I mean to confound these bungers

I mean to confound these bungers March 27, 2012

From your first cigarette to your last dyin’ day

“Rue, played by the adorable Amandla Sternberg, was described as having ‘dark brown skin and eyes’ – thus the ruination of the film at the hands of a dark-skinned, dark-eyed actress.”

“Health care reform made lifetime limits illegal — which is why Violet’s family breathed easier when it passed — but now her parents are worried the Supreme Court could restore the limits and Violet would lose her insurance.”

They do not want a system of mutual moral obligation; ‘we take care of each other’ must give way to ‘every man for himself.'”

There’s no need for my ID, dude.”

“The world is close to reaching thresholds beyond which the effects on the global climate will be irreversible, such as the melting of polar ice sheets and loss of rainforests.”

“The only way to address denialism is to call it what it is and ridicule it.”

Being able to talk freely about the fact that vaginas exist and use the actual word is the first step in removing the taboo that is placed on women’s sexuality.”

“You’ll find that sexuality is not such a scary and powerful monster when you stop treating it like one.”

“Of course I hated Planned Parenthood. The thing is, I didn’t know anything about Planned Parenthood.”

“This may be a reason as to why the divorce rates of evangelical Christians are the same as those who do not identify as evangelical.”

“To believe that [Mitt] Romney will somehow depart from his party’s misogyny in the White House, you have to believe that everything he has said about these issues during the primary campaign is a lie.”

The Parable of the Lost Sheep: Calvinist Version.”

(Post title in honor of Mr. Nathan Fillion, who turns 41 today.)

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  • Kirala

    Also they don’t seem to notice that Katniss and her male BFL are olive
    skinned with straight black hair which could be interpreted as First
    Nations, Hispanic or mixed race or if they do than they don’t seem to
    mind them being played with by light skinned actors.

    Whatever race Katniss is, she has to be able to 1) closely resemble her father and the local norm, 2) be the product of a blonde, blue-eyed mother and 3) have a blonde, blue-eyed full-blooded sister.

    I take this as a sign she/the local norm fall on the lighter end of the spectrum. Especially since she and Gale have grey eyes, which are described as usual. Although I suppose if you allow enough time for racial mixing, perhaps the genes for pale hair and eyes could get disentangled from the genes for pale skin.

  • Tricksterson

    IIRC the local norm in the books was olive skinned and dark haired.

  • Kirala

     Olive skinned and dark haired, sure. But I’ve heard “olive” to mean “darker end of the race known as ‘white’,” and I suspect that’s the usage here. Whatever ancestry the people of the Seam have, it’s such that blond blue-eyed folk can interbreed and children can look like either parent. I don’t see that being likely with First Nations folk, and likely with Hispanic only to the degree that “Hispanic” covers a pretty broad racial spectrum.

  • Mainly the Harry/Hermione shippers who come up with some rather… er, ardent justifications for it. (as opposed to just sensibly writing an AU)

  • Anonymous

    So, with full agreement that Standard Symbolism Forcing is a generally useless and frustrating approach, does anyone have any suggestions for how one might convince high schoolers to actually Read and Think Outside The Comfort Zone?

    Stop focusing on colors and metaphors in Shakespeare and start focusing on close reading skills associated with real life / political issues?

    I mean, there might be a lot of stuff in (say) _The Great Gatsby_ that’s symbolic, but, honestly, analyzing the ways in which Harriet Jacobs (in her slave narrative _Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl_) exploits the Northern view of patriarchy while arguing against slavery is, IMHO, far more informative and much likelier to assist most students later in life. (Or, hell, use _Uncle Tom’s Cabin_ if you’d rather go with fiction.)

