Saturday, December 31, 2016

Silver linings

I won't beat around the bush, 2016 was a bad year. I refuse to believe that it is just media coverage, this was a bad year. But there were a few things this year I really liked (mostly entertainment stuff for the purposes of this Post) and got me through, so I want to talk about them.

The first thing is actually tied to an early unfortunate event, and that is Blackstar by David Bowie. I remember the moment I read about his death. I had "Lazarus" playing on Spotify when the Rolling Stone headline showed up on my Twitter feed. If you haven't heard the song, it is Bowie's song that kind of acknowledges mortality. That's been read into plenty, but at least I've had something to listen to from the get go.
I really can't mention 2016 without mentioning Kanye's new album. I adored The Life of Pablo by Kanye West. I've written about Kanye already and recent events have shown some interesting turns in his persona, but Pablo gave me a lot to identify with and lean on for strength. Also, just go ahead and lump his concert in there because I'll remember that little trip with Grace for years to come.
I actually saw quite a few concerts in the second half of my year. After I saw Kanye, I also got to see MC Lars, a longtime favorite of mine. He was every bit as nice as I could have hoped and the show with Mega Ran and mc chris was high octane and unique.
This year I had the habit of getting tickets to concerts as Christmas presents, the final show I went to was a Christmas show from Trans Siberian Orchestra. They make an incredible spectacle, but the highlight for me was when they had a tiger change into a dragon change into an attack helicopter. I still don't know why they did that, but that has yet to affect the degree to which I care.

The next thing I loved was the new Coen Brothers movie Hail, Caesar! which really shouldn't be a surprise. It's on HBO at the moment, and that's good because it's hard to explain all the reasons I like this venture without ruining a lot of things, not by killing plot points, just really cool and odd jokes. If nothing else, the sheer amount of incredible names should speak about why I'd be so thrilled by a period movie like this.
Sandwiched between the album and the tour, I binged some serious TV and I have to say, Netflix had a good years. Bojack Horseman has been going strong for a few years, but that blend of flippant humor with serious and potent commentaries on sensitive issues (i.e. mental illness, abortion, nontraditional relationships) is something that I can't get enough of. Also, I didn't expect to like Stranger Things, but there are few things made that so perfectly fit with what I live. I know I'm not from the 80s, but I don't care. Just as I liked the setting of Hail Caesar! I adore that aesthetic that permeates so many things I love.
The other source of TV that entered my life was HBO. My family never paid for the cable subscription. We still don't. But I subscribe to HBO Now so I've gotten to enjoy what they've put out, and it has been some wonderful stuff. I enjoyed Westworld and Veep but my favorite has to be Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. I'm impressed with the sheer variety they can produce and there has yet to be a time I could not get out of a funk with those three magic letters.

Before I say anything here, I must acknowledge that I've been playing a lot of older games this year. For instance, I've only recently gotten into Skyrim. Not the remastered on on consoles. The PC version. No special mods. I just finally found what makes it fun. If you want to know what has had a major emotional impact, look to Spec Ops: The Line. It incredibly subverts expectations to show what war is like. To be fair, I haven't been to war. I probably never will. But I definitely can understand the stress there. That's just the beginning of my list of older games I liked this year.
Another thing that was incredibly cheery was Stardew Valley. I love that game. I have never experienced something that so easily made me feel comfortable. When I think about the gameplay itself or the story, there's nothing all that impressive. But the loop always makes me feel productive and relaxed. When paired with the incomparable soundtrack, it's basically a digital blanket I can cuddle into.
In terms of time sinks, there has been little that could compare in my life to Sid Meier's Civilization series, and Civ VI is not an exception. I don't know if I like it as much as IV yet, and I certainly haven't spent as much time with it. But its on its way. That could easily get to be my most played game. Full stop, It's going through the roof as we speak. Twenty hours in a week, thanks to winter break. Life is sad sometimes.

I need to give a shout out to my phone here. I'm on my own phone plan now, and I adore the phone I have for it. While I don't have the brand new OnePlus 3T, that wasn't announced until a few weeks after I got mine, but I don't care. I love my OnePlus 3. In our society, our phones have gotten to be an expression of who we are. My iPhone was fine, but I think this represents who I am better. It's a smart buy when considering value. It's unique because no one else has it. That's my problem with Apple products. They all blend in. They look nice, but boring. Where my phone is concerned I want to feel unique, and it is.

I can't mention Stranger Things, Westworld and trashing on Apple without thinking about the person who spurred me to watch it, my wonderful girlfriend Allie. I try to keep an air of professionalism with this silly blog and not directly address her, but she is definitely my favorite thing about 2016. I'm not an easy person to be with, but she seems to be sticking it out. She leaves for Canada soon, but I know I'm the luckiest guy in the world to have her. She makes me happy. I love her, and she's my favorite thing of the year.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Post fact

I remember a particularly nasty moment during the 2012 election. At least, it was nasty for me. I shared a quote supporting President Obama and the conservative faction of my family did take well. Too young to realize my mistake, I watched as the comments spiraled out of control with assertions of an adherence to Islam. Watching the discussion grow increasingly racist and angry (the latter on both sides) I had a moment of sadness to see that people I has always seen as good and loving were showing a much uglier side of their personality.
I quickly deleted the post and thought I could just let it lie. Just some people learning to use the Internet and a lot of buried prejudice. 2016 proved me wrong. Because 2016 has sucked. We've lost artists like David Bowie, Prince, Phife Dawg, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, and Debbie Reynolds. Still, the death I will mourn for years to come has been fact. I'm not sure facts exist anymore.
Of course I mean that in a metaphorical sense, 1+1=2, I live in the United States of America, and tea is made from leaves. Those facts were and remain true. But the truth is becoming politicized. This country just elected the largest proponent of the Birther myth. When confronted about his proclamations of (racist) lies against the president he made a claim that Clinton started it. His evidence? A story with no backing. That is becoming acceptable. There is no evidence for that claim, but Trump's supporters proselytized it none the less. This trust has gone on to pose a greater threat.
Votes and numbers are the definition of objective. There is no arguing that 7 is larger than 3, that is a fundamental truth to the world, but we aren't seeing that right now. I am not challenging that Trump legitimately won the election, by the rules, he did. But he lost the popular vote. That is numerical fact. But he still claims that is not the case because evidently a large amount of votes were cast illegally. There is absolutely no grounds for this. There has never been any evidence of large scale fraudulent voting in this country, but the only account I can think of from this election was a woman from Des Moines trying to vote for Trump twice. Beyond that there is nothing to account for a gap of three million votes. The truth is that he lost the popular vote by a significant amount, but that doesn't seem to matter. Once again, his supporters believe what he says.
I don't think this willingness to go with false information is new, nor is it exclusive to the other side of the aisle. Psychological phenomena such as conformation bias show that we are all easily susceptible to lies that would confirm our current beliefs. That holds true regardless of opinions, beliefs, intelligence, and basically every other factor that makes someone an individual. I'd site the Red Scare and the associated blacklistings throughout Hollywood as examples of people of every sort going crazy when they heard scary, albeit false, stories about a scary force creeping into the country. The problem is that it is getting ever easier to foul the country.
To any Republicans who have made it this far, know that I truly do respect you, your opinions, and your party as a whole, but Trump has made himself a really easy target here. He would tweet statistics and graphs from made up institutions. And that spread fake information from a seemingly legitimate source. I've written before about how fake news can look real, but in the McCarthy era, people got their news from verifiable newspapers, radio, and television programs. To make any of these required significant financial investments, technical know-how, and people to stake their names that they were telling the truth. Sure, yellow journalism was a real problem, but it was minor at most. Now, anyone can say anything and make it look just as legitimate as The New York Times.
Since the Red Scare, the Republican Party has always prided itself on its patriotism and the perceived disloyalty of the pinko Democrats to the Republic. Where Republicans criticize my party for political correctness, I would observe a devotion to patriotic correctness. Any information that might propose something that suggests a flaw in belief of what America is needs to be destroyed. That bias is hurting us. Information no longer needs to be correct to be suggested, so, do we really have fact any more?

Friday, December 23, 2016

A galaxy of possibilities: the promise of Rogue One

With the arrival of The Force Awakens, I was thrilled to see back into my favorite end of the universe. I won't say that it was perfect, I understand the argument that Ray & company basically recycled good parts of previous entries in the franchise, but there was still enough to look to justify six trips to the theater on my part. Okay, maybe not justify, but at least satisfy. There's a whole argument about how this actually falls in the tradition of Star Wars cyclical nature. So let's not talk about that right now, let's talk about why I'm super excited by Rogue One.
Rogue One is easily better than the prequels, but that is a low bar to leap. My personal rankings (from worst to best) would go: Attack of the Clones, Phantom Menace, Revenge of the Sith, Rogue One, New Hope, Force Awakens, Return of the Jedi, and Empire Strikes Back. So, the brief adventures of Jyn (Felicity Jones) didn't rock my world. Why am I writing about it? Because I love Star Wars and now I have a lot of hope for the future of the series beyond the central canon.
Member when Star Wars had a widely sprawling canon across multiple mediums? If you do, you almost certainly member when Disney reset the whole canon of the series beyond the films. Well, now we're getting more non-movie additions, but there is still a massive graveyard of stories (mostly books and video games) that can still be drawn upon. Now, there is a chance to introduce them to the canon on a larger scale.
In spite of the fact that many Star Wars books (i.e. Darth Plagueis) and video games (i.e. Knights of the Old Republic) had great and well crafted stories, most people never paid attention because that was a bridge too far into nerdiness. If the Marvel movies, also under the helm of Disney, have proven anything, it's that movies can make the really obscure and nerdy the very definition of mainstream.
The galaxy of Star Wars is (or at least was) far more consistent than the one from Stan Lee, but no less interesting. Still, I talk more about Marvel's movies, just because the films have made it an easier discussion point. That's where I can see Star Wars going.
I don't want the stories to be churned out, but having a self contained story gives the universe a chance to produce more stories. A lot of the novels are games aren't Star Wars in much but name and aesthetic, but that's just fine by me. If that makes my favorite genre more wide and accessible to more people spurring more information and more discussion for me, that's awesome. Is it possible this will go horribly wrong? Yup. Is it possible we'll see more prequel-esque movies? Uh-huh. Is it possible we'll get a Jar Jar Binks spin off? I choose not to think of it. But Rogue One gives me hope for future installments, especially with Donald Glover cast as young Lando.

