We are the whole hog.

There is a pernicious attitude that holds sway beneath the surface of society — unexamined, and secure only by the fact that it remains unexamined — that disabled people are sexless. We, and I use the majestic plural because I am myself disabled, are not discriminated against. We are removed from the equation entirely. I will not give a long diatribe about why this is wrong, not merely because that would be too self-serving, but because someone else has made the case better. Below is a video of a recent talk on TED by Dr. Danielle Sheypuk. Please watch.

Ant-Man

I am sure you have seen the trailer (if not check it out below), or at least heard the name Ant-Man. I bet you thought it ridiculous. So did I. And it very much is. This is a Marvel film poking fun at the very notion of Marvel films. Set in the Avengers universe, it features ex-burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) who’s after a second shot at being in his daughters life, enlisted by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to put on the Ant-Man suit and deny the shrinking technology to would-be super villain Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Please watch the trailer:

Yes, yes, yes. It looks like a clichéd piece of crap Stan Lee scraped off his shoe in between trips to the bank. And it is. But that is the point. It doesn’t try to be anything else nor take itself seriously. There’s a reason they cast a seasoned comedian to play Ant-Man, they needed Paul Rudd to let the audience relax and enjoy without judgement. What happens is a little bit of magic, an irreverent spice that complements the fatty glory of the supersize Avengers meal.

Ant-Man shrinks. That is the whole theme of the movie, to go small and see what that tells you about the big stuff. Scott Lang has to sort of save the world from a technology that could change everything and cause unpredictable chaos. But he doesn’t seem that fazed about that. His motivation is his daughter and the purely selfish notion that being Ant-Man is a way to get back into her life. Sure she loves and needs him, but is doing absolutely fine without him. Indeed she appears to be weirdly not-annoying for a kid.

Dr. Pym wants to save the world, but dismisses the idea of calling the Avengers because they are much too busy, would end up destroying a city (seriously, do they know what it’s like to rebuild one?), and Tony Stark would be way too interested in the shrinking technology. The Avengers are like Einstein’s relativity. They look after the big stuff. Ant-Man is more Hawking’s quantum theories, focussing on the very small. Of course I mean the Simpsons version of Hawking.

Even the climax of the film (technically this is not a spoiler because it is in the trailer) is a lesson in shrinking. Avenges films destroy cities with masses of flying aliens and drop cities from the sky.Ant-Man’s epic battle takes place in a little girls bedroom. In fact much of it happens on the Thomas the Tank Engine railway in a table in the corner of the room. This isn’t just a quick bit of comic relief, it’s a commentary on Marvel movies in general.

You might think I am looking at this a little too closely, getting down to the micro level when it is just another blockbuster. For many reasons I think that is wrong, but let me just point out one of the reasons why I think so. Edgar Wright, the writer and director of the cornetto trilogy (Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The Worlds End) co-wrote this film. The man knows his movies, and laces everything he does with intertextuality (an academic way of saying that films refer to other films).

Marvel is a frustrating empire. They churn out films of their comics and remake them several times over with no sign of slowing down the machine. But then they go and make the Avengers, which cuts across several different movies and has them all contributing to a wider story. So much has been invested in each part of that universe that it does not seem possible that they could remake some of the components without risking the strength of the whole. Could it still stand if there was a different Thor? Maybe, but what about a different Iron Man? Marvel is a great, churning mass of paradoxes and intricacies, and Ant-Man is a reminder that it is all relative.

With that in mind I think Ant-Man works. It’s an enjoyable film, and a talisman against getting all serious about what are really just ridiculous comic book adaptations that make lots of money. If you see it make sure you stay till the end of the credits, as usual there is a clue as to what maybe next in the Avengers universe.

Farewell geeks?

So Comic con was in Wellington this weekend. Not to be confused with the San Diego based extravaganza that features the latest movie trailers and a slew of celebrity guests. The San Diego event is the hajj for geeks. The Mecca that fandom aspires to visit at least once. Wellington comic con was not that. It was the Armageddon expo with a few other events around the city. Not to be dismissed though, it featured Karen Gillan (Amy Pond from Doctor Who), and plenty of cosplay to keep things interesting. I did not see Karen, and because of smashing my face against a concrete floor a few days ago, didn’t venture out until the last day.

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The events brought forth an eruption of geeks of all ages, sizes, and loyalties. There were at least three women dressed up convincingly as Harlequin from the Batman universe. a group of stormtroopers, the odd US soldier (I’m not quite sure why), Jedi, various anime characters, armoured medieval knights, and one old hippie wearing a tie dye t-shirt and carrying a large polished lump of driftwood.

