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Race Swap Casting Choices: When’s it OK?

A local anime group recently shared a link to a Yahoo news article about fans petitioning for an upcoming Ghost in the Shell adaptation to replace Scarlett Johansen with a Japanese actress:

If we’re going to talk about Hollywood’s race problem, let’s get really real about it—not only do African-American actors get whitewashed by the entertainment industry, but so do Asian actors, even (maddeningly) when parts specifically call for an Asian character.

The petition itself (64k out of 65k signees at the time of this writing) goes on:

The original film is set in Japan, and the major cast members are Japanese. So why would the American remake star a white actress?

nick fury cast as black guy: COOL
anyone else cast as white person: THAT’S RACIST
this is a double standard. Is it changing the race of a character that some people dislike, or just white people?

this also reminds me of people telling black people that they can’t cosplay light-skinned anime characters. It’s like, a fictional story and made-up character. Is race central to the story being told or to the characters? Is it important that Sailor Moon has light skin and can’t be a black girl? Is it really important that everyone in GitS is Japanese?

I personally found the (white and indian) casting choices in The Last Airbender movie annoying since the fantasy cultures and martial arts were so obviously East-Asian. I also thought it was weird that Heimdall, “the white god” from nordic mythology was cast as a black guy in Thor. But these are instances where the ethnic culture is central to the character or story – and the race swap is conspicuous.

Other times, arguably like GitS, or turning Hermione black in the new Harry Potter play, doesn’t really affect the character or story in any way. The character’s race is kind of besides the point.

I’m honestly not an expert on GitS, having only seen a couple episodes, and the more recent film. But from what I know about the cyberpunk-noir world of GitS and the story of its cyborg protagonist, race wasn’t a central element. So maybe give this girl a break and let her tell the story of a made-up cyborg girl form the future.

The First Law Trilogy Review

The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie11706669
—The ultimate literary blue ball experience.—

Review:
4 stars out of 5
—The ultimate literary blue ball experience.—
In my Reader’s despair, I question the purpose of art and storytelling and compare Abercrombie, Tarantino, and Kubrick in order to understand why this trilogy I loved filled me with existential rage

*VAGUE SPOILER ALERTS, BUT NOTHING SPECIFIC*

I started out LOVING this series. Apart from the excellent writing and immersive world, I cared about the characters – I wanted the heroes to overcome their poignant struggles and I hungered for revenge against the villains. However, near the end of the third book, I walked away with a heavy heart without finishing. Like turning away from a loved one who has let you down so many times, and you can’t bear to see them let you down again, so despite your love for them, you just have to walk away – to protect yourself from another letdown – I had to walk away from this series and save myself yet another ending without resolution, without character growth (only character death/decay), and with endless, meaningless suffering.

I WILL say that this book made me deeply question the purpose of storytelling and whether a story NEEDS resolution. Because this book serves up conflict, struggle, and climax after climax – yet denies the readers resolution and satisfaction – the ultimate literary blue ball experience.

What you’re guaranteed in this series:
1) gratuitous plot twists
2) surprise endings
3) anti-heroes

As I neared the end of the trilogy, I began wondering: what is the point of anti-heroes?

Well, there are two types of anti-heroes:
1) inherently good, but ruthless
2) inherently bad, but likable.

In denying me resolution time and time again, I was forced to ask myself if I hated these books and if these admittedly masterfully-written books were gimmicky garbage. Or was I just bitter I didn’t get the ending I deserved?

IS THE BOOK GOOD OR BAD? Well to answer that, I needed to ask
1) What is the purpose of art?
2) What is the purpose of storytelling?

What is the point of denying redemption to flawed characters? Is it a legitimate storytelling approach to set up a series of tragic characters and leave 100% of the judgment to the audience, or 100% of the resolution to “what if…” scenarios in the reader’s mind? Because in our minds and in hypothetical scenarios are the only places we can glimpse resolution.

My problem with these books AREN’T that they don’t have happy endings – but that they seem to deny the visceral joy of a happy ending without any intellectual satisfaction of a tragic, but meaningful ending. It’s THE WORST OF BOTH WORLDS.