Monday, December 19, 2016


What's the best way to follow up a post about how advertisements are poisoning the young mind of my sister? A post about why we should all allow ads. Let me be clear, I don't like ads. I find them unpleasant at best, and toxic to our collective conscious at worst. So, why am I okay with them?
The internet might be the most incredible thing mankind has ever made. Not an original statement by any means, but I think it is worth reminding us all about how cool it is that a large amount of wires have enabled every member of the human family to contact each other and learn anything. This digital revolution has upended the world in the name of freedom, but we can't expect the cost to also be free.
Of course we pay for an internet connection. We pay for wires to our house or else we pay for data from a wireless provider, but we have developed a certain expectation of free services online. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and a host of other free services are all available to anyone for free. Technically.
We don't see the magic behind the veil, but all of these services are run by massive companies with huge amounts of infrastructure, and long payrolls of valuable employees. They need to make money and keep the whole operation afloat somehow. There are two ways to do this, either pay outright for a service like Netflix, or get it for free like, well, like pretty much everything else.
To make their service free, most websites, especially social networks and news outlets run ads to us. I don't like it either, but I want access to these things and I have to pay with either money or by being exposed to ads, and I'd rather just see the ads. It would seem most people agree with me.
For evidence look at the success of free Facebook vs. the flop of freemium Ello. Or look at the success of mostly online news outlets like Huff Post vs. the struggles of print magazines. Consumers expect that these services should not cost money. If we want these services to stay around, we need to provide something in return. That's the big issue I want to address here.
Adblockers like the simply named Ad Block Plus can make the internet virtually ad free. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't tried them out, and I would blaspheme to say the internet didn't look a lot nicer that way. But I uninstalled because I don't want to give up my highly limited funds.
A good deal of sites that I frequent, Wired, South Park Studios, among others, can detect the use of ad blocking software and make it a lot more difficult to use the website. Some would complain that this is unfair, but I actually think this is generous. I want to get free stuff, the fact that Comedy Central will let me watch the newest episodes of South Park without paying is kind of amazing. By the principle of bulk order, a lot of people watching that make them a couple cents will let this continue. Or I could go pay for the season. This leads to what I think of as the Spotify option.
Spotify has two options, the free version which has limited features, or the unlocked premium version. If you want to pay money and skip ads, along with other features, you pay money. If you don't want to pay, you can just hear ads in your Kanye/Katy Perry playlists. Either way, the service can continue. This really outlines the ultimate choice we as digital citizens are left with.
Option 1: Pay up. This is simple, but I would argue that fragmenting the internet is bad for the overall health and ideology that underlie the internet. But it's an option that exists.
Option 2: Stop blocking ads. I don't want this either, it feels like the man is winning and that almost causes me physical pain. The use of ad blocking has been on the rise, and I want to keep my access to things without paying. That doesn't work if too many people don't buy in with me, and it takes a lot of people.
Even in an altruistic world where people will work for free, it costs money to even just run the minimal task of keeping the servers on. I don't want to see the ads, but let's all just grit our teeth for the collective good.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Child Cannibalism: Consumerism Devouring my Sister

I am a strong believer in the merits of technology. When I was a little kid, my mom was (and is) staunchly against computers, mostly on principle. And by principle I mean a deathly fear of change. One might think such circumstances would produce a technophobe. In my case, that is not true.
Though our home lacked a computer, I couldn't be insulated from computers, and that only had limited exposure only made me more interested. Maybe that's part of the reason for my time spent as a computer engineering student, and it is certainly responsible for my obsession with gadgets. So if it isn't obvious, I'm a big proponent of technology for education and benefiting society in a myriad of other ways. Today, something happened that dampened my optimism.
Earlier this year, I bought my youngest sister Stella a tablet. Nothing fancy, just a cheap little Lenovo. In my mind, this was a fun present that would open up educational stuff to her with some occasional games for long car rides. That worst case scenario would render her a gamer with a better understanding of the basics of technology than I did at her age. If only.
With Christmas break rolling around, I've been spending a lot of time with Stella, and it is great. At school I really miss getting to be a hero for breathing and playing the Mr. Scrooge game with her. While I spent a good portion of last Christmas break and the summer like this, that isn't what she wants anymore. She is devoted to YouTube Kids.
I'm not judging watching YouTube, I think there's some really good content on there and frankly can't stand the majority of current "family" shows. Pair that with a fostering of DIY ethics for a lot of creators, YouTube's something I don't have any inherent qualms with. Then I saw what she was watching, and I felt kind of gross.
This is all content curated for Stella's age group, so nothing that even registers PG, The gross part is that Stella is enchanted by ads. I understand that to have free content, some adds are necessary, that's fine. But she will watch hours and hours of videos of toy unboxings and channels that just talk about how cool the new Frozen grab bags are so cool. The voices are pandering, and I really had trouble believing that this many adults would be so enchanted with these products.
So, it was time to dig. It is important to note that the YouTube Kids app doesn't allow easy access to description or comment sections, so I had to go and find some of these videos in my Chrome browser. Upon the slightest scrutiny it turned out that, almost without exception, they were made by people being paid to pretend they are really, really into Shopkins, just like every kid should be. The internet has made finding ads a lot more confusing. Sure, some stick out and a lot go unnoticed due to the popularity of ad-blocking software. What if the content that drives internet traffic is, to some degree, an ad?
Paid content in mainstream media is nothing new, but there have always been federal regulations that require disclosure that the content is being paid for. So if you read a review someone was paid to write for a product on Amazon, they are required to disclose any financial gains, including a free product, in the words. Videos don't work the same.
On YouTube, there only has to be a disclosure in the description. No one, child content creator or otherwise, makes a point to mention this in a video, so its always in the description. Personally, I already think this is kind of deceptive for adults. Kids? That's a whole other ball game.
As previously mentioned, it's hard to get to that description through the app to begin with. Even if a kid figures out, it probably wouldn't make a difference. Stella is a smart kid. Really smart. Still, like most 5-year-old people, she can't read. Assuming that the population of her age group is on the same or lower levels, getting to the description doesn't make a difference, they can't read it. This is unfair on multiple levels.
For those who don't know, I listen to podcasts semi-obsessively and one of my favorites is "Stuff You Should Know." Recently, Josh and Chuck ran through some information about advertising to kids, and that is some really, really gross stuff.
Until the Reagan administration, advertising to kids was heavily regulated, but then laissez-faire took over, and the next thing you know there are full length shows that are basically ads. Adults can differentiate, but children can't. No, literally. Studies show that until around the age of 12 the human mind can literally not differentiate between the fun toons they were just enjoying with some Cap'n Crunch and the products people want to shove down their throats. Their mouths are wide open to these early stages of consumerism.
Most of the videos Stella watches are for licensed products, Disney Princesses and Trolls in particular. They found a devious way to sell a lot of these, grab bags. I won't pretend I don't understand part of the fun of collecting, I had my own obsessions with Pokemon and Yu Gi Oh cards, but I think that's different.
Maybe it's my old man deep down already getting angsty about the kids threatening to step on my lawn, but this seems more dubious. Those cards were part of a game and encouraged trading and social behaviors. That's why I still like TCGs. These have no purpose beyond growing a horde, and Stella knows so much about them. When I opened a Zapdos card, I knew it was special because I knew that was a cool character that was hard to find. Thanks to her videos, Stella knows specifics of rarity and and class of these little figures. And because there is no way to know what is in the bag ahead of time. So she always wants more.
Here is where I will differentiate consumerism as a problem. Full disclosure, it's a drug I still struggle with, but this seems like purchasing for the sake of purchasing. I had a lot of cards, but they were for a game. I had books, but I read them. I had movies, but I watched them. Now, the toys go unplayed with, collectible heirlooms for kids. Many would argue that they make them happy, so who cares. I understand that, but that is going somewhere really scary.
It wasn't until the beginning of the summer I really started to rage against the machine and reduce my possessions, and I realize now that it was probably because I was groomed by Pokemon cards, even though I really do hold to the belief that it was more innocent and valuable. This is really the same model, but much, much more potent. When I was advertised to, I didn't realize it, but I hadn't been trained to seek it out. Maybe I'm just worried about the kids of today, but I want it to be clear that I do not blame them, they don't know it's happening.
I understand that we live in a mostly capitalist society, and so some of these issues are unavoidable. But every segment of every industry seem to be collaborating to make the next generation wonderful at buying crap they don't need or necessarily want until they see a very enthusiastic description online. It's the same as its always been, just a lot worse. It's taking advantage of people to make a profit. That's not okay.
What's worse? I have no idea how to fix this mess. We can try to teach kids about how to identify ads, but who knows how effective that would be? Even if it worked, that's still consumerism, just a bit smarter consumerism. It doesn't get to the central issue of this sociological tumor. And it makes me really sad. This is why I'm liberal. I'm not nearly as worried about Big Brother watching me as I am society selling its soul for a few trinkets.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Post traumatic love, or an apology to those close to me

It's hard to deal with mental problems. It's harder to learn to live in a way that I can heal. Hardest of all is seeing how it affects the people I love.
There is more than one way in which I can feel guilty for this, I think the best people who can best exemplify this are my parents and my girlfriend.
As I've previously written, I've become increasingly independent recently but that's not our of nowhere. I've always been painfully aware that I am the oldest child of 5. My parents never did anything to pressure or shame me in any way, but was always reminded that I had to set a strong example for my siblings.
No one ever told me I was at risk of being actively shamed, and like most young men I wanted nothing more than to make my dad proud, but I've had to find a somewhat unconventional way about it.
My dad is the kind of man America has long taken pride in. As a hard-working man in the construction industry, my personality as an anxious book worm was never wonderfully compatible. Meanwhile, my mom was the apple pie dream as the impossibly supportive woman every young person deserves to have. With a strong foundation, it wouldn't make sense to have a son that is virtually. But I'm not.
I'm human. I make mistakes. I do the best I can. But everything that happens to me negatively, no matter how large or small, feels like I'm bringing shame to the family. As long as I do my best, they don't care, but sometimes my best doesn't feel like enough. I know what my best can be. My best wouldn't cause me pain, and bring my parents stress. So, even if it is not my fault, I can't tell them anything, even if they could help. And I know that hurts the people who love me. To find out that someone you love wouldn't let you help them is almost worse than having something wrong with you. So I want to tell the people who care about me, but I don't want to make anyone embarrassed to be associated with me, or else cause them pain.
That leads to my girlfriend. I love her. I lover her and I am so lucky to be in a committed relationship with here. I don't actually like calling her my girlfriend because I feel like that doesn't adequately express the strength of my feelings for her. I'm grateful for her love and support, but I need it from her for the worst reasons.
With my history, I can't help but have some rough moments triggered. Trusting is hard. Vulnerability is scary. It isn't easy to open up, but I really can't help myself with her. She's the reason I understand the term "falling in love." It's scary and fast and sudden and you can't stop it, but I really don't want to anyway.
There is so much for me to share with her, and sometimes I can't control when it comes out. A simple text, a touch of the hand, or just a bit of post traumatic stress can break me to tears, or go off about the horrible things that have happened to me as an explanation of why I'm so messed up and hard to love.
But she sticks around. I may not be a smart man, but I know I'm lucky to be loved. Maybe that's what's really so wonderful about love. Deep down, we're all scared and a feeling little bit unworthy. Regardless, we choose to love. We choose to care for each other. That's kind of the most amazing thing I can think of.
So maybe I have some problems, and maybe I will make things hard or sad for the people I love and who love me. But that's why we're all stuck on this big mud ball.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Go West(world) Young Man

