Wednesday, 2 September 2015

IC2S Playlist Update 02/09/2015


Continuing the August 21st album analyses from last week, we have "Save Our Last Goodbye" by Disturbed from Immortalized. I haven't entirely made up my mind on how I feel about Immortalized yet, but I'm starting to feel like it might be their weakest album in quite some time. Previously, I felt like Disturbed were improving with every subsequent album release, but Immortalized feels very "same-y". I know that this is a complaint which has dogged Disturbed for quite some time, but it rings especially true on this album. The songs sound very similar to their Asylum-era stuff, but the real problem is that a good portion of the album feels like b-side material, with only a few tracks really standing out. This is especially problematic since they were supposed to change up their sound during the hiatus, but they sound the same as ever... if not worse. Now to be fair, they do change it up occasionally, with "The Light", "Fire It Up" and "The Sound of Silence" all being quite different than we're used to with Disturbed. However, of the three, I only really liked "The Light". "Fire It Up" is ruined by ridiculously stupid lyrics, and "The Sound of Silence" didn't really work for me (I do know that some people were really happy with it though so to each his own).

While I enjoy "Save Our Last Goodbye" and think that it's one of the better tracks on the album, I think we were really spoiled with "The Vengeful One". Nothing else on the album even comes close to being as good as that song. It also doesn't help that The Awakening (released on the same day) was so good, it makes Immortalized feel much more inadequate in comparison. While I enjoy Immortalized overall, it is just a bit of a disappointment - I'd probably say it's their 4th best album (out of 6).


Secondly this week we have "Way to Fall" by Starsailor, from their album Love is Here. The reason I picked this song this week is because of the monumental release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. "Way to Fall" was the end credits song in MGS3: Snake Eater, which was definitely my favourite game in the franchise. It's also a great song in its own right, but when paired with the incredible ending sequence in Snake Eater, it takes on a whole new depth of tragic meaning. That said, I would have liked to get "Here's To You" from MGS5: Ground Zeroes, but it sadly is not on Spotify.

I have been playing a lot of Ground Zeroes in anticipation for The Phantom Pain, and have had that song stuck in my head for weeks now. I'm really glad I jumped back in though - the game has a really rewarding skill curve. When I first jumped back in, I was getting spotted constantly by enemies that I didn't notice, putting me in messy situations constantly. However, as I improved, suddenly I was able to go whole missions undetected, twitch-spotting enemies on the fly, consistently headshotting enemies at over 50m with my tranquilizer pistol, etc. It was quite fun and rewarding to improve so dramatically, when I was so hopeless only a few days earlier. Plus, I'd definitely recommend getting all the XOF patches - the Jamais Vu mission in particular is an extremely fun diversion. I imagine I have now gotten at least 10 hours out of the game, which makes me feel better about the $35 price tag which was so controversial when it released.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Voter Ignorance

Election period is coming around in Canada once again, and I'm not sure which irritates me more: the shady politicking or the whining of the uninformed. Recently, I was analyzing Stephen Harper's campaigning speech in Vancouver, when the lady sitting next to me helpfully informed us all that "they never keep any of their promises, so why bother?" Ah, the old standby of the uninformed and uninterested person who chooses not to vote, and yet has to throw their opinion in anyway because they feel like they need to justify their ignorance (and using "prevailing wisdom" no less)!

Of course, studies have shown that politicians actually do keep the majority of their promises (typically 65-85% of them, depending on their term length, partisanship, etc), so it goes further towards damning their opinion. I mean, this should be pretty obvious - if a politician gets a reputation for lying through their teeth, then they aren't likely to get reelected.


