Category Archives: Seth On The Arts

Seth presents opinions about how others present their artistic wares.

SETHFM vs. CBC RADIO III: The Curiosity Of Tom Power

CBC Radio is a publicly funded broadcaster in Canada. Yet, in SethBlogs’ daily listening, their temperament is to present every story they encounter from a politically “progressive” vantage point. Against that pious bias, SethBlogs’ funded SethFM to the rescue.

SETHFM vs. CBC RADIO SERIES:

I: THE FUSING OF ART AND ARTIST
II: ARTISTIC SERVITUDE
III: THE CURIOSITY OF TOM POWER (you are here)


As any fan or foe of SethBlogs knows, I consider CBC Radio to be my nemesis. It’s not just that they have a slant regarding how our society should be run, they have a slope. This does not mean that they are always wrong in every conclusion they promote, but it does mean that their editorial policy is to never dig for nuance; so long as the item they are discussing claims to be progressive, they are for it.

Moreover, CBC Radio’s sloping presentation is more egregious than that of other biased broadcasters, such as FOX News (to the right) or MSNBC (to the left), because CBC Radio is publicly funded, and so has a duty to all of its constituents, not just to those who agree with them.

So each day—as I listen to CBC Radio—I hope for a break from their no-nuance policy.

Recently, for instance, CBC Radio reporters announced—with a progressively correct grin—that we now had proof of current racial bias in Canada’s policing. My ears opened wide to take in the details of this significant claim, only to learn that the alleged proof of racism could be found in the fact that a higher percentage of certain races are arrested by Canadian police than other races. The reporters gave no consideration to the possibility that the disparate arrest rates could be related to disparate crime rates amongst current Canadian racial demographics (due to various social factors, including perhaps historical racism, itself).

And we know that CBC Radio is aware that historical factors (beyond current racism) can contribute to differing racial demographics in the present, because they frequently talk about the lingering effects of historical injustice on modern groups. Now, of course, it’s possible that both current police racism and history are influencing today’s results, but CBC Radio is not claiming a possibility here: they are claiming a fact that—because we have differing arrest rates—we know that racism is the cause. This would be like assuming that, because online shopping is increasing, that modern Canadians hate going to the mall. That might be the case, but it might also simply be that Canadians get better prices online. I’m interested in the information either way, but—by not checking their work for logical errors—CBC Radio simplifies these discussions down to their lowest common assumptions.

So, as I hear these failures of curiosity, I often wonder:

Do these progressively correct CBC Radio stars realize that they’re ignoring worthy counter arguments to their assumed truths, or are they simply playing simple because that’s their job?

The poster voice for this question of mine is the sweet-seeming Tom Power, the current host of CBC Radio’s arts & culture show, Q. The man is so cuddly in his simplification of complex topics that he seems more dangerous to me than a more aggressive version of himself might be, as he lulls his audience into a belief that there is no possible dark side to his dogma.

For instance, I recall Power interviewing playwright and director, Robert LePage (before the latter failed an appropriation test with his Slav production), and Mr. LePage contemplated out loud whether the #MeToo movement might be overreaching in its possible tendency to reduce humour in the workplace. Power replied, with his fluffiest voice:

“Well, ultimately, I think that might be a good thing” [paraphrased from my memory].

And that was an end to it. Mr. LePage realized that he had been instantly vanquished by his soft-spoken interrogator, and he immediately admitted to our Mr. Power that he was quite right.

Now, Tom’s conclusion might indeed have been correct—perhaps, on balance, the reduced humour of some is worth the increased comforts of others in the modern workplace—but, before pronouncing his progressive judgement, I wonder if Tom might have shown a drop of curiosity about what sorts of troubling consequences for humour Mr. LePage had in blasphemous mind.

So, in answer to my question about whether Mr. Power is as simple as he seems—or if he’s just pretending to be because that’s his job—I counted the above failure of curiosity as evidence of a genuine blandness of mind. Yet, some days—when Q’s topic of discussion has no obvious socio-political implications—I notice that Mr. Power is capable of humour and thought beyond his simplistic progressive assertions.

So I have been torn by the mystery of Tom Power:

Is it possible that he is, in fact, a brilliant progressive strategist hiding in plain platitudes?

Well, recently, our Mr. Power finally proved to me which was his true identity.

On the other side of the Q microphone was Daphne Rubin-Vega, who is the lead voice in the dramatic podcast, The Horror of Dolores Roach, which features progressively-approved implications regarding gentrification and race. Now, personally, I don’t know whether gentrification is as morally harmful as we’re told by progressive advocates; on the one side of my brain, I empathize with those who cannot afford to stay in their established neighbourhoods, but on the other side, I do not like the idea of restricting who can come into and make changes to a neighbourhood. Moreover, I’m not sure which side of the gentrification debate has the best claim to our society’s overall welfare. So, being a gentrification agnostic, I’m always interested to hear arguments on both sides. But, of course, CBC Radio’s policy regarding gentrification is much more settled: gentrification is, by definition, immoral and even racist.

Yet, unfortunately, for our sympathetic Mr. Power, in this case, Ms. Rubin-Vega was not as gifted at staying on progressive message as Tom’s usual group-thinking guests. As we will discover in the following episode of SethFM, Ms. Rubin-Vega’s resulting ideological misstep forced the true Tom Power to reveal himself as he dove in to rescue his guest from her accidental wrongthink. While his brilliant and quick-thinking moral rescue mission proves Tom Power is not a simpleton, after all, his unplanned unmasking was an unexpected joy for your loyal SethBlogs.

Watch SethFM below for details.


SETHFM vs. CBC RADIO SERIES:

I: THE FUSING OF ART AND ARTIST
II: ARTISTIC SERVITUDE

III: THE CURIOSITY OF TOM POWER (you were just here)

SETHFM vs. CBC RADIO II: Artistic Servitude

CBC Radio is a publicly funded broadcaster in Canada. Yet, in SethBlogs’ daily listening, their temperament is to present every story they encounter from a politically “progressive” vantage point. Against that pious bias, SethBlogs’ funded SethFM to the rescue.

SETHFM vs. CBC RADIO SERIES:

I: THE FUSING OF ART AND ARTIST
II: ARTISTIC SERVITUDE (you are here)
III: THE CURIOSITY OF TOM POWER


I’m jealous of the progressive journalists, pundits, and their hybrid offspring who roam the airwaves of my intellectual nemesis, CBC Radio. The Canadian public broadcaster has constructed a safe zone for progressive ideas to run free without fear of contradiction. In this protected environment, the broadcaster’s journalists and pundits cheer on any progressive notions which claim to be combatting racism, sexism, and other notorious isms.

I’m jealous because I, too, am opposed to bigotry, and so I would love to enjoy the good feelings that come with allying oneself with all programs that promise to overpower prejudice; but, sadly for me, I suspect that many progressive policies (such as, say, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s gender quotas in his government) are ethically dangerous, themselves.

