Sunday, June 10, 2012

Black Gays... Caught in the Middle?

[Note: I originally wrote this for AverageBro shortly after Obama endorsed same-sex marriage. Since then quite a few prominent black people have come out in support of marriage equality, including the board of the NAACP. Still I think this post sheds light on the unique position black gays are in.]
Almost immediately following Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, the media began speculating about its impact on black voters. After all, blacks have been slower than other groups to embrace gay rights. Will they stand behind Obama in a show of racial solidarity or stay home come Election Day? Unsurprisingly, polls show that the announcement had virtually no effect on black voters’ opinion of Obama.

Still, African Americans consistently poll lower than on LGBT issues compared to whites. This can largely be attributed to the prominence of religion in the black community. Analysis of Prop 8 results showed that frequency of church attendance was better than race for predicting how someone voted. The media naturally went for the convenient and more sensationalist angle.

The movement for gay rights has many parallels to the civil rights struggle of the mid-20th century. Gays want equal access to housing, employment, and benefits that straight people have. Like blacks, gays have been smeared as sexual predators, dysfunctional, and dangerous for society. LGBT people deal with insulting stereotypes in the media, although things have improved considerably in the last ten years. It’s not hard to see why prominent activists like Julian Bond say that “gay rights are civil rights”.

But gay is not the new black. Blacks are still black, gays are still gay, and some of us are (gasp) both. White gays don’t have to contend with racial profiling or the numerous ways our criminal justice system targets people of color. If they can pass for straight, harassment and discrimination become nearly non-existent[1]. And for all the press about black homophobia, black gays have experienced racism in so-called “safe spaces”. For all the supposed progressiveness of the gay community, the bars, clubs, and events can be every bit as segregated as mainstream American society.

This leaves black gays in a precarious position. As far as the media is concerned we might as well not exist. To (some) black people our sexuality is a result of the nefarious influence of ‘white people’. To (some) gays our race is a punchline for their hipster racism. We’re horrified by the bigotry displayed by white gays in the wake of Prop 8 and saddened by the familial relationships damaged by daring to live our lives authentically.

So the effects of Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage could a huge boon to us. Maybe more blacks see our relationships as worthy of respect. Maybe certain activists will stop throwing tantrums at every slight disappointment by what is unquestionably the most pro-gay president in history. Certainly it’s prompted many conversations in barber shops, bars, and churches.

[1] This shouldn’t suggest that being ‘in the closet’ makes being gay a walk in the park. The deception brings on a host of other issues and complications.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Remakes, reboots... how about something original?


So Sony put out a preview image for the new Spiderman picture. Sam Raimi dropped out of Spider-man 4, probably because they made him shoehorn Venom into the last one, so they're doing a "reboot" of the franchise. It sort of makes sense in that if you have to make a new Spiderman pic, casting issues be damned, you might as well start from scratch. But do you have to?

If you like comic book movies, the oughts was a great decade. Marvel fans got great films like X2, Spider-man 1 and 2, and Iron Man 1 and 2. Even Spider-man 3 and X3 were enjoyable, despite some glaring flaws. DC fans saw Batman return to stronger than ever and the OK-but-kind-of-boring Superman Returns (more on that later). It was a lot of fun.

But rebooting Spider-man less than five years after the third movie is a cheap attempt at a cash-in. Warner Bros. waited 8 years after the horrid Batman & Robin before bringing the Caped Crusader back. They could've just staged a public flogging of Joel Schumacher and moved ahead, but hindsight is 20/20. The new film focuses on "Peter Parker developing his abilities in high school", which means homework, talking to girls, Uncle Ben dying, great power, great responsibility, blah blah blah. It's a retread of all the themes we dealt with before.

Similarly the Superman series is getting the reboot treatment. Superman Returns wasn't all that great, at times it was kind of boring (not to mention using X-ray vision to spy on Lois was a little creepy). But X-Men wasn't that good either and director Bryan Singer went on to make the fantastic X2. All I'm saying is that the studio acted hastily in letting Singer go. So now the story of Clark Kent essentially starts over, which means high school, girls, learning about who you are from dead relatives, discovering powers, etc.* Sound familiar? And I'm not even talking about Smallville when I say that.