To contrast, Romeo and Juliet, a story with a famously “unhappy ending” – has very clear message about “what went wrong” and the cause of the tragedy that befell the two star cross’d lovers – what if instead we are simply given the tragedy with no message? Imagine a Tarantino-directed version of R&J where we have no prologue or epilogue, and the parents never see the error of their ways from the death of their children…They simply off themselves and then the curtain falls. Is something gained or added to the story if you simply leave out the judgement, resolution, and meaning from R&J?

Does a story lose meaning if the message isn’t explicitly stated by the artist?

Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket – how is Kubrick different from yet similar to Tarantino? I believe Tarantino is Kubrick without subtlety and without meaning, Tarantino is pure gratuity…there are messages and redemption latent in Tarantino’s stories – waiting there for us, but never delivered by the storyteller. Isn’t this simply smearing colors on a canvas and leaving it up to the viewer to construct the meaning (if any)?

Tarantino and Abercrombie are lauded for being “realistic” – but what does *realism* really offer by way of *art*? A photograph is ultra-realistic, but a great painting is art when the artist presents their unique vision of reality- whether beautiful or terrible…Art is a RECREATION of reality, not simply a depiction.

And yet I KNOW Tarantino and Abercrombie stories provide plenty of art…engaging narratives and characters- but they lack the “meta” *meaning* that ties together the artistic *elements*. And this in-completion is hailed as edgy and bold. But is it instead just lazy? Or even cowardly?

Does the story really gain by having RESOLUTION deliberately withheld by the author? I feel it does not.

In Defense of Lolita

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http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121908/lolita-cultural-icon

Wells’ conflates viewing pubescent individuals as precociously sexy with child-rape. He even goes so far as to condemn adults alluding to adolescence (i.e. by sucking on a lollipop) as a perverted endorsement of child-rape. This is wrong for many reasons:

  1. Wells: ‘The Lolita archetype has been perverted from that of a child to that
    of a’ “pin-up model”

    The word “precocious” itself means: (of a child) having developed adult characteristics earlier than usual. Indeed, HH lectures at length about the maturing characteristics that define “nymphets” and distinguish them from “little girls, with tummies and pigtails” (p. 17) even going so far as to carefully describe (p. 20) the “sequence of somatic changes” including breast development (at ~10.7 years of age) and the appearance of pigmented pubic hair (at ~11.2 years of age) which characterized the  object of his obsession. Wells is wrong about Nymphets being consummately childish. The Lolita archetype is defined by the collision of childishness and adulthood.

  2. Wells: “There is something monstrous about Humbert’s desire for
    Lolita”: she is a child and “not endowed with womanly allure”

    There is indeed something monstrous about HH’s desire for Lolita: the obsessive, sociopathic disregard for the lives, well-being, and consent of people who love him or are under his care; It is his plot to drown L’s mother so that he can have more time and power to rape the child under his care that makes HH a monster. Desire is not what makes HH a monster – his monstrous actions and destruction of life are.

  3. Wells: ‘Fantasizing about under-aged individuals, or even adults who appear under-aged, is an endorsement of child-rape’

    This non sequitur is the fundamental assertion underlying Wells’ final, grim entreaty that we all think of a sobbing, raped child the next time we see a 28 year old sucking  on a lollipop in GQ magazine. Give me a break. Biologically-speaking, attraction to pubescent individuals is healthy – the DSM-5 defines pedophilia as attraction to pre-pubescent individuals. Wells has no ground to stand on when condemning normal attraction to pubescent and youthful characteristics. There is, in fact, nothing unhealthy or insidious about desire itself, despite Well’s puritanical and prudish conflation of HH’s twisted sociopathy with the natural admiration of youthfulness and the emergence of womanhood.

