Wednesday, 20 May 2015

IC2S Playlist Update 20/05/2015

A bit of a post-script on my last post, regarding Mad Max and feminism: I was actually originally planning to write a different post which would have actually been arguably slightly pro-MRA (because, while I obviously identify as a feminist, a progressive Christian and a left-winger in general, I'm not someone who is defined by my "groups"). However, of course the idiots in the MRA-camp went and stirred up a new shitstorm elsewhere which needed to be addressed... so good job. I'll still write it, but at least let it be on the record that I do not support MRAs in the slightest... (Edit: Eh, you know what? Screw it, I have lost all enthusiasm for the topic. Great job Clarey.)


Anyway, first up this week is "Separation" by A Feast for Kings from their EP Hell on Earth. This whole EP is filled with very personal, top-notch hard rock/metal and is well worth the $6 asking price. "Separation" in particular seems to be coming from the songwriter's own experiences with a lying, unfaithful father. It's truly tragic that A Feast for Kings' lead singer died in an accident recently, doubly-so since they were days away from getting signed. I can only hope that the band can carry on without him, because the talent on display in Hell on Earth is truly astonishing.


Finally, we have "Never Let Down" by Andrew W.K. from his album, The Wolf. I guy from work recommended this song to me, and while I don't really care for Andrew W.K. in general, some of his songs (like this one) are pretty awesome. He also described his musical style as "life metal" as opposed to death metal, and I can certainly see what he meant. His voice and music scream "metal", but his lyrics are almost 100% based on partying, love/sex and general positivity, making it sound more like a pop or lighter rock song. Considering that he debuted in 2001, I imagine this was in response to the overbearing angst permeating nu metal at the time.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Mad Max Feminism "Controversy"

Mad Max: Fury Road could pull off a massive upset and easily end up being the best loved blockbuster of the year. With an unprecedented 98% Tomatometer (230 Fresh/4 Rotten) on Rotten Tomatoes, it has already blown past reserved/mixed praise of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, while other highly anticipated films like Jurassic World and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II are likely to get a more mixed reaction. Only Star Wars is looking to hold a candle to Mad Max, but considering that we've all been down this road once before, would any of us be surprised if it ends up disappointing people on the basis of over-hype alone? I imagine it'll be quite good, but I'd personally bet it'll end up getting a Tomatometer of 75-85% when people realize it isn't the second coming of Christ.

However, while most dialogue regarding Mad Max: Fury Road is (appropriately) directed towards the critical response and the mind-blowing action sequences, there is a growing subset of voices discussing whether the movie is feminist, and whether that is good or bad. One particular Men's Rights Activist blog is stirring up quite a bit of controversy, with authour Aaron Clarey calling for men to boycott the film because apparently the movie is nothing other than feminist propaganda.


Having seen the movie yesterday, I can say pretty definitively that Aaron Clarey's doom-mongering is as offensive as it is incorrect. For one thing, Fury Road still features plenty of fire tornadoes and 80s-style carnage to get your blood pumping, regardless of the protagonist's gender. But just because it's fun, let's quickly go through a couple of the ridiculous claims that Clarey makes, shall we? First off, Clarey states that:
"The real issue is not whether feminism has infiltrated and co-opted Hollywood, ruining nearly every potentially-good action flick with a forced female character or an unnecessary romance sub-plot to eek out that extra 3 million in female attendees. It has."
This claim is patently ridiculous for two main reasons. First off, this isn't feminism, it is economics. Hollywood believes in pandering to the mass audience, and has believed that shoehorning a love subplot, no matter how unnecessary, will attract more people (eg, the Thor movies are particularly obvious offenders in this regard, despite the fact that the gratutious shirtless Chris Hemsworth scenes alone are enough to bring in the ladies). Even the hyper-masculine movies of the 80s featured this trope, such as Commando. Secondly, forcing a female character or a romance into a movie is just simply not feminist. This claim is just so ridiculous that it makes me question whether Clarey truly understands what feminism is, or whether he thinks that the presence of a woman alone is some sort of ghoulish affront to manhood. Feminists have been decrying the trope-filled world of typical generic love interests and useless female character for years now (women in fridges, Bechdel Test, etc), so either Hollywood feminists are absolutely awful at feminism, or there's something wrong with Clarey's line of thinking.


Anyway, moving on to the next claim:
"But let us be clear. This is the vehicle by which they are guaranteed to force a lecture on feminism down your throat. This is the Trojan Horse feminists and Hollywood leftists will use to (vainly) insist on the trope women are equal to men in all things, including physique, strength, and logic. And this is the subterfuge they will use to blur the lines between masculinity and femininity, further ruining women for men, and men for women. [...] That and you can expect Hollywood to further condition young women to be like “Imperator Furiosa” and not Sophia Loren."
Wow... just... wow. Look: in theory, while I think that men's rights activism is an unnecessary cause for a number of reasons, it still seems like something reasonable for someone to pursue. However, voices like this are why men's rights activism is a joke in practice. While feminism has shifted over the years to a point where it could more accurately be called "equal gender rights" at this point, men's rights has already shifted to the status of "ideological gender enforcement". Here Clarey makes it pretty obvious that he believes that gender roles have to be concrete and that anything which goes against his conception of these roles is to be condemned. He doesn't even seem to be worried about the potential presence of feminist ideas - if he was at least fearful that forcing a female character into the movie would somehow compromise the narrative in some way, then there would be at least a bit of arguably reasonable justification for his complaint. However, the argument boils down to "I don't think that women in this movie aret doing what I expect them to, therefore this sucks". Hell... this revelation has me kind of wondering if MRAs are among the people protesting the new sex ed curriculum I talked about last week, since they mention gender identity/fluidity in it. Of course, if they are then that just makes me support the new curriculum even more.


