read at The Atlantic on the case for slavery reparations in the US. If the last 36 hours have left you unable to do that right now, please save it and read it later: it is an incredibly important argument and a stunning piece of journalism. The article is meticulously researched and a lot of that research has been posted along with the final product. This interview with Coates is also worth a watch.

Still on institutionalised prejudice, but on a slightly lighter subject, this piece on colonialism in science fiction is an interesting read. I’m especially interested in discussions of political issues in sci-fi right now ’cause I just hit a very stressful story arc in Battlestar Galactica (by the wizard gods, you haven’t seen Battlestar Galactica? Go and watch it right now. No, go and read it after you’ve read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay).

Interest in the story of the nearly 300 kidnapped Chibok girls in Nigeria, has sadly (and almost inevitably) waned of late, so it’s worth reading about the deployment of US troops in Chad to assist the search, some obstacles facing the search, the political ramifications of the crisis in Nigeria and another piece from The Atlantic on the issue (the Atlantic may be my favourite site for current affairs and social commentary at the moment).

Finally, to cheer you up, Alex Casey’s blog at Flicks.co.nz on movie makeovers and why they are the worst is hysterically funny (be warned, do not read immediately before you have to work, or you may, like me, have to explain to people why your mascara is halfway down your face). If you’re a West Wing fan, have a read of this oral history of the show (Allison Janney thought that Gail was the same goldfish for seven years) and go and play with this RIDICULOUS show of nerdery, in which an uber fan has created a giant graphic analysis of the episode ’17 People’.

It’s going to be a hard week, so look after yourselves and each other.

‘Demented stick-chewing cartoon villains’: Othering and the Coverage of Boko Haram.

The story of the approximately 300 girls who were taken from their school in northern Nigeria has finally begun to gain momentum in the global media, after weeks of a relative silence on the crisis.

Al Jazeera’s Listening Post 03/05/14 – first 10 minutes are about media coverage of Boko Haram

The coverage of the crisis, however, especially of Boko Haram, uses familiar tropes and narratives to frame and characterise the situation and its actors, invoking the image of the Chibok girls as ‘bravely going to school despite the danger they face every day’ much like Pakistani teenager and activist Malala Yousafzai. Boko Haram are described as ‘militant Islamists’ or ‘Islamic extremists’ in almost every story about them and while it is hard to deny that the group are indeed militants and that they invoke Islam to justify their actions, this frame is used to other and derealise not just Boko Haram, but also their victims.

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Context: A map of the attacks by Boko Haram in the last 4 years.

Judith Butler, in Precarious Life, discusses the ‘derealisation’ of certain groups of people – specifically of Guantànamo detainees – by defining them as existing outside of the bounds of humanity and what it is to be human. The Gitmo detainees – along with other manifestations of the ‘militant Islamist’  – are “reduced to animal status,” unable to control themselves; their ‘nature’ is to kill and cause suffering to innocents. Of particular relevance to the Boko Haram coverage is Butler’s description of the impact that the use of a ‘mental illness’ frame in relation to Islamic extremists can have on perceptions of Islam as a whole:

…it is not simply selected acts undertaken by Islamic extremists that are considered outside the bounds of rationality as established by a civilizational discourse of the West, but rather any and all beliefs and practices pertaining to Islam that become, effectively, tokens of mental illness to the extent that they depart from the hegemonic norms of Western rationality. 

The belief that violent Islamic groups (and by extension, Islam itself) are ‘insane,’ ‘barbaric’ and ‘villainous’ is one that is perpetuated in global media coverage and is confirmed by the representation of Muslims and specifically Arab peoples (these groups are often conflated) in popular entertainment.

There is no better recent example of this derealisation in action than that provided by the comedian and host of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart, in his segment on Boko Haram:

Jon Stewart on Boko Haram

In the last 30 seconds of this clip, Stewart describes Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau as a ‘demented cartoon villain’ in a sombrely-delivered statement that manages to include almost every major trope that has been employed in the coverage of this story so far:

Compared to a teenager who knows that her desire for an education could get her dragged into a snake-infested jungle to be sold as a bride by some demented, stick-chewing cartoon villain, but still gets up and goes to class every day fully aware of that danger, compared to their courage, I’d say Boko Haram is a bunch of little girls. But you know what? You don’t deserve that compliment.

While Stewart is a comedian who makes no real claims about being a journalist, satirical news shows like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and the new Last Week Tonight are a significant source of information for American and global audiences and thus play an important role in shaping the way stories are told. Stewart’s characterisation of Boko Haram as ‘cartoonish’ and their victims as ‘daily struggling against insurmountable odds’ (odds which are hugely overblown in Stewart’s assessment of the situation), confirms the derealisation of both groups, ignores the context and complexities of the situation and the impact of the region’s colonial past.

If the abducted girls’ lives were already unliveable and the people responsible are no more threatening than a cartoon character, then what, in fact, is the story?

