Circular Logic (aka, Let’s Blame the Feminists for Gaming Sexism)

So recently my morning started off in fantastic fashion as one of my friends on Facebook shared a forum post by Merlynn132 which blamed feminists for the issues with female representation in video games (click on the picture for the full-sized image):

Now admittedly, I actually found this guy’s points to be quite interesting at first glance and there may actually be some kernels of wisdom in here. However, the more I thought about the points that he was actually making, the more I realized that his argument is fundamentally flawed and falls apart under just a little scrutiny. So you know what time it is then, good reader: it’s time for yet another I Choose to Stand feminism post!

One big disclaimer before we move on though. I get the distinct feeling that Merlyn132 is directing some of these criticism specifically towards Anita Sarkeesian, but unfortunately its context has been removed to make it “shareable”. Admittedly, I haven’t looked into Sarkeesian’s criticisms myself, although I have found some of her examples to be at least somewhat suspect. If this post is intended to be a direct response to specific criticisms that Sarkeesian has made, then that’s fair enough (I would still disagree with its ultimate conclusion, but I could at least get behind some of its points). However, the tone and body of the post is written in such a way that it ends up being directed at feminism in general, which makes it fair game for a general response as far as I’m concerned. The lack of overall context for the post is unfortunate, so be sure to keep that in mind as the reality of the original post may somehow be shifted if we could see the whole conversation it was a part of.

As usual with this kind of criticism, Merlynn132’s first problem seems to be a lack of understanding of what feminists are actually campaigning for. His critique opens up with a statement that female characters aren’t allowed to have negative traits or feminists will cry out “sexism”. This could actually be the case with Sarkeesian based on some of the examples that I have heard her use for Feminist Frequency, but even that could be a misunderstanding of her intent when using these examples. As I have written previously, these examples are likely not intended to be blanket moratoriums, but rather ways to make writers make more deliberate choices when they write characters and to avoid lazy stereotypes (such as objectification, sexual violence for shock value or the desire to “fridge” a female character to give the male lead a motivation). An example of this in action would be the Tomb Raider games. Critics (not just including feminists) complained for a long time about how ridiculous Lara Croft’s boobs were, for good reason. However, they also praised Lara Croft for being a great character, in spite of the game constantly sexualizing her. Consequently, when Crystal Dynamics rebooted the Tomb Raider series, their much more realistically-proportioned Lara Croft was praised as she was still a very interesting character with a much less garish visual design to go along with it. Despite what Merlynn132 would suggest, this actually earned Crystal Dynamics two separate purchases of the game from me (not to mention that I’m eagerly anticipating the end of the Xbox One’s exclusivity deal on Rise of the Tomb Raider, whereas before I wouldn’t have even looked twice at a Tomb Raider game). All of this is comes down to Crystal Dynamics deciding to listen to their critics and making a better product for it.

Let’s tackle Merlynn132’s assertion directly though, that women can’t have a negative trait or it will be deemed sexism. Merlynn132’s own examples are less-interested in physical traits and more in reference to their character, so we’ll leave objectification out of this. I’ll address his second example first because it is just flat out wrong. He claims that women aren’t allowed to be mentally unhinged as they walk across a hellish battlefield, but this is just not true. Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider reboot is made far more interesting as she feels remorse as she is forced to kill for the first time (although the gameplay-narrative dissonance in this aspect is annoying admittedly). I also just replayed Metal Gear Solid for my upcoming retrospective series, and found Meryl Silverburgh’s admission that killing for the first time made her not want to be a soldier anymore to be a fantastic character moment. If anything, I find it offensive that more men aren’t given this sort of treatment, as most big shooters just force you to stupidly mow down hundreds of enemies like a psychopath (with the Uncharted series being one of the most egregious offenders in this regard).

The first example that Merlynn132 gives is that men are allowed to be lecherous drunks, but women are not, because “sexism”. “Sexualizing women and what all” as he puts it. This is an example that I can actually see possibly happening, but the context of the character is probably the most important part in whether it will be accepted or not. Does her character start and stop at “lecherous drunk”, or does she have some actual depth? Are they a main character? Or are they background dressing that exists just to give the player something to ogle at? Such considerations make all the difference in this sort of situation, as there is no quick-and-easy answer. It’s also worth pointing out that there’s a contextual difference as well, since men are rarely sexualized in video games whereas women are quite frequently. Since it’s so prevalent for women to be reduced to sex objects, it can come across as very lazy if you put in a lecherous drunk background character unless you’re being very deliberate when doing so. Think of it this way: if I made a white character who loves watermelon and picks cotton, it would be fine. However, if that character was instead black, it would obviously be ridiculously offensive. This is because meanings change based on the contexts that they are placed within, so you have to be aware when you’re falling into a stereotype and, if you are aware, you have to have good reason for doing so.

Merlynn132’s third example revolves around a theoretical situation where Guybrush Threepwood is replaced with a female protagonist in Escape From Monkey Island. He is convinced that “Galwood” would never be allowed because she would be a cowardly, weak and socially awkward character hated by everyone around her. Personally, I’m not entirely convinced that this would cause a feminist uproar or even be considered sexist for that matter (depending on how the game handles these elements in a female context, as I said before). For one thing, this sort of character actually sounds rather interesting and would fit into the very different sort of characterization which feminist critics have been asking for for ages. I can’t be the only one who thinks that this description fits Amanda Ripley, the extremely well-received heroine of Alien: Isolation, right? Ripley is a strong, positive female character, not because she is a Markus Fenix-style meathead, but rather because she is absolutely terrified, avoids confrontation as much as possible and just tries to stay alive by being resourceful.

Secondly, Escape From Monkey Island was just a poor example for Merlynn132 to use for this argument. The main thrust of Merlynn132’s overall argument is that feminists are actually being sexist, and by being sexist they are making female-led games economically unviable. Using the Monkey Island games to support this idea is very strange to me as they are hardly a mega-selling franchise. In fact, the Monkey Island games have far more in common with the modern day indie-game scene where female-led games are far more common and interesting than in the AAA blockbuster space. I can’t even remember the last time that we had a proper adventure game, although Quantic Dream and Telltale-style narrative adventures seem to be the closest analogue… and what do you know, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Beyond: Two Souls and Until Dawn all tend to have pretty solid, flawed and interesting female characters without causing a feminist uproar.

The third, and probably most ridiculous, aspect of the argument is in regards to Merlynn132’s conclusion. Basically, they believe that feminists force female characters into a very specific mold, which makes female characters boring, which doesn’t sell, which is why we don’t have female characters leading our games. This is just so obviously bullshit that I shouldn’t really have to explain why… but will, naturally. The games market would be boring if there were more female-led games? Seriously? The market has ALWAYS been dominated by male characters, many of whom are the exact same macho-fantasy repackaged over and over again (Contra, every Call of Duty ever, Gears of War, Booker in Bioshock Infinite as the generic/requisite action game hero, etc). Despite featuring the same stereotypical leads over and over again, they still continue to sell and are often some of the highest-selling games of the year. It’s not feminists’ fault that female-led games are in the minority, it’s because publishers believe that their teenage male target demographic won’t play unless they offer them a male fantasy.

Just to look into this claim a little further, I decided to check the list of best selling video games of all time. I was actually surprised to discover that most of these games feature no distinct characters at all, either being 100% gameplay-based (Tetris) or 100% player determinant (Minecraft). Only three franchises dominate the list. Mario has the most entries, with 8 games selling over 15 million copies each. I think you’d be hard pressed to say that Mario has a personality that is anything other than boring, not to mention that the franchise formulas of his various franchises have been nearly the exact same for well over 20 years now. Call of Duty comes in second with 7 games selling over 15 million copies. The franchise is notorious for featuring paper-thin characters, iterating very lightly from game-to-game and for its macho-fantasy, male-dominated plots. While I, along with many others, would definitely argue that this franchise has gotten extremely tired in the last few years, the fact that the series still continues to sell is proof enough to me that the claim that “boring” female characters are the reason why they don’t get any representation is bullshit. The third highest-selling franchise is Grand Theft Auto with 5 games, and it’s a bit of an oddity since these games actually are known for their interesting characters and writing. However, I have a strong feeling that this is not the main reason why these games have had so much success, but rather that their core gameplay is extremely appealing. If this is truly the case, then the picture that these three franchises and the characterless mega-sellers paints for me is that characters are not a major factor in determining the success of a game, but rather fun gameplay. As a result, whether or not a “feminist conspiracy” caused female characters to end up being a bunch of bland copies, it shouldn’t matter because we already have a bunch of bland male copies running around and raking in the cash. Of course, if the actual argument being made is that “real gamers” don’t want to buy games with female protagonists, then at least be honest…

As I said in the opening paragraphs, I don’t really know the exact circumstances that prompted Merlynn132’s original post, but I kind of wish that I could understand where his perspective is drawn from. Is he directly responding to arguments made my Sarkeesian? As I have hopefully shown, his arguments will still end up being incorrect in the end, but if Sarkeesian’s arguments are just as flawed then that might make a difference in the way that this is all handled. Or perhaps Merlynn132 just misunderstands the whole point of feminism, having equated feminism with the opinions of its more extreme or unlearned factions, or worse, with the gigantic strawman feminist which is so often evoked in these sorts of rebuttals. In all honesty though, I’m glad that I came across this post. While I think that the overall argument is extremely flawed, it is quite interesting and is a good reminder that feminists could actually hurt their own cause sometimes with their critiques. I hope that Merlynn132 is open to this sort of critique, as I think that both sides in this debate could learn things from one another and hopefully come to a point where we can understand one another.

