Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Criticize the Women Who Allowed It, Not Anthony Weiner's Behavior!

This morning I was doing my usual scan of the day's news when I came across a lovely New York Times articled titled "Weiner's Women".

(Because as you know, if a women engages in sexual activity with a man, she belongs to him.)

Some highlights of the article include:
THERE is something missing from the endless moralizing and sophomoric jokes aimed at Anthony D. Weiner. That something is the role of women in a coarse and creepy Internet culture dedicated to the fulfillment of both male and female desires for virtual carnal knowledge. 
You know what we don't do enough? Criticize women!
Nevertheless, the female thrill seekers are as bewildering in their own way as the sleazy would-be mayor of New York is in his. Why is he called a pervert while Sydney Leathers’s statement that their Internet contact progressed to phone sex twice a week — “a fantasy thing for both of us,” she told one tabloid TV show — is greeted with neutral, if not exactly respectful, attention? Some fantasy. Cinderella, where are you now that we need you?
A married man in a position of power, authority, and responsibility sending unsolicited sexual images to women who may or may not want to see it, who may or may not be underage = a woman enjoying phone sex. Good to know. Cinderella, come back, I want to clean floors again!
These women are not victims of men like Mr. Weiner (or of ordinary, obscure sex seekers in the digital world) but full and equal participants. There is no force involved here; people of both sexes are able to block unwanted advances. Women are certainly safer on the Web than they would be going home with strangers they meet in bars.
Okay, so... women are capable of being safe and equal online... but you cannot imagine ANY POSSIBLE REASON that women would want to engage in sexual activity online rather than in person.
But the “sex” that women engage in with often anonymous men on the Web has nothing to do with pride in one’s body or mind.
She knows this because shut up, she does.
Sex with strangers online amounts to a diminution, close to an absolute negation, of the context that gives human interaction genuine content. Erotic play without context becomes just a form of one-on-one pornography.
Interacting with a single human being that you chose, for your own reasons, to interact with = getting paid to have sex on camera. Okay?
Nor do I consider it worse for women than for men to engage in this behavior. But I do suspect — because I concede the validity of the numerous studies concluding that men are more interested in and aroused by pornography than women are — that women who settle for digital pornography are lowering their expectations and hopes even more drastically than their male collaborators are.
Every woman is the same! Conform, dammit!
As a feminist, I find it infinitely sad to imagine a vibrant young woman sitting alone at her computer and turning herself into a sex object for a man (or a dog) she does not know — even if she is also turning him into a sex object.
She's saying it as a feminist, so it's okay, guys.
This is not the sort of equality envisioned by feminism. It is, rather, the equality of the lowest common denominator — a state of affairs that debases the passion and reason of both men and women.
If you don't work for the New Yorker, you are worthless. Also, women being held to higher standards than men = TRUE FEMINISM DUHHHHHH

Let me show you an online NYT post, shoved into the bowels of its online archives:
Set aside the debates over fidelity, monogamy and marriage for a moment. Just take Weiner’s behavior on its own terms, without reference to his marriage vows. Here is a middle-aged man sending photos of his erection (clothed and unclothed) to women he’s never met, aping the panting misogyny of hard-core porn in chats with near-strangers, snapping preening photos of his pecs coming out of the shower and sending them to some of his more eager Twitter followers. Do we really need the additional ratchet of adultery to say that this is inappropriate behavior? That it’s gross, undignified, and unbecoming of a serious adult? I know that there’s a cultural libertarianism afoot now that sneers at somewhat-nebulous concepts like “dignity” and “shame,” and that reduces morality entirely to issues of consent. But I don’t care how ubiquitously tempting virtual sex becomes: A culture that “adjusts” itself to accommodate grown men in positions of authority tweeting their endowments (because hey, he was just “texting while male,” and anyway it’s as addictive as Angry Birds!) would be adjusting itself into a kind of barbarism.
Whether or not you agree with the content of the article isn't important. What the article addresses is. Because you'll notice (even if you read the entire thing), not once does the (male, btw) author of the article discuss the motivations or worthiness of the female participants. Why? Because it's not relevant.

Women are an easy target. Their actions are subject to a huge degree of scrutiny. So often in our culture, we choose to criticize women rather than men, simply because it's easier. Remember the Steubenville case? How often did we talk about how those boys shouldn't have done what they did, and how often did we talk about how that teenage girl shouldn't have dared to put herself in any sort of vulnerable situation?

I trawled through seven pages of search results for "online sex" on the New York Times website, and found zero articles dissecting the motivations of men. It's all about women and children - aka, the people who need to be protected from themselves. The people who need to be told what to think. The people who need to be told what to do.

This may shock you, but women are, in fact, not children! And there's no need to discuss their motivations, or give them permission to do anything. You can keep your True Believer "sort of equality envisioned by feminism", NYT - my kind of feminism makes me an equal, plain and simple.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Crowdsourcing My Wedding Dress Choice

Those of you who read my blog or follow me on Twitter might be aware that I'm getting married in a little over a month. I say getting married, not having a wedding, because I'm just going to the courthouse with B... but family and my BFF is coming, because I don't know, these things just happen to me.

A Say Yes to the Dress -style wedding gown was out of the question; that was never my style to begin with and it would look silly at the courthouse (to me. If that's what you want to do, more power to you). But about six months ago I just so happened to stumble across something on Pinterest and it was... perfect.


I loved it. My mom loved it. My BFF loved it. B was sure to love it.

And then I didn't buy it.

Look, I'm a busy person, okay?! I have important Disney sequels to watch. Shopping has never interested me terribly, and time got away from me. That dress is from an actual bridal store (although it's a bridesmaid's dress, not a wedding dress) and it takes forever to ship, and then you have to tailor it. At this point... no.

So! Today I went to the Twitter-mobile, and my lovely pals on there recommended places to look at dresses. And I found some gorgeous ones! I'm gonna show you the three I'm considering, and if you have an opinion, please comment! I'd love input.

Oh and, of course, when the deed is done I'll put up a pic of me in the dress so you can see what you hath wrought.

Things you should know: I'm 5'6"-ish and a size 8-10. Big bust and child-bearin' hips. Red hair, but I can wear pink because instead of being ginger my hair is this mutant combination of brown and blonde and red mixed together (no really, the whole underside of my hair is colored blonde naturally. It's weird). Almost as pale as the guy who flogs himself in The Da Vinci Code. Gray eyes. More interested in liking the dress than being the most bridey bride who ever brode.

