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Cinders: A VN Game - On Madame Ghede

I'll cut to the chase....
Question: If a lone minority figure appears in an all-white environment is he or she automatically a "token"? And can this be avoided if the character in question is given a purpose and portrayed with a degree of depth and dignity?

I think I have already mentioned that Madame Ghede (alongside Sophia) is my favourite character in Cinders. She's an actual adult. She's intelligent and independent, both in thought and deed. She's capable, logical, knowledgeable and pragmatic. She survives. She's even granted an emotional and sexual past with arguably the most attractive male character in the game and she commands his loyalty and respect in the present. Lest we complain that 'alas, alack, she is not "the one" in most of the variant storylines, even Cinders is seldom characterised as anyone's one and only 'true love'. In this story, romance and romantic partnerings are not a sole index of "worth". Ghede also rejects the simplistic fairytale morality that Cinders may (or may not) overcome. Plus, she is significantly less creepy, controlling and borderline sinister as a 'fairy Godmother' when compared to her pale 'fae' counterpart ....

Nevertheless, I wasn't all that thrilled with her character design (the stereotypical 'voodoo imagery of the painted bones on her skin) which marked her as foreign, alien, exotic and 'other' and merely serves to highlight her displacement. (As an aside, I liked the first design and I would have liked the fourth design even better without the face and body paint and skulls.) Not to mention she was the only woman whose face remained masked at all times, never mind that *she* did not attend the ball. Madame Ghede is characterised by her outsider status and her discomfort. She is never comfortable in the town and is ill-at-ease; nor is she comfortable at court as Cinder's Royal Advisor. Even in the Traveller's Ending (Witch's Apprentice variant) it is still suggested that she faces persecution, albeit with a friend and companion by her side. With an expressed desire to leave town, the game also seems to suggest a woman perpetually on-the-run, rather than an independent free spirit who wanders as she may ....

Everyone else seems to 'belong' to the town, even down to the ancient Lake Fairy in a way that Ghede does not. I think that one of things that I tend to question when I'm confronted with a lone minority in an otherwise racially homogenous setting is: why are they there and to what purpose? How did they come to be there? (Is their a logical explanation for their presence other than: "for a decorative splash of diversity" or  "because the author needs them for a specific plot point"?) And why are they the *only* one of their group who is there? (If they are there, then why aren't there any others?) Even if the character is reasonably well developed and doesn't have me rolling my eyes due to thin and/or stereotypical representation, I will still tend to ask those questions.

Apparently there was an option for Ghede to have company of sorts. Check out Gracjana Zielinska's (aka as 'Vinegar')  various pre-sketches for the fairy (directly under Madame Ghede's design). As she states: "The middle sketch shows a fairy equivalent of Ghede, a dark-skinned, tribal spirit. As much as I liked the concept, I thought it was too much out of place with everything else." I rather liked the idea too - though it doesn't look particulalry 'tribal' to me, whatever that means - and given just how out-of-place and displaced a 'Southern' Madame Ghede already is in a (presumably) Europeanised setting, I don't think it an additional dark-skinned character would have turned the world upside down.  (I also say 'presumably' thanks to the French, Greek and Italian names that populate the game plus the European style architecture.) And if I'm not mistaken it looks as if the character will reappearing in Moacube's upcoming game Solstice - this time as 'Aunt' as opposed to Madame Ghede if the video short is anything to go by....

I hope they at least allow her to retain the authority of being a 'Madame'. (And whose 'Aunt', exactly, is she going to be?)

Eh ....
Still, lone character or even 'token' for the time being at least, Iike her.
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Cinders: A VN Game - Gameplay

One of the independent criticisms that I do have of Cinders relates directly to its gameplay. While I appreciate the game's attempt to offer a wide array of branching conversational options the outcomes and story paths are quite pre-determined and somewhat rigid. Despite all of the interesting conversational options on offer ultimately the player still has to replay one of 4 relatively linear story paths, recycle the same dialogue, repeat the same scenarios but ensure that they alter one or two key decisions along the way simply to collect all of the possible 'variations' of a single ending. For example, one of the possible endings is for CInders to hightail it out of town. The variations are as follow: She can go it alone, be accompanied by one of two men or by Madame Ghede. All fine and well, but who your travelling companion doesn't substantially alter the overall outcome of this storypath and the player is still obliged to follow the basic storypath template which is fixed in place.

Furthermore, every basic storypath shares overlapping cutscenes, scenarios and converstations that are locked into place and, thus, cannot be circumvented. This is nowhere more present than in the grand prelude to the ball which is always heralded by the same cold, rainless storm. We always hear the reactions of various characters and these reactions never vary. No matter what happens or who Cinders chooses to assist her for some strange reason ballroom dancing is mandatory for each and every storyline. The assistance that she chooses - Mystical Fairy Godmother or Pragmatic Voudoun-Woman - makes no discernable difference to the four main endings that are on offer. Had there been but one additional ending apiece on offer that was exclusive to each helper then perhaps it would make the choice between the two far more critical and even something of a dilemma....

At any rate, the helpers prove to be much like the single dress that she has to wear (and no, simply painting it in a different shade doesn't change the fact that it is the same dress in the same way that the 'godmothers' provide the same assistance towards the same goals) Cinders has to go the ball in order to justify the in media res approach to the narrative at the start of the story. (I still think that they could have come up with other reasons for the Capatin of the Guard to knock on the door, or in some instances change who was knocking at the door if Cinders didn't attend the ball.)

At any rate once there, she has to dance with the Prince and wax philosophically about fate OR ridicule others if the character has taken a 'darker' turn -  even if, in the end, attending the ball is completely irrelevant to most of the life decisions that are actually on offer. (Only one of the main endings - pursuing the Prince - is genuinely contingent on Cinders actually attending the ball; yet in every storypath the player is forced to attend and given no choice in the matter. Had the game allowed the player to opt out of attendance then at least this would actively demonstrate the 'freedom' that Cinders seeks far more effectively than having her talk about how freedom feels or what it signifies. Once again, show - don't tell.) I  She always ends up confronting her stepmother Carmosa and her step-sisters and lectures them as to why she succeeded where they failed or converses pleasantly and asserts her own worth, depending on her character. But conversational variation aside, the storypath is still fixed at this point.

She throws her too-tight slippers over the wall without fail. Gloria comments. And Perrault always rushes to retrieve them. There is absolutely no way to side-step or even skip this sequence of events and there is only the slim reward of slight variations in the dialogue, according to what choices you have made. 

The endings and their variations tend to be static, even anti-climactic, in terms of the graphics while the conlcusions  are a collection of  factual details rather than a satisfying well-narrated coda. While I initially liked the idea of variations across a single ending and the ability to mix-and-match them (like a jigsaw) to produce different combinations (set against storybook illustrations), I still don't think there is enough 'variety' in the process of actually attaining the variants to make the replay value worth the while. The repetitiveness is further compounded by the lack of available saving slots which forces the player to have to replay much of the same path.

Furthermore, not all storylines are are given equal weight. Ultimately Cinders is conservative insofar as it centres around a narrative of social mobility as it always has. It sidelines the traditional romance quest (but still includes it as an option) and chooses instead to centralise the domestic narrative (and its variants) as the more pragmatic vehicle for Cinders to advance in the world. But whether fairytale romance or domestic drama? Advancing remains the name of the game. Ruling the royal court or ruling the household (with the opportunity to transform it into a personal court ) are the true markers of success and are the twin axes of the game. All else is additional. The Grim Fate ending (which results in death) signifies failure while the potentially interesting option of travelling and starting anew is the perfunctory 'middle-ground' and is deliberately underexplored. While I understand the game's logic in making romance more peripheral and moving away from the Japanese otome model of visual novels, I still cannot help but wonder what a Perrault-Cinders or a Tobias-Cinders storyline and ending (be it friendship, partnership, business, romance or discord) would be like in its own right as opposed to being condensed into an ornamental 'variation' tacked on to each of the four endings? I find that I don't care if an additional sentence informs me that Cinders is mourned by Tobias, has an affair with him, or hits the road with him. I'd rather see a full and independent ending that centred around them if I played a storyline that involved a great deal of interaction between them.

Similarly, with Cinders relationship with Madame Ghede or the Lake Fairy; what if these relationships were central rather than adjunct? What would it have been like if there was the option to forego the domestic narrative, reject ruling the kingdom and have Cinders actively pursue an apprenticeship with Madame Ghede, an independent career as a medicine woman or a seek a place amongst the fae or 'little' folk - not only as an outcome but also as the central focus and part of the process of an actual storyline? On a practical level, I can see how trying to include all of these options could cause a game that already has comprehensive and detailed conversational options to spiral completely out of control and become an unmanageable, expensive, behemoth. But if it were possible, I would rather have had 6 or 8 storypaths with two variations apiece than 4 storypaths with 4 - 12 variations apiece.

