Sunday, 23 May 2010

Violence, Censorship, and Morons Have Rights

It generally falls to the Empress Larkin to select video entertainment here. Someone suggested to her that the Showtime series Dexter would be of interest to us, so she put the first season on the Netflix queue. As it turned out, when the first disk arrived she was out of town, so I watched it. It’s an interesting concept, to say the least, in which a police “blood-splatter analyst” turns out to be a serial killer on his own time, and the audience is expected to approve. Given that Dexter is a vigilante out to eliminate some of the most dangerous and vicious criminals that have somehow eluded the criminal justice system, it’s quite possible. Popular response, as gauged by Nielsen, says they pulled it off. However, I decided that this was not something we wanted to add to our regular viewing.

One of the well-understood issues in writing fiction is maintaining the reader’s, or viewer’s, “willing suspension of disbelief”. We read The Count of Monte Cristo and happily go along with Edmond Dantes finding a staggering treasure, then returning first to Marseilles and then Paris, living his grand life while only one of those who knew him as a poor sailor recognize him. Or we watch Burn Notice, knowing that you can’t actually wreak such havoc with a few household chemicals and an endless supply of cheap cell phones. (We know this because in real life, even well-planned terrorist attacks seem to rarely work as well as if Michael and Fiona were behind them.) The opposite problem is true with Dexter. It’s way too easy to believe that the quiet neighbor across the street, the one that seems to rarely be at home, is calmly eliminating unwanted members of the community.

As is my wont after seeing something new, I went straight to Wikipedia’s coverage. I was annoyed to learn that Parents Television Council protested the decision by CBS to air the first season during the writers’ strike, on the grounds that a show that aroused empathy for a killer would lead to additional violence in society. Well, that’s nonsense, the media doesn’t have that kind of impact. Television is full of comedy, yet our society is hardly mirthful and more little boys want to grow up to be firemen than comics. Radio is full of pop music, which is rife with “Silly Love Songs” as Sir Paul sang. We would be facing incredible population growth if radio guided life, everyone would be making babies at a rate not seen in history.

The next night I watched a movie that I had been meaning to see for a long time: Silkwood. Yes, Meryl Streep is great. The issue of violence in the media suddenly made sense. Here’s a movie that does inspire violence. You see how Kerr-McGee, the corporation that Karen Silkwood worked for, was probably responsible for killing and silencing her. It makes you want to get back at them, but it was long ago and far away so you can’t. But you can watch an episode of Burn Notice and see Fiona detonating bad guys, or get out an old episode of Walker: Texas Ranger and watch Cordell kick some bad guys until they stay down. (Bad guys on that show stupidly kept getting up to get whacked again.) Or reread Dumas and vicariously participate in Edmond’s revenge. Or, if you aren’t troubled by nightmares, you can watch Dexter.  Violence on screen, or in a book, does not drive us to acting out violently in real life. Quite the opposite, it satisfies our need for a dramatic response to the frustration we encounter.

If I Were King, Parents Television Council would still be able to petition networks to change their schedules. I’m fundamentally against limiting free speech and morons have rights.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Guarding the Border

The Empress Larkin is an accomplished and internationally-known art quilter, and by extension a teacher. (Pretty much all of the great art quilters work at it full time, and in order to do that most of them have to teach.) I’m not a quilter, but I’m pretty connected in the quilt world. Today I heard from an art quilter and teacher, also of great renown, a woman that both Larkin and I respect and admire. She related that she was recently en route to teach a class and was stopped at the border. It happens that this particular art quilter resides north of the old 49th and was teaching to the south, as opposed to Larkin who resides south and is delighted when she has the chance to teach north. Apparently the “logic” involved was that the Canadian teacher was taking work away from American citizens.

Yeah, right. First of all, students respond better if the teacher comes from far away. Quilters in Esquimault or Alberni or even White Rock respond more eagerly if they know the teacher is coming in from “the states”, and the reverse is true as well. This isn’t a recent development, Jesus commented on the phenomenon in the first century. As long as teachers from both sides of the line are allowed to teach on both sides of the line, nobody loses.

In fact, everybody gains. American quilters are in international competition, up against the best Kiwi quilters, the best from Oz, the best from Israel, the best from France, and for those readers that aren’t up on the realm of art quilts, that’s serious competition. If the goons on America’s border are keeping out the best foreign teachers, it’s American artists that lose. Sure, they could travel north for classes, but in these times it’s imperative that we conserve resources: Which makes more sense, for twenty Yanks to drive north to take a class or for one Canuck to drive south to teach it?

It’s not like internationally-known teachers are going to come to the US and become a drain on our schools and health care facilities; unless they’re from Somalia they have better health care waiting for them at home. They just want to share their ideas and get a check big enough to go home and get back to their art. In a country where upwards of 99% of the shoes are imported, to suddenly become protectionist in response to a handful of teachers is moronic. I don’t know the answers to the immigration question, but If I Were King the borders would absolutely be open to the best ideas from the rest of the world.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Los Suns: Bravo!

In solidarity with Latinos and foreign nationals in professional basketball and Latinos in their home state of Arizona, the Phoenix basketball team suited up for their NBA playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday (Cinco de Mayo, no less) in jerseys proclaiming them “Los Suns”. Bravo!

I’ve been sorely disappointed by most of the commentary related to Arizona’s lamentable immigration bill. There has been a great hue and cry over the potential for racial profiling and procedural abuse by Arizona law enforcement. These are real issues, and I don’t begrudge spilling a little ink on them, but it’s certainly not the central issue. What, pray tell, is that central issue? I’m so glad you asked. The central issue is the relationship between law enforcement officers and the communities they are sworn to protect. I’m not a cop, but it’s obvious that a police force cannot serve a community without trust between the cops and the populace. The chance of a cop in Arizona getting an important tip from an illegal immigrant, probably not that high to begin with, just dropped to zero. Worse, many families include both legal and illegal immigrants, the chance of a legal immigrant with an illegal family member volunteering information to a cop, presumably much higher, also dropped to zero. The threshold of illegal activity that will be needed to get anyone in these communities to dial 9-1-1 has to have gone up everywhere outside Maricopa County, where the fanatic sheriff Joe Arpaio has made a point of alienating anyone with Mexican ties, humanity, or intelligence.

Let’s make this very clear: The responsibility of the local constabulary is community safety. Even if bouncing current illegals is a national goal, If I Were King I would not allow local police to be involved. Their work is far too important and giving them this additional task is far too divisive. Safety in our communities must trump any minor financial gain from deporting a handful of illegals.