Moving past the article though, there's one important thing about this movie that is getting missed in the feminism conversation: the movie isn't really overtly pushing a feminist agenda. Don't get me wrong - it is certainly progressive and miles ahead of the male-dominated blockbusters that still occupy theatres, but on the feminism scale I'd put it further away from Teeth and much closer to Dredd (although Dredd is certainly the more feminist film, and I have never heard an MRA bitch about that). In fact, I think it would be more accurate to say that Mad Max: Fury Road is a gender-neutral film, and I wish that that is what the dialogue regarding this film was saying. Furiosa is arguably the protagonist since she gets the more interesting character arc, but Max still gets equal prominence as she does, and they both kick just about as much ass as each other. There seems to be a mutual respect between them, but Furiosa isn't a generic love interest. Furiosa is very capable, and is better than Max at some things. In particular, there is a scene where Max keeps missing his shot with a sniper rifle, so when they're down to their last shot, he returns it to Furiosa and acts as a support so that she can pull off that last killshot. If nothing else this shows that both characters need each other. Furiosa wouldn't have gotten more than a few kilometers away from Immortan Joe without Max, and Max wouldn't have survived without Furiosa. This isn't feminist propaganda, this is gender-neutrality... which technically makes it a "feminist film" because, as I said earlier, modern feminism is about equality for both sexes. However, it is not pushing a "feminist agenda", or any of the aspects of feminism which someone might actually disagree with... unless your cock shrinks at the very notion of women achieving any sort of agency though, of course.

I'll let Sasha James close this one out, as she says it better than I could:
"Fury Road is a feminist film because it’s not outright 'feminist propaganda.' It uses gender and sex in a utilitarian, matter-of-fact manner, allowing its females to use their womanhood as a weapon against its universe’s established norms, but neither heroizing or demonizing that action. Fury Road radically allows its female characters to enact as much agency as its men. They are allowed to survive by whatever means are available to them.
Fury Road isn’t trying to say that Furiosa is better than Max or that female-led action films are the new status quo. Instead, George Miller’s fourth Mad Max film is a gentle reminder – amongst blood-lust and post-apocalyptic madness – that men and women are equal, and that we shouldn’t still have to make such a big f***ing deal about it."

Friday, 15 May 2015

Fuzzy Bunny's Guide to You Know What

So if you live in Ontario like me, then you have probably heard that there's a bit of a kerfuffle regarding Kathleen Wynne's sex ed curriculum, with social conservatives/religious folk going mildly insane (to put it lightly). My parents have said that if this curriculum was in place when my brothers and I were going through school, they would have home schooled us instead of putting us through the public school system. However, as much as I dislike Kathleen Wynne, I actually think that there's a lot of fuss being put up unreasonably here. Don't get me wrong - coming from a socially conservative background, I can understand why a subset of people are freaking out about this, but I believe that the amount of things that they would find objectionable are significantly less than they would expect (in case you didn't notice, there is A LOT of ridiculous misinformation and hyperbole being passed around conservative political circles to try to create a public outcry out of sheer ignorance).


Let's go through some of the more "controversial" aspects of the curriculum. First off, is the fact that the curriculum starts in Grade 1 (ages 6-7). This might seem a little early to some people, but it's not like they're actually learning about where to stick their naughty bits. Is it so horrifying for children to learn the proper names for their genitals? I don't see a problem with this at all. I think in Grade 1 I was tittering like a madman whenever someone mentioned a "pee-pee" and quite embarrassingly didn't realize that "boobs" were not the same thing as "nipples", leading to me to idiotically claim that some other kid was showing off his boobs. Boobs-aside, I was basically 100% ignorant about what made girls different at this time, but having children be aware of these sorts of things is hardly going to destroy their innocence. If anything, it'll be good to pave future groundwork, hence why they're starting the very, VERY basics so early. If nothing else, it'll make for the funniest day of class for a first grader.


