morgan_dhu: (Default)

OK, I have finally seen Iron Man, and while there was certainly lots of cool comic book geekery and a pretty, if superficial message about greedy corporate merchants of death, I'm tempted to suggest that the movie should be subtitled "A white American hero's adventures in the land of swarthy threatening people."

There are a lot of swarthy threatening people in this movie. They seem to be living in caves somewhere in Afghanistan, and have international connections that allow them to obtain weapons from the afore mentioned greedy corporate merchants of death (specifically, our wastrel hero's business partner at Stark Industries, the biggest and sexiest purveyor of weapons of almost mass destruction around). I guess that means that they are Taliban fighters, or maybe Al-Queda, even though they seem to be a gang who use ten rings as a symbol, and there's some throwaway lines about them being nasty swarthy people from all over the world, not just from Muslim countries. Hey, maybe they're some of the warlords, who were well known for terrorising the people... oops, no I forgot, the remaining warlords are good guys now that they're in Karzai's government.

Basically, the point I'm trying to make here is that the situation in Afghanistan, the real country, is very complex, and pretending it's as simple as frightened villagers, swarthy frightening terrorists and noble heroic American soldiers really does a massive disservice to a tragic situation.

Anyway, whoever they are, the villains kidnap our soon-to-be great white hero Tony Stark who is in Afghanistan showing off his latest weapon of not quite mass destruction to the American army, who he wants to sell it to. And here's where the movie really annoyed me.

Because here is where we meet Yinsin, a character who apparently was East Asian in the comic books but who is portrayed as Central Asian and Muslim in the movie. In this relatively short sequence, we learn that Yinsin really has no plotline of his own. He is Tony Stark's fellow prisoner so that he can save Tony's life, help Tony communicate with his kidnappers, assist Tony in his escape (note to some extent it is Yinsin's method of preserving Tony's life that gives Tony the idea for the super-powered suit), and then nobly and courageously sacrifices his life for Tony, surviving just long enough to assuage Tony's fleeting moments of guilt by assuring Tony that he always knew the escape attempt would end in his death, and he was willing to do that, because Tony is a great man and all Yinsin wants to do is rejoin his family in Paradise.

Now I may be wrong, but doesn't Yinsin seem an awful lot like the Muslim cousin of the Magical Negro?

And I know that this movie has been praised for its stand against the arms trade, but I found myself thinking that for a movie that purports to be about how war is evil, it was very convenient for the conscience of the Western audience that it was only the nasty men hiding out in those caves who used weapons against helpless civilian villagers, and not, as has been the case far too often, the Western forces currently in Afghanistan.

So, yeah, the action sequences were cool and there's nothing like watching two CGI
Transformers fighting it out in the streets of LA, and the noble sacrifice of Yinsin made it possible for Robert Downey Jr. to skillfully portray Tony Stark's character development into a post-modern superhero with flaws and a suspect past as well as a conscience and a desire to do right (permit me, though, to express some doubts as to whether working with a shadowy organ of the American government that calls itself Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division is going to do the world as a whole all that much good).

But despite the frothy geeky goodness, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

morgan_dhu: (Default)

OK, we all know that a huge swath of popular culture is in reality a massive slough of despond when it comes to racial, ethnic, religious, gender and other kinds of stereotyping. In fact, sometimes it seems as though the mainstay of much popular culture is poor and/or lazy conceptualisation, design, art and writing that depends on stereotyping of one sort or another to communicate its message.

But seeing as how all sorts of people who are regularly stereotyped have been watching, analysing and complaining about this sort of thing for a very long time now, you’d think that somewhere along the line, the folks who create this kind of stuff might have toned it down just a little.

Well, you’d be thinking wrong.

First, there’s this mindboggling plotline in a children’s cartoon based on the Legion of Superheroes, in which a prospective new member is made to prove his worthiness to join the Legion by doing all the other superheroes’ laundry. Apparently it did not enter the writers’ minds that this might be a touch inappropriate, considering that the prospective member is an Asian character.

Wanna join our society as a full member with equal rights and priviliges? Maybe, sometime in the future – but for now, just shut up and do our laundry.

Then there’s the clothiers Abercrombie and Fitch, which in 2002* released a line of designer T-shirts sporting offensive caricatures of Asians:
One has a slogan that says, "Wong Brothers Laundry Service -- Two Wongs Can Make It White." Beside the prominent lettering are two smiling figures in conical hats harking back to 1900s popular-culture depictions of Chinese men.
More laundry. How original.

And then there’s the advertising for an international fast-food take-out and delivery chain that features a happy black family sitting down to partake of their featured fare. Just one bite, and the main character can’t help himself – he just has to jump up and start singing and dancing about how much he loves Kentucky Fried Chicken. (I have no link for this, but if you’re in Canada and watch English-language TV, I’m sure you’ve seen it.)

So, what have you seen lately in the realm of blatant in-your-face offensive stereotyping?

*I originally thought this was a recent product, becasue I do not always notice dates, but [personal profile] jenwritespointed out that this occurred in 2002. No matter when they did it, it's still some weird racist stereotyping shit.

morgan_dhu: (Default)

A couple of weeks ago, I was up late at night reading and sort of listening to/watching the news in the background, as I often do, and because I live in Canada, the channel I was watching was a Canadian 24-hour news channel.