Dress #1
This looks super flattering, and I
love the color.
Dress #2
The most bride-y. I like the sleeves.
Dress #3
I don't know why I love this so much,
but I do! I think it's repressed Cinderella
memories or something.
To the comments, my pretties, fly!

Here In This Diary

I was talking with a friend the other day about what our high school selves would think of us now. I thought it would be a great idea to go look at my old journals to recall what I was like back then.

She said, "For God's sake, why would you ever want to do that?"

Because I'm terrible at listening to advice, here you are - a journal entry from the middle of Selma's high school experience.
This will probably be a fairly random entry; just tossing down things that are floating through my head right now.
I have petit fours right now, and it's making me extremely happy. Probably cos it's that time of the month during which chocolate takes the role of our savior from crass and bloody things. 
Apparently my Philosophy class is to write the schools' updated Code of Ethics. I have to say that I'm not entirely sure how much ethical necessities can change within twenty years. Nonetheless, a class full of advanced students, the biggest group of cheaters in the school(people don't even believe me if, when asked, I say that I don't cheat. I must admit that it's a statistical improbability) is going to decide what the Code of Ethics should include. 
What does a vegan zombie eat? My mother was not amused to learn that it's "GRAIIIIIIIIIIIINS." Then again, she had just come downstairs to see her hopes for the future marching stiff-legged around the kitchen, yelling, "BRAIIIIIIIIIINS! BRAIIIIIIIIIIIIIINS!"

I was surprised to find that my journal was also chockfull of impressively horrible song lyrics. So yes, my friend is smart and I am never looking at my high school journal again.

(That is definitely a lie; I'm a sucker for a cheap laugh, even at myself.)

It looks like high school Selma is crying, but
actually I'm laughing hysterically about
walking into the ocean for the first time ever
and immediately getting body-slammed by
a giant wave.
Anyway, I learned very little about myself at 16 from this experiment. But I can say with confidence from memory that my younger self would be very surprised that I'm getting married, and very pleased that I'm still writing stories.

What about you? What would your high school self think of you now?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Why You Like Courtney Stodden

Yeah, don't pretend you don't.

Courtney Stodden came to fame as the world's favorite child bride. And then... she stayed there. Over and over again, I see people say things like, "I don't know why, but I'm fascinated!" or "I can't figure it out, but I kind of think I like her?"

Well, set your mind at rest, because I have the answer: We all like Courtney Stodden because she refuses to be pitied.

As of yet the only person I've seen actually live up to one
of those damn Marilyn poster quotes that's up in every
college dorm.
Getting married at such a young age meant that the media basically treated her as the victim of a gross old man (when they weren't mocking her, which confused the message somewhat). I'm not condoning her husband's actions, but I will point out that until a generation or two ago, it was actually fairly common for people to get married at 16 or even younger.

Courtney Stodden is many things (most of them outrageous), but a victim doesn't appear to be one of them. Her interviews are slightly bewildering and she seems to be voguing as she talks. Her website is full of photos with all the subtle sexiness of your average porn star. Her twitter consists of innuendo and cheerful retweets of celeb sites mocking her. She's unquestionably does not meet social expectations.

The world exerts a lot of pressure on women. It tells them to be sweet and smart and obliging and sexy and virginal and when we can't do all those things at once, we apologize.

Women apologize a lot. We apologize for seeming big-headed, for not looking pretty enough, for acting overly sexy, for seeming like a nerd, for caring what other people think about us, for not fulfilling our gender norms, or for fulfilling our gender norms too closely.

Courtney Stodden doesn't apologize. Ever.

Perez Hilton has 6 million + followers.
KrissyM222 has 13 followers.
She layers on makeup and dresses in tiny outfits and gets plastic surgery and isn't ashamed of any of it. She owns it. I've yet to hear of her doing anything harmful or cruel, like we see repeatedly from other young people in the spotlight. Courtney Stodden actually seems downright kind. And gracious.

This girl has 405 followers.

This girl has 46 followers.
Courtney Stodden didn't respond to criticism, as usual. Perhaps the
literary community could learn a thing or two...
Despite quite literally countless insults - and the media treating her simultaneously as a victim and an object of ridicule - I've never seen or even heard of her lashing out. How many people could say the same at 18? Fame doesn't seem to have gone to her head - on Twitter she responds to teenage girls with a handful of followers in the same breath as she responds to Perez Hilton.

Courtney Stodden dresses and acts far more sexual than most people are comfortable with... But does she really deserve to be mocked for that? Most decent people wouldn't feel comfortable mocking a tomboy who exclusively wore men's clothes. 

What you see with Courtney Stodden is, apparently, precisely what you get. And while I'm not personally a huge fan of her interests - namely, appearing sexy to men - it doesn't really matter. She's a free human being with an independent will; she doesn't need to please me. I think the world could use a few more women who do exactly what makes them happy without apologizing to the world for it.

Honestly, everything I've seen from Courtney Stodden indicates huge strength of character and just general decency. She's unwavering in her expression of herself, and uniformly kind to other people. Her tastes and interests aren't the same as mine, but that doesn't mean that she's not a strong person.

While I can't say that I'm hoping to see more 16 year olds marrying dudes in their 50s, in her own weird way, I think Courtney Stodden is the rare person strong enough to make decisions like that at a young age - or at least to deal with the consequences well. She certainly seems to know her own mind. So I can't say that I'm comfortable with her relationship... but I do like her.

How can you not?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Disney Sequelester: The Return of Jafar

Upon watching you'll quickly feel
like this: trapped.
Ohhhhhh it's gonna be a long 23 weeks, isn't it?

As soon as the movie starts, awkwardness sets in. The first song goes a little like this:
ARABIAN NAIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT
LIKE ARABIAN DAAAAAAAAAY
ARABIAN MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON
ARABIAN MONSOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON
The Return of Jafar starts out pretty much exactly like the first movie, with a mysterious-sounding tune about Arabian Whatever in the background of sordid dealings in the desert. But that song worked in the original because it had a sense of humor and was narrated by an actual person. The Return of Jafar's song is more like "guys it's mystical as SHIZZ up in Agrabah just look at all these brown folks being mystical". And also there's this lyric:
Pack your shield, pack your sword
you won't ever get bored
Though get beaten or gored you might
Sounds very natural, really rolls off the tongue.

Aladdin is back and possibly even more shirtless. For no fathomable reason at all, Aladdin is robbing some honest thieves at the start of this movie. His skillz have definitely improved since the last movie, to the point where they're overtly cartoony - five dudes with swords jump him, there's a dust-up, and Aladdin emerges completely unscathed. So tension is a no-go from the start.