I do not mean to suggest that my skeptical conclusions are always right, nor that modern progressive thinking is always wrong, but instead that—by affixing their anti-bigotry labels so confidently to their tunics—progressive advocates and pundits have relieved themselves of the obligation to critically consider the consequences of their favourite ideas. Sometimes they may be right, and sometimes they may be well reasoned, but there is no requirement of those features in order for them to dogmatically present their views on CBC Radio, where their faith-based resolve will never be tested.

Last month, for instance, the Montreal Jazz Festival cancelled its musical production of Slav in belated response to protests regarding the race of the presenters not matching the race of the black slaves they were depicting (five of seven singer/performers were white).

In celebration of this artistic reduction, CBC Radio’s curator of cultural conversation, Q’s Tom Power, interviewed musician, Pierre Kwenders, one of the vanquishers of the unusual production. As ever, our Mr. Power refused to signal anything but progressive virtue as he gently asked his guest for a report of his feelings about his censorious achievement.

While my instincts sympathize with the protestors’ criticism of the production’s strange casting, I am unable to cheer on the halting of art (even when people say they are offended by it). Thus, in deference to the skeptical inquiry that I (jealously) wish were present on CBC Radio, I offer my best impression of an artistic freedom fighter here in another edition of SethFM.


SETHFM vs. CBC RADIO SERIES:

I: THE FUSING OF ART AND ARTIST
II: ARTISTIC SERVITUDE (you were just here)
III: THE CURIOSITY OF TOM POWER

SETHFM vs. CBC RADIO I: The Fusing Of Art And Artist

CBC Radio is a publicly funded broadcaster in Canada. Yet, in SethBlogs’ daily listening, their temperament is to present every story they encounter from a politically “progressive” vantage point. Against that pious bias, SethBlogs’ funded SethFM to the rescue.

SETHFM vs. CBC RADIO SERIES:

I: THE FUSING OF ART AND ARTIST (you are here)
II: ARTISTIC SERVITUDE
III: THE CURIOSITY OF TOM POWER


Once again, I call upon Oscar Wilde to set the scene.

“The artist,” says he (in the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray), “is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.”

I wonder what Wilde would have thought of our society’s current preference for the opposite. As our 2018 moral consensus runs, if a person is accused of a crime or witnessed saying something deemed offensive by the Twitter intelligentsia, then we accuse the offender’s art of guilt by association, and erase their work from further consideration.

I do not mean to suggest that such a moral argument is ridiculous; I can understand the impulse to exile the work of bad people to avoid the perception that we approve of their bad behaviours.

Nevertheless, I contend that the separation of art from the bad deeds of its engineers is essential to an enlightened society. Just as we would not tear down great works of architecture due to the personal failings of architects, we must let art stand for itself.

Perhaps I am wrong about this, but what scares me is how easily our society has given into the dogmatic puritans who insist that good people do not enjoy the artistic output of bad people.

Thus, I offer the following sprinkle of resistance to the storm via my affiliate Seth at SethFM.


SETHFM vs. CBC RADIO SERIES:

I: THE FUSING OF ART AND ARTIST (you were just here)
II: ARTISTIC SERVITUDE
III: THE CURIOSITY OF TOM POWER

BIAS OVER #LOVEOVERBIAS

There’s a very sweet-seeming Olympic ad campaign from P&G visiting our TV screens presently, which I must admit causes my gullible hairs to stand on end as various kid-athletes struggle against alleged bias in their lives. I feel like a truly devilish advocate to question such a compassion-claiming sentiment, but my ever-tedious brain niggles away at me every time the campaign interrupts my Olympic curling.

So here goes. (May Darwin strike me down.)

As far as my Olympic viewing can tell, there are five main stories featured in this “anti-bias” campaign, each serenaded by a warm, motherly voiceover singing, “Child, things are going to get easier.”

All five stories star a mother watching her child struggle against bias and supporting him or her through it; each mom’s eyes glimmer as she sees the best in that kid. And the maternal performances are lovely and sometimes coax a tear out of my eye. Each story is then emphasized with supposedly inspirational text, such as:

“When the world sees labels, a mom sees love. #LoveOverBias”

Or

“When the world sees differences, a mom sees pride. #LoveOverBias”

Or

“Imagine if the world could see what a mom sees. #LoveOverBias. Thank you, Mom. P&G PROUND SPONSOR OF MOMS”

So, amidst such positive-seeming messages, I must apologize because I have two blasphemous criticisms:

(1) I wonder why we are celebrating mothers instead of parents, in general. Is the campaign suggesting that mothers intrinsically care about and support their children more than fathers?

I may seem oversensitive here, but I remind you that this campaign is applauding love over bias, and we live in a society that still treats motherhood as more valuable than fatherhood. From a biased court system in favour of mothers’ rights over fathers’ rights, to the government opening shelters for single mothers instead of single parents, to the mainstream media’s lack of criticism of such mom-centered programs.

I would have thought that the LOVE OVER BIAS people might have considered avoiding such widespread preferential treatment. Instead, while the LOVE OVER BIAS folks are pretending to be subversive by questioning our societal biases, they are actually as conventional as ever as they merely criticize the biases that the mainstream media has identified as bad.

(2) Now, while the LOVE OVER BIAS people are incapable of seeing anything but the correct biases that one is supposed to see, that doesn’t mean that those biases are not worthy of discussing. And four out of five of the biases seem like fair comments to me. We have a boy missing a leg trying to ski, a Muslim girl receiving sideways glances from her competitors, a poor kid putting on cheap skates and getting laughed at for it, and an effeminate boy with a black eye tossing away his hockey skates in favour of what looks like plans to figure skate. My hopeful sense is that these stories are a bit out of date, but I do think that bullies—conventional thinkers, themselves—do tend to focus on those whose cultures and situations seem different from the norm.

But our fifth story inadvertently features not bias from the population surrounding the kid in the story, but bias from the mom in regard to the population. In this case, a girl who dreams of being an elite skier is merrily jumping up and down on her bed in preparation for a ski trip, but her mom watches on and shakes her head with concern as the warm lyric once again touches our ears, “Child, things are going to get easier.” You see, the girl is black, while the posters on her bedroom wall feature the superstar skiers of her time, who are all white. And that, according to the ad, is an obstacle to overcome.

This notion that it is psychologically daunting to have role models who are of a different colour than you is a highly conventional claim about race that I hear frequently emphasized in the “progressive” media. CBC Radio, for instance, loves to talk about the challenge of being the only blue jay in a sea of problematic doves. Now, if that blue jay suffers bigotry from those doves, then we certainly have something to be concerned about. But what I’m referring to here is the additional claim that—even when there isn’t bigotry per se—the very feeling of being a different colour than one’s peers and/or one’s role models is, by definition, suffering a racial indignity.

Now, I can’t prove such prejudice to be incorrect. Maybe it is difficult to be have a different skin tone than one’s cohort and/or one’s role models, but I see no evidence for this unfortunate assumption, and my experience tells me that it’s wrong.