After that, I can't really see anything else that's potentially objectionable until Grade 6 (ages 11-12) and Grade 8 (ages 13-14), where they bring in the idea of gender identity and sexual orientation. Now I personally do not see the issue with this, there are some that will argue that the intent here is to cause kids to become more open to homosexuality and trans-gender people and view it as something "normal" and "natural". And you know what... as a Christian man, I say FREAKING GOOD. I'm obviously intimately aware of how difficult the subject of homosexuality is in the church (and for good reason, let's admit), but the general consensus at the moment in the evangelical church seems to be "love the sinner, hate the sin". However, the historical approach to homosexuality has shown anything BUT love to these people. What Christians have shown is centuries of exclusion, belittlement, ignorance, outright hatred and violence towards homosexuals. Children have been forced out of their homes for being gay, lost friends, have been kicked out of communities, have committed suicide, have faced barrages of insults, have suffered with AIDS while the government ignored them ("because it was just a disease that affected the fags, so good riddance"), etc. If this can be stopped, then bring it the hell on as far as I'm concerned, and maybe we'll start seeing less disproportionate vitriol thrown towards these "sinners". Not saying that the church will/should suddenly become a-ok with homosexuality or start performing gay marriages, but we at least should give them equal treatment and avoid discrimination and judgement... y'know, like our religion instructs us to do.

Furthermore, homosexuality and gender identity IS A THING THAT EXISTS, as much as some people may want to ignore it and regardless of the causes. If anything, Grade 6 might be too late to bring this topic up, since many people who identify as homosexual claim that they knew it at a young age, and the other kids were definitely calling each other "fags" long before this... In any case, it's obviously a topic that has to be raised at some point, and pretending it doesn't exist or isn't something natural (which it is, like it or not*) isn't going to make it go away or help your children when they encounter it for themselves... or, God forbid, identify as queer in a religious family.

Grade 6 also brings in the concept of masturbation, a very... er... touchy subject for the religious folk. For one thing, it happens to be something that kids are going to be encountering around this timeframe, and considering that almost every man (and a great deal of women as well) does it, it's kind of hard to call it something "unnatural" (and that's not even mentioning the damn, dirty apes). It's also worth noting that it's a rather grey area in Christianity at least: it isn't considered an inherently sinful thing, but the argument is that it is straddling about a half dozen other sins, so it's best to avoid it. Some people, like my parents, believe that this curriculum teaches children to masturbate, but that's not really the intent - like I said, many kids are already going to be starting this practice by this time, so it's more meant to come across as "yeah, you're not crazy for doing this, basically everyone does". As for whether kids are going to start because of this... well, that'll be up to the kids I suppose, but there's a good chance that they already have heard about it by this point. If you don't want your kids doing it, be sure to shame them for it early so that they'll feel awful about it for the rest of their lives when they inevitably start doing it.


Anyway, moving on. In my opinion, one of the more ridiculous controversies is how, in Grade 7 (ages 12-13), students are taught about oral and anal sex. Well let's get this out of the way first - they already teach this in the current Grade 7 curriculum if I remember correctly (or, at the very least, my class was taught about it). In addition, kids are probably already aware of these concepts by the time they hit the 7th grade. Again, I grew up in a sheltered home and I was still at least dimly aware of both of these concepts, even if I didn't understand why someone would want to do either (and I'm sure my classmates were far more familiar than I was). It's not like this is a new idea they were implanting in our heads. With access to the Internet, kids are going to come across these ideas earlier and earlier, so it's important to educate them at a realistic time period. Finally, the curriculum DOES NOT ADVOCATE ANAL SEX. My parents are in an uproar about them teaching the butt-stuff because they view it as an abomination and figure they're trying to get kids to try it out. However, the curriculum explicitly states not to do either of these activities because they can give you an STI. I believe that by Grade 7 I had heard the old jokes about how "Catholic girls do it in the ass", and that is a stereotype in the first place because girls try to avoid getting pregnant, losing their virginity (because it only counts if it's vaginal apparently...?) and/or getting an STI. Letting them know that they can still get an STI is probably going to help to discourage some people from trying it out. Similarly to masturbation, anal and oral sex are things which exist, and science can't determine if anal sex is going to make God angry. If you want to bring the your own moral compass into it, then supplement your childrens' education with your own teachings when they get home.

Anyway, moving on again. In Grade 8, students "analyze the benefits and risks of relationships involving different degrees of sexual intimacy". I can definitely hear my parents saying that this is encouraging kids to have sex, but I'm not so sure I agree. If anything, it's being realistic and getting kids to make an informed decision, because I good deal of them are likely going to do it anyway within the next few years, no matter what they have been brought up to believe (for reference, I am aware that at least a half to two-thirds of the professing Christians I grew up with had sex in high school without a regret, despite all of them having been taught by the church and their parents as well likely not to do so). Being aware of the risks may not get them to abstain, but at least they'll be aware of exactly what they're getting into if they do decide to go forward with it.


However, there are also some positive elements that those who decry the curriculum fail to acknowledge. First off, starting the curriculum so early will actually help to prevent child sexual assault. In many cases, exploited children are unaware of what constitutes exploitative behaviours and so they go unreported. For my own part, we were simply told not to talk to strangers, but we had no idea why or what they were trying to protect us from. I easily could have gotten abused and not realized it. Leaving it at "don't talk to strangers" also ignores the fact that the vast majority of molestations are committed by family members or their friends.

The Grade 3 curriculum is pretty realistic. I can remember pretty clearly quite a few kids "going out" at this time, so best to get those under control so they'll start to get the groundwork for more realistic future relationships. Developing safety guidelines for Internet use is also extremely critical, and would hopefully be supplemented by parental discussion. Grade 4 (and Grade 9) is pretty similar in that regard - kids seem to be getting cell phones earlier and earlier, so sexts and snapchatting and various other things will need addressing, PRONTO.