One last thing: Cinders has an interesting, if flawed stats-building engine that allows the player to shape her character. Nevertheless, the game tries to avoid the typical otome pitfall of encouraging the player to mould or shape the (usually) female protagonist's personality traits (rather than say her skill-set or abilities) to attain a goal. This inadvertently projects the idea of women as malleable and somewhat manipulative insofar as they lack a solid centre and change whichever way the wind blows in order to get what they want. I appreciate that it doesn't go nearly as far as many otomo games in positing the protagonist as a ball of putty that simply reflects or mirrors the interests and tastes of which ever man she's chasing. And I don't have a problem with Prince Basile seeking an intelligent woman as a co-ruler, Tobias the merchant preferring a bolder woman or the captain of the guard preferring someone more frivolous. Preferences are fine and the game is careful to make partnering up rather secondary.

But for me, the logic of having three broad personality types for Cinders ("good", "bad", "smart") collapses in the Prince's storyline where the outcomes range from CInders being A Fair, Machiavellian, Good, or Evil Queen. The problem is that while this storyline provides Cinders with the opportunity to demonstrate that she's 'savvy' or even cunning (and thus becomes a 'Fair' or intelligent ruler) there is very little outlet in this storyline for her to be actively kind or altruistic or conversely, 'evil'. Unkind or petty? Sure? Bold or even aggressive? At times. Having a cynical outlook? Being droll and snarky at the ball? Sure. With the 'right' choices Cinders turns out to be hard or unpleasant. But in my view that's not the same thing as being machiavellian or 'evil'. Simply put there aren't enough dark choices or acts available in the pursue-the-Prince storyline that would lead to a personality capable of imprisoning people or destroying the chance for consitutional reform. Yet, it is actually the other 3 storylines (and particularly the domestic narrative) that give Cinders the chance to actually be 'dark' and machiavellian by actually committing (or trying to committ) deeds of that nature (rather than just demonstrating a cynical outlook). I would argue that there are no substantial opportunities in any storyline for Cinders to be kind or altruistic in any meaningful way unless passivity and naivety qualify as 'goodness'.....

It's even more worrying when conversational choices like declaring a blunt disinterest in being a wife and mother, having a pragmatic view of marriage, seducing a a man, or announcing her ability to control her fate (as opposed to quiescently telling her lover that she needs him to fix it) adds to her 'darker' stats and increases the likelihood of her being an 'evil' Queen (if the player is playing the Prince storyline). By contrast, bland compliance to house chores, refusing to haggle for money (despite being poor), obediently doing shopping errands, exercising little wit, openly declaring your lack of independenceand simply doing as one is told results in her being labelled a 'good' queen in a white dress. Now, one could argue that the game presents being a 'fair' or wise queen as a preferable option and that alleged goodness is somewhat problematised towards the end (since the good Queen fails to secure the love and respect of her king and usually doesn't win over her family). But it seems to me that overall the script tries to depart from traditional fairytale values but the character coding and game engine actually seems to reinforce it.....
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Cinders: A VN Game - Characters

This won't be a 'review' of Cinders, a 'VN" or Visual Novel,  that is Moacube's updated re-telling of Cinderella since I feel that both the developers and artists behind the game give a specific account of their own artistics process and, in the case of the former, conduct a detailed, fairly critical and honest post-mortem of the games successes and failures. I tried the demon and then purchased the game at half-price in late December 2012 and overall, I enjoyed Cinders. I think the game succeeds in its desire to create stylish, distinctive graphics and artwork. Cinders also succeeds in distancing its narrative from the blandness of Disney and rehabilitating the titular character by imbuing her with far more personality, nuance and psychological plausibility than the rife passivity and dull naievety that one typically encounters in traditional fairytale incarnations of Cinderella, be they of the Disney, Perrault, or Grimm variety.

I actually agree, however, with TeeGee's own frank admission that, at times, the game tries a little too hard to impress upon the player that it is a departure from the traditional narrative and the cliched passive damsel. While I have no objection to characters being introspective or reflective there are critical moments where the dialogue meanders and explicitly philosophises and moralises to the point where it lacks the very thematic subtlety or the sophistication that it aims for. An example of this is evident in the conversation between Cinderella and Prince Basil where they muse about fate versus free will. In the process, the gamer gets to review what Cinders has 'learnt' from her experience and discover what kind of protagonist they have moulded as a direct result of their prior choices. But in this instance, the dialogue is ponderous exposition rather than thoughtful or insightful - not to mention that it becomes something of a chore to have to repeatedly play through this scene in order to collect the four central endings and their requisite 'variations'. (I will say more on that, later.)  The protagonists life lessons or outlook on life did not require overt, bloated explication since these were clearly inferred by the rest of the dialogue. Instances such as these somewhat detract from the enjoyment of an otherwise solidly scripted, well-plotted game. (Compare this exchange to the amusing conversation that between Sophia and the Prince that directly precedes it; in the former conversation critical ideas are expressed through Sophia's character and style of conversation yet it all remains grounded in the personal and directly relevant to who she is, rather than wandering off into generic, abstract moralising.)

Sophia (the second 'not-so-wicked' but terribly witty step-sister) and the refreshingly pragmatic Madame Ghede are constructed as some of the most interesting, intelligent, thoughtful yet somewhat ambiguous women in the game, in my opinion. The best part about  these two characters is that while they are provided with a requisite backstory, their character is revealed through their speech, mannerisms, choices and actions. We can see who they are, thanks in a large part to the script and the plot rather than having to be told To wit, Cinders abounds with female characters who struggle against individual circumstance, luck (or lack thereof) and the restrictive dictates of their society. In the case of Cinder's individual household the women are directly pitted against one another and the player gets to examine the process of hierarchy, factionalism and in-fighting at a domestic level. The game is also a genuine departure from lazy fairytale morality as well as the equally lazy and overly moralistic dictates of much average popular fiction. Unlike the aforementioned examples Cinders does not privilege the interiority of its protagonist or elevate the primary position of its main character to the exclusion of all other characters who are then merely reduced to serving the plot and the protagonist. Instead, their histories, goals, situations and lives are permitted to exist in the story and may be unearthed and examined, irrespective of whether or not they compliment, coincide or clash with those of Cinders'.

Furthermore, while the 'Shady Character' and the 'Lakeside Fairy' are almost pantomime elements in the story rather than full 'characters' even they are permitted to argue on their own behalf and speak for themselves which is, perhaps, one of the games most notable accomplishments. Despite the fact that Cinders is the only playable character in the game the narrative is structured in such a way (including cut scenes and conversations to which she is not privy) as to ensure that not every single critical event is channelled through her solitary perspective which adds a degree of depth and breadth to the tale. One has the option of playing the character as a clueless Mary Sue or a superior special snowflake if one chooses. Yet, the opportunity for an actual bildungsroman is offered as the game constantly suggests that 'others' are imbued with worth and insinuates that they have lives and motives that are not only independent of the protagonist but that may be interesting and worth understanding. The player, as Cinders, is thus invited to emerge from a cosy solipsistic narrative trajectory and gradually arrive at a similar conclusion which, sad to say, is more than than what is asked of many so-called 'modern' heroines....

By contrast, MoaCube's head developer Tom Grochowiak (a.k.a. as 'TeeGee') is slightly less sanguine about the game's male characters who, by contrast, are less favourably presented than women. Once again, I have no disagreement with his assessment. This is not to say that men are vilified, marginalised or demeaned in anyway. (So you can shelve away any cries of 'reverse-sexism' right now.) Nor are they entirely lacking in personality or motive. But they are, overall, less fully realised and are thus less compelling to follow than the women. If anything, men tend to function in the game as broad stock-types who are representative of their respective scenarios, class and occupations (Soldier, merchant, elite prince, alcoholic wheeler-dealer.) Nevertheless, I do feel that the game genuinely attempts to give every character a set of circumstances and a dilemma that they have to adapt to.
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Further Reflection - Avalon Willow's assessment

I wasn't looking for this or thinking of writing any follow up to it but I was fortunate enough to stumble across this link in which "s. Willow' a.k.a Avalon Willow provides a much needed critical framework for examining the shortcomings of The Legend of Korra (TLoK). Avalon suggests that Korra has been effectively de-centered from her own titular narrative - hence, the lack of interest in her growth as her character.

I honestly could not have agreed more with this damning, astute, and accurate assessment.

Avalon Willow is perfectly correct.

It's her story in name only.
Korra being de-centered from her own story (while the City itself and various male characters are the stars of the show) really helps to explain why Korra and the show itself, is less-than-riveting. It is hard to maintain interest in a protagonist when even the writing around her is clearly disinterested in her examining her psyche, her emotions, her past, her hopes, her fears, her goals, her dreams, her obstacles, and watching her attain the former and overcome the latter. (Or even failing to...)

As a viewer, I never felt as if I went on a journey with Korra be it external travel or internal self-discovery. Once she arrives at her destination (Republic City) the journey for Korra pretty much ends right then there as she is relegated to being a pawn or a vessel for events. Viewers are pretty much stuck in Republic City and its tedious high speed chases for the duration of the season..

