culture


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.

    They are back for a family Reunion, Jim is back involving his marriage with Michelle and needs to learn how to be a father. So he gets Stifler to help out with his newborn son who will be in the fraternity house of the Beta”s in his further life! First he gets baptized in a church where he learns his family heritage from inside The Bible of East Great Falls where he learns his father was also was in virginity. Paul Finch happens to go from a virgin to a catholic where he baptized little William and Kevin learns his past involving his relationship with Vicki. Michelle is still talking about Band Camp and will be the new Macro, Kevin will get back with Vicki, Oz will become Captain of lacrosse and will be in touch with his girlfriend Heather. Things will change as their Reunion ends, Will this be the last slice of the pie.

    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.

    The Stars and Bars are a symbol of Southern pride and heritage! It’s a way of honoring our ancestors, and our unique cultural identity! There’s nothing racist about being proud of your roots.

    I have a three point response:

    Fuck You
    When I see someone sporting the Battle Flag of the Confederacy,* which was never even the actual flag of the C.S.A., my reaction is split between a dumbfounded “Really?” and a seething rage. The ignorance involved in claiming there is anything dignified or honorable signified by the South during the Civil war is just astounding. The Civil War, like all wars, was fought for many reasons, but at the end of the day, one side was defending the right of human beings to own other human beings and the weight of that one stance is so great as to render all other aspects irrelevant. Your side was in favor of slavery, therefor your side was the bad guys. QED.

    The Confederate Flag is a Symbol of Racism and Failure, That’s It There’s this notion put forward that the Confederate flag isn’t necessarily a symbol of the C.S.A., but of rebellion and Southern Pride. First, no, it’s a symbol of the C.S.A. If you want to come up with a flag to symbolize the south, that’s great, but you really shouldn’t draw on the imagery of a bunch of racists who lost a war. Second, the idea that the flag is a symbol of rebellion or pride are insane. Rebellion against what? A college degree? Making more than minimum wage? Integration? If you want to be a rebel, fly an anarchist flag, not the flag or an organized government that existed just long enough to be in one war and lose. Remember that last part, the only thing the C.S.A. ever did was lose a war.

    No, Seriously, Fuck You. There’s this growing notion that these days the people who REALLY have it hard are lower-middle class white folk from the south, and that they must join together under a banner in order to protect their heritage. Sorry guys. If, as a people, you have failed to keep your schools funded, your teenage daughters un-pregnant, and your parents from becoming alcoholics, and you’ve proven unable to reverse the trend, then yes, you’re going to die out. Ignorance, insularity, hostility toward change and The Other, these aren’t traits of a culture who’s loss is to be mourned. It’s not a tragedy, it’s progress.

    *NOT the Stars and Bars, which is a different shitty flag the south used. They had like nine different shitty flags in the five years they even existed because the C.S.A. was fucking stupid.

    A few weeks ago, Tara initiated a conversation about the whole concept of Pussy Whipping. Her confusion stemmed from the following proposition:

    A Pussy Whipped man is understood to be a man acting against his own interests, under duress. The source of the duress is a promise of intercourse only under the condition that he perform within the strictures established by a potential partner for the aforementioned sexual congress. Of course, the only way a guy is going to go out of his way to secure intimacy with a specific partner is if a level of scarcity has been established, vis á vis poontang.

    Tara’s concern here is “who are the women who hate sex enough that they will constantly withhold it to create a carrot-on-a-stick scenario?” While I think we can agree that these women likely exist, it is my assertion that they are not the source for Pussy Whipping existing as a concept. If anything, some women are probably influenced to behave in this fashion because of the ubiquity of this notion. I would assert, instead that the premise behind Pussy Whipping is not manipulative behavior, but instead average, every day (if particularly severe) misogyny.

    Here’s the construction for Pussy Whipping as I believe it exists:

    • In any relationship between a male and female, the male should hold all power.
    • Any male actor with agency will, at all times, act in a manner solely motivated by self interest and pleasure.
    • Any male actor acting in another fashion is clearly doing so as a result of coercion.
    • If the male actor is acting in the interest of the female, she must be the source of the coercion.
    • Since the male holds all other power, the female is clearly exercising the only possible method of usurping power: she is denying the male access to her sexually.