People also seem to be missing one of the overall messages of the curriculum - it recommends not having sex until you are physically and emotionally ready (be that in marriage or whenever, that's up to the individual, as it should be). Holy shit, are you telling me that this evil curriculum co-written by Satan himself and contracted by a diabolical lesbian who is hell-bent on transforming our children into lustful paedo-orgy machines actually teaches kids not to have sex? Conspiracy! Furthermore, the emphasis on consent is EXTREMELY important in a day and age where "rape culture" is becoming more and more visible, and will probably result in less sex as well. Identifying STIs is pretty important as well, I think we might have gotten 1 day of that in sex-ed back in grade 7 or 8, and I can't remember a single thing from it. I couldn't tell you what any STI looks like, let alone specify them.

The high school curriculum is quite good as well. I had about 2 days of sex-ed in high school, in grade 10, and only because I took phys-ed after it became an elective (most people ditch it after grade 9). 1 year of sex-ed, when a lot of people are already engaging in sexual activity and when some of them are going to be giving birth or freaking married in a few years, is woefully inadequate. Even if you are against having your kids having sex in high school, this stuff is still extremely applicable for later in their lives to help them make healthy choices and relationships, and will probably make their marriages more fulfilling.

Beyond all of this though is the major issue of growing up in a world where the Internet has always been a thing. Kids are now getting more access to sexually explicit material and misconceptions at a younger and younger age, making frank, honest, realistic education absolutely crucial. Sure, perhaps you happen to be an amazing parent, but so many children won't get the necessary information at home, and if we keep the current system then we'll only continue to churn out children who think that "donkey punching" or yelling "fuck her in the pussy" on live television is hilarious, who joke about rape and sexual assault, and who don't even have the presence of mind to realize that pressuring someone into sex is wrong.


I'm going to have to put some special grilling towards the Campaign Life Coalition as well, since they're one of the main organizations protesting the curriculum changes... and because they're batshit insane. The hypocracy of CLC (a pro-life organization) protesting these changes is that they will probably LOWER the number of abortions compared to an abstinence-focused curriculum. Educate kids on their bodies, encourage them to make healthy choices and provide them with contraceptives, and suddenly teenage pregnancy rates drop significantly, reducing the need for abortions. Of course, CLC is obviously more of an ideological mouthpiece rather than an issue-focused organization, so this should hardly be surprising (their website is also good for a laugh with their extremely one-sided insanity).

CLC's delusions about kids in Grade 7 still being sweet and innocent is so ridiculous that I have to go on my own little mini-rant about it. As they get further from kindergarten, kids become less "innocent little angels" to more "dirty little bastards" in my experience. Most boys are introduced to pornography when they're around 8-12 years old, and while I was super sheltered as I have mentioned, one of my brothers and I actually fit into this one like a glove (I was 11 or 12, and he was a year younger). I had an abusive prick of a friend who invited both of us over one night, and we were hanging out when he mentioned that his sister had a porno tape. We didn't really believe him, nor did we really want to find out if it was true, but he threw it on anyway and... well, yeah... I was too young and too sheltered to get any sort of enjoyment out of it, and it was probably mildly traumatic for me at the time. Many kids stick with it from that time onwards though - I can remember another group of friends when I was 13 or 14 talking about their favourite types of pornos (I distinctly remember one saying they blindfolded a guy and then hid a drop of honey on a naked woman, and he had to find it with his tongue). Maybe I just had really screwed up friends, but it kind of shows the sorts of things you probably weren't aware that your kids were aware of... and c'mon, if we ditch this curriculum, then are we really going to be stupid enough to leave our childrens' sexual education up to freaking pornography?


To summarize things, I believe that enlightenment is far preferable to so-called "blissful ignorance". Taking kids out of this environment might make them accept their parents' ideology... for a time. I know that for myself, discovering that an authority has held information back from you for no real benefit to yourself makes you want to look into the stuff that was withheld from you. My advice to parents protesting these changes: put your children through it, but be sure to talk with your damned kid about the things you disagree with, because they'll probably agree with you until they're old enough to make up their own minds about it. Teachers can influence their development of course, but a parent's advice almost always holds major sway. Treat it kind of like how Evangelical parents treat evolution already and I imagine the results will be pretty similar. I went through science classes but always rejected evolution because I had been previously taught that it was incompatible with my faith. However, over time, I reexamined the relationship between science and religion, explored other theological ideologies outside of conservative evangelicalism and came to my own decisions about how that all works. That said, many others stick with their initial beliefs, but at least they make their own decisions in the end. If nothing else, I'm sure they'll appreciate the knowledge gained later in life when they find themselves entering into relationships - whether you approve of them or not.

*And by this I mean that homosexuality/transsexuality isn't exactly something that people choose, it's something they're either born into or develop over time (science seems to be still uncertain of the exact causes). Considering that it happens in nature is a further support that it is something which occurs naturally. Whether you believe that homosexuality only exists because of sin, I don't think you can make a really convincing argument that it is something which is unnatural (in our modern world at the VERY least).

