Thursday, January 23, 2014

Representation And Why It Matters

Imagine Africa. What are you thinking of?

Now you've probably never been there (and if you have you're excluded from this exercise. Shush) and you're probably thinking of the following things: starving children (probably orphans due to parents dying from AIDS) and civil wars. That, or giraffes and zebras... but ooh no they're being poached. And jungles with malaria in them! Don't forget the malaria. Ahhhh isn't everything in Africa terrible?

Well for starters: where in Africa are we even talking about here? Africa is pretty huge with over 50 countries in it and takes up over 20% of the Earth's landmass. I've found that discussions of "Africa" have this very generalised idea of the area as this one big mixing pot of poverty and war which does exist, but it's a very limited picture of the second biggest continent in the world. The problem here is that we have a continent with more countries than there are states in the USA and our ideas are based off selective media images. We've all seen the ads asking us to fund a child for $2 so they can get clean water and clothes that don't look like post-apocalyptic remnants picked off the ground and then there was that whole Kony debacle (a lengthy discussion of which we should all take elsewhere) so that's the image we get of "Africa." Of course not all of the continent is like that but there's nothing interesting to the media to show you a more complicated image of Africa because all the interesting parts involve conflict and despair. At what point does a movie go "hey, let's just show this teenager on his smart phone doing something fun with his school friends and not at all being a child soldier"? That's boring. That's too normal. Africa becomes interesting in its "otherness". It's shocking to see such extreme poverty and it's different thus it fuels news and movies set there.

So we get unfortunate things where people talk about Africa is a singular thing (I personally am actually referring to the continent as a whole not applying a single image to the continent), or people go to visit the non-war torn areas and go "wow! Wi-fi in Africa?" There are tons of videos out there of Western people encountering people in Africa and remarking at how little difference there is. They're just like us only with a different language and hotter weather (though even both of those can be completely wrong).
Oh look a map of places where English is an official language that just screwed over what I just said. See, aren't assumptions silly?

Westerners then go back feeling good that they got to learn a thing or two about a different culture that they otherwise wouldn't have known. They've had a really good learning experience.

The media is a window into the experiences we cannot have ourselves. When people don't go to Africa (somewhere in there...) they have to rely solely on these media images of "Africa" to form their opinions and ideas of it. Representation matters because without it we can fall prey to stereotypes and partially informed or incomplete opinions.

Now imagine a gay man. Are you thinking of those singlets to show off their carefully toned torso that extends to soft feminine hands with finely done nails? Short shorts and a girlish laugh? The word "fabulous" thrown around a lot? Maybe they're sassy? Now a lesbian: undercut haircut and men's plaid shirts? Gruff and aggressive towards men? These people exist and there's no issue with them existing but the problem arises when people cannot imagine the label of "gay" or "lesbian" applying to anyone outside of these images. These images become stereotypes. What if a girl wants to wear a man's shirt but she's straight? Well damn she's screwed finding a guy then because now she's the Media Image of a lesbian and then the gay guy who has no fashion sense is accused of being "a bad homosexual". Gosh, don't you know how to be gay?

See straight people (or white people) are represented so often in so many different ways that no one looks at you and goes "oh, you're straight? You must like X" because we don't get limited ideas about who they should be. Well, OK then we have gender stereotypes too but that also causes issues with queer representation because the assumption is you must exhibit gender traits of the opposite gender to what you're attracted to (hence lesbians must be butch and gay men must be feminine). When we have 2D representations of minorities people cannot easily shake prejudices towards those groups because they cannot understand them as fully functional and real people without actually meeting one. Not everyone is going to be graced with the presence of numerous multi-faceted queer people of all different kinds in their lives and so must rely solely on media representations to form opinions. They don't get the chance to meet a queer person and go "wow, you're nothing like I expected from TV! You're actually a person. I see now why there's no real justification to my prejudices and I was needlessly mean before!" (People talk like that right?) When all they ever see is gay people being the butt of some terrible joke then they don't think of them as much more than entertainment. Queer people in the media frequently aren't important, they aren't interesting, they're all the same, and there's no backlash for making fun of them because it's a socially acceptable thing to do. Without any voices or media input to challenge that it leaks out into society's behaviour, then society makes more negative representations and then the cycle of discrimination continues.

Now imagine you are queer (there's a lot of assumptions in these exercises like that you're not a queer person who likes to travel but shhh) and you're watching TV. Perhaps the ever popular Big Bang Theory and you think "oh boy a show about nerds, a stereotypically socially ostricised group, maybe they'll be nice! Finally they get stood up for instead of stood on!" and you find that not only is "hahaha nerds are losers" the joke of the show but two of these "losers" (Raj and Wolowitz) have a running joke that they're gay and they must constantly defend themselves. Gosh, isn't it funny that they're secretly gay? What about some kind of positive representation of yourself in the media? (they exist, but are few) What if you don't fit into those aforementioned media images of queer people? You have a problem. People don't respect you and it's painfully obvious that you don't fit in. It sucks when there's no role model you can look up to, there's no solace in the media you consume, and maybe you should just stay closeted because there's nothing that helps the people around you understand you or the pain of growing up queer.

