Friday, 23 December 2011

Wherever We Find Love

Christmas, as we know it, has a couple of origins.  Firstly, celebrating the birth of Christ, which does not apply to me because I'm an atheist.  Secondly, the fact that farming communities traditionally slaughter spare animals and feast upon them in the middle of winter, rather than feed them and care for them over that time.  Again, not something I wish to celebrate.  Thirdly, of course, there is the media.  Shops telling you what you need to buy to have the perfect Christmas, TV chefs telling you how to cook the perfect Christmas roast, etc.

There's nothing special about December 25th, really.  There's nothing magical or mystical about it.

So, I've decided to use it as a reminder.  A reminder to show goodwill to all people, that's a good one.  A reminder to spend time with the people I love.  An occasion on which to exchange tokens of affection.  A time to feel especially good about the world, and corny, and sentimental, and nostalgic.

Of course, all of those things can be done year round, and, to some extent, should be.  But it's useful to use this one day, a day the rest of the world helpfully reminds me about every year, to remember to pay attention to these things particularly.  It's the things you can do any time that tend to get left for last, after all.

This year, I won't have a traditional Christmas.  I won't be having a vegan roast on Christmas Day, or opening my presents.  I won't be with my family.  I won't even be at home.

Tomorrow, I leave for London, in order to start my first of five shifts in a Crisis Centre.  That's where I'll be on Christmas Day.  After that, I'll spend two weeks visiting my best friends, and I'll be singing this the whole time.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Krav Vegan's January Tour

My plans for Christmas are as follows; to visit friends all over the UK, and to treat each of them to lunch in a different vegan cafe along the way.  And then review them.

My short-list, in intended order of visit, is as follows;

Fun!  222 have very generously let me order off the menu, rather than from the buffet, as I asked in advance, and mentioned how much I wanted to try the vegan chocolate gateau (vegan chocolate gateau!).

On Friday, I'll be getting on the Megabus to London, and starting my first shift at a Crisis at Christmas Centre.  I'm doing five shifts, between the 24th-28th.  A friend of mine is also volunteering, at a different shelter, so we'll be meeting up at 222.

I'm looking forward to it, more than I was to Christmas last year, even though that was awesome and spent in Aberdeen with one of my best friends.  It just seems like it will be a really enjoyable experience.

I also made up a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child, an endeavour to send presents to children who probably won't get anything else for Christmas.  On their facebook page, you can see that they've already started distributing some of the shoeboxes.  I'm really looking forward to finding out where mine ends up.  I donated £2.50 to get a scannable barcode, just so I'll find out.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Second Black Mirror Rant

I feel like I'm missing something.  Like I'm not part of this group, this group that sees a valid point in 15 Million Merits, the second episode of Black Mirror.  Maybe I'm just part of the ignorant masses.  Or, maybe not, since I make a point of avoiding X-Factor and similar programs.  Perhaps that earns me some street cred.

AlarumAlarumAlarum Spoiler Warning for 15 Million Merits.  Spoilers be here.  If you don't want to be spoiled, scroll up and click the linky or the little x.  AlarumAlarumAlarum.

15 Million Merits describes a more claustrophobic version of the world portrayed in Ben Elton's Blind Faith. The main character, Bing,lives in a tiny room, surrounded by screens.  Every time he looks at them, they show him something.  Adverts pop up periodically, and he must either sit through them, or pay to skip them.  If he averts his eyes, the image moves with him.  If he covers his eyes or otherwise blocks his vision, the screen pauses the advert and blasts an alarm at him until he looks at it.

The currency in this world is merits, which is earned by time spent cycling on static bicycles.  It is implied that the cycling creates the electricity used in this world.  When someone becomes too fat to cycle, they are downgraded to cleaning staff.

Most people spend their money on the little avatars which represent themselves onscreen, buying them accessories.  15,000,000 Merits can buy you a ticket to appear on Hot Shots, an X-Factor rip-off.  So this episode is a mash-up of Blind Faith and Chart Throb, then.

Let me say, right now, that I am not a fan of X-Factor and similar programs.  They use a number of techniques (which Brooker himself partially illustrates in this excellent video) in order to tell a story, normally one which has been drafted out far earlier than the average viewer might expect.  Chart Throb, which is one of my favourite books (as you can see in my shiny GoodReads sidebar!) describes the process of these kinds of "reality" tv talent shows in more depth.  There's a lot to be said, from the way that people are encouraged to describe themselves in certain ways, which are used to hang them with later, to the specific way that the vote is controlled by editing characters from week to week.  The program is cruel, which is why I refuse to watch it.

None of this was really dealt with in 15 Million Merits, which I found disappointing.  There is a brief moment where a character is ordered to make a specific sound-bite, but this is done with so little subtlety that you don't really make the connection that this is what happens in reality, that people are badgered, flattered, and cajoled into saying specific sentences for reality TV sound-bites. 

Bing, the aforementioned main character of the show hears a girl singing in the toilets.  He thinks her voice is beautiful.  Actually, it's mediocre, which may be a subtlety made point; X-Factor has never, ever, been about talent, and it's probable that Bing can only tell the difference between 'awful' and 'passable', if that show is all he's ever known.  It's also likely that her looks affected his opinion, as they do for later characters.

So, Bing buys this girl, Abi, a ticket to appear on the show (he inherited the merits from his brother, but couldn't find "anything real" to spend them on).  When she gets on stage, she is told, bluntly, that her voice is okay, but no one wants singers; they want her to appear in pornography, as one of Wraith's Girls, Wraith being one of the judges.

There's a bit of theme-naming with the judges, incidentally.  Wraith, Charity, and Hope.  Wraith is essentially a modern Hugh Hefner, without the latters boyish charm, and "good-clean-fun" ideals.  He and the other judges discuss Abi's body in explicit detail, and treat her as a piece of meat.  She is told not to worry about the shame - she'll be drugged out of her mind.  Already drugged before going on stage, Abi agrees.  Later, Bing is forced to watch an advert of her new program, as he no longer has the merits to skip it.

This drives him to earn another 15 million merits, appear on the show himself, and use a piece of glass to threaten to kill himself on stage if they don't let him rant.  Since he has inherited the idiot ball from last week's show, he hasn't actually planned what to say, and rants almost incoherently about the total lack of reality.  He does make a good point, within the norms of this world.

The judges then offer him a biweekly half hour slot in which to rant.  Bing accepts, and spends the rest of his life in a slightly bigger screen cage, as another part of the media landscape.

The problem I have with this episode is that it's simply too far removed from reality.  In Blind Faith, which portrayed a similar, through less technologically advanced, society, Ben Elton specifically explained events which had formed this society.  He'd taken our world, tweaked it satirically just a little, then let it run, creating the world in which his story takes place.  It seemed plausible.  It seemed like it was populated with people who could exist.

This doesn't.  The difference is that the writers, Charlie Brooker and Konnie Huq, have given it too much.  It's too extreme.  Too out there.  So, it loses value as any kind of morality tale because it simply doesn't apply.

This world is nowhere near as homogeneous as their world.  The way our technology is going is to cut us off from each other, though we still have time to change it.  More and more sites are using filters to show us the things we're already interested in, locking us in a prison of our own opinions.  Again, this is not extreme at present, and plenty of sites don't do this - compare facebook and twitter, for instance.  Facebook edits your newsfeed to things it thinks you want to see, based on previous actions (including clicking a 'like' button - how about getting an 'important' button on there as well, as Eli Pariser suggests in The Filter Bubble?).

In contrast to this, everything we see in Bing's world is samey.  Not just for him - for everyone around him.  There are clearly disagreements and different personality types, but everyone is shown and accepts the same content, with minimal personalisation, considering the level of technology shown.

My point is, I guess, that we are not all the same.  We're not a mass of ignorant X-Factor lovers who blindly follow the media gods, and nor do we all agree that a tribe of those people will someday take over and put us in screen cages.  This program isn't making a real point - it's making an exaggeration of a point with occasional real bits put in.  The objectification  of women, for instance, was dealt with well, and subtly enough to make people really think, and, hopefully connect with their own lives.  The idea that greater technology will lock us all indoors forever isn't real.  It's too removed.  It's too fictitious to have the impact that I think Brooker and Huq were going for.

That said, there is a layer of meta-reality going on.  Konnie Huq presented Xtra Factor, and this show was produced by a subsidiary of Endemol, the producers of Big Brother.

Just to add; if anyone feels like asking 'why do you watch it if you hate it so much?' please notice that I have not expressed hatred.  Even if I had, my blog, my time, my decision.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Monogamy Agreement

This post was inspired by two things; firstly, this post on Polyamory that Alicorn wrote in the Less Wrong community, and, secondly, a recent episode of the Big Bang Theory in which (spoiler alert) one character wrote up a relationship agreement for another to sign.

