Archive for the ‘feminism’ Category

Zero Dark

January 26, 2013

Naomi Wolf’s critique of Zero Dark Thirty is disgraceful and silly.

As an Al Qaeda junkie (that is, a junkie for Al Qaeda, not a drug addled Islamist) Zero Dark Thirty was essential viewing if only to maintain contact with the zeitgeist. Vetting the specifics of the top secret decade long hunt for UBL is a task above my pay grade, but fragmentary information both insightful and compelling is available to those patient enough to sit through every Peter Bergen interview on Youtube, and forgo Jon Stewart for Charlie Rose.

Third Wave Feminist and author Naomi Wolf panned Zero Dark Thirty, and compared Kathryn Bigelow to Leni Riefensthal. Her thesis reads as follows:

Your film Zero Dark Thirty is a huge hit here. But in falsely justifying, in scene after scene, the torture of detainees in “the global war on terror”, Zero Dark Thirty is a gorgeously-shot, two-hour ad for keeping intelligence agents who committed crimes against Guantánamo prisoners out of jail. It makes heroes and heroines out of people who committed violent crimes against other people based on their race – something that has historical precedent.

The first 45 minutes of Zero Dark Thirty consists mainly of a series of difficult and escalating torture scenes. The victims are Arabs in the employ of Al Qaeda, and the torturers are agents of the US government. There is some debate, and a denial by the Senate Intelligence Committee, that the torturing of detainees led to information relevant to the UBL hunt, but Naomi Wolf’s accusation that Bigelow is a shill for the CIA or that the torture was motivated by race (Abu Grahib notwithstanding) lacks even the appearance of credibility.

First, the naked brutality of the coercive interrogation scenes is counterproductive to a defense of torture, if only on an emotional level. A film can explore torture in many ways; a glossing over, avoidance, hinting, Hostel-style over the top nightmare, etc. Zero Dark Thirty acting as cinematic propaganda on behalf of the CIA could have easily presented torture in a more palatable form, and in a fraction of the screen time. But the film makers chose to expose the audience to “scene after scene,” as Naomi Wolf puts it, of filthy violence and shocking misery.

Second, information gained from torture is a mix of useful intelligence coupled with misinformation and confusion. Zero Dark Thirty tries to tell that mushroomed swamp of a story, not defend or condemn it. If Bigelow had failed to include torture scenes in the film, she could have equally been accused of a coverup. Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t take a stance on the ethics of torture, and if the movie has a point of view on the practical results, it’s that the “break” in the case came in the form of a forgotten file, lost in the myriad of post 9/11 tips and only unearthed by years of squatting with a hammer and chisel.

Your film claims, in many scenes, that CIA torture was redeemed by the “information” it “secured”, information that, according to your script, led to Bin Laden’s capture. This narrative is a form of manufacture of innocence to mask a great crime: what your script blithely calls “the detainee program”.

Perhaps I am thick or grossly inattentive, but I cannot think of any scenes in the film that can be fairly couched as “redeeming” of anything. Nor can I fathom the rationale behind the scare quotes flanking the words “information” and “secured” in the above paragraph. What caveats of doubt or implication are we to infer? That the information wasn’t information? That it wasn’t secured but something else? Forgive my repetition, but torture is occasionally useful, and the bare facts of that doesn’t speak to whether it is ethical, or if other techniques are more effective. Nor do I think acknowledging that is at all controversial.

Could some of the seduction be financing? It is very hard to get a film without a pro-military message, such as The Hurt Locker, funded and financed. But according to sources in the film industry, the more pro-military your message is, the more kinds of help you currently can get: from personnel, to sets, to technology – a point I made in my argument about the recent militarized Katy Perry video.

Aside from the simple fact that there is nothing inherently unseemly about a film with a pro military message, Zero Dark Thirty’s military message is limited to showing the breathtaking competence and ruthlessness of the Navy Seals, and only in the final 30 minutes of the film. Women are shot. Wounded and defenseless men are shot. Children are terrorized and are subject to lethal risk. What about those difficult truths strikes you, dear reader, as pro military? The mission as portrayed was ugly, and brutal, and ethically complicated, and in no intellectually defensible way could be called “pro military.”

As for the seeming necessity for film makers to grovel and compromise with the military, I draw your attention to the grammar of the second sentence quoted above. The Hurt Locker was made before Zero Dark Thirty, and the success of The Hurt Locker translates to Academy Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow being able to make any movie she wants. The jump in budget from $15 million (for Hurt Locker) to $40 million for Zero Dark Thirty is clear evidence of the trust and confidence of her backers, not for toadying.

It seems implausible that scenes such as those involving two top-secret, futuristic helicopters could be made without Pentagon help, for example.