Think it doesn't matter? What pain am I talking about? Well here's a message from a reader of Young Avengers (a comic with gay characters) that was published in issue #7 that can demonstrates better than I ever could why we need positive queer representations in the media:

Representation matters. There's a whole section of the population not properly being represented in the media and that should change... oh, and don't say "Africa" as a singular entity unless you mean the content.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Groggy Recollection of New Years Eve

I'm very sore... my body hurts but my head is fine. I have remarkably managed to drink sufficient water before going to sleep (at about 4am) to avoid a hangover... But I did get very drunk. Let's recap:

I didn't have plans for new years eve until new years eve. I hadn't been invited anywhere (friend who normally brings me places left the state) but I knew of a party happening. A friend on the day kindly let me be their plus-one and off I went with my two pals Alex and Karim. We'd never been drunk all three of us in the same spot at the same time so decided to fix this. It was fun.

The party took place in the country. There was a section of the property called "tent city." I did not have a tent to sleep in. This isn't important until later but it just sets the environment... and the environment was perfectly suited to get crazy drunk and being super loud as neighbours wouldn't be able to hear us. Things that were yelled out during the night include: an explanation of the political situation in Egypt, bragging about our superior comic book knowledge, and "EAGLE! EAGLE!" before piggy back rides.

Alex tore my pants when he picked me up. The tear, of course, was right where my crotch is so my underwear was visible for at least half of the night. Thankfully I was drunk enough not to be crippled with self consciousness. Karim led me to his car (parked behind a shed of some kind so out of sight of the party) and offered me a spare pare of shorts. I didn't ended up wearing them. Somehow this led to one of Alex's friends suggesting I take my pants off...

Karim, Alex, and I all returned the party without pants with the idea of seeing how long it would take for people to notice that we weren't wearing pants. Answer: not that long.

Don't worry, I eventually put my pants back on... but the tear kept getting larger and well... those pants are pretty dead now. Oh well. Being pantsless was fun for a bit.

There was a thing of some kind. An inflatable thing with big soft poles that you used to fight each other with. The arena had four small platforms you could stand on and I suppose one kind of fight would involve four players seeing who could stay on top of them for long enough while being pushed. We sorta did that? But then it quickly devolved into just beating each other. The platforms themselves were just big plastic cushions that you could remove which left four big holes in the arena that went all the way to the grass. This + a lot of alcohol made the entire arena a troublesome place to stay upright in. It was a bit slippery to begin with and while rushing around in the dark we (mainly me) would frequently fall down into these holes and momentarily get stuck which was a perfect opportunity to get beaten. The new rules of the "beat each other up" game became "push them over the edge of the arena" and it was difficult but after a long fight with Karim I finally won... To be fair it is difficult to push your opponent anywhere if they spend half their time in a hole going "oh gosh not again."

I own a Nokia phone. You know the kind: small, no camera, no internet access, no interesting features except "snake", and no known way to completely destroy them. Whenever I show it to people I demonstrate that why yes, you can just drop it on the floor and it'll be fine. Look: no cracks in the screen. Screw you iphone owners! Well I finally got the opportunity to demonstrate to someone what happens when you throw it at the wall. The answer is the back comes off, the battery comes out, and the three pieces fly everywhere. This happens most of the time when I drop it anyway the only problem is I couldn't find the back plate so now I have a phone with an exposed battery. It works perfectly fine though. The screen didn't even get a scratch.

I smoked my first cigarette. Surprisingly not that bad? I was quite drunk at that point. I made an effort to make sure I was drunk for as much of it as possible and got most of the drinking out of the near the start. I actually quite dislike the idea of smoking. I don't want to become a smoker and I find it a really unappealing habit... but I hadn't ever done it so I figured I wanted to do it at least once. I'm not entirely sure if I did it correctly but I could hardly stop and ask the guy I got given the cigarette from. He was quite wasted and was telling me his opinions about The Hobbit movies ("I've read the book like 6 times...") and how he didn't like how the 2nd one wasn't that close to the book due to the inclusion of Tauriel ("I've read the book like 6 times..." he reminds me) but the 1st movie was pretty close to the book ("I've read the book like 6 times...") but he didn't like the 2nd one because you see it wasn't that close to the book (which he then told me that he'd read "like 6 times") and then he repeated everything all over again. He was thus too busy to go "ok how you smoke it is like this..." But I discovered that the deeper you breathe in smoke the worse it is. My breathing rhythm slowed while smoking and it continued on for a bit afterwards which was quite relaxing despite the fact that I now smelled freaking terrible. I figure I could probably still feel relaxed if I just did some nice slow breathing exercises instead and it would have the added bonus of not giving me lung cancer. Cool huh? Yay new experiences!

I was drunk enough to dance. That's pretty drunk. Some girl asked me to dance. I did so but after a while thought "...I actually want to leave now..." and there's no point where mid-dancing you just go "oh OK cool. I'm going to walk away from you now..." Thankfully at the same time she decided that she would go off and do something else so we just mutually walked away from each other. That was convenient.

After a night of running around, running up slides, fighting with plastic, drinking, and harming my body in new ways it was time to sleep. I slept in Karim's car which was an improvement from last new years where I slept in a tent (the ground is even more uncomfortable than a car) where it was colder and also more exposed to mosquitoes. This year I woke up without a bunch of bug bites all over me so huzzah! And just like last year I got about 2 hours sleep before I was awoken by the sunrise. I got a lift home with someone else who was leaving at 6:30am and I got home where I showered and fell asleep.

I'm tired, I'm sore all over (except the head, we've mentioned this), and I have only one new years resolution: take a lot of selfies. I mean, why not right? Here's day 1:

I had fun. I look forward to 2014. First year of not being a student... should be interesting.

Onwards! To adventure!