When I was a youngster, my first sporting love was football, and my three favourite players were Roy Dewalt, Keyvan Jenkins, and of course “Swervin” Mervyn Fernandez, who were all black (while I was white). My appreciation for these non-white athletes had nothing to with me being a racially progressive kid, but instead had everything to do with them happening to be the three best players for my BC Lions. And, since my parents didn’t tell me that that those star athletes’ racial difference from me was significant, it never occurred to me to be troubled by it. Instead, I planned to be a professional football player when I grew up just like my heroes.

A year earlier, my family had moved to Bella Bella (a predominantly First Nations village in Northern British Columbia) where my mother had gotten a job as school principal. But my parents didn’t tell me in advance that being of the racial minority would be a problem for me so I wasn’t troubled being one of the only white kids in my class learning the Heiltsuk language from the elders. If only my parents had told me that I was experiencing a hardship, I might have thought to be wary of my classmates, but instead once again, my parents made it seem as though kids of all races are just like any other kids. So I forgot to notice that I wore a different flavour of skin from my new peers, and I even made a friend or two. Indeed, throughout my childhood, I had friends of various races, nationalities, and religions, and I didn’t think I was special for it. I just liked to hang out with the kids whom I liked and who liked me back.

My lack of racial phobia is not the result of me possessing a wonderful colour-blind soul; it is merely the consequence of having good parents. They never seemed concerned with race, so neither was I. Not that my brain doesn’t see colour, but in the absence of bigotry and CBC Radio’s insistence that race always matters, race really is only skin deep.

(Ironically, I notice that “progressive” pundits now describe people of colour as “racialized minorities.” I’m sorry, but it’s you, racially-obsessed pundits, who are most often racializing people these days. It seems to me that most of us in Canada agree with Morgan Freeman and would like you to treat people as individuals. But, sadly, I notice that as an adult, I see race much more than I did as a kid, because the alleged progressives keep telling me that it’s important that I always pay attention to race.)

In the case of LOVE OVER BIAS’s young black girl excitedly planning her skiing career, the grin on her face while she dances in front of posters of the white role models suggests that she’s not at all troubled by her differently-coloured heroes. It is clearly her mother who assumes that there is something lacking in those theoretical mentors, so it is she who is imposing an impediment on her daughter where one may not exist.

Racism is terrible. But so, too, is racism.

No white “progressive” would object to being surrounded by people of a different colour (as they shouldn’t), so why do they assume the opposite is an intrinsic hardship even where racism isn’t shown to be present?

Indeed, when British Columbia basketballer Steve Nash looked out at the NBA when he was growing up he would have seen a league whose stars were mostly of a different race than him. Quite rightly, no pundit would ever claim that the white Nash overcame a racial indignity as he made it to the NBA and won two league MVPs. So why is conventional thinking so quick to assume that black kids automatically need us to tell them they are at a disadvantage when they decide to pursue a passion featuring souls with a different colour wrapping than they have?

If there is racism in a particular discipline, please provide evidence for it so we can criticize it. And, if there is sound research that suggests that being racially different—even without bigotry—is daunting, and/or that my parents’ racially-blind parenting was the wrong way to go, let’s hear it. Otherwise, LOVE OVER BIAS people (and your “progressive” muses), it’s time to let go of your bias about what constitutes bias, and stop racializing people.

WONDERSTRUCK

I watched Wonder Woman last week, and I’m pleased to admit that I enjoyed it. The film featured plenty of humour (albeit standard, fish-out-of-water comedy, as in Wonder Woman being awestruck by her first encounter with ice cream), back story (which is my favourite kind of super hero story), 3-Dimensional characters (although, I saw the movie in 2D), and an unusually clear rendering of action (in fact, Wonder Woman and her fellow Amazonians had an inventive fighting style that was entertaining to my non-video-gamed eye).

Most impressive of all, the movie was not overrun by an infestation of “Girl Power.” This may sound like a contradiction since Wonder Woman is a girl with lots of power. However, by “Girl Power,” I mean the “Because I’m a girl” attitude that is exhibited increasingly often in movies (and advertising) these days where a person of female persuasion is treated as extra powerful by the very definition of her being a girl, as opposed to her particular circumstance and character having led her to that powerful place. In the case of Wonder Woman, her position of power is not parachuted in by her gender, but instead is explained by her supernatural back story and training.

And, while the film occasionally panders to its feminist godmothers (comparing a 1910s’ female secretary to a slave), it is not as blatant in that gendered agenda (“agender,” if you will?) that so many rival mega action franchises are today. Consequently, I found it to be relatively refreshing.

Nevertheless, the media portrayal of this movie has been much more Girl-Powered than the movie, itself. For instance, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas decided to have a women-and-girls only showing of the film on opening night (and women-only staff of it), and when a few equal-gender-defenders criticized the policy, they were dismissed by many mainstream pundits as sexist simpletons.

I believe the following soliloquy from a Mashable.com commentator fairly sums up the pro-women-only argument:

“Sounds like a good idea, right? Women getting together to celebrate a strong, empowered, three-dimensional female superhero on the big screen. Of course. It makes perfect sense. But, as we all know, we can’t have nice things… The Drafthouse received hundreds of comments from angry men who felt ‘excluded’ from the event… Of course there were also many people who loved the idea who understand that this film is a celebration of women finally being included in the world of superheroes and finally being represented on the big screen. Let’s hope these dudes can get themselves together…”

I’m happy to hear arguments in favour of the discriminatory screening, but it is daunting to listen to such smug commentary, which seems to imply this controversy is merely about whether countering perceived injustice is worthy or not. Such “of course it makes sense” pundits are either unwilling or unable to consider the possibility that direct discrimination based on sex, no matter how noble it may be in intention and platitude, is an ethically dicey enterprise.

It’s not obvious to me whether men or women on average deal with more real-world discrimination in the West today, but it is indisputable that men are the only sex that is currently the victim of open discrimination for which there is no recourse. I recently attended a BC Human Rights workshop in which I learned that it is illegal to discriminate in the workplace against a person on the basis of sex (and other irrelevant traits), unless of course you’re working on a special project to uplift a group that is historically disadvantaged. And, since we all know that the official gender policy of our society is that it is only women who have ever been disadvantaged (forget about wars, coal mines, and parental custody disputes), that means you can discriminate against men so long as you provide clear evidence that you stated that you were empowering women in the process.

Political parties are doing it, too. From Justin Trudeau’s quota-based promoting of women to cabinet positions “Because it’s 2015,” to the BC NDP limiting the number of men allowed to run for office, it is clear that our society not only wants to ensure equal access to powerful positions, but also to discriminate against men along the way. The defenders of such policies, as well as those defending the Women-Only screening, seem unable to consider the possibility that a principle of discrimination might be dangerous even it is supported by a pleasing symbolic message.