Contrary to Wells’ impassioned arguments otherwise, if anyone has “bought in” to HH’s twisted vision, it is Wells himself – who tries to teach us that admiration/desire are the same as actual rape. It’s not, and don’t (to use his dumbass hashtag) #BelieveHumbert like Wells does – there is something playful and innocent about admiring youthfulness and adopting the symbols of youthfulness even long into adulthood. Healthy adults distinguish between fantasy and reality – something that Wells needs to learn how to do for himself.

Secret Base: A Retrospective on Lost Friends

Secret Base: A Retrospective on Lost Friends
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Last summer, at a cosplay photoshoot at Otakon, I met two cool girls who liked the same stuff as me (anime babes & cosplay primarily).

Through these girls, I was introduced to a huge social circle spanning the east coast. I was going to big parties, meeting up with big groups of people for fun activities on a weekly basis. The timing of entering this social circle was great – my failed engagement was in its final, dark days – and having new friends, potential romantic partners, and generally feeling popular really took the edge off. It gave me hope during the worst time of my life.

Aimee (my now-ex) was furious. With the Final End imminent, she began jealously competing with me for exclusive friendship with the two most-popular girls in the social circle. I naively insisted that friendship was not a zero-sum game: that we could both be friends with the girls, share friends as we always had. But she persisted in her competitive mindset. Tiring of the fights, and seeking to prolong our failed partnership, I agreed to “stop being friends” with the group. I left the group facebook chats, I told them that I wouldn’t be available and explained to a few close friends in the group that I wanted to give Aimee some friends she could call her own. Weeks passed, and boredom got the better of me – I found myself accepting invitations again. I missed my friends. Aimee was bitterly resentful. Add it to the resentments that had grown like weeds in our garden.

The Final End came. She moved in with her single male friend and co-worker of whom I had been paranoid and jealous of, a parting wound. But I had The Group. While she was still ostensibly mutual friends with them, I almost exclusively attended their parties and gatherings instead of her.

I became despondent. Loneliness onset alongside lengthening winter nights. I scrolled through hopeless hundreds of OKCupid profiles, churning out introductions and witty messages with grim determination. I went on a date with a homely girl on anti-depressants. She collects animal skeletons as a hobby in her room at her parent’s house and told me I seemed robotic.

But I didn’t give up. Doggedly, I sought out companionship. I stayed social within the group, and considered my romantic options within The Circle. There were three single girls with whom I regularly had contact:

Group Leader Girl X
DESCRIPTION: Highly sought-after by the overwhelmingly-male group members. Richmond/VAB-regional group leader. Despite some unique compatibilities with me, seemed disinterested in romance.
RATING: High Effort, Low Chance

Group Leader Girl L
DESCRIPTION: Fairfax/NoVA regional group organizer and controller. Had grown close with her, sharing some lengthy private conversations about life and shared struggles. She’s a lesbian in love with Group Leader Girl X and ex-fiance of Ex-Girlfriend Girl Z
RATING: Impossible due to sexual orientation

Ex-Girlfriend Girl Z
DESCRIPTION: Ex-Girlfriend of Girl L who remains friendly with Ex-Girlfriend L and the general Group following their recent breakup. Recently began online-dating seeking possible male partner.
RATING: Unknown, although seemed partially receptive to limited flirting.

All three Girls represented complex or insurmountable challenges. All three were long-shots, and Girl L, who I was closest with (and of course was rated@impossible), had claims on Girl X (who she was infatuated with) and Girl Z (who she was recently dumped by). By seeking either of the two non-les single girls within my social circle, I risked upsetting the principle Regional Group Leader, and a close friend.

Before risking any kind of public relationship that would upset The Balance of The Force, I needed to see if I even had a chance. I asked Girl Z out on a date. She declined. I asked her on a friendly lunch, she accepted conditionally on only being friends. I brought a rose (intentionally ironic, but secretly sincere), but she refused it. I snapped the rose into segments and put it into the restaurant trash bin while we waited for our orders. It was awkward. I felt embarrassed, rejected. My Ace shot at the most-likely possible romantic partner in my RL social circle was an unmitigated disaster.