As others have complained before me,, Korra is able to conveniently air-bend precisely when the plot requires her to and for no other reason; she is simply a cog in the plot at this point. We never actually get to see or experience the process of how she arrives at this point. And forget any notion of a personal history or psychological interiority. (We catch a quick glimpse of the latter when Korra confesses that she is afraid of Amon. We even see the odd nightmare. But the show never bothers to explore this any further or allows Korra to actually come to terms with and combat her fear. Because again, it is far more interested in Republic City and the events therein rather than in Korra herself and her development as a character.) As Avalon Willow notes: she is a thread in the City's story rather than the City being a thread or an episode of her over-arching journey.

The more I think about it, the more that Willow's claim that  Korra is secondary to her own narrative makes perfect sense and explains the various short-comings with the first season. Roku and Aang, for instance, had to learn that they were destined to be the avatar and then learn how to BE the avatar. They weren't simply born into near, full power. Prior to any such revelation Roku was an easy-going, humourous fire-bender and teen who was comfortable to be bested by Ozai and at ease with playing 'second-fiddle'. Aang may have been a mischevious young air-bending prodigy and popular amongst his peers but again it wasn't immediately apparent to one-and-all that he was the avatar. Compare this to the way in which Korra's identity as the avatar is presented to us. With comedic carelessness, undue haste and without a hint of gravitas. It was cheap, obnxoious throw-away humour and incredibly lazy story-telling that took a short-cut from presenting any kind of learning process or emotional growth for Korra.

By contrast neither Roku or Aang announced themselves to world as 'the Avatar'. In keeping with tradition, this earth-shattering news had to be broken to them - ceremoniously in Roku's case; gently, in Aang's. We watched them struggle to adjust to their new identity and grow into it.
We went on a journey with them.

There is no corresponding interest in Korra's growth, however.

Apt (as opposed to inept or absent) storytelling is everything. As a result, I felt that I knew more about Roku's character, personality, his beliefs, the type of avatar that he was and how HE regarded his own role as the avatar in the space of a single episode. than I did about Korra in any of these regards across 12 tedious episodes. But then as Willow argues in her own review, it was never really about Korra or about Korra coming to terms with her role as the avatar.

This then explains why we never get to see any flashbacks of Korra in her home environment since the show seems to be hellbent on trying (and failing) to establish the blank and indistinct greyness of Republic City as a compelling and interesting world. We never see memories of Korra interacting with friends and family back home, learning any of the other elements or discovering that she has a specific block when it comes to air bending, thus necessitating her travel to the City.

We don't know if Korra had any friends her own age or what her social situation was. All we are told is the most rudimentary facts or as much as we need to know in order to make the plot function: she's the 'ready-made' Avatar (and knew that she was the avatar even as an infant), a hot-head and that she has yet to learn air-bending. But this is merely surface knowledge. Her past or any actual reflection on Korra or from Korra it is effectively sealed off from us and seems to be of no interest or real relevance to the first season.

This lack of interest in Korra also explains why the plot is so quick to jettison her air-bending quest - her spiritual quest and her personal growth - in favour of pro-bending spectacles and sinister shenanigans in the big, bad city .... In effect, the show loses interest in its titular heroine quite early on. I also don't think it's any accident that the brothers Tarlok and Amon have far more of a backstory (however ineptly told) than Korra does. It is the Yakone-Tarlok-Amon 'mystery' hence why the season is more noir than fantasy quest and why it spends more time on unravelling *their* histories and understanding the mystery behind their goals and motivations than Korra's.
We know *of* Korra but we don't really get to know her. The writing doesn't seem to have any interest in getting viewers involved with Korra or finding out who she really is. It never invites us to get close to her or to see *in* to her.

It's actually something of an indictment to realise that I have been given more insight into Katara, Sokka, Toph, Zuko, Iroh, Roku, Bumi, and even Azula, Mei and Ty Lee - for that matter - than Korra. I know where they come from, the details of their circumstances, who they are, what motivates them and how their psychology works. Irrespective of whether I 'like' these characters or not, they are not strangers to me. Heck, I probably *know* Momo and Appa far better than I do Korra.

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Thoughts on ATLOK...

This is going to be a sketchy post on "Avatar: The Legend of Korra" (heretofore referred to as 'ATLOK') since there are at least two full articles already reviewing Season 1:

They comprehensively pinpoint and analyse what I see as the various shortcomings of the first series. I don't have much else to add to what they have already said. I will, however, bring up one point that neither Kirk Hamilton or Jayd Ait-Kaci discuss which is the notion of "genre" and 'genre fidelity'. I think it would be hard to argue against the idea that "Avatar: The Legend of Aang" (ATLA) was a fantasy quest series. It had all of the hallmarks and conventions of fantasy, even while it sought to subvert and improve on some of the lazier aspects of the genre - and succeeded admirably, I might add....

I am not going to argue that ATLOK was similarly obliged to mimic its predecessor and also be a fantasy quest. If anything, ATLOK seems to be a blend of steampunk and mecha with overtones of film noir. I think the problem is that the series makes vague notions towards being a conventional fantasy quest insofar as Korra leaves her home and ventures to a new location in order to seek the knowledge that she lacks. (She wants to learn how to air bend, having mastered the other three elements.) All fine and well. This is the initial set-up of the first season. Unfortunately, however, the season doesn't see fit to follow through and execute its own originary premise, but instead abandons it three or four episodes down the track after a few half-hearted gestures on the protagonist's part towards attaining said knowledge. "Genre bending" then occurs as the season morphs into pseudo-film noir with a mystery or conspiracy to uncover, a criminal underbelly to confront, sleuthing, high speed chases, a grim city setting, slapstick humour and requisite shoot outs.

Again, I am not suggesting that it had to be one or the other. It is not uncommon for works of fiction to belong to more than one genre. But in order to be a successful hybrid, the work has to follow through on the central conventions of each genre rather than abandoning one in favour of another, only to hastily return to the genre that you had negelected in perfunctory fashion in the closing minutes of the season ....
Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko seem to be very confident and sure-footed when it comes to world-building and writing a compelling fantasy. They knew exactly how to use the often cliched conventions of fantasy such as vast and long travel followed by campfire rests to actually develop their characters. This isn't to say that there weren't any missteps with ATLA. Many critics noticed that it took the show a fair while to balance its more mature themes and sophisticated storytelling with its visual gags and slapstick jokes. But judging from what I have seen from the two series, DiMartino and Konietzko's writing is not nearly as proficient when it comes to noir.

Simply put, despite the 1920's urban setting, I never bought the idea of "Team Avatar" as a pack of young sleuths in the big bad city. And this largely comes down to the way that Korra, the protagonist of the series, is portrayed. She falls in the Harry Potter mode of 'heroism' as she has a tendency to muscle her way out of any given situation and think last, which means that viewers were consistently robbed of the hermeneutic process that is necessary to make 'sleuthing', or even a semblance of it, remotely convincing. This may not have been as much of a problem if there had been a dedicated, resident "thinker" on the team... a Hermione or a Sokka if you will to balance this out.

While Mako, Bolin and (particularly) Asami were intelligent enough, none of them could be said to actively occupy the role. Korra was the "leader" and warrior, Asami the pilot and financier, Bolin the comic relief (but with none of the nuance and depth that made Sokka transcend this bit role) and Mako ... the resident boyfriend and fellow fighter and bender? To be fair, Mako demonstrated some potential for the part when he used the fliers for an Equalist rally and pieced them together to assemble a map; he bribed a kid for information which demonstrated some street smarts and constructed a decent plan for them to rescue the hapless Bolin. But after that, his character arc pretty much devolves from being an over-serious oprhan and older brother with undue responsibility who ages before his time - to the bland apex of a tedious love-triangle all of which results in a lost opportunity for actual character development. In effect what we had were "3 benders and a rich girl" rather than a balanced team. Mako's character arc becomes incomplete and what is hinted at in him, is thrown to the wayside.

For the record, I have no objection to romance be it of the teen variety or otherwise. To repeat: very few works of fiction are solely housed in any one genre and romance is as legitmate a genre as all the rest. But I do find it problematic if romance is used as an excuse to neglect character development.

Despite the fact that the main protagonists of ATLOK are teenagers (as evidenced by the needless love-triangle between Korra-Mako-Asami) one often felt that the means by which they 'uncovered' the truth came straight out of Scooby Doo making many of the storylines less mature than those of ATLOA, nevermind that the latter was specifically marketed as a "kids" series. One prime example of this is the manner in which Korra discovers that Asami's father has villainous intent and is in league with the Equalists. How does she do this? By walking along, accidentally over-hearing him plotting on the phone and then eavesdropping of course. She predictably rushes to announce her discovery to the others. Surprise, surprise she is met with scepticism... only to be quickly vindicated by the plot, rather than ever being required to substantiate her findings with further sleuthing and hard evidence. (This is an error that she will go on to repeat towards the end of the series when she attempts to unmask Amon with no plan beyond a grand public announcement of his true identity and intentions...) Furthermore, Lin Beifong pretty much does all of the rest of the work for Korra and the team, including finding the cliched "underground-tunnel-beneath-the-mansion" which substantiates Korra's claims.

