September 17th, 2010

it's a thinker



One the one hand: hijab is pretty much purely an instrument of sexist religious repression. And, you know, fuck sexist religious repression, right? And, while I'm on the subject, fuck religion.

On the other hand: it seems like the only behavior mode chosen by my fellow anti-religionists these days is to be as obnoxious and intolerant as possible, which really isn't going to get anyone anywhere.


On the one hand: France's recent decision to ban the hijab is consistent with their official position of state atheism, a position I have always felt is the only rational way to go for a government.

On the other hand: there's no denying that, in a practical sense, this ends up being obvious discrimination, since it smothers the freedom of one very specific ethnic and religious group.


On the one hand: the more conservative a culture is, the more heavily veiled they insist women become. And even in the most liberalized Muslim cultures, the veil is, essentially, a religious obligation, and thus an infringement of freedom for anyone who doesn't want to wear it. It is not incorrect to think of hijab as a form of intrinsic religious persecution, like when Mormons disallowed blacks from the priesthood, or how Baptists teach that homosexuality is a sin.

On the other hand: it cannot be denied that for many women, wearing hijab is not an obligation, but a choice. It is a cultural statement as well as a religious requirement, and banning them from wearing it is clearly a form of discrimination. It is not incorrect to think of hijab as a cultural/religious preference, like when Jews choose not to eat pork, or how Hindus have arranged marriages.


On the one hand: I am absolutely and unconditionally against any kind of enforced religious obligation, and I despise the way that women are generally treated in Islamic countries. This certainly includes the hijab, and there is no doubt there's a double standard for how men and women may dress.

On the other hand: A lot of the resentment against hijab comes from Christian conservatives, and there can be no question that much of it is driven by hatred of Islam and discrimination against/fear of Arabs. Many critics of the role of women in Islam are themselves advocates of extremely sexist view of women in society, and lots of people who criticize veiling have nothing to say about dress codes that exist in Judaism and some forms of Christianity.


On the one hand: I am in favor of abolishing hijab, or at the very least, allowing Islamic women who do not wish to be veiled to make that choice without fear of reprisal.

On the other hand: I think a governmental decree outlawing hijab is probably the worst possible way to get such a result.

NOTE #1: In one of the odder permutations of our culture recently, anti-Islamic American conservatives have co-opted a panel from the 2005 Paul Dini/Alex Ross comic Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth in which WW, standing among a group of veiled Islamic women, strips off a burqa to reveal her skimpy bustier-and-star-spangled-panties outfit. The image appears on a number of right-wing Muslim-bashing sites, and apparently is meant to convey the idea that WW will show up those snotty repressive Mahometans by showing off her awesome Amazon body. This is all well and good as long as you totally ignore the context of the story, but the irony becomes downright indigestible when you consider that Wonder Woman is, in fact, from a society so devoted to sexual separatism that men are literally not allowed to set foot in her homeland.

NOTE #2: I've always thought that veiled women are pretty hot, which means that the entire stated raison d'etre for veiling is wrong.
baby demon


I'm taking a lot of heat in various quarters because of my (non-)answer to today's AVQ&A. Basically, the question is "What children's pop culture do you find to be just as enjoyable, ambitious, or compelling as entertainment for adults?", and basically, my answer is "none".

This isn't to say that I didn't like kid's entertainment when I was a kid; of course I did. Nor is it to say that there aren't occasionally thing I find to enjoy in kid's entertainment now, but they tend to either be things that are obviously aimed at adults, like the writers slipping in jokes that are clearly intended for the grown-ups watching, or that are independent of their existence in a children's-entertainment context, like the beauty of the art in a Miyazaki movie or the technical audacity of a Pixar project. But as a rule, children's entertainment just doesn't do much for me, because, well, I am not a child.

And in saying that, I don't mean that children's entertainment is inferior; to the contrary, I've always been disappointed that I lack the ability to create kid art. It's a very valuable and rare skill. All I mean is, kid's entertainment is aimed at kids, and since I'm not a kid, it doesn't have the same appeal or impact on me that it would have when I was a kid. I don't know why this is such a controversial statement; people's tastes, values and aesthetics change all the time. I would think it would be goddamn shameful if everybody liked the same stuff as a 35-year-old as they did as an 8-year-old. And again, this isn't to say that I don't see stuff made for 8-year-olds and appreciate its craft; it's just, well, it's not made for me, and I don't look on it as some sort of moral, artistic, or critical failing that I don't really have much interest in it beyond that.

But the mere fact of admitting that, as an adult, I prefer cultural products aimed at adults, seems to send people into spasms of anger. I get accused of being a snob; I get called a joyless old crank; I get accused of hating kids; it is inferred that I have no imagination, no sense of fun, and no appreciation for silliness and play. That none of this is even remotely true would seem to go without saying, but I find myself having to say it anyway, over and over again. Ordinary, intelligent, sensible people -- people who under most circumstances understand that tastes evolve and change, and that there are fields of entertainment that are directed at demographic groups to which they do not belong -- still get riled beyond belief when I say that, as a rule, I don't like kid's shows or kid's literature. People who wouldn't dream of getting offended when I say I'm not interested in, say, Christian-themed movies and books get really bent out of shape when I say I'm not interested in pre-adolescent-themed television. I frankly don't get it. As I've said before, calling an adult joyless and unimaginative because he doesn't like children's entertainment is like calling a child stupid and unsophisticated because he doesn't like adult entertainment.

Now, of course, folks is folks, and while I can't imagine an lone adult, without a child, sitting down and actually, genuinely enjoying Arthur or Backyardigans or Wonderpets, I'm not trying to judge anyone. I like all kinds of stuff a lot of people consider crap. But I think that plays up part of what's happening here: the mere fact that grown-ups feel a little weird about liking kid's shows makes them defensive, so when someone says "I don't really like kid's shows because I am not a kid", they think it's a referendum on them and get hostile about it.* I also think there's probably an element of misperception at work: with a lot of these shows, what people are really admiring are the adult elements. Case in point: with Animaniacs, everyone I know who likes it got into it either as an adult, or as an adolescent -- in other words, as someone outside of the show's defined user range. What they're recognizing isn't the excellence of a kid's show; they're recognizing their own development and ability to pick up (adult) references and (adult) humor that the (adult) writers stuck into the show. Other times, it's just a misunderstanding of the material itself: lots of people cite Batman: The Animated Series and the other Diniverse cartoons as excellent children's programs, but those shows were never aimed at children. They're aimed at the very least at adolescents and high school kids, but more realistically, at late teenager and people in their early 20s, just like most superhero comics have been since the 1990s.

I'm not going to make any grand pronouncements about how this ties into our collective refusal as a culture to develop beyond adolescence, not only because I don't particularly believe it, but because I'm just as vulnerable for liking comic books and role-playing games. And I don't have any real stake in the whole unreflexive nostalgia trip other than that it doesn't appeal to me. I'm just going to repeat: this isn't for me, and that's fine, because it isn't supposed to be for me. Why anyone would be offended by my not liking something that was in no way designed for me to like is completely baffling. Do these people get mad because their dogs don't like macaroni & cheese?

*: One thing I find particularly hilarious is when people discuss what has come to be termed "young adult" literature -- what largely used to be called children's literature until a bunch of grown-ass folks started reading it -- and they very frequently will start the conversation by saying "Well, it's not very well-written, but...". For me, that's where the conversation STOPS. There's nothing to say after that. Because, I mean, it's a book. If it's not very well-written, what the fuck do I want to read it for? Because the page numbers are all in order? Because it's on really white, shiny paper?