I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to judge for yourself whether or not the helicopters in the film were, in fact, top secret futuristic helicopters, and not… something else. Oh hell, read about how they were props here if you care to. Naomi Wolf’s credibility is waning fast, and the obvious muckraking is equally disturbing.

Oh yeah, and she compared Bigelow to the Nazis:

But to me, the path your career has now taken reminds of no one so much as that other female film pioneer who became, eventually, an apologist for evil: Leni Riefenstahl. Riefenstahl’s 1935 Triumph of the Will, which glorified Nazi military power, was a massive hit in Germany. Riefenstahl was the first female film director to be hailed worldwide.

Naomi Wolf is blithe with the truth, and does her cause a disservice. Furthermore, the poor marshalling and gaping holes in her arguments suggests either a dull mind out of her depth (something I think not the case, given her body of work) or a person so desperate to bend the world to her view that she will say anything.

Another activist more concerned with her cause than remaining in accordance with the facts. Go figure.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[@]gmail.com

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Bent Double, Like Old Beggars Under Sacks

February 23, 2011

There is little less masculine than a profession of love for poetry.

No one can claim ownership of the words masculine or feminine. Some things in this world are rough, tough, and angular (or handsome, ruthless, and stupid, in Dorothy Parker’s idealized conception) and some are soft, bending, and curvy. Whether those extra broad generalizations can be safely applied to men and women is outside the domain of this discussion. Suffice it to say: dogs are boys, cats are girls, PCs are boys, Macs are girls, and for whatever reason you care to cite, we all seem to agree.

Poetry is graceful, pretty, emotional, and flowery. The flow of the words; the sound they make when repeated back to oneself is paramount, and while it is inescapable that poems have meaning, for words mean things, deciphering the hidden meaning, if  there is any to be found, is missing the point at best. However, a man’s love of things graceful or pretty or emotional or flowery is supposedly limited to what he can fuck, and any further pronouncement of joy at the sight or sound or experience of delicate waff, makes him a poof, a nancy boy, or a fag.

Nothing new in the above. We are all too aware of the reputation risked by any boy brave enough to carry Emily Dickson without camouflage, but the cliche to my limited experience is abnormally felt, and I wonder at the cause. Men like music and lyrics, can appreciate a turn of phrase wittily and adroitly presented,  read books, and seem to run the gamut of stuttering neanderthal to elegant wordsmith with the same frequency as women. Social pressures, no doubt contributing, cannot possibly explain everything. There must be something specific to the art form or its reputation making the males in my social group bored at the mere prospect.

Boring. There it is. That word. There is nothing worse than boring (perhaps homicidal or smelly if we are talking about people). I was manifestly uncomfortable and terribly annoyed at being forced to read E.E. cummings or Robert Frost in high school. And rightly so. The beauty of language is not a subject worth discussing with partially developed minds, and Shakespeare elicited a similar response. No, what the dreary high school matron (my English teachers were invariably dull and female) was left with was a search for meaning. An accounting of facts. An exercise in: “Well, why the fuck didn’t he just come out and say it then?” Sure, some of the students were ready for poetry, and genuinely enjoyed it. They tended to be girls. No, not tended, were girls.

But I loved books, and was perfectly happy to engage fully with a difficult metaphor and not feel in the least put out for having to decipher it. Be that as it may, the contradiction in finding poetry irritating for failing to be direct, and not holding literature to the same standard, has only recently struck me.

Nowadays, I can approach a poem without any precedent angst, but it required a genuine effort to displace the notion that deciphering meaning was the task. I was never scared of being called a fag.

Try this. I dare you not to get a little moist.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

I Have the Feeling Few will Agree

November 26, 2010

What is plain to those that reason from a result and then work backward, is the internet was invented for the purposes of porn and email. If porn wins and email places, then outrage is to show, and it is both a hilarious and frustrating phenomena perpetrated by none too few a poster. Sprinkled daily amidst my news feed on the Facebook, are links to news reports about WHAT THE AMERICANS ARE UP TO NOW, or how STEPHEN HARPER IS STEALING YOUR RIGHTS, or how CHEMICAL GAZITRON WILL TURN YOUR NEWBORN INTO A HORSE.

A recent article in the feminist blog Jezebel accused The Daily Show of being a boys club, something long standing Daily Show presenter, Samantha Bee, dismissed. Emily Gould at Slate accused blogs like Jezebel of exploiting the worst tendencies of women, and introduced me to a new term: feminist outrage porn. If I understand this neologism correctly, I take it to mean that some women “get off” on pointing out injustices to the world. That much like a charitable contribution makes the giver feel good, so does the keen feminist also experience a similar rush of satisfaction when she uncovers a hereto unknown nugget of sexism.