Review Misuse

Critical reviews are an endless source of discussion in popular culture. On the one hand, they offer a useful tool to sort through content and get a general idea of whether the product will appeal to you. On the other hand though, people often bristle at review scores and find themselves in a sharp divide between critical opinion and public perception. TotalBiscuit recently put out a pretty good video highlighting the disconnect between reviewers and the general public after the latest debacle regarding review scores of the Mad Max video game. In case you don’t feel like watching/listening to a 40 minute video, TotalBiscuit basically says that reviewers and the public have differing opinions on what constitutes value, that the public tends to value familiarity over innovation and that the public puts too much stock into review scores rather than the content of reviews themselves. While I liked the video, I think that TotalBiscuit waffled a little too much and didn’t really dig hard enough into the issues at hand for my tastes.

First off, I will agree 100% that people (particularly video gamers in my experience) put way too much emphasis into review scores. This is generally where the most ridiculous controversies spring from, such as the numerous occasions where reviewers have received death threats for giving games a glowing 9/10 review. This is due in part to some members of the gaming media’s really poorly skewed scoring system, which has messed with gamers’ expectations of what score a game should receive. I can’t be the only one who has noticed that many video game reviewers tend to score games very “softly”, giving almost every major release an 8 or a 9, with one or two huge releases typically getting 10s. For many gamers, this has created the expectation that games scoring lower than a 8 are unacceptable, even though the scale itself has been incredibly devalued and uninformative (and even then, they have a hard time accepting an 8 for a hyped, triple-A release).

In spite of its problems, I actually rather like the 10-point review scale (or its various gradients, such as the 100-point scale). As a bit of a stats geek, I like the idea of being able to quantify my feelings towards a piece of media through a simple system like this. This is the whole reason that I signed up for an IMDb account more than a decade ago and have been tracking every movie I’ve seen ever since. Obviously it’s still not perfect – “so bad they’re good” movies such as Troll 2 get a low rating for quality but I find them endlessly enjoyable. Other movies just may be super generic or very flawed, but I like them quite a bit anyway (such as Howling V).

That said, I don’t find websites like Metacritic to be very helpful*. Metacritic prioritizes review scores over the content of the reviews themselves, effectively making anything but that final score worthless. This also becomes problematic when different reviewers use differing review scales – since many game reviewers are “soft” these days, the few that actually do use the full spectrum of the 10-point scale can knock a game’s Metacritic score down and cause an uproar. This becomes even more distressing though, because publishers have been known to hand out bonuses to developers for hitting score-thresholds on Metacritic. How about this publishers: if you want the game to hit a score-threshold on Metacritic, then maybe give your developers more time to polish the game and don’t hold them to a hard-and-fast release deadline? Or worse, what are the odds that the desire for high review scores and sales stifles creativity by stifling innovation?

Another element that I thought that TotalBiscuit missed the mark on was the disconnect between critics and the public. He was acting like he thought critics were on a totally different wavelength from the rest of us. Personally, I think this stems from a misunderstanding of the purpose of critics. In essence, a critic is someone who has studied, and consumes, a lot of media and therefore has an informed opinion on whether individual media is worth consuming, which they pass on to the public as a form of service. Having seen a wider variety of good and bad content than most consumers, a critic tends to be better able to judge the quality of a piece of art. That said, it must always be remembered that a critic is just a professional giver of opinions – even the best critic will find themselves at odds with other critics and/or the public at times and it isn’t unheard of for peoples’ opinions to change over time. The critic’s own preferences can also affect the review process – it’s pretty common for horror movies to get mixed to negative reviews, even if they’re well-regarded amongst fans of the genre.

The disconnect comes from a couple elements of the differences between critics and consumers. Many consumers will have a very limited scope of the media – they may only watch summer blockbusters, or only play first person shooters, or not have a lot of interest in the finer points of a genre outside of whether they enjoyed it or not. As a result, reviews might not even be that big a factor in their purchase, but rather a badge of pride that something they like is considered “good”. These will often be the consumers most vocally hostile towards critics as, from their perspective, critics are held in high regard but do not line up with their understanding of media. This is related to arguably my favourite post on this blog, Translating Ideology, where I explored the gulfs that form between people with different world views. It’s a strange dichotomy – they may personally dislike critics for disagreeing with their perspectives, but still hold their opinions as authoritative and somehow able to diminish their media. Consumers in this mindset need to keep into perspective that, in the end, critics are just putting out their opinions.

Perhaps this prods at a deeper area of resentment though – the old hatred of “snobby intellectuals” versus the uneducated “everyman” who knows what is actually good and what isn’t (this is what Conservapedia would refer to as “the best of the public”, and you know it has to be great if Conservapedia endorses it…). I wouldn’t be surprised if there is an element of this in complaints about snobby critics, where the consumer is literally too unlearned on the subject to understand the critic’s perspective. Bear in mind that this isn’t to say that the consumer is wrong to enjoy whatever media they want to, but it is worth understanding that the divergence between critics and consumers comes down to a wide variety of personal experiences, not simply because “critics like innovation, consumers like what’s familiar” as TotalBiscuit boils it down to.

Wrapping things up, I think that we need to keep a few things about reviews in mind in the future. First of all, don’t put all your faith in review scores, but be sure to read the full reviews to see if you agree with their analysis. Secondly, understand that a “low” review score can still be great – I really enjoyed Lollipop Chainsaw and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, both relatively low-scoring games which I feel deserved their lower score for technical/design reasons, but which were still well worth playing. I myself gave Alien Isolation a 6/10 on this blog, but enjoyed it for the most part and would recommend trying it. Lastly, keep in mind that the opinion of a critic is just that – an opinion. If you have different experiences than they do, then you may disagree and that’s totally fine. Don’t let it diminish your own feelings towards a piece of media.

*That said, I actually quite like Rotten Tomatoes’ system. Instead of just averaging the differing scales of a handful of critics, Rotten Tomatoes measures from the number of critics who “liked” and “disliked” the movie and then gives it a “fresh” rating if more than 60% of critics liked it. It’s a much better aggregate system in my opinion and tends to be my personal source for information on a movie’s reception.

Quick Fix: James Bond Will Return…

Way back in my very first post on this blog, I wrote up a short article about how Skyfall killed the “James Bond is a code name” fan theory and basically destroyed any chance of seeing Idris Elba as Bond without breaking with the newly established canon. However, with the Spectre trailer releasing yesterday, it seems like an appropriate time for me to lay down the speculation I have had to legitimize both sides of this argument and make way for far more inclusivity in the Bond franchise from here onward.

Since they very rarely brought up any sense of continuity, the previous James Bond films were able to get away with their changing actors and tones with little suspension of disbelief required. This is where the code name theory came from – each “James Bond” was simply filling in a code name when they were promoted to the position of 007. This theory made a lot of sense and, up until Skyfall, it looked like the most reasonable way to explain why we could have the same M in the Brosnan era and the “origin story” Casino Royale. However, Skyfall unexpectedly grounded the current 007 in a very specific place and time and established pretty conclusively that this Bond actually is named “James Bond”. It’s pretty well known that Daniel Craig is contracted for 1 more James Bond film after Spectre, but after that whoever follows up him is going to have to figure out some way to keep the narrative intact (while simultaneously having some pretty big shoes to fill in). However, I think that there is a perfect solution that should be pretty easy to incorporate into Bond 25 which will make the series so much more interesting in the future.

If I was in charge of writing Bond 25, I would have the film end with Craig-era Bond dying. Yes, for real, especially because this is a fate that has been foreshadowed throughout his tenure, and would fit his arc pretty well (or, if we can’t have him die, then at least have him fake it for good). As a result, M declares that from this point forward, all agents with the 007 rank will be known by the code name “James Bond”, in honour of their greatest fallen agent. It could even end with the next James Bond being introduced if they have them cast by then, similar to what they did with Ralph Fiennes’ M.

This proposed ending would be perfect for a number of reasons. First of all, it would shake up the series quite a bit and probably break the Internet if they kept it secret. Secondly, it would keep the character development that has been built up throughout the Craig era intact, while also paving the way for future James Bond films to do something different. Thirdly, making the code name theory official opens up the Bond series to so many possibilities. There have been rumblings about casting Idris Elba as Craig’s follow-up for years, and serious discussions have been brought forth even within Sony Pictures. Having Bond’s character rooted in a very specific person kind of ruins this possibility, and you know that if they went forward with it then there’d be lots of asshats saying that Bond is white and therefore can’t be played by a black man. However, if this development went forward and the code name theory became canon, then I imagine that significantly more people would be accepting of non-traditional Bond portrayals. Suddenly, it wouldn’t feel out of character for the new Bond to be non-white, or asexual, or less serious… hell, we might even see a female Bond someday if this were implemented. The possibilities are endless, and I’m going to be absolutely grieved if EON productions don’t go forward with this proposed ending. It just seems to perfect to me and sets up Bond’s future to go forward indefinitely.

Quick Fix: Don’t Panic

I can be pretty negative around here at times. Cynicism seems to be the rule of the day in politics (“the nation is losing its founding values!!!”), religion (“Armageddon is coming!”), science (climate change) and media (the obsession with apocalypse scenarios). However, I think it’s worth remembering that, in spite of all the cynicism and worry that people spout, we might be living in the best, safest and most exciting period of human history up until now.

