Friday, June 28, 2019

The NC-17 Mr Rogers Connection

I made a weird connection a while ago. Bear with me.

Mr Rogers is back in the zeitgeist these days, with an upcoming film where Tom Hanks plays him, and a documentary about the real man coming out last year. When the trailer for "Won't You Be My Neighbor" came out, a snippet of music caught my ear.

Catch it at 1:05.

Those horns rang a bell for me, thanks to a song from a CD I once had recommended to me by the guy at a Hongdae music shop. It was an album called Whiskey by Jay Jay Johanson. It was alright: my clearest memory of it was one of my coworkers viscerally hating it. But a song on it titled "I'm Older Now" sampled the song where that beautiful bit of horns first appeared, which is why I recognized it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Reading Racist Books To My Kid

I ran in to a hiccup at bedtime. It wasn’t actually the first time I’ve run into this particular hiccup, but it got me thinking.

Almost every night, I read to my son. It’s great, for all the usual reasons. He gets to discover characters and worlds I loved as a kid, or we discover wonderful new ones. He hears the stories that helped teach me things about bravery, honesty, loyalty, determination, or silliness. We’ve heard from some titans of children’s literature: Roald Dahl is wonderful to read out loud. C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles are better than I remember them: the moral choices children make in his stories are valuable discussion starters for father-son talks about responsibility, consequences, kindness, and listening to your conscience.

But then… at bedtime… there are passages like this.

Cover art from the version I read as a kid.
Turbans and scimitars. Source
From The Horse and His Boy:
"This boy is manifestly no son of yours, for your cheek is as dark as mine but the boy is fair and white like the accursed but beautiful barbarians who inhabit the remote North [meaning Narnia].” (Chapter 1) C. S. Lewis. The Horse and his Boy (Kindle Locations 79-80). HarperCollins. HOLD ON! So... C.S. Lewis believes dark people are ugly? Am I reading this right?

"The next thing was that these men were not the fair-haired men of Narnia: they were dark, bearded men from Calormen, that great and cruel country that lies beyond Archenland across the desert to the south." C. S. Lewis. Last Battle (Kindle Locations 263-264). San Val, Incorporated.

Yes, the Calormenes, from Calormen, across the desert south of Narnia, worship the cruel god Tash (with hints of human sacrifice). They feature in The Last Battle and The Horse and His Boy and they are clearly coded as Muslims: they are dark-faced, wear turbans, and wield scimitars. They are also described as cruel and exploitative. Oh... and some Dwarves mock them by calling them "Darkie.” And in case you thought you could omit a few details and remove the racial coding... they're drawn on the cover of the version I read as a kid. No getting around it.

The Silver Chair's treatment of the character Jill Pole in particular falls into many old tropes about what girls are and aren't, can and can't do.

Cover art of the version I read as a kid.
Roald Dahl, whom we’d been reading before reading Narnia, had this buried in Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator:

'It is very difficult to phone people in China, Mr President,' said the Postmaster General. 'The country's so full of Wings and Wongs, every time you wing you get the wong number.' (Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (Kindle Locations 302-303).

When they do call someone in China... their names are Chu-On-Dat and How-Yu-Bin, and they address the president as Mr. Plesident. Yeah. Roald Dahl went there. Just skip Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, folks. As sequel letdowns go, it gives Jaws: The Revenge and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a run for their money.

So what do we do about this?

Friday, January 25, 2019

Gillette: The Best A Man Can Get Ad: U Mad about This?

Gillette ruffled some feathers last week with an ad about masculinity, pointing out things that happen, like bullying, casual violence, and casual sexism - some obviously shitty things - suggesting that the excuse, "Boys will be boys" is not a good excuse, and encouraging men to 1. be less shitty, and 2. encourage other men to be less shitty, and 3. stop making excuses for shitty behavior by other men and boys. It ends with close-ups of some kids watching their dads stop other men and boys from being shitty, pointing out today's men are models for the men of the future, so our behavior teaches our kids to be shitty, or not shitty.

It has been hotly discussed in a number of places I frequent online, so I thought I'd put my thoughts in one place.

The ad itself... viewed on its own terms, without having it framed by someone who wants to rant about "SJWs" and the North American culture wars, or by someone who wants to rant about "Toxic masculinity"... isn't that controversial, really.

It's true that people make excuses for boys and men's bad behavior. It's true that some boys and men do shitty things. Among the behaviors identified, it's not controversial to identify these behaviors as shitty:
Groping women
Interrupting women
Patronizing or stealing ideas of female colleagues
Bullying smaller or weaker people with physical violence or verbal harassment
Treating women like trophies or toys

If someone is mad about the Gillette ad because they think the above behaviors shouldn't be criticized, they have much bigger problems than a men's grooming company telling them how to be decent human beings (most urgent: they aren't decent human beings).

Only slightly less slam-dunk obvious is the ad's emphasis on the excuse made for bad behavior: "Boys will be boys" (which is repeated by a whole lineup of men: this is pretty emphatic). I would guess that a lot of people who regularly say "Boys will be boys" will be surprised to hear it pointed out as troublesome. The ad posits a better response for men's shitty behavior than excuses: men stepping in to stop the shittiness.

But remove this from the "somebody is telling men how to behave" pearl-clutching, and again, it's not very controversial. Given a choice, I think most people would say that it's better to stop bad behavior than to make excuses for it.

Anyone disputing 1. that the behaviors above are bad, and 2. that correcting them is better than making excuses for them, definitely carries the burden of proof.

The most common complaint I've heard about the ad is that it's somehow claiming that ALL men are shitty... yet the ad clearly ALSO shows men stopping all the behaviors pointed out (except the man interrupting his female colleague while putting hand on her shoulder and restating her idea in his own words - he seems to get away with it).

So... not seeing that.

The "Woke Ad" thing