And one of the big stories that night was about the release of the Council of Europe's report confirming that the US has used extraordinary rendition to transfer prisoners captured Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries to secret prison camps in Europe, including in Romania and Poland, where they were held and tortured. The World Socialist Web Site quotes the report as follows:
“What was previously just a set of allegations is now proven,” the report began. Providing a portrait of lawlessness on an international scale, it noted, “Large numbers of people have been abducted from various locations across the world and transferred to countries where they have been persecuted and where it is known that torture is common practice. Others have been held in arbitrary detention, without any precise charges leveled against them and without any judicial oversight—denied the possibility of defending themselves. Still others have simply disappeared for indefinite periods and have been held in secret prisons, including in member states of the Council of Europe, the existence and operations of which have been concealed ever since.”
Now you might think that what I'm about to rant about would be the secret prisons, but I'm not. I've already done that elsewhere.

No, I'm going to talk about what I saw when, just out of curiosity, I turned the channel to look at the seven or eight other 24-hour news channels I get via my superduper cable package. Now surprisingly, the European channels including the Beeb, were giving appropriate coverage to the report. Even though, because it was about three in the morning when I was doing this, it was already, quite literally, yesterday's news on that side of the Atlantic.

But what do you think I found on all but one of the US 24-hour news channels?

If you guessed Paris Hilton and her emotional, medical, personal and legal woes, you are 100 percent correct. (Incidentally, I forget what the other US "news" channel was covering, but it wasn't news, not even American news.)

Just to be fair, I switched back a couple of times during the night, looking for anything - even a crawl at the bottom of the screen - that suggested this story was getting any significant degree of coverage.

Didn't find a thing. The whole night long, there was nothing on the US news but Paris Hilton and a few other pseudo-news stories about celebrities, sensationalised crimes, or both.

Interestingly enough, a few days later, [ profile] glaurung_quena pointed me here to Making Light, the blog of Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and a comment made there by PNH about Paris Hilton as news distraction. And that blog (going, oddly, full circle) refers to an article here at the World Socialist Web Site about "why Paris Hilton."

Now, I really do wonder, why Paris Hilton? Or any of the rest of what all too often seems to pass a journalism, particularly on the US media that I can access on cable (which also includes all the main US broadcast networks and their newsmagazines, plus local news from the actual affiliate stations I'm getting the network news on).

I'm not saying that Canadian news, or what little international news based in Europe that I can access, doesn't have its share of sensationalism, puffery, silliness, and plain crap. But I do not believe I'm being biased when I say that there's less of it. And that the slant is different - for instance, many of the Canadian news stories I've seen about Paris Hilton were framed as stories about the nature of the coverage that the story was receiving, so that there was at least some attempt at social commentary in among the pointless tripe. But it does seem to me that, at least via the medium of television, the American people are not getting nearly as much news content as seems to be available through Canadian and European television.

And I do wonder why. It surely doesn't have anything to do with comprehension - I'm quite convinced that the average American is just as capable of understanding a nuanced geopolitical assessment of a news event as anyone else on the planet. The American news media seem to be saying that this kind of "infotainment," however, is what Americans want, because this is what they will watch and hence this is what the advertisers want to pay for because this is what Americans want to watch, and I'm sure we've gotten into some kind of circular reasoning here... and I really don't know if that's true or not. But for whatever reason, there really doesn't seem to be a lot of news - or at least what I am accustomed to thinking of as news - on the US TV that I have access to.

And the fact remains, that unless I want to perform a little, totally unscientific experiment like the one I've just described, the only US news organs I know of that carry anything like the kind of news coverage, analysis and commentary that I can get all over the place in Canada are The Daily Show and The Colbert Report - and even those, I watch on Canadian channels. ;-)

morgan_dhu: (Default)

I think I start to understand how many Americans must feel watching their news media.

This week, the CBC newsmagazine program the fifth estate is airing a report on the state of the American media from a Canadain news perspective. The report is called Sticks and Stones, and is described thusly by the network: The United States is in the midst of a very un-civil war. It's a war of words that's pitting conservative against liberal, that's already divided the country into red and blue. The new gladiators are commentators like Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter and their forum is the television studios of networks like Fox. It's loud, it's raucous, but does it have anything to do with the truth?

Some of the material covered was familiar to me from my faithful viewing of the only U.S. "news programming" my ex-pat American partner will allow on the T.V. in his presence, Jon Stewart's The Daily Show.

What brought it all home to me was an interview with American right-wing pundit Ann Coulter. The reporter, CBC journalist Bob McKeown (who has also worked for U.S. networks CBS and NBC), initiated a discussion about her on-air comments concerning Canada spoken on an American T.V. newsmagazine program Hannity and Colmes: they need us...they are lucky we don't roll over one night and crush them....they are lucky we allow them to exist on the same continent.

Part of Coulter's response was a lecture on how Canada had been such a stalwart ally of the U.S. until now, and that our disloyalty (in declining to join the U.S. illegal invasion of Iraq, not that she described it in those words) is fair justification for anti-Canadian sentiment. To bolster her argument, she listed all of the wars Canada had supposedly "supported" the U.S. in, beginning with WWII (how could we have supported U.S. involvement when we were there several years before the U.S., supporting Britain?), Korea (we were there as part of a U.N. action, not as support for the U.S.) and Vietnam.

McKeown politely informed Coulter that Canada had not sent military forces to Vietnam. She told him that it had. He replied that no, we really had not been involved in Vietnam. She insisted that he was wrong, and said that she would send him the proof after the interview was completed. He basically shrugged and moved on. Of course, McKeown noted following that segment of the report that neither Coulter nor her staff ever got back to the CBC with their supposed proof - and that Canada had not sent troops to Vietnam.

But it hit hard. If this woman could take part in an interview for a Canadian audience and shamelessly insist that she was right and the Canadian reporter (who is actually of an age to remember the war, having been a pro football player in the early 70s) correcting her about his own country is wrong... then she could lie to anyone about anything.

But I guess that's really not so remarkable after all. It's just a shock to see it, rather than hear or read about it.

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