Sunday, 24 November 2013

Words Still Have Meanings

So I'm back, and I am once again compelled (not really) to point out that words have meanings.  The English language, as well as History, are commonly suffering serious abuse from the ignorant and the mendacious, and while it is true that language is fluid, facts are not.  A recent controversy reared its perfectly coiffed head when Sarah Palin, part-time governor of Alaska, complained that President Obama's economic policies were putting the US in debt to China and this was, on the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, just like slavery.  This is patently absurd, though as with everything in the history of ever, apologists appear to try to polish this turd.  Usually the explanation is along the lines of "the Bible/dictionary describes debt as also being slavery in a sense", which would be remotely relevant if Palin were capable of reading either.  The context of her remarks make it clear the particular type of slavery to which she was referring, and MSNBC's Martin Bashir took great offense.

Then his offense caused offense in the Republican camp, because they cannot accept that anyone on their primitive tribal side could ever do anything remotely wrong.  Bashir summed up the horror of slavery with a story from the diary of a slave owner who recounted twice forcing one slave to shit in the mouth of another.  He then used this as a pointed attack on Palin having the temerity to imply that one country owing money to another (most of that debt, as it happens, having been accrued under the previous Republican administration, often off the books), and suggested that if she had gone through something similar, she would not be so casual or ignorant with her terminology.

Cue sharp intakes of breath and a torrent of appalled commentators at Bashir's remarks.  The man even spelled out the word 'shit' on TV!  Appalling.  Outrageous.  Completely inappropriate.  Even liberals were disgusted with Martin Bashir, though they were quick to continue sniping at Fox News' professional outrage in their own way.  Just not while defending Bashir, you know.  They do not condone what he said, because saying Palin should eat shit and die is completely indefensible.

I can defend Bashir's remarks, and I shall: he didn't say Sarah Palin should be forced to eat shit, he said that if she had an inkling of what it was like to be the sort of person others found it acceptable to force to eat shit, that might be enough to get her to understand what slavery truly is and how wildly inappropriate her remarks about debt to China were. His point was that she lacks empathy and lacks perspective and her entirely selfish nature means it may require simply putting her through the same circumstances in order for her to get it. He did not, at any point, suggest that it should actually be done. It was a colourful and complex metaphor pushing back against an obtuse and despicable abuse of history.  It was, in a word, accurate.

The commentariat of the left has got to stop crumbling into a litany of mea culpas the second somebody says something a bit awkward. This woman could have ended the world with her ignorance if she got into the White House, she encouraged shooting political opponents, and we're falling over ourselves to make sure we're clear that we don't condone somebody insulting her in a manner deliberately misunderstood by the Republican whinge machine?  I call enormous, several storeys tall and stinking bullshit on that.

And The Blaze's Amy Holmes can fuck off with her infantile remarks about Bashir's show not having particularly high ratings. This is fucking politics you fucking moron, not a playground argument about which comic book hero is better because he sold the most issues. When the commentary turns from pushing back against bullshit to hand-wringing and token apologies for daring to say something that is true, this kind of inane crap gets to be floated unchallenged and the viewing public get just a little dumber by osmosis.

Now, since I said the word 'fuck' a couple of times, obviously I am much worse than a serial liar who ignores reality and upends political discourse on a zany whim between helicopter hunting trips.  At this point, might as well contort what I said into a suggestion that Palin should be fucked by a polar bear or something equally ludicrous and flat out wrong, because in the present media climate, what you say and what they hear are two entirely different things.

Until next time, your moment of zen:

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Nice Day For A Red Wedding

June 2nd, 2013: a day which will live in infamy.  That Sunday night, the world sat in their living rooms, holding their loved ones, and stared at the bright and blaring box that we call television as horror on an unprecedented and unimaginable scale unfolded before their very eyes.  That night and into the next morning, bleary eyed and hoarse from crying, the masses sent out a collective groan of anguish across all forms of media.  They were confused: How could this happen?  What will happen next?  They were angry: Who let it happen?  Why did it have to happen?  When will the bastards who did it get what is coming to them?  People talked of revenge, and people talked of turning away in disgust and never looking at this brutal, horrific world again.

That world is the universe of Game of Thrones.  Naturally, spoilers for Season 3, Episode 9 are to follow.