And the villain is called "Abysmal". Subtle~~~~

Fortunately, this only lasts five minutes before we meet up with the actual hero of the movie: Iago.

An odd choice, perhaps, but I actually like it. For one thing, it's different. And for another, Iago is a genuinely amusing character. He's entertainingly nasty, and he has some decent lines - far more so than any of the other characters, who read off wooden dialogue intended only to further the plot.
"Reports are in; life is officially unfair!"
Enjoy Iago's lines, because they're the only humor you'll get. On the other hand… whose bright idea was it to make Gilbert Godfrey sing, and were they in possession of functioning ears?

The first thing you really notice about this movie (after your eyes stop bleeding from the godawful quality animation) is that the pacing goes at absolutely breakneck speed. In the first fifteen minutes we've had three songs, seen Aladdin defeat a group of thieves and distribute the loot to Agrabah, Iago gets out of the lamp, abandons Jafar, finds Aladdin, saves Aladdin from the thieves, gets locked in a cage pending trial,  Jasmine and Aladdin awkwardly summarize the events of the last movie, the Genie comes back GOOD LORD SIR THE SHIP HAS SPRUNG A LEAK!


One of the good things about this movie is that at least Aladdin's characterization is accurate. Unfortunately, that makes Aladdin kind of a dick. See, Aladdin's thing was that he was a nice guy, but a wee bit untrustworthy; he had a tendency to lie and try to fix things later. That worked alright in the first movie because he had a good reason to lie (can't date his honey as a commoner), but in this movie, it's really forced and awkward. Aladdin has no actual reason to hide Iago, the writers just say verbatim: "I have to make sure Jasmine doesn't see you until I've got her… prepared" and we're supposed to accept that. It makes no sense and makes it impossible to sympathize with Aladdin.

Jasmine's characterization, not so much. All she does is simper about how wonderful Aladdin is, especially when Aladdin gets named the Grand Vizier - which, btw, is a pretty bad job to give a guy who doesn't realize you can kill people by dropping gold on their heads from a carpet flying 100 feet in the air. Brain damage caused by generosity doesn't count! Jasmine's the sharp one with a lifetime political experience. Make her Grand Vizier!

So yeah, Iago immediately gets sprung from Guantanamo Bay because Abu is a little jerk, and Aladdin is revealed as a liar! He's only been lying for five minutes or so total, but whatever, the intent was there!

"Aladdin, I thought you had changed!" Jasmine exclaims. Oh good, let's dig that narrative in a little deeper. Go looking for men to change, little girls! It'll end well. I especially like her lying on a fainting couch sobbing over a minor argument.

Return of Jafar Jasmine has never felt such pain.

Original Movie Jasmine is unimpressed.
Then there's a song and they're back together. "I had almost forgotten the way it felt when he held out his hand for mine…" Yes, I had almost forgotten after a whole two minutes and fifteen seconds apart.


"Love's filled with compromises…" Immediately accept it whenever your partner lies to you. Romance!

Right after that musical number we have an, er, seamless transition to Jafar sneaking into the palace in the wake of a fancy dinner. Annnnnnd when we cut back to Aladdin, he's in his street rat clothes again. Continuity! Either they think the kiddies are too dumb to remember who Aladdin is if he stays in court clothes for long, or nobody edited this movie. I call heads.

So then Jafar shows up with Abysmal (seriously that name) and tells Iago that he's gonna help, or else. Which is a fairly lame threat since we've all been told a zillion times how genies can't kill, and there's already another genie there, so couldn't they just... Whatever. We must move forward. Our mere 66 minutes of screentime demand it.

Jafar makes Iago set up Aladdin and the Sultan on a bro date in order to divide and conquer. He's incredibly powerful so he could just take them all on at once... No? No. And once again, I can't help noticing how utterly useless Jasmine is in this movie. All she does is agree with Aladdin, cry when he does something wrong, or... no wait that's it actually.


This stands in stark contrast to the first movie, which was remarkable, because Jasmine was the first Disney princess to have actual power. Before her there were arguably strong leading ladies in The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, but in both those movies the princesses have to get anything they want through a man: Ariel needs her father's permission to go on shore and then when she can't get that, she needs Eric to choose her as a love interest in order to stay on shore. (And then when that plan falls through, she mopes until her father grants her permission - and girlparts - again. Sorry, but in a lot of ways The Little Mermaid is even more of a feminist nightmare than Cinderella.)

Remember this scene?
Belle is literally the Beast's prisoner, and the only reason she's eventually allowed to leave is because the Beast is overcome with love for her. And she plays no role at all in the penultimate fight. She gets locked away for it and only shows up after Gaston dies in order to cry over the Beast until he turns pretty.

Now, that's not to say these movies are bad - obviously they're not, and a character doesn't need to be powerful in order to be strong. But it's worth noting the trends of these things in movies, because these are the messages that kids get pounded into their little skulls.

So on the other hand we have Jasmine, whose first line in the movie Aladdin is explaining that her pet tiger was merely "playing" with a suitor who annoyed her.


This is immediately followed by Jasmine yelling at her father (the Sultan) as he pleads with her to pick a husband, and then running away from the palace because she's frustrated with the restrictions of her life.

Contrast this to Aladdin, who at the same moment is being kicked out of the city and singing plaintively about how he just wants more than this provincial life.




Aladdin was unique because it featured a relationship with a power imbalance in favor of the woman. All the previous Disney Princess movies featured a prince as the love interest, and most of the women weren't originally royalty themselves. The previous Disney Princesses gained power from love. 

Jasmine is so powerful that Jafar fantasizes about offing her troublesome self in the same breath as the Sultan. She saves Aladdin's life multiple times, including in the beginning when she reveals herself as the princess to the castle guards. While Aladdin is content to sit around and fantasize about someday, Jasmine is motivated and determined to exert her will over her life. The story starts because of her, not because of Aladdin. If Jasmine never went into the marketplace and brought Aladdin back into the palace, thereby involving him in the palace intrigues, he'd still be hanging out in his love shack singing wistfully. There might be a mandolin involved.

Jasmine was the first Disney Princess that couldn't be described as "sweet". She was headstrong, cunning, and daring. So this complete rewrite of her character is both upsetting and deeply obnoxious. She's entirely superfluous in her own movie. The Return of Jafar could cut out her, Abu, and the Genie and lose nothing.

Wat.
While the Sultan and Aladdin are out bonding, Jafar crashes the Genie and Abu's picnic with the worst song in all of recorded history.
Men cower
At the power
In my pinkie
My thumb is number one on every list
I DID NOT MAKE THAT UP.