Unfortunately, it is the uninformed, like my co-worker, who are just the sort of person that politicians need to game the democratic system. Politicians are aware that those who are already politically engaged have made up their minds on who to vote for long before the election ever comes, so they have to find other sources to swing the election in their favour. The undecided and uninformed voters are the people that politicians are campaigning towards... and that's pretty damn frightening to me. I mean, I can respect the undecided (and I think that we should all keep our voting options open and not fall into the habit of voting for the same party every time simply because we always vote for them), but the amount of uninformed voters who vote is scary. Think about it - every time there's an election, the fate of our country is potentially hinging on the whims of people who don't really understand what they're doing. Perhaps they felt pressured into voting by someone else (there are always big "VOTE NOW!!!" campaigns come election time and people always whine about 40% voter turnout, but I'd rather that than 60% of voters not knowing what the hell they're doing), or their neighbour has convinced them that a particular party is the way to go because all the others are liars, or maybe the politicians' own extremely deceptive tactics managed to sway them (this is why we have attack ads galore and why everyone is dog-piling on Harper for "causing a recession" - it doesn't have to be true, you just have to get people to think it is). For example, my youngest brother has a learning disability and doesn't understand politics in the slightest. However, he votes for the Conservative party consistently, simply because that is who my parents vote for and they have basically prodded him into voting with them.


Is there a good solution to prevent the whims of the uninformed from affecting elections? Or is this just how democracy should work? While I'm sure there are a diversity of opinions on the matter, I personally see this as one of the failings of our democratic system, which allows the "gaming of the system" which politicians are so notorious for. My own proposed solution is one that I have waffled on for a while. It is the idea of a voter compitency test, where voters actually have to know what the hell they're doing to gain the right to vote. This might actually make more people interested in being politically active, because people are always most interested in the rights that they don't get without earning them. This would shift things more towards an oligarchy of the educated, but this also opens up additional concerns. Foremost amongst these is how the test could be conducted without opening up a bias towards a political party, and to prevent it from being gamed in the future (which is how dictatorships are created). Also, I'm aware this whole idea of an educated oligarchy might just be a political bias of my own - while studies are inconclusive on the idea, there is another bit of "prevailing wisdom" which claims that educated people tend to be more liberal. If this prevailing wisdom was actually true, and only the educated were allowed to vote, then this could effectively wipe out conservatism (or at least make it significantly more liberal than it currently is). Even if this wouldn't happen, I still can't shake the sense that I lean towards this solution just because it fits into my political leanings well.

In any case, this election is shaping up to be one of the more interesting ones in quite a long time. The Conservative pary hasn't had any real competition since the early 2000s, so with a shockingly competitive-looking NDP and a young maverick leading the Liberals, the election is looking like it will be very tense. However, I implore you this: if you don't know or care about politics, and don't want to get educated on it, then for the sake of our country don't feel compelled to vote. PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT FEEL COMPELLED.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

IC2S Playlist Update 26/08/2015


First up this week we have "Am I Awake?" by P.O.D. from The Awakening. While I was a bit worried that P.O.D. wouldn't be able to pull it off, I'm happy to say that The Awakening was fantastic. While I would say that they're my favourite band, P.O.D. is typically rather uneven - even their best albums usually have a couple tracks which aren't very good. However, The Awakening is easily their most consistently good album since The Fundamental Elements of Southtown from way back in 1999. My only real complaint is that I'm not a fan of the story interludes which tie the album together. On the one hand, they do make the album a little more meaningful by linking the songs together. On the other hand, the acting in them is usually pretty awful, the writing is very "on the nose" and they don't really seem to follow on another very coherently. This doesn't detract from my assessment any (if you even have a cursory knowledge of Audacity then you can edit these bits out or make them skippable), but it is a bit of an annoying blemish on an otherwise solid package.


Secondly, we have "Them Bones" by Alice in Chains from their album Dirt. I had to find a new internet radio station to get my metal fix because Weathered Steel sadly went off the air. I'm now listening to a station called Metal Rock Radio, which I am enjoying overall. On my first day listening, they played "Them Bones" and it brought back a flood of nostalgia. When I was a kid, my brothers and I would play ATV Offroad Fury on PS2 all the time. This song was one of the highlights of the game's soundtrack, and has made me do some digging on Spotify to see if any of my old favourite game soundtracks are there. I haven't dug too deep into Alice in Chains' back catalogue yet (I own The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here and have heard a few things on the radio), but I do quite like them... in fact, I'd go far enough to say that they're probably my favourite grunge band (suck it Nirvana).

