Touch my neck and I’ll touch yours; You in those little high waisted shorts… Should we fund plebiscites? #auspol

There’s a caution in entering the marriage equality plebiscite debate when you’re straight, white and male.  You have no skin in the game like others and so it’s all a bit academic and theoretical.  The benefits of dispassionate, analytical approaches shouldn’t be overstated, but they also shouldn’t be rejected entirely.  There’s a role for them: giving us the language to express why we feel this way or that and letting us communicate with people who disagree with us.

I’ve long held that it’s not possible to be anti-marriage equality and not homophobic.  The only place where that position might be on shaky ground is with radicals who oppose marriage generally (rather than same-sex marriage specifically).  And I also think that a plebiscite is a waste of time but, if we are to have a plebiscite, it follows that both campaigns should receive public funding.  The problem with the public debate is that it’s bogged down in special pleading: that there’s something unique about this topic that means general principles about how to hold plebiscites get thrown out the window.

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Take your nightmares, change to dream… We were all alt-right all along

There are a few terms that don’t really mean anything, but they convey enormous rhetorical power.  ‘Neo-liberalism’, I’m sure, once meant something.  Perhaps it still does in academic political science circles.  But when it appears in the middle of an op-ed, it doesn’t actually convey any meaning.  ‘Identity politics’ acts in a similar way, but from the opposite perspective.  Perhaps ‘identity politics’ is stranger still, given that it’s so often invoked by people who are eyeballs deep in identity rhetoric: conservative white males who fear that Christians and Anglo-Australians and their way of life are under threat from migrants and lesbians and Marxists.

‘Alt-right’ has quickly jumped into this category of political labels that don’t signify anything in particular.  The New York Times ran a piece about how the alt-right was staging ‘an Occupy Trump movement‘, but never got around to explaining precisely what it meant by the term.  The BBC tried a bit harder:

The alt-right is against political correctness and feminism. It’s nationalist, tribalist and anti-establishment. Its followers are fond of internet pranks and using provocative, often grossly offensive messages to goad their enemies on both the right and the left. And many of them are huge supporters of Donald Trump. [Source]

What the hell does that even mean?  Later, it’s suggested that they might be associated with calls for ‘an independent intellectual Right, one that exists without movement establishment funding’.  Is the alt-right just everything an everything that left liberals hate? Continue reading

With every mistake we must surely be learning… Review of Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings ends with Regina Spektor doing a cover of the Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps.  It’s a fitting end to an Anglo story written by Anglos with Asian sounds.

I am yet to find this genre of stop-motion cinema endearing.  I find it creepy.  Nothing moves right.  The light on faces is all wrong.  Everything makes me want to vomit.


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Sixteen candles there on my wall and here am I the biggest fool of them all… Reviewing Academics for Refugees

Earlier in the week, a story emerged about how more than 2,000 academics were calling for a national summit on asylum seeker policy.  A summits is the ideas you propose when you don’t have any ideas to propose.  The Gillard Government commissioned an expert panel to advise on asylum seeker strategy, but when the panel came up with solutions that the non-experts didn’t like, the non-experts rejected the quality of the panel.  So this is the death spiral we’re in: if the experts don’t come up with the answers you want, find new experts.

And so we can see the futility in a call for a summit.  If the summit comes up with solutions that the advocates don’t want, the advocates won’t change their position an inch.  So the summit must come up with the answer that the advocates want, else it’s illegitimate.

What was a bit unusual this time was the accompaniment of the call for a summit with a policy paper.  Ordinarily, a policy paper is what you produce after you’ve consulted with the experts, not simultaneously with a call to consult all the experts.  Already, comments from the policy paper are circulating amongst advocacy groups, so we should ask ourselves the extent to which we think the policy paper is a useful contribution to the public debate.

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No athletic program, no discipline, no book… Why @DavidLeyonhjelm must lose his s 18C case #auspol

David Leyonhjelm is a terrible human.  He has argued in favour of charging asylum seekers $50,000 for permanent residency (and then not providing them with welfare or support services).  He claimed that the Sydney siege wouldn’t have occurred if more citizens carried guns.  He has argued that Indigenous people are told ‘fairy tales’ in order to make them feel special, such as ‘Indigenous people are the First Australians’.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that Leyonhjelm is also claiming that he has been the victim of racial discrimination.

His argument is a dopey one.  In an – admittedly pedestrian and insipid – opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald, Mark Kenny (political correspondent for Fairfax) referred to Leyonhjelm and another senator as having ‘angry-white-male certitude’:

‘You see, this gormless duo has declared, with all their angry-white-male certitude, that a verbal abuser cannot cause offence or humiliation. It is all in the mind of the recipient.’ [Source]

That’s the line that’s in issue.  It is Leyonhjelm’s contention that s 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is so terrible that it would allow him to bring a case against Kenny for this race-based slur.  Leyonhjelm isn’t trying to silence Kenny; he is trying to bring s 18C into disrepute.