Some Pop Culture Thoughts

My exams have been over for a week and a half, so naturally I’ve been inhaling TV like a bowl of spicy wedges with sour cream. If we’re being COMPLETELY honest the TV-inhalation started during the exams, in fact the exam period is generally my peak TV-watching period. I thought I would kickstart my new attempt at regular non-tumblr-blogging with a round-up of some of the things I’ve been watching recently and my random thoughts about them.

Cybill

I’m going through a bit of a Christine Baranski obsession at the moment (OMGSHE’SSOAMAZINGILOVEHER) so I watched all four seasons of Cybill on youtube. For those of you who don’t know, Cybill is a 90s sitcom featuring the apparently famous Cybill Sheridan (I’d seriously never heard of her, except about three eps in I realised she was madam-sexy-film-lady in The L Word, so there’s that) playing herself, except in a world where she isn’t famous. Cybill Shepherd (we see what you did there) deals with her flagging career as a character-actress, her two ex-husbands (one stunt man, one neurotic lawyer-turned-acclaimed-author), her two daughters (one of which, played by Alicia Witt, is the most ridiculously beautiful person I’ve ever seen) and her boozy, criminally-obsessive best friend Maryann (CHRISTINE MY ANGEL) who spends her entire life trying to get back at her ex-husband by covering his stereo in molasses. Among other things.

It’s a typical mostly banal sitcom but for some reason (probs Christine Baranski) I watched like 80 episodes of it. It has its moments of brilliance though, like Tony Bennet showing up and hanging out in bed with Cybill and Maryann. Or any time Cybill and Maryann sing. It’s also a showcase of 90s before-they-were-famous moments (featuring such Hollywood giants as Jane Lynch, Seth Green, Dot Marie Jones and that guy who played John Hoynes in the West Wing). I think what kept me watching it though were the sincere, if often forced in terms of the tone, references to what I would call ‘women’s issues’ if I were a rural vicar in sixties Britain. The show deals with things like menopause and periods, with double standards about ageing in Hollywood and its obsession with beauty.

Also Christine Baranski wears ridiculous outfits, drinks vodka martinis like water, commits criminal damage and sneers her ex-husband’s nickname ‘Doctor Dick’ every ten seconds.

The whole thing is on youtube (BLESS YOU INTERNET) so have a go. It is in no way important television, but it’s fun. Watch out for the creepy nineties-spirituality/rampant cultural appropriation though. It’s self-aware appropriation a lot of the time, but still.

The Fosters

This show is the cutest. It’s on ABC family, so it’s obviously full of cheese and is a little lacking in the subtlety department, but I love it. Mostly because of Stef and Lena, the two mums (I nearly wrote ‘moms’ there, has it come to this?!) of the Foster family. Stef is my favourite, she’s a police officer who seems to have to wear her uniform in almost every scene (kinky) and manages to be cagey and emotionally available at the same time. Lena is awesome too, if a little too willing to let herself become too invested in things. The kids are interesting for the most part: Brandon is a little bland, Jesus is such a cutie and Mariana is your typical self-involved 14-year-old with very little understanding of how her actions have consequences. This is of course complicated by the fact that her birth mother is back in the picture. The most interesting character is of course the Fosters’ foster kid Callie (did they REALLY have to call them ‘the Fosters’?) who is dark and beautiful and mysterious. I think the greatest appeal of the show is that it features a multi-racial family with two mums and some foster kids, which allows a lot of very important things to be discussed. For example, the latest episode includes a conversation between Lena and her mother about light-skinned privilege and what it is to be black in the USA which (as has been pointed out by people smarter than me) is an amazing thing to happen on US TV. Additionally to the show being great, the Autostraddle recaps are worth reading even if you don’t watch.

Hannibal

If you follow my tumblr you’ll know that I am a rabid fannibal. Now that the He-Ate-Us has begun (yes, we know, we’re out of control obsessed, leaning towards pathetic. Just realise that there’s no more episodes until next year, so it can only get worse. Hopefully not Sherlock-level worse though) I am of course re-re-re-watching the whole thing. I just re-watched Oeuf (or as the USians appear to be weirdly calling it: Ceuf. Yeah I don’t know either) and come things fell into place in my mind about that episode. (Warning: spoilers are forthcoming). The threads of the episode’s discrete and ongoing plots are expertly wound together, but in a much more subtle way than Meredith’s voiceovers in Grey’s Anatomy, so they don’t feel as moralising as these kind of theme-eps usually do. As my friend Jon would say: you can’t see the edges in this show. The contrast between Molly Shannon’s character’s attempts to make a family by violence and Hannibal’s artful manipulation of the vulnerable Abigail serves to make Hannibal all the more terrifyingly compelling as a character. Probably because although her methods are chilling, MS does what she does out of her own twisted need for love, whereas the creation of Abigail’s new ‘family’ is done entirely to serve Hannibal’s as yet unrevealed agenda. I’m not sure that any of that made sense, but you should watch the show anyway. I think it’s the best crime drama I’ve ever seen. That’s including all the British ones by the way.