No, REALLY.
Jafar goes after the Sultan next and captures him because... reasons. Reasons. Aladdin almost dies, but Jafar magics him safely into shallow water. When Abysmal complains about that, there is literally an "If you remember the plan, it is not yet TIME for the boy to meet his end" line. Spoken by Jafar. Is this movie over yet?

Okay so Aladdin pulls himself out of the water and goes to the palace, only to find that Jafar has framed him in the death of the Sultan in order to "seal Aladdin's doom". You know what would have also sealed Aladdin's doom? KILLING HIM ONE MINUTE AND NINETY-FOUR SECONDS AGO!

Meanwhile, everyone else is chained up in Jafar's creepy basement. Nice of the palace to keep that around for him.
Jasmine, your arms are like two centimeters wide. You
realize you could just slip through the cuffs, right?
Luckily Jafar has a serious gloating fetish, so while he dresses in drag for Aladdin's beheading, Iago's grinchy little heart beats to life and he tries "to free the chump Genie so he can save your chump boyfriend!" ILU Iago.

Iago manages to free the Genie just as Jafar runs off from his one last look at Aladdin. Said "one last look" is um... er...


This movie is animated. Somebody animated that. On purpose. Why?! Was there some kind of buried subtext about Jafar's deep and abiding love for Aladdin that I missed? Because that is a look of genuine despair and regret right there.

After that the Genie immediately saves Aladdin and deposits them all ON TOP OF THE TAJ MAHAL, which is super convenient I'm sure.

And then someone allowed their toddler to ink this scene.
Iago wants to flee for his life. Aladdin thinks they have to fight Jafar. Jasmine cries, "But how?! He's SO powerful!" The Sultan isn't really sure what's going on. I mostly want to slap Jasmine.

Abysmal wants more treasure! Sugar daddy delivers, but wants his freedom in return. Abysmal almost says the magic words (while our heroes watch and do nothing), but thinks the better of it just in time. Everyone gets caught out and the courtyard caves in for... reasons. Reasons.

It's an all-out fight for the lamp! A really lame one, since we know that Jafar can't kill. There's a repetition of "you'd be surprised what you can live through" during the length of the movie, but look, we all know a Disney movie isn't going to feature much by way of torture, so I'd take my chances on that one.

All of the main characters prove entirely useless (including the all-powerful Genie, whose powers seem to encompass mainly the realm of puns and pop culture references) until Iago swoops in screeching a battle cry of "Hey Jafar! Shuuuuuuuuuuut upppppppppppppp!" I've heard worse.

"THROW IT INTO THE FIYAH! DESTROOOOOY ITTT!"
I really enjoy the way that Aladdin magics himself up from a rock three feet above the pool of lava to out of the earthquake crevice before it closes. Not gonna help him out, Genie? Magic carpet? Bueller?

"THANKS FOR THE HELP GUYS"
Surprise, Iago doesn't die, because GENIES CAN'T KILL ANYONE. It's almost like this movie was entirely pointless!

And then the movie ends with Jasmine and Aladdin deciding to go off and see the world together, because screw responsibility, there are tourist attractions to see! The giant ball of twine in Minnesota waits for no man.

Final Conclusions:

I'd seen this movie before, but upon rewatch I'm shocked at how bad it really is.

A lot of the problems are inevitable effects of its circumstances, I think: the budget was low, they had TV writers used to short running times, Robin Williams was off in a huff (no really; he'd agreed to be paid a very small amount in exchange for his name not being used in the marketing of the original Aladdin movie, and then Disney totally broke the terms of the contract) and they had to get a replacement.

But there's actually an even bigger reason that this movie sucks as much as it does. See, Disney had been successful with their The Little Mermaid TV show, and they had designs on the same thing for Aladdin. (I haven't seen the Aladdin show, but I have seen a bunch of TLM episodes, and those are surprisingly good.) So they wanted to basically retcon a less tidy ending for the first movie in order to give the characters something to do. In the director of The Return of Jafar's own words: "We came up with a convoluted story that explained everything and that ended up being The Return of Jafar."

It's convoluted alright, but in a really unnecessary way. The story is: Jafar wants revenge, tries to use Iago, Iago crosses over to the good side. There's no reason that movie had to be bad. But instead of using fully realized characters to tell a compelling story like the first movie did, this movie introduces a ton of new characters and brings back a ton of old characters without there really being anything for them to do. So all the characters just flail uselessly until either Jafar or Iago actually does something.

Think about it: this movie didn't actually have to involve Aladdin. If the movie had been Iago's struggle to decide whether or not to join Jafar as he gathered power once again, the end result would not have changed. You could have even gotten what you wanted in terms of setting the original characters up for a sequel - Iago could have been weaving around them, trying to stay hidden from everyone, inadvertently affecting their lives with his schemes.

The characterization for this movie is just nonexistent. Abysmal is... greedy. And that is it. That is literally all that I know about the character after watching 66 minutes about him. Jasmine is Aladdin's girlfriend. Aladdin is a liar but kind of a bro. The Sultan is a pillow pet.

I think the reason this movie tends to get more of a nostalgia pass than the other sequels is that it doesn't do anything truly horrible to destroy our memory of the original movie. The Return of Jafar just kind of... exists. Even if sometimes you wish it didn't.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Statement of Intent

Tired of the sequester? How about a SEQUELester?

For the next... let's see... 23 weeks, I'm going to be watching and reviewing the Disney animated sequels, one by one, starting with The Return of Jafar.

Never let it be said that I don't suffer for my art.

Annoyed Poorly Animated Jasmine shall be our mascot.
I'm going to watch everything from "Beauty and the Best yell at each other in the middle of the original movie" to "a tragic parable joins a band" to "let's retcon The Little Mermaid". The only ones I won't watch will be the Mickey Mouse-centric sequels, because those are based on movies that, although technically part of the Disney animated canon, are compilations of shorts thrown together during WWII. I'm also leaving off the Winnie the Pooh sequels because those are actually pretty decent, and I don't feel like they're really in the spirit of The Lion King or Pocahontas.

The Disney sequels started in 1994 with a follow-up to one of the most popular Disney movies ever. The Aladdin franchise has proved astoundingly lucrative over the years, with three relatively well-regarded movies, a TV show, a board game, a zillion appearances in other Disney shows, movies, and video games...

Anyway, it's not surprising that The Return of Jafar did well enough to merit a third Aladdin movie. And while the The Return of Jafar was mediocre at best, Aladdin and the King of Thieves was actually a really good movie in its own right. The animation wasn't as good as the original, no, and the characters weren't quite as nuanced and compelling, but the movie managed to bring in a refreshing new conflict and have some serious dramatic weight.

