For a word that simply describes a farm animal (a common and, given the bacon fetishists, particularly beloved one), ‘pig’ and variants thereof are peculiarly value-laden. Take a minute and think of how many different uses of it you know, and then of how many of those are negative or offensive. Pigs themselves are perceived as obese, lazy, and dirty - characteristics that are patently untrue of any natural pig. Yes, some farmed pigs grow excessively fat and have proportionately abnormal behaviour, but that would be like classifying all human men as dickless by way of the existence of eunuchs. It’s inaccurate, and it’s ignorant, and it’s a little bit ridiculous.
As for the metaphorical value of the word, I’m not sure how it became such a popular byword for fatness and filth, but I imagine it’s the most universally accessible animal insult people could come up with. However it happened, telling anyone they look like a pig is one of the most grievous sins of our fat-phobic world, and heaven help you if they’re even remotely chubby. Example, for the visual thinkers and pop culture nerds: in a Halloween episode of Community, Shirley (who’s fat) is wearing a costume that includes a bright pink ballgown and the other characters are desperately trying to perceive/describe her as anything other than Ms. Piggy. It’s a good gag, everyone gets it, but what is it really saying? In conjunction with Señor Chang (an Asian male… obviously) who is dressed as Dorothy Hamill (decidedly not an Asian male… obviously) but is repeatedly assumed to be an Asian figure skater, the writers are making a clever point about physical features serving as the lens through which we identify people.
This Halloween issue is especially poignant to any kid of non-white heritage or a non-ideal shape - there’s a lot of pressure to dress as what you look like, and your options become extremely limited. Often, you’re reduced to a stereotype, a caricature of your actual appearance as interpreted by the heteronormative white Hollywood costume cartels. Does anyone believe that a little black kid with a lightsaber will be perceived as anything (or at least any Jedi) other than Mace Windu? I didn’t think so. But why does this pressure exist? Is it better to avoid the problematic possibility of ‘Blackface Jr.’ and keep kids in whatever box they were born to, or does this just reinforce the idea of appearance as the ultimate descriptor?
Personally, I think it’s a parental cop-out, and one that leads to serious problems further down the line. Costumes shouldn’t be race- or build-specific, though obviously that freedom comes with the freedom to look incredibly awkward. Parents should be distinguishing the choice to idolize a hero/villain of different appearance the choice to trivialize or exoticize basic feature sets - my child can go as Malcolm X or as
Obi-Wan Kenobi Starbuck (and I hope they do both!), but they definitely cannot go as ‘Fat Ballerina’ or 'Indian Princess' ’Indian Brave’. Subsequently, they should be taught the difference between dressing as a person and dressing as a people (i.e., a stereotype). In addition to the million ways that the latter is offensive, it also makes for a pretty shitty and lackluster costume. Don’t do it. Don’t let your friends do it.
I’m going to stop here to reap the outrage/kudos/cold indifference generated by this post, but I’ll be continuing on this theme in my next post, returning to the specific injustice of ‘pig’.
(Also, as some of you may notice, I’m tagging this with the ‘thinspo’ hashtag. The whole thinspo movement is, in my opinion, incredibly unhealthy and dangerous, and I think the best way of
fucking with it combating its influence is to throw the occasional “I LOVE FATTIES” post onto people’s dashboards. So, take that.)
EDIT: I fell into a variant of the same trap I described, and used only hypothetical male costumes as good and hypothetical female costumes as bad, a terrible oversight, which has now been remedied.
The loneliest whale in the world..
In 2004, The New York Times wrote an article about the loneliest whale in the world. Scientists have been tracking her since 1992 and they discovered the problem:
She isn’t like any other baleen whale. Unlike all other whales, she doesn’t have friends. She doesn’t have a family. She doesn’t belong to any tribe, pack or gang. She doesn’t have a lover. She never had one. Her songs come in groups of two to six calls, lasting for five to six seconds each. But her voice is unlike any other baleen whale. It is unique - while the rest of her kind communicate between 12 and 25hz, she sings at 52hz. You see, that’s precisely the problem. No other whales can hear her. Every one of her desperate calls to communicate remains unanswered. Each cry ignored. And, with every lonely song, she becomes sadder and more frustrated, her notes going deeper in despair as the years go by.