I'm finally on the hip edge of TV with HBO's Westworld, and I have to say, it blew me away. There are a lot of issues the first season raised that I plan to talk write about later, like the representation of identity and self, but today I want to talk about my favorite character, Dolores. Let me just throw a quick spoiler warning here.
When I started Westworld, I was expecting Dolores to follow a very archtypical path of female empowerment, but even in the first episode I saw that would not be the case. If there's one thing the show excels at, it's subverting expectations. Maybe that is why I felt my initial pull toward Dolores, the writers made it clear from the beginning that she was intended for something special.
When I first started discussing favorite characters with my girlfriend, who I also watched a significant portion of the series with, she suggested that it's because Dolores is hot. I won't deny that Evan Rachel Wood is a very good looking woman, but I don't think that's it. I think it's because I can identify with her character.
One of the things that has often held women back in entertainment is the male gaze. Almost all entertainment is made to please young men. Not only has that given an unfortunate homogeneity to entertainment, the perception has been that men can only identify with strong characters (read straight white guys). I am thrilled to report that Dolores definitely disproves such a conceit.
Many, myself included, might point out that I'm not an overly masculine figure to begin with. That is true, but Dolores remains a strong character. While she does become more empowered over time, there is never a point where the farmer's daughter isn't ready to go. This is your last spoiler warning before I go to some major plot points.
Maybe I'm just stupid, but one of the craziest realizations for me was that not all subplots in the show were happening in the same time, I certainly didn't expect William to be the Man in Black. Assuming I wasn't the only one, the reveal of Dolores bouncing all over the timeline caught me off guard at the same time that a mirror was held to my face.
I've talked a bit about my post traumatic stress, but one of the (admittedly stereotypical) manifestations can be traumatic flashbacks. If something negative and familiar hits me, I can be transported to a bad place, with almost no way to hold on. For now.
The way humans work reminds me a great deal of how robots work, just more complex. That's why the representation of androids on Westworld grips me so thoroughly. My thoughts tend to align with those of Arnold. As far as I am concerned, they are sentient beings just as much as any human is, the means of controlling them are a little more obvious.
Hard determinism is a bit off-putting, but I can't deny that the philosophy holds truth to me. As I've previously written, the way humans work is essentially an incredibly complex series of electrical pulses and chemical reactions, the hosts are just a bit more obvious.
Mae gets out of this loop by altering her code, I'd make an analogy to medication, and Dolores finds freedom with the help of another; which I'd compare to therapy. The strength and capabilities are deep in her to overcome and become a great person, or lead a revolution, she just needs to change some things, and move past some old scars.
Can I beat my demons just like Dolores shot Ford (seriously, what?)? Not yet. But I'm getting there. I just need to change a few lines of code in me.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

I feel like Pablo

Recently, I blogged about my love for Kanye West, but I am unfortunately presented with a good reason to write about him again, so deal with it and read about my mental health and Yeezy. Because this is important.
So, Kanye has been having a rough few monthes. Right before I saw him in St. Paul, his wife was robbed at gun point in Paris. After I saw him he went on one of his patented mid-show rants to tell everyone that he didn't vote but would have voted Trump if he had (on a side note, I truly think Trump's victory makes a West presidency viable, and a Kardashian first lady within reach), followed briefly by a mental break. Through this year, my mental progress has been closely mirrored by watching Mr. West.
For those who don't pay attention to his lyrics, Kanye has frequently rapped about his mental illness, specifically on The Life of Pablo, Ye raps about Lexipro, a notable anti-depressant in addition to other aspects of his illness. A lot of people have accused him of fabricating it, but I think we all need to step back and remember something very important: he's just a guy.
Kanye has a larger than life personality, and its a portion of his allure. West calls himself a god, he is one of the most acclaimed musicians of all time, he's married to one of the most famous women in the world, and it seems like there has never been a week he wasn't embattled in some media circus. As far as I'm concerned, that's all part of who he is as an artist. He knows what he's doing, and he makes a show of it in part to show what the state of being a celebrity is. So, why is everyone so angry at him?
I won't say he's a perfect man, he isn't. And I won't say it's not a bummer he canceled some shows, because having seen him, I really do feel bad for the people who had to miss out. That said, I commend him for making moves to become mentally healthy. Everyone's reactions to it are completely out of  line.
Following the announcement that West was being hospitalized, a lot of people were quick to jump on the "Kanye is crazy" bandwagon, including high profile examples like fellow rap icon, Snoop Dogg. While it is somewhat entertaining to see some old remnants of the East Coast/West Coast feud. none of that is okay.
So, like I said, watching Kanye has really given me a lot ot relate to this year. At some of my lower points all I could bring myself to do was listen to Graduation on repeat one more time, like it was some charm to make me stronger. Almost the same day Yeezy was hospitalized I was diagnosed with PTSD as a result of my past sexual abuse. Hearing people accuse Mr. West of faking what is a very possible and understandable disease made me sick.
It's hard to seek help, even harder to speak out and publicly about it. So, having the definition of an A-List celebrity speak up has the potential to raise a lot of awareness and genuinely help a lot of people. Seeing the lashes against him makes me seriously sick. I feel like Kanye, and Kanye feels like Pablo.
I'm not saying everyone has to like Kanye because of this, and I'm not saying he hasn't done some unfortunate things. What I want you all to remember is just because Kanye seems larger than life doesn't mean he's not a person too. So, remember that he's just human, and cut him some slack.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Free Snowden

I should begin by saying that of course I know Edward Snowden isn't in jail. He's technically a free man, but he's currently under political asylum in Moscow, somewhere I would like to be, but he has made abundantly clear he does not. We're forcing an American hero to hide abroad so we won't persecute him. This for a man who acted to inform us that our government was/is transgressing our constitutional right to privacy.
Of course he broke the law. I'm not challenging that Snowden broke the law and acted against the will of his employer. What I'm saying is that he deserves a pardon, and the only moral thing for either President Obama, or President Clinton when she takes over, to grant Snowden this executive right. Certainly, he broke the law. This isn't a case where someone was wrongly convicted, but much more akin to someone being given too harsh a sentence.
I believe that all Americans have essentially the same values and desires, we just have different ideas about how to get to them. Among these values is Liberty, and I view privacy as one of the primary and essential components of Liberty. The NSA monitoring was an assault of this inalienable right. Maybe you disagree, but the Supreme Court doesn't.
We should thank Snowden for stopping that, or, at least, bringing it into the light of day. A government shouldn't punish people for exposing their wrongdoings. Of course our government will eventually do something awful. Human beings are inherently flawed, and the government is made of a lot of people whose mistakes can be compounded with each other.
Just like humans, I can be convinced to forgive my government, but certainly not if it tries to deny that it ever did anything wrong. Definitely not if they try and punish the person who revealed their transgressions. Starting under President Bush, and continuing with President Obama, the federal government did something really really bad, but we still need them to be a functioning society.
I would have an incredible amount of respect for the the executive branch if they were to make the decision to own up to their mistakes, and forgive the person that revealed their errors. Problems will happen, and it's important for people and organizations of any scale to acknowledge and fix their problems. Overall, I've been happy with Obama's presidency, but if he wants something to make me never forget his time, he'll pardon Snowden. And if Trump wants to reassure me he has even a sliver of humanity, well he'd do the same.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Natural Diversity: In Praise of Marvel

I'm writing this after seeing Doctor Strange, and I'll be honest, I'm still not tired of Marvel's movies. Ever since Birdmam it seems trendy to hate on the blockbuster superhero movies, but I still find them to be quality content. Every movie has some similarities, sure, but most of those, good dialog, interesting effects, Easter eggs, etc. make for a good movie. Beyond that, Marvel has just done a good job of building a broad genre.
As time goes on and Marvel continues to dominate the subgenre, every movie, and even their growing catalog of TV shows are thematically different. For example, Antman was a heist movie, Guardians of the Galaxy was a space opera, and Doctor Strange adds wizard to the mix. Thematic diversity isn't what I'm concerned with here.
The unfortunate paradox of comic books is that the movies own Hollywood, but books are selling as bad as ever. So, in the last couple years, we've seen Marvel do some bold things with bug characters, like name Thor a woman and Captain America black, and then later a member of Hydra. You couldn't do that in most mediums without a lot of confusion, but by nature comics are absurd, so it makes some amount of sense. That has carried over to the film division.
I don't say Marvel hasn't had missteps, like making the Mandarin white in Iron Man 3 (spoilers, but that movie sucks anyway). They've really done more to progress the medium than they're given credit for.
Amidst the overwhelming white domination of the Oscar's the last few years, there's been renewed controversy over diversity in Hollywood. Liberals point to a desire and necessity to show more of the American experience, and conservatives insist on fighting PC culture.
The fight is ugly, but by cleverly raising obscure characters to prominence, Marvel has made some really cool moves. I'll start with the most high profile example I have. Samuel L. Jackson is one of the most famous actors in the world and as Nick Fury, he represents a prominent and widespread influence throughout the Marvel universe.
Here's the thing, until Jackson took on the roll, the comics always featured a white man in the comics. As a character emerging from the Vietnam era, it shouldn't be any surprise he was white, but race was never important to the character. Marvel could have stuck with cannon (maybe use Tom Hanks) and people probably wouldn't have cared. Instead, they added some color to a remarkably pale industry.
This push for diversity went unnoticed,  but it shouldn't. Sure, he's still a big star, but they still succeeded in inserting a diverse character into the universe, but that wasn't even the first instance, look back to Thor for a larger example.
Thor is, obviously, based off traditional Norse mythology, and so a Frozen approach where the characters are traditional Scandinavian people would be logical. Instead, the studio acknowledged that gods operate on a different level and mysterious ways.
Is this perfect? No. But it's progress. And I'm grateful to have something.