Indeed, my neck hurt from shaking my head as the hosts on a local Vancouver radio show, “Steele and Drex,” could apparently not comprehend why anyone would have any issue with a fun opportunity for women and girls to celebrate their potential.

Thus, I penned the following letter to those local pundits, but as ever, I did not get a reply, so I am posting it here. Some might see my argument as melodramatic and overstating the impact of a tiny incident, especially as I ponder a hypothetical autistic man who might’ve been excluded from the theatre. However, as our modern, anti-“privilege” discrimination unveils new examples each day, I think it’s vital that we at least consider the possibility that by leaving people out because of their sex, race, or sexuality (even if they are of the demographic that is presumed to be advantaged), we are playing with ethical fire. Despite our best intentions, when you tell any person that they are less worthy because of what they are, instead of who they are (to paraphrase Youtube star, Sargon of Akkad), we are setting a worrisome precedent.

As it is, not only do our mainstream pundits not consider the downsides of “affirmative” discrimination, but also, when they do learn of dissenters, they accuse such skeptics of being cranially-challenged bigots. So the counter conversation is not just ignored, it is ostracized. Perhaps I’m wrong in my assessment that the current level of popular discrimination is dangerous, but if we do not openly discuss this delicate subject now, how will we know when such exclusion has gone too far?

And, with that, I give you me in epistolary form:

Some friendly wonderings about the Wonder Woman Policy:

Dear [guest host] Jody [Vance] and Drex:

I wonder if you would consider a friendly counter argument to your analysis yesterday regarding the appropriateness of having a women-only screening of Wonder Woman (hereafter the “The Wonder Policy”).

Correct me if I’m wrong, but you both seem to be arguing that a business restricting its audience to women for one occasion is benign, and just a fun thing to do given the circumstance of the movie being about a female superhero.

Personally, I dislike the Wonder policy on principle, not because I’m opposed to fun and creative ways to take in movies, but because I’m opposed to discrimination based on sex (even if that sex is male). I suspect that most defenders of the Wonder policy would be less willing to support a men-only screening of Superman, and the distinction they would likely make would be that it’s okay to discriminate against men in this way because they are the historically privileged group.

For the record, I do not think that assumed truth is as clear cut as we’re told; it seems to me that both men and women have been discriminated against in multiple different ways for a long time. For instance, women got the vote later than men, but it is only men who were drafted into wars.

Nevertheless, even if it were clear that women have been significantly more oppressed than men throughout history, are you so sure that is still the case today? There are many categories today in which men are more often doing worse in North America than women (for instances, homelessness, workplace death, suicide). That does not necessarily mean those men are oppressed, but it does mean that the question of “male privilege” is more complicated than most gender scholars will allow, especially given how many more resources, advocacy groups, and scholarships are currently focussed first on women.

But, even if I were to stipulate that in North America today, men are privileged, I still find the women-only movie viewing to be ethically suspect. The Wonder Policy is not just saying, “Yay, girls!” It is implying that the experience of seeing Wonder Women for the first time would be losing something if the boys were there, too. Every time you say, “X People Only,” you are saying, “Y People are NOT welcome.” And, while it may seem fun and benign in the moment because we generally don’t think of men as victims of discrimination, if you look for it, you can see male-excluding language and sentiment has become ubiquitous today in politics, advocacy, academia, and even the media (examples available upon request). The Wonder Policy is just one more pronouncement that it’s okay to discriminate against men because, well, there’s something different about them that makes it okay to exclude them.

Maybe there’s an autistic man who’s loved Wonder Woman since he was a kid, and wants to attend the movie on opening night with his best friend in the town where the Wonder Policy is in place, but he’s going to be turned away, because he has the incorrect gender for that viewing. Are you sure such a scenario doesn’t make you question for a tiny moment whether the Wonder Policy is morally correct?

I don’t anticipate that I have convinced you, and that’s fine if we have differing moral codes on what constitutes unethical discrimination. But I wonder if you would be willing to consider the possibility that, just because someone has an ethical objection to the Wonder Policy, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re a sexist. Maybe some of us, on principle, think the policy is sexist, and would equally object to a hypothetical Superman Policy.

Yours in Wonder,
Seth

ROGUE WAY: A NON-SPOILER REVIEW STORY

As someone who has been resistant to the omni-tentacled powers of social media, I am pleased with myself for noticing something that social media does with more audience consideration than mainstream media.

As with all topics, this one can be best understood by travelling far, far away and backwards in time to the Star Wars galaxy. I recently watched a documentary, Rogue 1: A Star Wars Story, which examines the events just before the historical time period of Star Wars, Episode IV, A New Hope.

20161126_205558

Worry not, I am aware that these characters are living in a fictional galaxy, but I jest because I am obsessed. I adore my Star Wars, so when new episodes arrive to fill in gaps in my favourite patch of fictional history, I am as excited as a Sith lord finding a new apprentice.

But there is one tiny chink in my Darth Vader armour: the movie reviewers that I observe in mainstream media are often disrespectful of movies, such as these, that are meant to entertain.

(First) as I’ve discussed before, many reviewers are only capable of appreciating films that match their deep and dark genre sensibilities. If you’re not depressed or confused by the end of a screening, they’re not loving it. Consequently, they fail their movie reviewing duties because not all of us go to the cinema solely to cry and deconstruct opaque symbolism. There are other genres we like to imbibe, and many reviewers are unwilling to examine those movies’ abilities to live up to their genre requirements.

For instance, if I’m looking to see an action film, and my reviewer treats Die Hard (an obviously brilliant offering in its category) and The Matrix (not so much) as equally “brainless collections of violence, stunts, and special effects,” then they will not have aided me in selecting between the two.

(Second) and more importantly in this case (since I do not need a critic’s help to inspire me to see Star Wars), many of the mainstream reviewers, with whom I have a begrudging one-sided relationship, have an annoying a penchant for spoiling the movies they discuss by giving away too much plot in their critiques. As in my first criticism, I think the leading causes of this aggravating habit are that the reviewers are arrogant and inconsiderate. Notice that, as they babble freely about the plots they’re exposing, they enunciate their unwelcome delivery with a patronizing tone of voice that implies:

“Come on, in a movie like this, obviously that character was going to turn out to be that character’s dad. And, then obviously…”

This condescending inconsideration is amplified by the reviewers’ distance from their audience. When my Friday afternoon movie reviewer, Katherine Monk, gives away too much of a movie in her reviews on CBC Radio, she is not aware of me yanking my head phones out of my ears to protect myself.

In contrast, then, after a trilogy of viewings of Rogue 1—which is a fantastic companion to A New Hope, and a superior installment, in my opinion, to its most recent rival, the pleasing, but troubled Episode VII: The Force Awakens—I craved more contemplations than my own about the new addition to the family. And, while I no longer had to fear the spoiling tendencies of the mainstream media, I was also aware that they were not going to consider my hobby with the nuance I was seeking. Therefore, I cranked up my internet, and dove into the wild space of youtube, where I was greeted by individual and group conversations, featuring humour, intelligence, and appreciation for the subject.