There were one too many "free" gifts when it came to uncovering information whether it was Tarlok's own assistant pointing the accusatory finger at him and screaming about his hidden abilities to the rafters ("He's a blood bender!") or all of the 'exposition' dumps that were littered across the series, violating the classic rule of "show - don't tell". These include Aang functioning as Korra's personal pensieve when convenient and Tarlok narrating his own (admittedly interesting) back story to the protagonists at length. This, as opposed to having the "team" piece the clues together then Tarlok confess and confirm their findings by filling in any missing gaps. One could argue that flashbacks were liberally used in ATLOA. And I would agree.

Nevertheless, I would also point out that Aang seeking spiritual council from Roku (and other past avatars) and learning about the past events that led up to the war actually enhanced the world-building that is necessary for fantasy, by giving the world in which they reside a coherent, fleshed-out history. In effect, it adhered to the rules of the genre and didn't provide any out-of-character moments either since meditating and connecting with the spirt world for advice had been established as Aang's 'default' mode rather early on in the series. I am sure I am not the only who was slightly sceptical when hot-headed Korra is suddenly able to sit down, meditate and connect with the spirit world under immense pressure when she had been screaming her head off only moments before. Prior to that, she had not been shown making any significant progress in terms of her spiritual quest either, hence my allusion to 'pensieves'.

Furthermore, the information that Aang acquired in his own series didn't detract from or diminish his central quest in anyway by doing the actual work for him. The central quest - namely, learning how to bend water, earth, and fire - still remained ahead of Aang, irrespective of whether he knew of Roku's friendship with Sozin or looked on in awe as Roku narrated his battle with the volcano. Information was incrementally revealed across episodes and gave viewers not only time to process what they had learned but also gain further insight into the world. This occurred without the central quest being taken *away* from the characters, robbing them of agency and positioning them as mere pawns of the plot. In addition to this, there were several instances where "Team Avatar" were required to do their own legwork and actually use their heads to figure their way out of a predicament which balanced out those episodes that relied on more direct exposition.

This balance was not achieved in ATLOK's first season.

There is also this to consider: what works in an epic fantasy or is at least passable, can be fatal for noir seeing that how one acquires information - the actual process of problem-solving and figuring things out - is much more critical to the genre. How well or how poorly this is done becomes the benchmark of whether the genre fails or succeeds. The fantasy quest of "Korra needs to find a mentor and learn how to meditate and air-bend" was displaced with a 'detective' quest whereby Korra and her friends needed to uncover Amon's true identity, figure out his motives and 'stop him in his tracks.' Frankly, I don't think the latter quest ever needed to displace the former and both quests could have been simultaneously attended to. But the focus was on the latter and it occupied centre stage.

Consequently, in the case of such a genre shift viewers really needed to see the narrative then adhere to conventions of noir. We needed more instances of Korra and the team relying on detective work, stealth and cognition, networking with the cities underground and being being "quick and clever" on their feet to figure out the 'mystery' rather than simply lucking in, muscling through or having information handed to them. But this didn't occur, which means that we simply had the decorative trappings of noir (think of Korra stating: "the jig is up") without its substance.

The show isn't anymore convincing however, when it stirs from the mists of amnesia and suddenly remembers Korra's air-bending quest which it neglects for most of the season then quickly tries to retrieve it at the last minute. Korra's debut at air-bending is fuelled by panic, fear, stress and anger (much like her fire-bending)... all of which stands in direct contradistinction to what we have been repeatedly told is the fundamental basis of air-bending. (Calmness, spirituality, clear-headedness, detachment, peace, focus, being in control of one's emotions and so forth.) If there was one form of bending that you wouldn't be able to luck/rage your way into or stumble upon? It was air-bending. Now, if she wasn't able to air-bend due to her penchant for being hyperactive and rash then why is she suddenly able to air-bend when she hasn't demonstrated any notable change in terms of temperament, skill, knowledge or ability? If anything, the show sidelines its own previously established philosophical basis for air-bending (or martial arts in general for that matter) in favour of showcasing rather grey and indistinct high-speed chases and high-tech action scenes where frankly, one chi-blocker looks like all the rest and the lightning and metal bending in the form of flying chains becomes downright repetitive. Bending not only looses its power against technology (which is understandable) but its visual distinctiveness, the latter of which isn't so wonderful from a viewer's perspective.

Furthermore I'm not sure what I, as a viewer, am supposed to deduce about Korra as a character when Amon threatens to take away Tenzin and his children's ability to airbend. Yet, Korra isn't sufficiently inspired or motivated by their plight to do anything notably different from what she always does... Nevermind that they were the first to take her in; nevermind that they are her family; nevermind that Tenzin has been nothing but good to her and a willing confidante and instructor (even though she perpetually ignores his offers on both fronts, most of the time); nevermind that they are up for public display and humiliation; nevermind that there are children involved; nevermind that they are the LAST Airbenders in the world and are the only ones left who can teach her so that she can become a fully realised avatar and fulfil her mission... Hmm. Despite all of these incredibly high stakes and having all of her abilities at the ready, none of this is able to move or agitate our Korra to suddenly airbend out of nowhere or at least think of an actual alternative solution and draw on her other bending abilities to save them.

It also speaks volumes about the depth of the bond (or lack thereof) that lies between Tenzin and Korra. (Her petulant and dismissive "not now Tenzin" when she assumes that he has come to comfort her towards the end of the last episode pretty much epitomised their dynamic.) But I suppose that stands to reason when the show sets up the premise for a mentor-student relationship but can't be bothered to sufficiently develop it by showing us how these two grow as characters, adjust to one another's contrasting personalities and fighting styles and jchooses instead to by prioritise scenes of pro-bending. One could argue that the focus on pro-bending aimed to develop her relationship with the two brothers. I wouldn't argue with that. But it doesn't explain away or excuse the fact that they neglected Tenzin and Korra's relationship and that they could have at least tried to balance the amount of attention that was given to both sets of relationships. We needed to see more interaction between Tenzin and Korra and the show needed to deliver on the quest arc and follow through on it (whether or not Korra succeeded or failed). Perhaps Tenzin and Korra's relationship will fare better in the second season, but for now it is significantly underdeveloped.

To make matters even worse, all Amon had to do was threaten the boyfriend Mako and voila - air-bending time - even though her ability to bend had been effectively sealed off. This made the feat even more implausible than it was to begin with, not to mention downright illogical. (To reiterate, the series does next-to-nothing to chart any significant progress that would suggest that Korra would be able to air bend even when she was in possession of her bending, far more when she couldn't bend at all.) Not only does this miracle simply scream "don't touch my (potential) boyfriend!" but it attempts to quickly invest their burgeoning teen romance with more emotional weight than it actually has. I think that viewers and the show deserved better than such a cheap resolution. Speaking of cheap resolutions all I'll say is: Aang was too good of a character in the last series to be functioning as a convenient deus-ex-machina for Korra in this one.

For the record, I do not "dislike" Korra as a character - if anything I rather liked the idea of the character - but I am arguing that the execution has not been the best thus far. Some of the writing has done an immense disservice to her character arc and possibly the story as a whole. I think the dilemma of her temperament and the obstacle that it represents represented in her quest was interesting and intriguing. I liked the fact that we weren't getting Aang redux, but a foil to Aang. I liked the fact that her dilemma did not seem to be rooted in any deep-seated or historical trauma but was connected to something far more prosaic - namely a quirk of personality. The girl is physically active and doesn't like to sit around and meditate. I liked the fact that she was somewhat entitled and had a touch of hubris.

But what I don't like is that these things were all presented as tantalising dilemmas but then resolved with almost mind-boggling haste. I had no problem with the idea of Korra being bested by Amon and losing her ability to bend. It was logical to the narrative arc. After all, she didn't learn how to air bend throughout the series or make learning how to do so a sufficient priority, and she perpetually feared Amon (she was downright terrified of him) and never learnt how to come to terms with or control her fear. Ergo: she cannot airbend when she needs to the most; nor can she enter the avatar state to protect herself. This would actually made sense. What doesn't make any sense at all is that despite all of this she can air bend despite a.) not learning how to b.) after being divested of her ability to bend. And it even makes less sense that she would be able to enter the avatar state, no less, after having done so little work throughout the series to connect with her spiritual side. Despite Aang's claim that Korra summoned him (which would suggest conscious agency and decision on Korra's part), Korra is as 'surprised' by his appearance as any viewer which leads one to conclude that it must have been a lucky, "unconscious" summoning on her part.

Yes, Aang sagely notes that: "When we are at our lowest, we are most open to change."

