Friday, August 26, 2011

Sex work and Feminism

Over at Skepchick there's an "Ask Surly Amy" question, "Is Sex-work Anti-Feminist?". The questionner wants to know what the rational/skeptical response is to the question.

I love these kind of questions, because the answers are always more complex the deeper you look. I come down on the pro-sex side. I've worked in pro-sex environments and have had a lot of exposure to how sex can be used to liberate and empower people. As a gay man, the movement that has won me many of the rights I now enjoy was in part fueled by a pro-sex attitude. One of my earliest memories after moving to Toronto 10 years ago is watching my lesbian and trans co-workers talking about a new porn endeavour that was pro-women, pro-body-type, pro-people and just very, very positive. Our bodies and how we use them is a very personal thing, and sex is powerful in all kinds of dimensions, everything from biochemically right up to the largest segments of societies themselves. We're steeped in sex, and even beyond the "over sexualized" (which I'd argue is more of a "over exploited") environment that gets all the media attention, it colours everything we do. I think being anti-sex is damaging.

Of course, what does it mean to be pro-sex or anti-sex? This is where it gets complicated, and I think a huge part of that complexity is because we as a society haven't quite mastered how to communicate about these things. There's also a whole lot of cultural flotsam and jetsam, carryovers from oppressions past, rigid ideas we got from our grandparents, a whole bunch of deeply personal stuff that makes us act weird and crazy when it comes to sex. I was really intrigued by the part where she wrote:

People never tell you that if you’re using your arms to bake a cake, that you’re selling your body when you’re hired to do so. Nobody tells you that working as a driver, where you use your legs, is selling your body. In the act of doing nearly any kind of work, we use our bodies, and we are never seen as selling those body parts or selling our body when we are working. It is only in the world of the sex industry that one is considered “selling themselves” or “selling their body” as a part of work.

I think it's true that this is one of the ways that the sex industry is unique and it shows how much there is a disconnect in the ways that we act versus how we talk about sex and our bodies.

You know, ever since I worked "sex industry adjacent", I've always wondered what it would be like to work in the sex industry. Not as a performer, but on the administrative side of things. Wouldn't it be great to be an HR rep for a porn company or webcam site? I think it'd be kind of awesome.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Jack Layton, RIP

Early this morning, the leader of the Federal NDP, Jack Layton, passed away from a battle with cancer. He left a letter which you can see here, and it's safe to say that he will be missed. I've never been a huge fan of his, but in the past year I've really come to appreciate his strength, courage, and good humour. I think the 2011 Federal elections were the best that he has ever had and I was very, very pleased to see the NDP get the results they did, even though I didn't vote for them.

I hope that his final words to Canadians in his letter go on to inspire all of us to work towards building a better country and a better world.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cottage Country

I'll be hauling my entitled ass toward cottage country today and won't be back until next week. Maybe when I get back I'll fiddle with the formatting here. See ya then!

Monday, August 15, 2011

UK Riots and Povery

The Guardian posted a map that compares the riot locations with the level of poverty which is pretty interesting.

I guess the riots are old news now (they happened last week! Who cares if anything's going on still?? What are the celebrities doing???), but there some interesting conversations going on about what the riots meant. It seemed like most people were happy to dismiss the event as a random kind of thing and dismiss the rioters as hooligans and ne'er-do-wells. People made comments about how these rioters were lacking moral fibre, were greedy, and just wanted to steal a new pair of Nikes. I disagree.

I'm not the only person who sees a connection between these riots and the background levels of poverty, and recent "austerity measures". The same kind of thing is happening across Europe, and will probably go on for a while, at least while the global economy tries to get its feet back under itself. Science suggests that there is a connection between cutbacks and increased violence, but even with all of this there's a disconnect going on between what we say is happening and what is actually happening.

I'm against violence. But as a friend of mine recently said, you can be against violence and still want to know the cause of it and to look for underlying issues. I'd agrue that if you are -really- against violence, looking for the reasons isn't just an option, it's a requirement. How can we fix something if we don't know what's wrong?

I think that this is probably a case of fundamental attribution error writ large. It's easy for us to assume that the rioters are acting like they are because of some flaw in their personality rather than because of factors that have shaped their lives that are outside of their control. I've had lengthy debates with people who genuinely believe that the poor are poor because they are lazy or have the wrong attitude. It seems to be really, really difficult for us to look past these prejudices, and I think that so long as we are stuck thinking like this, we can look forward to more riots and violence in the future.

