Saturday, January 31, 2009

Racism, Cultural Appropriation, and Writing The 'Other'.

I'm copying this straight from my private blog (with minor edits), because it's an interesting subject, and up until recently I was ignorant unaware of the magnitude of the debate surrounding racism, white privilege, and specifically how it all ties into what authors - novice or pro, fanfiction or original - write and create. I don't pretend to have had a lot of personal experience with cultural appropriation, which is why I thought I'd open this up for all to read.


I know I said I have nothing to say, and I still mostly don't, but there's a debate that's been raging for some time on teh intrawebz that I've somehow managed to only barely see. Until yesterday.

I have my opinions, of course, but I don't think it would add anything to the whole situation if I stated them at the moment. Opinions are completely personal and subjective and neither right nor wrong (though they may be mis- or uninformed), so I'll just leave that alone.

But I wanted to post this for any of you who haven't read anything about the Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of DOOM, a.k.a. RaceFail 2009 posts/conversations/debates/flame wars/dialogues that have been taking place on LiveJournal, here at Blogger, and all over the place. (There are also an intimidating list of links to various offshoots of the discussions in Rydra-Wong's LJ. CoffeeAndInk's journal is worth a look, too.) And I'm interested in your thoughts. Liberal White Guilt (and white privilege - that link is a very interesting primer for the completely uninitiated) has always been a sort of hard-to-pin-down subject for me, NOT because I don't realize it exists and is very real, but because I can never quite verbalize how I feel or what I mean (which may very well be the point, actually), but you guys are all very intelligent, educated, open-minded people, so I'm curious about what you think.

Is it ever okay for someone to write the Other? Where does the issue of cultural appropriation begin and end? Is it okay for a white male author to give his character a Person of Colour's voice and feel justified in saying he got it right? Is it understandable for PoCs to be offended by that attitude? (Neil Gaiman is an example I could use here; he has written black protagonists, and I never heard about any fallout from it, but then, he has never played the "I nailed it!" race card.) If someone "fully-abled" was to write a story about someone like me - someone who has certain disabilities - would I be offended by their assumption that they know what life is like for me? Can that comparison even be made? Are these things offensive in the reverse? (As in, if a black female author writes a white male character, or a gay man writes a straight woman [i.e. Chuck Palahniuk - he does so in every book he's written, and IMO he does it exceptionally well], or a disabled person writes an "average" and "able" character...are these things fair game, too, for being considered possibly ignorant and hurtful? Or is it just the white privilege that causes such a furor?) Is it perhaps less about what's written and more about the attitude that sometimes accompanies it?

Do straight white people have to be more careful than other societal groups? Are apologies owed for things people never realized before?

Is everyone, no matter how much they deny it to themselves and others, racist??

Courtesy of LJ user Emiweebee via my friend C., I'll give you a good place to start, for those who are interested in discussing this very delicate and complex issue. All I ask (and I doubt I even need to, with you lot) is that we all remain respectful and open-minded with one another.

Start here.

Tell me what you think. Comments here are wide open, though anything I deem deliberately offensive or hurtful will be deleted without warning. I'm just interested to hear as many civilized points of view on the subject as possible.

Disclaimer: The links and the journals of the above-mentioned people do not necessarily reflect my opinions on some, any or all of the issues being discussed. I'm not promoting anyone's agenda, nor am I singling them out as scapegoats; I'm simply choosing LJs/blogs that contain worthwhile links which can help show the big picture of what's been going on, back and forth. The only person mentioned in this entry with whom I am associated - and who I adore! - is my friend C. I can't vouch for anyone else or what is in their posts. Just wanted to clarify that.

(The above image links to another appropriation issue, involving Native rights and respect for their culture.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A rather unique list from Nerve.Com ...

You know how much I love lists. And I've been told how much you guys love having them so you can avoid doing actual work. I know, I know - I should wait to post this until tomorrow, so it can be used and abused on a Monday morning. But I have to be up at the crack of hell myself (and I don't get 'net access in my office, thankyouverymuch), so we'll have to get an early start on this one.