I decided to give up on dating for a time and focus on playing table top miniature games. I ate 6 pints of Ben & Jerry’s in a week. Girl Z kept chatting with me, a heavenly body seeking to pull me into an orbital Friend Zone. I kept seeing her at social gatherings and parties, where she seemed to seek me out, a beautiful but tormenting friend.

Weeks after my humiliating crash and burn, once I had given up on her and given up on dating in general, she said she wanted to give me a shot. That we should try dating.

What.

I had spent weeks convincing myself that I wasn’t “really” interested in this girl who rejected me. I was just settling into my new life of perpetual gaming, binge-eating, and autoerotica. And now this sudden beam of sunlight is shining down into my hiding place?

I thought, “Well, ok. I guess I can come back. And jesus, this place is a mess. And I’m a mess. I don’t know why this broad even likes me, but I’m not going to argue with her.”

The issue of Group Leader Girl L, her ex, loomed ominously beyond our cheerful, sunny union. We both feared what a public relationship would do to our relationships with L (hers: tentative, mine: close) – and what her disapproval could mean for our Social Standing within the Group.

We each spoke with her privately, expressing our mutual romantic interest, and seeking her explicit blessing before continuing with our plans. For my part, I spoke from the heart about how important her friendship was to me and told her that if she forbade the relationship, that I would rather remain friends with her than lose her friendship. She quickly agreed to our proposed relationship. I had expected a night-long conversation, I was prepared to discuss things. She drove all the way from across town to my house, presumably for a lengthy talk – but she quickly and simply said, “I think it will be awkward for a while, but I will deal with it.” I was skeptical, but we went on to talk about favorite personal topics, about our hopes and struggles. It was a good talk, “real talk” as she called it, something we both agreed was all-too rare among our friends. I left feeling hopeful. I would get to have my cake and eat it too.

The next day began a 3-day party. My new girlfriend and I revealed our new relationship. While things were awkward, I had fun, and everyone seemed to have a good time. Leader Girl L (my girlfriend’s ex), drank herself blackout-sick on the first night and spent most of the 2nd day and night recovering and vomiting – behavior that had become common for her over the past few months, despite my private admonishments.

All was not well. My elation at finally finding a worthy girlfriend and a large measure of wishful thinking kept me busy while unseen forces aligned against us, planning our (social) doom.

Within days of the party, Leader L – scorned, dumped, and feeling-betrayed Leader L – arranged for a private audience at her house with Aimee, my excluded, jealous ex. It was a volatile combination. Their jealousy aligned perfectly, naturally. My blooming romance cast a deep shadow. And in that shadow grew a new alliance.

Following this meeting, my new girlfriend and I were never again invited to a gathering, party, or meal. We were unceremoniously and permanently exiled. We were personae non gratae.

For the first few weeks, we told ourselves”Let’s give them some space. They probably need time to adjust to the new arrangement. This will blow over.” But as the weeks grew, the ACTUAL new arrangement dawned on us: We were disappeared entirely, and not missed.

Impossible.

But, no.

The group endorsed our exile with enthusiasm. Gossip ensued. We begged friends to stick up for us. They explained that, regretfully, their hands are tied. But that they still value our friendship, and hope to see us soon! Our friendships unraveled. My girlfriend cried. She had been friends for years with many who now turned their back on her.

First anger, then acceptance – and cold resentment.

We tried to make sense of what happened: It seemed like highschool drama – Rumors, gossip, jealous ex-lovers. But we were adults, almost 30 years old.

It WAS high school again, but not in the sense that our exes were being childish. We were back in high school because we were in a large social circle of mostly single humans. And under those circumstances, you naturally have fierce competition for romantic partners – and the weapons used are usually gossip and cliques. Which is better than the alternatives of tooth and nail.

Upon reflection, my resentment seems unfounded. I don’t see how any other outcome could have been possible, unless Leader L was a Saint able to turn the other cheek when faced with two big reminders of her loneliness and inadequacy.

Lesson: Dating the Leader’s Ex is a 100% scientifically proven way to commit social suicide.

It’s a law of nature. And I’m not certain I would behave any differently in her position.

