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Sunday, 28 October 2018

The Good Old Days

The Goonies was a formative movie of my childhood.

I mean, why wouldn't it be? Adventure! Mystery! Kids having fun! A fat kid that still gets to join in despite everyone treating him like shit! (Okay it hasn't necessarily aged well.) It's my Sean Astin movie - Lord Of The Rings just borrowed him.

What it leaves, though - the thing it left with me, that it has always left with me, ever since I first saw it - was this sense of nostalgia that it immediately provoked in me. A yearning for specific elements of a childhood that also included a bunch of really shitty elements - to just be running through the woods, chatting nonsense with people I know and trust, or going off and doing whatever for a whole day and having nothing to care about in the intervening hours.

What movies like The Goonies and its peers really do is sell us a childhood we really wish we had, by framing itself in terms and tropes that we actually experienced.

That's not a criticism. It's the nature of fantasy/adventure films of a certain age aimed at kids. Because they were shot when we were kids, they were made back then, so everything is redolent of the era. Using bikes to get everywhere and needing to come up with creative ways to stay in touch because, hey, we didn't have mobile phones.

It calls back to the time when that was the concern. When the biggest worry of any kind was managing to get the crew together to do some stupid stuff, like ride around on bikes for hours arguing about if Tommy from Power Rangers was rubbish or brilliant.

It was before we went through the awkward phases of partial knowledge of world events, where we sought for simple answers as to why things were hard for certain people but not for others. Before we started realising how things really work.

Wanting to be back in that space, wanting to be in a position wherein the primary concerns are small ones, is hardly a sin. It says more about the world as it stands right now than it does about us as people and what we want out of life. That there are so many things today - anxiety-inducing things which are made difficult for no reason other than to change them would be just slightly more difficult and would disadvantage those more important than us - which we accept as just being normal, and never seem to question.

"That's just the way it is," is the answer you get given. Which is dangerously close to "That's just the way it has always been," which echoes the warning from the (fictional) five monkeys experiment. I'm sure you know of that one: five monkeys in a cage with a ladder leading up to food, and whenever one monkey goes up the ladder all the rest got soaked in cold water, so they start beating up any monkey that goes for the ladder. Then when they substitute out one of the monkeys for a new one, the new one immediately goes for the ladder, and gets beaten up for it, and without even knowing the original reason why, is encouraged to not go up the ladder by societal pressure.

(As an aside, the actual experiment is kind of more interesting. Monkeys, when manipulating an object that had previously appealed to them, were punished with several blasts of pressurised air - enough to alarm but not harm. After a while they stopped manipulating the object when by themselves, but upon mixing with other monkeys who did manipulate the object, they themselves did it too. Thus, the actual experiment proves the complete opposite of what the ladder bullshit tries to tell us: that we can be encouraged by others in positive ways rather than just negative.)

I don't think it is a contentious statement to say that there is a lot of nostalgia media around right now. Old video games becoming fashionable again, the iconography of an entire decade becoming people's standard aesthetic, neon and grid lines and synthwave and fake VHS lines. Stranger Things and stuff like it. Awesome musical acts like Robots With Rayguns literally evoking the era with their imagery, their samples and their songwriting. Tim Capello - the sexy sax man from Lost Boys, Tina Turner's tour saxophonist, the man that taught me I was bisexual - has an album out, and is recording synthwave music with other bands. This guy.

The people who grew up with The Goonies are now the people consuming most of the media - and the people making a lot of it, too. There's still a lot of influence from the older folks, because hey, there's money in the industry and they want it. The nostalgia train is loaded with cash. We just hanker for that time - that time back when things were simpler, and not necessarily for good reasons. Like, things still sucked back then for a lot of people - living standards by several metrics were objectively worse.

On a personal scale - that is where things were better. Less existential dread. Less worry. Less fear of the future. Life wasn't better because the world was better, life was better because we were kids and we didn't know any better.

We must take care to pay attention to that - and it is perhaps something we might mention to those who talk about the past as a mythical better place. Like everything back in the seventies, sixties, fifties, forties, thirties, was better than things are today.

Our childhood wasn't better because it was the past. It was better because we were children.

Be kind to yourself. Life is hard enough.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

NaNoWriMo Thoughts - Who We Are

The future that my NaNo project is set in is pretty grim.

Like, the human race is in the pits. It's at war with [REDACTED] and also has a serious internal discipline problem. 97% of the planets within Central's jurisdiction are owned by one of the 17 Corporate Entities that exist - and I mean literally owned, each potentially habitable or exploitable resource is put to tender and is the sole responsibility and possession of that Corporate Entity.

Human rights are pretty much just a thing of the past. They were left behind with the memory of Earth. Who knows where we came from? Who cares? Who has enough time or energy to worry about it? Most of the human race is too busy.

Which means a big crackdown on our personal freedoms, right?

Well, some of them.

What we have a case of, though, is an unshackling of neoliberal business practice from traditional hard-right "family values" bullshit. Religion doesn't really happen any more, the notion of a nuclear family joins the concept of anti-monopolisation laws as a pre-Spread relic, and society has become a machine for purchasing goods and supporting the war effort.