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I’ll stand kind of pushed, kind of bent, on this heavy land… Review of Suicide Squad

Yes, the film is bad.  Not unwatchably bad.  But it’s bad.  And other people are taking great delight in describing how excruciatingly awful various parts of it are, particularly Jared Leto as the Joker.

The other way to critique Suicide Squad is to move beyond how unfathomably ‘meh’ it is, and discuss instead what we can learn from the film.  And I did this by rewatching The Dirty Dozen and rereading the introduction of Harley Quinn into the comics.

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Little men tapping things out – points of view… John Oliver is wrong about journalism

It’s a stale take, but John Oliver has, I’m told, ‘nailed it’ about journalism:

The truth is, a big part of the blame for [journalism’s] dire straits is on us and our unwillingness to pay for the work journalists produce.  We’ve just grown accustomed used to getting our news for free, and the longer we get something for free the less willing we are to pay for it. […]

Sooner or later, we are either going to have to pay for journalism or we are all going to pay for it. […] Malfeasance will run amok.

This appealed to John Oliver’s target audience: uncritical left liberals.  But it doesn’t stack up as a claim.  If anything, we should pay less for our journalism.

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The rusted chains of prison moons are shattered by the sun… Bunch of movie reviews

I need to be less busy.  In those times when I’m not busy, I’m watching movies.


There is something wonderfully delicious about films that are both technically beautiful and beautifully technical but which completely forget to have a story.  That is Warcraft which is less a film about protagonists performing some actions in response to a threat resulting in a resolution, and is more an essay on how to shoot absolutely beautiful fantasy movies.

Fantasy movies have long suffered the problem of space.  Given an unreal environment, how do you create the feeling in the mind of the audience that event A is taking place at location 1, and that is roughly this distance from event B taking place at location 2.  The opening shot of the film shows a man battling an orc in some kind of waste, but it locks the camera to the side of the man, keeping the orc always as the object of attention.  We then understand the distance between the two subjects, and feel the effort needed for the man to attack the orc.

The film is then an uncountable number of variations on this theme, weaving between each other to create a theatre of war.  I have never seen anything like it.  I have never seen anything so carefully constructed.  I have never been so bored in a fantasy movie.

Part of the problem is that the acting is quite good, meaning you don’t get the enjoyment of watching a schlock film.  The plot belongs to a movie created by seven nerds and a green screen.  The plot belongs to a movie with ‘vs’ in the middle of the title.  The plot belongs to a direct-to-television sequel to a movie that only got made due to contractual obligations.  Instead, it finds itself in the movie of a genius and it clearly does not belong.

I find myself really looking forward to a sequel.

Ghostbusters (2016)

I have long complained about the critic-proof film.  The Dark Knight Rises was going to be loved regardless of how bad it was.  Man of Steel was going to be a box office hit regardless of how bad it was.  Numerous franchises spawn without ever needing a decent film to start the dodecadrilogy.  Ghostbusters finds itself in an absurd position of being the site of a gendered kulturkampf, making it impossible to distinguish criticism of the film from politicised misogyny.

Ghostbusters attempted to be a different kind of critic-proof film, mining the deep well of nostalgia to remind us all of the wonderful age in which there were original cultural outputs.  We get to see the films we grew up with being remade with blockbuster budgets and computer generated images.  How soon will it be before we’re rebooting The Dark Crystal but replacing all the puppets with Jar-Jar Binks-esque horror shows?

The new Ghostbusters film takes all the things that we loved about the original movie and shows them to us again.  Remember that bit where Bill Murray gets covered in slime?  This film gives us Kristen Wiig covered in slime… four times!  Remember that bit where they use the proton packs?  This film gives us proton packs and proton whips and proton grenades and proton knuckledusters!  Remember that bit with Slimer?  This film gives us Slimer!

Melissa McCarthy is hideously miscast.  If you had replaced her with Tina Fey, Margaret Cho, Chelsea Peretti, or Sarah Silverman, you’d probably have a better film.  McCarthy absolutely struggles to portray an obsessive, neurotic intellectual, and all of her comedy is broad slapstick and complaining.

The other leads are good, with Kate McKinnon being superlatively good.  Unfortunately, the character she’s given is undercooked, reducing her to a quasi-mute Id creature of manic impulse.

It’s an ugly film filled with mostly irritating cameos (I really didn’t need to see Bill Murray or Dan Ackroyd again).  The script is an utter train wreck.

