Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 15:57 on 27-02-2013, Fishing in the Mud
And the social justice issues you ferrets usually deal with aren't a political matter for me, but an ethical one. Of course, you can have agendas in this matter, but for me, there's not really two sides to the issue that need to be heard. There's an objective right and wrong which can easily be sussed out through empathy.

That's great, but plenty of people who feel just as strongly that there's "an objective right and wrong" about these issues come to the opposite conclusions that you probably would. Even if you consider them non-issues, when other people decide to argue for positions very different from yours about issues that actually affect your life, you don't get the option of ignoring them.

The problem I have with aligning yourself with a fixed political position is that it often turns policy discussions into a battle, and people become more solidly entrenched in their original points of view than they would have been if they had been arguing about topics that didn't have the "politics" tag attached to them. That doesn't mean these topics aren't relevant to real life or that no one considers them controversial even if you don't.
permalink
at 12:47 on 27-02-2013, Andy G
I'm rather baffled why you would think my comment was offensive, so I can only assume we're talking at cross purposes, and I am sorry if I have inadvertently caused offence. In particular, my choice of "would be justified" was deliberate: I wasn't claiming that your view was in fact blanket cynicism; in fact, my sense was that you and Robinson might have been talking at cross-purposes. I was trying to distinguish between (a) writing from a perspective structured around a certain political conception and directed towards certain political ends, and (b) propagandistic writing which distorts matters to fit a particular political end. I don't think (a) is bad at all - in fact, I think all writing is necessarily (a), as the idea of politically neutral writing is incoherent. However, it is incoherent only if "political" is being taken in a very broad sense; it could consistently be the case that for a narrower sense of "political" (for instance, explicit programmatic -isms), all "political" writing was dangerous and untrustworthy.

Anyway that's all I have to say on that subject here so I shall leave this topic alone now. Again, if I've offended you, sorry.
permalink
at 10:34 on 27-02-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
"Why are Americans Afraid of Dragons?"

Wait, what?

Yeah, that seems like an obvious thing, since they're really horrific like, with many sharp claws and multitudes of sharp pointy teeth. Plus the fly and have bad breath.

Michal: I hope it would be a joke. But maybe it's a bit too subtle, like when he blames Le Guin for using a strawman in her description of the typical american reader, which seems to be the case, and then starts dreamily to describe what the typical american reader is like! I mean, just saying that there are many kinds of readers and there are sales statistics to prove it would be much better than engaging in flowery elitism in an essai that specifically tries to attack elitism. I guess sentimentalism is to be preferred to left wing.

On the matter of politics, I'll subscribe to the idea that the preferred type is the pundit who is upfront about their views and then presents as honest an argument that they are able to support that argument. If the facts are right, embellishment and useless demonization of opposing views or the object of the text is not required, assuming that the writer actually trusts the reader to think for themselves. Of course, sometimes argumentative pieces are in order, but you can be upfront about that as well.

And the social justice issues you ferrets usually deal with aren't a political matter for me, but an ethical one. Of course, you can have agendas in this matter, but for me, there's not really two sides to the issue that need to be heard. There's an objective right and wrong which can easily be sussed out through empathy.


Do you mean that you don't need to b convinced on these issues, because you agree, and therefore don't see it politically? Because usually the issue with these sorts of things or politics is the problem of selling a moral viewpoint or a viewpoint that is presented as a moral one. And unfortunately, because ethical or moral viewpoints are usually perceived as objective by pretty much every one, even those who think that such viewpoints are subjective, it has a tendency to break down the discussion into a competition of rhetorics. And that's one of the reasons I enjoy these articles, they're usually insightful enough viewpoints into things I generally agree on and they are entertaining too, so if I ever get caught in such discussions, perhaps I can use some of the arguments. Not that I think that the Conan things are obligatory for anyone, but the comments are very illuminating of the problems of some fandoms which desperately wish to defend their things from any and all criticisms.
permalink
at 02:19 on 27-02-2013, James D
Just a question - why wouldn't blanket cynicism about any writing with a political agenda be justified? I mean someone writing something with a political agenda in mind is trying to sell you their views, right? Caveat emptor. That's not to say you should just instantly dismiss anyone with a political agenda without any consideration at all, but I think it goes without saying that, if the choice is a conscious one, you're not going to buy the vast majority of "products" you are presented with.
permalink
at 01:09 on 27-02-2013, Cheriola
If the issue is just with the propagandistic approach typically taken within the specific tradition of (so-called) communism, and perhaps also the agenda of that tradition itself, that's fine, but I don't think blanket cynicism about any writing with a political agenda would be justified.