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

IC2S Playlist Update 13/05/2015

Welcome back for another IC2S Playlist update! We're now 9 songs in, clocking in at 53 minutes, with a nice mix of rock/hard rock, metal, electronic and pop music. We're actually getting to the point where you could throw this playlist on in the background while you work or go for a drive, so... yeah... if you do that, then I'd like to know what you think (as long as it's positive, haha). Also, this happens to be my 100th post on I Choose to Stand, so that's a pretty epic milestone to celebrate.


First up this week is "4th Dimension Opera House" by My Heart to Fear from their album Algorithm. I was really tempted to do their song "The Sneaking Chair" instead, but this one edged it out because of its really interesting lyrics (I'll probably add "The Sneaking Chair" at somepoint in the future though, because it really kicks ass, so stay tuned). In a nutshell, the song is about how things only get worse when humanity gets what it wants. The song details a sci-fi story about how a well of unlimited power is discovered in a small town. It starts out as a promise of good, but it quickly descends into government regulation, riots, poverty, war and overpopulation. In the end, they destroy the well to stop all the problems that it caused in the first place, and make a concerted effort to forget that it even existed... until 10,000 years in the future, when another well is found. It's a really interesting idea for a song, and the ending shows how the cycle of human desire and self-destruction continues itself. One interesting note for me though is that the song kind of feels like the conservative ethos told in an allegory, but it doesn't change that I think it's a very interesting song. My only real complaint is that I wish it was longer. The main body of the song could easily have had another verse about how the well screws up the world, but it feels like it just skips through all of that very quickly. Still, I'd recommend checking out Algorithm, it's a very solid album from start to finish.


Secondly, we have "The Other Woman" by Caro Emerald from her album Deleted Scenes From the Cutting Room Floor. I have really gotten into Caro Emerald in the last couple weeks, I really like her jazz/big band/pop mixture and her classy, sensual style. This song in particular sounds very Tarantino-esque, or perhaps could form the basis of a kick-ass James Bond theme song (holy shit, please get Caro Emerald to make the next James Bond theme please!!!!). I dunno, there's not much more beyond that that I can say - it's just a really great song from a very talented artist, so check it out.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

IC2S Playlist Update 07/05/2015

Another week, another IC2S Playlist update! It was pretty hard to narrow down what I wanted to play this week, and I can imagine that next week won't be any easier (especially since I have discovered a new, awesome artist so I always get pretty excited when that happens).


First up is "Think" by Kaleida. If you ever have seen John Wick (and if you haven't, then rectify that mistake immediately), then you'll recognize this as the rather hypnotic pop song at the start of the incredible "club scene". I was listening to the John Wick soundtrack and thought that it was a really cool song. It feels somewhat minimalist to me, it's very deliberate and not overblown, but still manages to be very catchy. Kaleida doesn't have a lot of music yet (they don't even have a Wikipedia page yet), but if they can keep putting out stuff like "Think", then I might just become a fan.


Secondly, we have "Reminiscence" by Sovereign Council. I chose this song for a couple reasons. Firstly, I actually knew and went to school with a couple of the guys in Sovereign Council, and I like to support local artists - especially when they put out epic power metal like this. Secondly, they just put their new album, Laniakea, up for pre-order. I'm pretty damn stoked for it. New Reign was pretty fantastic for an indie debut album, and now that they've matured quite a bit and made the band a bit leaner, I think that Laniakea will be even better. I can only hope that they make it big.

As for "Reminiscence" itself, I really dig it (obviously). I think that there are a few songs on the album which are better than it overall, but it's the killer dueling guitars near the end which really sell it to me. My one criticism of the band would be that their lyrics can be a little lame at times, but their musicianship in this song in particular feels very professional and accomplished. Check 'em out!

Monday, 4 May 2015

Breastfeeding and the Male Gaze

Gender relations return, with a vengeance! The core basis of this post has literally been sitting in my drafts list for around a year and a half now as a single point-form statement, but I never got around to doing anything with it - I liked the observation enough that I didn't want to just delete it, but I also didn't want to go on yet another feminism rant. However, a TV commercial of all things caused this idea to bubble back to the surface and set my imagination running wild. So here we go: we're going to examine the concept of the male gaze.

As I have probably alluded to in the past, I grew up in a fairly conservative family. My father instituted (and still does whenever he's around) some pretty strict rules about what media content we were allowed to consume.* We were generally restricted to PG-13 movies and Teen-rated video games: violence was largely permitted, as long as it wasn't too bloody or gory and swearing had to be kept to a minimal level... but nudity was basically 100% off-limits. Honestly, of all the restrictions he instituted, I think this one screwed up my psyche the most... but I might get into that another day.

It took me 14 freaking years to finally see this movie...