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I was there on my own, costumeless, in my wheelchair. Not in my finest form. And the geek crowd is particularly bad at moving about in a systematic fashion. Normally they are introverted shut-ins who marathon obscure TV shows and socialize through the internet. I mean that in the nicest way possible. When I got home I played Alien Isolation and watched Blade Runner. Quite understandably the geeks are not great at being anywhere en mass. But for me that makes an expo a bad place to be, so after taking a few photos I left.

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This has made me wonder about the geek world and my place in it. It is the metaphorical nation of a thousand niches, where anyone can dress as anything and feel like they belong. They can revel in the communal enjoyment of the stuff that they were teased and bullied for in the past. That is not nothing. That is something to be proud of. But I did not find my niche at comic con in Wellington. I don’t feel truly part of the culture any more. The merchandise does not attract me, the queuing for autographs from a cast member of a show I have never heard of does not attract me. I think that the Armageddon expo and Wellington comic con have left me behind, and it is time to say farewell.

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Ironically, what I’ll do instead is watch festival movies, play horror video games, and blog about all of it — thereby socializing through the internet. A geek after all.

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Iran Deal Reached

The negotiations that have gone on for the last 18 months have finally made progress in the form of an agreement for Iran to curb it’s nuclear programme in return for the easing of harsh economic sanctions which would enable it to step out of the shadows.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the result saying, “Iran will get a jackpot, a cash bonanza of hundreds of billions of dollars, which will enable it to continue to pursue its aggression and terror in the region and in the world.” If the irony of his statement isn’t echoing around whatever room you happen to be in, this is the guy who said in his re-election campaign earlier this year that he was against a Palestinian State. He is in effect against peace in the Middle East. And he is the same guy who ordered the bombardment of Gaza while sitting safely behind his missile defence dome. The US so solidly support Israel — and it’s neo-imperialist government — that Netanyahu’s statement on Iran is absolutely true — provided you switch the word Iran to Israel.

When will people learn that economic sanctions seldom work? Economic development is tied to better education, which is tied to greater political freedoms. And Iran was already full of brilliant people. The majority of the country is under 35. They keep evading the repression of the clerics and listen to foreign music, the boys mix with girls underground, and the innovation behind some of the art is remarkable. This is a people who will outlive the current regime. What possible good would come of a poverty stricken country, it’s infrastructure compromised, it’s industry undeveloped — all because of sanctions — one day staggering into a bloody revolution in which the clerics have nuclear weapons? Iran will be free one day, so lets not have it be destitute when it finally makes it, and lets not muck around with the bomb. Humans have managed to go for 70 years with nuclear bombs without blowing ourselves up. Not a good time to get complacent.

No nuclear weapons, and the easing of sanctions are two good things. Please don’t fall into the trap of the pissy US republicans bent on seeing this as us and them. Persian people belong to one of the oldest surviving cultures on Earth. They are fiercely proud, and it must be a wrench for those that chose to leave and now live in places like NZ. They came here for the equality, and the opportunity we have here. The same reason European folk came to NZ in the 19th century. We are not so different.

This deal needs to be approved by the US Senate over the next 60 days before it can be signed. But Obama has made it clear the will do everything in his power to ensure that it passes, and as that he will veto any legislation which threatens the deal. See the video of his speech below.

True Detective

I am not as experienced in television criticism as I am in film, but I think I can still outdo the bulk of the schmucks that currently write about shows today. One in particular caught my eye very briefly on Sunday, I read the first paragraph then abruptly lost interest. It was a syndicated piece from the Sydney Morning Herald in which the writer (I shall never recall their name) poured scorn on season one of True Detective. They wrote something like ‘the inflated egos of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson trying to transition from film to television makes the series practically un-watchable.’ I found the piece practically unreadable. Given that I have just marathoned the first season, it is the perfect time to proffer a deeper review.

First of all, the pairing of McConaughey and Harrelson is a stroke of genius. McConaughey — after his embarrassing turn in Lincoln ads — reminded my potently of why he won an Oscar. For those that have only heard a little about True Detective, McConaughey plays the crazy one. Detective Rustin “Russ” Cohl, the obsessive loner who alienates everyone but is the only person with the brains to crack the case. He is described by one of the supporting characters as having true integrity, and he is always honest with himself. Harrelson plays Detective Martin Hart, a naturally misogynistic alpha man who dearly loves his family but cannot stop himself destroying it. He lives the lie of trying to be a good an honest person while suppressing is darker side.

The two of them are working on a homicide case in 1995 that is drawn out over the next 17 years. The eight episode series is more like a long mini-series than a regular show, and the fact that it is part of the blurred boundary dividing TV and film I think makes having two established film actors as the lead characters a definite advantage. Leave it to a small minded columnist scratching their weak complaints for 5 cents a word into the hide of cinematic art to find that Matthew McConaughey is just too much for them. Gosh, he almost made them spill their nightly sav on the shag carpet with his brooding witticisms they could never come up with themselves. But I digress into another critic stabbing spree, let’s get back to the point.

I believe that creator Nic Pizzolatto originally conceived of True Detective as a novel, but after developing the story he realised it would work better as a television series. I am so glad he took the HBO route instead of adding another brick sized crime paperback to the heaving shelves of airport bookstores. His story would have been lost in the crowd of Grisham, and Lee Child. Instead the fertile soil of cinematic TV gets another handful of seeds to turn into supreme quality drama. The takes are often long, and the dialogue is pregnant with subtext and wit. I could imagine a stage adaptation being well worth trying, and the theatricality of voodoo influences (it’s set in Louisiana) adds an element of corrosion and neglect. The setting, rural, poor, religious southern USA, with its humidity and abandonment, is a compelling place for a crime drama. The stress of the case over the years plays out on the faces of the lead characters, who progressively age and in McConaughey’s case seems to drift closer to the burnt out hill-billies that he looks down on.

Harrowing is a term I think should apply to True Detective, and it’s themes of drugs, child abuse, rape and murder, are not notions to play with nightly. This is not a background TV program where you can zone out after a long day of spiritual decomposition at the office. This is serious drama. It bites, and it hurts. The simplicity of the story following two detectives over the course of years makes gives the opportunity for a lot of nuance, a lot of character development. Harrelson is a serial adulterer with an anachronistic masculinity. He reflects the challenge that masculinity — which was predominant once and may still be albeit it’s heavily suppressed today — encountered in the 90s-2000s shift. He is a thug, but knows that he is and is ashamed. Martin Hart is the character that represents our shifting reality.

McConaughey’s Rust Cohl isn’t like that. Like Sherlock Holmes he is brilliant, eccentric (although in a less showy way), and solitary. One cannot connect with him in the same way as Hart, and Rust is more of the figure outside working his way in, where Hart is in side working his way out. The two therefore achieve something of a synthesis, both in thematic terms as well as dramatic.

I don’t know yet if season 2 works, and it’s ensemble cast makes it a very different show. But unlike the reviewer from the Sydney Morning Herald, I am willing to take the time to warm to it. Great things don’t always hook you straight away, and many poor things invest in a good hook and then depress you with television gruel. Remember that if you can.

Rust and Marty Two figures going straight to the pantheon of TV heroes.
Rust and Marty Two figures going straight to the pantheon of TV heroes.

Welsh actor Roger Rees dies aged 71

http://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/celebrities/70159083/Welsh-actor-Roger-Rees-dies-aged-71

A truly great actor, whom I had the pleasure of seeing perform on stage in Waiting for Godot, and who’s contributions to film and television have elevated the medium, has died. He waits no more and disappears behind the curtain. No more calls, and no final bow to ease the pain of the end. Yet still may the audience applaud, and the name Roger Rees be engraved in a high and noble place.

Shelving the Confederate battle banner hoists a flag for debate in New Zealand

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/70126944/Shelving-the-Confederate-battle-banner-hoists-a-flag-for-debate-in-New-Zealand

A rather good point about the use and meaning of flags. The Union Jack on the New Zealand flag represents the injustices in our history.

The very basis of the argument for keeping the flag is historical. The world wars are usually used to justify retaining the standard our soldiers fought and died under. But we aren’t that country anymore. Our foreign policy is separate, and our institutions are independent from the UK.

Our system of government is evolving down a different track. It is more thoroughly democratic, more efficient, and more open than the British government. The wrongs done to Māori are slowly being addressed. We are moving on from the darkness of colonization. Shouldn’t our national symbol move too?

The other argument against change is about cost. This is a non-argument. It is the outright refusal to engage with the issue. It avoids the question, and thus the responsibility. The government spends a lot of money on things which are not strictly necessary. Changing the flag isn’t one of them.

Letter to a Passerby

Dear Passerby,

I doubt you will remember me; how we passed on the street during the post-work rush hour. It was horrible weather, gusty, cold, and with a lingering dampness after the scattered rain we had earlier. I think the city had a certain charm even then, if you looked at the headlights of the squabbling cars mixing with each other and racing along the road. Everyone in a hurry to get home and start putting dinner together. Hastening to the moment when they can throw off work with their wet winter coat and tuck into a solid meal with their families. There is poetry in all the darting around, as if all will turn to stone when the last of the sun disappears.

