Friday, August 23, 2013

Star Trek political message run amok!

Disclaimer: This post contains justified anger which has led to the use of what our culture considers to be obscenities. If such obscenities offend you more than the racism and sexism that led to such anger, I first must question your moral compass, but second I must warn you that this post is probably not for you and you should cease reading now.

I am just dismayed about the episode of Star Trek I recently watched. It's from The Original Series, titled "The Omega Glory." I've been griping to my wife about the sexism in many episodes of the series, but I've been able to deal with that to where I haven't bothered writing any posts about it. This episode, however, was really bothersome. Not because it was horrible sexism* — it perhaps had less sexism** than an average episode — but horrible racism.

Part of the plot of the episode involves two tribes that are at war, the Yangs and the Kohns. It is revealed later in the episode that the Kohns are equivalent to communists and the Yangs to Yankees/Americans. To make things really fucked up, the Yangs have a flag that looks exactly like the American flag, they cite the Pledge of Allegiance, have the Bible and the U.S. Constitution. And this is supposed to be in a culture that was not tampered with (at least not until recently, too recent to have had such influence). Yet, just two episodes before this, the crew encountered Nazis. In that episode, I recall Spock claiming the probability that this would happen on another planet on its own (without interference) would be near impossible***. And, in this case, it was a result of interference. Yet, in this episode, Spock is not astonished at all. (Nor is anyone else for that matter.) So, it would seem that whoever wrote this episode (looking this up, it apparently was Gene Roddenberry himself) was (1) not the same person who wrote that prior episode (or they're really inconsistent in their writing, but, again, having looked this up, it was not the same writer) and (2) has a clear political agenda. What, exactly, that political agenda was is not clear to me, but I figure it had at least something to do with the Vietnam War.

Now, about that racism... I'll admit that I'm not entirely sure that all of the racism was either intended or the result of sheer ignorance; some of it may have just been a consequence of trying to reflect earth reality into the plot. (But intent is not magic.) The particular case I'm discussing here is how the Kohns/Communists appear Asian while the Yangs/Yankees are white (with some other raciest caveats I'll discuss in a bit). The problem? Remember that these are people that have evolved on their own separate from earth culture. There is an implication here that communist beliefs are genetically tied to Asian features. Then the Yangs, who love freedom so much that it is a sacred word, are, of course, white. Because nothing says you love freedom more than having white skin! Fucking. Sick. If there is any saving grace to this racism, it is that the Yangs are, especially early on, depicted as a savage race, so the white race is not necessarily viewed as being superior by any means. However, this can be explained by even more racism because the Yangs aren't entirely white. They're really more of a mix of Caucasian and Native American. The leader of the Yangs, for example, has the title of "chief" and his name is "Cloud Williams," a name that is quite clearly a mix of Native American and English.

There are numerous problems with this, the first being is the savage behavior of the Yangs could be seen as a result of their Native American heritage. Other problems with this deal with other parts of the plot, primarily with the Yangs trying to take what is supposedly their land back from the Kohns. For a story that is made to line up largely with earth history, this hugely misses the mark because in our history it is the Yankees who stole land from the Native Americans, not the communists! (I must note, though, that this part of the plot is made obvious through dialog to be a potential future for America, not part of the past. Still, it is a potential future that is made while ignoring the realities of the past.) This really seems insulting to the descendents of Native Americans to suggest that Europeans actually integrated peacefully with their ancestors. The best defense I can see for this is perhaps the writer was trying to suggest that this is the way things should have been. That would at least be a bit better, but, if it were me, I'd suggest that the Europeans should have fucking stayed in Europe and worked on figuring out birth control instead (and freedom of speech and religion...whatever they needed to do to make staying in Europe more appealing). Getting back to the point, if this was the intended message, I didn't get it. Message. Not. Received. Seeing how other parts of the plot align with American history, deviations from that history need to be made clear or I find anyone is justified in concluding this as being the author's view of history.