But let’s not pick on women or feminists, for the phenomenon of outrage porn is not unique to the fairer gender. We all have our pet causes, and when worldview reinforcement presents itself in the press we cannot help but perk up and take notice. Not only will certain news items be of more than common interest, but will confirm our rightness, and that what we are so very right about is also important.

But back to Facebook. I have a few rules for myself about that never neverland of narcissism. The first is that it is not to be taken seriously, and what must follow from that rule is that anything serious that might show on Facebook is therefore verboten. For that reason, I never join groups about politics or causes, and have some reservations about those that do. Yes, consciousness raising. However, then there is fooling oneself into thinking that clicking a button is doing your bit.

So, while I am thankful in some senses there are those keeping me up to date on the latest monstrous inequity perpetrated by the man in the name of greed and shallow caprice, I find myself caring a bit less about it for the effort of cutting and paste.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

Tabula Rasa

September 13, 2010

“Everyone needs a theory of human nature.”

– Steven Pinker

Free Will

I am rarely impressed by discussions about free will. Freedom of choice may be illusory, and we very well may be running through a narrow canyon whilst pursued by an irresistible force, incapable of veering right or left, or even acquiescing to our fate. Then again, some conceptual or linguistic weakness inherent in our species may be all that is preventing us from dismissing fatalism outright and without reservation. However, no matter if the answer to the riddle is forthcoming or forever denied to us, we must always proceed as if free will is a fact of existence.

Our legal system is rooted in the assumption of free will. In other words, we cannot begin to discuss what constitutes acceptable behavior until free will is already out of the way. In fact, if a defendant is determined to have acted without free will, then the defendant is not guilty, and by definition. Motive is everything, and that notion trickles into our daily lives as well, where we easily forgive accidents and rigorously condemn willful harm.

Lest I am accused of contradicting my very opening sentence, my interest in free will amounts to whether it need be bothered with, and not if “rational actors” is a non sequitur. Some questions only inform themselves, and if we must proceed in all cases as if free will exists, then free will is such a question.

Human Nature

Mega genius and coiffure revolutionary Steven Pinker wrote a very important book called The Blank Slate. I will defer to Wikipedia for a synopsis:

Pinker argues that modern science has challenged three “linked dogmas” that constitute the dominant view of human nature in intellectual life:

  • the blank slate (the mind has no innate traits) – empiricism
  • the noble savage (people are born good and corrupted by society) -romanticism
  • the ghost in the machine (each of us has a soul that makes choices free from biology) – mind/body dualism

Every discussion about pretty much everything is clouded by mostly unconscious assumptions about what our conversation partner thinks about the blank slate, the noble savage, and the ghost in the machine. Most people I know subscribe to a mixed view of blank slate and noble savage with dash of materialism (biology). The rest cannot get past the ghost in the machine, and very often espouse non material theories of mind without even realizing it.

Relativism, especially, cultural relativism, has no legs without an almost fundamentalist adherence to the blank slate. The notion that we cannot judge another culture based on the values of our own assumes one of the following:

a) That genetically speaking, all people are not virtually identical.

b) Universal human values do not exist, and are the product of culture.

Choice A is manifestly false, as even the most rudimentary genetic science proves beyond any reasonable doubt. So we are left with B.

Universal human values do exist. It is never okay to steal your neighbour’s stuff. It is never okay to burn innocent children alive (as punishment, or if they are possessed by a demon, or to appease the gods, is another matter). It is never okay to set fire to the village on a whim. In all cultures, those actions will be condemned. Regardless of the specifics of religion or creed, economic conditions, or geography, the situation must be truly desperate before you can borrow your neighbour’s yak without asking.

Feminism

It is probably true that there is divide in attitudes in boys and girls when it comes to the blank slate. Feminists defend the lack of success among women when contrasted with the success enjoyed by men by citing inequalities that exist in culture. Equal capabilities are assumed in all fields, and when substantial gender disparity in a given discipline is discovered, a patriarchal explanation will be the default (and sometimes only) position of those who view the world as a feminist first.

Steven Pinker expertly points to a case of gender inequality in the sciences, and asks the reader to compare it to a case of gender equality. Within the field of physics, there are about nine men for every woman working. In biology, there is approximate parity. Now, whether one assumes the reasons women physicists are rare due to cultural conditioning of young girls to pursue other career choices, or that women are uninterested although still capable of completing physics related tasks, or that woman are by and large unsuited to a physics career, what is true, is that the physics establishment is not keeping women down.

To assume patriarchal domination within physics is to assume some enlightened feminist view within biology. Given that both fields were dominated by men until the very recent past, there is little reason to suspect either. Some other forces are at work, and our attitude toward the blank slate plays the dominant role in shaping our opinion of what those forces are.

Read The Blank Slate

Read The Blank Slate.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com


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