    It’s super harsh, but really, it’s the only thing that makes sense. When a guy decides to see a movie with a girl instead of going to a bar with friends, and he’s accusing of being Pussy Whipped, those are the underlying assumptions. He’s not accused of liking the girl more, of hating bars, or even of being manipulated by the girl in some other fashion, the default assumption is that she’s told him either they see Eat, Pray, Love or he won’t be allowed near her vagina. I blame Aristophanes. That guy was a dick.

    Universal Health Care would be a disaster! It would be too expensive, there’s no way a country could pay for that and keep a healthy economy! Giving people things for free just makes them lazy! What if I have to wait longer in line and… you know what? I can’t fucking do this.

    Fuck it. I can’t pretend this debate is a debate anymore. There is not now, nor has there ever been a meaningful counter argument. We can afford it, we can make it good, we have a responsibility to do so. Debating the anti-health care contingent with facts, figures and logic is like marshaling an army to defend your base, only to realize your opponent is just one in a jeep making explosion sounds with his mouth. The only things keeping people from embracing a universal health care system are fear and greed. Fuck those people.

    I’m going to go ahead and get all anthropology* on you. Health Care, such as we are capable of, has always, historically, been free and available to all people to the best of our abilities. Sure, maybe the best health care available was trephining someone, but it was there. In the 20th century, medical care has followed the same arc as a great many social services (law and judiciary, wealth distribution, education) and becomes a role of the church and religious structures, then moves into the public sphere, eventually coming under the control of the state. At least, it has in pretty much every country other than the US.

    Homo Sapiens take care of each other. It’s how we’ve survived; it’s what we DO. If, as a human being, you are told you have the option to make sure no one has to die of a treatable disease and you don’t go for it, you’re a piece of shit. If you’re told we can totally eliminate the number one cause of bankruptcy (which is really bad for the economy), by not taking every last dollar a sick person’s family has, and you aren’t on board, you’re a piece of shit. There’s no debate to this. If you’re worried you have to wait for care, the answer isn’t about overall levels of health care, and making as many people as healthy as possible, the answer is you’re a piece of shit. If you think it’s socialism, it’s not important that health care is a service, not a means of production, and thus doesn’t really relate to socialism, it’s important that you know you’re a piece of shit. If you don’t think people should get freebies, it’s not that you’ve lived such a sheltered and blessed life that you’ve never developed the empathy to understand and relate to people in trouble, it’s just that you’re a piece of shit.

    I don’t have enough energy left to waste it giving real answers to people are motivated by greed and fear. Stand up straight, join the human race, do the right thing by helping your fellow man, or fuck yourself. Those are the options. If you can honestly say that keeping a profit motivated system is, in any meaningful way, better than a system motivated by a desire to make people healthy, there is something wrong with you. You’re sick. You might want to look into moving to one of the many, many countries where you can get some help with that.

    *Marvin Harris being the source on most of this.

    It’s the PBR logo, but instead of

    PABST
    Blue Ribbon
    beer

    it says

    IRONY
    Totally Stupid
    crap

    I’m willing to grant that there are some mixed messages.

    (Note: I’m aware this post comes dangerously close to topical relevance, but I promise, it’s not long before I start talking about things in a really abstract, general way, and there’s a footnote about grammar.)

    The discourse on the iPad (aside from a very cogent observation my friend Linguistics Mike about the fact that in certain parts of the country people were already pronouncing iPod as iPad) tend to consist of people who are really angry about the iPad, generally with an undercurrent of “how you could you let me get this excited?”*; people with more of aschadenfreude thing going where they just love watching Apple fail; and people defending the iPad as a matter of course.

    I’m ignoring all of this though, because in every conversation I’ve seen people are discussing things on the wrong terms entirely. People complain about all the ways it fails to perform tasks one would expect from a personal computer; or doesn’t have flash like every Windows, Mac or Linux box has for years now (fewer years for Linux**); or that Apple is denying access to the file system at a meaningful level. All of this completely misses the point: The iPad isn’t a computer, it’s an appliance.