I hope you will read the above post, but I'm going to recap it anyway; the part we are most concerned with is the fact that the author, Alicorn, on deciding to enter a polygamous relationship, wrote a list of exactly what that would entail.  She began by writing down what was essential - to her - from a monogamous relationship, and seeing if those things could be met in a polyamorous one (spoiler - they could).

The thing that struck me was the fact that no one does this (except someone in the Big Bang Theory) for monogamy.  Because monogamy is the socially acceptable and normative relationship model for, I presume, the majority of people reading, we just assume that it means the same thing to everyone.  That everyone - specifically, all potential and actual partners - use the same, or very similar, models for monogamy.  We don't discuss what we expect from a relationship, we just assume we're on the same page.

(Or, at least, I assume this is the case.  Anyone who does have in depth discussions about new monogamous relationships, holler at me down in the comments).

For the sake of interest, I'm going to make a quick list regarding my current relationship, and what my ideal model of monogamy looks like.  Unless otherwise specified, all points apply to both parties, although, by necessity, the list is from my point of view.

  • I want to be the only romantic priority, and I want this to be symmetrical.
  • I want a don't ask, don't tell policy on minor flirting.  This is partly because I enjoy verbal confirmation of my attractiveness, and, if this is all expected to come from one person, it tends to create a huge strain on my relationship.  I also don't want to have to very carefully monitor all conversations with male friends.  However, anything beyond a certain limit will be considered adultery (I have yet to determine where that limit is, or how exactly it should be determined.  This is something Anthony and I should discuss).
  • Both parties acknowledge that each other has integrity.  Feeling jealous and acknowledging that is natural, and those feelings should be considered.  However, trust, and not being insane and controlling, is also important.
  • I want to have friends of the opposite gender - including one specific friend, who is an ex - and for this not to be a source of constant whining, jealousy, or emotional blackmail/abuse.  In this specific case, Anthony also has a friend whom he once had strong feelings for, and I, for my part, try not to be crazy about it.
  • Adultery consists of; dating another person, romantic physical contact (intentions are important, here), and romantic relationships with other people even if they don't move beyond the verbal.  Kissing counts.Adultery, as defined above, will result in an immediate end to the relationship.  Hiding these actions will be the worst thing you could do to me.
  • The flaw here is, of course, that my partner therefore has no incentive to ever tell me, since there is no chance of working it out.  This is where trust comes into it.
  • We both acknowledge and avoid the possibility of inter-relationship sexual abuse.  ie; yes, it is possible to rape your long-term partner, and no, that will not be happening.
  • We don't share every hobby.  I like, for instance, reading a book or knitting while Anthony watches football.  I don't want to have to sit and watch every second of the game, he doesn't have to read every book I own.  However, there should also be a mutual respect for one another's hobbies.  (I was once in a relationship with someone whose pattern for monogamy included doing everything together.  This often meant that his hobbies superseded mine, or, at least, that he felt like they should.  Trivia - he's also the reason for the "I'm-allowed-male-friends clause"!)
  • Like Alicorn, I also want to marry and reproduce exclusively.  Again, this is not on the cards for me at the moment.
  • Again, like Alicorn, I want to be able to secure attention on demand.
  • I try to avoid preparing food which is not vegan.  I have no problem with dating an omnivore, and I will cook for him (I'm cissexual), but it will be vegan food.  Open-mindedness is a necessity (but not the kind of open-mindedness where you go on and on about how open-minded and allowing you're being).
  • I am not your parent.  I do not want to organise everything.  If we attend an event together, I do not expect to have to tell you how to dress, constantly remind you of when we need to leave, or what time to be ready, or to carry snacks/water.  That said, both parties should be sensible regarding information; for instance, if we're going to an event I chose, then I will know when it starts, and how to get there, assuming it's in Birmingham, and will use this information to ensure a fun trip for both of us.  Likewise, for events in Liverpool, or that Anthony decides to attend, he will have more information than I do.
  • I don't want to do the majority of the cooking, or be expected to do the majority of the cooking.  Since I have particular dietary needs, I will do half.

The above is just a quick draft, and, obviously, there are some bugs to hammer out.   I really want to know; how do these ideas differ from what you'd put on your agreement?  Any specific clauses you wouldn't wish to include?  Anything I've missed?  Let me know!