In any case, this blanket restriction eventually occurred to me as having a couple blind spots. First off, is this including male nudity? I'm pretty sure this never really occurred to my dad, although he'd probably be questioning why the hell we were watching a movie with naked men in it. When I came across this issue though, it made it pretty damn obvious that the whole point of the restriction was because of the classic conservative hysteria about preventing boys from touching themselves, in which case, male nudity wasn't a big deal (although now that I think about it, I imagine that my dad would argue that God told us to cover our nakedness). The other blind spot I noticed was that, since this was restriction was obviously intended to keep us from temptation, what were we supposed to think about intentionally un-sexy nudity? This was the more important issue as far as I'm concerned, and the one which ties into this post the best. Schindler's List, for example, has a fair bit of nudity, but the majority of it is unsettling and very un-arousing. Or what about The Impossible, where a breast gets exposed, but it's pretty horrifically shredded from a very nasty wound and the woman is in a state of utter shock? However, I can pretty much guarantee that this would have been also considered "off-limits" as well, because my father (and much of society for that matter) consider the naked female form to be something that is always subject to the male gaze.

In case you aren't aware of what the male gaze refers to, it is basically the idea that, in media, the camera tends to "see" and portray women as men see/fantasize them, focusing on their curves and doing their best to make them look sexy, seductive and passive. Possibly one of the most egregious and idiotic uses of this in practice are in regards to Miranda in Mass Effect 2, where the camera constantly frames the scene emphasizes her ass, sometimes dedicating up a third of the screen to it (which, of course, is further emphasized by her skintight bodysuit).


Notice the extremely subtle framing difference here?

When I first heard about the male gaze in school, I wasn't sure that I believed it was a real thing, or at least that it could affect society outside of the media. However, I believe I have stumbled upon a perfect example which was this whole article: the bafflingly touchy subject of public breastfeeding. I hadn't really understood why this was considered so controversial to so many people: babies have to eat, moms have the means to do it, and babies aren't known for their timeliness or consideration for others. It occurred to me about a year and a half ago that the reason that people get so uncomfortable around breastfeeding women is likely because we have been taught as a society that female nudity is supposed to be sexy and something for men to enjoy, but when it is used to feed a baby, then it suddenly becomes socially confusing, awkward and decidedly un-sexy.


I mentioned that a recent commercial brought this thought bubbling back to my consciousness. In the commercial, they were showing serene images, and then suddenly cut to a close-up of a child breastfeeding. I was kind of taken aback by it, because I don't think I have ever seen a commercial flirt so flagrantly with a supposedly controversial subject (not to mention that there was like 90% of a boob on screen, which is unheard of in any commercial I have seen). A lot of women who campaign for public breastfeeding like to say that it is something that is "beautiful", but I never really understood that position until right now: I have been looking at that sort of thing through my own lens, the male gaze. If I had imagined it from the female perspective, the female gaze if you will, I'd have pictured a mother sustaining and comforting the soul that she brought into this world and loves with all of her heart... and, you know what, that actually is an extremely beautiful way to look at it.

So hopefully that all made sense, and demonstrated how the concept of the male gaze has applications outside of media. Public breastfeeding seems to be becoming more and more of a non-issue every year, so hopefully soon mothers will be allowed to actually do what they have to won't have to worry about some dickheaded prude calling them out for making them feel awkward.


*Don't get me wrong though, letting kids watch whatever the hell they want to is not something I condone. I don't think it'll turn them into a psychotic murderer by any means, but kids should probably avoid some subjects until they have reached a certain level of maturity to begin to understand it.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Christian Media Industry

I consider this blog to be one largely about current events and popular culture, but occasionally I like to write about religion (or, let's be honest, Christianity). Don't worry - I'm not going to use this blog to try to shove the Bible down anyone's throats, because I know that I HATE getting preached to. In fact, today's post isn't so much about the Christian religion itself, as it is about the chaff that surrounds the Christian community. I have touched on my thoughts on the Christian music industry in the past with my post on Ozzy Osbourne, but this post will expand on that to cover my thoughts on the entire Christian media industry.

First, I'll lay a little groundwork on how businesses can compete with each other, to provide a context for what the Christian industry is and how it operates. The most visible and familiar kind of business is the one which is directed at the mass audience. This category would include stores like Wal-Mart (easily the best exemplar of this principle), major blockbuster films, pop musicians, etc. These kinds of businesses tend to have high overheads, but because their appeal is so wide, the potential for profit can be extremely high if they can capture that mass audience. This also means that their services and marketing will be tailored towards the lowest common denominator.


Attempting to compete with a mass market provider means that you're going to have to go all-out, because if you can't offer service as well as your competition, then you're going to get left in the dust. The obvious example here is the mom-and-pop stores that Wal-Mart just annihilates when it moves into an area. However, it also applies to other big chains, such as Blockbuster. Another great example of this is Target, which recently was involved in a sudden and high-profile bankruptcy in Canada. They made an aggressive expansion into the country, opening around 150 locations and spending billions to get a major foothold. However, this was still not enough to allow it to compete with the Wal-Marts and other retail chains present in the country (not to mention that their service here was distinctly worse).