Living as I do in a place where there's a good chance of right-wing governments on all 3 major levels (municipal, provincial, and federal), I wonder what we might see here in Toronto in the next 2 or 3 years. I don't think it will be pretty.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My feminism and the internet

Over on the "Wednesday Weigh-In" asks:

What role does staying connected play in your feminism? What could better internet access mean for your political activity and viewpoints?

Since I'm not yet ready to post anything researched or well-thought-out, but I DO like to talk at length about myself, I figured why not?

This is a timely question anyway, what with the role that social media has played and is playing in movements around the world, from "Arab Spring" to the riots in the UK, to helping people mobilize right here at home. I'm not the most tech-savvy person, so my internet activities are pretty much limitted to reading blogs and Facebook (maybe google+ one day? Maybe?). I've not gotten into twitter (in my role as curmudgeon I can grumpily say "I don't understand it and I don't want to."), and my phone may not be old-school, but my use of it really is.

Still, I remember back in the '90s, when I was in high school and university and the internet was nowhere near as all-powerful as it is today. Back then I got my doses of feminism from friends, from the gay youth group I was a part of, and from the alternative free weekly paper in Halifax where I grew up. I can't even imagine how I came to be the person I am with those paltry sources of information and encouragement. Today, I easily am exposed to half a dozen or more articles, blogs, papers, rants, and stories about feminism or social justice or whatnot. When I want to be, I'm far more connected to what's going on around me and in the world at large.

Probably the biggest way that the internet helps me is that it puts me in touch with women. By and large I socialize mostly with men. The few places where I do encounter women regularly are places like at work, where it's considered bad form to spontaniously begin a conversation about sexism or feminism. There are places and times, and I have a few close colleagues that I spend my lunch hours with to talk about the state of the world, but those moments are rare and special. As a gay man, it's very easy to slip into a state where I don't need to interract with women in any meaningful way at all.

I think that we do better at recognising inequality and fighting against it when we're exposed to the victims of inequality. It's not necessary...I'm -never going to know what it's like to be black, or the plight of those starving in the Horn of Africa right now, but that doesn't mean I can't try to help, but it's been shown that the more distanced someone is from an issue, the easier it is to ignore and misunderstand it. To be a feminist, I think I need to have women in my life, so that I can hear their stories and be corrected when I'm off-base. The internet helps me to do this, by giving me access to women that I don't see every day: friends and acquaintances, strangers and colleagues. I think I would be a worse feminist without access to those resources.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Quarantine 2: Terminal

Okay, now that the introduction is out of the way I get to talk about my true love, which is zombies!! I'll probably frequently have a review or something up about a movie, show, book, or comic that is zombie-related. If I stumble onto one, I might link to a science article about real-life zombies, or something cool like that zombie house (which, I'm skeptical about as a long-term dwelling during a zombie apocalypse, but we can talk about that later).

The most recent film I've seen is Quarantine 2: Terminal, directed by John Pogue, and the sequel of the excellent 2008 remake (of the Spanish film [REC]) Quarantine. I've seen both versions of the first film and enjoyed them both. It's been a couple of years, so I can't really distinguish the two in my mind, except that I remember having a slight preference for the Spanish one, probably because I'm a snob who likes subtitles. I know that there's a [REC] sequel, but I haven't seen it yet, and I'm told it's vastly different from Terminal.

On it's own, I think Terminal is an okay genre flick. The action is action-y, the zombies are zombie-y. I appreciate that they tried to capture some of the features of the first film: the first scenes are shot with a slightly shaky, documentary feel, and there's a night-vision goggles gimmick that comes in at the end. The creators of Terminal were at least somewhat familiar with the source material, and there aren't really any giant missteps in the execution.

The plot follows the passengers and crew of an airplane that's leaving LA roughly at the time all hell is breaking loose in the first film. One of the passengers gets infected, the plane has to land, and then they're picked off one by one in the titular quarantined terminal. As a premise, it isn't bad, but even from the start I just didn't feel caught up in it. The film tries to build tension early on: one character has a cold, another sneezes. People talk about how the dogs in their neighbourhood are sick with something. I'm sure one character says that he's one day away from retirement on the force and hopes no one shoots him before he can go home to his family. Okay, not that last one, but there's a period early on where every bit of dialogue is forcing the tension so much that it makes suspending disbelief really difficult. There's a spunky kid, there's a hot-head, there's an old guy with Parkinsons, pretty much the usual round-up of "every day" people you see in these zombie movies.