Monday, 24 August 2015

5 Real Examples of Sexism in Hollywood

Whatculture recently published an article by Jack Pooley purporting to cover 12 sexist movie scenes which prove that Hollywood hates women. Clickbait title aside, I found this article to be extremely inadequate. Its examples tended to be either extremely weak (The Wicker Man) or missed the point entirely (Gigli, Jurassic World, Transformers, Sex and the City 2), which made it very easy to dismiss. He also fails to explain why some of these issues are sexist, which is pretty key if you're trying to convince uninitiated people that sexism is real (unfortunately, I have noticed that us SJWs tend to take it for granted that everyone knows what they're talking about). Unfortunately, there is a kernel of a good idea within this article, but it focuses too much on its examples and not enough on the broader picture to be effective. With that in mind, consider this a broader response to Pooley's article, going beyond specific, unconnected examples and focusing instead on the common trends which actually do go some way to showing the existence of sexism within Hollywood, and society at large.


5) Objectification/Sexualization
This is arguably the most obvious form of sexism out there, but as a result it also seems to be becoming less frequent and/or more subtle (well... outside of the comics and video game industries anyway, because holy shit guys). In case you're somehow unaware of what I'm referring to here, it is when women are portrayed as little more than sexy background objects, when personality is stripped away in favour of highlighting their sexuality. Pooley's example of Alice Eve's stripping scene in Star Trek Into Darkness was a pretty gratuitous example of this, and most of the older James Bond movies revel in having background beauties for people to oogle at. If you watch HBO shows, then this will also be an extremely familiar concept. Game of Thrones features a ridiculous amount of gratuitous nudity from nameless background characters, often with no real justification for it beyond the sake of getting more boobs on the TV.

So why is this a problem, you might ask? What about all the male objectification out there in stuff like Magic Mike or Twilight you might also ask? Well I think that the main issue is not so much that objectification is completely unacceptable, but rather that female objectification outweighs male objectification significantly. Furthermore, works that feature objectified women often don't feature any strong female leads either, so there isn't any proper counter-balancing in place to keep things fair. If female objectification was less prevalent and if strong female characters were more plentiful, then I think this would be less of a concern for feminists.


4) Hollywood "Conventional Wisdom"
Studios are very adverse to taking risks, so their film scripts are often changed to follow trends and to give them more "mainstream appeal". This is a major reason why so many movies seem to be the same these days, and not because they've run out of ideas.

This risk aversion leads to a variety of major issues for women - for one thing, many studio heads follow the "conventional wisdom" that audiences don't like female leads, so they make most of their big blockbusters led by a male hero (eg, sure we can have an ass-kicking woman in Guardians of the Galaxy, but she has to be anchored by a loveable male hero). This is a main reason why there hasn't been a female-led superhero film since 2005's Elektra, and why Marvel is too scared to make a Black Widow film, despite fans asking for one since Iron Man 2 came out. I don't care whether you're a feminist or not, can you not admit that there's something ridiculously messed up about that fact which seems to hint at some real issues in Hollywood?


3) Lazy Writing and Regressive Tropes
Lazy writing of female characters is a consequence of Hollywood's "risk adversion strategy" which seems to have gotten a lot more attention this past summer, with Mad Max: Fury Road being praised for subverting it, while Jurassic World was called out for falling into it. Since many films are more concerned with the actions of the male characters, female characters are typically superfluous to the plot, or are written (or rewritten) in such a way that the male character is the one who gets the control. It can also happen when scripts are written and/or shaped by a male perspective, in which case it's common for women to be written very stereotypically, as an idealized version for wish fulfillment (see A Million Ways to Die in the West for a particularly egregious example), or for them to just not even think to put in a female perspective.