In the few days since the massacre of the Starks in the event known as the Red Wedding, I have been struck at the reaction by many fans of the Game of Thrones series.  First, I have to say how much I admire the capacity of those who have read the books to keep a lid on what was coming.  Spoilers appeared here and there, but it was not so ubiquitous that I, a layperson who kind of likes the TV show, had come across any inkling of what was about to happen.  I found out at the same moment Catelyn did, and if I weren't a robot I imagine I would have been shocked and dismayed much like her.

Shock and dismay, though, is putting very mildly what appears to have happened to the collective culture that calls itself Game of Thrones viewers.  The Internet has been flooded with memes over the episode, news shows have thrown their tuppence worth in, and in forums across the web I continually see angry, stunned fans express a peculiar sentiment: this is the final straw.  The almost annihilation of the Starks means they will not watch this program any more, and the reason is that it is too painful and upsetting to endure the torment and death of their favourite characters.

Um... what?

Game of Thrones is a fictional TV series, based on a collection of fantasy novels.  It is a story where lots of nasty characters do nasty things to one another.  It is a heavily political story, and we all know politics does not make for a world that has clear good and bad guys.  The Starks aren't saints, and even if they were, this maudlin response as though the Red Wedding was this generation's 9/11 is perplexing.  These people are not real.  Their deaths did not actually happen.  And I get that the viewers know that, this is not a rant at a stupid strawman who bizarrely cannot tell fantasy from reality.  What I am getting at is this strange anger and resentment that came about in response to this plot twist.  So many viewers seem furious at the show, at the novels, at the author himself, for killing characters they happened to like.  So furious, in fact, that there have been numerous cries of "I'm not watching any more".

Why would you not watch any more?  Is it not the stuff of melodrama and the basis of conflict for the protagonists to be beaten down to their lowest ebb and to come clawing back?  Is it just not acceptable for bad things to happen to characters you like?  This is like deciding to stop watching Star Wars because Luke got his hand cut off.  It is shutting down the story in a fit of pique, before giving the author a chance to redress the balance.

Perhaps they fear, with good reason, that the balance will never actually be redressed.  Perhaps viewers are starting to hide behind their proverbial couches because they are terrified that the show won't end the way they want it to.  This is Game of Thrones, after all.  But to that, I have to ask... so what?  You are not the writer, you are the viewer.  Pardon me if this sounds high handed, but it's not your job to decide where the story goes next.  Stories unfold how they will, and you can enjoy them or not.  If you find yourself not enjoying a rather bleak story where the good guys keep getting a pasting, by all means stop.  There is no obligation to carry on a story that turns down a path you would rather not follow.  But there appears to have been a strange sense of betrayal in the reaction to the Red Wedding, as though G.R.R. Martin and HBO are just trying to upset people by daring to steer their own ship their way.  I have seen forum posters argue that next week, the fans will have to be appeased.  Have to?  Since when?  Next week the only thing that has to happen is whatever has been scripted to happen.  Where do fans get this idea that creative endeavours are a zero-sum game where everything they don't like has to be off-set by something more pleasant?

Perhaps it is simply the shock that has got people upset.  I certainly did not expect most of the 'good guys' to get wiped out at the dinner table, and even for Game of Thrones the level of violence was extreme.  Yet even those who saw it coming had trouble accepting what occurred.  I have seen numerous people describe how they read the scene and then threw the book at the wall, in the trash, or out the window.  Some people gave up on the books right there.  Some describe watching the TV show, knowing it was coming, but hoping that for no apparent reason the producers would make something different occur.  They were heartbroken to discover the TV show pretty much made it worse than on the page.  And all the time I can only wonder: why?  Why would you expect something different, and why does it matter so much that something bad happened to some fictional people?  Let the story go where it is going.  Again, if you don't like it feel free to get off the bus, and if you think there's something wrong about the show there's nothing wrong with saying so.  Still, it appears this is not an issue of quality; I haven't heard any arguments that Martin's plot is poorly written or problematic for technical reasons.  It's just that a lot of fans really don't like what actually ends up occurring.  It is as though they are happy to view the stark (pardon the pun) and cold world Martin has created, but are not at all comfortable dealing with the ramifications of it.  There seems to be a great reluctance to accept that bad things happen and the designated good guys aren't necessarily going to win.