It reaches moments of truly bad when 2 characters almost get into a fistfight over using a cell phone on a plane. I mean, who does that? Who is so wound up that they go off like that when no one is actually a zombie yet? Turns out there's a good reason, but at the time it just seemed so implausible and clumsy that I can't really credit it as good filmmaking.

The whole film seems like that: there's some good ideas, but the film either over-plays or under-plays its hand. There was some effort to give the characters more than cardboard personalities, but it -feels- like there was effort, you know?

The first Quarantine films got a lot of mileage out of, well, the quarantine. When the feds step in, even before you meet any of the characters, the quarantine feels like an actual force: the plastic falling over the windows, the locked doors, the lights and sirens outside all add to the atmosphere of claustrophobia. Terminal fails to live up to this. There are scenes that echo the scenes in the first: the plastic draping the windows, the authorities entering the building in their space-suits, but they seem tacked on, as if the filmmakers knew they had to hit those points but didn't really have an enthusiasm for it.

The action was decent, and if this is your first zombie film you may be caught off-guard by one or two of the "twists", but the film just didn't rise to the level where I could suspend my disbelief. Every zombie flick has a few scenes where the characters are behaving stupidly, or the "science" or internal logic doesn't add up (eg, in the first films, the initial victims seem to take hours or days before becoming monsters, but by the end you get bitten and are a monster in, like, a few seconds. How?? Why??)...a good film keeps the action and the fun and the general quality high enough that you can forgive any lapses, and Terminal just doesn't do that.

I was expecting to make comparisons to "Flight of the Living Dead", since zombie-airplane movies are still a rarity, but they really aren't even in the same category. "Flight", while maybe not as Hollywood-slick as Terminal, has a really firm grasp of what's best about zombie movies, and it has a sense of humour and a sense of, for lack of a better word, soul, that Terminal just can't capture.

In the end (terminal, get it?), Quarantine 2: Terminal gets a few things right, but a lot of the rest is lackluster. I give it 2 rotting fingers out of five.

Are you a Communist?

No, I'm not, and welcome to my blog!

I'm starting with that question because I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where we've recently elected a mayor and his sidekicks who are basically opposed to everything I stand for. In the newspaper today I saw that Giorgio Mammoliti has banned "Communists" from his facebook page about "saving the city". I take it to mean "communists" are anyone who disagrees with him. So, look, language changes, and people are free to use words to mean anything they like, but don't be surprised if people look at you like you're a lunatic, Giorgio. I don't think that word means what you think it means.

So, right now, I am a mid-30s gay male, city-dweller, agnostic-bordering-seriously-on-hardcore-atheist, with a strong interest in social justice and equality politics. I'm a feminist. I want to be a better rationalist. I work in customer service and I have no qualifications whatsoever to hold any opinion whatsoever, let alone to shove it in anyone's face, but that's what I intend to do here anyway. There's a billion (or so) blogs like this one out there, and there are millions (probably) that do a better job at what I'm hoping to do, but, well, here I am.

I really like zombies. (Zombunist...see? It's all coming together!)

I've been thinking about doing something like this for a long time. I've had blogs before, but those have been personal things. Sure, I'd sometimes rant about the issues of the day but mostly I'd whine about my daily life. With this blog I want to do something more thoughtful. That means that I will have to do a bit more research than usual. I may even edit my writing instead of just posting it off-the-cuff (this post is off-the-cuff). I hope to be held accountable for what I have to say.

I want to be a voice speaking for good. I want to help make a change. I want to encourage discussion. I want to learn and grow, and I want others to learn and grow with me. I want a world where people are equal, where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and where we consider each other, where we help each other. I think, ultimately, that that's the only way we're going to come out of this century alive, is by helping each of us to achieve their potential.

I have a temper. I get angry about things, and I've been known to have knee-jerk responses. Sometimes I will post things that are deeply personal in nature. I'm not always consistent. And, I really like zombies. You should expect all of these things.

I'm not sure exactly what shape this endeavour will take, but I hope it's good, and I hope I learn something from it. I hope, whenever this blog gets retired, that I'm a better writer, a better thinker, and a better person. We'll see.