    I can understand close readings for symbolic meanings in poems. In longer works, though, focusing on low-level symbolism (such as the meanings of colors and specific objects) often means that people will ignore the actual ideology of the work. (I don’t give a shit about metaphor in The Taming of the Shrew. What I care about is that my teacher felt that it was okay for us to read a Shakespearian play which promoted the abuse of women. (*))

    Which, okay, was the entire conclusion of Eagleton’s _Literary Theory_ book. Maybe you should just hand them that at the beginning of the semester, tell them to read it to the next teacher who gets hung up on color symbolism, and then spend the rest of the time discussing rhetoric and analyzing works for their cultural and ideological meanings?

    *I’d* find that far more insightful.

    (*) And, yes, there are apologists who say that the play was a parody or some such. I don’t buy a single word of it.

  • Incidentally, aren’t the Capitol people rather fair-skinned, usually? That said, they go in for some rather bizarre appearance-altering technologies, so I suspect that skin color for Capitol people means very little.

  • Anonymous

    What you call elitism, I call standards. You bet I’ll dismiss authors who can’t be bothered to stage a scene or to think why they’re describing what it is they’re describing.

    Could you do the rest of the world a favor and not start a flamewar over your personal taste in literature?

  • hapax

    The last thing teenage girls need is something else telling them that stalking is romantic and ownership by a cool boy is everything they should hope for.

    No, the last thing teenage girls need is someONE else telling them what “message” they are taking from a particular story.

    I am sure that there are any number of young women who take the message you describe.  However, all the ones I know who are fans of the books would laugh at such a thought. 

    Oddly enough, “teenage girls” are no more monolithic in their thought processes, or intellectual tabula rasa waiting to be written upon, than any other demographic group.

    And TWILIGHT, by the very fact that of being so underwritten and porous, is one of those works that people tend to take out of it what they put into it.

  • Nathaniel

     The whole “stalking is cool if the guy is hot” isn’t exactly symbolism or subtext, its plain old text. Eddie tells Bella about it, she’s cool with it, cause he so dreamy.

    So while a reader doesn’t necessarily have to take that message from the text, its would be only by ignoring what’s in the text. Which doesn’t speak well of the novel.

  •  I don’t think I’ve _ever_ heard someone use the term “olive-skinned” to mean anything other than of Mediterranean decent. Usually Italian, sometimes Greek.

  • And TWILIGHT, by the very fact that of being so underwritten and porous, is one of those works that people tend to take out of it what they put into it.

    I don’t disagree with you that people take from it what they put into it, but in the case of Edward and Bella’s relationship I don’t think it has to do with the text being porous.  In a rare time I agree with Bella Swan and Stephanie Meyer writing her, I think that whether the text is porous depends entirely on the content.  As Bella will indicate, parts of the story are nothing but a blur, but some images stand out more clearly.  The ones that do are the ones with Edward in them.

    It has occasionally been jarring for me to transition from not-Edward scenes to Edward scenes just because of the difference in detail.  Other parts of the story don’t just have pores, they have caverns into which you could stick almost anything (say, a fully loaded 747) but when it comes to Bella and Edward there’s just not a lot of gaps there.

    I have heard it argued that people take out what they put in for the opposite reason: the text isn’t a porous thing that forces you to fill in, it is instead something you have to carve down.  The reasoning being that the contradictions in the text force you to choose your preferred interpretation and throw out that which contradicts it.

    I’m not sure if I agree with that, but it is definitely the case that people tend to take out what they put in so something must be causing it, and given that the Bella-Edward relationship is written out in such detail I don’t think that it being porous can explain that.

    Then again, I only own the first book.

    In the interests of making a distinction, I have a very specific interpretation of Bella’s character. This interpretation depends a lot on what I bring with me to the text. I think it started with me reading people saying, “This is impossible/literally inhuman,” and thinking, “No, that’s a largely unremarkable and very much possible/human symptom,” which is something I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t experienced most of the symptoms I had that reaction to myself.

    While I think an argument can be made from the text*, that’s still very much getting from the text what one brings to it, and it does very much involve the porous sections of the book.