So what is a small business supposed to do to try to compete with the Wal-Marts of the world? The solution to this problem is actually quite simple and becoming increasingly popular: ignore the mass market, and focus all your efforts on marketing to a niche audience and foster brand loyalty. Some good examples of this philosophy would be vinyl record or health food stores, metal bands, low budget horror movies, etc. The thought process behind this approach is that there are a practically unlimited number of niches out there which the mass market cannot cater towards, so by providing their specialized service, they basically eliminate the need to compete with the mass marketers. In addition, there is a smaller overhead compared to the mass marketers, the individuals in the audience will typically spend more money than the individuals in a mass audience, and it increases the likelihood of repeat purchases and brand loyalty.


In case it wasn't obvious, the Christian entertainment industries are in the niche market category and live or die by these principles. This can probably best be evidenced by how the money spent on Christian media seems to be tied into their rate of success (in order of their prominence, Christian media is dominated first by books/magazines, then music, then movies and finally video games being by far the weakest of the lot). This highlights the first issue I have with Christian media, and that's the ethics of it. One of the more famous passages in the gospels is when Jesus comes to the Jewish temple and sees people selling sacrifices and creating booths for money changers (people who exchange currency basically, and who almost certainly would have been charging for this service). He drives them out in anger, claiming that they have turned God's residence into a den of robbers. I'm torn on this particular issue. At its basis, the Christian media industry is either commodifying worship and teaching, or it is cynically preying on Christians' beliefs to sell a product that wouldn't be able to stand on its own otherwise. However, at the same time, this is how our society works. If we did not pay Christian artists for their work, then they wouldn't be able to make a living (and for most Christian artists, it's a modest living at that)... with that in mind, I think the bigger ethical issue is the use of the "Christian" label in the use of marketing them, especially when it is used in a particularly cynical manner. While there are obviously a lot of people within the industry who are actually looking to enrich the Christian faith, I think it's fair enough to state that the primary drive of the Christian industry is to market products and make money.


Also, before I go any further, I really want to stress that I am by no means making a blanket statement that artists in the Christian industry suck or are worse than the mainstream media (except for the Christian film and video game industries, which just plain suck in general due to a lack of funding and talent, or because they are produced by "Christian" subsidiaries of major companies in order to make a quick and cynical buck). There are many who are extremely talented, but whose lyrical/writing focus does not appeal to a mass market, or because they have been trapped in the Christian label (which I will also cover soon). I should also mention that I believe that Christians probably have a disproportionately high number of talented musicians and singers, because the church system tends to foster and provide access these talents due to choirs, youth bands, worship services, etc. In contrast, someone growing up outside the church would have to find these talents through school, extra-curricular activities and adult encouragement - obviously not impossible by any means, but there's just less access and fostering.


While the niche market approach may be what is keeping the Christian industry alive, it is also a major weakness in many ways. Probably the most obvious reason is because many Christian artists actually want to reach out to the broader culture, but their message doesn't get the needed reach. This is because of prejudice towards Christian media in general, but also because the Christian industry only really caters towards the Christian market, leaving any further promotion for the aritsts to deal with themselves, or for the consumers to create word-of-mouth. In Christian music especially, when an artist does cross over into the mainstream, the Christian label continues to haunt them. Anberlin, Switchfoot, P.O.D. (especially), and countless other bands that have crossed over have been stuck forever with the label of "Christian" rock, which always remains a part of the dialogue surrounding them. As I Lay Dying has perhaps the most extreme example of this problem, as their lead singer, Tim Lambesis, ended up slowly finding himself renouncing Christianity. However, he was the head of a Christian band during this whole process, and he couldn't exactly turn away from his Christian audience, or he would lose a huge portion of his audience. He ended up sticking around and pretending to still be devout, until he tried to have his wife killed, at which point all of this came to light. Of course, this led to the inevitable retroactive questions of "Can we really consider As I Lay Dying to be Christian anymore?", even though Lambesis was the only member who had recanted.

Moving beyond these thoughts and onto more personal concerns, I have been wondering recently why it seems like the Christian industry seems to cater towards conservative Evangelicalism*. This should seem quite strange, since Catholicism remains the largest Christian denomination worldwide, with an estimated 1.2 billion adherents. I have come up with a few probable explanations to this question. For one thing, the USA is a cultural juggernaut and is the source of most of the Christian media. Of course, socially conservative Protestantism is the majority in the States, and so the producers will naturally cater towards their own understanding of Christianity (hell, as someone who grew up in an Evangelical church, I wouldn't even be surprised if many of them were only dimly aware of other Christian traditions, or didn't bother to acknowledge them with any legitimacy). Beyond that though, the majority of Catholics are based in Latin America and Africa, and which don't tend to be priority markets. Another possible explanation is that the Christian media industries' emergence as something distinct from the rest of culture correlates with the rise of Christian revival movements in the 60s-80s, such as the so-called "Moral Majority", and the growing political power of right-wing evangelicals starting in the Reagan era. Naturally, this sudden surge to prominence and growing political important would require the market to cater towards them, and for the artists amongst them to express their faith to others.