Think about it for just a moment. Your odds of dying a violent death are miniscule, and most of us can be expected to live happy and healthy into our 70s. Infant mortality is exceedingly rare. We understand the concept of cleanliness and have eradicated a number of formerly lethal diseases. Worldwide hunger has dropped (although we still have work to do if we want to eradicate it). We have realized that our actions affect the environment and are working to minimize that impact. The world is truly connected. We’re able to empathize with those unlike us. Minorities are finally getting equal rights. Education is on a sharp incline. We understand the workings of the universe and our place in it far better. When you step back and look at all these things, it makes our cynicism about the world going to hell in a hand basket look rather foolish, doesn’t it?

So what’s with all the negativity these days if things are actually as good as they’ve ever been? I think you can actually liken it to the rise and fall of grunge and nu-metal in the 90s and early 2000s. There’s a pretty compelling theory that these musical genres became popular in the post-Soviet era because they offered an outlet for angst when America and other Western nations were at a point of prosperity and felt practically invincible. However, when 9/11 happened and completely shook our society, suddenly we found ourselves with real problems that made our former angst outlets look childish. While I’m not saying that all negativity is unfounded, I do believe that we have a negativity bias and a deep need to complain, even when our complaints are relatively meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

So what is leading to mass negativity? Why are people claiming that the gay marriage ruling in the States is going to bring about God’s wrath? Why are people afraid of ISIS launching organized terror attacks on the West? I think we can break down the sources of negativity into five categories:

  1. Fear-mongering means that more people will pay attention. Human beings have a natural inclination towards negativity. News media, book sellers, apocalyptic preachers, etc all want the widest, easiest, most sustainable audience, so they’ll shill the negative to keep them hooked for a fear of life or death.
  2. Things are changing at a hither-to-unheard-of rate, and people fear change more than anything, and will cling to it irrationally. Just think of the hell that used to happen whenever Facebook would institute a much-needed change, and all the people who whined about bringing back the “old Facebook”, even though they had had the exact same complaints about that Facebook when it replaced the previous version.
  3. The powerful are afraid of losing their power, and so they’ll do whatever they can to incite the masses in order to hang onto their power for as long as possible.
  4. On a related note, the largest, loudest, most powerful demographic – the Baby Boomer generation – are now getting increasingly older and are at the “the world was so much better back in the day” phase as they are no longer marketed towards, and fall behind the times as things continue to change on a yearly basis (eg, trans-awareness just shot up within less than 5 years).
  5. They maybe, just maybe, have a legitimate complaint every once in a while – it’s possible, and actually changing in some ways is why our society has managed to get to where it is now. Considering how quickly things are changing, sometimes these complaints are a valid part of navigating new developments (eg, questions of privacy in social media), other times not so much (eg, CHEMTRAILS!!!).

So hopefully you can try to remember these truths and keep everything in its proper perspective. Don’t feel guilty for enjoying your life and appreciate the profound luck you have in being born in the best time period in human history thus far – and maybe watch the news just a little less.

Christian Media Industries Part II: Movies & Video Games

So in my previous post on Christian media industries, I ended up covering a lot of ground and a lot of different facets of the subject. However, I unfortunately covered so much ground that I skimmed over some stuff that I wanted to mention when I first conceptualized that article, and before it ballooned out of my control and turned from an overview into my concerns with Christian media. I’ll probably turn this into a small series, I already have a Part III outlined that I would like to write about. So with that in mind, we’re going to dive back into the surprisingly interesting world of Christian media industries…

When I first sat down to write about Christian media, I had intended to dedicate a section each to both Christian movies and video games, but I ended up cutting this out because I had a bunch of other things I wanted to mention instead. Previously I had said that “many Christian artists actually want to reach out to the broader culture, but their message doesn’t get the needed reach” due to the insulated marketing of the Christian media. This principle doesn’t really seem to apply to Christian movies or video games for the most part – almost all of them seem to be completely and exclusively marketed towards the Christian audience. The reason for this should be pretty simple: even low-budget movies and video games are very likely going to be more expensive to produce than books or music. This means that the risks that the producers are taking on are going to be substantially more compared to other segments of the Christian media. Considering that they are already cutting down on their potential audience with their low production and marketing budgets and Christian themes, it makes basically no sense for producers to market to the general public, especially if they want to turn a profit. The Christian market is, after all, rather large and potentially quite lucrative.

Low budgets and basically non-existent marketing campaigns have proven to be a good strategy for the Christian movie and video game industry, since Christians have basically proven that they will buy anything, quality be damned, as long as it has a Christian label slapped on it. There’s a reason why even major studios, such as Fox, have their own Christian division (specifically, an evangelical-targeted division). Hell, even The Asylum (the most notoriously parasitic, profit-focused studio out there) has a Christian division, and it’s not because they’re trying to push their sense of morality on anyone – this is the same studio that creates “mockbusters” and softcore porn, because it’s the most efficient way for them to get money. It has been proven time and again that producers can choose to invest so little in a Christian movie that they are basically guaranteed to turn a small profit, because many Christians don’t seem to be very discerning about the quality of their media, as long as it has the “right” message (hence why utter shit like Bibleman is able to get made and get God knows how many sequels).

Video games have a more difficult time on this front though. Video games are hugely expensive to produce and tend to take huge teams to actually see them through. As a result, the ones that do exist are generally made by parasitic publishers who are just looking to make a quick buck off a low-quality game, or are made on shoe-string budgets by well-meaning (but potentially crazy) people who drown the product in an obtuse level of preachiness to justify the expense. They also tend to be really derivative: on the best end of the scale, you get Guitar Praise, which is basically Guitar Hero with Christian rock music, and on the worst end, you get stuff like Bible Adventures (I actually used to play this game in my childhood… all I really remember is that it controlled horrendously and the art is pretty awful for a NES game). Games that try to do something different, like Left Behind: Eternal Forces, are hamstrung by their low budgets and get plagued with technical issues (not to mention that Eternal Forces has been mired in controversy, even if its gameplay wasn’t a buggy mess). Luckily for Christian video game publishers, parents who buy Christian games tend to not be very discerning about the quality of the game, so many of these games are able to scrape back their budgets.

One thing that helps Christian movies to succeed (and also why there has been a growing trend over the past couple of years for there to be one or two “big” Christian movies receiving a wide release) is the concept of word of mouth. Street-level buzz is a key factor that basically every movie wants in order to get maximized profits, but Christian media has it built-in with weekly church gatherings. This is the reason why The Passion of the Christ was such a massive success, why studios can risk a large budget on a mildly-Christian blockbuster such as Evan Almighty or The Chronicles of Narnia* and why we’re seeing more and more movies like God’s Not Dead and Expelled (low budget, limited theatrical release movies aimed squarely at the Christian market) – churches basically provide free advertising whenever a Christian movie gets any sort of theatrical release. This follows the social marketing principle of influencers, where you get market to a few key members in a group, who will in turn market to a wider audience with far more effectiveness than a traditional advertising campaign could accomplish. This was demonstrated quite effectively when church pastors were calling on their congregations to go see The Passion of the Christ, or when Sunday school leaders were putting up posters for Evan Almighty or The Chronicles of Narnia (not to mention that a large number of churches are going to buy up copies of the movies for their libraries).

Aside from the costs involved, I would argue that the second biggest issue with Christian movies and video games is the lack of talent involved. Unlike Christian musicians, there is no system built in to most churches which fosters movie making or programming talent, so these kinds of artists will have to search elsewhere to develop. Furthermore, those who do have talent will likely be turned off of the Christian media industry anyway due to the very limited number of opportunities and the industry’s notoriously awful reputation. Any who do stick around will probably find their talents stifled by creative restriction, shoestring budgets and those with significantly less talent.

Even when there is a modicum of talent, there still tend to be some major issues which keep Christian movies from achieving any sort of mainstream recognition. I would argue that the Kendrick brothers are probably the most talented Christian filmmakers out there at the moment, but they still get poor-to-mixed reviews… and for good reason. They can shoot a movie quite professionally, but their films struggle in most other departments due to a lack of talent elsewhere. First of all, their films usually feature amateur actors, which is really problematic because all of their films are dramas – arguably the genre which depends the most on good acting to succeed. Secondly, their scripts tend to be weak, relying really heavily on cliche, tropes and literal “deus” ex machina to solve the conflicts, with basically no subtlety whatsoever. Most egregiously though, their movies are RIDICULOUSLY PREACHY. As one review stated about their film, Fireproof, it “stops becoming relatable to us all and only to the already, or easily, indoctrinated.” I remember that when I saw Facing the Giants I thought it was pretty good, but lamented that you could never show this to a non-believer because it was clearly made for the already-converted, preaching about how good God is to us in basically every scene. Hell, it honestly even becomes grating to those who already believe – I get it, already, do we have to grind the film to a halt every 5 minutes to remind us that God is where our strength comes from? Bloody hell, some subtlety would instantly take the Kendrick brothers to higher places.

As you can probably see, Christian movies and video games have the rawest deal in the Christian media industry. Christian books and music have an easier time succeeding due to the lower costs involved and the fact that the church itself helps to foster their development, but movies and video games are basically left to the desperate faithful trying to get out their message, or predatory studios looking to make a quick buck off the undiscerning masses. With the recent high-profile disaster that was the Left Behind remake stinking up theaters, I can’t see this trend changing any time soon, unfortunately… However, I do have some hope with the increasingly growing indie development scene potentially producing some great Christian media which doesn’t seek to pander to the evangelical market, but rather seeks to portray Christian themes and foster thoughtful spiritual dialogue. One can only hope at least.