    I think that looking at Bella and Edward’s relationship, which is basically confined to the parts of the book I’m claiming are non-porous, is an entirely different sort of thing than that because the direct Bella-Edward interaction is written differently than the Bella-Pretty-Much-(but-not-quite)-Everything-Else interaction.

    * And at some point I want to see if I can make that argument in the generic because the more I think about the more I think that the symptoms of depression and the symptoms of being a badly written character might actually map to each other quite well.

  • Anonymous

    One thing I was limping towards in my remark about a bridge crew that represents the world demographic (and to some extent my earlier post too) is this.

    Science fiction doesn’t actually proceed from a completely realistic fleshing out of a certain number of ‘fictional scientific’ assumptions, and usually (hard SF is a partial exception) doesn’t approach this very closely – certainly space opera doesn’t.

    Like any fiction, it’s written by a human being or human beings in a particular cultural context, for consumption by an audience who are presumed to share the cultural context of the author to a significant extent. 

    Taking the usual space opera assumptions as given – ray guns, the existence of some kind of FTL transport, and that alien civilizations using these are common and close-by – there’s no particular reason to suppose that the human race in general or some specific human beings will be particularly important.  Yet it’s extremely rare to find examples of science fiction where there isn’t at least one human (or aliens so close to being human as to make no difference) as a main character, and it’s very common to find that humanity has an important role to play in galactic affairs – in fact, of course, it’s normally the dominant culture.

    All of those space operatic assumptions are done for story-telling effect (including situating the story in a particular genre), but telling stories about human beings has obvious merit, because the author and audience both understand them intimately.  It’s a good idea to do this – that’s not to say a narrative where the characters are all inhuman couldn’t also be good, but it’d be far more difficult and chances are it’d find a very limited audience.

    I think having your starship (or universe) populated by people of your home culture is defensible for similar reasons.  I don’t expect or want Japanese or French space opera to be populated largely by Chinese characters, and I don’t expect American space opera to be any different.  I’m not American, and the dominance of American media in the world annoys me greatly, but I can’t fault Roddenbury or Joss Whedon for creating shows about Americans (or the BBC creating shows about British folk) regardless of how little in-fiction justification it has.

    That’s not to say I don’t see any merit in Triplanetary’s idea of a cast that represents the global demographics. I still think it’s a great idea.  We could do with more fiction that’s aimed at the population of Earth as its audience, rather than the North American continent or the English-speaking world.  But it’s also OK for there to be American sci-fi.

  • Anonymous

    What you call elitism, I call standards. You bet I’ll dismiss authors
    who can’t be bothered to stage a scene or to think why they’re
    describing what it is they’re describing. I’ll also dismiss directors
    and cinematographers who don’t care about what’s going on in the frame.
    That’s part of the job, and if they can’t be bothered to care, I won’t either.

    Ah, well, thanks for saying that I have no standards. That’ll help this discussion immensely.

    It’s not the idea that authors can carefully pick what they mention that’s a problem, it’s the idea that all books must have incredibly simple “real” meanings that the author spends hundreds of pages trying to obfuscate for no reason. If they have a real meaning then why not just write that?

    What’s more, it turns every book into a battle between reader and writer, with the author using every trick they know to hide the truth and the reader having to desperately look for hidden clues in order to understand anything. That’s fine in some books, but insisting that every novel ever written is one of those? Really? That’s not just silly, it’s anti-reader. I don’t always want to pit my mind against an author’s, sometimes I just want to enjoy a book.

    If an author comes out and says that there’s no deeper meaning to their work, then I believe them. I also take it for granted that most authors are not sadistic masterminds wasting my time with an irrelevant story while the real one is carefully hidden from view so that only the truly “smart” can get warm fuzzies from seeing it.

    I’ve no issue with symbolism or hidden stuff in books, it exists and it can be fun to look for (heck, I’m currently watching Revolutionary Girl Utena, which is almost literally drowning in symbolism, and loving it) but not only did highschool English not teach me how to find it, it insisted that an author will never, ever, say what they mean and will instead spend 600 pages on the thesis that “war is bad” while hiding all the evidence for their position behind unparsable analogies.