This isn't untrue. But the critical phrase is "OPEN to change". One is vulnerable but also more flexible. In effect, being at your lowest is an opportunity for transformation and growth. Being at a low point, however, isn't a 'transformation' in and of itself. The person in crisis may or may not change. It speaks of possibility. Its not supposed to be automatic or 'guaranteed'. (See ATLOA's Zuko for how this process plays out in a convincing fashion.) But in ATLOK a moment's depression and moping automatically 'changes' you and hands you everything that you have or, in Korra's case, haven't strived for on a proverbial silver platter and in an instant. I find it frustrating and jarring when a narrative goes out of its way to shield a character from the basics of simple cause-and-effect or disproportionately reward them for no discernible reason. If anything, being handed free information, 'stumbling' on how to air-bend or being freely handed back her lost bending skills along with the new ability to enter into the avatar state rather than having to actually work for any of these things does nothing to address her hubris or make the narrative emotionally and psychologically plausible. It's just weak storytelling.

And yes, I understand that ATLOK had more time constraints than ATLOA. And perhaps the fact that they were uncertain about if this was a stand-alone season might account for the rush for resolution and the desire to avoid a "downer" ending. At this point there are so few loose ends that its hard to see what's at stake in upcoming. Be that as it may, it is not particularly compelling in the end, to watch a protagonist circumvent the process of "learn and earn".

Debra hat


I've only recently started posting again, but is it just me bring happily unobservant as hell for the longest time or were there *always* ads for Asian wives and such on LJ?
Debra hat

Continued ...

My interest has also been somewhat stoked when I've read posts that are resistant to or critical of Slutwalk and the kind of rage, defensive ire and insults that the authors of dissenting posts have been been subject to which I'm going to address in my next post.To conclude, I just want to look at a few of the most common rebuttals to criticism of Slutwalk and mull these over. Most of these complaints don't come from the organisers, and originate from posters who claim to be part of the movement:

* "Slutwalk isn't a primarily young, white, middle class, hetero movement. It's racially and ethnically diverse! Many of the partcipants and organisers are, in fact, POC"

Perhaps this is true. I've read accounts of people being surprised at the diversity that they encountered on these walks. But for those of us who aren't actually *there* thing is, you'd never know it thanks to the way it is presented and usually discussed. The problem is that when you court or capture the lens of a 'mainstream' (read = white dominated) media then that select demograph, if present, always 'becomes' the representative face of the movement ... Most of the photos I've seen, whether in news media or on blogs are blindingly white, and most of the people that are photographed, intereviewed and spoken to are ... guess what? Yes, I've seen minorities milling around, usually in the background. Occasionally, some are even at the centre of photos, but this seldom happens. So why then, would you be surprised if you aren't perceived as diverse? Which brings up the question: do you actually want to be perceived as diverse, or to actually BE diverse? And no, it doesn't matter for example if you preface a blog entry by "proclaiming" how mixed and diverse it all was when your accompanying pictures look like this. And as we all know images have a greater immediacy and direct impact than  WORDS.

* "Why would it matter *if* 'Slutwalk" was primarily comprised of white middle class women? White middle class women are victims of rape too and deserve to have a voice! You're just being racist against white women!1111!"

True to the first two statements. The last just gets a dismissive laugh. No time for 101, sorry.

Yes, white middle class women can be victims of sexual violence and have a right to speak up. Yet when it comes to police negligence, disrespect and violence, like it or not, white middle class het women are  as a group *comparatively* sheltered compared to most other groups of women. And while white middle class women are also victims of sexual violence, they don't bear the primary or heaviest costs and consequences of society's sexual violence as a GROUP. They don't actually shoulder the burden of being perpetualy on the receiving end of most of that violence, and the worst of that violence. Yet, for *some* reason as a GROUP they always get the lion's share of representation and are always positioned as the representative faces, poster girls and voices that 'speak' for everyone, to the point where it is downright predictable and tiresome. Yet it's not a privilege that as a group that they appear to be working too hard to dismantle anytime soon. In these siutation, we already know that white women will receive the invitation to occupy centre stage - and we know that they never pass up these opportunities. And we know who tends to remain obscured in the shadows.

No one is contesting the right of white middle class women to organise against sexual violence, which is simply a strawman's argument. But when the the faces and voices that are predominantly seen and heard over and over again look eerily similar, then it stops looking like a 'right' and starts looking an awful lot like flat out privilege ....

* "Slutwalk is on behalf of all women! We are doing this for women EVERYWHERE!"

* Groans *

Uh no. No you're not even if you'd like to imaginatively co-opt "all" women, push them into helpless object status then nobly perch yourself upon a white horse...

It's amazing that anyone would even think that a group of protests which actually evolved as a reaction to a highly local (Toronto) and specific(cop on campus) set of circumstances, is for the benefit of *ALL* women everywhere, across the globe, even as the idea spreads, morphs and adapts as I type. Nevermind that a number of women have openly stated that they they don't feel included amongst its ranks, aren't comfortable with the idea of reclaiming the term slut or find the specific term irrelevant to their own situation, or find the methods, approach and motivation behind the protests highly problematic. But clearly, none of these women can actually speak for themselves and decide where they are positioned in relation to Slutwalk. It is for the good of ALL women damn it, like it or not because ... you say it is?

* "Sexual violence is a universal problem. We need to universally unite and face the problem which is what this movement is doing."

Yes and no to the first statement, since the variables of the violence and the form often differ across cultural group. Yes, sexual violence against women occurs across cultures, sub-groups and so forth, but that doesn't mean that you can conflate Slutwalk's highly specific approach to combatting said violence with the 'universality' of sexual violence. And I don't understand the implicit aversion to the idea of women working wherever they happen to be situated and dealing with specific situations. After all, despite all the grand rhetoric around Slutwalk universality, that's actually what happened in Toronto, isn't it? They didn't 'universally unite' to fight the good fight or rise up against heteropartriarchy any such thing. A group of women got together and dealt with a specific siutation (and insult) as they saw fit. Stop with the grand and obfuscating narratives already ...

* "Stop hating on white women for getting off their asses, organising and actually doing something to combat sexual violence. What are other women doing about it anyway? (And in case you didn't hear it before: We're working for the benefit of ALL women."

Yes. Because until the heroic advent of Slutwalk, 'other' women were idly twiddling their thumbs and no one anywhere was doing a damn thing to combat sexual violence and patriarchal attitudes towards rape victims? This also ties into the two previous claims. What I find interesting is that when various POC women around the world band together and start community initiatives, be it saving seeds in the face of  genetically engineered 'self-terminating' seeds invading the biodiversity of their food stocks; attending to unsafe working, housing or environmental conditions or, I dunno ... halting a rape culture in its tracks by getting two rebel armies to sit at the same table and talk, overthrow a dictator and get a female president elected in backward, oppressive Liberia,  "Africa"; or by playing critical roles in spearheading democratic movements in Egypt and Syria, notice how none of these groups of women grandiosely waft on about how they did it for ALL women 'everywhere', or that ALL women everywhere are benefitting from their actions (however, heroic, hard working or far-reaching their actions are)?

Nor are they big-headed enough to suggest that ALL women everywhere should be (ugh) "grateful" for their activism, or that their specific methods and strategies would apeal to or be suitable for all women. Instead, they give an account of what they did, outline their methods, tell their stories and above all presume to speak for themselves. Often, they will say that they did it for their communities, their children (or future generations), their families, or friends and neighbours. Some might even mention 'the nation' or connect their work to the work of women elsewhere. But rarely, if ever, have I seen them adopt some condescending 'savior' mantle in regards to their own activism. They don't resort to this self-glamourising, self-validating, universalising bullshit (the heroic 'everywoman' who valiantly champions ALL beknighted women everywhere) that too much of mainstream white feminism, can't seem to do without. They don't indulge in the kind of overweening hubris and CCS (centre stage syndrome) it would take to even make such a grandiose claim in the first place.

"Stop dragging race into this! This is about gender not about race!"

x sighs x POC women leave your 'race' at the door I guess which you can separate from your gender the way you separate a yolk from the rest of the egg?

"I could understand if you suggested that there was degree of white privilege in Slutwalk. But to suggest that it's underpinned by (zomg!) white supremacy? Do you know how that makes the movement look? That's irresponsible and damaging!"

This, by far, was perhaps my favorite complaint against Aura Blogando's "Slutwalk: A Stroll through White Supremacy" which I thought had a number of salient points to make. I particularly like the fact that she was so quick to identify the ideological and cognitive disjuncture that lies across different groups regarding how they perceive the police, and what the police signifies to them. A number of commentators viscerally objected to the use of the term 'white supremacy' and did not want the movement to be tarred with that undesirable brush.

