I Have Opinions

I wouldn’t say I was shocked when the some subset of Star Wars fans got up in arms about the Rogue One trailer. Is there a word for “tired and incredulous”? What’s the emotion you’re feeling when you roll your eyes and mutter “are you fucking kidding me?”

This is all pretty well trod ground at this point, and at twenty-two days after the fact, I’m not exactly trying to cover the subject in a way you haven’t seen. All the salient points have been made:

  • There have been seven Star Wars movies thus far, of those we have one woman co-lead, and six instances of third-billing or lower.
  • We can probably safely concede a single sci-fi adventure movie to the female gender without the patriarchy immediately crumbling.
  • All of this arises from the fact that, to people with unexamined privilege, equality — even decreased inequality — feels like oppression.
  • The assertion that a woman with agency is somehow aberrant in the Star Wars universe is nonsense on the face of it.
  • Jesus Christ, aside from Mon Mothma, EVERY OTHER CHARACTER was a man anyway, so maybe fucking relax, movies are still insanely bad at representing women.

That fourth point there, that’s the one that comes closest to what I want to talk about in the first place. Star Wars, despite what terrified misogynists might claim today, was never a boy’s club in the first place. I’m not saying it was a feminist manifesto, or that there’s nothing problematic about how the movies dealt with gender and sexuality (Anakin is a virgin birth? F’real?) they were, without fail, ahead of the curve on putting women in positions of authority, and letting them engage directly in the action of the film.

What’s more important is that while there may not have been as many women buying Timothy Zahn novels, and maybe there weren’t any girls in the West End Games Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game campaign you played in, women have always liked Star Wars. Movies don’t make the kind of money Star Wars has made without some of that money coming from the lady half of the population.

I’m not really writing this to talk about Star Wars though, that’s just the recent thing that came up that brought all of this back to the surface. I’m getting to my point, but to get there, let’s talk about the CW.

Actually, I’d like to narrow that down just slightly to something a touch more manageable.

Ian VS. a Strawman: Young People Who Abuse the Word “Random”

There, that’s a bit more my current speed.

The Kids Today are big fans of using the word “random” when what they mean of course is “absurd” or “silly“. In their quest for hyperbole, in fact, non-sequiters and shocking moments are not only random but “SO random. This is a bunch of goddamn garbage. You kids are garbage.

Ok, I can hear the main counter argument already. Our language is alive. It’s growing and changing, and if people — young people especially — are adopting a word, that’s the beauty of our living adaptable language at work, and I should pack up my books and my long grey beard and just Deal With It.

And you’re not wrong.

Language does grow and change, and I love that this is so, and I love that we take words, these misshapen vessels of meaning, and bend and hew them to carry new ideas from mind to mouth to mind. I’m in favor of that. Usually.

My issue, as it often is, is with with semantic weight. It’s with all the things random can mean, and already does, and a sense that this new load of meaning serves to, if only slightly, diminish a pretty incredible word. “Random” means so many lovely things, and using it to replace other perfectly good words offends me on two levels.

  • Level the First!:
    When describing what “random” means, “Mathematical Random” is what most people think they mean, but almost never do. I work with programmers, but am not one, and the distinction between being mathematically random, and feeling random is kind of astonishing. Take flipping a coin. If a coin were to be flipped six times, the pattern seeking human mind wants 3 heads and 3 tails, but that’s not really random. That is, it’s no MORE random than 6 heads, or 5 tails and 1 heads. When most people talk about random, especially as it relates to video games, or music playback, what they actually mean is “enforced standardized variety within a range of expected results”. But what’s great is that Random gets to mean both, and only people like me, straddling between engineers and the public ever has to worry about the confusion.

    In every day use, I see two common uses of “random” that are quite distinct from the above. Take the sentence “They broke up, and now she’s dating some random guy.” or “We ate lunch at some random Thai place.” Of course, they don’t mean a totally arbitrary guy out of all guys. They mean “a heretofore unknown entity (p.s. I’m being dismissive)”. What a great word! So useful!

    Another example: “Oh man, I was in Paris, and I ran into my childhood friend Ryan! So random!” And it kind of is! But what you’re really trying to say is “a complex system had an unexpected and significant outcome!” Not only can we convey all that meaning in one word, but because the meanings are actually quite different, we need very few context clues to determine which meaning of “random” the speaker intends.

  • The Other Reason:
    My second, much pettier, reason is that I write jokes as a pretty central part of my job at this point, and I write a fair number of silly, absurd, goofy jokes. These are exactly the kind of jokes that are regularly called “random“. But they’re not! Making them good is really really hard! Finding the right, thing, just askew enough, to get a laugh, takes practice, instinct, and often a lot of rewrites.
  • Look, I started writing this like 5 days ago, and then I got sick, and now I’m kind of winding down cause I’m not all fired up with old man crankies anymore. The point is, the way young people talk is stupid, and dub step is awful.

    Stainless Steel Appliances: They’re great for restaurant kitchens that are getting bleached down once a week, but not a home used by a single family. They get fingerprints like crazy, you can’t use magnets on them, and since they’re the default choice for a kitchen remodel right now, are going to look super dated and thoughtless in years to come. Don’t fall for them!

    Capitalism: Again, fine is the right capacity, but Capitalism is just a method of crowning an oligarchy of the greediest people.

    Fake Sugar: Eww.

    I don’t do one of these every year, and when I do, I don’t always post it here, but what the hell, here’s my write up on video games in 2010.

    Here are some things I have opinions on.

    Drinking at Lunch: PRO!

    Drinking at lunch is great! You get to come back to work a little tiny bit drunk, but it only lasts for like an hour! I’ll grant that drinking at lunch is a sometimes thing, but I am categorically in favor of it.

    The Free Market: CON!

    I don’t believe in The Free Market. I don’t mean that I disagree with ideals of Free Market capitalism, I mean I don’t think it is a thing. If the Market is not regulated by an outside force, it will fall into monopolies and oligarchies who will control it from within, generally at the expense of the consumer and bottom rung employees. The Free Market is dumb.

    Lady Gaga: PRO!

    I want to be clear that I have no interest in her music in any way. I am just happy that if a person has to be famous, it is her. She got famous and immediately said “I know, I’ll dress like a loon, get naked, and staunchly support safe sex and gay rights!” Lady Gaga, KillAllTheWhiteMan supports you in a way that does not involve actually listening to any of your songs.