23 December 2010

Synecdoche, shenpa, and other difficult words

"Synecdoche" usually applies to a single thing taken to represent a larger class of things. I'm going to stretch that definition a bit. We all know that celebrities and other public figures come to represent much more than just another person who happens to have an exceptional talent or two. We start to associate them with positive or negative traits or attitudes. We can even invest them with representation of aspects of our own personalities and our most deeply-held beliefs. We get invested in their perfection. We idolize them. They become objects, representing things much bigger than they are as individuals.

And then they let us down, by proving that they are not representations, but people. And that sets the hook of shenpa, defined here as the thing that fuels our knee-jerk responses, the goad that drives us along well-worn paths of anger, fear, and hopelessness.

The Assange mess is the latest enactment of these two difficult concepts colliding and feeding each other.  Public figures carry so much of our needs and dreams, that a threat to one of them can feel like a threat to our selves. And if the offense committed by a hero is large enough, wrong enough, frightening enough, we can turn instead on the accusers--a last-ditch attempt to deny the cracks in the shell of our heroes, who contain our beliefs, pieces of our selves.

Sady Doyle of TigerBeatdown found a way to take her anger and emotional triggers and convert them to meaningful action. #Mooreandme made her and its other supporters targets of the anger of the betrayed. But she stayed with it. She stayed awake through fear and anger and desperation. She didn't hide what she was doing and why, and as she faced first stonewalling, then contempt in return, she continued to examine not only the actions of those she was facing, but her own assumptions and reactions.

"And then he came down."

Sometimes the trap is sprung and we escape it anyway. Some days it works.

20 December 2010

More About What I Said I Didn't Want to Talk About

The one part of the Assange affair that I keep coming back to is the idea that what he is accused of is sort of "bizarrely rape" because "Swedish laws are so strict and weird."

"That wouldn't be rape anywhere else," argue (some of) his supporters. "Not in America or the U.K. or Australia. The Swedes are just messed up about sex."

To clarify: I'm talking about the allegations that Assange's accuser said she didn't want to have sex unless a condom was used, and that he then penetrated her without one; and that he penetrated her while she was asleep.

It is true that Sweden has more specific laws on this topic than other countries do. That doesn't mean they're wrong, however.

I've been thinking about this, and it all came up again because of the Naomi Wolf/Jaclyn Friedman debate, which I haven't had a chance to read all the way through (I'm sort of putting it off, to tell you the truth).

And then Thomas, over at Yes Means Yes, said it way better.

Sex being okay under certain conditions and not under other conditions -- that's normal. That's acceptable. That's why you can decide to break up with someone -- they used to be meeting conditions that they are now no longer meeting! So you can choose to stop sleeping with them! Until/unless they meet those conditions again! (Or you can decide that you never will, because they never will.)

All human interaction, really, is about setting conditions. Sometimes, you are very close with someone, or have a long history, or close ties, and your conditions are minimal, and basic. (You still have them, though, yes, you do. Even if they're just, I will interact with this person as long as they are not violently stabbing me while I do it.) Other times, you have specific relationships that are formed for specific periods, specific reasons, and with specific goals and specific sacrifices in mind. And when someone else isn't meeting those goals, or making those sacrifices, and forces you to do things that were not in your criteria -- that's a boundary violation. That's unacceptable. And when they violate specifically stated boundaries around sex -- that's rape.

Anyway. That is what I have to say about that.

In future-blogging news, I finally found the outlines for some essays I want to write about entertainment, and what I think about it, and how other people, who do it for a living, could do it better. So I believe that January will be my Entertainment Month, as in, I will try to write four semi-serious, sort-of-thought-out essays in a row on media and entertainment. So stay tuned for that. Over the next couple of weeks my blogging may be sporadic, as I have holiday commitments.

May your own holidays be cheery and bright and less stressful than you hope.

19 December 2010

Tony Porter is fabulous

Sorry about the lateness of this; thought I'd sorted it to post on Friday but clearly not. (I was otherwise engaged with family drama)
It's not the best of all posts, but it really makes me happy to watch this. After the ragefulness of the last couple of weeks, this guy gets it. He gets it in an articulate way that everyone can respond to!

Don't know that these things embed, but go ahead and click!

So There's This Kerfluffle? In the Internets? Maybe You've Heard About It.

I don't want to talk about the mess surrounding Julian Assange and the rape charges against him. I never met the man. I never read Wikileaks. I have no idea, really, what kind of person he is or what he does in his spare time, though I've heard enough to where if I ever met him I would make sure not to be alone with him.

I'm still examining my own beliefs about who has the "right" to do what -- though obviously, obviously everyone has the human right to not be raped --, and what I think about his alleged actions, and his accusers' alleged actions, and his defenders' alleged actions. I don't actually have the information I need to begin to understand what "really" happened. (I don't know of a place I could really get this information, either; everyone seems to be calling everyone else a liar.) I know that even being as neutral as I am -- I don't think true neutrality is possible -- is a choice, and that a lot of people on both sides see this choice of neutrality as a betrayal. I think my line wouldn't please anyone; my line doesn't please me and it will probably move. It is a betrayal, maybe; civil rights and human rights shouldn't be negotiated and compromised and there isn't a lot of space for neutrality on them. 

I'm not going to rattle on and make my very confused feelings about this into a whole post. I think that would be a betrayal. This isn't about me. But I'm also not ignoring it.

There seem to be so many reasons why this case is a Bad Example, and we should be fighting over a Good Example, if we want to fight rape culture. (In a lot of ways, the Roman Polanski case was a Good Example; it certainly seems far less ambiguous.) Maybe, though, a bad example is the best kind of example. I know it's pointed out a lot of my own prejudices to me.

I do want to point you somewhere, to people with more bravery and more conviction than I have right now. Some very, very, brave women are taking a stand on Twitter, and making this case an example, and using its publicity to fight rape culture. You should read about what they're doing here, but please, count this as a trigger warning. The link goes to the first blog post explaining the protest; a lot has happened since then that you can read about on the same blog. The protest has been going on for four days now. The latest posts and updates are especially powerful, and therefore get an especially strong trigger warning.

There are a bunch of ways to get involved in that protest, whether you're on Twitter or not; some of them -- and some supporting arguments for the protest -- are here, and there's a trigger warning on that too.

I don't know what Assange did or did not do. I can't imagine anyone accusing him for fun. I know that rape culture is more pervasive than I can describe, and that any ideas I have about Assange will be colored by it. I'm trying to figure out what that coloring is doing to me.

What's it doing to you?