A blog dedicated to art, entertainment, language, and culture.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Will Somebody Please Think of the Children

Remember that post I wrote yesterday about Sasha Grey reading to children.  I've been noticing a few similar events in early November, so I thought I'd compile their strange existence here.  I assembled four topics (three news stories, and one just for fun) that all pertain to the childhood, the meaning of childhood, and how we are allowed to interact with childhood.  So let's start with the biggest story...back along the ol' Mississip...

Life in Mississippi

Mississippi is a very conservative state, so when we heard that they were going to be voting on an issue that would define life as being created at the moment of conception, a lot of us rolled our eyes and said, "This'll be nothing but trouble."  It turns out a lot of pro-life Mississippians thought the same thing, voting it down. The "personhood" movement in Mississippi most likely did not get the backing it wanted because it's extremely conservative effort to create a definition for life was really, really inconvenient and too strict.

Banning things like the morning-after pill and abortion might sound appealing to the ultra-conservative, but a lot of moderately minded people think there are some circumstances when it is fair to have an abortion (illness and rape being a couple of examples).  If the presence of a fetus threatens the physical and mental health of the host (fun word right there), then many believe that it's wrong to force her to carry it for nine months.

Then there was in vitro fertilization.  With IVF doctors take eggs and mix them with a bunch of sperm and see which ones work so a lady can have a baby... And that was probably the stupidest definition for a medical practice to come out of my head (check this link for a better explanation and discussion).  But that's the general gist of it.  If the law had passed it would have done a lot of damage to this process, potentially making it impossible.  A lot of Mississippians (and a lot of people in the country as a whole) disagree with abortion, but you will find much smaller numbers that see IVF as murder.

What really killed the personhood movement in Mississippi was the ambiguity and broadness of their definition.  It lost support on the right, but I'm sure this isn't the last time we've heard the word "personhood" in the United States.  Please god, let it be the last time we hear that goofy non-word, "personhood."

Michigan Protects Bullies

Most states have laws preventing bullying, but none have one quite like Michigan, which essentially lays out instructions on how to get away with it.  Ohio's neighbor to the north recently passed a bill called "Matt's Safe School Law" that allowed bullying on the grounds that it was "rooted in a 'sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.'"

I'll just say it: "The terrorists won Michigan."  After all, bullying is if nothing else a form of terrorism.  It's coercion by one party, through intimidation and violence, to prompt submission by the other party.  Often times it is spawned from religious convictions, like in say...9/11!  The law allows anyone with a moral code, of any religion, to openly harass others for being different.  If a student is Jewish, homosexual, transgender, or of any other frequently attacked group they are free game for religiously based persecution.

Our own bigotries tend to come from a cultural perspective usually influenced by what is right and what is wrong (morals, if you will) and are typically founded in Christianity, as it is the central basis for Western civilization in the contemporary age.  Christian children are often taught that homosexuality is a sin, and that people of other faiths will end up in Hell.  Children rarely receive adequate education about cultural relativism, and will not instinctively understand that just because someone is different they shouldn't be treated as a deviant.  Anti-bullying laws are created in order to help children understand that laying a deviant status upon others is cruel and dangerous, except in the state of Michigan where the government has decided that there are certain situations in which it is appropriate to be cruel and hurtful.

The Wonderful Use of a Pen-Name

Another instance of an unlikely person endorsing literacy appeared in early November.  Female, Canadian, environmentalist writer and recluse J.D. Bauer is actually a pen-name for Canadian serial killer Charles Kembo.  Um...Neat!

Kembo wrote a children's book called The Trinity of Superkidds: Quest for Water which was surprisingly successful.  That would be terrible if he were just some senseless serial killer trying to make it rich off of the stupidity of kids.  But it doesn't seem like that was his intention at all.  Kembo is in prison, and all proceeds from the books go to the World Food Programme.

The question that arises here is whether or not Kembo should be allowed to influence the minds of children as he is clearly a negative role model.  Actually, he isn't "clearly" a negative role model.  Kembo's not a good guy based on the fact he murdered people, but he is currently trying to do something for others, to help the world.  That's a wonderful change.  He could actually stand as an example to others, showing how even people who do something terrible can make a positive impact.  