It must be so nice not to grow up in an area with living memory of being successively seduced and betrayed by the promises of all three major options for political/economic systems today's world has to offer. (Yes, that includes the current system.) But the burnt child dreads the fire.

I had here a snarky explanation for why the above quote is also kind of thoughtlessly offensive on multiple levels, but I can't think of another way of explaining my point to a Brit and/or American than coding it into an abuse metaphor. And I don't want to go there. So lets leave it at this: We obviously have very different worldviews, based on our very different cultural history. Please don't act like you can judge my reaction "unjustified" if you've never walked in my shoes.
permalink
at 23:00 on 26-02-2013, Cheriola
Well, he writes mostly about Doctor Who, which I am interested in. (I've tried to read a couple of your Conan articles, but... Sorry, the subject matter just doesn't interest me enough to invest so much time. Obviously it's interesting to you, so more power to you for writing the articles. As long as it's not considered required reading on this site...)

And while I'm currently rolling my eyes when he starts about capitalism and the evil petit bourgeoisie again, he does write about some other stuff that I can get behind. Such as the latest article. (Which doesn't add very much new to the topic it's about, but it was linked to me because it was the first one to make the distinction that River Song is a sexist character in the particular way of sexism as it exists now, and therefore comparisons to earlier eras of the show are moot. It's all a bit meta. You've probably got to be a loyal reader of certain other feminist Doctor Who blogs to understand why this article was necessary.)

Besides, there is a certain fascination to someone who gets this monomaniacal and obsessive about his pet topic. It's a bit telling that he links to "Mad Larry" (not my nickname) without irony and lists his blog basically in the same breath as STFUMoffat... (Note about Mr. Miles: I would like to link you to one of his more, shall we say, 'colourful' essays, but he has a habit of deleting them once shit hits the fan.)
permalink
at 22:51 on 26-02-2013, Andy G
I don't think the issue is having a political agenda as such (if anything, I think it's admirable to be upfront about your political agenda rather than disguising it in a pretence at neutrality) but rather writing in a way that distorts facts to fit that agenda or reduces critics of that agenda to strawmen. That's aside from the merits (or not) of the particular political agenda in question. If the issue is just with the propagandistic approach typically taken within the specific tradition of (so-called) communism, and perhaps also the agenda of that tradition itself, that's fine, but I don't think blanket cynicism about any writing with a political agenda would be justified.
permalink
at 22:46 on 26-02-2013, Robinson L
@Cheriola: All right, it sounds like we have two very different understandings of how political agendas work. Nothing wrong with that. I'd be up for a friendly debate on the subject, but I realize this is a sensitive topic and I don't want to antagonize you. Also, something tells me this is not the proper forum for such a discussion.

I can certainly agree with you that the author of the Shabogan blog seems to be ignoring or even suppressing information which works against his thesis, and that weakens the reliability of his arguments.

@Arthur: Yes, I think I see what you mean. There's also the fact that this guy is trying to do a scholarly engagement with popular culture, whereas your primary objective as best I can extrapolate is to entertain. So I can read through an epically long Howard article (even if it is mostly political/ethical) with ease, where I'd find an article on the Shabogan blog of half the length a chore to work through (much though I appreciate many of the guy's points).

Cheriola: he does have some interesting things to say. Like this analysis of the recent Batman- and Bond-movies as Randian tales about capitalism in a crisis. In the last part, he goes on about some Shakespeare productions as well, which is why I thought it might be of interest to you.

In particular, he discusses the Ralph Fiennes Coriolanus movie, Hollow Crown and the NT version of Timon of Athens where they cast Alcibiades' army as Ancient Roman Occupy Wall Street. I found the last one in particular interesting in light of Kyra and Dan's discussion of that production.
permalink
at 21:20 on 26-02-2013, Arthur B
For my part, I find the blogger in question tedious not because they have a political agenda, but because quite often their posts are only about their political agenda, if you see what I mean.