I stumbled across it quite by accident while signing up for a pledge to blog about an influential woman on March 24th (an entry about that is forthcoming), and while reading the short story that inspired "Secretary", one of my favourite movies. (That, too, probably merits its own entry. Or, possibly, a fundraiser to pay for the psychotherapy I clearly need.) It's a top 40 list of pop culture icons, all of whom we know but many of whom we've completely forgotten.

Click the photo to go to the complete list (I shan't be lifting ALL of it from Nerve.Com), but first have a taste of some highlights:

We've all been there. You're yukking it up at a party and someone cracks a one-liner about Kato Kaelin over their gin and tonic. A few people chuckle, a few more ask, "Who?" and you quietly wonder: what the hell happened to that guy? Nerve's got your answer with our exhaustively researched look at the forty greatest lost icons in pop-culture history. Come on in and catch up with the walking ephemera everyone's only mostly forgotten.

I don't know that I've ever been to a party where the guests are bourgeois enough to make Kato Kaelin jokes, but..sure. I've no doubt attended a few during which at least some of the remaining 39 "lost icons" have come up, and I imagine some of you have been at those shindigs right next to me. Hell, you might've been the one making the obscure cracks yourself!

Never in a million years would I have dreamed that some intrepid journalist would track down, for our information and to satiate our Need To Know, a whole whack of Barker's Beauties from The Price Is Right. Complete with video, no less! Maybe YOU could sleep at night without knowing, but not all of us are so fortunate.

One of my favourites is the update on Michael Fay, the American kid who...well, just read this:

Michael Fay was your average American teenager: hyperactive, bored, prone to defacing property. In the early 1990s, he touched off a geopolitical firestorm when Singapore officials sentenced him to six canings for vandalizing cars and stealing street signs. The punishment so shocked Western sensibilities, President Bill Clinton himself asked for clemency, succeeding only in reducing the sentence to four canings. So it was that on May 4, 1994, Fay was stripped naked, bent over on his arms, strapped to a trestle, and struck with a half-inch rattan rod. Fay has largely disappeared from the public eye since, surfacing here and there for assorted petty crimes: reckless driving, possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, and sniffing butane (which he blamed on the Singapore ordeal). Four strokes clearly wasn't enough.

Remember him?? I wonder how long it took before he could sit down again.

And has it ever occurred to you to wonder whatever became of the baby who famously appeared on the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind album?? I bet it hasn't, but I know you're curious now. You've just gotta click to find out where Jessica Hahn and Joey Buttafuoco ended up. And the "Where's the beef?" lady. It's compelling stuff. Hard-hitting. Christiane Amanpour should watch her back.


Whoever it is, I love them.

Enjoy your end-of-the-weekend dose of brain candy, my friends. Or save it for your dreary Monday morning. Either way, don't say I never gave you anything.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Travolta's son the hands of L. Ron?

I've been quite sick for the past week, so you'd think I'd have had my TV on a lot. Not so. In fact, it was my mother who told me last night that John Travolta's eldest son, Jett, had been found dead earlier that day in their vacation home in the Bahamas.

You have to know my first thought was, "Ah, yes. The Scientologists. Bet he was sick and they opted not to treat him."

Initially, though, it looked like a freak accident - the boy had a seizure and hit his head in the bathtub. It's terrible. The kid was only 16. So, for a fleeting moment, I felt sympathy for his parents.

And then I got online.

Let's go back a bit, to when I first saw this utterly psycho video of Tom Cruise, which was yanked from YouTube almost instantly, but Gawker.Com has bravely hosted it ever since, despite countless legal threats.

I remember thinking, as I watched it and gaped at the insanity before me, that I wondered how the hell John Travolta - who I believe is an even higher-ranking member of the Church - had managed to keep a relatively sane profile to the masses. Now, of course, I figure he just has better handlers, because apparently there's been a war raging over his son Jett for the last 14 years. Why? Well, Jett was, by all accounts other than those of his parents, autistic, but to declare that would be to admit that he was a "Degraded Being", in Scientology-speak. So instead they blamed carpet cleansing agents used in his childhood bedroom for giving him Kawasaki's Disease (a very, very rare autoimmune illness that usually resolves itself by the age of 8). Because at least then they wouldn't have to deal with that whole "OH NOES PSYCHIATRY IS TEH EEEEEVILLLL!!1one!" issue.