Anyway, read that post of Jon’s that I linked to, ’cause it is honestly brilliant.

Top of the Lake

I’ve got one episode to go on Top of the Lake (it’s taken a while to get through it because it is so so hard to watch) and while I can see that it is brilliant, I have my qualms. It’s a great example of the New Zealand Gothic, the lake and the landscapes acting as powerful characters in the story, and the mystery is extremely compelling, but I have problems with the way it is portraying NZ. I and every other New Zealander who watches the show will know that it features a New Zealand which doesn’t actually exist. We don’t allow minors to be interviewed alone by police officers, we don’t call mental health hospitals ‘asylums’ anymore (because we’re not 1890s Britain: newsflash) and I’m pretty sure that Queenstown is not actually a drug-fueled millionaire’s playground rife with child prostitution. Also rapists don’t get treated like prisoners at Guantanamo, they either escape investigation, get prosecuted or go on to have a successful sporting career. I’m not denying that these things happen in NZ by any means, but Top of the Lake makes the South Island look like a modern AU Game of Thrones, complete with a character who is a mixture of Balon Greyjoy and Craster (Matt Mitcham, obvs) and one who I’m pretty sure is going to turn out to be the Littlefinger of the piece, perhaps with a drop of Walder Frey (Al Parker). I’m surprised that Jane Campion, a New Zealander, was comfortable presenting NZ as an incredibly backwards place, especially as I don’t think it was necessary to the drama of the show. I just hope that people who watch it (especially Brits who it was made for) don’t think that our country is actually like Top of the Lake. In fact, we are increasingly turning into the United Kingdom. This must be how Swedish people feel.

Good Wife

I’m 3/4 through a re-watch of the Good Wife (Christine Baranski, duh) and I don’t have much more to say beyond COME BACK GOOD WIFE I NEED YOU. Except: I have come to the realisation that Kalinda Sharma basically IS the girl from Short Skirt/Long Jacket by Cake. ‘I want a girl with uninterrupted prosperity / who uses a machete to cut through red tape. / With fingernails that shine like justice /  and a voice that is dark like tinted glass / she is fast and thorough and sharp as a tack…’ Seriously. That is Kalinda.

Suits

Meh. If the whole show was about Gina Torres’ character then maybe I would get more into it, but it just feels to me like yet another show about a straight white male mentor-mentee relationship, but without anything different to hook me in. The fact that Michelle Fairley is going to show up at some point may be enough to keep me going, but two-thirds through season one I’m still unconvinced. I was amused by a suggestion from a work mate that Mike Ross is a young and impressionable Jeff Winger though. Think about it: they even have the same forehead.

Is it just me or is The Pacific a bit shit?

It is isn’t it? Based on how amazing Band of Brothers was, The Pacific isn’t measuring up. It’s quite good, but that’s it. Granted TV One decided not to show the interviews with the actual soldiers, which is the whole point, but still.

Aaaaaaanyway.

Spent today not yelling at really stupid people. It’s on days like today that I wish I lived in a Reginald Perrin sort of universe where I could lapse into a fantasy world in which wrecking balls smash into annoying mothers-in-law and things like that.

“How come you don’t have any stampbooks?”

“BECAUSE WE’VE RUN OUT, THAT’S WHY!!”

My family is now having a long discussion about the various tenses of the verb ‘to forget’

NERDS

A Post

So I haven’t posted in a while, so here is a post. Not much has changed here in the land of overpriced books, stationery and nick nacks, except a new soundtrack (thank goodness) largely made up of 80s music. People are still stupid (Don’t you have 5 cent coins in this country?) (Do you have a book on the 70s era Czechoslovakian sewer system? No, I don’t know the title or the author…), products are still weird (It’s a pack of erasers cunningly disguised as crayons, yes), and I’m still underpaid. I’ve become obsessed with many more TV series since I last posted: Boston Legal (Denny Crane), Beautiful People, Weeds and Kingdom (avec le Stephen Fry).

I’ve not read many books, but I could inform you about a decent amount of contract law (up to Fletcher Challenge v ECNZ).

I’ve nearly finished No Logo by Naomi Klein, which has made me not only wildly anti-corporate, but also enraged by things which happened ten years ago (it’s the tenth anniversary edition) and a bit of a hypocrite. I’ve read it while drinking diet coke, eating McDonalds and (GASP) drinking a Dark Mocha Frappucino in the House of Evil aka Starbucks. The only place one pays seven dollars for ice and syrup. But I s’pose at least I feel the hypocrisy instead of obliviously consuming unethical goods (desperate justification).

I have a new Sassy Gay Friend (let’s call him Patrick Wolf) who is awesome, but don’t tell him I said so, I’ll never hear the end of it.

Also, I found this:

This guy is trippy.