So as long as you buy the corporation's products and make its weaponry, what do they care who you love or who you sleep with?

I mean, in part I know it is just me wanting to increase visibility and representation in my own work. That's a thing I am into. People exist in a lot of flavours that aren't cishet white male vanilla, and that fact not only deserves to be represented in my work, it OUGHT to be, as a matter of reason and realism.

I've talked about representation before - about movies and such in this one, and in video games and such in this one. There's a lot of stories that need telling that don't have a random straight white dude in the driver's seat.

I'm not really qualified to tell a story about being trans, about being gender fluid, about being asexual or aromantic - they aren't experiences I have lived, and there's voices a lot more qualified than mine that can talk about them. What I CAN do is include those people and those voices and experiences, and indeed I feel I have a duty to, to correct the swerve toward invisibility and marginalisation that most mainstream media tends to undergo.

"I just don't want people to think it is normal to be like that," are words I have heard someone actually say, recently, relating to gay people. I'm not sure where that attitude started from, but I can guarantee that it only gets reinforced by almost every major movie and TV series cramming your standard cishet relationship mush down your throat, and that anything that deviates from that norm has to come with a warning label to avoid sending Daily Mail readers into an apoplectic fury.

This comparison is going to be an awkward one, but once I did a blog about how watching Watership Down when I was young prepared me for the death of a pet. We can roll our eyes as much as we want at the notion of the media shaping how we think, but it CAN, in our formative years. Maybe, just maybe, if these people who see anyone that doesn't fit their standard cast as "not normal" had seen them proliferate in the media they'd absorbed without even thinking since early childhood - maybe this would have been their new normal.

I mean, we somehow managed to normalise people in suits earning a hundred times what their actual employees earn. We managed to normalise the Cold War, we managed to demonise words like Socialist and Feminist.

Surely we can normalise not treating people like shit any more.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

NaNoWriMo Thoughts - Where Monopolies End

Yep, it's that time of year again - I am doing National Novel Writing Month once more, and this time, we're going cyberpunk, baby.

This will form part of a series of blogs about my NaNo project and about writing in general, each looking at themes I am exploring or generally find neat or awful respectively.

Now, with cyberpunk, we find ourselves in the corporate future.

Take this shot from the set of the original Blade Runner:

See how well-lit everything is? And can you see any actual streetlights? It's all shining down from logos and neons.

This is a theme that gets heavily picked up in cyberpunk and scifi. Neal Stephenson, in 1992's Snow Crash, labels the effect Loglo. Here it is demonstrated in the TV series of Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon:

Pretty but also a bit troubling, right?

For comparison, here is what I believe to be Tokyo, circa 90s:

I have gone on record before as saying that I believe the cyberpunk future to be the future we are heading into.

Picture this though. Picture the far future. Not the relative near, wherein we are still Earth-centric and our values are pretty similar to what they are today. Wherein the things that trouble us are also relevant to what they would be today.

Instead let us turn our eyes hundreds, if not thousands, of years into the future - a future based on the notion that, today, now, the corporations win. Massive business entities made out of hundreds of different individual corporations handling the exploration, colonisation and habitation of spheres beyond Earth. I hope that doesn't sound too out there, given that SpaceX exists. How big a jump is it, really, to go from SpaceX to something like...

So if one single company colonises a planetoid, builds all the homes there, makes it breathable, makes it habitable - is there still going to be a monopolies commission to make them let other corporate interests take root in the soil that they themselves made fertile?

Given how the world is going, I daresay that the law against monopolies will be left on Earth.

So this business ends up basically owning this entire planetoid, be it a moon, a large asteroid, an actual planet, whatever. And it can either let other businesses in, or it can it its damn self.

Lets say that the company that ends up owning Titan is Nestle. I'm sure you have all seen this rather scary image.

Now this is just food and drink items, but it shows what a spread of products each of these individual large businesses has under their purview.

So lets say Titan needs places to live. Good news, one of the subdivided companies actually has a wing that deals entirely with housing. The people that live there need places to eat and shop, which is good, because another subdivision has both a chain of stores and a chain of bars and fast food restaurants.

These people need to work, though - and only so many of them are needed to actually "service" everyone else. Which is great, because Titan has plenty of natural resources to exploit, and there's plenty of business opportunities! ... for the processing and manufacture divisions of the company.

Who gets to tell them no? Who goes out into the solar system and rocks up to every single settled planetoid and demands that the company that literally built everything on it needs to let in competition?

The company gets to be the law, here. Gets to be the judge and jury. And one might assume that the way a business gets to be the one to settle, say, Titan is by a bidding system. That the colonisation rights would be put out to tender, and whoever can afford / make the best case for the rights, gets them.

So you, the normal person, some fifty generations after settling - you have grown up knowing nothing but the company. You've only ever lived, eaten, breathed, worked around company territory. You pay them rent out of the pay they give you for the work you put in. And whatever central government exists doesn't have to care about you, because you are the sole responsibility of the company that bought Titan.

