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Posts Tagged ‘imaginative fiction’

Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.  Usually the strength of a mass movement is proportionate to the vividness and tangibility of its devil.  –  Eric Hoffer

To paraphrase Baudelaire, the loveliest trick of religion is to convince people that the Devil exists.  Humans have never been fond of admitting blame for anything, but when someone is caught red-handed committing some evil and therefore cannot blame any other human, the truly devout buck-passer blames an invisible, intangible, supernatural force.  Authoritarians, too, love their devils; what better way to convince the Great Unwashed to render their obedience and surrender their liberty than to convince them of the existence of super-powerful evil spirits who cannot be stopped except by whatever snake oil those authoritarians are selling?  Over the past couple of centuries, belief in actual anthropomorphic deities of evil has slowly been replaced by belief in more tangible devils such as “criminals”, “terrorists”, “pimps”, and “people who vote differently than I do”, but as we head into a new dark age belief in a literal red guy with horns, hooves, a tail and a pitchfork has once again become popular in the Underdeveloped States of America.  The occult boom of the early ’70s (heralded by movies like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby) paved the way for the Satanic panic of the ’80s and early ’90s, which after an implosion around 1994 soon returned as the “sex trafficking” hysteria; its roots in the older, more openly-religious hysteria are clearly visible in its QAnon branch and in persistent nonsense about the supposed magical powers of “pimps”.  And every so often, people whose entire understanding of how the universe works could be crammed into a chicken’s brain pan and still leave room for a politician’s moral compass, shit all over themselves because some musician employs “Satanic” imagery comparable in sophistication to that in a US television show from the 1950s.  Every society has throwbacks like this; the difference is that in America, we pretend they’re adults and let them decide who’s going to run things.

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Diary #561

Whenever a person expresses surprise upon discovering that I’m a colossal nerd, I have to wonder if they’ve actually been paying attention for the past decade.  I mean, it isn’t like I’ve made any effort to hide it; I made a Star Trek reference in my very first column, and I have frequently mentioned sci-fi stories and TV shows, comic books, horror movies, Dungeons and Dragons, and many other nerdy things here, on Twitter, and in real life (this column was inspired by my glancing up at the tiny Dalek atop my desk).  And really, it’s important that I and other “out” sex workers not hide our nerdiness (or academic brilliance, or any other trait not generally associated with hot chicks), because showing the world what we’re really like makes it harder for prohibitionists to depict us as two-dimensional victims, vixens, or villains.  Social media does a lot more for sex workers than act as a vehicle for marketing; it allows people who might never have thought much about sex worker rights to recognize us as real, complex human beings like themelves, worthy of rights and respect.  And if Maggie Fucking McNeill can admit to owning enough stuffed animals to fill a good-sized display case, I doubt it will hurt your business to ‘fess up to writing Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfic.

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Most of my regular readers know that I stay pretty busy all the time, and that it’s difficult to get my brain to slow down.  I can’t just say “I’m going to relax and watch TV tonight” as most people can; my inner nun starts guilt-tripping me about idleness and all the stuff I need to accomplish, and if I could even get past the string of compulsions sometime before 10 PM (“I’ll relax right after I wash these clothes.  Oh wait, let me do the dishes.  Damn, I didn’t answer those emails.  I have to remember to pay my taxes too.”) I’d still be overwhelmed by feelings of guilt.  I’ve grown better at it over the past three years, but it’s still so difficult that such downtime is extremely precious to me; accordingly, like hard-earned money, I don’t want to waste it on just any old thing.  Imagine you were in a restaurant, but only had a little cash and were quite hungry; would you order something you’ve never heard of before and had no idea whether you’d like?  Or would you order a dish that you had eaten before and knew was both delicious and filling?  If you’re anything like me, the answer is obvious.  That’s why I’m not really interested in trying out new television shows unless they’re short, highly-recommended and part of a social experience with a friend or friends; even if I don’t end up liking the show, I only used a few hours and I enjoyed the social experience anyway.  No, if I really want to relax, I go with old favorites I’ve seen before, especially if I’ve never seen all the episodes or it’s been so long since I’ve seen them it’s almost like watching something new (except I know I’m going to enjoy them).  Shows like that are like old friends; since I know what to expect, I won’t be disappointed.  And in a life that has been burdened with far too many disappointments and far too little comfort, the best surprise (as the old commercial said) is no surprise.

