28 March 2010

Let's Play! ChuLip - Episode 11

Listen to us drop all kinds of ref while we continue to grind our faces against the spinning lathe that is ChuLip.

21 March 2010

Let's Play! ChuLip - Episode 10

Yes, that's right... as per request, we played more ChuLip. Remember how it seemed really easy? Well, we kind of forgot to take into account how broken and merciless this game is. Enjoy the Schadenfreude of watching us play, you sadistic sociopaths.

I hate this game...

16 March 2010

My final take on Victorientalism

Well, I took a little time tonight to read some more takes on Victorientalism, and I am certainly divided on the matter myself. Let me explain where I currently stand.

In my mind, steampunk is similar to the genre of the Western in the fact that they both glorify and idealize the past to some extent. In this model, let's compare steampunk to the wider genre of Western, and Victorientalism to the smaller subgenre of Westerns that are concerned with the Native Americans ("Indians"). Both of these more specific subgenres deal directly at a group of people that were oppressed by the ruling powers, and both have come under scrutiny for how they portray minorites.

However, they differ in the fact that the original Western explicitly vilified the Native Americans, while Victorientalism (at least as I understand it) idealizes the Victorian perception of Asian cultures. I have italicized "Victorian perception" because that is the primary issue—the worldview is ultimately from the point of white privilege viewing other cultures as "otherwordly."

Of course, the problem with the old Westerns was simple—Native Americans were not really the villains; quite to the contrary, they were the victims. When the tendency to portray natives as "evil savages" faced scrutiny, it was nearly impossible to defend the practice. Numerous Westerns were then produced that sympathised with the natives, and some can be easily seen as "the white man's apology," such as the heavy-handed Dances With Wolves (1990). I do not propose that these Westerns entirely solved the problem, but they at least showed that there was some effort in the film community to re-evaluate the genre and apologize for hurtful representations in the past.

But it seems the problem with Victorientalism is not quite as black and white. First off, many are reacting solely based on the name. This may stem from the fact that those who coined and supported the term may not have been aware of the connotations behind it. I do not know the origin of the word "Victorientalism," but it is quite possibly European. In my talks with some of my fellow members at the Gatehouse, it seems that the negative connotations of the words "Orient," "Oriental," and "Orientalism" are not as keenly felt and perceived in parts of Europe as they are here in America. Language barrier aside, there is still some validity in criticizing the terminology itself, and I hope that there will be an honest attempt at creating a new name for the genre.

Still, I don't see the issue as being purely semantic, either. Some critics have raised additional points during the debates that I think bare some summarizing. The primary prevailing issue seems to be an issue of just how "okay" it is to reference outdated perceptions of foreign cultures, even if one attempts to do some without any negative intentions. The suggestion here is that even an idealized or good-intentioned version of Orientalism is still Orientalism and thus has the quality of "Othering" those cultures being referenced. Others argue this is not the case, and that the subgenre is much more benign, and that to find racism in Victorientalism is to strain race relations without good reason. The issue is therefore murky and subject to great debate, which has been raging (among other places) here. As for myself, I will for the most part continue to avoid the subgenre that is currently known as Victorientalism. I say "continue to" because it has never been particularly intriguing to me anyways, or steampunk for that matter. I myself have always preferred dieselpunk, in part because of my interest in WWII (due to my family history) and because I am a lover of film noir. In particular, I enjoy the "Piecraftian" brand of dieselpunk which does not do away with the negative parts but merely mythologizes them into epic dystopian societies. The nitty-gritty aspects of life is often central, and class-strife figures heavily. If there was admittedly more attempts to subvert the Victorian ideas of class and race and to re-examine such relations in that era, I would probably enjoy the genre more. As it stands, my lack of interest in the Victorientalism subgenre remains generally low, and if asked to take sides, I will concede that the sense of latent racism is a strong detractor for me. At the same time, I will remain interested in the debates surrounding it, as I find them incredibly thought-provoking and am intrigued about what will become of it.