    Tuesday, 6 December 2011

    Fucking a Pig: Black Mirror

    I recently watched the first episode of Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror the other day, entitled National Anthem. The series will consist of three shows, ostensibly unconnected, but with similar themes. It has been likened to The Twilight Zone.

    After this point, I will freely discuss the events of The National Anthem, and will not warn for individual spoilers. This is your only spoiler warning.  If you want to watch the show first, go up a bit and click on the linky.  

    This is not a daffodil.

    National Anthem begins with a Princess, loosely based on Kate Middleton/Beatrice, being kidnapped. The ransom demand, made via youtube, is for the Prime Minister to fornicate with a pig on live television, approximately twelve hours later, else the Princess will be executed.

    I will say that I was honestly expecting the demand to be that the Prime Minister shoot himself in the head. Therefore, sex with a pig did seem like a slightly preferable option.

    Don't get me wrong here; this was sexual abuse, for both creatures involved. I would not hesitate to call it rape, for both parties. The pig, who has the intelligence of a three-year-old child has no way to give consent, of course. I don't even want to dwell on the physiological differences (namely, size) between a human male and a pig, and the discomfort this must have caused.

    Then there is the PM, who is forced to commit a sexual act, to be broadcast live on all networks, to completion. The show does make the horror of this clear, when the program reaches that point.

    A major focus of the show is on how the internet culture plays into the event. The video is first uploaded to youtube, and although the PM's office removes it as soon as possible, it is quickly copied and re-uploaded. It is impossible to contain.

    The PM's office then tries to use a super-injuction, which the media goes along with voluntarily. However, Twitter, as we already know, isn't bothered by super-injunctions, and as the rest of the world starts playing the story, UK networks rapidly follow.

    At first, many of the British public treat the event as a joke. However, as the PM goes through with it, their reaction rapidly turns to horror, not at the PM, but at the events.

    A few things annoyed me, within the show. Firstly, the idiot who saw a porn actor being sneaked in, took a picture, and uploaded it to Twitter, tipping off the kidnapper to the PM's attempted subterfuge. Why do that? That's like taking a picture of Prince Harry heading to wherever he's serving and inviting someone to drop a bomb on him. I have no objection to anyone discussing events like that, but an ounce of sense would tell you that some things should be kept secret - unless you want to be responsible for someone's finger being sliced off.

    Several other characters are holding the idiot ball, too. Take the news reporter who sneaks into the place where they believe the kidnapper is holding the princess. When she is discovered (by the police or army or whoever it was), she runs away, getting herself shot in the leg. Idiot.

    Then there's the PM's wife. "Oh no, poor me, my husband was forced to go through a traumatic event. I'm so disgusted! Poooooooooooooor meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!"

    What an awful person.

    Then there's the 'artist' himself, who was responsible for the kidnapping. In the end, he releases her half an hour before the show begins, then hangs himself. The princess is not found until after the PM has gone through with the event, as the streets of London are deserted. Later, a character says that he must have been trying to make a point.

    What point? That people would watch a broadcast like that? No shit. If that was the point, it's a stupid one. The princess was released in one tiny part of the world - what about all the people outside of London, who might have noticed her? What about the people who were in London, but weren't watching, and simply weren't outside, or in the right area, to notice her? What about the people who watched in a gesture of silent support and solidarity to the PM, as I might have attempted to, before feeling too ill and having to switch it off?

    Honestly, that artist sounds like the kind of teenage wanker who goes on about how the entire world are sheeple, etc, etc. Y'know, the pretentious everyone-else-is-so shallow! type.

    On another note; I wonder how the show would be different if the PM had been female? Firstly, that's unlikely; by this time, it seems like the election of Mrs Thatcher was more of a fluke than a great step forward in feminism, and the idea of a female PM seems laughable (in the sense that she wouldn't be elected, not in the sense that she couldn't do it). But if she were, what would the equivalent be? To allow herself to be raped by an animal? Would that be harder to watch? From a vegan perspective, you could argue that it's easier on the animal, even if he is no more able to give consent than the pig can. From a purely logistical perspective, it does seem like it would be easier to enter a member of a larger species than to be entered by one of them.

    However, from the perspective of a woman (a woman, not all women), I don't think it could have been any harder to watch than it was. Not all rapes are the same, but rape is still rape.
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