Take this quote from Slutwalk Toronto in response to title of Blogando's article, for example:

Our struggle with the label of 'white supremacist' is that although we are trying to understand much more, most people in the world are not engaging in critical analyses like this and have a very different idea of what a 'white supremacist' is. This is a term that is associated with a lot of history, proactive violence and proactive silencing and exclusion of people of colour, and the active persecution of anyone who is not white. We may not be doing the best job at inclusion of people of colour but we have not actively excluded them or persecuted them. We are concerned that the label of 'white supremacist' will be taken out of the analysis offered and this will jeopardize the organizers and participants lives by the possibility of some seeing this and risking the loss of our jobs, our housing, our relationships and our safety. Labeling SlutWalk as 'white supremacist' can obscure many valid critiques about privilege and can isolate many who are new to these conversations - many who may not have the exposure or privileged access to education that can be involved in these deeper analyses.

Once again, there seems to be much anxiety over a perceived 'image' problem since for some at least, the term 'white supremacy' connotes pointy white hoods, active violence against POCs, silencing and erasure and what have you.  I think that just as there is so much ideological and congnitive disonance over what the police represent and signify to different groups of women on the basis of race, class, sexual orientation and overall life experience, I think that we also have divergent viewpoints in relation to what the words "white supremacy" mean.

As a POC, I find the idea that you *have* to have exposure or privileged access to education in order to be able to 'understand' what the term white supremacy actually means to be rather amusing. Please. White and POC children alike get a daily education in white supremacy along with their breakfast and they don't need to be sent to an ivory tower at age 18 in order to be able to get a grasp on it. Nor do you need to get a rarefied education in order to be able to recognise it for what it is.

This is my understanding of the term from a relatively young age:

White people often secretly and not-so-secretly think that they are simply bettter than 'other' people, thanks to having the most 'advanced' civilisation the world has ever known and having generously contributed more to 'mankind' than anyone else. Their systems, methods, institutions reflect the best and only way to do anything.  Their institutions are superior and smarter which everyone should automatically mimic and adopt.  And despite being a minority population on the planet they somehow speak in a 'universal' voice and are the spokespeople of all 'humanity'  - as the average Hollywood can attest to. They are born leaders, invested with innate agency and are the only ones who can act successfully or do anything right. Everything they say, think or do is World-shatteringly Important. They tend to regard themselves as in a position to speak on 'behalf' of others no matter what the situation or despite their own lack of knowledge or actual experience, and are then encouraged/enabled to do so. It's completely fitting and right that their views and voices are always privileged above all others, constantly aired and placed centre-stage all day, every day. This almost isn't even worth noticing let alone commenting on. It is simply the natural order of things and just the way that it just *happens* to go ... It's the norm, since they are the norm.

You can define 'white supremacy' as a belief without nary a melodramatic mention of whips, hoods, guns, or gas ovens? x eye roll x It's just the simple idea that white people are taught from an early age to think they are better and are thus 'naturally' the ones to lead the way or run the conversation on just about anything - which, I am pretty sure is what Blogando was referring to in regards to Slutwalk. Newsflash: 'White supremacy' as a concept is about as remarkable, extreme, and 'out there' as misogyny or sexism. (i.e. it's actually a pretty commonplace ideology that just about everyone gets indoctrinated to or comes into contact with at some point and is an integral part of society thanks to the last 600 years. The term doesn't even qualify  certainly even qualify for an arched eyebrow.)

If you don't get panic attacks when ever you hear terms like sexism or misogyny (which has historically had some pretty dire consequences) then why start chewing your finger nails whenever terms like racism or white supremacy appear?

Slutwalk may be indeed be 'white supremacist' insofar as it centres a white way or method of doing things (riot grrrl posture, emphasis on Western liberal individualism, romantic idealisation of the police) yet some of its more arrogant members claim that they are speaking and acting 'universally'. Despite who may or may not be participating in the walks, it also privileges the faces and voices of white middle class women with the clear implication that they are somehow more worthy of being seen, heard or listened to all of which falls into line, rather than resists the economy of 'exposure' as determined by a white, Western media.

ETA: tags and as usual, spelling and grammar!
Debra hat

A particular movement ...

Okay, this is going to take an unexpected turn, but I think this kind of demonstrates that activism *is* culturally informed and that there is a white way of doing things and apporaching problems that doesn't necessarily appeal to or work for everyone ...

When I was first told of the "Slutwalk" protests I shrugged, and said: "cool" and .. that was it. I didn't bother to give it much further thought. And like many other people across the internet have already written of their own reactions to their event, it seemed vaguely interesting, yet remote and distant from me and not simply because of a lack of geographical proximity. I think much of my initial ambivalence was due to the way in which the protests were presented, and my general disinterest and distrust of most mainstream media and its tendency towards sensationalism, obsessive fixation on whiteness and its love of the banal.

My initial ambivalence wasn't at all helped by the rrriot girrrrl image of the 'movement' that is pushed and promoted as the face of Slutwalk, irrespective as to how accurate this media portrayal might actually be. I thought 'gimmick'. 'Spectacle'. Edgy, daring and subversive theater with all the seductive glamour of the media lens and the male gaze. All very Lady Gaga (All that underwear'!) with just as much substance. Or perhaps it's a "Girls Run the World!" moment, a real lark. Hey, even looks like it could potentially be fun.... Yet none of this resembles anything that looks like a serious, well thought out, sustained, organised and above all mature adult movement.

I was particularly bemused by the furore of both the media and the girls/women who initiated the protests in reaction to a police officer who was deeply sexist and engaged in a loud-mouthed bout of victim blaming for rape, which apparently is ... shocking ... Because we don't live in a rape culture and the male-dominated police aren't an integral part of that culture, but somehow magically transcend it all, or at least ought to? Because apparently the police as an institution aren't a colonial settler institution designed to protect the (state) interests of the white, the wealthy and the predominantly male while perpetually criminalising, policing and terrorising all the 'non-normatives' (i.e. the "non-white", the indigneous, the non heterosexual, the non propertied and the poor  - the majority of whom also *happen* to be women) because that's their freakin' job, and they do so with the blessing of the state? No. Because they are actually there to serve and protect us all (as we were informed in primary school) save for this dreadful loud-mouthed anomaly who was let loose on campus.

This isn't to say that I condone cops cavalierly making sexist, misogynistic comments or that anyone else should. Denounciation and objection is a fitting response and I think that's what they have attempted to do. But when the police utter such statements, whether its on the side of the road to one of *those* women when no one is looking or in full view on a 'respectable' university campus, either way I can't see it as an outrageous breach of how I perceive them and the world to be in general. If anything, it is a confirmation of my understanding of who and what they are, how they work, who and what they represent. Who doesn't know that there is a culture of victim blaming amongst the police? While there are individual exceptions, as an INSTITUTION they don't have a great deal of respect for women? (Hence the notion of uh, institutional sexism.)

What's next? Being oh-so-shocked that the police are in fact deeply, deeply racist both instituionally and attitudinally? Considering there are so many instances of police disrespect and violence towards women on a daily basis why was this particular instance of disrespect deemed shocking enough to elicit and mobilise actual protests and street marches? Why does this stand as the proverbial 'last straw'? And considering some of the things that the police actually do (hello recent Oscar Grant verdict ...) is the outrage then based not so much on what was actually said but on where it was said it and to whom? (i.e. in public and on a university campus no less while directing it at a group of women (white, young, middle class and educated) who by and large ordinarily wouldn't be the "standard" audience for receiving this?)

These are just my own impressions, but as an onlooker I felt that the early, reactionary inception of Slutwalk seemed to be a rhetorical wrestling over the image of the police and an attempt to restore that image with some quick-fix ideological mending taking place. The police had the temerity to temporarily slip outside of their rhetorical identity of 'serving and protecting' and casually revealed how some of them actually think of and perceive rape victims and women in general, mindlessly repeating the prevalent fallacy that one's state of dress actually dictates sexual harrassment and violence. Enter Slutwalk in which a diverse group of women AND girls across a range of ages, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, socio-economic backgrounds, and body types hit the streets dressed as they ordinarily do in their everyday lives (be it a nun's habit, business suit, hijab, mini skirt, hot pants, or burlesque underwear) denouncing the ridiculous notion that rape has anything whatsoever to do with clothing and demanding that not only the police but that men AND women alike rethink this attitude and stop perpetrating the myth that rape and clothing have some kind of causal link ... Furthermore, by dressing in a variety of ways, as opposed to donning a saucy "slut" uniform, these girls and women challenged rather than conformed to the conventionallly heterosexist and masculine notion of what a slut looks or dresses like (i.e. in a state of undress) thus suggesting the idea that any woman can no matter HOW she is dressed/undressed, can be arbitrarily sexualised and assigned slut status

(As an aside, let me just say that in light of recent scientific 'studies', I'm surprised that no one has currently tried to conduct a study to "prove" this causal link. Or maybe they have already.)

My imaginings aside, my initial impression of what actually took place was that we had the usual suspects gracing our TV screens, whether or not they were actually the main bulk of the protestors: primarily young, mostly white, middle class and educated almost uniformly dressed in their underwear or sexy 'costumes' (thus tamely conforming to rather than complicating or critiquing the masculinist and heterosexist notion of what a 'slut' supposedly looks like) marching down to the police station for an apology of all things, rather than ... I dunno ...engaging in the hard work of actually examining and critiquing the police as a sexist institution and then mounting a challenge to the way the police work at a social, insitutional and practical level ... which might even include actually questioning if we in fact want or need them at all? Questions of whether it is even remotely logical or practical to have a predominantly male police force when most of the victims are female and most of the perpetrators are male... could also arise? But no.