Check out that quality animation, my friends.
Then... the rest of the movies happened.

The next two Disney sequels were both for Beauty and the Beast, and they were, um... terrible doesn't seem quite strong enough. Terrihorribad. The Pocahontas sequel that followed almost seemed decent in comparison (at least things actually, y'know, happened in that one), and the Lion King sequel after that was pretty much the last point at which one of the sequels was watchable.

In the wake of the Disney renaissance, Disney struggled to find its identity and succumbed to some really awful cash-grabbing sequels along the way. They were made by the animation studio that makes Disney TV shows, which meant TV writers and small budgets. None of these movies are considered part of the official Disney canon. What I'm saying is, Disney wasn't trying very hard.

In 2006 John Lasseter and Ed Catmull were given leadership of Walt Disney Feature Animation and finally stopped the madness. There was another Peter Pan sequel planned, but Lasseter declared that movie as it was "virtually unwatchable" and totally rebooted the premise, turning Tinker Bell into a huge franchise instead. At current count there have been 5 Tinker Bell movies in 4 years, and more to come! Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaay.

Now that I've revealed to you my all-encompassing and entirely useless overabundance of knowledge about all things Disney, let's venture forth on this journey together! I... uh... can't wait?

Brother Bear 2: Eagerly anticipated by
four of the twelve people that saw the
first one.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

TeeVee

You know that joke about "two hundred and eleventeen channels but nothing on"? Yeah, starting to think that isn't an exaggeration.

I didn't grow up watching TV so I never really got into the habit, and I don't bother getting cable now. So when I spend time somewhere with TV, it's a like a ~whole new world~ of entertainment.

Or not.

Here is a selection of the available programming from last night:
Redneck Island (why)
Bizarre E.R. (this is not my idea of fun)
Dates From Hell (as in the date kills you)
Wicked Tuna (wat)
Pregnant & Dating (this appeared to be a sitcom. I don't think that premise can last forever...)
Untold Stories of the E.R. (Okay so what I'm getting here is that people really like hospitals)
My Cat From Hell (??????)

On the bright side, there was House Hunters, which was very relevant to my interests since I'm going to be perusing the housing market soon. On the dark sight, it was in Belize, which is not so relevant to my interests. Oh well; you win some, you lose some.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Rain Queens of South Africa

In the Limpopo Province of South Africa, there live a tribe of people known as the Balobedu. The tribe originated in Zimbabwe and later moved south, so their language contains unique sounds not found in the local Sotho-Tsawana dialects. Their culture is a mix of North and South Africa, which is a rarity in Africa, where migration was relatively uncommon for a very long time.

And they are always ruled by a queen.

Men cannot inherit the throne of the Balobedu at all. Because rural African history tends to rely heavily on oral tradition it's impossible to know exactly when the matrilineal line started, but some sources (aka old Bolobedu people) believe it might have begun around the 16th century.

The Rain Queen shuns all public function and hangs out inside all day, which sounds awesome. Instead of marrying a man, she has multiple wives. The wives are all daughters of powerful village leaders, which ensures loyalty and maximum gossip access.

Her powers are considered so great that even the legendary Shaka Zulu sent his top diplomats to beg for her blessing. This is the guy who disposed of people he was annoyed with by locking them in houses with starving hyenas.

One of the most wonderful and fascinating things about the legacy of the Rain Queens is the respect they commanded from the surrounding tribes. The Rain Queens were so feared that the Balobedu were left in peace for centuries as territory wars raged around them.

It's a slight bummer that the Rain Queen is expected to commit suicide to pass on the throne when she feels her time is near, but such are the demands of the crown, I guess.

Queen Modjaji V was close friends with Nelson Mandela, and successfully campaigned for him to secure the resources to open schools in her area. It's difficult to encapsulate the politics and culture of even just a small region of South Africa in a few short sentences, but the fact that Queen Modjaji was willing to speak up and demand schooling for rural children - and was listened to - is remarkable. The Balobedus even have votes in the African National Congress.


Her daughter, Queen Mokobo Modjaji, was the first Rain Queen to be formally educated. Queen Mokobo was only 25 when she was crowned, and she immediately struck out against tradition. She was seen in public, used a cell phone, and was public about her lover. When she died in 2005, only two years after she took the throne, it was both sad and suspect, particularly when someone attempted to burn her body.

Because her daughter was so young, Queen Mokobo's brother took over as Prince Regent. In 2007, David Mohale apparently feared for his daughter's life and fled with her... but in 2008, she was back with the Prince Regent. It's impossible to find any information about either David Mohale or his daughter online.

Ostensibly, Princess Masalanabo will take the throne when she comes of age. (I'd recommend visiting that link - it's an interview with Prince Regent Mpapatla Modjaji.)
"We are waiting for my sister's daughter to come of age to take over. According to customary law she will assume her responsibilities when the family decides she is fit to rule.
Age does not matter. The real school of learning takes place here at the royal house. The people must know me as their regent - not the rain king."
But it's hard to know anything for sure - the Prince Regent has a daughter as well, and there has been debate about whether she should inherit the throne instead. And, perhaps more significantly, on the website for the Balobedu's tourist attractions, the Prince Regent is styled as King Mpapatla Modjaji.

In a place where women cannot legally step foot in a courthouse, strong female representation is sorely needed. (If you want more info about women's rights - particularly black women's rights - in South Africa, the Women's Legal Centre is a fantastic resource.)

And since the last queen's death, the rain doesn't come.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Lady Traveler's Guide to Celtic Britain

If you're going to be a woman in ancient history (which btw I do not recommend), the place to do it would be Celtic Britain.

The facts about pre-Roman-invasion Britain are murky and largely have to be interpreted through the accounts of Romans during and after the invasion in 43AD, since the Celts weren't real big on writing things down. "The Celts" just refers to the ethno-linguistic group that was hanging around northwest Europe at the time, by the way. A lot of the facts about Celtic Britain probably apply to Ireland as well, but it's difficult to prove since the Romans didn't hang out much with the Irish. And by hang out, I mean conquer, because that is how Rome rolls.


What we do know is that Britain had no overarching monarchy; it was comprised of many small tribes. Still, the culture of the tribes was fairly similar; too much interaction would have occurred between the tribes for it to be otherwise. There was a huge focus on honor and personal valor They were more spiritual than religious - their druids certainly had a role, but they didn't dictate the rules. (They were probably too busy getting high and communing with lightning.) And there's no proof that women weren't completely equal to men.