*However, they water it down quite a bit so that it still appeals to the masses of course, but play up the Christian elements when marketing it to the church.

Mad Max Feminism “Controversy”

MINOR UPDATE: So it has come to my attention that this whole “controversy” started because of one fringe MRA “activist”, but shouldn’t be viewed as the mindset of the MRA movement in general. It just happens that one idiot got a lot of attention, which fueled a “controversy” that responded to one particular viewpoint (and might have actually caused more people to side with it as a result).

SECOND UPDATE: Except, y’know, when other self-described MRAs pick up the idiot ball and go with it.

Mad Max: Fury Road could pull off a massive upset and easily end up being the best loved blockbuster of the year. With an unprecedented 98% Tomatometer (230 Fresh/4 Rotten) on Rotten Tomatoes, it has already blown past reserved/mixed praise of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, while other highly anticipated films like Jurassic World and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II are likely to get a more mixed reaction. Only Star Wars is looking to hold a candle to Mad Max, but considering that we’ve all been down this road once before, would any of us be surprised if it ends up disappointing people on the basis of over-hype alone? I imagine it’ll be quite good, but I’d personally bet it’ll end up getting a Tomatometer of 75-85% when people realize it isn’t the second coming of Christ.

However, while most dialogue regarding Mad Max: Fury Road is (appropriately) directed towards the critical response and the mind-blowing action sequences, there is a growing subset of voices discussing whether the movie is feminist, and whether that is good or bad. One particular Men’s Rights Activist blog is stirring up quite a bit of controversy, with authour Aaron Clarey calling for men to boycott the film because apparently the movie is nothing other than feminist propaganda.

Having seen the movie yesterday, I can say pretty definitively that Aaron Clarey’s doom-mongering is as offensive as it is incorrect. For one thing, Fury Road still features plenty of fire tornadoes and 80s-style carnage to get your blood pumping, regardless of the protagonist’s gender. But just because it’s fun, let’s quickly go through a couple of the ridiculous claims that Clarey makes, shall we? First off, Clarey states that:

“The real issue is not whether feminism has infiltrated and co-opted Hollywood, ruining nearly every potentially-good action flick with a forced female character or an unnecessary romance sub-plot to eek out that extra 3 million in female attendees. It has.”

This claim is patently ridiculous for two main reasons. First off, this isn’t feminism, it is economics. Hollywood believes in pandering to the mass audience, and has believed that shoehorning a love subplot, no matter how unnecessary, will attract more people (eg, the Thor movies are particularly obvious offenders in this regard, despite the fact that the gratutious shirtless Chris Hemsworth scenes alone are enough to bring in the ladies). Even the hyper-masculine movies of the 80s featured this trope, such as Commando. Secondly, forcing a female character or a romance into a movie is just simply not feminist. This claim is just so ridiculous that it makes me question whether Clarey truly understands what feminism is, or whether he thinks that the presence of a woman alone is some sort of ghoulish affront to manhood. Feminists have been decrying the trope-filled world of typical generic love interests and useless female character for years now (women in fridges, Bechdel Test, etc), so either Hollywood feminists are absolutely awful at feminism, or there’s something wrong with Clarey’s line of thinking.

Anyway, moving on to the next claim:

“But let us be clear. This is the vehicle by which they are guaranteed to force a lecture on feminism down your throat. This is the Trojan Horse feminists and Hollywood leftists will use to (vainly) insist on the trope women are equal to men in all things, including physique, strength, and logic. And this is the subterfuge they will use to blur the lines between masculinity and femininity, further ruining women for men, and men for women. […] That and you can expect Hollywood to further condition young women to be like “Imperator Furiosa” and not Sophia Loren.”

Wow… just… wow. Look: in theory, while I think that men’s rights activism is an unnecessary cause for a number of reasons, it still seems like something reasonable for someone to pursue. However, voices like this are why men’s rights activism is a joke in practice. While feminism has shifted over the years to a point where it could more accurately be called “equal gender rights” at this point, men’s rights has already shifted to the status of “ideological gender enforcement”. Here Clarey makes it pretty obvious that he believes that gender roles have to be concrete and that anything which goes against his conception of these roles is to be condemned. He doesn’t even seem to be worried about the potential presence of feminist ideas – if he was at least fearful that forcing a female character into the movie would somehow compromise the narrative in some way, then there would be at least a bit of arguably reasonable justification for his complaint. However, the argument boils down to “I don’t think that women in this movie aret doing what I expect them to, therefore this sucks”. Hell… this revelation has me kind of wondering if MRAs are among the people protesting the new sex ed curriculum I talked about last week, since they mention gender identity/fluidity in it. Of course, if they are then that just makes me support the new curriculum even more.

Moving past the article though, there’s one important thing about this movie that is getting missed in the feminism conversation: the movie isn’t really overtly pushing a feminist agenda. Don’t get me wrong – it is certainly progressive and miles ahead of the male-dominated blockbusters that still occupy theatres, but on the feminism scale I’d put it further away from Teeth and much closer to Dredd (although Dredd is certainly the more feminist film, and I have never heard an MRA bitch about that). In fact, I think it would be more accurate to say that Mad Max: Fury Road is a gender-neutral film, and I wish that that is what the dialogue regarding this film was saying. Furiosa is arguably the protagonist since she gets the more interesting character arc, but Max still gets equal prominence as she does, and they both kick just about as much ass as each other. There seems to be a mutual respect between them, but Furiosa isn’t a generic love interest. Furiosa is very capable, and is better than Max at some things. In particular, there is a scene where Max keeps missing his shot with a sniper rifle, so when they’re down to their last shot, he returns it to Furiosa and acts as a support so that she can pull off that last killshot. If nothing else this shows that both characters need each other. Furiosa wouldn’t have gotten more than a few kilometers away from Immortan Joe without Max, and Max wouldn’t have survived without Furiosa. This isn’t feminist propaganda, this is gender-neutrality… which technically makes it a “feminist film” because, as I said earlier, modern feminism is about equality for both sexes. However, it is not pushing a “feminist agenda”, or any of the aspects of feminism which someone might actually disagree with… unless your cock shrinks at the very notion of women achieving any sort of agency though, of course.

I’ll let Sasha James close this one out, as she says it better than I could:

“Fury Road is a feminist film because it’s not outright ‘feminist propaganda.’ It uses gender and sex in a utilitarian, matter-of-fact manner, allowing its females to use their womanhood as a weapon against its universe’s established norms, but neither heroizing or demonizing that action. Fury Road radically allows its female characters to enact as much agency as its men. They are allowed to survive by whatever means are available to them.

Fury Road isn’t trying to say that Furiosa is better than Max or that female-led action films are the new status quo. Instead, George Miller’s fourth Mad Max film is a gentle reminder – amongst blood-lust and post-apocalyptic madness – that men and women are equal, and that we shouldn’t still have to make such a big f***ing deal about it.”

Breastfeeding and the Male Gaze

Gender relations return, with a vengeance! The core basis of this post has literally been sitting in my drafts list for around a year and a half now as a single point-form statement, but I never got around to doing anything with it – I liked the observation enough that I didn’t want to just delete it, but I also didn’t want to go on yet another feminism rant. However, a TV commercial of all things caused this idea to bubble back to the surface and set my imagination running wild. So here we go: we’re going to examine the concept of the male gaze.

As I have probably alluded to in the past, I grew up in a fairly conservative family. My father instituted (and still does whenever he’s around) some pretty strict rules about what media content we were allowed to consume.* We were generally restricted to PG-13 movies and Teen-rated video games: violence was largely permitted, as long as it wasn’t too bloody or gory and swearing had to be kept to a minimal level… but nudity was basically 100% off-limits. Honestly, of all the restrictions he instituted, I think this one screwed up my psyche the most… but I might get into that another day.

It took me 14 freaking years to finally see this movie…

In any case, this blanket restriction eventually occurred to me as having a couple blind spots. First off, is this including male nudity? I’m pretty sure this never really occurred to my dad, although he’d probably be questioning why the hell we were watching a movie with naked men in it. When I came across this issue though, it made it pretty damn obvious that the whole point of the restriction was because of the classic conservative hysteria about preventing boys from touching themselves, in which case, male nudity wasn’t a big deal (although now that I think about it, I imagine that my dad would argue that God told us to cover our nakedness). The other blind spot I noticed was that, since this was restriction was obviously intended to keep us from temptation, what were we supposed to think about intentionally un-sexy nudity? This was the more important issue as far as I’m concerned, and the one which ties into this post the best. Schindler’s List, for example, has a fair bit of nudity, but the majority of it is unsettling and very un-arousing. Or what about The Impossible, where a breast gets exposed, but it’s pretty horrifically shredded from a very nasty wound and the woman is in a state of utter shock? However, I can pretty much guarantee that this would have been also considered “off-limits” as well, because my father (and much of society for that matter) consider the naked female form to be something that is always subject to the male gaze.

In case you aren’t aware of what the male gaze refers to, it is basically the idea that, in media, the camera tends to “see” and portray women as men see/fantasize them, focusing on their curves and doing their best to make them look sexy, seductive and passive. Possibly one of the most egregious and idiotic uses of this in practice are in regards to Miranda in Mass Effect 2, where the camera constantly frames the scene emphasizes her ass, sometimes dedicating up a third of the screen to it (which, of course, is further emphasized by her skintight bodysuit).