These youtubers were reviewing this Rogue 1 movie because they loved the Star Wars franchise, and even if they didn’t positively perceive this Star Wars story and collection of characters as much as I did, they had gone into the film—quite in contrast with our mainstream movie rebukers—hoping to like it. As a result, where it failed to delight them, I was open to their critiques because they hadn’t treated the movie as intrinsically irredeemable before they’d starting watching it.

Now, I had visited in youtube before, so I should acknowledge that I reviewed these reviews anticipating this level of respect. However, what I wasn’t expecting was that every youtube reviewer that I surfed upon expressed concern about spoiling the movie for their audience, and so offered both a “non-spoiler” and a “spoiler” analysis of the film. In the latter service, every youtuber that I encountered reminded their audience at least twice that they were about to unleash vital plot details, so, if the viewer hadn’t yet seen the movie, they were invited to leave then or forever hold their complaints.

I assume that this sort of consideration was motivated initially by the democratic nature of youtube, wherein one starts with a tiny audience, which one can diminish or increase rapidly with every right or wrong turn of phrase. Regardless, the result is that such respect-for-audience has for now become a feature of youtube culture: even the large, popular youtube channels that I took in offer this same spoiler protection service.

While youtube has its vices (I advise you to never read the comments: the many anti-social creatures who ply their crassness there will leave your belief in humanity scarred), this fantastic, spoil-resistant result has me pleased with the you-niverse. They have achieved a compassion for their audience that many mainstream reviewers have not even sought. In short, they have gone Rogue, and I like it.

GO BEYOND BIG

Warning: Contains Star Trek Spoilers.


I’ve been enjoying the Star Trek “reboot”* movies.

*I think the films in this new series are more aptly described as “requels,” since the previous stories still “happened” in a prior timeline, but—after an incident with a wormhole and its resulting butterfly effect—those iconic tales are now being recorded over with new adventures of the same people.

As I previously argued (against an eloquent but confused New Yorkerian attack), the first effort, Star Trek, was a brilliant combination of humour, adventure, and homage to the voyages that brought it. And the sequel, Star Trek: Into Darkness, continued that charming work well.

I have now taken in the third, Star Trek: Beyond, and while I once again had a nice time hanging out with it, I think it was less brilliant than its prequel requels, and I have a thought about why. As with most current big movie writers, the authors of Beyond (Simon Pegg and Doug Jung) fell into the unnecessary compulsion to always go bigger than anyone has gone before. For Star Trek writers, that means, if you’re not saving the world, your story’s not worth telling. In both Star Trek and Into Darkness, that was fine since the world-saving fit reasonably well into the larger plots.

However, in many movies these days, the convention to go big is a narrative-distorting forced add-on to a smaller story that is (or could have been) thrilling on its own. Consider, in contrast, Die Hard, one of the greatest action movies humanity has ever conceived. The plot took place almost entirely in and around one skyscraper, where our hero—along with the innocent building dwellers he was trying to protect—battled bank robber invaders. Had the Die Hard makers insisted on adding an attempt by the villains to blow up the earth, I think that would have undermined the smaller story that grabbed us.

In Beyond, the crew is in year 3 of its 5-year mission to explore strange new worlds (i.e. they’re at least few light days away from home), so it seemed Captain Kirk and crew were destined for an adventure that would not involve earth-saving tasks. Early on in the movie, though, we discover that they are making a scheduled stop at a Federation base (“Starbase Yorktown”).

Yorktown is an atmosphere-containing orb city, which is both awesome (literally) and confusing. As someone who likes to imagine human-made civilizations in space, this one is as impressive and imaginative a rendering as I’ve seen. Nevertheless, upon first meeting it, my Spock-wannabe eyebrows rose up in confusion because Yorktown (circa 2263) seemed—to my uneducated, 3D-glasses-wearing eyes—to be more technologically advanced than the Federation would be producing more than a hundred years later in its base-based spinoff, Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (circa 2369). Despite my confusion, I was enjoying myself too much to realize that this amazing civilization was to be playing the role of the world-in-distress that would need saving during the end-of-movie chase scene.

I’m not intrinsically opposed to movies about saving space stations, but, in this story, this extra task is of the variety of forced add-on, which cuts into the compelling smaller project of Kirk and friends. Nearby the station, there is a bermuda-triangle-like nebula that has recently captured a ship, so Kirk and crew warp in to investigate. Once inside the nebula, our enterprising team is ambushed by a voracious hive of mini-ships, and so are forced to crash land on a nearby planet where the hive’s leader has imprisoned crews from various ships over many seasons.

It’s a wonderful idea for a Star Trek story, with lots of opportunities for creative uses of technology and moxie as our stars try to escape the bad guy’s evil plans. Sadly, though, in order to shove in the requirement of saving the nearby space-city into the overall plot, the writers had to shorten and simplify that brilliant adventure. And the subsequently squeezed in world-saving finale is so rushed that it was difficult for some of us in the audience to follow. Indeed, the complicated climax could have been stretched out to an entire movie on its own, but because it had to be packed into the final 10 minutes of the film, it is instead a jumble of frantic energy.

Beyond is, I think, a fine movie, overall, but its insistence upon limiting itself to the current “Go Bigger or Go Home,” trend is disappointing. For all their futuristic imagination, the creators of this film were unable to go beyond contemporary convention. Hopefully, in twenty years, when they three-boot this franchise, they’ll resist that temptation.

STAR WARS: A RUDE AWAKENING? (Contains Spoilers!)

WARNING: This post contains plot spoilers. If you haven’t yet seen Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens, please do so now, and then report back here to discuss.

WARNING II: This review contains lots of details of The Force Awakens without full explanation because I’m assuming you have heeded the WARNING above, and have now seen the movie once or thrice such that you’ll be able to follow the details.

And now, without further a Dooku:


To bookend my nostalgia-aided anticipation of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, it’s time to decide what I thought of it.

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I think The Force Awakens is both brilliant and disappointing. It respects the humorous yet earnest tone of the originals. It divides its time well between storytelling and action. And there are many delightful new characters ready to fill our action figure collections. Most significantly, I’ve had a great time in my trilogy of viewings, and in each instance I’ve noticed something I didn’t in the first attempt.

So, if The Force Awakens were the first-ever Star Wars, I would mark it down as a ten and buy my ticket to a fourth big screening with a giddy smile on my face.

However, Episode VII cannot be measured only by its own excellence; it must also be checked for its ability to contribute to the saga that brought it. And that is where I am a smidge frustrated.

(Before I list my complaints, I offer two caveats. (1) I still loved the movie, and will support its sequel efforts with all my force. (2) I would be delighted if any of my quibbles were proven wrong in future episodes.)