Friday, November 11, 2016


Anyone who's talked politics with me knows I lean pretty far left, getting toward the socialist end of the spectrum. It might sound odd, but that's mostly a means of resisting market powers that seek to control me because on a personal level I am very, very anti-authoritarian.
I've mentioned wanting to travel as a motivation for following my current career path. Everyone wants to travel, right? For me, the drive goes deeper than that. The biggest reason I want to travel is for the sense of freedom and independence.
In the past few months, I've kind of become obsessed with independence, and I can tell you exactly why that is. For those free of depression, congrats, but let me tell you the worst part: the loss of control.
As a species, we are defined by our ability to think and make decisions for ourselves. This natural aversion is what spurs our desire to autonomy and our scorn of slavery. That's why the loss of this ability can hurt so damn much.
Scientifically speaking, the way we think is essentially a series of chemical reactions and electrical impulses. Sorry to be reductive, but that's what it boils down to. In a healthy brain, this creates a normally thinking and operating person, but when a chemical imbalance is present, motivation can fail.
If you think it's hard to get out of bed when the blankets are tucked in just right, imagine losing the self control to even grab your phone to see if you're missing an appointment, being terrified of knowing what had to be done today, the resistance to doing even your favorite things because who knows what could go wrong. That is a loss of control if ever there was one.
I spent a long time satisfying my need for control in unhealthy ways without realizing what I was doing. For instance, I do quite like video games (I'm likely freaking out about the release of Civ VI as this is published), but it got a bit unhealthy by the end of my second semester of college.
One of the first things I ever did to express financial control was to preorder my PS4. Not only did I express control, I was mind-numbingly excited for it. I literally can't think of a time I was ever more excited about something. This extended into building my gaming hobby itself, the means of using games is even called a controller.
I wasn't able to control myself, but I could control BJ Blaskowitz or the Red Army with the move of an analog stick or a few keystrokes. I realized that I wasn't actually getting any better at the beginning of the summer. If anything, I was only making it worse. So what did I do? I got rid of most of a lot of crap.
I got rid of almost every physical video game I owned. I donated and sold well over 200 books and movies to various locations. The things I owned had gotten to own me, so I got rid of them. Since then I have only felt better. I've read before that people are happier when they spend money on experiences rather  than possessions. Well, I just saw Kanye, and MC Lars is coming up, so I'd say that's right.
Additionally I've just been doing what I can to move toward independence. I'm not saying I am fully independent. I still rely on a lot of help, and my parents do everything they can for me. It's a lot little things that I can feel building toward real independence. Obviously there are the small changes that come with moving away from home (living away from family, buying groceries, other grown up things) but that wasn't enough for me. Not nearly.
I've started cooking for myself. It's a hobby at best right now, but I'm learning. I'm getting better, and it's quite enjoyable. If nothing else, it gives me a chance to show off to my hot girlfriend, so that's a benefit.
Speaking of, let me give a quick explanation of how Allie and I started getting closer. We've known each other for years thanks to Governor's Camp, but over the summer, when I was getting rid of mass amounts of possessions, I was becoming interested in ways to change my life. That's why I bought a bike.
While learning more about the basics of bike maintenance and use as a primary form of transit (totally recommend, by the way) I stumbled on a YouTuber who also talked about being vegan. Having read about the mental health benefits of veganism when properly implemented, I grew more curious about the lifestyle. Knowing only one vegan, I reached out to her. Since then, she's supported me as I transition to veganism. Anyone can judge me, but I love the control, and the way I feel is even better. I'm happier. That's what really matters.
Finally, I switched onto my own phone plan. More than that, I got an unlocked phone. With the OnePlus 3 holstered in my pocket, I've made a small, but meaningful transition toward being an adult. In addition to being more affordable, I'm not bound to any carrier, contract, or even country. If I go to Russia, I can just slide in a new SIM-card, and I'm good. No fees or permissions, just thre freedom to do as I please. It's a minor necessity, but one I can handle.
Overall, I'm making moves, but the biggest point of this independence in regaining control over my life. It's different, and my identity is definitely going through a change right now. But I'm happier for this.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

An Open Letter to the Republican Party

I didn't plan on writing this because for me, like most people following polls, the Trump victory came as a surprise to me. I'm not contesting that my party lost fair and square, I'm just surprised. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't having a minor mental breakdown this morning for fear of my county's future, and there is something that should be noted: for the second time, the Electoral College has taken the presidency from my party.
The post that is supposed to be a representative of the country to the world did not (as of this writing) have a majority of the popular vote. Trump will be our president, but I want the rest of the world to remember that the majority of our country didn't support him, it was just an archaic election mechanic we still have some reason.
I'm upset by this, I think this is a major issue for the way we opperate as a country, but President Obama said something that made me think: the President asked the country to give Trump a chance. So, in spite of my dread toward every aspect of American policy, that's what I'm going to do; because, we now have a climate where Republicans don't have an excuse.
In January, we will have not only a Republican, but the Republican congressional majority is going to be maintained, and there will almost certainly be a conservative SCOTUS appointment leaning that right. The party will have majority power in all three branches of government, so, if their vision of America really is great, they have a chance to prove it to me.
To be fair, I am skeptical. I am genuinely embarrassed by my country now, but I'm not one to argue with results. I think a big part of the reason that the Obama administration hasn't met all of its lofty goals is the fact that most of his presidency was paired with a congress that would do anything it could to resist him. Now, it is easily within the frame of possibility for Republicans to have at least two years of uninterrupted policy changes, if not more.
So, impress me. If you really can improve the economy, stop illegal immigration, and secure the country, do it, you don't have any excuses. I'm willing to admit I'm wrong if it works because I want the best country I can have. That said, I really do see the potential for this to go very, very wrong.
Most people will note that the president doesn't actually have all that much power, and that is true; however, as I noted, we'll have a conservative controlled government. I'm willing to see where economic and security policies get us, I think it's going to be bad, but I am terrified at the prospect of where our social policies are headed.
This has the chance to overturn Roe v. Wade, defund Planned Parenthood, abolish gay marriage, enforce racially discriminatory laws (i.e. stop and frisk), persecute Muslims, segregate transgender people from bathrooms, disregard environmental policies, and demolish foreign relations. As someone planning to work with American diplomatic, that's a scary thing. I don't think that we can exist as an isolationist state ever again. Actually, I think a lot of Republicans are scared of this almost as much as I am.
Not that they don't like his political ideas, I think he's the logical result of the propaganda coming out of the elephant's trunk, but he's putting a real strain on the party. Most conservative ideas have at least some logic behind them, but Trump brings out support for the worst reasons, fear and anger in the face of a world changing in ways they're not ready for. I want them to hold together though, straight Democratic domination could be a threat.
To my fellow liberals, I'm also really, really scared about my future, but this is the direction our country is going. So, let's just hope for the best.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Unlocked and Untethered: A Minory History of my Gadgets and View on Technology

For a long time I was a champion of closed systems. Growing up with a Nintendo GameCube and a GameBoy as the only computing devices in my house (we got our first actual computer when I was in the 7th grade), so systems that are locked down seemed perfectly natural to me. I had one device that did one thing really well, (I will fight to the death for GameCube vs PS2), and that made perfect sense to me.
Fast forward to when we did start to get more open systems (hand me down HP laptop, iPhone 3, etc.) and suddenly I had access to hardware and software that could do a lot of things that I didn't understand. Even with these minor gains I can remember arguing with a good friend of mine about why the core concept of PC gaming was stupid. Those were for work.
Because the family computer wasn't great, and those were dark days for both PC and mobile gaming I couldn't really get my fix there. I'd say that started to change when I got my first computer, a Dell Inspiron 13 with a whopping 1TB hard drive. With no GPU and a Core i3 I couldn't exactly burn up games (the first Assassins Creed made it overheat even on low settings), but I had a semi-open OS to mess around with, and, more importantly, easy and unimpeded internet access.
That's when I started to educate myself. Maybe I just have bad luck with iOS, but my iPhone was less than friendly to me, and so I started investigating the alternative, Android, which I prefer to this day. I shortly wanted a tablet and got a Google Nexus 7, and that blew me away. If my iPhone didn't work, the most I could do was turn it off, kill apps, and hope for the best. I never had any major problems with my Nexus, but even if I just wanted to try and goose out more performance, there were actual programs I could get, changes I could make, and I could even go alter code if I so desired. I liked it so much that I switched to an Android phone when my chance came up.
My next tech adoptions were my old friends, game consoles, specifically a 3DS and PS4. I knew I liked PC gaming pretty well by that point, or at least the idea of it, but the ability to play the games I wanted to (the big AAA games) still required better hardware than I could afford. I don't regret those purchases, but my time in college has thoroughly transformed these views.
Going into my Freshman year at Mines, I had every current console but the Xbox One, and got a phone upgrade to an iPhone 6+. Those were huge mistakes. Obviously PC and a smartphone are basically essential for being productive in the modern atmosphere, but I also got to the point I just prefer having one or two devices that do whatever I want, and you know what? My PC will do that, but I can't say the same about a console or an iPhone. I've already explained my gripes with Apple, so I won't say anything there, but let me focus on the entertainment side of my needs. What platform has every streaming and digital purchasing system available? PC. What system can provide the cheapest and largest quantity of games? PC. What else can PC do? Whatever I want. I can do my work there, I can mess around with math and science stuff, whatever.
That's why I got rid of all of my consoles but my PS4 (which I only keep because I can use it for streaming in my dorm, unlike my Chromecast (that's a room problem, not the Chromecast). Honestly, I'm considering just getting a long HDMI and occasionally getting up to hit play on my laptop. I'm back to Android because I can mess with it however I want (and because my OnePlus 3 is literally incomprehensibly good value to me). I guess this is half just a reflection about how I went from a console devotee to wanting a one-stop shop, beyond just my growing preference for game genres that function better on PC, but I don't actually expect anyone to make it this far anyway, so whatever. Go Microsoft and Google, I guess?

Friday, November 4, 2016

Cubs Caring

I'm writing this post before the final game of the World Series between the Cubs and the Indians. It's assuming that the Cubs finally win, and if I'm wrong this will never see the light of day. I hope I get to publish it given how morose my last blog was.

Most people who've met me know that I'm far from athletic, and for the majority of my life I really haven't cared about sports. I just never saw the fun in watching a bunch of big guys run around and interacting with a ball in various manners. That started to change last year.
A large portion of my family are long time fans of the Chicago Cubs, which is somewhat unfortunate given that they haven't won a World Series since we immigrated to America, and the last time they were even in a World Series was so long ago that only my great-grandparents can remember it, and not even all of them. Nevertheless, my athletic apathy determined that my teams were largely determined by heredity. As I'm writing this I'm realizing that assuming this gets published both my football and baseball teams will have made it to the top this year.
Anyway, I'm nothing if not loyal so I've always stuck by the Cubs, Broncos, Ducks, and various other animals. That hasn't always been easy. So it's been somewhat fortunate for me that baseball isn't as popular now as it was in yesteryear because the Cubs were the butt of a lot of jokes for a long time. Back to the Future II made a joke about it almost 30 years ago, when the goat had only been haunting Chicago for 81 years (still longer than any other team has ever gone without taking the championship).
So I always followed the Cubs in pretty much the same way the I follow all my teams, passively. If I see a game on somewhere I will watch, but I never made an effort to be a real fan. That changed last year with the Cubs. I heard there was a good chance of the goat dying, so I actually started to follow, I think everyone agrees that it's pretty cool to see the hundred year streak broken, even people who don't really care for them.
I still wouldn't consider myself a super fan, but since then I've really gotten to understand why people like sports at all. When I shaved my head at the beginning of the summer, I needed to get a hat, and because I had actually been following the team, I decided on a Hawaiian print hat with the rounded C to go with the wallet I got for my birthday.
It was a lot of fun to just have some random person see me with my paraphernalia in public and start a conversation with a total stranger about something we shared a mutual love for. Even if they weren't Cubs fans, I could talk about there last game against whoever's team. I don't see myself becoming super involved or dedicated to any sport anytime soon, but it's been really cool to finally understand why people care so much and mostly to watch my laughingstock team take it to the top. Fly the W Chicago, you've waited long enough.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Speakig Out: My Sexual Assault

(Hey, I also wrote an article about this for the Volante, so read that too.)