Notice the extremely subtle framing difference here?

When I first heard about the male gaze in school, I wasn’t sure that I believed it was a real thing, or at least that it could affect society outside of the media. However, I believe I have stumbled upon a perfect example which was this whole article: the bafflingly touchy subject of public breastfeeding. I hadn’t really understood why this was considered so controversial to so many people: babies have to eat, moms have the means to do it, and babies aren’t known for their timeliness or consideration for others. It occurred to me about a year and a half ago that the reason that people get so uncomfortable around breastfeeding women is likely because we have been taught as a society that female nudity is supposed to be sexy and something for men to enjoy, but when it is used to feed a baby, then it suddenly becomes socially confusing, awkward and decidedly un-sexy.

I mentioned that a recent commercial brought this thought bubbling back to my consciousness. In the commercial, they were showing serene images, and then suddenly cut to a close-up of a child breastfeeding. I was kind of taken aback by it, because I don’t think I have ever seen a commercial flirt so flagrantly with a supposedly controversial subject (not to mention that there was like 90% of a boob on screen, which is unheard of in any commercial I have seen). A lot of women who campaign for public breastfeeding like to say that it is something that is “beautiful”, but I never really understood that position until right now: I have been looking at that sort of thing through my own lens, the male gaze. If I had imagined it from the female perspective, the female gaze if you will, I’d have pictured a mother sustaining and comforting the soul that she brought into this world and loves with all of her heart… and, you know what, that actually is an extremely beautiful way to look at it.

So hopefully that all made sense, and demonstrated how the concept of the male gaze has applications outside of media. Public breastfeeding seems to be becoming more and more of a non-issue every year, so hopefully soon mothers will be allowed to actually do what they have to won’t have to worry about some dickheaded prude calling them out for making them feel awkward.

*Don’t get me wrong though, letting kids watch whatever the hell they want to is not something I condone. I don’t think it’ll turn them into a psychotic murderer by any means, but kids should probably avoid some subjects until they have reached a certain level of maturity to begin to understand it.

Christian Media Industry

I consider this blog to be one largely about current events and popular culture, but occasionally I like to write about religion (or, let’s be honest, Christianity). Don’t worry – I’m not going to use this blog to try to shove the Bible down anyone’s throats, because I know that I HATE getting preached to. In fact, today’s post isn’t so much about the Christian religion itself, as it is about the chaff that surrounds the Christian community. I have touched on my thoughts on the Christian music industry in the past with my post on Ozzy Osbourne, but this post will expand on that to cover my thoughts on the entire Christian media industry.

First, I’ll lay a little groundwork on how businesses can compete with each other, to provide a context for what the Christian industry is and how it operates. The most visible and familiar kind of business is the one which is directed at the mass audience. This category would include stores like Wal-Mart (easily the best exemplar of this principle), major blockbuster films, pop musicians, etc. These kinds of businesses tend to have high overheads, but because their appeal is so wide, the potential for profit can be extremely high if they can capture that mass audience. This also means that their services and marketing will be tailored towards the lowest common denominator.

Attempting to compete with a mass market provider means that you’re going to have to go all-out, because if you can’t offer service as well as your competition, then you’re going to get left in the dust. The obvious example here is the mom-and-pop stores that Wal-Mart just annihilates when it moves into an area. However, it also applies to other big chains, such as Blockbuster. Another great example of this is Target, which recently was involved in a sudden and high-profile bankruptcy in Canada. They made an aggressive expansion into the country, opening around 150 locations and spending billions to get a major foothold. However, this was still not enough to allow it to compete with the Wal-Marts and other retail chains present in the country (not to mention that their service here was distinctly worse).

So what is a small business supposed to do to try to compete with the Wal-Marts of the world? The solution to this problem is actually quite simple and becoming increasingly popular: ignore the mass market, and focus all your efforts on marketing to a niche audience and foster brand loyalty. Some good examples of this philosophy would be vinyl record or health food stores, metal bands, low budget horror movies, etc. The thought process behind this approach is that there are a practically unlimited number of niches out there which the mass market cannot cater towards, so by providing their specialized service, they basically eliminate the need to compete with the mass marketers. In addition, there is a smaller overhead compared to the mass marketers, the individuals in the audience will typically spend more money than the individuals in a mass audience, and it increases the likelihood of repeat purchases and brand loyalty.

In case it wasn’t obvious, the Christian entertainment industries are in the niche market category and live or die by these principles. This can probably best be evidenced by how the money spent on Christian media seems to be tied into their rate of success (in order of their prominence, Christian media is dominated first by books/magazines, then music, then movies and finally video games being by far the weakest of the lot). This highlights the first issue I have with Christian media, and that’s the ethics of it. One of the more famous passages in the gospels is when Jesus comes to the Jewish temple and sees people selling sacrifices and creating booths for money changers (people who exchange currency basically, and who almost certainly would have been charging for this service). He drives them out in anger, claiming that they have turned God’s residence into a den of robbers. I’m torn on this particular issue. At its basis, the Christian media industry is either commodifying worship and teaching, or it is cynically preying on Christians’ beliefs to sell a product that wouldn’t be able to stand on its own otherwise. However, at the same time, this is how our society works. If we did not pay Christian artists for their work, then they wouldn’t be able to make a living (and for most Christian artists, it’s a modest living at that)… with that in mind, I think the bigger ethical issue is the use of the “Christian” label in the use of marketing them, especially when it is used in a particularly cynical manner. While there are obviously a lot of people within the industry who are actually looking to enrich the Christian faith, I think it’s fair enough to state that the primary drive of the Christian industry is to market products and make money.

Also, before I go any further, I really want to stress that I am by no means making a blanket statement that artists in the Christian industry suck or are worse than the mainstream media (except for the Christian film and video game industries, which just plain suck in general due to a lack of funding and talent, or because they are produced by “Christian” subsidiaries of major companies in order to make a quick and cynical buck). There are many who are extremely talented, but whose lyrical/writing focus does not appeal to a mass market, or because they have been trapped in the Christian label (which I will also cover soon). I should also mention that I believe that Christians probably have a disproportionately high number of talented musicians and singers, because the church system tends to foster and provide access these talents due to choirs, youth bands, worship services, etc. In contrast, someone growing up outside the church would have to find these talents through school, extra-curricular activities and adult encouragement – obviously not impossible by any means, but there’s just less access and fostering.

While the niche market approach may be what is keeping the Christian industry alive, it is also a major weakness in many ways. Probably the most obvious reason is because many Christian artists actually want to reach out to the broader culture, but their message doesn’t get the needed reach. This is because of prejudice towards Christian media in general, but also because the Christian industry only really caters towards the Christian market, leaving any further promotion for the aritsts to deal with themselves, or for the consumers to create word-of-mouth. In Christian music especially, when an artist does cross over into the mainstream, the Christian label continues to haunt them. Anberlin, Switchfoot, P.O.D. (especially), and countless other bands that have crossed over have been stuck forever with the label of “Christian” rock, which always remains a part of the dialogue surrounding them. As I Lay Dying has perhaps the most extreme example of this problem, as their lead singer, Tim Lambesis, ended up slowly finding himself renouncing Christianity. However, he was the head of a Christian band during this whole process, and he couldn’t exactly turn away from his Christian audience, or he would lose a huge portion of his audience. He ended up sticking around and pretending to still be devout, until he tried to have his wife killed, at which point all of this came to light. Of course, this led to the inevitable retroactive questions of “Can we really consider As I Lay Dying to be Christian anymore?”, even though Lambesis was the only member who had recanted.

Moving beyond these thoughts and onto more personal concerns, I have been wondering recently why it seems like the Christian industry seems to cater towards conservative Evangelicalism*. This should seem quite strange, since Catholicism remains the largest Christian denomination worldwide, with an estimated 1.2 billion adherents. I have come up with a few probable explanations to this question. For one thing, the USA is a cultural juggernaut and is the source of most of the Christian media. Of course, socially conservative Protestantism is the majority in the States, and so the producers will naturally cater towards their own understanding of Christianity (hell, as someone who grew up in an Evangelical church, I wouldn’t even be surprised if many of them were only dimly aware of other Christian traditions, or didn’t bother to acknowledge them with any legitimacy). Beyond that though, the majority of Catholics are based in Latin America and Africa, and which don’t tend to be priority markets. Another possible explanation is that the Christian media industries’ emergence as something distinct from the rest of culture correlates with the rise of Christian revival movements in the 60s-80s, such as the so-called “Moral Majority”, and the growing political power of right-wing evangelicals starting in the Reagan era. Naturally, this sudden surge to prominence and growing political important would require the market to cater towards them, and for the artists amongst them to express their faith to others.

It seems to me though that it makes sense for the Christian industry to market towards the social Evangelicals from a purely-economic mindset. A socially conservative Christian is more likely to consume Christian media, since they will be more opposed to mainstream culture than a mainline, Progressive or a Catholic. This, unfortunately, creates a bit of an evangelical monopoly in Christian popular culture though, which can have some serious problems… I can’t be the only person who grew up in an Evangelical church, consuming their media, and believing that they were the only ones who were doing things the “proper” way.