Second Heartbeat

My life, you’ve always been there
Now you’re gone, and my head’s spinning
Left the childhood, left the memories, left the good times in the past
Moving on your time has run out
Wishing the clock would stand still, the world can wait
Wasting away once again, once lived as friends

As time passes by, regrets for the rest of my life
The one who I confide is gone in the black of the night.

Never will I forget you, and all the memories past
So rarely I get to see your face.
Growing, I looked to you in guidance
We knew that time would kill us, but you’re still so close to me.

To me you were my life,
To me you were my soul companion.
Now you are so far away,
Nothing can take away the times, and the memories we’ve had.

Come back – To the days when we were young,
Come back – To the days when nothing mattered,
To the days where nothing mattered.

And I feel time passes by, regrets for the rest of my life
The one who I confide is gone in the black of the night.

HP Battle Rap

you wanna step to this?
dont make me laugh, you a squib
leave you stupified with my magical wits
its a sorcerous blitz
you aint got game, dont know the lore
my skillz fill u with fear
you only read the books once
you think patronus is a mexican beer
you a cleansweep one, im a nimbus 2000
im the pimp of the wizengamot
you a house elf bitch
leave u playin with ur beater
while i find yo girls golden snitch
dont mess with me, son
im a Rowling machine
yo skillz like a thestral
– – – UNSEEN
you can’t touch my HP knowledge
you need to go back to school
spittin lyrics so ill madam pomfrey CANT SAVE YOU
you done boy, need to call a hearse
you just got slapped with an Unforgivable Verse

damn that was easy
i gotta observe
like a sentence in azkaban

u just got served

An Atheist’s Search for a Church: Sabbath #4 – Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church

 995613_10100723716712775_7836175835260153883_nSabbath #4 –

Sunday, August 17th 2014

Church #5

What: 10:00 AM “Worship Service”

Where: Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church in Springfield, VA

Why I picked it: As an Atheist looking for a church, Unitarian Universalist (UU) church seems like a perfect fit – they purport to be a church based on secular morals rather than dogmatic faith and claim to be open-minded and welcoming of all beliefs and peoples. Several friends had suggested I check them out and there was one just down the street from me.

Notes: Up until this visit, my only awareness of UU was a couple lines from one of my favorite movies, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, when two teens are buying blunt wraps at a convenience store mention it while making fun of the clerks Randal and Dante:

-TEEN 1
Two packs of Wraps.
(beat)
Yo–how was the service?

-RANDAL
What service?

-TEEN 2
The one at the Unitarian church where
you two got married to each other
last week.

-RANDAL
What the hell are you talking about?

-TEEN 1
Jay said you had a Star-Wars–themed
wedding and you guys tied the knot
dressed like storm troopers.

-TEEN 2
Yeah. And he said you’re the bitch
and you’re the butch. Oh, sorry–the
Leia and the Luke.

-DANTE
I’m the bitch?!

-RANDAL
Well if we were gay, that’s how I’d
see it.

-DANTE
Would you shut up?!

-TEEN 1
(to TEEN 2)
Holy shit, dude. The honeymoon’s
over.

-DANTE
We’re not married to each other.

-TEEN 1
Well, sure. Not in the eyes of the
state or any real church, Skywalker.

Spring Church

It’s true that UU was doing gay marriage long before it was the cool thing to do, and I definitely appreciate their leading the way on that among churches. I was curious what UU could offer me for life-guidance, fellowship, and inspiration.

The chapel itself was cute, tucked away in a wooded area just off a main road, with a modern design. I was greeted by two friendly older folk when I entered and given a welcome packet and program for the service.