Once you become aware of this issue, it's hard to watch any blockbuster without seeing this lazy writing everywhere. For example, I was watching The Hobbit movies the other day and it occurred to me that there are maybe 4 female characters in the entire trilogy. 2 of them are Bard's daughters, which are little more than objects in peril for the entire trilogy (even his weak son got to participate in the action a little bit). 1 is Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, who gets about 3 seconds of screen time and is a (rather funny) harpy of a woman. The only woman in the trilogy who can actually be considered a "character" is Tauriel, but she's a mixed bag. On the one hand, she kicks ass and is fairly cool. On the other hand though, she does nothing of consequence in the movies and her entire character is defined by the two men who are fighting over her. This is especially egregious because the love angle was added during rewrites when the franchise was expanded into a trilogy, and basically everyone agrees that this ruined her character.


2) Pay Gaps
Patricia Arquette famously brought this issue up in her 2015 Oscar speech. You may be tempted to say "oh boo hoo, I wish that I was only raking in a million dollars!", but please put aside that knee-jerk reaction and hear this one out. If a woman stars in a movie, has just as much (or more) star power than her male co-stars and puts in just as much screen time, then she should make at least a comparable wage as they do, right? Not so much in Hollywood. For example, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence were both paid significantly less for their work in American Hustle, despite having comparable screen time and being just as high profile as their male co-stars. Women's pay also starts to drop off significantly after they hit their mid-30s, whereas men remain pretty steady into their 50s. Since men tend to get more focus from studios, women end up getting less good roles to compensate, have a harder time affording turning down offers and also get lower pay as a result. Of course, they can always get their pay to go up... by agreeing to do nude scenes (like Halle Berry in Swordfish).

It has been said that the justification for this gap is because womens' agents don't negotiate good enough deals for them, which is probably true... however, it is also disingenuous. If the trends show that women consistently make considerably less than their male peers, there's clearly something wrong there systemically which is forcing their agents to low ball them in order for them to even get exposure. I don't have all the answers for this issue, but it is something to be aware of which shows how Hollywood seems quite sexist, even at an organizational level.


1) Women Aren't Respected as "Characters"
This is largely related to the lazy writing issue, but it's worth digging into this deeper because it's probably the most sexist element of modern Hollywood. After all, as I have said before, why should the inclusion of a female character who is as strong as the male character have critics crying "feminism!" to the heavens like it's some sort of big revelation? This isn't feminism, it's gender neutrality, but it's sadly under-represented in Hollywood. If you analyse films then you'll see that the sad fact of the matter is that most films don't give a shit about the women who are in them.

Often, women are thrown into movies as little more than an "object". Whether they're something for the (male) protagonist to fall in love with, or need to be rescued by them, these women "characters" almost always have no real agency within the plot. They contribute basically nothing of their own to the plot beyond what they can do for the male character. This is because, at its core, the screenwriters are not writing about a "person", they're just writing plot points and plot conveniences which revolve around the actual focus of the story. This is how we end up with the essentially worthless women in basically every superfluous love subplot which has ever plagued a movie, and is also why so many films fail the Bechdel test. Or what about season 1 of True Detective, which is supposed to be concerned with the exploitation of women... but these women aren't the focus at all, they're just background images and plot points (and the "actual" women characters are even more transparent plot points which are meant to define the protagonists more, rather than actual characters in their own right).

This issue reminds me of Chinua Achebe's essay "An Image of Africa", which was about how Heart of Darkness is a racist text. At the time that I read it, I did not understand his point at all, and thought that he was being extremely unfair to Joseph Conrad. However, as I have matured, the point he has been making has become quite clear to me. Heart of Darkness is not a story about a man going up a river in the Congo, and it does not care about the Africans depicted within it. All that it really is focused on is a pair of white Europeans and everything around them bends itself to defining these people. The Africans depicted within are not "characters", they are background objects. Similarly, women are often so ancillary to the plot that they could be excised or replaced by an object with little consequence. This is actually why I'm not as concerned with sexualization - as long as you go some way towards giving agency and developing a personality for the female character so that she isn't just a background object, sexualization can actually serve some purpose.* By the way, this does not necessarily make sexist movies "bad", much like how the presence of racism in Heart of Darkness does not disqualify it from being a classic novella.