Instead, there was an outraged demand that the police "not say those things" in public; that they don a respectable mask of civility and resume the 'correct' and cuddly rhetorical position of being friendly protectors and servers of the community or whatever, irrespective of whether this actually has any bearing on reality. In effect, it seems as if the initial Slutwalkers wanted the police to lie to them about the CRITICAL role that they, as police, play in upholding heteropatriarchy and the role they play in perpetuating those values. Why? So that the protestors didn't *have* to feel discomforted by the unpleasant glimpse behind the mask and could retain their illusions about the 'true' role of the police and feel safer and 'better? They wanted the police to uphold the IMAGE (as opposed to reality) of serving and protecting. Seriously, why else would you march down to the den of the beast to demand, of all things not institutional justice and fairness but request a retraction of the offending words ... Because image is everything? Who cares if the police ARE deeply, viciously sexist in practice, but heaven forbid, if they *sound* like sexists ...

Most of us, however, who fall outside the 'normative' boundaries of white middle class, het femininity don't have the sheer luxury of such an incredibly naive notion about the role of the police and hence have no shattered illusions to recoup or restore. Apparently part of the aim of the protests is for " ...Toronto Police Services to take serious steps to regain [their] trust” which is pretty telling really. They don't want to change the police at any fundamental, mind. They just want their faith in the institution comfortably restored and they can continue their starry eyed romance about the police. x blinks x

Cognitive dissonance ensues ...

The other thing that all of this indicates is the privilege one must have to be comfortable enough to rock on up towards (as opposed away from ) your local police in any guise, far less in your damn underwear. (Again, I have no aesthteic or moral objection to it. It's just not something that I think I could ever safely do or get away with, without very real consequence because I know that the police aren't even 'meant' to rhetorically pretend that they have any vested interest in protecting women like me.) Funnily enough, not only did this strike me as a college gimmick but one that neatly caters to rather than disrupts the existing male het gaze anyway ...There is very little about the imagery from these protests that I've seen that strikes me as remotely daring or genuinely transgressive. Thin, 'acceptable' white bodies in underwear and on public display? As if we're not innundated with that all day, every day. If anything, the early image of Slutwalk seemed to be working to an established rather than a subversive script.

Furthermore, I find it interesting that some people will try to deny that the form that the protest initially took  *is* in fact, culturally and racially informed. Whereas for me, even before I saw the protestors I assumed that they were white Western college girls who were probably American. (As it so happens, they're  Canadian, but still North American nevertheless. I certainly didn't expect to hear that they were a group of say, Syrian women for example.) The point is, that the way they went about protesting (including their specific use of theatre) seemed to be distinctly white and very much from that part of the world. They did it the white way which is all fine and well, but nothing about it screamed 'universal' to me and yet some will try and are trying to to claim that Slutwalk is or should be a universal approach to tackling sexual violence.

Personally, for the record, I don't approve OR disapprove of Slutwalk and for the time being at least am ambivalent, leaning towards mild interest. Despite my scepticism about the early beginnings of the protests and some of its initial ains (which I've outlined here)  it sounds as if it is gathering momentum and diversifying its ranks across class and race which could be promising ... It also sounds as if countries outside of North America are borrowing and adapting the idea to suit their specific needs. Despite the seeming narrowness and shallowness of the roots, perhaps the tree will bear fruit? I think it will be interesting to see how women with children, children, the elderly and the disabled movement re-shape and adapt the movement to suit their own purposes because let's face it: not everyone can comfortably partake in the specific visual theatre of slutwalk as it currently stands. I guess people are going to have to find their own way to protest should they choose to join in or support it.

Or perhaps not.
Failing that, they will probably continue to go about the business of doing things their way and continue to work in the movements that support and enable this. Either way, Slutwalk or no the world will turn and activism will continue.

(Part III pending)

ETA: errors and tags
Debra hat

More on movements ...

Might as well write while I'm in the mood, though I will admit to being tired. (Late night last night.)

But since I've been on the issue of movements, I've thought of another post that I should definitely be citing. Afro_Dyte (also of "Tulpa or Anne&Me" fame) wrote a post that I read not too long ago about how movements are informed and instructed by culture. I really hope she doesn't mind when I quote a line from that post:

"This is people who know what's up understanding that if we want freedom, justice, and equality for all, we have to do it the right way, not the White way."

I think the reason why that line and the entire post resonated with me is that even at a (relatively) young age, I've always felt that culture wasn't something that was decorative, surface and incidental but that it indicated the way a people moved through and existed in the world and interacted with it; it also informed how they saw it, how they saw themselves, and how they saw others and then proceeded to interact with said others. Culture informed how you saw and understood. These days I might refer to it as an 'interlocking set of epistemes' or some such nonsense, but the point is that whenever problems arose solutions and models are shaped and generated by the culture in question.

In New Zealand for example, Maori insistence that they have the right, the space and the sovereignty to come up with Maori solutions to Maori problems (be it health, education, housing, retention of te reo, land, justice or child abuse) is often met with scorn and derision by mainstream (read: Pakeha and Pakeha-identified) NZ, and branded as 'wrong' or 'separatist' and creating illusory differences that challenge the tired and disingenous rhetoric of 'one' nation. Pakeha in turn adamantly insist that one size fits all and that what works for them can, will and indeed *should* work for everyone else - especially Maori -  never mind the consistent and stunning failure of paternalisitc Pakeha initiatives for Maori is long documented.

But Pakeha, like all other white settler people are, by and large, convinced in the 'rightness of to the point where they honestly believe that rather than other people taking charge of their own lives and destinies and finding their need to change themselves and then adapt/submit to the white (i.e. 'right') way which of doing things, no matter how awful, damaging or plain ineffective it acutally proves to be. Rather than finding methods that suit you and work for you, your job as a POC is to twist and re-align yourself to someone else's methods. In effect, the only purpose that 'other' people exist for is to reify the correctness and efficacy of white governance and inevitably, supremacy. White ways rule supreme

All of which brings me to something that I probably wouldn't have wasted anytime writing on, given my initial reaction. But here goes ... (See next post)

Debra hat

A thought on colorism, pigmentocracy and grand Causes ...

This might seem like an odd re-entry into posting, but I was just perusing around live journal and came across an entry on witchsistah's lj, that chronicled her own experiences dealing with colorism in her own community.

So I just wanted to get a couple of thoughts down about colorism; namely that it is REAL and that it's the elephant in the room that we all know exists but that we are repeatedly told not to "waste" too time devoting too much attention to, because it's a 'distraction'. I guess I also want to write about it at a time where (tiresome) 'artists' like Beyonce are celebrated on the one hand, yet also analysed and dissected for possible skin bleaching or at "best" for colluding with strategic editorial lighting and lightening in order to advance her career, around a variety of blogs that I like to read.

Yet, I get so weary of dismissive and disingenuous mantras ("let's put our differences aside and fight the good fight" and the even more twee and fatuous "we're all in this together") being used to silence and elide the very real issues of pigmentocracy/colorism which run rampant across a range of POC communities, including (or perhaps, especially) in black communities.

Look: if we were indeed "all in this together" then that would go without saying and it would hardly need to be (wistfully or stridently) repeated, ad infinitum. Simply repeating a thing over and over again doesn't magically materialise it into an existing truth.

Despite attempts to trivialise it, pigmentocracy/colorism reflects a set of deeply ingrained social attitudes as it operates through every level of society. Not only does colorism actually exist in the real world (as opposed to "la la la I can't heeearrr yooouuu" land) but it actually helps to determine the very fabric of said world, thus making a nonsense of cries for unity (however heartfelt), unless colorism is truly acknowledged and combated. If anything, colorism is routinely used as a tool to divide and regiment entire societies. It effectively separates people, thus actually preventing us/them from ever being all in *this* "together". Thanks to colorism, the claim that we are 'all in this together' proves to be an imprecise and unanalytical illusion. Consequently, I fail to see how simply ignoring it or downplaying its incredibly dvisive and harmful effects is going to magically affect a shift AWAY from such a destructive paradigm.

