June 15, 2014

What's the Big Deal?

I do theatre.

I've been paid to be on stage a couple times, but otherwise it's strictly amateur stuff.  I grew up in a place that had a ridiculous amount of artistic talent floating around - a smallish island with loads of active artists and retired (or semi-retired) performers from every field you could imagine: actors and techies from Hollywood to the London stage; singers of all stripes; writers of scripts or poems or novels; painters, sculptors, designers...

What I'm saying is, it was tough NOT to get infected with an artistic appreciation if you were even the slightest bit conscious.  Which made it a very interesting place to be, even if I did eventually have to leave because we couldn't afford to live there any more.  It took me a while in my new location to see who was around and get back into theatre, because one of the many lovely features working in unskilled labour jobs is that the hours are going to be A) shit and B) random.  If you can't be reliable, there's no point in auditioning.

Fortunately (?) after the usual run of jobs and getting fired from as many as I quit (monkey wages = monkey work, kids!  I don't swallow shit you don't pay me to eat!) I decided to see if the problem was the employers or the employee, so started my own locksmith shop a couple years back.  Meaning I could basically pick my own hours, meaning I could get back into doing a show a year.  In Winter, at least: Summer's when the tourists lock themselves out of their cars or lose their keys in the lake, and at this point money still comes first.

So I've been thinking about why I love to do theatre so much.  I've done a fair amount of technical stuff, but am pretty much on stage exclusively now.  Less time to help in other areas, so I've got to be a bit greedy.  But why  do I have to be 'greedy'?  Why the compulsion to go on stage at all?  I've thought about it for a few years, and this is as clear as my thoughts have gotten (actual clarity of thoughts transmitted to writing not guaranteed):

I owe it.

As pretentious as it sounds, it's also true.  I'm a nerd, have been all my life, and see no real opportunity (or, for that mater, reason) to change in the near future.  What cultural stigma was attached to being a nerd was eased by living in a small town - in a larger population, I may well have found a clique to fall in with; but no matter how odd, vulgar, rich, etc. you were, you were still known as 'you' first and foremost.  Which is pretty damn cool.

That being said, there was simply less  there - and by less I mean less of everything: fewer opportunities to bump your life against people who are radically different; fewer chances to argue with concepts you disagree with; fewer cultures to mock, or admire, or lose yourself in (or all three).  Less to compare and to contrast and to steal from.  Just... less.  Now, add that to the social awkwardness and general inability to make friends that nerds (especially early-teen ones) are prone to and, well, it's an introvert's dream, but perhaps not the healthiest option.

In theatre, I could explore not only different ideas and try to understand other people, but I could explore those parts of myself I might not otherwise have even thought of.  Everyone does this sooner or later, but discovering who you are is when you can start finding out who you can be, and frankly the sooner you can do that the better for everyone around you.

There is very little in life more pathetic (in every sense) than a mid-life crisis.  I mean, it's good that you're examining your life and all, but what the hell took you so long?  I digress.

But here's the other thing about theatre, and it's absolutely vital: there is no room for cowards.

Now, I'm not saying you don't have fear - for some people that kicks in as soon as they hear auditions are happening right up to their entry line.  But that's just fear of failure, perfectly normal stuff which means you're actually doing things with witnesses.  That's something that can (and does) happen everywhere and can be dealt with however you want to.

But what you can't be, is you can't be afraid when you're in front of an audience.  Or you will fail.  And there is exactly one defense against that: be someone else.  The more you are that other person, the more complete the armour is, and the better you will be.  You can't think: "this person would behave this way" when you're on stage, because that means you are on stage trying to pull strings and it shows.  You have to know who the character you are to portray is before you ever get near a performance.  This will force you to think about people who aren't like you, with ideas and lives that aren't yours.  Which means you will find out who you are.

Which is what theatre did, and does, for me.

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posted by Erin Butler at 9:00 pm 0 comments

May 29, 2014

Fear and the Single Man

We all know the advertising maxim: Sex Sells.