If it wasn’t obvious, this virtual monopoly means that, in North America at least, the conservative evangelicals control most of the dialogue on what is and isn’t “Christian”. It scares me when this gets applied to platforms like RightNow Media, which is obviously seeking to be the Netflix of the Christian media industry. If it succeeds in this regard, then the market will become even more monopolized. What are they going to allow/disallow as the gatekeepers of this content? Are they going to decide that it’s only “Christian” to teach young-earth creationism and leave no room for alternate interpretations (and then suffer the inevitable backlash from conservative evangelicals boycotting them if they do not)? Do they let people on who promote Islamophobia in the name of Christianity? Where is the cut-off line, and how is it determined? This isn’t just me seeing

When I was attempting to write my first novel**, I really had to sit down and decide if I was going to market myself towards the Christian industry or if I would risk going for something more mainstream. In the end, I figured I had a better chance of success if I went for the Christian market, but this affected the writing process somewhat: I had to exercise some self-censorship, mostly in regards to swearing and throwing in some arbitrary Bible allusions. The funny thing though is that either way, I’m still a Christian who wrote a book, so isn’t it more than a little arbitrary that it’s only considered a “Christian” work if I submit myself to the market gatekeepers’ standards?

…and as great as that last paragraph would have been to end this one, I can’t write about the Christian media industry without spewing vitrol about perhaps the most cynical corner of it: the prophecy industry. Christian bookstores dedicate multiple shelves to hundreds of books claiming to interpret the many vague prophies in the Bible, predicting what is going to happen in the “end times” and how current events tie into this. Spoiler alert: they’re all routinely bullshit. The people who write these books tend to be either misguided/short-sighted Bible scholars, cynics looking to make easy money by saying whatever they want to without having to have any accountability if it ends up being false, or people who are literally as insane as your average conspiracy theorist.

Let’s get this out of the way: it is frankly idiotic to assume that the so-called “end times” will occur in our lifetime. EVERY generation since the birth of Christianity has believed that they were the ones who were going to be present for Jesus’ return. I think that the Christians being slain by the Roman Emperors, Martin Luther going to war with the Catholic Church, the troops witnessing the horrors of the first and second World Wars and the even the people living under the threat of nuclear annihilation all had better claims to support this assumption than this generation, and yet it is the Christians living in a rich country with practically no Christian persecution who are screaming the loudest that their time is finally coming. It’s little more than human arrogance to believe that the “story” is going to end with us, and thereby contextualize the entire Bible according to our current and limited understanding of the world. For example, at some point during the Cold War, someone decided that the Bible was prophecizing that Russia and Iran would attack Israel based on a reference to a pair of “northern nations” who would do so in Ezekiel and Revelations… oh and what do you know, Russia and Iran happened to be our enemies at the time! With all of the evils that ISIS has been perpetrating for the last year, there is also a renewed sense of Islamophobia which is increasingly being worked into end times narratives (despite the fact that ISIS has been targeting its Muslim neighbours almost exclusively… in fact, I would bet that Israel is actually helping to fund ISIS to attack its enemies).

Anyway, to tie this back into the main thesis of this post, the prophecy industry only is able to exist and shill its toxic bullshit because of the economic realities of the Christian media industry. As a Christian, I enjoy quite a few aspects of the industry (many of my favourite bands are, or were, a part of it, and I quite like some of the authours within it), but I am left conflicted and concerned by the many ethical and ideological issues that plague it. Unfortunately I don’t have the answers to these issues, aside from a hope for some gradual cultural shifts… but I sure as hell can complain in the meantime.

*This is based on personal observation, so this might be just personal biases, but I am confident that this is the case. In general, Christian media will be ambiguously non-denominational, but when a denominational bias is intentionally put forth, it seems that the conservative Evangelical position is the most represented of the lot across all media.

**I never finished it, unfortunately. I got almost 40,000 words in before I grew really dissatisfied with it and shelved it. It was a post-apocalyptic road trip story about four people travelling west across the desolation left in the wake of a nuclear war, with the intent of making it more realistic than your average apocalyptic story. It was very much a therapeutic exercise for me at that point in time, dealing with how to love somebody, communism and some abstract religious philosophy. I started conceptualizing it in November 2010, but by the time I got writing it, post-apocalypse stories were already a really tired genre (and a post-apocalyptic road trip was already very much a thing with The Road). Plus, it was a really serious story, and I don’t really think I write “seriously” well enough. In addition, The Last of Us basically did the best post-apocalyptic road trip story I’ve seen, and covered a lot of the themes I was exploring as well, so the basis of the idea has more-or-less been done better than I could have. Finally, and probably most importantly, the personal issues I was tackling at the time have been resolved for quite some time now, so it just doesn’t feel relevant to me anymore. Who knows, maybe I’ll revisit the incomplete manuscript someday and give it a huge overhaul, but for now I’m going to focus on my efforts elsewhere.

Back From the Dead 2: Electric Boogaloo

I’d like to mention a couple other rather major changes that have happened over the last year that I neglected to mention in the previous post, but that I feel are worth mentioning. I was originally going to make this a small post, but it kind of ran away on me so I guess this is what you get for now. Enjoy it.

First of all, my music tastes have been refined a bit more. Work has allowed me to truly discover the joys of internet radio – no longer am I stuck choosing to listen to 3 classic rock stations, 5 pop stations or 1 country station. Now, I can finally listen to my actual interests, namely metal. I really should have sought out internet radio long before now, but… well, eh, whatever. Some of the bands this has introduced me to include A Feast for Kings (I really hope they can recover after the tragic death of their lead singer, because their debut EP was incredible), Impending Doom (if you have a single brutal bone in your body, you owe it to yourself to check out There Will Be Violence, Baptized in Filth and Death Will Reign), Sleeping Romance (kind of like Evanescence, but with more metal and far less angst) and My Heart to Fear (I’m only starting to get into them, but if nothing else then check out “The Sneaking Chair”).

My tastes have also started to shift slightly towards electronic music. This is largely thanks to the Hotline Miami games and John Wick, which have showed me that shooting people looks really freaking cool when you do it to a backdrop of electronic music. It’s not a genre that I’m a huge fan of still, but I can see that potentially changing in the future as I dabble with it. I have already used some of this influence for a Stormrunners compilation video – normally I’d do a straight-up hard rock or metal song to back it, but this time I decided to use an electronic-metal remix of Love & Death’s “Paralyzed” that I realized would be awesome for the task. I’m pretty impressed with the result, so we’ll see where this goes in the future. I was also working on an electronic album a couple years ago that I shelved, but I was actually listening to it again the other day and quite liked what I heard still. This new-found interest might make that album see the light of day after all… 😉

Oh, and on the subject of music, I’d feel awful if I forgot to mention P.O.D.’s The SoCal Sessions. I first saw them advertising this thing as a crowdfunded effort on PledgeMusic. As I have said before, they have been one of my favourite bands for more than a decade now, but I was hesitant about this one: an all-acoustic album where they cover some of their older songs. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t entirely on-board with this when I heard about it. For one thing, they already kind of did this with a live album called the Rhapsody Sessions, which was one of their more boring efforts IMHO. Furthermore, they had already tried a more acoustic sound on When Angels & Serpents Dance, which was a decent album, but felt like they completely ditched their heavy sound to the album’s detriment. The fact that Murdered Love went back to their heavy sound suggested to me that the band was trying to get back to their roots rather than following deviations. So basically, these potential issues were making me hesitant, but I pledged and more or less forgot about the album for months. However, I got a package in the mail a few weeks ago which surprised me, until I opened it and saw some really evocative album art with P.O.D.: The SoCal Sessions emblazoned upon it. I threw it in my computer and my worries about it being a lazy cash grab were blown away from the first song. This album is actually, to my great surprise, really good. Sonny nails it on the vocals, the song selection is excellent and very diverse, and some songs are actually improved by the acoustic transition. In particular, “Panic & Run” has to be one of my least favourite P.O.D. songs, but the acoustic transition takes it from an unfocused, too-fast hard rock song to an apocalyptic reggae track. The band’s reggae influences get played up even more, which is awesome as far as I’m concerned. In fact, the only track I’m not keen on is “Will You”, but that’s mainly because it is the only one that sounds like a “generic” acoustic version of a heavier song. Luckily, the other tracks are adapted far more interestingly.

Anyway, enough about music that probably only I care about, and onto something else that only I care about: theology (I’ll keep this one brief, I swear… if you can’t stand religious talk though, then skip ahead two paragraphs)! I think I have mentioned on the blog before that I am a Christian and grew up in a rather conservative, Evangelical family. However, around 6 or 7 years ago I began to feel paralyzed in my faith and was having trouble reconciling what I believed, what I had been taught, and the increasingly apparent politics of the Evangelical church. Things got worse when I went off to university as the Christian group I was with was pushing on me hard to evangelize to anyone I got a chance to. There was one particular question they were also pushing hard on me to answer their “spiritual conversation starter”, but I could not come up with an adequate answer: “what is it that you crave?” Hell, I still can’t come up with the sort of fundamental answer they’re looking for… knowledge? Certainty maybe? Ugh, thinking about that again is really bugging me.

In any case, the Evangelical monopoly on what it is to be “Christian” has been really bothering me, someone who is rather liberal and who strives to be an intellectual. However, one of my best friends (who happens to be studying for military chaplaincy) introduced me to Progressivism through Benjamin L. Corey’s blog, Formerly Fundie. I have to say, this has really helped turn me around and I feel like I’m actually growing and maturing thanks to my faith once again. I promised to keep this brief, so I’ll just summarize this really quickly: if you grew up in the church, then chances are that you’re going to start to question and start to fall away before you hit twenty. If your teachings were anything like mine, then Evangelicalism will make you feel like you either have to believe the way that they want you to believe or you’re a heretic. They’ll drill their ideology in you and make you feel ashamed (not necessarily for malicious reasons either, but just because religion has been designed this way to be self-perpetuating). If nothing else, just know that there are other understandings which still hold onto the core beliefs and which have just as much (if not more) theological basis than the mainstream church.