You guys remember how I went public about my depression about two years ago on here? I've decided to open up about something else, because I have lost too much sleep over this. A lot of people reading this won't believe me. Others will feel shame in me. I don't particularly care. Okay, maybe I do. I'd much prefer my family not disown me, but the pain is greater than the fear. It's a scar. You can take me or leave me.
Hello, my name is Jordan Smith and I am a survivor of female-on-male rape.
A few years ago I also wrote a post about under-represented male issues, and in there I brought up the frequent skepticism that men can be raped, so I won't talk about it too much. Suffice it to say I can count the number of people I've previously told on one hand.
Here's the hardest part of this, in spite of the mass proliferation of information and support with the internet, there really aren't many resources out there. Go ahead, do a Google (or Yahoo if you're weird) search for male rape support. You'll find a couple general purpose things, but the vast majority of results are for those who suffered from another man or just redirect you to general results for rape support, which would be fine, but it is heavily catered to women.
I'm not saying it isn't understandable. Most victims of rape are women, and most perpetrators are men. Numerically, it makes sense that there would be more information for those individuals, but it doesn't mean materials for people like me shouldn't be more widely available. But that doesn't excuse popular conception from questioning if it can even happen. Not just the usual victim blaming of people arguing whatever crap comes to mind, but a basic question if it is possible.
Remember when Shia LaBeouf was in the middle of a performance art piece and was violently raped and everyone was convinced it couldn't happen because they didn't think that could happen to a man who was unwilling? I do, and, quick note, that's not how biology works. Why was that even a question? Maybe because this stigma is so widespread that even the FBI defnition limits rape to a man forcing penetration? There's this insistence because of how awful traditional masculinity is men are universally seen as perpetrators and women are victims.
It is impossible to describe the loneliness that comes from this survival. Of course there's scarce a survivor of any gender who doesn't suffer from some form of trauma. Maybe I'm wrong.  I can't know what being anything but a heterosexual man feels like, so I apologize for any misunderstanding. But at least there is some amount of support structure available. There's certainly challenges for women to find people to believe them and a stigma attached with something that isn't your fault. Beyond the trauma, the societal reaction to women after assault is deplorable. Still, if nothing else everyone's first personal advisory, Google, will bring useful results without much digging. Regardless, I feel like it's different for men.
Many probably noticed earlier that I described masculinity as "toxic." I stand by that. Men are supposed to be unfailingly strong pillars, not allowed to, or even capable of being, vulnerable. We are supposed to want sex at any given moment with any woman whose pants we can wiggle into. To admit that you had sex against your infinite masculine willpower and in spite of your limitless sex drive is preposterous. To not have another conquest to add to your list would be preposterous. And how can a man be overcome by a woman? I'll tell you.
Rape doesn't necessitate physical force. It can also just be a threat or manipulation through other means. I was coerced and manipulated as if I wasn't human. I'm not going to share many details. Why? I don't have to. I'm not pressing charges, I'm just trying to heal myself and, if I'm lucky, help others. If you don't think I provide enough detail, sorry, I don't feel like hurting myself like that again. Do you know how hard that is? Or just the pain that comes from being a survivor too scared to say anything? If you do, I'm sorry, and please get in touch with me. Not just so I can help you, but I think that talking is the best way to recover. Everyone else, just understand that it is the most emotionally scaring thing you (or at least I) can imagine.
That's the worst part of rape, it's a crime against who you are as a human being. What makes us human? Most philosophers and religions would agree that it is our ability to act as rational beings capable of choosing our own path and ruling over our bodies and the world surrounding them.That's what separates us from beasts. Of course, just asking someone to do something isn't any remarkable evil, but I work hard to make sure I don't force anyone to do anything, no matter how small. I never want to violate another person's sovereignty.
We talk about the objectification of human beings through the media (particularly women, because the male gaze sucks). I see rape as the logical, perverted conclusion of objectification. It's not just bad because of the manipulation and pain, it's the blatant disregard for your humanity. You are literally a tool. Not a person. Just a means of satisfying an urge. That's the part that keeps me up at night. Not the memories of coercion and force but the demeaning nature of it all. The seizure of my control has haunted me ever since.
When you have trouble getting someone to even consider the possibility that you could be treated that way, it can feel like you're having your heart ripped right out of your chest. I remember sitting at my eighth grade lunch table, when I was still figuring out what sex was, and being surrounded by a conversation about how men couldn't be raped. I remember the abstinence oriented youth conference I attended in Chicago. I remember every time rape and sexual assault ever came up in the news or school and there was never a man who had suffered. I internalized that. All of it. It's what kept me quiet for so long.
Now I don't even know if I can trust what I think. You know that logic experiment from Descartes that concludes with "I think, therefor I am." I used to find a beauty in that simplicity, but it isn't that simple any more. If we are the sum of our experiences, then what happens from the traumas? We might want to move past those experiences, and return to our natural state, but how? How do we return to a portion of a natural state that we can't remember. I don't know how I would feel about sex and women without that experience in my past, so how can I know who I really am? Was I ever something special?
It's not all so bad. There is an evolving climate. As feminism continues to enter the mainstream it isn't just empowering women, it is also becoming more acceptable for men to be vulnerable. Furthermore, by making femininity not inherently associated with weakness, it is becoming okay for men to do female things, both positive and negative. I should also mention that my girlfriend knows, and she has been nothing but supportive of me. This blog wouldn't exist without her giving me the emotional support to write my pain out.
I'm rambling, but, once again, I don't really care. This is stream of consciousness. This is what's haunted me for too long. During my orientation at Mines, we had an absolutely incredible speaker, Angela Rose with PAVE who ran our Title IX training and I started counseling to get to the point where I was strong enough to open up. This is an act of courage on my part. This is terrifying. When I opened up about depression, I knew people would believe me, the worst that could happen was a stigma. I have no doubt at least one person will read this and laugh, thinking I'm making this up for attention. My pastor could see this and think I'm now bound for hell. If anyone finds out that I was hurt and stop loving me, maybe I'm better off. If anyone doesn't want me around because I was hurt, then I'd really rather not be around.
John Wayne, the picture of masculinity, once said, "Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway." Well, I'm sure scared. So, here we go. Riding right into the storm with the hope that it will be less painful for other people to follow. If courage is manly, then I now know that I am truly a man.. A man, and a survivor. To all my brothers, you don't need to say anything. More than anything, I just wanted to tell you that you aren't alone. For me, this is seizing back my humanity. She no longer controls my body, or my voice.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Facial Hair

Few of the men in my family have beards, but they can all at least get substantial stubble. That's something I can only aspire to. A lot of my physical aspects are prototypical male. I'm tall, broad shouldered, and I have square features. The only thing I can't do is grow a beard. Or a goatee. Or a mustache. Or more facial fair than the average middle school boy.
As someone who largely rejects traditional masculinity with pride, I don't know if I would even want to have a beard. As people continually remind me, I'm lucky that I don't need to shave every day. That may be true, but I really, really don't care. It would be nice to at least have the option to move to Portland without being chased out by people on fixed-gear bicycles.
When I was 13, my dad handed me down his old electric shaver thinking that I'd need it soon. He was wrong. I used it a grand total of twice in middle school. Just wait to high school, right? Sure, I was physically mature for my age, but most guys don't start really growing facial hair until their late teens. In early high school, I shaved maybe every three months, by the end of high school I was up to once a month, but that was mostly for my self esteem. Seriously, I could easily have gone longer, I just felt better about myself when I'd occasionally shave more.
I'm sure some people reading this think I'm exaggerating, let me give you an example of how incapable I am. Everyone is familiar with the tradition of No-Shave November, a means of showing support for prostate cancer. My great-grandfather is a survivor of multiple rounds of prostate cancer, and it was always a thing in my group of friends. Here's the thing: every year, someone thinks I quit halfway through, but I never have. People just assume that there's no way a young man my age could have grown so little facial hair over the course of a month. Turns out, they can, and I'm proof.
On top of the slow pace at which my hair grows, it is also a very light color. It's the kind of blonde that you can only see in certain lighting at remarkably close distances. Most of my hair is on the light side, but not that light.
I guess what really bothers me is that it doesn't match up with the rest of my body. I'm a man, I should be able to grow something resembling a beard. And if that fails, what I get really should be visible. That isn't the end of my frustrations.
One of my oldest and closest friends is a transgender man. Whenever I say something about being unable to grow facial hair, he expresses genuine sympathy. I appreciate it, but he at least has an excuse, namely being born without a Y gene, the portion of DNA responsible for growing a mustache on men. He has a genetic disadvantage, I just can't.
Is this actually a big deal? No, not at all. I just want to have the option that I really should have by this point in my life. If nothing else, I really want all the guys around me to stop complaining about the need to shave.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Major Mediocrity

My greatest physical fear is needles, as my recent flu shot reminded me. It's nothing to do with the pain, that's a prick at worst; rather,, there is some primal part of my mind that views the simple presence  of a syringe as a major threat to my existence.
Getting blood drawn triggers my fight or flight instinct, and unfortunately, for my nurses, it tends to be fight. I don't like my vaccinations, but I get them because they protect me from something I don't want. Because I fear the very unpleasant experience of getting the flu, I endure a phobia. I wish I could say that was the worst of it, but there is one thing I can't be vaccinated from, one thing I fear more than needles: mediocrity.
A good way of summing up my outlook on life is expressed by Aristotle, "Anything less than the best is a felony." Okay, unfortunately that was actually written by Vanilla Ice, but the sentiment does reflect my feelings toward my own motivation. I don't want to be okay or good, I want to be exceptional. More than anything, I don't want to be mediocre.
I think this fixation comes from being the oldest child of so many. Of course most parents, and especially parents as wonderful as mine, love all their children, but I always felt the need to compete. I needed to do something to distinguish myself as wonderful or else I couldn't ensure the love of my parents. Beyond that, I was the oldest, I was expected to set a good example for those following me or they'd end up robbing banks or something. Stupid, but that's the best I can come up with. Mediocrity meant to be forgotten by the most important people in my life.
The word mediocre sounds more harsh than it really is. It sounds like a negative word, but it isn't. It means to be good, but just barely. Determining that I am not a bad person isn't that hard. I fulfill my duties, I organize my life (relatively) well, and I try to help people when I can. It is verifiable that, if nothing else, I am not a detriment to society. But humans are not binary being, we have an infinite numbers of states between perfect and imperfect. Not being bad doesn't make me good.
I'm a reasonably intelligent person, and that would normally allow me to excel in the area of intelligence. Unfortunately for me, my generation is incredibly competitive in academics. That's probably my greatest asset, and it hasn't even made me a stand out. From the time we were small, millennials were told by everyone from authority figures to cartoons that if we didn't work hard we wouldn't get into an Ivy League school, and if we couldn't even manage Brown, then we wouldn't be able to lead a successful (and therefor happy) life. Sure I've always gotten good grades, but that isn't all that uncommon.
I can recognize that these seeds are wrong, and even poisonous if not restrained, but their roots are too deep for me to just pull out. I don't know any way of being but desperately competitive to win a competition I never signed up for and no one else is entered.
Where do I go from here? I've got a few years left of schooling, but then my academics are done. Now I need to position myself to have an outstanding career in the real world. If I don't then I'll be mediocre, and mediocre people never get noticed, and if I can be noticed then I can't be sure that I will have people in my life to love me.
So now I'm leveraging my deep ambitions to push myself toward a high level job in a competitive field. That's why I'm learning Russian instead of growing my Spanish. No one wants to take Russian because it's a lot of work, but that's what makes it valuable. I can't settle with myself being okay. It's not who I am.
I need to be more. Every bone in my body aches when I think of the idea of being a forgotten middle class worker in a suburb with 2.5 kids and a dog named Spot (actually, the dog part is just fine). The American Dream is my nightmare. I don't want my family to think that I look down on them or think I want to dissociate. I just can't be happy living as we have for so many generations. The same drives that brought us to America are pushing me to move around the Republic.
So my work ethic is strong. What's the problem with that? I can not convince myself that I'm not mediocre. To me, everything I do just seems average. Adequate. Expected. Normal. Nothing worth remembering, and certainly not admiring. I don't know where this will take me, but I'm going to keep going until I can escape this feeling. We'll see if I can find a way to fly. I'm either Iron Man or Icarus, I guess we'll see which.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Far From the Tree