I think that's the worst of the racism. The rest of what is on my mind involves the mixed messages about the USA. As stated, the Yangs have the Pledge of Allegiance and the Constitution. Reading the comments of others, the Constitution has been slightly modified in oral presentation to start saying, "E Plebnista" instead of "We the people," a difference I had difficulty catching while watching the episode as the Yangs were talking in some sort of broken English when reciting these documents. — And what was the point of this? Was it to make it seem more ancient? — As stated by this other blogger, "Kirk resolves the great conflict by recognizing that E plebnista is actually a corruption of 'We the People' and giving the Yangs a good dose of high school civics." I find this blogger also has some insight when he states the following:
Gene Roddenberry’s here point is worth remembering: when the Constitution is made the subject of adoration, and when its key passages are converted into acontextualized proof texts, we end up with a ridiculous form of ancestor worship instead of a participatory democracy. We ignore the flesh-and-blood Founders by converting them into two-dimensional deities and their ideas about self-government into a prescriptive list of commandments. “We the people” becomes “E plebnista.”
I can see how he could arrive at this conclusion. However, a twist to this that I find a bit bizarre is that Kirk is familiar with these texts. Sure, Kirk is an American character, but if the concern is really about not making such documents a subject of adoration, a point I strongly agree with, why does Kirk himself have the texts at least somewhat memorized? I don't have them memorized. I wouldn't want to memorize them. (Well, I do have the pledge memorized. It's rather short and my memorization is essentially from reciting it years ago as a child.) I mean, if I'm going to devote time to memorizing the text of a document, I would think I'd have to only be a step away from worship. It's the ideas the Constitution contains that are more important than the particular words, which seems to be what Kirk is expressing, but I just can't get over this bit of inconsistency. There is also inconsistency with the portrayal of the American flag. It is highlighted at the end of the episode with some patriotic music playing. If the idea really is to be cautious about worship, then this episode is sending mixed messages. The best I can figure is that perhaps it was a message of "I love my country, but we can do better."

The final failed message I noticed is also near the very end where Kirk lectures the Yangs on the Constitution. There he's telling them that the ideas apply to all people, including the Kohns. What exactly does that mean? The Yangs don't get it nor do I. I have heard it said that the idea of the Prime Directive where "humans should not influence or interfere with other races and peoples, was actually a snipe at American involvement in Vietnam." But one of the excuses our government gives — and I would suspect the government did so back then as well — for interfering is to bring democracy to those lands. Which could then be viewed as doing what Kirk advised!

In summary, this episode was a good example of how writers really need to be careful when putting political messages into their shows and a good example of how not to do it!

* As a note on that sexism, the main female character's part was pretty much there for male viewers to stare at, as she was cladly dressed, and as a plot device.

** OK, since I may not otherwise end up talking about the sexism in Star Trek, so far the "greatest" moment of sexism I've seen was in the episode, "Wolf In The Fold." The background story to the plot, as I recall, is that Scotty was injured in some explosion. It sounded like it was accidental, but apparently it was the result of a mistake made by a woman. From this, Scotty developed a mistrust of women. Bones has Scotty on shore leave on a pleasure planet to get him over this. And...they take him to watch a belly dancer. (I wonder if the writer of this would have preferred a strip club if it could be shown on television.) The biggest problem with all of this is that Bones, the supposed medical doctor, seems to think it completely rational that Scotty would develop such a mistrust. So does Kirk. That's just bullshit. If a man had made the mistake, do we really believe Scotty would develop a mistrust of men? I don't. Scotty's rationale is sexist and it would only seem to make sense in a sexist environment. One would hope that the future portrayed in Star Trek would be mostly over sexism. Then again, the characters of the show are not over throwing punches to settle disputes as one of the first resorts, so why would I expect them to be over sexism?

*** And then just two episodes after this one, they discuss someone's "law" about parallel cultural development when they end up on a planet ruled by Romans. Horribly inconsistent writing! Not to mention a potential lack of imagination (or maybe lack of budget) with all these earth-themed episodes.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A point of honesty in regards to dragons.