    Disagree? Let’s go to the tape:

    2 a : a piece of equipment for adapting a tool or machine to a special purpose : attachment b : an instrument or device designed for a particular use or function ; specifically : a household or office device (as a stove, fan, or refrigerator) operated by gas or electric current
    Merriam-Webster

    Computers up until now have been tools. It’s function has been fluid, and the designers and manufacturers have generally hewn to an open, easily accessed and modified method of use and interaction. It’s worth noting that with both software and hardware this has been less true of Apple than any other group. My guess is that, with the iPhone, Apple finally got the chance to make something they’ve longed for for years. A totally closed hardware, with every application filtered through them, functioning in a walled garden. There is none of the chaos of variety or permutation. An application running on one iPhone 3G is identical in it’s performance to any other, regardless of the other software the user may have installed. There is almost no meaningful access to the actual operating system, but the trade off is that if something works once, it can be reasonably assumed to work in all cases. Talk to any iPhone owner, one of their favorite things will be that things just work.

    Now expand this mentality out to another type of device, one where small size can be traded for speed and screen real estate. It makes a lot of sense. The iPad doesn’t do computer things, because it’s not really a computer. It’s an internet appliance, designed to facilitate access to the content and functionality of the internet without the complication of a tool like the normal personal computer.

    I can understand some of the frustration. A computer can be utilized*** to perform an incredibly wide variety of tasks in a multitude of ways. The iPhone, iPod Touch, and now iPad can be used to perform a relatively small number of tasks****, very few ways, often only one way.

    The big upshot for Apple, is that it turns out the tasks they perform are the tasks most people actually give a shit about. Imagine the average mid 30’s lady on a bus ride to work. Can she check her email? Can she read some news? Can she check Facebook and Twitter? Yes? All of those things? Really easily? Wow, this doesn’t sound like she’d find an appliance like that useless at all.

    *Which is hilarious, since Apple’s response to the hype was silence.
    **Every computer in my house dual boots Ubuntu. I know from whence I speak.
    ***Utilize is not the way you write use when you want to sound fancy. It is a different word and means a different thing. Yes, the meaning is similar, and yes, the words kind of sound the same but that doesn’t mean you should default to utilize in an academic context.
    ****Of course, the specific tasks one can perform are always changing, after all, “There’s an app for that.”

    I’ve had cable TV for a couple years now, but generally, you wouldn’t know it. If you were to track the signals on our television you’d see a lot of movies, a lot of stuff streamed from the computer, a lot of movies and, really, only one channel. Food Network. I could easily blame my wife for this, and wouldn’t necessarily be lying, but it would be dishonest not to admit that I do enjoy the hell out of Alton Brown and Chef Duff.

    What I don’t enjoy is shitty advertising. There are a lot of terrible ads on Food Network, both sponsored spots, and house ads promoting the network itself. Then there’s the Competition shows on Sunday ad. I can’t claim the ad is the worst, but it is the one I hate the most. And it’s not the ADHD* quick cut edits, or the obnoxiously red color pallet, it’s the mother fucking song. Even that’s not true, because it isn’t the whole song, shitty as it is. It’s one part. AHEM:

    Come on baby,
    you can walk the walk
    you got to move it on up
    can you talk the talk?

    Oh my shit, WALKING THE WALK IS THE HARD PART. Being able to talk the talk is stupid, and should not be the challenging question part of the song! How can you have a job like this and not know whether walking the walk or talking the talk is supposed to be the impressive part? Who the fuck are you people?

    On the up side, sometimes Giada de Laurentiis wears low cut tops, and you can see her boobs, which are pretty awesome.

    It should be noted that this picture is a link to a much bigger picture, and that despite her intense over-pronunciation of all Italian words, she pronounces jalapeño “hala pea no.”

    *I was diagnosed with ADHD at age 17, and am allowed to make jokes about it, because I actually know what it feels like.

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