Anyway, thanks to Benjamin L. Corey, I have also discovered the joy of podcasts. As much as I’m loving internet radio, it can get a bit stale when they play the same songs on rotation every day. So I started listening to Corey’s That God Show while I worked, and it got me hooked. Listening to podcasts basically feels like learning at work, and keeps it from getting too repetitive. In addition to That God Show, I have been listening to The Cracked Podcast, Unpopular Opinion, Dead Things, Quality Control and Hello Internet. If you get the opportunity to listen at work, have long drives, or just have a fair bit of downtime, I’d recommend checking them out. 🙂

Quick Fix: Paintball Videos!

As I implied in last week’s blog post, I definitely was quite busy so that next retrospective series is going to begin on the 22nd. However, in the meantime, you can enjoy some PRZ Fight for Asylum 3 footage and a recap!

Yes, this actually happened.

Myself and 3 other Stormrunners attended the event in Picton, Ontario. It was absolutely perfect paintballing weather – very little wind, sunny weather, not humid, not too wet and not too hot either. We played on Josh Samure’s team, which featured some pretty major teams such as Citrus Connection and the Devil Dogs (humourously, the Stormrunners got a shout out as a fellow TechPB team, even though we aren’t… but hey, I’m not going to complain about the complement). There were about 650 people playing which made for a very exciting event.

…although this guy was easily the coolest of them all.

My only complaint on the day was that the other team got absolutely smoked. They had a poor initial spawn point and were too disorganized at the beginning – they didn’t even leave their spawn point for about a minute after the break and none of their forces were sent to their alternative spawn points (a major issue because it would have delayed our reinforcements as we mopped up their troops, allowing their forces to take up better positions). The organizers did their best to even it up a bit, including a reinsertion and a ton of “air strikes” to clear our forces out, but it was definitely a one-sided day.

On the plus side, the Stormrunners did fantastic. The Stormrunners had a confirmed 116 kills and only 17 deaths, which is just a mind-bogglingly high number. Most of those kills were between two of our members, but I myself got 12 kills and only 1 death – not too shabby if I do say so myself. Images and videos are still trickling in, so if you’re interested then keep an eye on The Stormrunners’ Facebook page and our Youtube playlist. If you want to play with us at some point, we are going to be attending Commando Paintball’s D-Day Big Game on June 14th – if you are, leave a comment and feel free to say hi. Maybe you’ll get to be in our next video!

Quick Fix: Paintball News and Retrospectives

Hey good readers, I’ve got an exciting week ahead of me! On the 12th, I’m going to be kicking off the paintball season by attending PRZ’s Fight for the Asylum once again. It’s a world-class paintball field and I’m extremely excited to get out and capture plenty of footage of the action. I expect that by my next blog post, there will be lots of new footage of the event on my Youtube channel, so be sure to check it out by then. I’ve been stoked for this event for the last few weeks, upgrading and testing out my marker loadout in preparation – seriously, every time I pre-register for a paintball event, it’s like a mini Christmas to me (with the carols being pump-up rock and metal).

Commando Paintball’s D-Day event has also been recently announced as being on June 14th. The Stormrunners have attended D-Day since 2011, so this will make it our 4th attendance at the event. Most of the guys are still in school and so will be missing out on Fight for the Asylum, but by June 14th they should be all good to attend – D-Day tends to be one of our best events in regards to turnouts, so I’m excited to hang out with the team and kick some ass. It also tends to be my most popular event in terms of video views, with one of last year’s videos just shy of 10,000 views on Youtube (and still growing). You can be sure I’ll be attending D-Day this year and getting even more quality footage for everyone to enjoy.

Also, I’m considering upgrading my helmet cam from the Contour HD to a Contour+2. I’ve got a few reasons for this, so I just want to put them out there. First of all, my Contour HD is in rough shape – a lot of the vital bits which keep the camera’s battery in the unit are broken. It’s still in working order, but there’s only a couple pieces actually keeping it all together, so I’m expecting this to be my last season with the camera anyway (for the record, I bought it used for a half decent price and have been very happy with the camera in all my time with it). Also, my Youtube channel is overwhelmingly paintball-related, so I think I should focus my efforts on improving that part of the channel and making it the best it can be. At present, I can only shoot in 720p (well, I technically can shoot in 1080p, but the field of view is too restricted for my liking). This was fine on my laptop, but now that I have a new computer, I can edit 1080p and 60fps footage with ease. Luckily, the Contour+2 has a much wider FOV for 1080p footage, and I think the video quality is simply better anyway, making it a very attractive option for me. The bells and whistles are also just plain cool: smart phone integration, GPS tracking, plug-in microphones, etc. Anyway, there’s no way in hell I’ll have one by Fight for the Asylum, but I hope to have saved up enough to make the purchase by D-Day – fingers crossed!

In other news, I’m going to start the next Retrospective series within the next couple weeks. I might be too busy this week to get it done, but if so then it will be posted by the 22nd at the latest. In trying to keep things fresh, it’s a very different sort of franchise compared to all the (generally horrible) action/horror/thriller series I’ve covered thus far. I’m sure you’ll like it (and have probably seen at least two of the films in the franchise as well)!

Some Thoughts on Feminism

I’ve noticed lately that I’ve written quite a lot about feminism in the past few months, kind of like how in my first few months I talked about gun control a lot. It’s a bit odd too, because I wouldn’t have necessarily considered myself a feminist. I mean, I support women’s rights and equality, but just what that means to a more vocal feminist often leaves me confuzzled. However, I’ve been mulling over a few feminist subjects recently and figured I’d work them into one giant feminist theory extravaganza. I’m not promising that all of these thoughts will be positive, but I believe they are fair at the very least.

Let’s smash it, together!

Okay, first of all, this whole line of thought stemmed from this article about rape culture. Women’s rights campaigners have really been pushing the notion of rape culture recently, but I’m not so sure that they’re doing a great job of conveying to the general public exactly what they mean by it (I have a similar critique about the public expression of many women’s rights issues, it’s like they expect us to agree with them without explaining their positions). But anyway, I agree with the article overall, but when I was thinking about it afterwards, I came to the realization that feminists have appropriated rape. What I mean by that is that rape is a major issue and overwhelmingly occurs to women, but in order to push rape culture, feminists have turned rape into a women’s problem. Yeah, that shouldn’t be all that revelatory – really, it’s rather obvious, but the realization of it is almost ironic. Feminists want to eliminate rape (and, well, let’s be honest, every decent human being wants to eliminate it), but in order to do so they have to take it on first.

That said, trivializing rape against men is a byproduct of such a move. Yes, men are raped far less than women, so it’s fair enough, but it occurs just the same. I also wonder if other forms of sexual violence are also taken into account here, because when someone says “molestation”, I think “little choir boys” rather than women. Perhaps that’s why the focus is just on rape though – it is overwhelmingly a women’s issue.

Oh, and I just want to comment on this passage from the article quickly:

“Most women and girls who travel abroad, who take public transportation, or walk to a dimly lit parking lot at night experience that “what if” panicky moment. Women reading this know what I’m talking about. Men, in general, do not. And knowing that most men don’t rape, and that most women will never be victims of rape, is not enough to erase that fear. Because it’s real, and it’s the legacy of a culture where rape (and rape denial) exist in too high numbers.”

I’m not going to trivialize that, because I really don’t understand that sort of daily existence (well, unless I was in prison anyway), but I do have a bit of an analogue. If I walk through city streets late at night, I’m not afraid of getting raped… I’m afraid of getting jumped and robbed and/or stabbed. Sure, I’m not getting jumped, robbed, stabbed and then raped, so it’s not exactly as “bad”, but even men don’t exactly walk the streets 100% securely. I attribute that to the media creating a state of fear, especially since crime rates have been dropping for decades, so such fears should really be unfounded.

…sigh. *Facepalm*

Anyway, next topic. This one has really been confounding me, so if you want to offer some perspective then please leave a comment below. The topic boils down to this question: is objectification inherently wrong, or is it only wrong when it happens to women? I really wonder about this one because a good deal of my posts on feminism have been dealing with my irritation at the objectification of women, whether because they are reduced to plot points or because they’re considered nothing more than a walking pair of T&A. However, I’ve been noticing a rising trend in films in the last few years of men becoming objectified, with nary an outcry. It’s a bit confusing, and it’s what has made me mull over this question. Is objectification the bad thing, or is it that the target of the objectification is women? Is there an acceptable level of objectification? Is objectification of men acceptable because it is counter-cultural? If we’re truly looking for equality for genders, shouldn’t the goal be no objectification for either (or are we settling on equal amounts of objectification then)?