It seems to me though that it makes sense for the Christian industry to market towards the social Evangelicals from a purely-economic mindset. A socially conservative Christian is more likely to consume Christian media, since they will be more opposed to mainstream culture than a mainline, Progressive or a Catholic. This, unfortunately, creates a bit of an evangelical monopoly in Christian popular culture though, which can have some serious problems... I can't be the only person who grew up in an Evangelical church, consuming their media, and believing that they were the only ones who were doing things the "proper" way.

If it wasn't obvious, this virtual monopoly means that, in North America at least, the conservative evangelicals control most of the dialogue on what is and isn't "Christian". It scares me when this gets applied to platforms like RightNow Media, which is obviously seeking to be the Netflix of the Christian media industry. If it succeeds in this regard, then the market will become even more monopolized. What are they going to allow/disallow as the gatekeepers of this content? Are they going to decide that it's only "Christian" to teach young-earth creationism and leave no room for alternate interpretations (and then suffer the inevitable backlash from conservative evangelicals boycotting them if they do not)? Do they let people on who promote Islamophobia in the name of Christianity? Where is the cut-off line, and how is it determined? This isn't just me seeing

When I was attempting to write my first novel**, I really had to sit down and decide if I was going to market myself towards the Christian industry or if I would risk going for something more mainstream. In the end, I figured I had a better chance of success if I went for the Christian market, but this affected the writing process somewhat: I had to exercise some self-censorship, mostly in regards to swearing and throwing in some arbitrary Bible allusions. The funny thing though is that either way, I'm still a Christian who wrote a book, so isn't it more than a little arbitrary that it's only considered a "Christian" work if I submit myself to the market gatekeepers' standards?


...and as great as that last paragraph would have been to end this one, I can't write about the Christian media industry without spewing vitrol about perhaps the most cynical corner of it: the prophecy industry. Christian bookstores dedicate multiple shelves to hundreds of books claiming to interpret the many vague prophies in the Bible, predicting what is going to happen in the "end times" and how current events tie into this. Spoiler alert: they're all routinely bullshit. The people who write these books tend to be either misguided/short-sighted Bible scholars, cynics looking to make easy money by saying whatever they want to without having to have any accountability if it ends up being false, or people who are literally as insane as your average conspiracy theorist.


Let's get this out of the way: it is frankly idiotic to assume that the so-called "end times" will occur in our lifetime. EVERY generation since the birth of Christianity has believed that they were the ones who were going to be present for Jesus' return. I think that the Christians being slain by the Roman Emperors, Martin Luther going to war with the Catholic Church, the troops witnessing the horrors of the first and second World Wars and the even the people living under the threat of nuclear annihilation all had better claims to support this assumption than this generation, and yet it is the Christians living in a rich country with practically no Christian persecution who are screaming the loudest that their time is finally coming. It's little more than human arrogance to believe that the "story" is going to end with us, and thereby contextualize the entire Bible according to our current and limited understanding of the world. For example, at some point during the Cold War, someone decided that the Bible was prophecizing that Russia and Iran would attack Israel based on a reference to a pair of "northern nations" who would do so in Ezekiel and Revelations... oh and what do you know, Russia and Iran happened to be our enemies at the time! With all of the evils that ISIS has been perpetrating for the last year, there is also a renewed sense of Islamophobia which is increasingly being worked into end times narratives (despite the fact that ISIS has been targeting its Muslim neighbours almost exclusively... in fact, I would bet that Israel is actually helping to fund ISIS to attack its enemies).

Anyway, to tie this back into the main thesis of this post, the prophecy industry only is able to exist and shill its toxic bullshit because of the economic realities of the Christian media industry. As a Christian, I enjoy quite a few aspects of the industry (many of my favourite bands are, or were, a part of it, and I quite like some of the authours within it), but I am left conflicted and concerned by the many ethical and ideological issues that plague it. Unfortunately I don't have the answers to these issues, aside from a hope for some gradual cultural shifts... but I sure as hell can complain in the meantime.

*This is based on personal observation, so this might be just personal biases, but I am confident that this is the case. In general, Christian media will be ambiguously non-denominational, but when a denominational bias is intentionally put forth, it seems that the conservative Evangelical position is the most represented of the lot across all media.

**I never finished it, unfortunately. I got almost 40,000 words in before I grew really dissatisfied with it and shelved it. It was a post-apocalyptic road trip story about four people travelling west across the desolation left in the wake of a nuclear war, with the intent of making it more realistic than your average apocalyptic story. It was very much a therapeutic exercise for me at that point in time, dealing with how to love somebody, communism and some abstract religious philosophy. I started conceptualizing it in November 2010, but by the time I got writing it, post-apocalypse stories were already a really tired genre (and a post-apocalyptic road trip was already very much a thing with The Road). Plus, it was a really serious story, and I don't really think I write "seriously" well enough. In addition, The Last of Us basically did the best post-apocalyptic road trip story I've seen, and covered a lot of the themes I was exploring as well, so the basis of the idea has more-or-less been done better than I could have. Finally, and probably most importantly, the personal issues I was tackling at the time have been resolved for quite some time now, so it just doesn't feel relevant to me anymore. Who knows, maybe I'll revisit the incomplete manuscript someday and give it a huge overhaul, but for now I'm going to focus on my efforts elsewhere.