Just imagine that massive mammal, floating alone and singing - too big to connect with any of the beings it passes, feeling paradoxically small in the vast stretches of empty, open ocean.
Oh my god.
I want to start a
Kickstarter IndieGoGo (Curse you, anti-Canadian bias!) to send Stephin Merritt out to serenade this lonely, lovely creature and record the subsequent duet. I think they’d dig each other.
An excellent documentary, if (necessarily) a depressing one.
Sometimes I wish that I had the skill and the resources to be able to take a quality picture of what’s going on in the instant that I see it. I’m sure a lot of people have this wish from time to time, but being in a relationship with someone who sees the world through the eyes of an artist has increased my regret over being unable to communicate in images. We’re lying together now and watching the storm through our little bedroom window, delighting in the rapid-fire flashes of lightning.
Today was overcast and quite windy, due to the leading edge of the hurricane. I’m not sure if it was because of this or just prolonged by this, but the hangar (where I work) was empty the whole day through - usually there’s 2 or 3 planes being worked on, sometimes as many as 9 or 10. Definitely a slow day, maintenance-wise.
As the storm started approaching in earnest, we got various reports of a tornado watch (more south and southwest than where we are, but as a regional airline that’s pretty important) that eventually became a tornado warning - tornadoes sighted or highly likely. Pretty much everything gets grounded at that point. I happened to be walking back through the hangar when they were towing in the one plane that was around, silhouetted against a purplish-grey sunset, and noticed there was a dragonfly darting in and around all the equipment.
I’m not even really sure that, given the chance, it would have made all that good of a photo - it’s possible that the beauty of it is composed entirely of overlapping concepts and context and a camera would belittle the experience. But nevertheless, it was beautiful.
One of the things that becomes immediately obvious to those who know me in person is that I am a huge, unapolegetic geek. A good part of my childhood and adolescence was salvaged by the existence of (occasionally brilliant, often unspeakably trashy) sci-fi and fantasy novels, and I had longer and more emotionally satisfying relationships with people I met through MUDs and other online refuges than I did with my ‘peers’. This is not so unusual now, as we’ve entered the so-called Age of the Geek, but it’s a necessary preamble for what I really want to write about - racism/discrimination and RPGs.
Yes, both of those together.
Continuing this mea culpa of geekdom, I have often dipped into the well of escapism that is tabletop role-playing. Originally I was deeply enamored with Shadowrun, having read the 3rd edition core book in the late 90s and deeply dug its unique fusion of Tolkienesque fantasy and Gibsonesque dystopia. From there, it was a slippery slope down to the World of Darkness system (Exalted, to be precise) and then to Dungeons and Dragons. Every step of the way I have resisted attempts to convert me to any kind of ‘orthodox’ game world - these are games almost universally created by and marketed towards a narrow demographic. I’ve created games of my own devising on and off throughout the last 15 years (jesus, that’s a long time), always seeking something that reflects my desire for engaging fiction as well as my knowledge of the many small miracles and tragedies of real life.
If we use DnD (arguably the most well-known and popular of all tabletop RPGs), anyone with half a mind or half an arts degree can see some fairly major flaws. Why are certain races good and others evil, when the very connection of ‘race’ with ‘evil’ evoke memories of the worst acts of human history? Why are drow corrupt and depraved, -as a race-, when their most obvious feature is that they’re BLACK? Why is the basic model for every game built around the idea of a handful of pseudo-European explorers desecrating tombs and invading foreign settlements?