In my last post, I discussed a rather horrible response to Carl Sagan's dragon example. Now, in that response, the apologist was essentially addressing two questions at once — one about his god belief in regards to the example and a second about proof for this god. In my post, I indicated that Sagan's example isn't looking for the type of "proof" this author was suggesting. I must now admit that isn't fully true.

Sagan's examples are really a starting point for investigating the dragon. If someone had merely visually seen the dragon, that would not have been enough to say, "Yep, that's a dragon alright!" Maybe it's actually a robot made to look like a dragon. Maybe it's a holographic projection. What we do get, though, is a starting point where we can say, "Yes, there is certainly something here that we can investigate!" It would seem the apologist should agree that there is a starting point*; he has written a book that is supposed to "cover...the evidence for God from science."

So why not include some of these things? Well, for starters, the person the apologist is addressing is an atheist who has already expressed that they were not impressed by the apologist's work. But, also, the apologist may already suspect the atheist won't even agree on those starting points. If the apologist's arguments are anything like "DNA is a message!" then there likely won't be agreement. Better to dismiss the argument entirely than entertain an argument you know won't fly.

* This is the actual reason his "list...of things which certainly do not exist" is bollocks. We can, for the most part, agree that there are things there that can be investigated, even if such investigations are challenging.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Responding to "The Dragon In My Garage" by...not actually responding.

I was just Googling Carl Sagan's The Dragon In My Garage and found a post with a Christian response on the topic. The response was requested by an atheist who apparently has read some of this apologist's other work. We'll go through it piece by piece in a bit. First, the low-down on Sagan's Dragon:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Laughing at the stuggles of celebrities and marginalizing those who aren't

I'm just a bit disgusted. I really hate how we as a society love to make a joke out of the personal problems of celebrities. Currently, it's Amanda Bynes. I don't follow celebrity gossip, so I don't really know all what's going on, but apparently she's having problems with drug abuse, somewhat like Lindsay Lohan before her. I was just sitting here trying to work this last Friday and the radio DJ decides to play some clip that makes fun of Bynes' struggles. This clip was essentially a satire of advertisements for charitable organizations for helping people in need. The joke is that Bynes is not in need because she's a rich celebrity. I fail to find it funny, though. Here are probably my biggest two issues with such satire:
  • Incidents like this could be used to instead have serious discussions. What particularly comes to my mind is the conservative/libertarian fairy tale that poor people are just lazy (and probably do a lot of drugs) and if they'd just take some responsibility, they'd magically have better lives. Cases like this work as a bit of a counter-narrative, showing that irresponsible people can be wealthy. (Though, those who believe in the myth would likely point out that Bynes' career is going to suffer from all of this. They would be correct, so any conversation would have to focus on a point that the real world isn't as simplistic as conservatives/libertarians make it out to be.)
  • What bothers me most, though, is that such satire marginalizes people. Actually, this can be broken up into further sub-bullets.
    • I think in such a satirist clip is a criticism of culture. I'm going to start with a different example to explain what I mean. Back not so long ago, I was checking out on YouTube Five Finger Death Punch's video for their new song, "Lift Me Up." In the comments, someone said something about the song being awesome and how they can't understand how such music isn't as popular as Psy's "Gangnam Style." Except...they didn't call the song out by name but rather as a song by a fat Asian. Alright, I can understand and sympathize with not totally getting why such music is so popular. But what the fuck does Psy's weight have to do with anything! It reminds me a bit of a phrase I used to hear a lot a decade or so ago: "Don't hate the player. Hate the game!" And that really seems to be what they hate, with "the game" being analogous with what music is popular in culture. But "the game" can't be marginalized because it is not a person. The player, however is and thus can be.

      I suspect something quite similar is going on in the minds of whoever produced this clip on Bynes. They're really trying to make a critique of culture that props up people as celebrity that don't necessarily deserve such a status. It's a point to which I generally agree; in fact, I do find celebrity worship rather stupid and occasionally dangerous (like when a celebrity endorses a harmful product or idea). So when a celebrity struggles with life, these critics use that celebrity's struggles to attempt to make a point. The problem is with how the criticism is made. Essentially, these points are made without recognizing the celebrity as being a human being but instead treating the celebrity as an object in which to use to score points. There is no concern for the state of Amanda Bynes in this clip. In fact, there was the opposite as it mentioned her having "$4 million in her savings account" or something to that effect. In other words, you are not to feel at all sorry for her. Bynes is simply the latest object to use to make points against pop culture. Before her it has been Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan.