They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, but what about tech giant Apple? While control of the company shifted through the years, there is little denying that Steve Jobs was the father of the computer trailblazer. Since Jobs passed in 2011, a lot of people have expressed concerns with the viability of the corporation. I think Cupertino has proven their ability to continue, but I have no desire to use their products.
Before anyone tries to tell me about all the advancements that iOS has made to get some of Android's nicer features in the last few years, I know, I've had an iPhone 6 Plus for a year now. It drives me insane. Everything works fine, that I can admit. Besides the sale of major security flaws in iOS to foreign powers (which were patched, in all fairness) and iPhone 6's bricking themselves in the course of one week, there hasn't been any major issues. Both of those problems only affected small crowds, and most iOS users had no concern. iOS is stable and... boring.
Android does occasionally have its own minor issues that need fixing, i.e. the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 catching fire, but the problems are infrequent and the ecosystem is so much more exciting. I don't understand the argument some people aim at Android that it is hard to use. All of the core functionalities are the same between each other, hell, even the same as iPhones/ Beyond that, there's a whole world of greater possibilities because of the open source nature Android is built on.
I confess that I'm not a computer scientist, or even a coder, myself, but having attended a STEM school and lived with two Computer Science majors I've learned that the near-universal opinion is that Android is easier to program for.
Not only does every manufacturer make their version of Android a little bit different, there are icon packs available from Google Play to change the look easily, and the easy ability to flash different ROMs onto your phone to do a total overhaul of how everything looks and functions. If you even want to make it look like iOS for a lot cheaper, it isn't that hard.
Whatever you want, Android has it. Want a phone that does the basics and connects to Facebook? You can have that for less than $50. Want a unique device that no one has seen before? There are literal hundreds. Want a top of the line experience? Look at Motorola, Samsung, LG, ASUS HTC, Sony, OnePlus, ZTE, or even Google's new Pixel phones. I just got the OnePlus 3 which has a top tier chipset and 6 gigabytes of RAM to the iPhone 7's 3. My phone is $400 brand new.
There are a great deal of options within Android phones to distinguish their relative quality based on what matters to you. Want the best camera? Look at Samsung. Performance for a price? Look to China. Neat features? LG has module phones. Design? That's a matter of taste and there are a lot of options, I'd personally point to Motorola. The only significant factor to distinguish between the current iPhone and the previous model has typically been an aesthtic change, and usually a reasonable one. The iPhone 7 can't even claim that.
Beyond the omission of a headphone port (I still call crap on that), it looks almost identical to the 6S. I'll give credit where credit is due: Apple makes aesthetically immaculate products. I'm a sucker for aluminum bodies in electronics, and Apple definitely popularized the idea with their iOS and Mac lines. But anyone's iPhone looks exactly like every other iPhone in the same generation. There's no personality there.
Our smartphones are the most intimate devices in our lives, and I think they should also be an expression of who we are. That's why I really like Google's marketing line "be together, not the same." The Android community is held together in a way that benefits everyone, but allows for uniqueness of both software and hardware. I could talk about how Android always has features that Apple hasn't stolen, sorry, innovated yet. That's almost worth its own post.
Let me be clear: I want Apple to thrive, and even have the Mac market grow, even though I can hardly stand to use them. The reason for that is competition will drive my preferred operating systems (Windows and Android) to incorporate new features and better performance. Multiple large competitors benefits consumers and drive innovation as a whole. I don't think Apple is doing enough to compete right now.
They continue to make mediocre phones that they sell for a premium price, and I can't invest in that. I also won't tell off anyone who does. I couldn't imagine spending near a thousand dollars for something as low spec as a MacBook or an iPhone, but it makes sense for some people. If you want one ecosystem to do literally everything you need, Apple isn't a bad place to look. Be ready to pay. Nothing is user expandable or modifiable so you need to be prepared to pay for memory, RAM and ROM alike. Be okay with your device being indistinguishable from your friends. None of those are things I can live with. I won't pay more for a product that does less. If you want to, feel free.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

I Hate My Job

Okay, it's not my job yet, but I'm writing this as I watch the final presidential debate of 2016, and it kind of hurts to remember that I am a Political Science student right now. I also voted today, for Hillary, and I feel good about that. I've been campaigning for her in Iowa because I believe in Clinton and the Democratic Party Platform, so I wanted to help save democracy. But this is a reminder that I am going into a nasty business.
Any Trump supporters reading this won't believe anything I talk about why he is a ignorant, prejudiced, incompetent, hate monger, so I won't discuss it. What I will say is that this election has brought out the worst in people.
There's the rise of the Alt-Right of course, especially with Trump insisting the election is rigged without evidence, but there's also a lot of P.C. culture spreading on my side of the aisle that I think comes from a well-meaning place, but is bad for my favorite amendment, the First. I'm a proud progressive, but even my own party seems at least somewhat alien.
Within the next decade, probably in Clinton's presidency, I'll be entering my career in the government, hopefully the State Department. This is a reminder that even with a continued control of the Executive Branch, which the polls and I agree is all but certain. What about the Legislature? What about the Judiciary? The Senate Republicans just promised not to confirm anyone Hillary proposes. I've known about our ideological for years, but it's only now becoming real that I am willingly going into this. I don't want to, but I need to.
First, I'm not great at many things in life, but policy I can do. Beyond that, I really do feel a calling to public service. Now, of course I have a great deal of respect for those who choose to join the armed forces, but in the same way I'm not made to be an engineer, I'm not made to be in the military. So I'll serve you all in another way. I'm going to be a diplomat, and nothing will stop me. My only promise is that I won't be a politician myself.
I feel literal pain from this. I mean that. I knew there was going to be some rough times, but this has made me really sad. Previously, I was open to working somewhere in the country. And maybe I still will. I really, really don't want to. Now, I am absolutely determined to be a Foreign Service Officer.

Friday, October 14, 2016

I Love Kanye

I like to think I'm a fairly smart person. That said, I often make some very stupid decisions. When I bought two tickets to Kanye West's Saint Pablo tour in St. Paul the day before I had a Russian test an noon, I was assuming I was making a very poor choice. I am glad to say that I was very wrong. In just under two hours, Yeezus did more for my outlook on then I could have expected.
While Yeezy is obviously one of the most acclaimed recording artists of the generation, that isn't why I wanted to see him. I paid to see a show. Prior to Ye' the most recent shows I had seen were Flo Rida and Elton John. I wanted to go see someone in between, an incredible artist with a lot of personality. With respect to both, West blew them out of the water.
I know it sounds like hyperbole, but the sheer spectacle of a man with Kanye's exuberance of performing combined with a stage like none other was awesome (in the literal sense). Watching the stage float over the floor like a magic carpet with a moving light system above set to fall toward the ground at certain times inspired awe in me, and I wasn't even in a particularly good seat.
The thing that Yeezus catches the most flack for is his self confidence, often referred to as narcissism. Is he self absorbed? Absolutely. But that's part of his art. Seeing the man who has refereed to himself as a god who is going to run for president in 2020 (real talk, Trump getting this far makes me think it's possible) flying with power and confidence made a lot of his lyrics really click for me. I found bravery in his bravado.
My fight with depression has been getting steadily easier, but that confidence in a man talking about saying what he wants and still climbing to the top really struck a nerve. In The Life of Pablo, there is a prayer for anyone who thinks they're not worth enough. That's me guys. Of course I've heard the words and I knew what it meant, but the live experience made it so, so much stronger. Say what you will about Kanye in his personal life, I truly believe he deserves everyone's respect.
The challenge I face now is an overwhelming desire to see more converts in the hopes of further shows in the hopes of another such revelation. Sure I'm going to see MC Lars, my favorite indie artist of all time, in November, but I don't know if that will be the same. I'll almost certainly meet him there, but I doubt he'll have that imagery because he's an indie hip hop artist who makes songs about Edgar Allen Poe and Pokemon GO. There is no way he, even with MC Chris and Mega Ran will have a budget like that. Maybe it will be a different kind of experience.
I'm going to meet an artist I've been listening to since I was 13 and tweeting at since I got on Twitter. That'll be great, and who knows, maybe that will change me too. I don't just love Kanye for his music, or his persona, or even his unparalleled showmanship. I love Kanye for opening my mind to the power of live music's transformative powers.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Welcome Back From the Dead: Ghostbusters (2016)

Welcome Back From the Dead

Let me get it out right away: yes, I am a feminist. Yes, I am a progressive. And yes, I have a confessed love of funny women. I also hate to see my movies injured. Now that I think about it, Dan Aykroyd has particularly bad luck with both with Ghostbusters 2, and particularly Blues Brothers 2000 serving as examples of awful Hollywood cash-ins creating abominations of cinema; however, this foray showed promise. So I walked in the theater for the reboot of Ghostbusters without either excitement or dread.
I considered adding a tangent just for Kate,
but I'll leave that to another day.
Obviously there was a great deal of controversy regarding the feeling that the all female cast was too much of a push for PC diversity. If it weren't for Paul Feig's incredible ability to be a man who can also make good femal characters, I might have had no hope. Recently I read Bossypants by Tina Fey, and she made an observation that seems suited to respond. I pray my Lady Fey can forgive any misquotation, but "Only in comedy can an obedient white girl be considered diversity." Tina Fey, like a sizable portion of both the original and new Ghostbusters casts made her name with Saturday Night Live. I find it interesting that a renowned institution long plagued by the misogyny (see John Belushi) is capable of producing such outstanding actresses, and they all shine like diamonds in this movie. Make no mistakes, no one pretends the characters are anything but women, but they shake the standards of the witty love interest so often reserved to the women of comedy. This movie is feminist in the best, most subtle way. It has well written, intelligent, and strong female characters, and it doesn't make a big deal about it. Great characters who just happen to be women. All of the principal actors (Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones) are brilliant, and perform their roles marvelously. While everyone made a great performance, I must say that McKinnon stole the show. With her typical devotion to character, McKinnon provided an element of randomness that helped differentiate the reboot (?) from the original.
I think that's why so many people are getting angry here, where they were okay with the equally stellar Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As much as I truly love The Force Awakens, and think that it is a terrific movie, it followed the story beats of A New Hope almost to the letter. Thanks to J.J. Abrams, it was an unquestionably well made movie, but it was also supremely familiar. Feig decided to do something different. While there are certain allusions to the prior series, including cameos from surviving actors (RIP Ramis), the film uses an old firehouse to mock the idea of failing to differentiate. This is not the original, and for a comedy, that is a good thing.
Is the new Ghostbusters as good as the original? It's hard to say that was the best Sci-Fi Comedy ever made, and this is different. In a good way. This movie makes smart decisions to make itself unique and different from the rest of the industry. I can't hate a movie for not being as good as the best to ever exist in it's genre. More importantly, even if the OG GB can't be beat, a joke is only funny for so long. Example: Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side! (Insert laugh track). It's not technically a bad joke, but no one laughed at that because we've all heard it before. A comedy revival can't be exactly like its predecessor because we know the punchline. Feig made a movie that not only progressed the series (who only had two good entries including an Xbox 360 game), but also did a lot to progress the comedy genre as a whole. Having women placed comfortably and intelligently in the limelight continues to open the door for more women to follow into further terrific rolls. You should go see Ghostbusters. It's a good movie, and worth a watch, but it's also an economic product. Still prefer Bill Murry? I can't blame you, but that movie is easily available in the format of your choice. It's even on UMD. Get over your nostalgia. If we want more good movies made by talented directors, starring superstar women, you need to vote with your wallet. Go and prove once and for all women are funny.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Rewritten in Red Ink