All I'm saying is enough already. It's bad enough that Michael Bay is trampling all over my childhood, now they're redoing the origins of comic's most bankable biggest heroes over and over again. Why not go for something fresh and original? Hancock managed to be a huge hit without relying on a known superhero. Kick-Ass turned a profit with a mostly unknown cast and characters. Not every film will turn out like the underpromoted box office flop Scott Pilgrim, take a risk.

*I realize I'm assuming a lot about the plot of the new film.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How to ruin a fairly decent character


I've bitched complained numerous times about Japanese game developers' habit of injecting melodrama into the narrative of their video games to the point of absurdity. So really, I should've known better than to approach Metroid: Other M with anything other than the lowest expectations. And I did. However, Other M warrants special attention because 1) the series isn't terribly popular in Japan, meaning US players are the driving force behind its success and 2) it completely decimated everything fans love about the series' heroine, Samus Aran.

Lara Croft? Psh. She ain't shit. Unlike Tomb Raider, the Metroid series has a consistent record of high-quality adventures and its star is known for her tenacity instead of her bust line. When it comes to leading ladies, Samus Aran is the gold standard. Previous entries only gave hints into her persona, but over time gamers constructed a rough idea of the person beneath the suit. Fearless, agile, disciplined, passionate. Some might even consider her a feminist icon, although you'd have to ignore Nintendo's tendency to throw her into revealing outfits as a "bonus" in the endings.

So it's pretty disappointing to learn that Samus' early days revolve around a bunch of lame daddy issues with her commanding officer and hear her thoughts told through teenage level monologues. Where's the intelligent, independent woman we all imagined? The most maddening issue is Samus, normally given to doing things her own way, disables all of her abilities until the commanding officer on the mission, who she is not obligated to obey, authorizes them. Why does she so readily resume the role of subordinate? In actuality it's a hackneyed way of recreating the "discovery" of new powers in previous Metroid games, but as a consequence we see Samus submitting to the irrational demands of a man. Some have called this sexist, which I'm hesitant to agree with, but I can't imagine Master Chief, Sam Fisher, or Link being placed in similar circumstances.

Combine the disappointing character development with abysmal writing and the story elements are a complete wash. I mean, I'm not asking for Oscar-winning dialogue here, just stuff on the level of a SyFy made-for-TV movie. How is it that the 15-year-old Super Metroid has more emotional impact in five minutes than Other M has in the entire game?

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Do conservatives understand the First Amendment?

I'm only half-joking when I ask this. It seems like every time some right-wing douchebag has a case of verbal diarrhea he or she screeches about their first amendment rights when the inevitable blowback comes. The latest instance came from Dr. Laura Schlessinger's radio program. I'm not going to bring you up to speed, the full audio of the call can be found here.

And in the afterm-- well hold on a second, I gotta say WTF at that call. Even if she had never said "nigger" there were too many racist assumptions and flat-out stupid arguments coming from her mouth to ignore. Mentioning the percentage of black people that voted for Obama (when blacks vote 90% democratic anyway), the "don't NAACP me" line, "black-think" (as though we all have some sort of hive mind).

When it comes to the so-called "n-word", many (possibly most) black people don't use it. I certainly don't and neither do most of the people in my family. And if some of them heard you say it in their presence (regardless of your skin color), you'd face a hailstorm of other ugly words flying your way. In any case, the blanket statement simply doesn't hold, like just about any blanket statement about black people.

Her claims of "hypersensitivity" are ludicrous as well. How often has the "doctor" been asked to speak for all white Jewish people? And how would she feel if she were asked to do that? And if someone's going to come into your home or invite you into theirs the LEAST they could do is use language that shows respect for you. I don't curse or tell dirty jokes in front of my grandmother. That's not being "sensitive", it's being polite. But I digress.
In announcing her exit, Dr. Laura mentioned she'd like to get her "first amendment rights back". Which is fine, except they were never taken away. The first amendment only guarantees that the government won't bother you for expressing yourself. That didn't stop former government employee Sarah Palin from joining in on the stupidity though. If you say some whacked-out shit and the radio station fires you because corporate sponsors are pulling out because they don't want to be viewed as being supportive of your bigoted ass, that's just business.