      And now I realize I made a mistake (which I could remove, but will leave in to show the development of my thoughts). These are not the players; these people are the balls. The game is still the same, but the players, I now realize, are members of society. On one team are those who embrace pop culture and on the other are those who do not. The idols of pop culture, then, are the game balls.
    • Worse than marginalizing celebrities, though, is the marginalizing of "common folk." I don't have any statistics handy, but it should not be a point up for debate that many people struggle with drug abuse or various psychological problems. When you make fun of a celebrity for struggling with such issues, you are essentially making fun of all people with such issues. This is because you are often making fun of the celebrity through their behavior that results from their struggles. Those behaviors are not limited to the celebrity. A drunk celebrity, for example, can go into a stupor just as much as someone who is not a celebrity. Drugs, alcohol, and whatnot don't have some special effects on celebrities that they don't on other people. If a person struggling with alcohol abuse sees you making fun of a celebrity going into a drunken stupor, what might they think? Is it unreasonable to suggest they might suggest that you would also make fun of them for their drunken stupors??? On that, another point that should not be up for debate is that laughing at people with such problems in no way helps them and may make things worse.

      The most common, seemingly legitimate defense I would suspect is something along the lines of, "Oh, but I only intended to make fun of Bynes!" Yeah, well, the road to hell (if there were such a place) is paved with good intentions. Not to mention that making fun of people is never a good intention...but I digress! The point I need to make here is that your intentions don't matter; it is how others interpret your message that matters.

      Other "defenses" may be to suggest that these people "develop a sense of humor" or "grow thinker skin." Yeah, well, you could stop being an asshole, too! These are examples of what I am starting to call "shifting the burden of responsibility." It's asking others to change their attitudes so that you may maintain yours. It's dishonest.
Now, I need to be clear that I don't think that people who laugh at the woes of celebrities are automatically assholes. Often, I doubt people think through the consequences of their actions. And that's what this post is really about. Such jokes can actually be quite harmful. You might be able to get a laugh out of them, but realize that not everyone does. Raciest jokes work much the same. They can be funny to many people, but often not to the group of people being marginalized. I hope we're moving toward a society that calls people out when they make a raciest joke. Let's now also start moving toward a society that calls people out when they make a joke marginalizing those with personal struggles. That is all I ask.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Won't somebody think of the children?!? -- Inconsistency in the anti-abortion movement

This post is going to take a couple different directions. I first want to just briefly mention how British prime minister David Cameron is trying to stop pornography on the internet. And his reason? Think of the children!!! It's rather quite sad when people use children to push a political agenda, but, having said that, there are legitimate cases where it really is about the children.

This gets us to what I originally wanted to write about. My wife has a friend who apparently has been dealing with people who sound like far-right Tea Party folk; people who don't like the government telling them they have to have their children in a car seat. No, I'm sorry, this is not the government telling you what to do. This is one of those legitimate cases of the government thinking of the children. You do not own your children. While they are yours in a caregiver and often biological sense, they are individuals that have rights, and one of those rights is protection against the idiocy of their parents!

And these people should understand this, because I suspect there is a good chance that these people would also be anti-abortion. One of the main arguments such people often use against abortion is that the fetus is a human being that has rights. That should mean that it will still have those rights as a child. Or do we live in a really bizarro world where fetuses are human beings but children are not? Of course — anyone rational person who pays close attention to abortion debates — the truth is that these anti-abortion people don't truly believe the arguments that they put forth. Their reasons for being against abortion could be from a variety of reasons including the totally thoughtless reason of their pastor telling them to be or the true agenda behind anti-abortion movements of controlling people's sex lives. At any rate, when someone who is against abortions tells you it's about human rights but then gripes about child seat laws is full of themselves on at least one of those topics.