Of course, the question may rise: Why did you write an article for a publication about Victorientalism if you were not really interested in the topic, and are actually somewhat against it? The answer is simple: At the time, I had not fully considered all its implications, and was thus entirely neatral on the subject. Furhermore, I did not write an article because the theme was "Victorientalism," but simply because it was the Gatehouse Gazette, to which I regularly contribute. I enjoy writing about film, and have been happy to find a small publication vaguely related to my interests that will allow me to publish my work to an audience larger than I could hope to attain on my own. When the topic for this issue was set forth, I merely looked for something I was interested in that was tangentially related: chanbara and the relationship between artists in Japan and the West. I wrote my article with my own take on the nature of influence, which I had developed during a course concerning the influence of Japanese art on the Impressionists. In this art history course, called "Japan and the West," we dealt with many of the issues I addressed in my article. I merely applied them to a different period and medium—the genre of chanbara. In particular, I felt that chanbara were frequently misrepresented by genre theorists, particularly those discussing the Western. I applied my personal theory of the nature of influence that I had developed during discussing in "Japan and the West." My theory stated that influence is a complex interrelationship between artists who borrow from one another based on pre-existing similarities. None of this is directly related to Victorientalism or even steampunk, and hence why my article for the Gazette never mentioned these genres at all.

But now that all is said and done, I suppose I must weigh in on the matter of Victorientalism and set forth my particular position in the debate. I am, if forced into polemic extremes, ultimately against Victorientalism, though I can also see some validity to the opposing arguments. It is clear that there are those offended by it, and I think the community needs to listen to those concerns and respond, both by attempting to explain itself more and also to try to better understand what the opponents would like to see handled differently. I think a lot more negotiating needs to occur before the full complexities of the issue can come to light and either be dealt with or at the very least reach an "agree to disagree" resolution. Of course, despite my decided position closer to the "against Victorientalism" side of the debate, I still emotionally support my friends at the Gatehouse who stand in defense of it. I do not think they are truly racist, and I hope that anyone who is about the make that claim will take the time to understand that person. I know that I was often lumped in as "racist" by people who had not bothered to read my article and think about it, and to jump to such presumptions without basis will only hurt the cause. Calling people racist without good reason does not help the fight, it only serves to push away people who might otherwise be inclined to help you, had you taken the time to get to know them and convince them through kindness. (Can you tell that I am a fan of MLK and Ghandi?)

Lastly, I would like to reiterate that the Smoking Lounge is likely the friendliest forum I have been a part of, even if they can be opinionated at times. I will admit that I became frustrated with Ottens when we debated political philosophies on the sides of Rand and Zhuangzi, but in the end I think we decided to "agree to disagree." I have always respected him, and I feel he respects me, despite our differing ideologies. (I still say we've given Capitalism enough chances, Ottens! Can't we give a go at Zhuangzi's system? :þ)

In other news, for those of you visiting to read what I have to say about movies (you know, what this whole blog is supposed to be about), and not some strange subgenre you've never even heard of before that is part of that one genre you thought just meant, "That kid who wears a top hat to class," I will hopefully return to film soon! I will be attending a class tomorrow (Wednesday) in which we will discuss Hrafn Gunnlaugsson's Hrafninn flýgur (1984, The Raven Flies). At my suggestion, it was screened in a Norse mythology course on Monday, which I also attended. I will have a post up of my thoughts on it and, hopefully, some of the student's responses as well.

In defense of my Gazette article

I have a new post up over at the Gatehouse where I defend my article in the latest Gatehouse Gazette from the controversy and criticism surrounding the purposed theme for the issue as a whole—the highly misunderstood term "Victorientalism"—and the perceived handling of the term by the Gazette's editor, Ottens.

My post can be found here.

The ongoing debate over Victorientalism can be found here.