This isn't something I'm 100% innocent of; I honestly think I did a better job with the Tepper article than my Howard stuff because my Howard reviews tend to be 99% about the political/ethical stuff since I have very little say about the execution or aesthetic of his work beyond "It's kind of lukewarm and whilst it was probably fresher at the time you can get better stuff very, very easily these days", whereas with Tepper my fury was as much aesthetic offense at an utterly technically incompetent text as it was minority warrior rage.

Also I wasn't able to work Dethklok videos and Captain Beefheart references into the Conan article.
permalink
at 21:01 on 26-02-2013, Cheriola
Okay, thanks for the input, people.

@Robinson:
... Alright, the short answer for now, because I suspect I would need to go into some detail to actually make you understand. (Our cultures are still very different in some aspects.) I think I mentioned before that I'm Eastern German? So the socialism/capitalism discussion is deeply politicised for me, and I'm very, very aware and wary of this specific kind of propaganda (and my father's comment about professions that are designed specifically to indoctrinate people with the state-approved version of history and politics largely dealt with this specific issue). And, believe it or not, Churchill's decisions in WWII still affect my daily life in intrusive ways that make it necessary that I base my opinion on the topic on as much fact as is ever possible with history. (I will elaborate on this if you're interested, but I don't want to look like I came here to complain.)

On the other hand, Dan's article about religious aspects of Harry Potter is certainly interesting, but in the end it doesn't matter much if I end up being misinformed or with a biased picture. The topic doesn't matter in my life. (East Germany is officially the most godless place on Earth. Over 50% atheists and the percentage of actual believers in any god are in the single figures. The rest just doesn't care about the whole discussion.) And the social justice issues you ferrets usually deal with aren't a political matter for me, but an ethical one. Of course, you can have agendas in this matter, but for me, there's not really two sides to the issue that need to be heard. There's an objective right and wrong which can easily be sussed out through empathy. (Sorry, but if your argument boils down to "I don't want to stop hurting people whom I could hurt without social repercussions before", then there really is no discussion. Traditions and religions do not make a difference.)

Yes, everyone has an agenda, but that blog seems specifically written to promote a particular one. And that makes me wary of any intentional manipulation of the facts. (With you people I get less of a feeling that the opposite view and possible downsides of political concepts are intentionally being silenced.) And it's not that I disagree with him. Communism is a wonderful idea - it just doesn't work with large groups of people. (Which is why no state ever actually tried it - I will never understand why you westeners keep calling the former socialist states communist...) But the mere fact that I want to believe him about a lot of what he writes, means I have a responsibility to be doubly wary. That's what most of my education and inculturation has been about, in the end: Remember, always and forever, that propaganda is seductive and everyone with a political message wants to screw you over. Do not make the same mistakes as those that came before you. Check their message for flaws. If it's hateful towards any group of people, it's probably rotten.
permalink
at 16:00 on 26-02-2013, Axiomatic
"Why are Americans Afraid of Dragons?"

Wait, what?
permalink
at 15:30 on 26-02-2013, Robinson L
Cheriola: he seems like an armchair revolutionary with an axe to grind against capitalism and some rather naive ideas about communism. And probably also minority warrioring against oppressions he never experienced himself.

*reads article* Oh, thank goodness, it's not one of mine.

His characterization of Churchill mostly matches up with what I've gathered of the man, though somewhat over-simplified. (I get the impression Churchill did have some strong socially progressive sentiments. And while his attitude towards workers and colonized peoples was paternalistic, it wasn't actively combative. He really wanted what was best for them - so long as they kept to their place. This position is not remotely within spitting distance of okay, but it's also more complex than the author makes out. Churchill may've been a Dalek, but he wasn't the one-dimensionally evil caricature the Daleks are.)

I've seen a fair amount of disagreement about the amount to which the invasion of Russia and the resultant decimation of the revolutionary base caused the whole thing to go to shit. I tend to come down on the side that said Leninism was inherently dictatorial (or what one of my Postcolonial teachers calls "left-wing fascism") regardless, but I'm interested by the arguments put forward by the likes of this writer and Chris Harman. At the very least, I can agree the invasion probably helped tip Russia away from becoming a worker's republic or worker's democracy and towards becoming a brutal dictatorship.

So he's written this with an agenda, and I don't completely trust people with political agendas.