There's a reason why sex sells, and that's because it has a primal appeal to all of us.  Many other things sell for exactly the same reason: comfort, ownership, and stability are all pieces of the life everyone wants, consciously or otherwise.  Even the most adventurous of us want to have a base level we can return to, though what that level is varies from person to person and experience to experience - I like taking risks (starting my own business, for instance) but could only convince myself to do so because I have a fantastically stable home life and brilliant Partner-in-Crime to take those risks with.  Peer pressure is based on exactly those comforts - having friends who accept you, being part of a community with at least one shared value (Canucks fans HOLLA!) to communicate with, that sort of thing.

Fear also sells very well, but that fear is of one of having your stability taken from you: friends who no longer accept you; your home or comforts taken away; suddenly living among people who don't share your values.  What looks like fear is actually selling stability: essentially blandness, predictability, and normality.

Even hierarchical commercials showing some incredibly conceited asshole at the so-called top of the social food chain isn't selling wealth or attainment so much as selling stability: if you're at the top, you get comfort.  Even if you can't tolerate your family enough to look at them, at least they're there, right?

What many people miss is that the messages are not necessarily aimed at, or received by, who you think.  For instance, do you actually think that anyone who lives in that asshole's house drives a Cadillac?  Or one that can afford to buy their wife a car as a surprise gift would get her a Volkswagen Jetta and expect her to be happy about it?  No, of course not.  The idea is to give people who would drive a Cadillac or Volkswagen the idea that it's what people already at that level of comfort - much higher than the actual target audience - would do.  The message is aspirational: people who have 'succeeded' do this, so if you do this it means you too have succeeded.

Sell the idea first, then your target will want the product.

This is the basis of the NRAs advertising, and has been for years, including this season's spectacularly fearsome and explicit commercial released a month ago.  It's got the usual fearmongering boilerplate that's to be expected ("Bad people are doing bad things!  And NO ONE PAYS!!!") but the more interesting paragraph (to me) is the second:

Where the gates to success swing open for hypocrites. chameleons, bullies, and yes men.

So... how exactly are guns going to help with that?

The aren't, of course, as anyone sane would acknowledge.  But the meaning is implicit: guns could help with that.  Guns can help save you from those evil people who are holding you back.  Your success is being kept from you by a secret - or not-so-secret - cabal of "hypocrites, chameleons, bullies, and yes men".

If you aren't familiar with the term "entitlement", this is it in its purest form.  The idea that you are owed  'success', and if you don't have it then something is wrong with the world around you: someone, somewhere, is keeping you down.  The problem is NOT you, and (more importantly) there is NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT, so you'd better get a gun.

Where is we find Santa Barbara shooter/stabber/psycho Elliot Rogers and the so-called Pick Up Artist community.

I don't say "psycho" lightly, here: he had serious mental problems, and one of the issues was he was a psychopath: he had a history of anti-social and amoral behaviour as well as acting out violently, combined (as is easily seen in his rambling, poorly-thought-out manifesto) a self-justified hatred of women.  These are not normal or acceptable behaviours, and bending definitions to avoid saying a word isn't doing anyone any favours.  He had been seeing therapists since he was nine years old, and had a visit by police who were sent to him by his mother after she was disturbed by a video he had posted on line only weeks before his rampage.

Rogers was so far up his own ass that he could have given his polyps names.  He fell into one of the most common traps of teenage boys the world over: he thought he was a nice guy, and that combined with his horniness meant he should have had sex with whatever girl he wanted.  He was polite, and kind, and sweet, and all that sort of crap so why didn't girls liiiiiiike him?

Okay, I'm just going to stop there because it's WAY too familiar for so many of us.  What I wrote in 2008 in reply to one commenter still applies today, so if you want to see my own version of "suck it up, buttercup" it's back there.

So if this is standard nerd-fare through adolescence (and has been for... well, ever as far as I can tell), why talk about those oh-so-studly guys in the Pick Up Artist crowd?  He's obviously not one of them, or he'd be way more successful with the ladies, amirite?

Sure, in much the same way owning a gun makes you a superhero.  In exactly the same way, in fact: both groups rely heavily on fear of inadequacy to convince others to pay them.

In the Pick Up Artist World(tm), the guys who actually have women interested in them are horrible: they treat women badly, never care about them, are all fabulously wealthy meatheads who don't actually deserve women.  They insist that these are the only guys women are ever attracted to, and they are the Alpha Males.  Any guy who doesn't get women because they're nice (and yes, it's because  they are 'nice') are Beta Males.

Stop laughing!  They're serious!

In any case, the folks who target young men with these insecurities (insecurities which they fully encourage to foster and grow) then promise a 'cure' by selling them magical rituals to help overcome their own Beta-ness and, more importantly, get revenge on women who turned them down in the first place by having sex with skanks.

Think I'm kidding about that last bit?  I'm paraphrasing slightly, but not by as much as I'd like to: women are regularly referenced as 'targets', 'marks', 'scores'... anything other than actual humans.  Plus, of course, they are all lumped together as a single homogeneous mass: 'typical women' is a very common refrain, though occasionally spiced up with the term 'American' or 'Western' thrown in the middle.  That alone should give you a clue where this inevitably is heading:

Women in nations with strong human rights are far worse than ones in nations that limit those rights.

The lack of self-awareness run spectacularly deep: any woman who has had sex is essentially worthless except as a fuck-toy, while at the same time the objective of these self-same Pick Up Artists and their acolytes is to have sex with as many women as they can.  Highest score wins, boys!  Yes, it's the ages-old Maddona/Whore complex back for the latest generation of men who refuse to read history.  Want an encapsulating quote?  Here you go!

Until you give men like Rodger a way to have sex, either by encouraging him to learn game, seek out a Thai wife, or engage in legalized prostitution—three things that the American media and cultural elite venomously attack, it’s inevitable for another massacre to occur. Even game itself, as useful as it is on a individual level, is a band-aid fix upon a culture which has stopped rewarding nice guys while encouraging female whoring to benefit only the top 10% of alpha males, all in the name of societal progress.

Hope you didn't think I was kidding.  Apparently it's not occurred to this spectacular idiot that there may be something wrong with "Give us sex or we'll kill you" as a working social philosophy.

Rogers references the language of the Pick Up Artist crowd repeatedly in his rants (video and written), and it's clearly something he believed, and those rants are filled with his fear and anger at being considered a lesser person by exactly those people who created the language and social structure he was referencing.  Any guesses who else encourages this style of thinking?  A big ol' hint can be had in his own words:

After I picked up the handgun, I brought it back to my room and felt a new sense of power. I was now armed. Who's the alpha male now, bitches? I thought to myself, regarding all of the girls who've looked down on me in the past.

Yeah.  Any guesses what group has fought hard to avoid or nullify any regulation that would have prevented that gun from getting into Rodger's hands?  Hint: it's the same one who believes "Everyone should have guns" is better than "Some people shouldn't have guns".

No cheating, now!

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posted by Erin Butler at 4:47 pm 0 comments

March 22, 2014

Know What's Funny?

You've probably seen them: the shirts in banner ads reading

"D.A.D.D.
Dads Against Daughters Dating
Shoot the first one, and word will spread!"

It gets a bit less humourous when you see someone who did just that.  Heck, it's not like it hasn't happened before, plus who knows how many times in fiction!  More disappointing than the shooting are the people - almost exclusively men - who leap to defend the choice those two men made.  Heat of the moment, arguments preceeded the shootings, the girls were to young, etc.  The guys who are jumping into the argument aren't intimately involved with either case, and they have some emotional distance.  So what about the arguments are they making?

The first is obvious; the second I would certainly hope was the case; the third is the most telling.  In the latest case, she was 16 and her boyfriend 17.  Depends on who you are, of course: some think so, others don't.  But more importantly is the idea that her dad is 'protecting' her.

Protecting her from what?

North America as a whole has a wee bit of a problem with the issue of sexuality: a big chunk of that is going to have come from how the nations were founded.  Roman Catholic stricture or Protestant Puritan censure is hardly going to lead to the hedonistic freedoms you might think.  There was some leavening in the mix provided by the folks who were here at the time, but the indigenous tribes were pretty much culturally steamrolled within a century (though echoes remain).