  • hapax


    So while a reader doesn’t necessarily have to take that message from the
    text, its would be only by ignoring what’s in the text. Which doesn’t
    speak well of the novel.

    So, then, you think that the message of Lolita is pro-pedophilia? Romeo and Juliet encourages teen suicide?  Huckleberry Finn is considered an American classic because it endorses slavery?

    The young women I speak of are well aware of what *Bella* thinks.  However, they are perfectly capable of *disagreeing* with it — and unlike so many of the book’s critics, distinguishing fantasy from reality.

    Maybe we *do* need more high school English classes that teach the message “Hey, guess what!  You don’t have to accept everything that happens in fiction as literally true!”

  • This is a very good point, and in general I agree with it. I don’t have an inherent problem with Americans making movies and shows about Americans. Every time a movie like Independence Day comes out, people in other countries are always rolling their eyes and saying, “Great, another movie where America saves the world.” And that annoyance is understandable, because they do get a lot of those. But the thing is – Bollywood sci-fi movies tend to be about Indians saving the world. And British sci-fi movies tend to be about Brits saving the world. The problem, as you said, is that American media has such a disproportionate influence over global media. We Americans consume so little of other countries’ cultural output, but we export so much of our own.

    But I do feel like there’s a difference with regard to America specifically. Sure, Bollywood and British movies tend to feature Indians and Brits respectively*, and that’s certainly because of the intended audience. But it’s also because that’s generally the actors you have available. But America is more diverse than India or the UK** and you can readily find actors of virtually any ethnicity. I know that America is de facto a while people  country, in terms of who runs the show, but it’s not a white people country in terms of who lives here, and in my naivete I feel like we should be striving for something more. We’re not Britain or India – we don’t have thousands of years of culture to hearken back to. We just have what we’ve built in the past couple of centuries, and white people are far, far from the only people who have built what America is.

    *It should be noted that in the case of Bollywood this is a relatively recent trend. Bollywood movies tended to mostly be about white people in decades past. Fortunately that’s changed.

    **At least in terms of the global spread of peoples’ various ethnic origins. India and Britain are both incredibly diverse – there are between 400 and 1600 languages spoken in India, depending on who’s counting – in other ways.

  • A genuinely even sampling of the human race? [..]

    Of course, even if a show were somehow developed that reflected Earth’s current phenotype distribution (plus a token alien/robot/whatever), it would still imply contradictions about the Federation. If we’re supposed to believe that Earth no longer takes such phenotypes into account when deciding who to hire, who to befriend, where to live, who to marry, and so forth… and has not been doing so for generations… I would expect the phenotype distribution to change radically. There would be many more blends of racial characteristics than there are today. Indeed, such blended phenotypes would probably be the norm. You might have a token recognizable ethnicity, maybe two, but they would be the exception. Not to mention the human/alien hybrids (though admittedly Trek has always been fond of those).

  • Every time a movie like Independence Day comes out, people in other
    countries are always rolling their eyes and saying, “Great, another
    movie where America saves the world.”

    Actually, the problem I have with I.D. is that, when they use Morse Code to let all the other countries in on their plan, we have this:

    “The Americans are organising a counter-attack!”
    “…oh, finally.”

    As in, all the non-Americans were sitting there, calmly getting slaughtered, waiting for AMERICA THE GREAT to rush in and be their hero. Because heaven forbid they start thinking of counter-attacks on their own…

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Did everyone else have the painful day in English class when you were taught about sexual imagery, which was basically boiled down to “anything longer than it is wide is a phallic symbol”?

    I still bear psychological scars from hearing my teacher explain to a girl who didn’t get metaphor why trains were sexually suggestive. My eyes!

  • Huh! I didn’t get that bit of, uh, educational lit-crit technique from any of my English teachers. :P