10471393_10100723717296605_7070420304509253537_nThe sanctuary was also attractive – wooden, modern-yet-churchy, cozy but not cramped, decked out in woven rainbow mini-tapestries. I especially liked the windows behind the altar showing the tops of the surrounding trees and the sky – something I have never, ever seen before in a church – and indicative of a very different outlook on the world. All churches seek to insulate the congregants from the outside world, and any outside light that enters is filtered through stained-glass. Conceptually, this difference makes sense – UU explicitly champions reason, secular humanism, and life-on-earth – while traditional christian and jewish religion (on which UU is descendant from) denies this world in favor of the next…

The service itself was…absurd. I can best describe it as a cross between a gay piano bar and an Obama rally. The service included several musical performances by a flaming and awesomely-talented piano player & singer. As talented as he was and as much as I might have (under different circumstances) appreciated his performance, I found it awkwardly misplaced and oddly profane. Were my conservative roots and Baptist upbringing getting the best of me? I like to think not: It wasn’t his flaming gayness that bothered me, although it was certainly a change from what I was used to seeing in a “church”. On the contrary, I loved his enthusiasm and energy for what he was doing…and his talent was undeniable. No, what I found awkward were the tacky, secular music choices more befitting a piano bar or a TV commercial than what might have otherwise been a halfway-sanctified-feeling church experience. He performed “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge and “Imagine” by John Lennon. Both stale, hackneyed pieces worn-out maybe 2 decades ago…

As for the sermon: Did you ever have a college professor who was hellbent on pushing a political agenda on everyone in the class? That familiar combination of smug self-righteousness, a captive audience, and a political message delivered from a platform you expected to impart wisdom rather than rhetoric…The pastor, speaking about the Furguson, MO news, lamented the “white cop who gunned down a poor black teen” and the police response to the looting, which was “just like the protests in Birmingham and Jackson during the Civil Rights era.” The pastor shared a popular leftist urban myth that starts off: “An anthropologist studying the habits and customs of an African tribe found himself surrounded by children most days[…]” and ends by explaining how African tribes share everything because they are not greedy and they love each other and they call it “UBUNTU” and shouldn’t we be more like the African children in the story instead of the arrogant Anthropologist and live by UBUNTU too? He mentioned a school in El Salvador that he saw on a mission trip that was “bombed by weapons provided by the United States,” decried the “collateral damage” of innocent children in Gaza perpetrated by Israel, mentioned that “the war on terror” was created to create fear in Americans in order to manufacture consent for invasions of non-white peoples and to aid racist whites at the border who shamefully turn away poor refugee children, and to top it all off – that the war on terror and border control operations are both a conspiracy to funnel government money to weapons manufacturers.

Seriously. This place calls itself a “church.” I was particularly incensed by the racist, anti-white comments laced throughout his diatribe. The uniformly-white congregation around me nodded along. He said “white people” like it was another word for “the devil” and breathlessly said the magical word ~*Ubuntu*~ like a magical incantation of the goodness of the African Tribes. My temper rose as he laid it on thick and I began looking at the chairs in my row (I sat between two people) to decide which direction I would storm out and whether to speak a word of outrage over my shoulder as I did.

474661_10150766559836063_1948548014_o

Typical “Diverse” UU congregation: Uniformly White, Rich, and Left Wing

I stayed. I calmed myself. Before the “sermon” began, they spoke words about how much they valued “diversity” and even said “it doesn’t matter how you vote…we are all family”…

Instead of storming out, I stayed till the end and approached the pastor. I politely greeted and thanked him, explaining that it was my first UU service (he seemed surprised):

“How did you like [the service]?”

“It was very political.”

60675_10100723716737725_7538756714772733612_n

“Beyond Belief” is a good description for how I felt during the sermon.

“Yes, it was today, but it isn’t always. Since we don’t ascribe to a religious faith in particular, Social Justice and ethics are very important to us.”

“I was pretty offended several times during your message, but I can appreciate having my viewpoints challenged (he nodded in agreement). I don’t know how much good it would do me, however, to have an opposing viewpoint preached at me from a pulpit every week, though.”

He encouraged me to check the website for the sermons and to come back on a week that was less-political, but said that he understood. He also mentioned that the main pastor (currently on vacation) had spoken recently about a desire to diversify the political composition of the congregation, apparently noting the overwhelming homogeneity that so rapidly alienated me.

UU is not a religion or a church, it is an overt left-wing political club with a pinch of new-age/hippie candle-lighting and singing of pop songs as ‘hymns’.