What I find really interesting in all of this, however, is that the people who are most hurt and victimised by colorism and/or have the temerity to identify it for what it is and call it out, are the ones most likely to be blamed for "creating" a problem or instilling disunity and so forth through the mere act of identifying colorism and its negative effects. If anything, they are seen as the creators of colorism and unnecessary divisiveness. This operates in much the same way that people who identify acts of racism or racist patterns or tendencies ARE the true 'racists' and are the actual source of or perpetrators of racism, seeking to fabricate the very thing that they are opposing ... x eye roll x

I hear, for instance, perpetual claims about darker skinned, 'less attractive' women 'hating on' or being "jellus" of the success of their lighter skinned counterparts and 'dividing' up people on the basis on skin tone, because it's not as if the world at large came up with the idea in the first place and ruthlessly continues to operate along this cherished principle. Oh no. It's the darker skinned hoards who are creating the problem, or at least upholding and supporting colorism by ... mentioning it, or unduly dwelling on it ? Thus, irrational and petty personal jealousy (rather than say, long-standing systemic colorism which consistently privileges and rewards lighter skin) is the true culprit here. 'Jealousy' is creating trifling divisions in the more pressing and over arching fight against Racism (capital 'r') -  or so the 'argument' goes ...

As a result, we are all supposed to simply pretend that racism is an equal opportunity predator that both operates and impacts upon us all in an identical, universal and undifferentiated fashion. It is as if we are supposed to pretend that there is no such thing as light(er) skinned privilege, which includes tangible social, economic and employment benefits, irrespective of where we might be specifically situated in the racial 'economy' or hierarchy or whatever you want to call it. I think the one thing that I like about Hollywhite, is that it's so damn in-your-face and shamelessly blatant about it all. In all its white supremacist glory, Hollywhite acts as a concentrated microcosm that demonstrates EXACTLY how pigmentocracy plays out, time and time again. Hollywhite is so deeply colorist that even though it is steeped in "white" supremacy, even there not all white are created equal  as some are deemed just that little bit 'whiter', more representative and are thus more valued than others. (Hence, the unending and dull predilection for blondness, to the point where it qualifies as a mandatory insistence. So much so, that not even a competent white actress with *gasp* dark hair and the hint of an olive skin tone could be cast for the lead role in "The Hunger Games" - nevermind that the central protagonist Katniss, is specifically described in the novels that the film is adapted from as olive skinned and dark haired "unlike" her blonde and blue eyed mother and sister ... So deeply entrenched is Hollywood's pigmentocratic mindset, however, that  rather hire a 'swarthy' white actress with said features, they chose instead to hire a blonde actress and will proceed to spray tan, dye her hair and outfit her in contacts. This, of course, doesn't even consider the far more 'shocking' idea of casting an olive skinned, dark haired actress who might *gasp* also be a POC ...)

Needless to say if this is how the economy of 'race' works in Hollywood and in the white-dominated, western media at large then black, dark skinned women with so-called "African/black" features, who subsequently occupy the lowest rung of the ladder, aren't going to fare particularly well and are going to be discriminated against disproportionately. Having anti-racists tell these women to shut up and get on with the business of celebrating the success of a meager handful of array of lighter skinned actresses who have "made it" while instructing them to overlook (or to 'get over') the fact that these women all just coincidentally *happen* to have lighter skin and/or features and body types that white supremacy deems acceptable... achieves what exactly and for whom? (And no, feebly pointing to Oprah or a Williams sister doesn't cut it either.)

Yet colorism is to be blithely swept aside as we all hold hands to unite against the more substantial evil of Racism (capital 'r'), apparently. Naturally, I'm quite unconvinced. I don't view colorism as a peripheral side issue, or a "special interest" hobby-horse of "teh dark and bitter" which detracts attention from the "real" problem of combating racism. If anything, I think pigmentocracy lies at the heart of racism, and that it is merely racism concentrated and honed to it's logical conclusion as it takes the sheer illogic of broad-based racial categorisation and proceeds to diffuse these groups even smaller sub groups/classes and divisions that are then stratified all on the spurious basis of phenotype; and all for no other reason than to create a hierarchy that determines which beings are societally privileged  and economically rewarded, which are not and where we are all arranged along the ladder. Pigmentocracy and economic imperative go hand in hand. If race is the macro level, then colorism is the micro  ... Shockingly enough, one can lose at the macro level (race) yet still be relatively privileged at the micro level (colour/pigment) as the two systems collude in a complementary tandem.

Even worse, I would contend that the (comparative) subtlety of colorism, is far more insidious. It is far easier for colonised POCs to ingest and internalise than the more crude, rudimentary and thus identifiable structure of racism. PoCs are far more likely be complicit in colorism

The way I see it? No fruitful anti-racist stance or movement is worth a second glance if it cannot bring itself to grapple with colorism in a serious and urgent manner. And it is almost impossible to honestly examine PoC celebrities in institutions like Hollywood through the lens of race, without colorism being a critical keystone to the discussion. Attempts to shut up (or shut down) darker skinned people about the specific wages and costs of colorism which they primarily bear all in the name of effecting a racial faux-unity, are eerily akin to the types of silencing tactics that white mainstream feminism reflexively attempts to exert over its POC, LGBQTI, members, alongside those who aren't middle class, educated or 'able' bodied. Whenever any of these non-normative adjuncts try to raise issues that are directly hurting and damaging them, these 'non' issues get relegated to the proverbial back burner or dismissed as irrelevant, tangential or 'beside the point' as if it were somehow antithetical to "true" feminism to even deign to seriously consider them. It is also highly reminiscent of a range nationalist movements that have traditionally told women to agitate for national freedom first and foremost, rather than their own ...

We all know that freedom never came by being docile and meekly waiting "your turn" ... And striking partnerships with people who boldly claim kinship with you yet cannot even recognise that the issues that directly and immediately impact upon your life as 'real',  let alone as important and worthy of attention and address? Never led to anywhere good, fruitful or worthwhile. Too often, "let's set aside our differences" translates into: "let's set aside YOUR differences... and privilege mine!" The question of who is constantly expected to defer and compromise and who gets their 'issues' constantly attended to is never posed or examined. Anti-racisits who deny the existence of light-skinned privilege, who downplay its effects or claim to be 'equally' as abused by pigmentocracy are akin to white women who deny the existence of white privilege or that they benefit from it in anyway shape or form then inform their darker skinned sisters that as white women they have it just as bad. What both groups have in common is an alarming tendency to expect darker people to "put aside" (read: sublimate) their differences and concerns and mutely get on with the business of working for whatever they deem to be the 'greater cause', be it fighting the Patriarchy (capital 'p') or Racism ('capital 'r').

If colorism is seen as some peripheral and unimportant adjunct to racism by some POCs, then I'd be mighty interested to know what type of 'anti' racism they're practicing ...

These days, I tend to question Grand 'umbrella' causes and 'big tent' approaches with their narrow and often privileged focus and their totalising narratives. If any cause is 'greater' than the concerns of the various subsets of people who allegedly compose 'teh Cause', then one has to stand back and question the underlying aims and purposes of 'Teh (grand) Cause' and exactly who/m is being served here ... I am no longer interested in being a subservient foot soldier, a good little auxiliary, useful foonote or adjunct to someone else's cause. Not interested in having people tell me that their cause (in all of its narrow specificity) is "really" my cause, or worse that it is 'teh one and only Cause' (only that I don't yet know it). Disinterested in hearing that the *only* way for me to inch towards freedom is to throw my fate and my lot in with people who are oblivious to where I'm situated and then diligently proceed to work for them while they behave as if reciprocity towards any of my problems that they just don't happen to share, is a foreign concept ... Not interested in being somebody's resource to harness and utilise at will and then set down and ignored when expedient. Just not interested in any of it whether its coming from white feminism being astoundingly ignorant in oh-so- many ways, black nationalism being chauvanist, heterosexist and reeking of male privilege, or any brand of anti-racism that downplays the effect of colorism and that demands a uniform silence and solidarity from its darker members ...

Just as my feminism *must* include an intersectionality with anti-racism and LBGQTI rights and modes of analysis, an anti-racism that hastily glosses over colorism and pigmentocracy is less than useless to me.

As time goes on, I don't believe that allegiances to sizeable and 'notable' organisations or to self-proclaimed 'grand' causes is obligatory in the least, anymore than it's necessary to live right in the city centre to be at the heart of where it is "truly" happening. I think it is too easy to get blind-sided by the size or publicity of a movement, neither of which is a measure of true effectiveness. I am more convinced that more often than not people do best to toil in smaller, 'obscure', grass roots and organisations. They are better off working wherever they are situated and whereever they feel that those things that are most pressing to them are being directly dealt with while simultaneously reaching out and uniting with other groups when it is useful and necessary to do so. There are lots of different ways to do anti-racism, pro-LBGTQI rights, feminism and do them in a way that is satisfying. There is no 'one size fits all', despite what the biggest, loudest and most mainstream part of a movement might claim. Find a way or ways that suit/s you and work from there.

Above all allies are partners and equals who do for each other. Unequal servitude without so much as an answering reciprocity has no place in any real alliance, yet this is something that happens all too often within the structure of grand causes - and even anti-racism as a larger, over-arching movement is not immune from this. True movements, however, cannot afford to work along the logic of Hollywhite with its shining stars at the center and its supporting cast, dutifully relegated to the background. 

Added a link to Witchsistah's (friend-protected) post which inspired my spiel :)  Also to fix the inevitable errors ...