(I) THE DARK SIDE NEVER SLEEPS:

Some have said that, by copying the plot structure of Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode VII was pandering to nostalgi-addicts like myself. I think the opposite. To my obsessive fancy, the best way to honour Star Wars fanaticism would have been to continue the story that came before. That is, Episodes I-VI gave us an account of how the dark side rose and then fell from power. But, by reinstalling the same scenario of the dark side dominating with an oppressive regime at the start of this film, I felt as if those first six movies did not have a significant effect on the structure of our current galaxy.

I don’t object to the dark side rising again (if not, “it’s gonna be a real short trip”), but I would have preferred this movie to be more about how it re-rose. Instead of starting with a Darth Vader II (Kylo Ren) and an Emperor II (Supreme Leader Snoke) already back in the same dominating dark places that they were in Episodes IV-VI, I would have loved to see the new dark leaders slowly undermining our victory in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

As it was, it seems to me that director/co-writer JJ Abrams, along with co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, are essentially saying, “We’re gonna start all over, fanboys!”

That worked for Abrams’s other epic directorial commission, Star Trek, since that starry adventure has long been a multi-version universe. However, I don’t think such rebooting fits for Star Wars which has always been a continuing saga). Maz Kanata’s (Yoda II’s) explanation that evil regimes always dominate in some form (from the Sith to the Empire to now, The First Order) didn’t satisfy me. If the dark side taking over is inevitable, does any of this matter?

(Nevertheless, I repeat my willingness to apologize for these complaints if the future movies and stories illuminate what I’m missing.)

(II) THE HAN SOLO GOES DARK (LAST CHANCE TO AVOID SPOILERS!)

The choice to send Han Solo to another universe was understandable (and I think the decision matched the original vision of George Lucas who, in his director’s commentary for the classic trilogy, talked about his preference for killing experienced heroes—such as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda—so that new ones could get their own John Williams theme). And I thought that Solo’s death by his son’s (Kylo Ren’s) dark sword was a brilliant inversal of Luke saving his father from darkness. So I think the decision made good dramatic sense (and certainly the scene in which our Solo hearts were broken was wonderfully rendered), but I wish they could have picked someone other than the best character in the saga to sacrifice to such a noble dramatic cause. With all due respect to Princess Leia (and Carrie Fisher), I don’t think she has the charisma of her man, so she could have supplied all the dramatic significance of Kylo Ren killing a parent without us losing the guy who once brilliantly told Chewie to “Fly casual.”

But again, from my couch, it seems that J.J. Abrams wants to remind us that the old guard is to be moved out of the way.

(III) THE STORMTROOPER GOES LIGHT:

Reformed stormtrooper, Finn, was a great character on his own, but to my psychological eye, his behaviours didn’t match what I would expect from someone who had spent his life being brainwashed at Stormtrooper Productions. I think Abrams et al lost a humour opportunity there wherein Finn might have felt a need to ask for orders at inconvenient times.

Instead, Finn transformed from (A) being part of a brainwashed class who always had to follow orders to (B) being constantly delightful and ready to go his own way. There was little reference to any psychological consequences of what he’d been through (except his general fear of the First Order from whom he had escaped).

Nevertheless, for his charismatic and humourous talents, I like Finn as Han Solo II.

(IV) THE LIGHT OVERPOWERS:

I’m confused by why Finn, a force-free fellow, did so well in a light-saber fight with force-wielding Kylo Ren. I recognize that Ren was injured, and that he still defeated Finn reasonably quickly. Nevertheless, Ren seems to have powers with the force that are pretty close to his grandDarth, Vader. In the original six episodes, I don’t recall any forceless foes troubling Jedi or Sith-level force artisans.

Similarly, I thought Luke Skywalker II (future Jedi, Rey) seemed too powerful too quickly in her uptake of the ways of the force such that she was able to defeat Kylo Ren. Again, I realize Ren was injured, but he’s also been trained in the force by Luke Skywalker and Supreme Leader Snoke. Rey, meanwhile, seems to have had no training, and is relying only on her intuitive sense of how the force works. Indeed, without a single lesson on letting the force flow through her, she may already be most the skilled Jedi since Yoda.

It’s been pointed out to me that Rey has likely got some impressive Jedi genetics roaming around her. I agree, but so did Luke Skywalker, and he wasn’t instantly infallible when he first realized he could deliver his own pizza without leaving the house.

(SETHBLOGS’ UPDATE: Reading some of the blogs about this movie—which I’ve now seen four times—they point out that, in her flashback to being orphaned on Jakku as a tiny girl, Rey was wearing traditional padawan garments, meaning she might have had some Jedi training, after all. I’m still confused about how that would explain her ability to go lightsaber to lightsaber with Ren, who’s training was not interrupted in childhood, but I think the point does have the potential to undermine my quibble there.)

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the banter of Finn and Rey, and I’m happy to have them be my new heroes. And, once again, I would be delighted to be proven wrong on all of the above criticisms via the details that will entertain us in future episodes.

(To that end, there’s a funny, albeit crusty criticism of killjoy criticisms of The Force Awakens by Matty Granger. Perhaps his arguments are sufficient to undermine my concerns, but I’m not satisfied yet.)

May the next Episodes prove me wrong. 🙂

STAR WARS: RETURN OF THE WIDE EYE

This week, the world gets to witness for the first time, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

I was in grade 1 when the prior entry in this galactic log, Episode VI, Return of the Jedi first visited our movie screens. At the time, I was afraid of watching movies in theatres. I don’t remember why I was scared, but I know that I must have been anxious because I recall my dad having a serious chat with me, trying to persuade me that this movie would be worth overcoming my fears for.

When he mentioned the movie, though, I was already aware of it. That very morning in “Show & Tell,” one of my classmates had told us about having seen Jedi the night before. He described a compelling story of a heroic Lifesaver guy dueling various evil forces (I can still remember the image I produced in my mind of a cylindrical lifesaver candy man wearing a rainbow of colours battling bad guys).

So, halfway through my dad’s description of Return of the Jedi, I told him that I had heard of that movie, and that, actually, I was interested to see what would happen to the colourful hero. No further persuasion was required: I would deign to take in a film that evening.

I don’t recall whether I realized, during that first viewing that the “Lifesaver man” I’d been daydreaming of was, in fact, the lightsaber-wielding Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight. There probably wasn’t room in my brain for such contemplations: it was already occupied by a thousand thoughts and emotions, as my new heroes and friends, Luke, Han, and Leia battled the evil yet mesmerizing villains, Darth Vader and The Emperor.

There was now a force permeating my imagination that would never go away.

I tell this candy-flavoured story of my first meeting with the greatest saga of my movie-going life not because I think it is especially unique, but because I suspect all those who love George Lucas’s galaxy far far away have their own story of complacent expectation turned to wide eyed, ‘What have we here?’ discovery.