I've sadly been too busy lately to spend as much time as I would like researching this topic and the responses to it. Going in to writing the article for this issue, I had assumed the decided topic of "Victorientalism" was a rather well-established subgenre of steampunk, but apparently this is not the case. In fact, it seems to be the first time many steampunk enthusiasts have encountered the term, and they are often reacting viscerally rather than intellectually. The issue therefore seems to have two battles raging: one that seems to disagree with the word itself, and feel that simply renaming the subgenre would fix everything. This is the prevailing mood, as few people seem to have stopped to undertake research for a reasoned, intellectual discussion and have merely resorted to gut-level reactions. Admittedly, this shows a flaw in the genre's name, but it is still unfortunate that so many will decry the evils of it without taking the time to really understand what "it" is. The others, such as myself, are beginning to question the implications in terms of the entire steampunk genre. Steampunk is, essentially, and alternative Victorian era, it's real life counterpart being a time of extensive colonialism, racism, and class oppression. Is it okay to borrow aesthetically from this, despite it's dark past? Is it okay in some cases but not in others? Is it okay to idealize history for entertainment purposes or fiction by removing the more sinister parts?

These issues and more have begun to take shape and I hope that the steampunk community will explore these through intellectual debates in the coming weeks and months.

As it stands, I simply felt the desire to defend myself and my article, considering I have been lumped in as being "racist" by those who did not bother to read my article or many of my fellow contributors. I think the content of article should have spoken for itself that I am not racist nor ethnocentric in my take on the interaction between Western and Eastern cinema.

I would also like to state that I have been a part of the community over at the Smoking Lounge along with the other contributors and that it is one of the friendliest and most accepting places I have ever been online. People are courtesy and while debates arrise, they tend to be very civil and intellectual. Even Nick Ottens—who I disagree with politically and ideologically as he supports Ayn Rand while I prefer Zhuangzi, and who has faced the most heat during this controversy—I do not feel to be racist or to mean any ill intentions, nor any of the other contributors. They all seem to me to be good, respectable, and smart people. I will admit that latent racist is, at the very least, implied in the term "Victorientalism," but that is most likely not at all the intention behind it. Still, for that reason, I am advocating an attempt at finding another name for the genre that would be suitable and deemed less inherently offensive.

Note: If you have been sent directly to this post, please check out my final take on Victorientalism, posted here.

07 March 2010

Gatehouse Gazette Issue #11

The latest issue of the Gatehouse Gazette is now available. This one explores the idea of Victorientalism, and as such, I have provided an article about chanbara (samurai film) and the Western.

Here's what Ottens has to say about this issue:
For many centuries, the interaction between East and West has been a fabulous dwell for art and storytelling. From the days of medieval merchantmen to the era of the great white hunters of imperialism, to our modern day fascination with Japanese cyberculture and the much debated rise of China, the East has lingered in Westerners’ minds as an irreplaceable image of otherness.
Unlike our present day of interconnectedness, globalization and what-not, up until the nineteenth century, the Orient was very much a place of mystery, inhabited by people alien to Europeans’ experience, an exotic, cruel, and barbaric refuge for Western imagination. Critics of Orientalism have done much to cast shame upon our often patronizing and bizarre representations of Eastern life and tradition, but fortunately for those incorrigible aficionados of Oriental romance, steampunk allows us to reject the chains of reality and all the racism and guilt associated with it, to explore anew this imagined world of sultans and saber-rattling Islamic conquerors; harems and white slavery; samurai, dragons and dark, bustling bazaars frequented by the strangest sort of folk. Isn’t this, after all, steampunk’s very premise? To delve into a past that never really was. The Orientalists’ world may never have existed but its history is so powerful that up to this very, Westerners are smitten with it. With this issue, the Gatehouse Gazette is no exception.
As the yet undiscovered realms of Asia are so vastly different, so Victoriental steampunk must differ depending on where it takes place. The deserts of Arabia and the forbidden mountain ranges of Afghanistan may evoke visions of ancient citadels and fata morgana and deserted monasteries atop barren peaks; the jungles of India and Indochina invite adventurers to search for booby trapped remnants of lost civilizations while temples and palaces of spectacular wealth loom beyond, in the lands of Cathay.
In this issue, we, too, travel throughout all of the Eastern World, from Meiji Era Japan to Colonial India to Chinese magic in nineteenth century London.
There is non-Victoriental content on offer as well however, including an interview with Hugh Ashton, author of Beneath Gray Skies, an alternate history novel that is reviewed in this issue. There are your regular columns and a contribution from Sir Arthur Weirdy-Beardy, our correspondent in London.
To go to the download page, either click the image above or this link.