Oh, and in case further evidence of this point was needed, the sequel will almost certainly dump the female character, oftentimes to start a whole new love subplot all over again (whereas the male characters are usually retained, such as in the Mission Impossible franchise). This just highlights how little the plot is concerned with the female characters to begin with, since they apparently think that they're totally exchangeable, whereas the male lead was the real interest for everyone. However, it must be said that The Mummy franchise was a very unexpected and refreshing subversion of this trend, which almost makes its many other faults excusable.

Hopefully these five points will go some way to getting those who may not have understood what feminists are going on about to reassess their views. Just a couple years ago, I wouldn't have considered myself a feminist at all. However, looking at pop culture with a critical eye really made me aware of how poorly the deck is stacked against women. In fact, it's a recent enough change for me that if you go back to the first posts on this blog, you can chart my progress from egalitarian to full-on self-identifying feminist.

*I have actually been debating writing an article on this very subject since starting this blog back up, but have been having some trouble getting it off the ground.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

IC2S Playlist Update 19/08/2015

To kick things off this week, I have some music news. I have been getting spoiled in the past couple months with new releases: XXI have announced their debut album, Inside Out, with a September 18th release date. You can pre-order the album for only $8, which is a ridiculously good deal. If you need further convincing, they have also released their first single, "Say It Again", which you can listen to here.


First up this week we have "Empire Ants" by the Gorillaz, from their album Plastic Beach. While I still like Gorillaz, my interest in their music definitely peaked when I was in high school, around the time that Plastic Beach was released. "Empire Ants" was one of my favourite tracks from the album. It starts off really slowly, but by the time that Little Dragon joins in, the music picks up and the song just starts to get very mesmerizing. This song just really sticks out in the mind because it's so unorthodox, but sounds fantastic. My friends and I actually saw Gorillaz in Montreal during the Plastic Beach world tour, and it was probably the best concert experience I ever had. It's been ages since the band released a new album (and no, The Fall does not count), so hopefully we hear something new soon.


Next, we have "Far from Any Road" by The Handsome Family, from the album Singing Bones. As usual, I'm way behind on my TV viewing - while everyone else is complaining that True Detective season 2 was awful, I only just got done watching season 1. "Far from Any Road" was the theme song for the first season, and it was really evocative of the tone of the series.

As for the series itself, I liked the first half of the show quite a bit... but is it just me or did the second half of the series betray just how shallow it all was? The finale "concluded" with a ton of loose ends unresolved (and not in a way that felt intentional). I mean, horray, they killed the serial killer, but the asshole cops are still unpunished and there's a cabal of child molesters still running free. These articles covered my thoughts on the end of the season quite well, highlighted just how obviously sexist the series was on the whole and also showed how the attempts to be "realistic" and "gritty" actually end up making it cliched in its own right. Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed season 1 of True Detective, but I was left disappointed after the strong first half and from hearing so much high praise for the series.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

IC2S Playlist Update 12/08/2015

Sorry that I missed last week's playlist update with basically no warning, the last couple weeks have been extremely busy for me. I have been travelling all over the place recently, mainly between work and my brother's wedding. The wedding was the main reason that I delayed the playlist for a week, since I was a part of the wedding party and had to head down to St. Catherines to attend. However, we're back on track now and will hopefully continue to stay fairly regular.


First up this week is "Fight Test" by The Flaming Lips from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. This is far and away my favourite Flaming Lips album and song, and happens to be the song which first hooked me into them. When I was in high school, a friend of mine asked to borrow my flash drive so that they could listen to some music on the school computer. However, they forgot to take the songs off of it afterwards, so when I got home I found some new music to check out. I had expected to like the They Might Be Giants stuff that was on there because I had heard a lot of good things about them, but I ended up getting disappointed. There were a few other artists as well, but none of them really appealed to me. Finally I came to Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and wasn't expecting much. However, "Fight Test" immediately transfixed me and left me saying "holy shit, this is actually very good", before I went and listened to the rest of the album.

If you haven't listened to them before, The Flaming Lips are a rather experimental psychedelic rock band. Yoshimi is easily their most accessible album, and arguably their most polished as well. "Fight Test" is one of their most resonant songs in my opinion, wrestling with the questions of when it is appropriate to take the high road and when it is necessary to stand up for yourself.