This same faux-martyrdom was espoused by Carrie Prejean when her views on gay marriage came under fire. She insisted that this "should NOT happen in America" as it undermines our "constitutional rights". But people have a right to criticize your opinion just as much as you have a right to express it.

I don't see this out of prominent moderate/liberal people. When Harry Reid faced criticism for praising Obama's lack of "Negro dialect", he never cried "We have freedom of speech in this country!" To be fair, many, many conservatives don't behave like this, but a lot of them do and the sentiment seems to carry weight with their base.

Really, I think the issue is that these people are used to having their views either endorsed or tolerated by society. But now that they can't say whatever they want about non-white, non-Christian, non-straight people without consequences they're crying "we're being oppressed!" because apparently the idea someone might strongly disagree simply doesn't compute.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thirtysomething

So I turn 30 today. As far as age milestones go, 30 loomed pretty large for a long time. It was considered "old". Over the hill. I distinctly remember being at a college party at 20, meeting a guy who was 27 and thinking "You're kind of creepy".

Now that my 30s have arrived, it's not so bad. Pretty great actually. I have money for trips, eating out, and tickets to shows. Hell, I even pay for music now! While the carefree days of college arouses some nostalgia, I'm quite content to leave behind the exams and perpetual brokenness (particularly those two weeks of nothing but Ramen).

Given that it's one-third of my life, it's virtually impossible to sum up the last decade, but there are certainly moments and events that stick out. Earning my bachelor's and master's degrees, closing on my home, telling family and friends I was (and am) gay, the passing of my uncle, the 2008 election (the whole thing, primaries and all), and trips to large cities like San Diego, Portland, and DC.

The next decade holds promise, and I face it more financially stable, more politically aware, more comfortable with who I am, with less hair, and grateful for every day.

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Keep 'em short and sweet


I finished God of War 3 awhile back. The game can be best summed up as “God of War 2 in HD”, which is fine with me. To my knowledge, God of War is the only series where you can kill a minotaur by stabbing it in the eye with its own horn, an experience more than worth of the admission.

The only problem with the game is the ending. It’s not that I was expecting Shakespeare, quite the opposite actually. It became clear a few hours in that the developers were writing themselves into a corner that wouldn’t leave them with much to work with once the adventure was over. But this didn’t stop the developers from attempting to shoehorn in some substance and weight during the final moments when (1)it wasn’t really necessary and (2) it didn’t make sense. As a result the ending was overly long and drawn-out.

It used to be different. Back in the 8-bit and 16-bit era, endings were mostly afterthoughts. Thrown-together and wholly unsatisfying. Sometimes you got a few lines of text and that’s it. Other times you might see one new sprite or if you were really lucky, some sprite art.

Many complained, but unlike movies and books, you frequently played the ending to video games. After the robot/evil wizard/veggie-hating frog went down, there wasn’t much left to see. Complex interpersonal relationships and political implications were (and are) practically nonexistent.

Game developers recognize this, and just as stories and characters have become more complex, so have the endings. Now the final battle is part of the ending. Now the villain must have dark revelations and surprising plot twists to unfurl before announcing that he’s had “enough talk” and a fight ensues. Then, having discovered the hero is more than a match for him, the villain taunts our determined savior before remarking that he’s grown tired/weary of this petty squabble/quarrel/game (never mind that he’s been aware of the hero’s doings from the beginning when he could’ve squashed him like a bug). Now the fight is REALLY on, as the villain has revealed a spell/attack/mech suit that shows his true strength.

Once it’s all over, the villain gives one final unrepentant/conciliatory speech before breathing his last breath and the hero dusts himself off while consulting/celebrating/reflecting with the sidekick/partner/cheap floosie who was on his side throughout the adventure. Sometimes during the ending there’s an interactive portion that’s supposed to make the player relate to hero’s plight. This is where God of War 3 (remember that?) goes way off track. The player is forced navigate Kratos’ most painful memories in an effort to understand his heart. But it’s a futile exercise. For a “hero”, Kratos is, to put it bluntly, an asshole. He just spent the last ten hours or so beating in the faces and snapping the necks of Olympian gods because he’s still pissed that he accidentally killed his wife and kid while he was in midst of slaughtering thousands of wives and kids. After witnessing (and relishing) the carnage he inflicted, trying to feel an ounce of pity for Kratos is pointless.

Not every game has to become all introspective and deep with its ending. Certainly not one whose appeal revolves around gratuitous violence and nudity. It's better to just get the damn thing over with.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rambling Commentary on Final Fantasy XIII



Final Fantasy XIII might be the most disappointing, frustrating edition of the series since IX. The game starts off well enough. The governing body is exiling people to a far away, dangerous land, the people are rebelling, a resistance organization of sorts has sprung up, etc. An exciting, well-executed action sequence starring the game's heroine, Lightning takes place. Then the focus shifts to Snow, Vanille, and Hope and things take a sharp nosedive.

Look, I love a good underdog story, particularly one where the odds of winning (or surviving) are so low that you can't imagine a way out. So show me ordinary folks rising to fight for their lives. Show mothers clutching their children. Show young teenagers fighting despite their lack of options. Play the violin for their lost innocence. Because I will eat that shit up. But the following things will kill the whole scene:

1. The leader of a resistance group rallying his troops like they're about to play a football game.
2. A mother picking up a gun and selling her fighting ability with "Moms are tough".
3. Another woman picking up a gun and playfully saying "bang".



Yet such is the way we are introduced to Vanille, Hope (the mother's son), and Snow, the three most insufferable RPG characters I can remember. Hope harbors resentment over his mother's early (but not nearly early enough) death in the game for ridiculous reasons. The fist-pumping, overly zealous Snow fights save his lost love. Their romance is every bit as cliched as you'd expect. And words can not expect my distaste for that impossibly perky, horribly-sounding bimbo Vanille. For whatever reason Japanese RPGs have this archetype consisting of cheery, extremely effeminate girl who acts like she's ready for cheerleading practice while fighting in post-apocalyptic war zones. It's infuriating.

The cast's one saving grace is Sazh. Yes, despite the ridiculous afro, Sazh mostly avoids becoming a stereotyped caricature and instead comes out as the most likable, relatable character. He never wades into trying-to-be-deep-but-failing-miserably philosophizing of other characters and his motivations are rather simple: he's trying to save his son.

But overall FF XIII's narrative is just whack. The motivations behind characters' actions frequently don't makes sense. Several critical plot details are fleshed out via the Datalog (or what we'd call a journal) that's found in the game's menu, instead of the lengthy cinema scene I just sat through. The villain is only seen three times before the end of the game and my reaction to each appearance was "Oh, it's you." It's a real shame, too, as there are some interesting themes beneath the surface of the story (free will, being manipulated by a higher power, etc.). Unfortunately the writing and storytelling only allows for a shallow exploration of those topics and makes the little bit of substance there is difficult to digest.

The sole saving grace of the game's sometimes-painful cinema scenes are the stunning visuals to distract you from the B-movie drama. I frequently couldn't tell if a scene was rendered in real-time or CGI. And the audio meet the series' high standards as well.

This could all be forgiven if the battle system was good. And it was. Great, in fact. The only problem is the full breadth of its brilliance isn't accessible until about 25 hours into the game. Up until that point the battle system is effectively neutered with little room for strategy or variation.

It's strange how the game's plot mirrors the player's experience when it reaches this point. The party steps onto a wide open field, teeming with life and adventure. Similarly, the player, freed from the shackles of the incredibly linear path up to that point, also experiences a feeling of liberation. And when things get better, they get a lot better. The fast-paced battles keep you on your toes. Despite the fact I only control one character, I still had to do quite a bit of micro-management and strategizing, particularly for tougher fights.

I managed to wriggle 40 more hours of fun once the game hit its stride, and enjoyed almost every minute of it. Was it worth the lengthy, boring first half? I'm not sure. The ending didn't make a whole lot of sense, and without spoiling much, it's filled with a few Japanese anime/RPG cliches I'd like to see go away.

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