Yes, a great deal of this can be hand-waved away by stating that the DnD world is one in which good and evil are not arbitrary notions but actual forces given power and permanence by the presence of their respective deities. But after hearing enough of that particular line, it’s begun to occur to me - why is it ok to give that explanation? Why is the most recent edition, designed to be accessible to more than the usual clichéd basement-dwelling male gamer, still towing this line of transparently-veiled cultural imperialism? I’m not trying to imply that Wizards of the Coast, or Gary Gygax, or any of a number of people involved in the game’s conception, are purposefully attempting to inject racism and imperialism into it - there’s no conspiracy, unless one considers conspicuous blindness to issues of cultural impact to be a conspiracy. Maybe a compiracy of complacency.
What’s that? You still think my examples are circumstantial and not evidence of an inherently racist product? Well, look at any character art done in 4th Edition. Heroes? Overwhelmingly white, with shades of Mediterranean colouring for variety. Villains? Dark and dusky, my multiracial friends. I recently read a comment thread where a particularly pigheaded fan of the game defended DnD from accusations of racism/sexism by stating that the earlier editions were far more diverse in their portrayal of races.
Like what books, I wonder… maybe, I don’t know… Oriental Adventures? Maybe this was an OK word to use when the first one was published, in 1985, you would think that by the time of the second and third editions (early 2000s) they’d have learned that it’s -pretty goddamned racist-. Additionally, if you happen to have any kind of creature catalogue from the earlier editions handy, flip it open and enjoy the cultural stereotypes and objectifying sexism that leap from the pages. It’s really quite endearing.
So where does that leave us? How does one resolve the dilemma of love of the game but hate of the industry built around it? I’m sure I’m not the first to take issue with these things, and I certainly hope I won’t be the last. I’m also fairly sure that my predecessors resolved their difficulties in one of the following ways:
a) Broke away from DnD and adopted a game with more modern sensibilities
b) Broke away from DnD and created a similar but less discriminatory game/setting
c) Homebrewed a campaign setting for their games and appeased their consciences
d) Stopped playing
My first instinct, and most of the work that I’ve been doing for the DnD campaign that I’m planning for my friends, has led me towards option c). Tweaking the various details of ‘vanilla’ DnD to be less offensive is a frustrating and exhausting job, however, and led to this post and to a realization - there is nothing to be gained if I make a system for myself and my friends that affirms what we already believe. Similarly, I can’t expect WotC to change core elements of a hugely successful and profitable game just to appease a vocal minority, even in the service of better-socializing the majority. Instead, I’ve decided that I’m going to continue to develop my world, crafting every detail of it to work within the familiar DnD system but highlighting the flaws that I believe exist within its mythos. Since it would be pointless to embark on this kind of project just to scream ELVES ARE RACIST from the towertops, I’m going to attempt to make it a compelling and realistic setting. The realism, in this case, will be derived from history - I want a world that has every bit of hate and horror that we deal with, but laid over the familiar framework of DnD’s races and gameplay. I want to create the RPG equivalent of a shadow cabinet, to ceaselessly defend against the negative stereotypes and assumptions that seem to infect so much of the gaming community - and I want to release it all online.
While certain races and the DnD mechanics are obviously copyrighted, I believe that I’m well within my creative rights to develop a setting and post it for anyone to use. That’s not really of as much concern to me as this - when I sit down with my kids, some day, to play DnD or whatever game takes their interest, I don’t want them to ask why the darker races are evil.
Hello, my treacherous friends.
It’s been a very, very long time since I updated, which I feel bad about, but truth be told I was nowhere near the right frame of mind to keep writing. I’ve been trying to get a handle on various things (OCD, social phobia, love, finances, life in general), but I think I’m back in update mode. Mostly for the reason not-so-subtly expressed in the picture above; I’ve got my spine and got my (orange-y reddish?) crush.
Today’s very special welcome-back episode will focus on… hm. Let’s say social expectations, since that encompasses everything I mentioned above.