Women couldn't be married against their will in Celtic society - a fact which dovetails with the Celtic society's focus on individual glory. In a society where armies had a tendency to fall apart as the warriors would veer off to seek the most impressive feats of valor, it is easy to imagine young ladies refusing suitors who didn't please them, even if their parents attempted to interfere.

And marriage itself did not transfer ownership of a woman: both men and women were allowed to divorce their partners for any reason, and marry again as many times as they wanted. (Probably not very many because the average life expectancy was like 25.)


Since they weren't considered property themselves, women could own property. Even later, after the Roman culture had such a huge influence on Britain, under Brehon law women still retained the majority of their personal property rights. 

Celtic women could take part in politics and wield power. Both Cartimandua of the Brigantes and Boudica are examples of where the Celtic warriors were happy to follow women leaders. It probably didn't hurt that girls were frequently trained in combat, and the records show them fighting Romans right alongside the men.

And when they weren't beating their enemies brains out, Celtic women sometimes acted in official capacities as diplomats, judges and mediators. Recording that must have sucked for Cicero, who had once written, "Our ancestors, in their wisdom, considered that all women, because of their innate weakness, should be under the control of guardians."


The Celtic myths are pretty light on stupid, jealous wives seething quietly at home while their husbands go cheat with everything. They also don't go in much for this "goddess of the hearth" nonsense. The greatest warrior in Celtic mythology was trained in combat by two women, and goddesses were just as dark and powerful as the gods. The queens of Celtic mythology don't play supporting roles - they're just as complex and deeply flawed as the men. One of the most famous Celtic myths is about Queen Medb, who started a cattle raid because she was miffed that her husband had a more awesome bull than she did. (Ancient people were weird.) 


The testament to the respect women had in Celtic Britain is proven by the rights that women maintained for hundreds of years after the invasion of Roman culture. Even after the Catholic Church reared its head, British women never completely lost the influence they once had. When you compare the list of British queens regnant to the lists of other European countries, it's startling to realize that while France and Italy and Germany were never once ruled by a female monarch, Britain had fifteen reigning queens. I mean, dang.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Going the Long Way Around

When I was four years old, the riding instructor told my parents, "If you let her ride now, she'll get bored with it and stop. I've seen it a million times. Better to wait a couple years and then give her lessons." But I'd wanted to ride since the first time my Dad set me on a horse's back at eighteen months old, so my parents put me in lessons anyway and led a dozing pony with me aboard in endless loops over uneven sawdust.

Someone asked me once why I wanted to ride in the first place, and I was totally stumped. Like with writing, I started doing it long before I thought about why I wanted to do it, or what I wanted out of it. I just knew what felt right and went for it.

At four and six and ten, going for what's right is as easy as red light or green light. You canter the horse or you don't. You finish ten pages even though your hands are cramping or you don't. You get back up after you fall or you don't.


When I got my first horse, it wasn't a My Friend Flicka decision. He was a powerful, well-bred Thoroughbred, very sweet-natured, and very cheap. Unfortunately there's no such thing as a free lunch, and he was also half-crazy due to some extremely poor previous treatment. I went in with both eyes wide open, fully aware of the fact that nobody else would even go near him. I called him Whirl, which only became ironic in retrospect. But in spite of the fact that sometimes I spent more time on the ground than on his back, I was positive that this would work out best for both of us. I had the patience to work him through his issues, and in return I would eventually get a strong, well-trained horse.

And it pretty much worked out that way! Pretty much.

After about five years of solid training, Whirl had put his fear behind him. He was bright-eyed and eager to please. He didn't bolt in panic at the first hint of confusion or surprise. Carrying a crop didn't make him blink an eye. He let me cross-tie him. We even went swimming, me on his back and him vaguely disgruntled about the whole venture.

But he never, ever lost his fear of jumping.

Even today I don't know exactly what the problem was. Jumping is a risk on the horse's part, yes, but so is swimming, or going down a steep hill, and Whirl never had issues with either of those things.

Oh, he would do it - we were jumping four feet by the time I stopped. But he was on edge and panicky every single time, with never the slightest hint of enjoyment. I'm not a starry-eyed believer in the loving bond between a horse and a rider acting as one yadda yadda, but most animals do appear to get a certain level of satisfaction out of performing a task well. They enjoy it the way that we enjoy going to the gym or playing an instrument. It's an effort, but a worthwhile one.

But no matter what I tried, Whirl never stopped being afraid of jumping.

The day I stopped was the day that I jumped a friend's horse and had the thought: "Wow, this is actually fun!" I realized that after years of work it wasn't improving for Whirl, and it was starting to ruin jumping for me. I never jumped him again.

For the past year I've been training a ginormous, totally green horse that I've nicknamed Giraffe because seriously, ginormous. At first he acted out, used to riders that he could push around by bucking and rearing and generally being a pain in the arse, but once I established myself as the one in command, he settled right down into a surprisingly good nature. (And no, for the record, establishing myself as the one in command doesn't involve lassos or spurs or whatever. It does involve a lot of transitions between gaits to muscle him up, and an awful lot of time patiently pushing him back into place every single time he moves in the stall once I've told him to stay.)

Since I gained his trust, Giraffe's come so much farther so much faster than I could have imagined. He went from running in circles in his stall and bucking when asked for just a walk, to me being able to walk away for minutes at a time with his stall door open without him moving a muscle. A few weeks ago he walked up onto a raised platform just because I told him it's okay.

And then tonight he went and blew past all my expectations again.

He's definitely old enough and strong enough to jump by now, but nobody had tried it yet. We were doing exercises in the ring and I thought... hey. Why not just try?

(I have that thought a lot, truthfully. Sometimes it works out better than others.)

So I dragged out a line of light plastic boxes - much bulkier than the normal poles, but I figured if were gonna do this, we might as well do it by getting Giraffe used to the idea of going over something substantial. Just a foot in height; short enough to walk over with ease, but as with many things, it's all mental.

I let Giraffe have a sniff at the jump, and then hopped on board after tightening the girth and raising the stirrups. I could feel some of that old tension rising up. Whirl would hate this.

Why not just try?

I walked Giraffe up to the jump without rushing; I let him pause in front of it but then urged him onward. Yes, this is what I want.

And I kinda wish there had been someone there with a camera, because damned if he didn't raise up one leg and lift a single hoof out and over the barrier, hovering it there in a silent question. Really?



I bit back laughter and urged him onward. Yes, really.