So, what is going on here?  Is the reaction to the Red Wedding happening as expected overblown and kind of entitled?  Does it come from a place of fear of bad things happening and not being able to stop them?  Or is there something wrong with me and I cannot grasp the connection people have to fictional characters, so do simply cannot fathom their outrage?  Feel free to let me know.

Until next time, here's your moment of zen:

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Numbers Have Meanings

I have spoken a few times about how important it is to remember that words have meanings.  Since they have meanings, we must be clear about what we mean when we used them, and as a writer I always aim to be judicious and accurate in the terms I lay down like so many bricks in the wall.  It will not do to throw around words willy-nilly when writing a story, otherwise the real meaning of your piece is lost, and the weight of your terms is diluted.  When a character is a 'murderer', I mean a murderer, somebody who decides to kill other human beings.  I don't mean somebody who killed a friend in a terrible boating accident.  In real life, I have pointed out that words like bigot do have an application, and you cannot simply wash the label off yourself if you make yourself sticky enough to wear it in the first place.  Try as many a homophobe might, cries of "I'm not a bigot but..." immediately negates the first four words of their own sentence.

Now, I'd like to point out that numbers, too, have meanings.  This is not a quasi-existential conundrum or any attempt at fuzzy mathematics.  I'm not very good at maths anyway, so I am not going to compound on how 2+2 can equal 5 (apparently it can, for adequate values of 2, and not only in the world inhabited by Fox News).  2 is a good number to start with.  2 is the chart position of a particular song in the UK singles chart.  2 is the number of times I can recall that the British Broadcasting Corporation has chosen to obscure the position of a song in that same chart.  The first time was when the Sex Pistols' God Save The Queen appeared, which was considered far too politically inconvenient to air.  Now such aggressive and troubling punk rock seems almost quaint, but its anti-fascist message apparently has not been heeded, as the BBC has whitewashed today's chart and allowed only a five second clip of Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead to appear in the news instead.

Yes, yes, calling the BBC fascist and getting bent out of shape about a song is rather petty.  But it is no more petty than an organisation that is meant to report simple information like the position of a song in a chart deciding that, since a song's position may be embarrassing, the song must be buried.  And it is not simply the dodging of playing an embarrassing song; it is a purposeful effort to alter history.  A transparent, incompetent attempt, that makes the BBC look suspect and brings their general credibility into question.  If they will in essence cover up a song because it doesn't suit the political climate, what else will or have they obscured from the public?

The BBC is not alone.  If one were to Google "UK singles chart" right now, the results would provide info taken directly from both the BBC and the Official UK Chart.  The former mysteriously omits song number 2 from the top three visible on Google; the latter simply lies and pretends song number 2 is something else.  Of course visiting the actual sites provides the real data (though for some reason the Official UK chart does not provide a 'buy' link for the number 2 song), but if one were simply surfing on Google, one would be misinformed.  This is not an accident.  This is not important, in isolation, but if a song is enough to get these bodies so worked up they will simply lie, why should they ever be trusted?

Worse than burying information, the BBC have opened themselves up to accusations of bias as they did play I'm In Love With Margaret Thatcher in full.  This has been adopted as an anthem in opposition to those who are celebrating her death, though in reality the band behind it, the Notsensibles, have said their intention was satirical.  The BBC also, in the five seconds they did air of Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead broadcast the eponymous line.  If they were so concerned about offending and upsetting people they had to bury the song, why air the specific line that would be most concerning?  The BBC insists they were acting out of balance, but they appear to have fallen flat on their faces, pleasing nobody and shredding their credibility all to avoid taking a decisive editorial stance.

In their intention to avoid controversy/reality, the BBC have made this minute-long song a national issue.  Their objective appears to have been shielding a nation from its own opinion, and in their arrogance they think they have both the right and capability of doing so.  What has really happened is that people sitting in their bedrooms have clicked a button to download a song and the result is the British Broadcasting Corporation felt obliged to mangle reality. That’s power. None of these ordinary people will get state funerals, or see anything like the £10-£40 million spent on them in their lifetime, nevermind just to put them in the ground, but their simple act of defiance has rattled the halls of power. Like Toto, we have pulled back the curtain, and pay attention to what cowering and weak mortals lie behind it.

Here it is, today's moment of zen: