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“Some of these stories are closer to my own life than others are, but not one of them is as close as people seem to think.” Alice Murno, from the intro to Moons of Jupiter

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

“Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory.’ Show me where it says ‘relics, monks, nuns.’ Show me where it says ‘Pope.’” –Thomas Cromwell imagines asking Thomas More—Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My favorite posts to get started: The Self-Righteousness Instinct, Sabbath Says, Encounters, Inc., and What Makes "Wolf Hall" so Great?.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Issue with Jurassic World No One Has the Balls to Talk about

            We all know who the real stars of Jurassic World are—actress Bryce Dallas Howard’s deftness at running from myriad dinos over diverse terrains in posh heels (without messing up her ruler-straight hair), and actor Chris Pratt’s ability to find a miraculously smooth path for his motorcycle as he speeds through the tangled jungle alongside the raptors he’s trained as bloodhounds. So maybe the mosasaur was a bit too big, and maybe the denouement’s interspecies melee was a little too reminiscent of Godzilla vs Mothra vs Ghidorah, and of course the dinos were altogether too featherless. But these are quibbles. The movie is supposed to be fun. And it works. There is, however, one serious issue with the movie no one has the courage or moral clarity to discuss (except me of course).

            First a confession: until seeing Jurassic World, I hated hipsters as much as any red-blooded American male who came of age in the 90s. The ironically overgrown or overly manicured facial hair, the freakishly tight pants, the conspicuously conspicuous three-pounds of corrective eyewear, the fan boy nostalgia for the most annoying pop culture era in history, the contra-scientific certainty that vinyl sounds better, the bitter beer, the way talking to them makes you feel like you’re being interviewed by a dimwitted stand-in for Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report. It’s all just awful. But as I was watching Jake Johnson’s nerdy character in the movie being ruthlessly juxtaposed with the ultra-masculine Chris Pratt, my repulsion began to give way to pity.

Maybe it was because earlier in the day I’d read about some poor bastard who’d written a letter seeking advice from the hosts of a literary blog. The letter writer, who fashioned himself a poet, had been all but talked out of ever writing poetry again. Here’s how he describes his crisis:

I am a white, male poet—a white, male poet who is aware of his privilege and sensitive to inequalities facing women, POC, and LGBTQ individuals, but despite this awareness and sensitivity, I am still white and still male. Sometimes I feel like the time to write from my experience has passed, that the need for poems from a white, male perspective just isn’t there anymore.

You can picture this guilt-ridden sad sack scrunching his face and balling his fists in an attempt to will himself out of existence. But much to his consternation, no matter how hard he tries to erase the reality, there he is, white and male as ever. He goes on:

Sometimes I write from other perspectives via persona poems in order to understand and empathize with the so-called “other”; but I fear that this could be construed as yet another example of my privilege—that I am appropriating another person’s experience. Write what you know and risk denying voices whose stories are more urgent; write to learn what you don’t know and risk colonizing someone else’s story.

What a little bitch, right? On the one hand, he’s paralyzed with the fear of being seen as someone who exercises his supposed privilege; on the other, he’s egocentric enough to think any of those scare-quoted others give a shit about his poetry. “I feel terrible about feeling terrible about this,” he whines, “since I also know that for so long, white men made other people feel terrible about who they were.” I mean, modern poetry is pretty horrific, but come on—it’s not slavery.

            I admit, my first thought after reading the letter was of how much I’d like to slap the shit out of this loser. Then I settled for a good laugh at how pathetic he is. But then I got to thinking. And while I was thinking I was halfheartedly scrolling through my Facebook feed. Apparently, some dude named Bruce Jenner very publicly decided to become Caitlyn Jenner. And all Jon Stewart, a guy I admire, could think to joke about with regard to the story was how sexist the coverage was. Then there’s this Rachel Dolezal character, who was head of an NAACP chapter in Spokane Washington—until her parents revealed that she’s not even a little black (though I guess we can assume she’s still a woman). The consensus seems to be that it’s cool to switch genders, but not cool to switch races. I honestly can’t make myself care enough to learn what the reasoning behind this distinction might be—though I am a big fan of that awesome ice cream swirl braid. And of course there's already a controversy about just how sexist Jurassic World is. This was as predictable as the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster; every majorly successful movie and every majorly successful book gets accused of being sexist sooner or later. I defy you to find one that isn't. (Chris Pratt, well aware of the inevitability of this type of controversy, actually wrote a preemptive apology on Facebook.)

            As I was watching the bespectacled and mustachioed Jake Johnson in Jurassic World play with the toy dinosaurs lining his computerized workstation, recounting the story of how he purchased his vintage Jurassic Park t-shirt on e-Bay, it occurred to me: these pseudo-dudes are a product of all the insanity surrounding issues of racial and gender identity suffusing social media (where it has trickled in from college campuses). The hipsters present themselves as these parodies of manhood because they’ve been made to feel ashamed of their status as male. They bury their opinions and predilections layers deep in the cheapest irony because they’re insecure about being tourists in the regions and cultures they’ve stolen from other people. And, damn, it’s no wonder they’re nostalgic for the simpler, more innocent days when dudes could watch Star Wars without wondering if the boner they get from Carrie Fisher in a slave bikini is proof of an inherently oppressive nature.

(TRIGGER WARNING: The following paragraph contains empirically well-substantiated conclusions that are nonetheless considered by identity activists to be thought crimes--er, um, I mean, microaggressions.)

            Maybe it’s just the circles I run in, but my email and Facebook feeds—not to mention the magazines and news shows I watch—are lousy with click-baity bullshit toeing the line of the most brain dead identity politics theories. Don’t get me wrong, we as a society really do need to do a lot more about racial inequality. But guilt tripping really nice geeky white dudes isn’t going to accomplish a damn thing. And I understand that women really are systematically abused and oppressed and discriminated against—in the fucking Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia. I appreciate that all the Facebook feminists genuinely believe they’re working to make the world a better place, but the facts they like to cite are completely wrong, almost to a one. They scream about how women are paid less than men, but they leave out the fact that it’s because women make different career and lifestyle choices—and that they make those same choices cross-culturally. The Twitter activists vent their outrage about how many college girls are assaulted, but they studiously cover up the fact that the numbers they’re citing are based on surveys designed to produce exaggerated incidence rates. Using similar methods, you can actually show that just as many men are raped in the U.S. as women. Clear evidence of discrimination in science and technology fields, where so many hipsters dwell, dried up over a decade ago. And yet the activists have only grown more insistent, more outraged, and more numerous. 

(It should be noted, the very stupid idea of trigger warnings is based on misconceptions about trauma.) 

            I sat in the movie theater watching the scene where Johnson’s character gets rebuffed when he goes in for a kiss with his geeky coworker, and I wondered what it would be like to be a young man or young woman today, working out your ideas about who you are and what role you might play in the world, forming your identity, amid this never-ending caravan of Quixotes tilting at their postmodern windmills. Race doesn’t really exist, we read again and again. Really? Then why is it so fucked up that Rachel Dolezal has decided to be black? But the more important question is, why do we think it makes you racist to believe that race actually does exist? Can’t someone who believes in race also believe that everyone should enjoy the same rights and freedoms regardless of it? And can’t someone who accepts the evidence that biology plays a large role in gender hold that same view of the universality of rights and freedoms without being sexist?

            It’s easy for me to wade through all the identity activists’ bullshit, because I think it’s all bullshit. If we want to remedy racial inequality in America, we’re going to have to do a lot more than address those implicit biases people are always talking about. It’s going to take reforms to our economy and education systems. (Those biases, incidentally, tend to be based on social reality, rather than social reality being based on them.) And though I know the case for sexism in the western world is sketchy, I certainly don’t envy young women, many of whom we can predict are going to have stereotypical tastes and stereotypical desires, even though they’re being taught that stereotypes are evil and anyone who reinforces them is complicit in all kinds of horrific crimes. Let’s face it, for most women, hipsters just aren’t sexy. But we have to ask, who do young people have that they can turn to for straight answers these days? They can’t go to their teachers because their teachers are probably drinking the same Kool-Aid as the activists. And they can’t go to scientists because they keep hearing how scientists are all white male oppressors.  

             So I decided to rein in my contempt for the hipster character toward the end of the movie. After all, Chris Pratt’s character is almost too perfectly manly a man—he’s a bit of a parody himself. Instead of making fun of and brutalizing hipsters, we should start trying to help these gender-confused race-shamed little cowards. The only reason they’re trying so hard to be trendy dressers is because it distracts them from their perceived role as natural oppressors. The only reason they look so ridiculous is because they believe the only role they deserve at this point in history is the one of providing comic relief. And though they may take their one-punch knockout ironically, I’d be willing to bet they'll still go home and cry about it.

            What do you all say? Let’s do something useful on social media for a change and use it to end hipster abuse. Join the movement! Write about all the other stereotypical and discriminatory portrayals of hipsters in movies and literature. Maybe we can even do some surveys to get some quasi-evidence of all the tragic tribulations hipsters face in their daily lives. I mean, how horrible must it be to let the activists neuter you only to discover that everyone just hates you more afterward? Oh, and maybe boycott Jurassic World… nah, on second thought, go see Jurassic World. It’s a really fun movie.

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