"What was she wearing" is still a common question in the public forums even after it had been expressly banned in rape cases.  Think that's not all about controlling women's sexuality?  Fair enough, it could  indeed be about something else, but it'll be kind of difficult to explain how priorities can be screwed up enough that hundreds of thousands of rape kits can go untested.

If they are there, why do they go untested?  The kits were used - the incredibly invasive prodecure was done, and samples were collected.  But a decision somewhere along the way was made to put the budgets into other fields, leaving a massive backlog of the best tools we have to catch rapists - a crime that has one of the highest levels of mulitples (same perpetrator repeats the same crime) of any violent criminal activity.

Why?

There are excuses, but there is a reason why those excuses are thought to be acceptable, and it isn't often mentioned.  Or mentioned at all that I've ever seen.

Embarrassment.

The idea - the myth - is that men are responsible for women's sexuality.  Men have cast themselves in the role of the Protectors of Innocence and Virtue (or at least of Nookie).  That a woman could  be raped is seen as a failure to somehow guard them and it leads to two responses: either foot/budget shuffling and looking anywhere else, or sudden hyper-vigilantism.  Both are highly visible, and neither is the response of someone willing to accept responsibility.

That the foot shuffling is being pointed out now is a good thing: blaming the woman for getting raped has finally gotten some pushback in recent years with laws limiting past history being used in court cases, and "she was there, so she must have wanted it" becoming less and less acceptable, making you wonder why it ever was...

But there has been less condemnation of the hyper-vigilantism than there should be.  Some of the most extreme variants have been mocked, and deservedly so: seriously, if "Purity Balls" where the father pledges to take responsibilty for his daughter's virginity doesn't creep you the hell out, I don't want to know what does.

Outside the obvious, though, there are other sides to these defenders-o'-the-gates that isn't as explicitly stated.  On March 25th, the Supreme Court is going to hear from widespread tchotchke specialists Hobby Lobby.  You've heard about that case, I'm sure: they are owned by religious fundamentalists who don't want to be forced to pay for employees abortions, right?

Close.

They actually don't want any of their female employees to get any birth control or women's specialist clinic visits at all.  Not "we don't want to pay for it"; they're saying "we don't want them to have it".  There are four specific types of birth control the owners of Hobby Lobby want no part of because of their belief they athey are actually causing abortions by stopping fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb, which seems straightforward enough.  After all, if the US government can reach a comprimise with Catholic owned and run institutions then a business shouldn't be a problem: just have the female employees sign the same piece of paper saying that those will be paid for by the insurance company rather than the employer.

Except, no.

The clauses Hobby Lobby (and co-plaintiff Conestoga Wood Specialties) wants to be exempted from include clinic visits, education, and counseling.  They do not want those methods of birth control even mentioned during any doctor visits because then they would be 'morally liable' for the woman's decisions.

To be clear: penis pumps, implants, and boner pills are covered in many medical plans (including federal ones like Medicare and the Affordable Care Act) without background checks, marital status conditions, or employer's say-so.  The ONLY reason for that discrepancy and obvious hypocracy is that men are men and women aren't.

Women who want sex are evil.  Wanton.  Reckless.  And clearly, they have to be forced into 'good' (celibate) behaviour for their own protection.  The same line of reasoning is repeatedly applied to sex education in schools or sex on in movies: Save the Children (and Women)!

Again, save them from what?

What's being protested against isn't promiscuity; though some few of the more honest complainers will say so, they simply don't know any better.  What is being protested is the possibility that women can be responsible for their own sexuality without men's help.  That women may not need a bodyguard for their bodies, and would frankly rather be left to make their decisions about who's doing what to them (and when) all on their own.

Oh, and the case of the dad who killed Johran McCormick because his daughter snuck him into her room that night?  There's religious precedent for the father's act... but he killed the wrong person:

Deuteronomy 22: 20-21 - If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.

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posted by Erin Butler at 3:23 pm 2 comments