Bless his soul, Giraffe set that hoof down and stepped awkwardly over the jump. I praised him the whole time. (Some horses are praise-sensitive; some aren't. This one definitely is.)

We did the same thing a second time with more confidence, and then another time in each direction. Then we trotted at it; no big deal. Then we cantered at it - more of a challenge to time correctly, but I've been doing this for a long while, so Giraffe never even realized I was setting him up to go over the jump right.

All of this without a single refusal or attempt to shy away. It was beyond anything I could've hoped for. After we'd cantered the jump in both directions I stood there and stared at it thoughtfully. If he could do this...

Why not just try?

I got off and went to the jump and reorganized it so that now it stood 18" high. Still a joke; something a horse can easily walk over. But it's all about perspective, and this was a test of Giraffe's. The average person can, with extremely rudimentary instruction, dive off a 10m platform with extremely low risk of injury. It doesn't mean those 10 meters don't look awfully high.

I got back on, shoved away the part of me that was waiting for Whirl to bolt, and aimed Giraffe at the jump.

As far as I can tell, he didn't even notice the height had changed. I told him to jump, and he did. After so many years of it being so hard, it was suddenly that simple.

I leaned back to attempt a decent picture, and Giraffe
attempted a thorough investigation of my Coke.
Sometimes things don't come to us the way we think they will, but it doesn't mean they'll never come at all. I never in a million years would've guessed that a green problem child like Giraffe would unquestioningly hand over something I'd been wanting for so long.

I'm going to try to remember this, and try not to panic when I don't get what I want or work for. Not every setback is a roadblock. Sometimes you're just going the long way around.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Wedding Cult

It's amazing how "I'm not having a wedding" turns into "NO REALLY I'M REALLY NOT HAVING A WEDDING", isn't it?

Even though I'm just going to the courthouse to get married, it's somehow turned into an ~event~. Which was the total opposite of what I wanted, but there's just very little you can say when people are willing and eager to show up to five minutes of you singing your name. But I'll budge on that. What I won't budge on is throwing a party.

In spite of a vast and unabated love for all things Disney, I somehow completely escaped wedding culture. In spite of attending several and being a bridesmaid at several more, I still just kind of don't get it. I like weddings fine, don't get me wrong, but I feel the same way about weddings that I do about model railroads: just fine, if a little odd, but definitely nothing I want to invest my time or money into.

Maybe a big part of it is that I'm just not a very visually artistic person. Even as a kid I didn't really like fingerpainting. I think a lot of people love the idea of creating this design masterpiece of a party, but I'm pretty meh on that idea personally.

Other people definitely enjoy being the center of attention for a day. I never feel particularly starved for attention, lol. I don't crave the spotlight, but I don't go around feeling ignored, so this one doesn't really speak to my soul either.

And of course, some people just want the chance to gather their friends and family together for a big party. But I hate parties and usually spend them supporting the wall, and I already spend a ton of time with my close friends and family (I think it's been about five years since I've gone more than 24 hours without some kind of contact with my BFF), so that's also a non-issue.

I guess this got a bit off track - the point is, there's lots of reasons to have a big fun wedding, but the main one should be that you want a big fun wedding. Which I don't. I can't help thinking it's a pretty silly world when someone asks me, "Don't you want to celebrate your love for one another?"

Well... no?

B is probably the best thing that ever happened to me. But no matter how many times people try to convince me that I'll regret for the rest of my life not throwing a huge party in celebration of our love, I remain unconvinced.

The whole thing starts to take on these guilty overtones, like, if you really loved one another you'd want to have a wedding! Are you ashamed of your love? Is it lukewarm? Is it undeserving of at least thirty five reality shows dedicated to its process?

Well, I guess that's possible. But six months after we initially met (and B immediately lost my phone number), when we met again, we still liked each other enough to give it a go. And six years after we got together (the day before Valentine's Day, which we both summarily ignored because seriously that is awkward one day into a relationship), we still like each other pretty well. Not that you could tell by Facebook - I think we've interacted on Facebook a total of 3 times, to tag the very few pictures we've put up. Even if you were hanging out with us, you probably wouldn't think about it much; PDA is a no-no for us around our friends, many of whom are single and (let's be real) none of whom want to see that.

Much like our relationship, B and I's wedding will take place largely behind the scenes. We just don't need a party.

Friday, July 12, 2013

So I Saw Pacific Rim

No Selma Ruins on this one, because there's nothing really to ruin! It's a good movie. You're not wasting your money. Go see it; enjoy one of the only non-adaptation decent movies out this summer.


However, I'm still capable of nitpicking even a good thing to death, so a few non-spoilery thoughts:


  1. This is the movie that Roland Emmerich wishes he could make. It's global in scope, and it feels like it. That's because Guillermo del Toro is an excellent director, and he understands that you can't just throw stereotypes at the screen and have us identify with them (Africans? They all wear tribal outfits and hoist spears in the air in triumph, of course!). GdT knows how to give even secondary characters enough personality that they feel uniquely human.
  2. Speaking of big, the sense of scale in this movie is a ton of fun; you can tell the people who made this movie really pushed themselves to break new ground. Huge things really look huge, to the point that the movie is almost intimidating to watch until you get used to it. But that's okay! It's great, even. It's always fun to see boundaries pushed.
  3. Even the timeline is epic in scope - you get about 15 minutes of backstory before you get to the title card!
  4. I was very glad to see what people keep calling "no-name" actors (seriously? Errrr Idris Elba?). This was a movie about a team rather than one person, and having huge stars pulling attention just would have been distracting. The main guy was excellent at being just compelling enough without making you focus on him.
  5. The kaiju were a bit... bland, honestly. The character design just wasn't that interesting, and they all looked the same. Yes, they looked the same, giving some tentacly bits or wings does not differentiate. Every kaiju had the same basic design, and the exact same texture and coloration. It wasn't a huge distraction, but I was a little disappointed.
  6. My one big complaint, honestly, is Not. Enough. Ladies. And that's a huge bummer, because every single role in this movie is unisex. There's just no reason that more women didn't get parts.
  7. The secondary complaint to that is that the romance plotline is rushed to the point that it's just ludicrous. Their connection appears to be literally HEY YOU A LADY HAYYYYYY. I can only assume that the majority of this plotline got cut, because it's by far the most poorly done thing in the movie. This movie really, really didn't need any romance.
  8. That being said, the script is not brilliant. It's functional, but that's about it. Again though, that's alright - the special effects and sense of HOORAH are really what's on display here.
  9. The music is excellent, particularly the jaeger's theme song.
  10. Two of the characters in this movie are the kind that SHOUT EVERY LINE THEY HAVE. So when they operate a robot together later in the movie, it's kind of hilarious.
  11. "Today we are canceling the apocalypse!" > "Today we celebrate our Independence Day!"