Image result for china film
Rewritten in Red Ink:
How China’s Ruling Party is Impacting Hollywood
The focus of this paper is to examine the economic and soft power ramifications from the interweaving of the American and Chinese film markets pursuant to globalization and international relations between the two great powers. This paper finds that there have been economic and artistic benefits to both parties involved in the matter, particularly in the development of China’s domestic film development; however, the Chinese Communist Party and its affiliated censorship enforcement mechanisms are altering the international perceptions of not just China, in a manner that could potentially shift international perceptions of the world in favor of China. That said, if China does not correct course, the World Trade Organization could bring serious consequences against the world’s most populous state.
Since the foundation of the major studios of California, America, and particularly Hollywood, has ruled the film industry worldwide. Long able to create films with only the American consumer in mind, Hollywood rarely, if ever, had to bother itself with the concerns of foreign markets, but that all changed when economic globalization took turned the business world upside down. Now, with the film industry getting larger and more profitable than ever before, movies continue to grow more expensive, one of America’s largest industries is having to get increasingly creative to continue turning profits.
It is no secret that much of America’s former manufacturing glory has been sent to the Far East. What isn’t as often acknowledged by the average armchair economist is the expansion of the market available to American businesses, and that includes Tinseltown. While the Chinese population at large still face great challenges on the human rights and personal income fronts, the average income of the population of most citizens is increasing rapidly, growing almost eightfold from 2000 to 2014 (O’Conner and Armstrong). With this newly found disposable income and a newly forming middle class, China has grown to be the world’s second biggest cinema market, second only to the United States (China’s Film Industry) and is expected to become the largest market by 2018 (O’Connor and Armstrong). With the looming giant rising on the horizon, it is high time to analyze the ramifications of Hollywood’s newfound gravy boat.
Hollywood: This name is used in reference to the American film industry as a whole (and occasionally other Western studios). Any references to the geographical location are intended to be read as such, and should be thought of as a group of businesses within the industry because that is how they function in the context of this paper. Different production companies, studios, and specific films will be referenced specifically as required, but the industry does have a tendency to follow certain trends, and, like any industry, those trends are always to follow money. While all All actions made by the businesses and their leaders are made with the goal of maximizing profits in the long term, and allowing artists to create unique products as an added benefit.
Chinese Communist Party (CCP): The ruling party of the world’s most populous nation, and one known for strictly policing the content available for consumption and most aspects of public life in the nation. Recent years have seen the party slowly begin to open the nation. President Xi Jinping, the elected head of state and party, expressed in a 2014 speech that he still considers the purpose of Chinese art to be the original mandate from Mao, service of politics, namely the politics of the CCP (O'Connor and Armstrong). While the Party does want to grow both national revenue, provide entertainment to the people, and grow a new domestic industry, the ultimate goal is still to advance the agenda of the Communist’s of China.
State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television of the People’s Republic of China (SAPPRFT): Certainly the longest names to be featured in this paper, SAPPRFT serves as the CCP’s primary method of censoring the content fed to the people. The primary goal of SAPPRFT is to advance the Party’s agenda through the expressions, or lack thereof, in the media. Any actions taken by SAPPRFT can be seen as actions of the CCP, but a specific enforcement mechanism.
The Beginning
Shortly after crackdowns on free expression, the CCP closed its film market to exclusively domestic films in 1979, and most of those were propaganda films (China’s Film Industry). Unsurprisingly, “the film market dwindled, with attendance falling by 79% from 1982 to 1991” (China’s Film Industry). So, while America and most of the world were busting blocks to see such classic hits as Star Wars, Back to the Future, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Ferris Buehler’s Day Off, and Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi, Chinese audiences were electing to not see the declarations of the greatness of the the CCP and their People’s Army. With so little money available to the hands of the Chinese consumer, there really wasn’t much need to pay to see more propaganda proclaiming the greatness of the authoritarians above them. That all changed in 1991, when China took its very first small step toward Hollywood.
In 1991 “[t]o revive its movie business, China brought in its first foreign film in 1994 — Warner Bros.’ The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones” (China’s Film Industry). Universally regarded as a groundbreaking moment in the history of both countries, and a major boon for Hollywood, this crack in the door to China’s cinemas marked a new period for both markets. Regardless, Hollywood was a stranger in a strange place, and the traditional tactics for making a blockbuster would need some work to be up to snuff for the world’s most populous nation.
Growth and Expansion
The situation in China has been rapidly improving for the average Chinese person, and “Chinese consumers have increased their recreational spending in recent years with rising income levels and an increase in discretionary funds” (Zhitao). In addition to having the world’s largest population, China is seeing a period of immense growth in prosperity for the people of China that might be likened to the United States following the Second World War. There’s more than a vague concept of an increase in spending, “In 2015, box office revenue hit a record $6.8 billion, up 49% “ (China’s Film Market). This data makes it abundantly clear that China’s film market is not only massive, but still growing. Qiaowei Shen, a marketing professor with the University of Pennsylvania, notes that China has potential for even further growth. According to Dr. Shen, the average Chinese person goes to the cinema less than once a year. “There’s huge potential [for growth] if the average Chinese person [just] goes to the movies two times a year, then box office receipts will increase by two times” (China’s Film Market). If China can maintain its current rate of growth, then they will have outpaced the United States as the world’s largest film market by 2018 (O’Connor and Armstrong). This leads to a new and lucrative revenue stream for Hollywood, the current heavyweight champ, and a new industry for China to come screaming into.
In 2014, the top ten box office hits, were an even split between domestic and imported films (Jing). 2015, the following year would prove to be an even bigger year for the burgeoning market. In the course of just a few months, China saw its all-time box office record broken not once, but twice by Fast and Furious 7 and Monster Hunt, an American film and a Chinese film, respectively, in the course of a few months (O’Connor and Armstrong). These two years of unqualified success were nothing if not proof of the viability for both domestic and imported goods in the cinema. With these back to back record breakers, Hollywood and Chinese industrialists alike are pouring funds into developing domestic means of production to feed the market.
Among the great problems facing the Chinese market is distribution. According to Shen, “Adding movie screens and building cinemas, especially in the smaller cities, will spur growth of the entertainment industry in China.” As it stands, China is adding an average of fifteen screens a day and is expected to have significantly more than America by 2017 (China’s Film Market). Liu Shuyao is an investor looking to expand the revenue through more high tech means. Shuyao is the founder of 100 TV, a company making an internet streaming service exclusively for mobile devices in the Asian market (Jing). With this advancement, even the most remote of villages could gain access to a pocket-sized silver screen, potentially providing an even wider market, as demonstrated by services such as Netflix and Hulu in the West. This presents possibly the most dramatic opportunity to expand the Chinese film market; however, businesses aren’t satisfied with just delivering the product.
In late 2014, the Dalian Wanda Group made a major move to bring production into their home turf with the announcement of the “Movie Metropolis,” in Qingdao an $8.2 billion dollar venture to produce a location that would have not only twenty soundstages for production, but also a nearby resort and amusement park for the families of actors, and a potential billion dollars in annual funding for production (Verrier). Since the announcement, there have already been pledges from Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman, and Harvey Weinstein to work with the studio (China’s Film Industry). In addition, DreamWorks Studios has begun to developing movies in China, specifically setting up the Oriental DreamWorks Studio in Shanghai for the animated movie Kung Fu Panda 3 (O’Connor and Armstrong). By adding Chinese actors and shifting the production to China, there were mutual benefits to gain for both sides of the equation.
In an effort to defend the growth of domestic development, the CCP has placed strict requirements on imported films. There are a few ways for American films to enter Chinese cinemas, and due to the production restraints currently being worked around, the most prominent is the profit sharing method. Under a 2012 World Trade Organization Agreement in 2012, foreign studios are limited to 34 releases a year, with 25% of profits going to the original creators, and 75% going to various film related destinations in China (O’Connor and Armstrong). This is where the appeal of a foreign office, such as Oriental Dreamworks with Kung Fu Panda 3, comes into play. If a film can claim the status of being co-produced domestically, there is no limit on the number of films that can be released, and the revenue share goes from 25% to 43% (Jing). To be co-produced “can include having at least one scene shot in China, casting at least one Chinese actor, receiving a minimum one-third of the movie’s total investment from Chinese companies, and, in general, illustrating ‘positive Chinese elements’” (O’Connor and Armstrong).
Beyond merely making money, there is also an element of craft that both sides can improve upon with the mutual assistance of the other party. When learning to do anything, it makes sense to work with the best, and no nation has ever done film as well as America. From Charlie Chaplin to Christopher Nolan, silent films to Michael Bay, it is difficult to compare to the breadth of film available from Hollywood. For now. As more films make the jump to China, the industry is learning fast. “To support China’s burgeoning film industry, the influx of filmmaking know-how is just as important as the box office revenue from imported Hollywood films,” (O’Connor and Armstrong). Film is like any other commercial product, and no one wants to pay for low quality products. To make higher quality products, a manufacturer needs more than high quality parts, they also need to know how to put them together in a sensible manner. While China has yet to produce a filmmaker of the caliber of Akira Kurosawa, they are fertilizing the industry to yield one.
When it comes to making a product, the best way to learn is by doing. “Speaking about Southpaw, a recent film co produced with Dalian Wanda Group Corp., the Weinstein Company’s former Chief Operating Officer David Glasser stated that the Chinese ‘were on the set and involved in production, post production, marketing, everything’ because ‘they wanted to learn how we do what we do,’” (O’Connor and Armstrong). James Cameron, best known for producing some of the world’s highest grossing films such as Titanic and Avatar, made significant moves for both economics and craft. In preparation for the upcoming installments of Cameron’s Avatar franchise, Cameron’s production company, Cameron Pace Group, made a mutually beneficial arrangement with Tianjin North Film Group and Tianjin Hi-Tech Holding Group. This deal will give Chinese filmmakers will gain access and knowledge to on the use of high tech and cost effective means of 3D film production, and American filmmakers get increased access to make more money at the Chinese box office, and given the financial success of the original film, the sequel could get even bigger with incredible, and otherwise limited, market for a franchise that could very well go on to be one of the largest of all times (O’Connor and Armstrong). A sometimes small increase in revenue might seem pointless in an industry that gives out gold statues to various workers throughout the year, but filmmaking is expensive, and every additional ticket sale, particularly to a billion people, can save a film.