It certainly sounds like he wasn't trying to turn youths into rampant serial killers, and if nothing else it's a fascinating situation.

The Binding of Isaac

Finally, I want to look at something that is not specifically from November.  I've recently been playing a computer game by Edmund McMillen called The Binding of Isaac.  The player acts as Isaac a happy, young boy who's mother is instructed by god to kill him.  To avoid death, he climbs down a hatch leading deep beneath his home and has to survive an onslaught of his horribly warped/undead siblings.  To describe it in the most technical terms, the gameplay is a dual stick, Zeldanian rogue-like.  It's a fairly adult affair that would easily appeal to young audiences with extreme cartoon violence.

The player is forced through what could be described as a trial by fire as Isaac struggles through a series of corridors and levels of increasing difficulty with only one life to lose.  Dying results in a complete game-over and the player will have to start from the beginning all over again.

McMillen, while not the most academic developer working today, has for a long time been talented at creating strong voiceless characters for players to embody and creative uses of symbolism.  In Super Meat Boy the titular protagonist is a boy without skin who needs to rescue Bandage Girl (a girl made of bandages).  While he is trying to rescue her, she is also responsible for protecting him.  Bandages are the perfect item to seal up wounds and to complete Meat Boy as a person.

In The Binding of Isaac the hero, by avoiding his mother's personal, religious decision to kill him, is physically rebelling against her beliefs, and not allowing himself to be devoured by the questionable morals that dictate her life.  Everything he perceives as innocent and good she denies him as sinful, including his own life.  He must then go through a shockingly violent and uncompromising world in order to save himself.

There are some very powerful messages throughout what appears to be a "silly fun" game as it manages to (comically) discuss growing up and deviating from the will of one's parents.  If you have the time, some coins in your pocket, and enjoy having either dumb or smart fun, I highly recommend it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sasha Grey, Adult Entertains Children

A couple days ago a news story broke out showing photographs of actress and former-porn star Sasha Grey reading to children in an L.A.-area elementary school.  Some local parental reactions were less than enthusiastic about it, and the school denied her ever being there (despite photos of her there).  Grey, who hasn't appeared in porn for two years, told folks,
"I committed to this program with the understanding that people would have their own opinions about what I have done, who I am and what I represent.
"I am an actor. I am an artist. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a partner. I have a past that some people may not agree with, but it does not define who I am.
"I believe in the future of our children, and I will remain an active supporter and participant in education-focused initiatives."
 The program she is talking about was "Read Across America."

So, what exactly was Sasha Grey doing wrong?  Pornography, while being the most popular form of entertainment, is considered unseemly and deviant.  People with ties to pornography are also seen as deviant.  Americans tend to have a fairly hypocritical view of pornography.  Many adults watch pornographic content, but they don't usually want to be associated with it.  They would rather keep it hidden and keep any sign of its existence out of public sight.

How many of those kids watched one of Sasha Grey's porns?  Probably none of them.  Most kids at the age of five or six don't understand celebrity in the same way adults do.  Children have to be told when someone is important, special, or deviant unless there is a significant physical difference between themselves and the person they see.  I can't imagine the children in that classroom thinking of Grey as anything more than that nice person who read to them in class.  The parents, familiar with Grey's works or name, were the one's who recognized and condemned her deviant status.

My ultimate conclusion from this minor news article is parents don't want their children reading.  In celebration of an event called "Read Across America" a woman read children's books to kids, that was the problem.  If Sasha Grey had acted appropriately for her stereotype and instead of reading to children made a daddy-daughter porn (about reading), no one would care.  But once children see and experience people in the world who act contrary to morally forced beliefs about them, then they stop considering them deviant.  They might even grow to speak openly about or with them.  Guess where people start to observe and pick apart stereotypes and preconceived notions of the world...books.

Often times schools have required reading lists that include Romeo & Juliet (a play about falling in love with someone you're supposed to hate), To Kill a Mockingbird (a book about unfair stereotypes), and The Crucible (a play about unjust persecution).  If kids read these things, despite finding them "boring," their brains might slowly realize that just because someone is marked as deviant it doesn't mean they are bad.

Though, I doubt Grey was reading The Crucible to 1st graders...