(Was that glib of me?)

Now I'm reading articles about how Jett was nonverbal (confirmation links will be posted when I find a solid backing for this) and required 24/7 care. First of all, that would explain that whole "Travolta Caught Kissing His M Nanny" debacle...

Well, okay, no. It doesn't explain that. But it explains why they had a caretaker for their kids, which had puzzled me a bit, since their youngest is 9 and Kelly Preston has publicly stated that she's set aside acting to be a hands-on mom.

So they have this guy on the payroll to watch over Jett, whose alleged autism has never been treated (much to the outrage of Travolta's own brother) and who has shown some sort of seizure disorder in his life. This man was, apparently, the one to find Jett dead in the bathroom on Friday morning. Which wouldn't be strange, necessarily...

...except for the 12-hour gap between the last time Jett was seen and the time his caretaker bothered to check on him.

The kid goes into the bathroom and doesn't come out...but nobody wonders? And nobody heard him fall??


Still, all of this could be blamed on bad parenting or a series of bad choices or...whatever. But I remembered reading about the much-ballyhooed father of Scientology and the death of his son, so I wandered over to Wikipedia to check the guy out.

There's a whole lot to read, my friends. Like his weird relationship with Aleister Crowley (whose name has long been associated, rightly or not, with the Church of Satan), his involvement with "sex magick rituals", his bigamy, and the beating and torture of his wives and children.

Heck of a guy!

But here is what is specifically said about his son:

In March 1952, Hubbard moved to Phoenix, Arizona. Hubbard started the Scientology religion while he was living in Phoenix. In mid-1952, Hubbard expanded Dianetics into an "applied religious philosophy" which he called Scientology. That year, Hubbard also married his third wife, Mary Sue Whipp, to whom he remained married until his death (though separated by the early 70s, when Mary Sue was incarcerated for her involvement in Operation Snow White). With Mary Sue, Hubbard fathered four more children — Diana, Quentin, Suzette and Arthur — over the next six years.

Quentin Hubbard, born in 1954, was groomed to one day replace him as head of the Scientology organization. Quentin was uninterested in his father's plans and had preferred to become a pilot. He was also deeply depressed, allegedly because he was homosexual. Quentin attempted suicide in 1974, then in 1976 died under circumstances that might have been suicide or murder.

My point, I guess, is that people who keep saying (and yes, they're already saying it - blogs the world over are alight with the debate) the church couldn't possibly have anything to do with Jett's tragic death should look at the source. It's NOT an organization that has a history of taking care of children, and the man whose books they live by and who they worship and want to emulate is a scary bloody figurehead, indeed.

ETA: Courtesy of a kind user over on IMDb, we can throw another log onto the "Hubbard hated kids" fire; apparently he started running into trouble with the law over his brutality and insanity 50 years ago. (I find it darkly amusing that "Dianetics" was called a new brand of psychology.)

ETA II: Another rather disturbing link. Here's a report from an ex-Scientology church member explaining what Scientology will do to handle Jett Travolta's death.

I wonder when the tireless defenders of the "church" will add it all up. You would think, if nothing else, that evidence of Travolta flying to a Celebrity Scientology Centre before bothering to claim his son's body might raise a few eyebrows. (Who knew you could track down someone's private plane and flightplan online? WILL WONDERS NEVER CEASE??)

The fact remains that we'll never know what really happened. The moneymen have surely begun to spin this tale into oblivion. Latest reports confirm that Jett will be cremated in the Bahamas; they're not even going to wait to return home (even though Johnny boy has already flown there once; nothing suspicious there at ALL).

It's so sad that the children of these people have lost their lives because of these bizarre cult rules. Jett was a "Degraded Being"? For being born autistic?? The only thing "degraded" here is the IQ of anyone who'd let their families suffer because a sci-fi whack job wrote a lousy book.

For more scary reading, I'd recommend Xenu.Net. And I wonder how long it'll be before I get the C&D order to remove this blog post. Bets, anyone?