Can you clarify this, a bit? I mean, I can see how his political agenda may have skewed his arguments, and if you disagree with his political agenda, that can certainly cause distrust. But why does the mere fact that he has a political agenda at all render his work suspect? My understanding of political agendas is that everybody has one (at least, everybody who engages with topics that have a political dimension does). I would certainly characterize the authors of such articles as "Harry Potter and the Doctrine of the Calvinists," "Acts of Sacrifice," "We Need to Talk About Conan," "Making History, Redux," and "Pedo Snore Screed of an Octafish" as having political agendas. That by itself is not a good thing or a bad thing (though, of course, I broadly agree with those agendas), it's just a function of the articles.

But perhaps I'm operating on a different definition of "political agenda"? Or is it something else I'm missing?
permalink
at 02:25 on 26-02-2013, Michal
He tends to pop up on many of the blogs I read as a final authority on fantasy literature. I'm often both intrigued and frustrated by what much of what he has to say. Here, I did feel uneasy about the simplistic stereotypes and explanations Le Guin employed in "Why are Americans Afraid of Dragons?" when I first came across it, though I still think it's worth reading. But the only way this rebuke is really acceptable is if you read it as an elaborate joke to reverse Le Guin's argument by Doing It Wrong all over again. That, and a satire sub-Orson Scott Card levels of railing against the literati.It's clearly not a joke, though, and I'm just sort of baffled by an attempt at convoluted conspiracy theory without the sheer batshit insanity of something like "Lin Carter was MURDERED to stop the publication of Gor books!"
permalink
at 13:05 on 25-02-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
On that essai by Tom Simon, it seems a very simplistic view of the matter and is terribly limited in the whole picture it paints. While that silly what is real literature business has of course gone on for a while now, to see the realist movement as some sort of Utopian Socialist thing is very jarring and very anachronistically depicts the problem the realists had with romantics and others as some sort fight between the leftist literate establishment and early speculative writers. As if the realists didn't have a point and while realism as such can be seen a bit boring if taken too far, it is still a very limited view.

All the flowery language and deliberately and unnecessarily formed structure, which is so pretentiously literate that I don't know what is, just camouflage a piece where the main point is that the literature people are mean to spec. fiction, which is not a very new assertion. And while I have no idea how dragons fare in america, they aren't really thriving everywhere else. Even if he had to get his books from less flashy booksellers, at least he was fortunate enough to have them in his native language and not just as translations.
permalink
at 12:20 on 25-02-2013, Shimmin
The Churchill thing, I dunno, but it's extremely credible from what I do know about British history and attitudes at the time (and the Kenyan and Iranian info matches what I remember). The nobility of causes got played up for the general population. Agree with the points about the writer's view of left-leaning politics, too.

Re: class... it's complicated and changes over time.
Very broadly, "working class" tended to be people doing physical labour, whereas "middle class" mostly meant office jobs, owning a business, or the professions. There's a whole swathe of gradations, so people doing routine clerical work would be lower middle class, doctors upper middle class, skilled labourers and artisans might well be upper working class...prosperous farmers might be upper middle class too. The police float about mysteriously. If you did actual work with your hands, though, you were probably either working class or an upper-class amateur.

With shifts in technology and society, it's a bit mysterious now. I don't know where people would tend to put minimum-wage call centre work, for example, which is in an office but doesn't require many qualifications. On the other hand, nursing, farming and construction require ever-increasing qualifications.
permalink
at 12:15 on 25-02-2013, Arthur B
My impression: Churchill gets lauded a lot because he led us during WWII despite the fact that said leadership tended to involve allowing the military to do their thing and making speeches to boost morale. His contribution wasn't worthless - in particular he played a direct role in the diplomacy needed to keep the US sending us supplies until Pearl Harbor happened and the US hopped on the war bandwagon - but at the same time he was also responsible for madness like Operation Unthinkable, which didn't besmirch his reputation until fairly recently because it had been kept secret (and I don't think many peopl know about it even now).

Churchill also gets an easy ride to a certain extent because he was one of a select number of Tories who were never keen on the whole Appeasement thing and loudly objected to it. This is a position which of course looks fine in retrospect because it turns out the Nazis weren't exactly negotiating in good faith at the time but given Churchill's other positions it seems like a "stopped clock is right twice a day" situation. (If you say "Germania delenda est" often enough sooner or later you'll happen to say it right at the point in history when Germany needs slapping down.)