Secondly we have the title track "Laniakea" by Sovereign Council, which just went up on Spotify in the last week. Hopefully you will have ready my album review already, in which case you'll know that I'm really digging it. Ideally, I would have chosen "Morta", "Nona" and "Decima" for this week in a heartbeat, but unfortunately they would have to be three separate tracks (sure, I could have just put them in sequentially, but if you put the playlist on shuffle then that gets totally ruined). As a result, I chose the title track since it's one of the strongest on the album. I saw Sovereign Council perform this track live on the first of August and the performance actually made me like this song even more than I did before. It's pretty indicative of the overall sound of the album, so if you like "Laniakea" then be sure to check out the rest of the album.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

The Metal Religion

Although it seems to have cooled off slightly in the last couple years, western culture seems to be obsessed with the pessimistic notion of the coming apocalypse. I'm not sure if it's a matter of correlation or causation, can you blame them when the American church is, at its core, super-pessimistic? Seriously, all the preaching about redemption and hope from a loving God is meaningless when you immediately turn around and preach about the same God getting pissed off about basically everything and threatening to torture you forever for things you have no control over which He put in you in the first place.

All of this isn't even something you'll notice if you're within the ideological framework, but if you stand back just a little bit and view it with outside eyes, then you might notice that the Christian worldview looks less like the love-centered philosophy we espouse and more like something out of a Metalocalypse episode.

Brutal.

This idea started to formulate itself when I was listening to Christian metal of all things. I have noticed from listening to Weathered Steel radio that a very large percentage of Christian metal revolves around the apocalyse or how society is breaking down and hating the Christian message. As much as I love the band, Impending Doom is probably at the forefront of this trend - Death Will Reign is my favourite album that they have put out, but nearly every song on it is just so pessimistic about the world's future that I find myself having to enjoy it with a theological grain of salt.

Anyway, Christian metal has always seemed to occupy a bit of an odd slot within the Christian media industry. For one thing, it seems to be a fairly popular for a niche subgenre. It is also looked down upon by many in Christianity, who think that all things metal are purely evil. However, as you have probably figured out by now, I would argue that Christian metal might just be the most honest expression of the current Christian dogma here in North America.


Think about the worldview that our current dogma is portraying. Since most churches in North America have incorporated eschatology into our theology in the last hundred years, we have claimed with utmost sincerity that, as the world continues to advance, there will be violence. They preach about unavoidable future apocalyptic events which will wipe out the entire non-Christian population (in God's great grace and mercy, no less) and bring about the destruction of the entire world. We preach hell as a literal place of fire and pain, where people are tortured for all of eternity with no relief, all because they didn't choose to believe a specific ideology during their finite lifespan (or, even worse if you're a Calvinist, because God decided that you weren't worth saving). In addition, we believe that the vast majority of the total world's population is heading directly to this fate (as a very conservative estimate, that'd be at least 50 billion people suffering forever), and yet we say that God is merciful because he decided that a handful of us fulfilled his requirements to be be exposed to His message and accept it. We preach that, because 2 people committed sin a long time ago, we are all naturally inclined towards committing evil and that society would collapse into an orgy of sex and violence if not for the presence of Christians guiding our moral compasses. We believe that an entire race of people has been decreed by God to be hell-bent on committing evil against His people, which causes us to be blissfully ignorant when "God's people" commit human rights abuses against them. We preach believe that there are hideous, unseen, diabolical monsters surrounding us daily which are trying to lead us and society at large into destruction, and which battle with angelic forces on a constant basis.

Again, metal.

By the way, don't get me wrong here - I'm not calling for heretical changes to Christianity or something like that. My point is to draw attention to just how pessimistic and gloomy Christianity has become in North America, and just how much this hurts our real cause to be a beacon to the world. The gospel is supposed to be the Good News, but as long as we are preaching about the sin and doom of godless men, then we're probably not going to open up anyone's eyes to this hope. The current Christian mindset and traditions need to change, because as it stands, we're preaching a really ugly lifestyle.