The most obvious example of this in action is the wolf pack from the Twilight movies. They basically only exist to be oogled at and give audience members lady-boners. Hell, the guy on the left is barely even wearing those pants. Even Jakob isn’t much of a character, being about as well-defined as a brick wall. In fact, being prone to fits of rage and violence makes him sort of sexist against men for that matter. Of course, Jakob’s the most egregious example I can think of, but what about Thor in The Dark World or Finnick in Catching Fire? Both appear in their respective films in really pointless topless scenes which clearly only exist to provide female audiences with some fan service. Their characters complicate things a little bit though, because while they’re briefly objectified, they are actually given pretty good characterization in spite of that. Is that the key right there – is objectification not as big a deal if it doesn’t define and overwhelm the character? It should also be noted that these characters may have gotten characterization simply because they were men, whereas objectified women simply aren’t allowed out of the background (such as in any Michael Bay movie ever). It’s a bit of a puzzle and I’m still not sure where I stand on it.

“Hey look! Someone doesn’t understand how feminism works!”

Finally, I’ve been wondering lately whether feminists can be insensitive to cultural differences. For example, I reacted pretty much the same way as the rest of the internet when Quiet from MGS5 was revealed. However, having taken a step back since the reveal, I’m beginning to wonder just how different North American and Japanese culture is. Quiet is obviously designed from a Japanese perspective, and from my understanding, sexualization isn’t equated so much to objectification there as it is here. Perhaps there is something more to her outfit than mere titillation? Kojima seems to suggest that this is the case, although we’ll see when The Phantom Pain is released. Similarly, the Dead or Alive series of game have a reputation as nothing more than softcore porn, but their creators insist that they don’t intend it to be that way. Looking at some of the character models, I have a hard time believing that, but could it be that they see things much more differently than us? I mean sure, it’s possible that they’re lying through their teeth, or are just ignorant of how sexist they really are, but I think there’s at least a certain level of cultural difference clashing here.

Anyway, hopefully you found this article at least a little enlightening. If you want to say anything, please leave a comment below!

My Thoughts on the State of Battlefield 4…

If you follow video game news, you might have heard that Battlefield 4 is a broken piece of shit which has essentially tarnished the reputation of one of the biggest franchises in gaming. In spite of that, I’ve logged about 150 hours into the game and have been playing from launch to now (and will continue playing into the future for that matter). I’ve been meaning to write a BF4 guide for quite a while now, but the issues with the game made me postpone that for a long time because I couldn’t be sure how much it was going to change things. However, I think the time has finally come where I can start talking about the game properly, and address some of the claims about it.

First of all, I played the BF4 beta on PS3, and despite being a tad buggy, it controlled fairly well and was a lot of fun (although the draw distance bug on the rooftop of the C flag was pretty egregiously broken). All-in-all, the game seemed to be a clear improvement on the foundation of BF3. At the initial launch, I played BF4 on PS3 for about 2 weeks waiting for the PS4 version to release… and it was buggy as shit at launch. The game would freeze up pretty frequently and I ended up in one server where you couldn’t even kill anyone. Oh, and Defuse mode, the game’s take on a Search & Destroy mode, was absolutely broken. Seriously, there were so many bugs just in that mode that it was insane – players would spawn but couldn’t control their characters, the killcam would randomly appear when you were still alive, the bomb carrier would randomly appear on the enemy team’s radar (LOL), etc. Things were worse on PC, where the game would crash frequently and wouldn’t even play on many systems. In spite of that, I figured this had something to do with a combination of the PS3 hardware and the launch period – the game clearly wasn’t built for last-gen hardware, so they weren’t going to give it as much attention as they were the next gen versions. On top of that, I remember BF3’s launch being very rough as well, freezing very frequently until about 3 months in, when a large patch took care of most of the issues (although Seine Crossing in Rush was still notoriously freeze-prone and never got fixed).

Anyway, come the PS4 launch, the game was in even worse state. For the first day or two, PSN servers crashed and so you couldn’t even play the game online, forcing me to play through the godawful single player campaign… twice. Yes, I got the notorious single-player-game-deletion glitch about 4 hours in. And for some reason, my copy of the game seemed to think someone who had English (UK) as their language meant that they wanted to play the game in Spanish (oddly enough, it was fixed when I changed my language to English [US]). Things actually got worse when PSN got back up because Conquest mode, the main attraction in the series, was broken to the point where DICE had to remove it from the game for weeks. This was especially egregious because my favourite mode in Battlefield games, Rush, was poorly supported by the maps in BF4 – very few of them are fun to play Rush on, whereas every map in BF3 was a viable Rush level. On top of all this, the game still crashed quite frequently. Simply put, it was a bit of a mess, but when it worked, it was a lot of fun.

As time went on, the game kept getting patched and issues started to go away. I can’t really speak for the PC version, which sounds like it had the biggest performance issues, but the PS4 version hasn’t crashed for me since perhaps mid-December, and the game got way more enjoyable when Conquest was reinstated. I also managed to complete the single player campaign without losing my save game again*, so that was nice too. However, for each patch, it would seem that something else would end up getting broken – there have been a few separate patches which have rendered the game damn-near unplayable for me due to horrendous lag and rubber-banding issues, although these have usually been patched yet again within a week. The China Rising DLC added more issues as well at launch, but I didn’t really like it all that much anyway so I can’t really remember everything that was wrong with it. There was also a notorious glitch which was only patched a couple weeks ago, wherein every loading screen a game of Russian roulette – basically, after the load screen for a map completed, a final loading indicator flashes for a second and then you enter the match. However, with the bug, the loading indicator would flash indefinitely, forcing you to return to the home screen and reload the game. That particular glitch was so bad that I’d estimate you had a 1/3, or maybe even 1/2, chance of encountering it the first time you tried to load a map.

That said, significant progress has been made. The game is pretty much playable now, with nearly every major issue now patched (including some stuff which we didn’t expect, such as significantly lowering the time it takes to spawn in and making DMRs better… however, the kill cam is totally broken for some reason). The DLC has also improved since China Rising, with Second Assault being fantastic fun (and bringing back 4 awesome Rush maps in the process). Naval Strike also looks to shake things up and make me happier to have bought a Premium pass at launch. The only real issue right now is that the netcode is probably worse than it was at launch – players seem to lag behind the action by about half a second (I actually spotted a guy before he even showed up on my screen the other day), which is pretty fatal in a fast-paced FPS. DICE is promising to patch this soon, so I hope that they can at least get it to the level that BF3 was at (although even then, BF3’s netcode wasn’t exactly great – if you didn’t die around a corner a half dozen times per match, then you could consider yourself lucky).

All-in-all, BF4 is still a bit of a mess at times, but it is fun in spite of all of its issues. I wish that the game had worked out of the gate, but I don’t regret buying the game (or Premium for that matter). I am pretty annoyed at EA though for forcing the game out of the gate when it was in such a poor state. I wish that game producers would learn to put quality ahead of release dates – Ubisoft seems to understand this, hence why they pushed Watch Dogs back instead of releasing an unpolished game that would just disappoint everyone. Worse still, I fear that EA might try to annualize the Battlefield brand, putting out a new game every year in order to compete with Call of Duty. Please, please do not do this EA – Battlefield: Bad Company 2 won you fans, such as myself, because it was so much more refined than Call of Duty had been for years. Give us another year to enjoy BF4 now that it’s working half decently, and we might even forget this whole launch fiasco ever happened…

Oh, and make the P90 available for the Assault class again. Who the hell wants to run a PDW on the Engineer class anyway?!

*The single player campaign is absolutely horrendous. It’s only about 5 hours long, maybe, and features absolutely no logic. Stuff just happens as you listen to infuriatingly annoying characters banter and then mow down useless mooks one by one. I would never even touch it if I didn’t need to beat it to unlock the P90 and M249…

Quick Fix: International Women’s Day Fails

I’ve been labouring for quite a while on what to write this particular blog post on. I had pretty much no inspiration, aside from lots of little developments which could make for a half-decent (if scatter-shot) quick fix. However, Saturday just dropped a topic into my lap like a hilarious gift from the heavens. In case you didn’t see the Google doodle, it was International Women’s Day, and the fails were (expectedly) abundant on my Facebook feed.

Anyway, first off was Blood Bowl‘s post. As a bit of background, Blood Bowl‘s a bit of an odd tabletop football spinoff of Warhammer Fantasy. It has also had a couple PC games, a new one which is coming out sometime soon. I’m actually looking forward to the game, but my enthusiasm was tempered a little bit when they posted this picture as a celebration of International Women’s Day:

“Today is March 8th! Be wary when on the Blood Bowl pitch, as the Amazons are fiercer than ever on this precise day! Happy Women’s Day!” – Actual caption

That… uh… wow. Predictably, pretty much every comment on the photo was very angry at the insensitive nature of the post – after all, the picture represents an objectified male fantasy of a woman. On any other day I doubt anyone would have batted an eye at it, but trying to tie this into a celebration of women and women’s liberation was just stupid… that said, I’m still gonna buy the game probably. When I reposted it though, the first commenter said something particularly dumb: “Honestly, it’s lest sexist than another ‘get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich’ joke”… well no shit, but that doesn’t mean it gets a free pass either.

However, the Blood Bowl team has supreme tact compared to the official Morph Suits’ photo celebrating Women’s Day:

Literally, they posted this photo with the caption “Happy International Women’s Day”. This one doesn’t even bother to hide the fact that it’s sexist… in fact, I find it hard to believe that is isn’t an intentional middle finger to the concept since it’s brazenly putting the girl’s breasts on front-and-center. Would you have even noticed there was a morph suit in the picture? Probably not (although maybe that says more about the male brain than anything). Anyway, on behalf of men who aren’t total douchebags, I apologize for how stupid many of us were on March 8th… sorry!