As for stuff which doesn't involve World War II, I've never heard much nice about him. It will be remembered that adults who actually lived through the war voted Churchill out once democracy resumed.

Churchill is still fondly remembered as a symbol of the War, but I've noticed that war nostalgia is slooooooowly shifting towards more generalised fuzzy feelings about a wider range of participants, possibly because the further away we get from the War and the more comfortable we get being objective about it the less appealing Churchill seems. (Bletchley Park gets a lot of hype, partly because it's a British Technological Triumph and partly because it was a nice, clean sector of the war - Alan Turing didn't carpet-bomb Dresden.)
permalink
at 12:10 on 25-02-2013, Andy G
I think for Marx, basic class analysis is into class of workers, and class of owners of means of production. Middle class isn't part of that very basic level but crops up as part of the apparatus used to maintain the power of the ruling class (through bureaucracy and managers). But I'm no political theorist either.
permalink
at 12:04 on 25-02-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
Sounds about right to my ears too, though the ideological slant is clearly evident. Christopher Hitchens was always critical of Churchill, so here's a piece on Churchill as he appeared in King's Speech. But I find myself agreeing on a lot, although while the effect of British and (western) participation in The Russian Civil War was significant, he seems to have an overtly soft spot for bolshevism and leninism. As I understand it, Lenin's idea of vanguardism was a dangerous way to go and the mensheviks and social democrats were the first to go after the october revolution.

Still, seems like an interesting blog.
permalink
at 12:02 on 25-02-2013, Cheriola
Another one, especially for Dan: Harry Potter and the Labour Theory of Value

His main point seems to be that Rowling sees the world from a middle class perspective and didn't properly think through her worldbuilding. Which... duh.
(Though I was also a bit weired out that he seems to think the middle class is inherently separate from production? Is that a British thing? Where I come from, "working class" means getting wages for doing a job that doesn't require a college education. "Middle class" people can be working for public services, but the majority are self-employed - which can involve providing services, commerce or making things. All craftspeople and artisans are considered middle class nowadays... basically every profession that goes back to a guild. In the GDR, the point of the "rule of the proletariat" was that you weren't allowed to control your own enterprise, not that there no doctors or shopkeepers.)
permalink
at 11:54 on 25-02-2013, Andy G
Sounds about right from what I do know of Churchill, but I'm no historian.
permalink
at 11:00 on 25-02-2013, Cheriola
Sorry I disappeared. Was sick/busy.

While you are discussing essayists who like to hear themselves talk a little too much... Can one of you British ferrets and history-buffs tell me whether this is mostly true or mostly inventive propaganda? It's not that I disagree with most of what this guy is writing elsewhere, but he seems like an armchair revolutionary with an axe to grind against capitalism and some rather naive ideas about communism. And probably also minority warrioring against oppressions he never experienced himself. (At least in my experience people born working class don't write this verbose and needlessly highbrow. Not because they can't, but because they know how elitist and excluding it is to use words like "punctilious" and "opprobrium" in a text supposedly aimed at the general public.) So he's written this with an agenda, and I don't completely trust people with political agendas. ("Never trust a politician, a teacher or a priest!" as my father was fond of saying.) Especially when they show weird blinders about similar issues on particular fanish topics.

Though he does have some interesting things to say. Like this analysis of the recent Batman- and Bond-movies as Randian tales about capitalism in a crisis. In the last part, he goes on about some Shakespeare productions as well, which is why I thought it might be of interest to you.
permalink
at 06:44 on 25-02-2013, James D
I actually sort of liked the opening metaphor he set up about giants and windmills, and in the hands of someone not so insufferably in love with the sound of his own voice I think it could have been quite good. But my absolute favorite part is when he wraps up the metaphor and says "[t]his language is figurative." Thanks for spelling that out for me, it would have gone totally over my head.

Though perhaps I'm being unfair; the sort of person who reads that guy's "essais" regularly might actually need that spelled out. The commenter who mentions "the left-wing attack on enjoyable fiction," for instance.
permalink
at 02:47 on 25-02-2013, Adrienne
Fishing in the Mud -- you too? Gah, that irritated the hell out of me and i more or less stopped reading.
permalink
at 02:45 on 25-02-2013, Fishing in the Mud
I've developed a severe allergy to the writing of dudes who make offhand comments about how women are always lying about their age, so I was unfortunately not able to do more than skim the article before my right eye started swelling up.
permalink