Or Analog Incorporated, the company that bought the civic rights to Corpus VIII's second moon. Auroch, a moon with an atmosphere that is breathable and survivable but that has no magnetosphere and can't shield you from very rapid death from solar radiation. You can't go out by day - which is okay because a significant amount of time is spent in eclipse behind Corpus VIII, a gas giant.

The company doesn't have to pay for street lights. It has its own logos to light your way.

Welcome to the setting of my NaNo, 2018.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

The Work Of Being A Wallflower

Those eagle-eyed amongst you may realise that I am an introvert, as outright stated in this blog here about privatising and monetising the capacity for solitude.

I didn't know that about myself for a long time - or maybe I didn't have the language to articulate it, or maybe I wasn't aware of it as a simple personality trait as opposed to actual mental illness.

The thing about being an introvert - about not necessarily always enjoying being around other people, needing time away to recharge, valuing privacy - is that whenever we show up in a TV show or a movie, we're very rarely the protagonist.

This is all personal experience, obviously - the sample size is one, just me, and all the media I enjoyed as a kid. But then this is a personal blog, so I guess we can deal with that, right?

So I will perhaps reach out to my reader at this point. Cast your mind back (some further back than others) to when you were a mere youth, think about the cartoons, TV series, movies, books, and comics that you enjoyed, and think about how many of them featured - as a main character - someone who you now on reflection recognise as an introvert.

I mean - I can see why, right? Because a show or story is about the character interacting with people, and if you have the character dislike doing that or find it draining then it is hard to make them come across as sympathetic, so someone like Dexter from Dexter's Laboratory doesn't come across as an introvert. He comes across as an asshole - which in and of itself is part of the problem.

Not wanting to attend a social function or go out with your friends or be around people or entertain company was, twenty years ago, not considered an okay thing.

Standard child development includes the monitoring of their social skills. This isn't a bad thing, necessarily - I have interacted with enough people who aren't just awkward but lack significant social skills, skills which the rest of the world assume everyone has. What it does do, however, is normalise a specific way of approaching the world around you, and if you don't do it that way - well, you get labelled as one of the weird ones.

The thing is I don't think everyone is either an introvert or an extrovert all the time. I think sometimes people become more extroverted under certain circumstances - mostly needing time by themselves but having weekends filled with partying for example.

In my head, everyone sits on a scale.

You can probably work out what the I and the E mean.

Now, tests like the ridiculous Myers-Briggs - which is some kind of ludicrous scam based on the work of a racial supremacist - will tell you what personality type you are, and insist that it is literally what you are. You will never change. Not daily, not weekly, not once in your life. In fact, Myers-Briggs (I have to fight the urge to spit whenever I type this) states that if you ever take the test twice and get a different answer, it's your fault, not the test. Because nobody ever changes, ever.

Whereas I think that most people sit in a region like this:

Straddling the middle ground, sometimes enjoying being around other people, sometimes needing not to. After all, we feel differently toward company depending on if we're in a Monday morning meeting at work or on the way to our local on an early Friday afternoon off, right?

Whereas this is kind of where I see my own personal little scale:

It's very easy for me to run out of social spoons. The likelihood of that happening increases depending on how well I know the people around me, how drunk or altered they are, topics of conversation, so on.

Now, working in customer satisfaction and workplace performance as I do, there's a certain set of behavioural standards that a lot of companies wish their employees to uphold. Some of these are pretty basic - acknowledge that your customer exists, don't be sexist or racist at them, charge them the right price for the service requested.

Some of it, however, is the kind of thing that would weird me out in a social setting.

Eye contact, for example. Maybe this is the social anxiety speaking but it can be a very awkward and intimidating thing for it to be maintained constantly. We at work have had debates as to how much eye contact is too much.

Another thing - conversation, making small talk. I am hilariously bad at small talk. The idea of someone working somewhere being encouraged, if not slightly forced, to make small talk with me is not something I particularly relish. Now, sure, some people enjoy a good chat - but not me. I'm just here to get my stuff and get out, like a gremlin scurrying around an abandoned diner.

The thing is - I am far more likely to be put off by someone being way too full on and trying too hard, than I am by someone being quiet and socially awkward. I get the impression that it isn't really a thing companies see as a problem. Salesperson patter is such a common trope that I remember my dad describing people who were too overtly friendly as being like used car salesmen.

The world isn't built for us. The world is built for those comfortable with demanding room in it, and we... aren't, really. We want to lurk around the corners, hang out in the kitchen with the cat, sit outside and get some air, head home before anything gets too crazy.

But now, at least, we know that is just who we are. We're not broken, we're not faulty. We're just... us. We just need a breather sometimes, and that's okay. We like being alone, and when we spend time with others, it's time we want to spend. It's valuable. If your significant other is an introvert, I hope you feel a little bit lucky - it's like a cat picking a human.

You never know. Maybe one day, it'll feel like a level playing field.