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The venerable British science-fantasy series Doctor Who has been one of my favorites since it first appeared on our local PBS station (WYES in New Orleans) in the summer of 1981; like many Americans of my generation, the first episodes I saw were those starring Tom Baker as The Doctor, which originally ran from 1974-81.  But as most of you probably know now, he was only one of many actors to play the part, because when a Time Lord (that’s the alien race to which the Doctor belongs) dies, he regenerates into a new form, with a new face and a new personality.  When WYES realized how much pledge money the series brought in, the station naturally did its best to acquire as many seasons as possible; at one point they were playing the Fourth Doctor episodes (starring Baker) on Saturday night, the Third Doctor episodes (1970-74, starring Jon Pertwee) on Friday night, and the then-new Fifth Doctor episodes (1982-84, starring Peter Davison) on Sunday morning.  Eventually they even got ahold of as many of the 1960s episodes featuring the first two doctors as were then available; it was then I discovered that many of these early shows were missing, casualties of lean times at the BBC which caused many of them to be taped over because videotape was expensive and newer shows had to be recorded on them.  In the decades since, some of the missing episodes have been discovered in various places; others have been reconstructed with animation or stills from the original soundtracks (which all managed to survive).  What that means is, with some effort and ingenuity it’s now possible to watch the entire show from 1963 to the present, and last month Grace and I decided to do just that.  Lorelei Rivers is a Who superfan, and graciously allowed me to borrow her complete classic collection; we’ve already watched the first two seasons and soon we’ll move on to the Second Doctor, the one I’ve seen the least of.  Back in the ’80s, I loved watching the series with people who were dear to me, and prior to the pandemic Lorelei and I regularly enjoyed our Who nights; it’s great fun to see them again now with Grace.  And I’ve even started a running Twitter thread on my impressions of the old shows, which despite being less sophisticated than their modern counterparts are still a helluva lot of fun.

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Last week, a New York Times reporter who apparently believes there is no actual news to cover at present took to Twitter to claim that the Looney Tunes character Pepe Le Pew “contributes to rape culture”, because obviously there was no such thing as rape prior to the appearance of theatrical cartoons in the 1930s.  Rather than merely consider this idiocy as one more part of the growing lust for censorship of basically everything and everyone not pre-approved by the Grand High Board of Puritans, let’s consider the particular nastiness of this repellent specimen of malodorous moralism.

First and foremost, this pearl-clutcher proceeds from the typical assumption (beloved of humorless scolds without even the most rudimentary knowledge of the history of the medium) that anything animated is “for children”.  The Looney Tunes were comedic theatrical shorts intended mostly for adults, shown before Warner Brothers films in theaters to fill out an evening of viewing.  When in the 1950s, the young television industry started mining Hollywood for content to fill its programming schedules, cartoons were naturally part of that, and when television became the default evening entertainment in the 1960s, theatrical cartoons were one of the casualties of Hollywood’s struggle to survive.  By the 1970s, Americans had succumbed to the collective delusion that any entertainment involving illustrations must be the sole province of children, despite many of them being old enough to remember a time when even housewives, GIs and businessmen read comic books, and most of them being old enough to remember prime-time animated shows such as The Flintstones.  Illustrated entertainment went from being a medium also appreciated by children to one abandoned almost entirely to children, and though that began to change again in the 1980s, authoritarians still cling like embedded ticks to their battle cry “THE CHILDREN™!!!” as an excuse for censorship of any and all illustrated entertainment (including comic books, anime, South Park, and yes, Looney Tunes), because their desire isn’t to “protect children”; it’s to cram all of society into a government-controlled nursery school where No Fun Shall Be Had.

As a child, I didn’t find Pepe Le Pew funny at all, because I lacked the necessary frame of reference to see the humor.  Like so many Looney Tunes characters, Pepe is a grotesquely over-the-top burlesque of a particular type of person, in this case the clueless man who, despite being repulsive to others, has convinced himself that he is the second coming of Casanova.  Pepe isn’t the hero of his cartoons; he is the butt of the joke, a person so clueless he doesn’t even realize that he literally reeks.  His creators aren’t celebrating him; they are mocking him, and only women who have endured the attentions of his real-life counterparts can fully appreciate the mockery.  Censors, on the other hand, are chronological adults burdened with a child’s view of a universe without free will, where things just happen because of malign forces from outside of themselves; they are therefore not only impervious to the humor, but see it as a source of evil magic that programs passive viewers.  Frankly, I’m sick to death of moronic tabula rasa arguments proposed by dimwits whose entire grasp of psychology amounts to thirdhand Skinneresque pseudo-intellectual rot.  Garbage people who see humans as machines to be programmed also invariably have cartoonish views about sex work, and usually support policies that allow steroidal thugs to rape women and call it “rescue”.  And it takes a truly Loony level of hypocrisy to be more concerned about the “rapey” behavior of cartoon skunks from the last century than about actual rapes of marginalized women by present-day government officials.

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I’m having a lot of fun here.  –  arsonist cop David Crawford

Since Grace and I are now watching Doctor Who in its entirety from 1963 to the present (thanks to Lorelei Rivers lending me her complete classic collection!) I decided to feature this orchestration of the classic theme.  The links above the video were provided by Jesse Walker (x2), Cop Crisis (x2), Dave Krueger, Walter Olson, and Matt Trout, in that order.

From the Archives

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In the late Oughts, while we were building our house in Oklahoma, I received a phone call from a scientist who worked in wildlife conservation for the state.  He explained that a gas pipeline was going through our neighbors’ land; I already knew this because I had previously rejected the company’s offer to put it through mine, because the amount of compensation was inadequate to make up for having a 12-meter-wide path of destruction cut through my property.  The size of the right-of-way was the reason for the call; it seems our part of the state was one of the most important habitats for an endangered species of giant burying beetle, and this scientists’ job was to put out bait to draw the beetles out of the construction zone.  What he wanted was permission to come onto my land to throw out chicken leg quarters so as to attract the beetles, which bury small carrion (such as dead birds and squirrels) to lay their eggs in so the larvae have a food source.  I readily agreed, not merely because it was interesting, but also because I figured the more endangered species on my property, the more protection I’d have against gas companies trying to force their way in.  He didn’t have much luck with the bait, but mere hours after his final visit I happened to look down into the hollow where our water cutoff valve lay and saw a dozen of the critters, apparently unable to crawl or fly out of the piece of PVC pipe that kept the sides of the hole from collapsing.  So I dutifully called him to report them; I told him I wasn’t afraid to touch them, and could take them out one by one if he wanted.  He explained that since they were endangered, it was illegal for me to even touch them, and he asked me to put in a small slat of wood so they could crawl out (which they quickly did, each spreading its wings and flying off when it reached the top of the stick).

I thought about this last week because I saw a conversation on Twitter about the Fermi Paradox, with the participants expressing their opinions for why we’ve never seen any evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations.  One not-unusual suggestion is that some authority (a galactic empire or whatever) has declared us off-limits to contact, but that generally raises the objection that it’s egotistical for us to believe we’re worthy of that kind of protection.  But if intelligent aliens are at all like us, that might not matter.  Now, I’m not talking about a Star Trek-type situation in which most civilizations look like humans in makeup and everybody is of roughly the same general level of technology; I’m not even proposing a species like the one in my story “Millennium“, whose attitude toward less-advanced races is…let’s just say far too human-like for comfort.  All I’m suggesting is that if intelligence is rare, advanced spacefaring civilizations might consider all of it valuable, and could conceivably think of any intelligent species confined to a single habitat as “endangered”.  Most Oklahomans have probably never even noticed burying beetles, and few of those who know about them probably give a damn whether they go extinct or not; however, our governments have established laws to protect all endangered species, no matter how insignificant or unpopular to the general public.  They are, in fact, willing to expend considerable effort and resources to protecting such species, regardless of whether those species are relatively interesting or important in any way.  In other words, it might not be at all egotistical to imagine humans as a “protected species” to an advanced extraterrestrial civilization; they may not care about us specifically, but rather their own principles.  In other words, they may treat all young civilizations that way, even those they perceive as creepy little carrion-eating insects.

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From what I can tease out of the moralistic, hyperbolic language in the statement quoted in this article, plus online comments by others, a computer programmer who helped develop a modification for a popular video game intended for adults posted some animated cartoons on his own personal website that might potentially upset extremely sheltered people who have neither heard of Fritz the Cat nor paid much attention to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and his employer has as a result censored the modification.  Though it’s difficult to tell from what I’ve linked, the material that the company claims is “deeply disturbing to the entire team” of adults who not only play but program a post-apocalyptic game full of violence and gore, and which a company dedicated to profiting from such games feels it must “condemn…in the strongest sense” and “conduct…dialogue” about, was “furry cub porn”, ie cartoons depicting imaginary sexual behavior of wholly imaginary anthropomorphic animal characters who within the fictional universe depicted in the cartoons are “underage”.  In other words, though most people believe it’s OK for kids to watch cartoons depicting violence, mayhem and even murder of imaginary characters, it’s not OK for adults to watch cartoons depicting sexual behavior of such characters, presumably because doing so emits dangerous “sex rays” which can transcend time and space to contaminate a game intended for adults.  Said game must therefore be censored to “protect THE CHILDREN™!!!” (who aren’t supposed to be playing it anyway), despite the fact that the cartoons in question neither appear within the game, nor are attached to it in any way.  Of course we’re told the content was “pedophillic” [sic], a word intended to override the reader’s critical faculties so that he doesn’t stop to consider that despite being depicted as human babies, Maggie Simpson is 34 and Baby Herman at least 40.  And those are “human” cartoon characters; how would it work for imaginary anthropomorphic animals?  Since real dogs and cats are sexually mature at 1, full-grown at 2 and usually dead of old age before 18, what the hell would “underage” look like, assuming one were deranged enough to care?  People who actually think that the make-believe sexual activities of make-believe characters belonging to make-believe species in a make-believe society warrant serious real-life consequences are clearly detached from reality, so maybe what these folks need is to stop living in their make-believe game world for a while and reacquaint themselves with the one where each player only has one life and the make-believe “innocence” of creatures who do not actually exist is not generally viewed as a valid reason for moral condemnation.

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You’re acting like a child.  –  unnamed cop to 9-year-old

So I’ve been doing a “video of the day” thing on Twitter, and realized I’ve never featured my favorite Ozzy song, so here it is.  Would it help if I told you I used to strip to this?  The links above it were provided by Emma Evans; Cop Crisis; Stephen Lemons; Mama Tush and Franklin Harris; Cop Crisis again; and Jesse Walker, in that order.

From the Archives

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If the mayor defunds the police, I’m going to shoot her.
–  “Officer” Steve Poulos

This week’s video was tweeted by J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5, as a farewell to Mira Furlan (“Delenn”); I think it speaks for itself.  The links above it were provided by Mistress Matisse, Sola Love, Phoenix Calida, Franklin Harris, Radley Balko, Amy Alkon, and Gustavo Turner, in that order.

From the Archives

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