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Marion Bartoli, Robert H. Goddard, and Why Every Woman Is Princess Peach

Everyone's talking about the Dustin Hoffman interview where he talks about society's beauty bias towards women, and deservedly so. It's an important statement about the way we treat women.

But this goes farther than just judging women by their looks. We judge women by their availability, too. We judge them by their passivity. We judge them by the rubric of Cinderella and Princess Peach.

Society judges women by their value as possessions.

It sounds extreme, but to a large extent, it's very true. I think that most women have had the experience of having a pleasant conversation with a guy, only for him to completely shut down when he finds out that you have a boyfriend/are married/are a nun engaged to Jesus. Not only that, men will often be outraged - how dare this woman waste his time?! After all, there's only one reason to strike up a conversation with a woman. She should have known that, and not wasted his time with her presence.

We see these kind of assumptions every day in the media. A few weeks ago a Wimbledon commentator said about a female tennis player:
I just wonder if her dad, because he has obviously been the most influential person in her life, did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe, ‘listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker. You are never going to be somebody like a Sharapova, you’re never going to be 5ft 11, you’re never going to be somebody with long legs, so you have to compensate for that’
Marion Bartoli won Wimbledon 2013.

I'm truly at a loss as to what her looks have to do with it.

Then there's the Australian soccer coach of a World Cup team, who last month after being told where to sit said:
I'll sit here. You push me around like my wife. There is a saying, it is a very ... er ... women should shut up in public. I say it to my wife at home.
And then he "apologized":
To everyone who may feel offended by that, I offer a sincere apology.
It was off the record, it was more a funny remark.
It was nothing against any women or whatever. Definitely just a complete misunderstanding.
It was off the record. I see. That seems very relevant to whether or not he said something offensive. It was "more a funny remark". Why was it humorous? Humor is the juxtaposition of the expected with the unexpected. There's no punchline. Osieck doesn't like being pushing around by his wife, and he tells her to shut up. He thinks other women should shut up too. That's not a joke, that's an opinion.

If it was nothing against women, then why must he sincerely apologize? You clarify misunderstandings. You don't apologize for them. And yet here he is, "sincerely" "apologizing".

Men expect women to please them. They believe that women should take it seriously when they're told to be quiet "like Barbie" (an inanimate, unthinking doll). The papers would never dream of headlines analyzing John Kerry's appearance, but Hillary Clinton's aesthetic appeal is of utmost importance

Women need to do three things to please men: be pretty, demure, and sexually available.

And that's a big problem, because when I hire someone for a job, or hell, want a decent conversation, I don't care about any of those three things. I care about their skills and character. Judging someone's quality as a person by their looks, their ability to smile quietly, or their willingness to have sex with me devalues them to the status of a Real Doll. Judging someone by their looks and not their capabilities turns them into an object.

:) :) :) :) :)
We don't respect objects, or value their opinions. When a Magic 8 Ball tells you yes or no, you don't take its advice seriously. Why would you? It's just a possession.


But women are expected to be demure. If we protest the status quo, we are being ungrateful and unrealistic. After all, many women choose to go into traditionally low-paying jobs (the kind that they are trained to see as their "nurturing" domain from childhood). We have to give "the system" time to adjust to the fact that women have brain stems. Expecting huge amounts of progress quickly is just absurd.

In 1919, Robert H. Goddard made spaceflight and engineering possibility with his groundbreaking paper "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes". In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the world's first satellite into space. In 1969, the first human stepped onto the moon.

It took mankind exactly 50 years to go from using the telegraph to landing a spaceship on the moon. 

93 years ago women were given (how nice of the government, to grant us human rights) the right to vote in the United States. And yet today we still have articles from Forbes explaining why women need to sit down and shut up on Wall Street so that the menfolk won't be distracted. Because obviously the men should stay on Wall Street. Because men are, apparently, inherently more capable than women.

Woman. Man. Black. Disabled. Gay. Transgender. Which one of these people is the most intelligent? Which one is the kindest? Which one has the greatest ability to process non-linear thinking?

Judging people by what they are rather than who they are is demonstrably stupid.

There was a study done recently about how any comments at all about a female politician's looks harm her chances with voters. It didn't surprise me. Commenting on a female politician's looks remind the voters that she isn't a person - she's a woman. She's an ornament. She's social currency. She's a charming, smiling, dutiful reward after a man fights his complex, fascinating inner demons and becomes the hero of the story.

This plot of the most recent (2013) Mario video game.
Yes, Mario, your princess is (still) in another castle. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Internet: The Final Frontier

This guy made an amazing chart that shows you exactly what Google is asked to censor.

For the United States, by far the largest percentage of requests were due to "defamation" - which, really, is such a broad term that it could mean pretty much anything. Apparently only 1% of the requests were for government criticism, but you have to wonder if individual government officials would fit under the "defamation" category. Or perhaps I'm too suspicious?

Interestingly, there is no record of the compliance rate as measured by reason for request.

As more and more hours of more and more people's lives move online, we've begun to shape the online space in fascinating ways. A large number of people with the time and inclination to be online are middle-to-upper-class people in the 15-55 age bracket. We've moved from a relatively anonymous, sparse landscape to a place where we all post pictures and invite other people into our lives with blogs and Twitter and Facebook. There's internet memes and internetspeak that only the initiated are privy to (ALL THE THINGS!).

The internet was created to spread information, and you'll notice that people on the internet are incredibly willing to help one another - whether it's digging up relevant medieval sources, or patiently explaining to some knucklehead on Yahoo!Questions that no, Russia is not invading the state of Georgia. But on the other hand, we've brought our prejudices with us to some extent as well - girl gamers are very aware of the welcome they'll receive from their male compatriots online.

Up until very recent times, the internet has been largely unregulated in many places. It's very hard to enforce laws about, for instance, online harassment or threats, or the involuntary spread of personal information. That can be harmful, but on the other hand, it's also difficult to enforce sometimes arbitrary rules about age or background or what have you. For better or worse, the internet is our sandbox, to remake in our image like the egomaniacal little gods we all are.

But now things are changing. Monopolies have been built - the best known, of course, is Google. They don't want to be evil, but it's pretty hard to say no to your overlords when you're making so darn much money. We can see The Powers That Be moving in and attempting to shape the way the online world looks.

We'll see how things look ten years from now.