But you couldn’t see that. You couldn’t even see where you were going, or hear the warning cries from me as we drew close to colliding. At the last possible beat instinct made you look up, and your glazed eyes saw where you were. On the street about to walk into a person in a wheelchair. That was me. Those eyes that leaped out at you and zoomed past as you make an awkward shift to the left were my eyes. Where had yours been all this time when they were supposed to be looking out for you? Why were your ears blocked by plastic? You are immune to so many experiences that your world is a dull monochromatic grey. Numbed as you are by the anaesthetic gadgets claiming an ever increasing economic share you cannot keep yourself safe, much less enjoy a moment, and would not remember your life if it was played back before you.

There is hope for a cure. This is not a terminal condition, and the anaesthetic does not yet have a total hold on your soul. But to treat this malady you must do something very simple. Something so easy you might never consider it, nor see its virtues until you have tried it. Pocket your phone. Look around at the world and see its beauty, its complexity, and its ironic simplicity. Most importantly, you won’t walk into people in wheelchairs. Ah, what a pleasant world I am dreaming of.

Sincerely,

Joe

Transgender rights; the next frontier

The US Supreme Court’s approval of same sex marriage across all 50 states has been met with a roar of approval around the world, and adds to a pattern of countries around the world opening up on this issue because they finally realise that it is none of your damn business who other people marry. I do not have any special expertise informing what I say here. I have the experience of being in a minority (disabled), and a common sense attitude towards social justice.

So what’s next? Well, happily there is another civil rights matter worth looking into that is along the same lines as same sex marriage in that it fits into the none of your damn business category. Transgender people are those whose gender identity is different from what they were assigned at birth. There’s more to womanhood than the ability to give birth and a different set of genitals to men. There is more to manhood than a simpler reproductive organ to woman and greater muscle mass. The identity comes in when you look at how we interact with one another. For social animals this is crucial to survival. On that point 41 percent of transgender people in the US have attempted suicide. There is no way to draw encouragement from that statistic beyond feeling an urgent need to change things dramatically.

First on the chopping block of things that need to be promptly destroyed is the genital fascination. There is nothing particular to transgender people that makes it more appropriate to ask them about, or try to get a look at, their genitals. Yet it is perversely common that transgender people get harassed in this way. Please watch John Oliver’s piece on Last Week Tonight to have the issue well summed up.

There is a lewd fascination with sex reassignment surgery on behalf of the general public, that I feel I should nail the myth right now. Not every transgender person wants surgery. It is a combination of personal preference and the fact that there is a scale to this. Some people are transgender and want to fully transition, others are transvestite and their identity is satisfied with clothing and cosmetics. Eddie Izzard anyone?

It also has little to do with sexual orientation, as one can see with Eddie Izzard. He paints his nails, wears fantastic make up, often wears high heels and flamboyantly gender fluid clothing, and yet he fancies girls. Strange? Not really. On the gender fluidity scale we also have Ruby Rose, the Australian with the short haircut and the tattoo sleeves who had most men and women united in attraction on Orange is the new Black.

But there are people like Laverne Cox (also Orange is the new Black) who was born male and has had surgery and hormone therapy to become female. She is being celebrated for being the first transgender person on the cover of Time magazine, and to have a waxwork at Madame Tussauds. This is at the price of having her personal life be the subject of media discussion.  The media are clumsily trying to figure out how to approach and talk about her, they trip themselves up on pronouns. For goodness sake, the simplest of things to get right. Don’t know how to address someone? ASK THEM. It is rude beyond belief to use the term ‘it’ and deprive them of any identity whatsoever. To use a really ridiculous example, if someone didn’t know whether to call me mister or master, or sir (as if), so they settled on rev. Yes. I would have a few things to say about that.

If you have watched the John Oliver piece then you will be familiar with the public toilet debate that is knocking around various US states at present. Ridiculous. To me as a wheelchair user whose public loos are usually unisex, I can’t really understand the problem. Here’s a good way to solve it though. Take the man and woman icons at face value. Thus, if someone is dressed as a female they should get to use the female loo and the same principle applies for the men’s loo. Don’t give me the what about the children rubbish. Physical assault is illegal anyway and not made more likely by the presence of transgender people, unless they are victims of it.

The solutions are simple. We can live in harmony with one another, and to do it we have to accept that the unknown may be uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean we can deprive other people the freedom to be who they feel they are, because at the same time we are denying ourselves the room to explore the depths of what it is to be human. With that I say Transgender rights should be the next frontier.