The fact that I was lucky enough to meet Star Wars for the first time in childhood probably intensified its effect on me—as did their unprecedented offering of action figures. All huge movie franchises have toys, but the Star Wars empire sold figures of every minor character who stumbled into frame long enough to wave “Hi” to their moms. And my brother, one of my sisters, and I wanted them all. Not just for the sake of completing a collection, but because each character seemed to be a true resident of that wonderful galaxy. They weren’t just cogs in in the wheels of Jabba the Hutt’s tomb, they were the keeper of the Rancor (i.e. the guy who trained the monster who was paid, in food, to eat unwelcome visitors). That shirt-less Rancor-keeper, who cried when his drooling, building-sized creature was killed by Luke Skywalker, was an important person to us. Rancors needed someone to take care of them just like our own pets did.

Each character and location in the Star Wars galaxy existed independently of what would eventually happen to them: in our minds, they were significant people and places that housed communities and hierarchies and bureaucracies. To posses an action figure who worked on the Death Star was to have, in our Star Wars carrying case, access to that terrifying place.

My parents and relatives supported my siblings’ and my Star Wars figure obsessions with birthday and Christmas gifts. My bother and sister’s unwrapping moments were consequently just as important to me as my own. (And my other sisters joined in, too, collecting Star Wars figures, which they could then use in trade to extort their Star Wars-addicted siblings to help them with their particular household tasks.)

I am sure that every generation has their childhood-earned kinship with particular adventures and characters. (The Harry Potter generation, I imagine, feels Ron and Hermione are better companions than Han and Leia, while generation Oz probably thinks the Tinman, Lion, and Scarecrow are the best friends a person could ever have.) And so my hope here is not  to persuade anyone that Star Wars is the best adventure ever put to screen.

But let’s face it: it probably is:

You see, Star Wars isn’t just about space ships, it’s about the most textured space ships you’ve ever seen. Not just because they’re big, but because they have fascinating shapes and sounds (for instance, the iconic screech of the tie-fighter was created by sound designer Ben Burtt from an elephant roar). And George Lucas realized that not all space ships are new, and so he outfitted them with wear and tear in both their look and sound.

Nor is Star Wars just about grand CGI-generated settings; in fact, the best of the Star Wars universe was built using models. (Unfortunately, Lucas tried to outdo himself with CGI in the prequels: but, to quote Yoda, while he tried, he “did not do.”) As Lucas said of his original achievement, he created those worlds by zooming in on the parts that made up the story, and so letting the backgrounds speak for themselves without the filmmaker announcing, “Look what I have created!” The results provoke the feeling that we are guests in a galaxy of stories that are happening simultaneous to our particular viewing.

And Star Wars doesn’t just have great characters, it has more iconic characters per minute of story time than a Charles Dickens novel.

Star Wars villains aren’t just dark and deep voiced. They have a whole dark spiritual side of the force to themselves, and they’re the most deep voiced of bad guys you’ll ever wanna hear (CNN even hired Darth Vader to introduce their network). Plus they’ve got personality. The Emperor doesn’t just mock his enemies, he mimics them. And he doesn’t just have a maniacal laugh, he has a maniacal chuckle when he sees Luke starting to succumb to his taunting.

And the humour! Well, let’s just acknowledge that Jar Jar Binks is the worst character in the history of cinema (partly, I suppose, by relativity, because he is living in a saga that produced many of the best-ever characters); regardless, you can feel free to fast forward through his parts. (George Lucas, himself, acknowledged in the making of Episode I: The Phantom Menace that Jar Jar was either going to make or break the film. He was half right: although Jar Jar ruined every scene he was in, the story is still worth watching if you make sure to get pop corn during Mr. Binks’s scenes.)

And the romance in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back isn’t just sweet, it’s entertaining and genuinely-earned. (Plus the love triangle has an accidental moment of innocent incest. Beat that, Hunger Games!)

Star Wars doesn’t just have pure-veined heroes, it has champions who could turn to the dark side (like their dads did before them); it has reluctant heroes who only rescue princesses because they can imagine a hearty reward; and other heroes who betray their friends, only to try to rescue them from the chilling results.

Star Wars doesn’t just have a good side and a dark side, it has a corpus callosum in every brain that puts its owners at risk of being pulled to the other side.

And Star Wars doesn’t just possess catch phrases (“May the force be with you,” “Search your feelings,” “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”), it has echoes of language across all six films that is operatic in its placement and repetition. (This is something Lucas acknowledges was his intention.)

And Star Wars doesn’t just have the most exciting music, it has the heart-starting scores of John Williams. Try humming the theme to Star Wars without smiling. But, equally as important, consider Williams’s melancholy yet hopeful music in Episode IV: A New Hope, as he serenades Luke Skywalker’s longing to escape his Uncle’s claustrophobia-provoking farm. Whenever I hear that somber tune, the force awakens in me.

But again, my hope here is not to argue that my Star Wars figures are more worthy than your Buck Rogers figures or your Katniss Everdeen posters, but instead just to say that there is room for one more on the Millennium Falcon if you’d like to join us.

As the sequel to the Star Wars film that first triggered my imagination comes to screen this week, I would like to invite anyone who could use a boost to join us on this quest to see what happens next.

And, if you’re afraid to get caught up in an imperial world of modern cinematic warfare, don’t worry, it’s not as overbearing as all that. It’s just a little movie about a little Livesaver-candy Man standing up to some bullies.


It’s now January 31st, and I’m on the other side of having seen this movie three times now. My thoughts on it are here.

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THE MASK BEHIND THE MASK

Last month, I attended a screening and panel discussion of a “documentary,” The Mask You Live In, which claims to compassionately examine serious issues facing the male people in Western society. I arrived in my seat with no expectations of an unbiased examination; instead, I was aware of the trend of such analyses not to be done by neutral social scientists, but by feminists, hoping to incorporate into their patriarchal-society-ideology the seemingly contradictory facts and figures that indicate that the “privileged” men have some struggles, too. Nevertheless, my resolve to be unimpressed was tempered by the emcee’s opening remark that the issue of men’s well-being was woefully underrepresented in our public discourse. But the tempering of my temper was tempered as I watched the film, and discovered a 97 minute feminist editorial. If one squinted one’s eyes, the filmmakers seemed to care about their subjects, but, as they turned their gaze to solutions, it was clear that their answer was, as ever, feminism.

Now, I don’t object to applying one’s ideology to an issue, but I think it is disingenuous to claim to be a documentary, only to sneak in one’s entrenched philosophical perspective as the panacea. A simple subtitle such as, “A Feminist analysis of the struggles of men and boys” would have done the trick. As it was, neither the film nor the panel that discussed it acknowledged the feminist elephant in the room. In response, I sent the following letter to the organizers as well as the panelists of the screening.

Two of the panelists have replied to me, but since the organizing agency has not responded, and it has now been more than a month since I sent my letter, I offer it here for the record.


To whom it may concern at The UBC Men’s Depression and Suicide Network:

Thank you for putting on your free screening and subsequent discussion of the film The Mask You Live In, which purports to contemplate men’s and boys’ issues. I appreciated the enthusiasm with which the panelists were discussing this topic.

Nevertheless, I think the ideological makeup of both the film and your panel is an affront to intellectual fairness.