Anxiety disorders are extremely common, in the sense of roughly 1 in 5 people having one at varying degrees of severity. The issue for these people is hardly ever self-perception, though it certainly seems so at first - you judge yourself too harshly, you consider yourself an eternal failure, and so on and so on. The issue is societal expectation, and how the anxiety-ridden thought process of the subject responds to it. You might think that you’re hopelessly ugly, but really you’re responding to years of social pressure to conform to a certain ideal; this is something virtually everyone can acknowledge is true, because aesthetics is such a widely argued topic.
What is more insidious is the view of things that most people would easily confuse as being an objective value - processing emotion, for one, or sexuality. Consider those who are closeted, and the level of anxiety that they suffer while they’re maintaining that secrecy, not to mention while they’re attempting to forge their own identity. My own problem in this area, and a problem I’ve seen firsthand with others, is that all-too often people who are quite progressive in other areas (accepting those with mental health issues as equals, recognizing the universal freedom to love whomever you wish in whatever way you wish) will flinch away from things they can’t relate easily to their own situation. Straight people might rationalize homosexuality to themselves by saying, “Well, their love is just like my love.” This is not necessarily a wrong approach, as we are governed entirely by our ability to find context, but it breaks down when you come to issues like sadomasochism. In that case, ‘their’ love is obviously not like your love, and this difference in approach (rather than difference in subject) causes friction.
As I said, my own problems lie within this nebulously sympathetic field, particularly expressing and processing emotion. I believe strongly that many mental disorders, if not all, shouldn’t be considered disorders - that anxiety disorders come about as a result of attempting to force everyone to process in the same way, when it is impossible (and damaging!) for them to do so. There is limited recognition that those with autism are not fundamentally broken in some way, but rather view things along a different spectrum than ‘normal’ people. I feel that this could, and should, be extended to a number of other ‘disorders’. This leads into a particularly tricky subject of objective morality and the commonality of human values, but I still believe that it’s something that must eventually be recognized as true. It may be jarring to have a close friend confess that they are, for example, simply unable to feel sad when you yourself are weeping, but at least there is honesty there. To my own credit, I care for my friends deeply, and respond to their pain, even when I cannot comprehend the tragedy they’re dealing with.
It’s a frustrating process for everyone involved, but I think that’s sometimes the price of sanity.
I can believe things that are true and things that aren’t true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not.
I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Beatles and Marilyn Monroe and Elvis and Mister Ed. Listen - I believe that people are perfectable, that knowledge is infinite, that the world is run by secret banking cartels and is visited by aliens on a regular basis, nice ones that look like wrinkled lemurs and bad ones who mutilate cattle and want our water and our women.
I believe that the future sucks and I believe that the future rocks and I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone’s ass. I believe that all men are just overgrown boys with deep problems communicating and that the decline in good sex in America is coincident with the decline in drive-in movie theaters from state to state.
I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative. I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste.
I believe that antibacterial soap is destroying our resistance to dirt and disease so that one day we’ll all be wiped out by the common cold like martians in War of the Worlds.
I believe that the greatest poets of the last century were Edith Sitwell and Don Marquis, that jade is dried dragon sperm, and that thousands of years ago in a former life I was a one-armed Siberian shaman.
I believe that mankind’s destiny lies in the stars. I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it’s aerodynamically impossible for a bumble bee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there’s a cat in a box somewhere who’s alive and dead at the same time (although if they don’t ever open the box to feed it it’ll eventually just be two different kinds of dead), and that there are stars in the universe billions of years older than the universe itself.
I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck.
I believe that anyone who says sex is overrated just hasn’t done it properly. I believe that anyone who claims to know what’s going on will lie about the little things too.
I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, a baby’s right to live, that while all human life is sacred there’s nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the legal system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the legal system.
I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you’re alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.
I dare you to find a more endearing song.
Oh wait, that’s right, you can’t.
- In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
- Down to a sunless sea.
- So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round :
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh ! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover !
A savage place ! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover !
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced :
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail :
And ‘mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean :
And ‘mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war !
- The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves ;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
- It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice !
- A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw :
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ‘twould win me,
- That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome ! those caves of ice !
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware ! Beware !
His flashing eyes, his floating hair !
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.