The return of superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger for Terminator: Genisys was expected to be a return to former box office glory following the transgressions of prior installments Terminator after the original trilogy. The box office failed to agree. During its run in the States, terminator failed to break $100 million during the summer blockbuster period, rendering is a flop (Lang). That changed when the “Governator” headed East. Once Terminator: Genysis broke into the Chinese market it nearly caught up to the entire American run in just 8 days, “clawing its way from flop territory into profitable terrain thanks to a big lift from Chinese audiences,” joining the likes of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and Pacific Rim as movies saved by the East where profitability is concerned (Lang). While the market decides what products are worthwhile, and what films are not, the additional income for movies, particularly those that might be considered risky, does allow for greater creative freedom for filmmakers who might know what they are doing, but want to experiment with something new. To put millions of dollars into an investment that might not pay off is a frightening proposition, but with the chance to double your earnings in China, the risk grows much smaller and more financially questionable endeavors can get the funding they need. While this may lead to some dud products along the way, it took questionable product attempts like the Geo Metro to produce a solid product like a Tesla or Prius; however, not all changes empower the creatives and the consumers.
China and Censorship
Among the glaring points of China’s policies regarding film is the policy that films display “positive Chinese elements.” The problem is, the SAPPRFT and their bosses in the CCP have never fully defined what they mean by the elements. America has the Motion Picture Association of America, but China has no ratings system, so all films must be considered acceptable to all audiences regardless of where it is produced (How China’s Censors Influence Hollywood). With that strict standard, SAPPRFT has never clearly defined or codified what is considered acceptable to Chinese audiences, so strange things will get caught up by the censors.
Now, with no age restrictions, some removals could be justified. For example, scenes with sexual tones from Cloud Atlas and Skyfall (Kang). Further restrictions regarding violence, nudity, and general sexual themes, have barred or altered foreign films like Brokeback Mountain, The Departed, and The Life of Pi (O’Connor and Armstrong). Regardless, these rules are sometimes sacrificed for positive Chinese elements. “The Flowers of War, a Chinese film starring Christian Bale, graphically portrayed the Nanking massacre with scenes depicting overt violent and sexual content. But because the film stoked anti-Japanese sentiment and was regarded as China’s top contender for an Oscar, it passed Chinese censors easily,” (O’Connor and Armstrong). This gives completely Chinese films a major advantage of creative liberty over their foreign counterparts, where a Chinese film would not meet such roadblocks in America, where films have a wide array of ratings with established guidelines that does not include nationality.
Some of these changes are harmless. For instance, the film Looper changed the fictional world capital from Paris to a considerably more likely Shanghai (Kang). The change didn’t alter the plot, and by bringing the underrepresented Asian community into the film, could be a net positive. Optimistically, “the Chinese-driven expansion of jobs for Asian and Asian American artists in Hollywood will trickle down to directors and screenwriters, so that Asian/American perspectives and experiences can one day coexist in multiplexes alongside ‘mainstream’ ones” (Kang). In an interesting turn, Chinese audiences have even seen concessions to appeal more to their demographic.
The prior concession mentioned for Looper was a change made to appeal to Chinese audiences more, but it is not a lone experience. Oscar nominee Gravity made a direct appeal to China by showing their space program as competent and selfless when helping the troubled American, and the inclusion of Chinese products and landmarks in Skyfall among others, and the remake of Red Dawn underwent digital editing to switch the antagonist from China to North Korea (O’Connor and Armstrong). More dramatically, the Chinese audience featured additional content compared to the rest of the world in Iron Man 3. “For the Chinese release of Iron Man 3, moviemakers inserted a scene of doctors, played by major Chinese movie stars, discussing surgery on the superhero” (How China’s Censors Influence Hollywood). While not received with particularly positive fanfare, it does represent a change in a big budget movie based around an all-American to directly appeal to the Chinese market.
Not all changes are so innocent. Some changes might be suspect, like the removal of James Bond killing a Chinese man in Skyfall or the removal of Tom Cruise walking past clothes drying on outdoor lines in Shanghai in Mission Impossible III (O’Connor and Armstrong), but still, harmless to the overall plot. Other changes are of a more fundamental sort. Even Chinese co-produced movies already approved can meet troubles on the way. Recently, the reboot of The Karate Kid was co-produced with Chinese investors. “The Karate Kid was shot with a Chinese-sanctioned script. SAPPRFT, however, still rejected the film’s initial request for distribution in China after production was complete because the villain was Chinese. The Karate Kid’s release in China was delayed and 12 minutes were removed from the film before it opened in China” (O’Connor and Armstrong). Why couldn’t that be included? Because the CCP forbids any negative portrayal or implications about China. The Party is unwilling to allow the portrayal of any Chinese person as being worse than another, and that’s just the beginning of the pro-China censorship.
A 3D re-release of Top Gun was rejected because the Chinese censors felt that the expert pilots of the MiG aircraft too openly projected American dominance. The memory-erasing devices from Men in Black 3 were removed because the censors felt it could be seen as a criticism of China’s internet censorship policies. Most extremely
the Sony production Captain Phillips was denied distribution rights in China on political grounds. The changes required to get Captain Phillips past censors would have been impossible considering the objections of China’s censors to central elements of the film. A Captain Phillips executive identified the tone of the film as a source of discomfort for censors, particularly ‘the big Military machine of the U.S. saving one U.S. citizen. China would never do the same and in no way would want to promote this idea’” (O’Connor and Armstrong).
So what? Who cares if a couple films don’t make it to China? Well, it isn’t that simple.
Because the ideas on acceptability vary so widely from censor to censor, Hollywood has no way of knowing what will make the cut, and practically every studio on the planet is hoping to make the cut into the 34 foreign films allowed into the People’s Republic. “Hollywood studios with an eye to global box office gold know they cannot ignore the Chinese market” (China’s Film Industry). With such stringent guidelines, that is a goal much easier said than done, and it is having a decidedly negative “chilling” effect on the industry which is making creatives much more hesitant to say exactly what they want for fear of not making the cut to enter China.
Filmmakers don’t want to have to make cuts. It is their film, and to let someone else alter it is to sacrifice creative ownership. Artists and producers alike want to avoid making new cuts to films not only to secure artistic vision, but also to prevent diminishing returns for the initial investment in the film. Unfortunately, “[t]he ambiguity of China’s censorship guidelines, and the Chinese government’s sensitivity to international affairs and political concerns, result in studios anticipating objections and making changes without direct pressure from SAPPRFT,” (O’Connor and Armstrong). This should be a major cause of concern for politicians around the world.
The Grand Scheme
Ideas are power, and worldwide film distribution shares a lot of ideas in a lot of different places. China’s effort to influence the world film industry shows a “concerted effort in China to move into the global entertainment and media industry to build China’s soft power [...] The cultural sector is one of the pillars of China’s Five-Year Plan, meaning the government makes an effort to support Chinese investment in entertainment [...] Aside from being good business, it is a way to protect China’s influence in the world,” (China’s Film Industry). Consider censorships, like those in Captain Phillips or in Top Gun, mentioned in the prior section.
Consider the remake of Red Dawn. The original showed a caricature of the Soviet Union, America’s great rival of the time. In the original script for the new movie, the filmmakers substituted the Soviets for the current rival superpower, China. Regardless, it is much more reasonable that China, with its seemingly limitless resources and advanced military, attack the United States than North Korea. If anything, it could be seen as a legitimate insult to Chinese capability to say that the Koreans posed more of a threat than they do, but this is the same country that won’t allow the reboot of a classic family movie unless the villain is not Chinese, and if they won’t let the United States Air Force appear to be capable of making decent pilots, they certainly wouldn’t want a campy piece of teen action portraying American youths from Colorado causing serious trouble for the People’s Army. Even if these films are harmless, there is no likely policy change on the way.
President Xi Jinpeng of China has previously affirmed Mao’s original mandate that “[Chinese] art serve politics,” (O’Connor and Armstrong). While the ruling Communist Party is more than happy to grow a new world dominating industry, it is ultimately a means of influencing and controlling the hearts and minds of the Chinese people toward the politics of the party that filters the content allowed to their cinemas. China need not be the only menace to be seen on the silver screen, but it is unreasonable to think that they never be shown as having flaws. This would not only stifle creativity but also have major impacts on how the world power is viewed. It really is ironic that Hollywood, an American institution as much as any other, once plagued by grand accusations of being the cronies of communists during the infamous Hollywood Blacklistings of the Red Scare, is now being heavily influenced, if not outright controlled, by the ideals of the Chinese Communist Party.
That doesn’t mean the States aren’t putting up a fight. It was previously mentioned in this paper that there was a 2012 agreement between the United States and China to allow more American films to enter the Chinese market, but the “Memorandum of Understanding” was more complex than simply allowing in more films into the country. This was actually an effort for China to avoid penalties from the World Trade Organization (WTO) “In April 2007, the United States brought a World Trade Organization (WTO) case against China for its restrictions on imports of films and other audiovisual and entertainment products. Two years later, a WTO panel found China’s constraints on film imports were in violation of its trading rights obligations” (O’Connor and Armstrong). Five years later, a 2012 ruling from the WTO declared that China would have to further open itself to foreign films in order to satisfy its its trade agreements, and that is not the end of the politics. “While the deal did not bring China into compliance with the WTO ruling, it did provide a temporary settlement to the dispute,” (O’Connor and Armstrong), and in 2017, the WTO will again review China’s film importation practices, and could potentially have trade regulations altered by 2018 (O’Connor and Armstrong). This could potentially force China to allow further access, likely uncensored, into the country from co-signers of the prior agreement including the United States, United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia (Jing). Maybe the situation will change for the benefit of the West before too long, but “You will not see a Chinese communist as a villain in a Hollywood big budget movie anytime soon” (China’s Film Industry).
There ain’t no business like show business, but the film industry is still having to change with the times of economic globalization. There is a lot of positive progress to be made for China, America, and the rest of the world, both artistically, and financially, but both art and money serve as means of obtaining power and influence on the global political stage. In a world trying to determine its prime superpower, both the soft power of art and the economic power of the almighty dollar and yuan are being fought for on the big screen. There may not be a single shot fired for the sake of greater ticket sales, but the ability to influence the minds of moviegoers around the world, and to buy the support of those beyond convincing is without doubt a great power to any state. While Hollywood and Beijing might be in conflict to win the box office, there is no reason that the relationship can not be mutually beneficial; however, before that can happen, China is going to need to learn to play fair.

Works Cited
“China’s Film Industry: A Blockbuster in the Making” Knowledge Wharton. University of Pennsylvania, 17 February 2016. Web. 14 April 2016.
“How China’s Censors Influence Hollywood.” NPR. NPR, 18 March 2015. Web. 14 April 2016.
Jing, Ji. “A Blockbuster Business.” Beijing Review 58.5 (2015): 14-17 Web. 14 April 2016.
Kany, Inkoo. “Hollywood's Changing Its MOvies to Appease the Chinese? Good.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Media Company, 20 March 2013. Web. 14 April 2016.
Lang, Brent. “Box Office: Chinese Crowds Lifting ‘Terminator Genisys Into Hit Territory.” Variety. Variety, 30 August 2015. Web. 14 April 2016.
O’Connor, Sean, and Nicholas Armstrong. “Directed by Hollywood, Edited by China.” U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission. U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission, 28 October 2015. Web. 14 April 2016.
Verrier, Richard. “China Offers Film Subsidies at New Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 8 October 2014. Web. 14 April 2016.
Zhitao, Ding. “Further Opening the Film Market.” Beijing Review 58.5 (2015): 2. Web. 14 April