I think it should be noted that the film was written through a feminist lens.  Many familiar feminist talking points are ever-present in the film’s narrative, from the wild and unproven assumption that gender is purely a social construct, to the further controversial claim that video games cause violence, to the startling assertion that we live in a “rape culture,” and the supporting myth that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted (see philosopher Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers’s critical analysis of this specious statistic), to the notion that men are, by definition, privileged: “We must use our privilege [to forge change]…” was the common mantra of the male role models on screen, who seemed to have just taken language training from a gender studies course.

However, while anyone familiar with feminist theory would recognize that the film was written from a feminist perspective, neither the film nor those who presented it at UBC acknowledged its ideological bias. Instead, the film claims to be a documentary, an objective analysis of these issues. That is either intellectually dishonest or ignorant. If the filmmakers had said, “We’re feminists, and we see that men are struggling, too, so we’re going to try applying our feminist theories to men’s issues,” then so be it. I would still want to criticize their feminist conclusions, but they would have honestly represented their project as a partisan analysis, which may be smart and well-articulated, but which is by no means an objective investigation offered by a neutral party. The audience, who is perhaps unfamiliar with feminism’s dominance over most modern discussions of gender, would then be aware that they are witnessing an opinion piece from a particular philosophy that views the world through the lens of patriarchy theory and the notion that gender is entirely a social construct.

Moreover, each member of your expert panel seemed to be viewing the movie from either a feminist or, at best, neutral perspective, but there was no one up there to criticize the privileged feminist point of view. Indeed, when Dr. Jennifer Berdhal (a gender and diversity professor at the Sauder School of Business, who at least seemed to admit that that she was a feminist) explained that the phrase “Don’t be Mama’s boy” is one that tells boys that women shouldn’t be their bosses, there was no one to suggest that the expression might instead just be implying (and understood by most to mean) that male people are expected to be tough and not go metaphorically crying to their nurturing mothers when they’re struggling. (It’s not a nice expression, for sure, but from my perspective, it is much more misandrist than it is misogynist.)

There were some subtle criticisms from the audience of the feminist leanings of the film and panel, but the feminist panelists either intentionally or unintentionally reinterpreted those questions to fit their feminist narrative. And again there was no one on the panel willing or able to critically respond to that bias.

For troubling instance, consider the argument from Kyra Borland-Walker (of UBC Speakeasy) that the reason that males kill themselves significantly more often than females is because boys and men are socialized to use guns, and therefore, if girls played as much with guns, they would kill themselves just as frequently. This implied that the comparatively high rate of male suicide is not in any way related to men’s particular suffering, but instead is simply and solely the result of them having a greater kinship with a deadly weapon. No one in the panel pointed out that that there could be other reasons that men choose to use more lethal means. Perhaps, that is, men choose guns because they are more determined to kill themselves as they feel they have fewer options. Some suicide attempts are cries for help. And so maybe, in a society that seems to care more about women’s suffering than men’s*, men more often use guns because they don’t think anyone will help them if they do cry out.

*By the evolutionary necessity of sending our boys into dangerous terrain (from fighting lions to going to war to working in coal mines), it is hard to deny that humans have come to value male life less than female life. How often do we hear news reports referring to victims of war, “including women and children” as opposed to civilians in general? Why are calls to “stop violence against women” ubiquitous, even though (according to men’s rights activists*) men are equally if not more often the victims of violent crime? (Why not just, “stop violence”?) Why is more medical research spent on women than men even though women tend to live longer?


*SETHBLOGS NOTE: I now believe this conclusion that men are more likely to be victims of violence than women is generally understood by reserachers to be true.


Perhaps the men’s rights’ notion of “male disposability” is inaccurate, but a panel discussing men’s issues ought to be aware of it, and equipped to discuss it from a neutral perspective, instead of one that assumes that men are universally privileged. As it was, Borland-Walker was able to reach for her unsubstantiated claim that women would kill themselves as much as men if they had the weapons, and thus protect the notion that men are privileged, without a single counter argument from her fellow panelists.

The imbalanced discussion is not Dr. Berdhal or Ms. Borland-Walker’s fault. They have their perspectives, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t provide them when invited. But it is once again intellectually egregious to have a panel, claiming to speak about men’s issues, without anyone there to criticize the feminist orthodoxy, which has a lot of misandry on its resume to answer for.

“Man-splaining,” “Man-spreading,” “male privilege,” “male gaze,” “male entitlement,” “male violence against women,” “teach men not to rape”: these are all gendered insults brought to you by feminism. The same feminism whose perspective dominated this “documentary” that claimed to want to help boys be themselves. I’m not saying that the film was all bad: there was some interesting exploration of the pressures that many boys feel to be tough and aggressive, and to neatly fit into gender roles. However, the film’s biased interpretations of the cause and effect of these troubles demanded a sober response. There is research, for instance, that suggests that children who grow up with single fathers tend to be more empathetic than children who grow up with single mothers. Researchers don’t know why that is, but psychologist and meta-researcher Dr. Warren Farrell offers a compelling argument that men’s tendency to safely roughhouse with their children actually helps children better understand limits, and the distinction between assertiveness and violence. Another common hypothesis is that, because fathers tend to comfort children when they fall less than mothers do, and instead tend more often to encourage their offspring to get up and try again, children with significant fatherly involvement tend to be less self-involved, and in turn more empathetic.

I don’t know if those hypotheses are correct, and by pointing them out, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t also emotionally nurture our children in the ways that mothers seem to more often, but the notion that the sole solution to boy troubles is for traditional dads to be more like traditional moms is simplistic. (More likely, I suspect that children do best with a healthy dose of both comforting when they fall and encouragement to get back up and try again.) Moreover, as Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers argues in The War Against Boys, part of the problem may be that we demonize common boy behaviour and pathologize their generally more rambunctious play from a young age: maybe that’s part of the reason that boys seem to be losing interest in school much more often than girls (because “they are treated like defective girls”).

Again, perhaps Dr. Hoff Sommers is wrong in this assessment, but it would have been nice if the film and/or just one of your expert panelists had discussed her significant research on this subject.

The film, I noticed, was written, directed, and produced exclusively by women (at least their names were traditionally female). I don’t have a problem with that in theory: if they were the best people to create a movie about men’s issues, then so be it. But I wonder: would a movie about an alleged problem of “toxic femininity” (that discussed how women needed to use their “privilege” to influence girls to be better people and treat boys better) that was written, directed, and produced solely by men have inspired such a supportive panel to convene at UBC? Or would such a film have been dismissed as sexist propaganda?

I can understand the motivation, when looking at men’s issues, to utilize a feminist perspective in doing so. After all, when men’s issues clubs have attempted to form in other universities, they have been denied ratification on the grounds that they “do not centre female voices” in their discussions. However, I think we must resist such an autocratic notion that men’s issues can only be seen through a feminist lens, or not at all.

Sincerely,
Seth McDonough