Star Trek Beyond

Captain Kirk and Spock are having moments of self-doubt.  They put those doubts on hold for an hour and a half while they engage in a mostly inconsequential battle with a character who makes no sense, and then decide that their self-doubt isn’t such a big deal after all.  The end.

The Last: Naruto the Movie

I love the Naruto series.  It’s like eating chocolate ice-cream straight from the tub.  One day, I will have to write the definitive analysis of the utter chaos that is the Naruto soap opera.

The Last takes place four years after the end of the Naruto Shippuden television series which, awkwardly, hasn’t actually finished yet.  There’s a feeling that the producers are a bit sick of the television series; it’s been running since 2002.  Instead of wrapping up the television series first, they released The Last (set after the events of the television series, spoiling a bunch of plot points) and Boruto: Naruto the Movie which is set after the main character has grown up and had kids (Boruto is his son).

Fortunately, the whole thing is so batshit insane that it’s so pleasurable to watch, and only terrible people get upset about spoilers.

Naruto is a hero for his role in rescuing everybody from the threat currently being fought in the television series.  There’s peace in the world, so people are prospering and generally living it up in the bourgeois style of those who don’t suffer existential threats.  Hinata is a woman who has fancied Naruto ever since they were children.  Hinata was born to a noble family; Naruto has (inexplicably) been something of an outcast.  So this relationship was always going to be implausible from Hinata’s perspective.  She’s also really shy and timid.

Alas!  Before she can finally reveal her true feelings to Naruto (again) by knitting him a scarf, she’s abducted by an alien who has been living on the moon.  The alien collects eyes and uses the magic of these eyes to create a superweapon that he intends to use to destroy life on Earth because his ancestor was the brother of the man who created the precursor to ninja and spread his chakra amongst the human societies before his sons would begin a generations-long war of ninja clans, reincarnating as rivals who would reincarnate the ancestor’s mother who was an alien with a third eye capable of hypnotising everybody by reflecting light off the moon.  Anyway, his moon clan was tasked with always watching over the people of the Earth but they clearly weren’t doing a terribly good job of it because the mother of the ancestor got reincarnated and the moon race did absolutely nothing about it, even though they knew about it because they were supposed to be looking after a statue that was needed to reincarnate the mother of the ancestor but it got teleported to Earth about a decade before the start of the movie.

If that all sounds like a clown car of chaos, that’s nothing in comparison to what occurs in this film.  Giant spiders.  Magic portals that go to the moon.  A fight on the moon between a giant statue and a giant fox, which results in the moon being split in half.  And a superweapon designed to blow up the moon.  It’s so good.  So good.

Use all your well-learned politesse or I’ll lay your soul to waste… Review of Julian Hobba’s ‘The Slip Lane’

There’s a species of literature that draws audience’s attention to overlooked places.  The work isn’t about places in general or people in general, but is instead grounded to a specific area.  Or, perhaps more accurately, grounded to a hyperreal specific area: the audience’s attention is directed to this or that feature, the particularity of the area is exaggerated for effect comic or sentimental, and the area is imbued with a personality and distinctiveness as if to distinguish it from every other indistinguishable area.

The Slip Lane by Julian Hobba is a thoroughly weird play that has an odi et amo tension with Gungahlin — a northern suburb of the Australian capital.  Gungahlin is comfortable, maybe too comfortable.  Its residents are mostly content, perhaps frustrated at how content they are.  Services are convenient, the landscape is unchallenging, and everything is bland.  It is simultaneously presented with affection and with a condescension: ‘It’s such a boring place!  Look how boring it is!  We love it because it’s so boring.’

This mayonnaise on white bread location to the play is the backdrop to a dark comedy about one man’s struggle with the Big Other.  Although it has been described as a political satire, it’s really more of an apolitical farce.    The protagonist is a man who is obsessed with a minor, very minor issue: he hates traffic and thinks that congestion would be solved if a slip lane were built at the intersection of two roads in Gungahlin.  This miserly obsession is all-consuming but he struggles to communicate the importance of the issue to others.  His will for change is thwarted by the uncaring, disinterested, distant bureaucracy, ignored by the woman he fancies (who has two young children, can’t sleep, and fears that there’s either a stalker or a creature looking through her windows at night), and ridiculed by the demon king who has taken up residence in a Gungahlin field.

The performances in the play are all excellent and the restrained use of technology to create specific theatrical effects is very good.  And the play is fun, capturing a cynical, bleak topic — the struggle of one man to have even a tiny impact on the world — without itself being a cynical and bleak spectacle.  Frequent references are made to the protagonist’s love of Game of Thrones, fleshing out the character as a man who doesn’t have much else in his life beyond television shows and high speed internet.  But the references also distinguish the differences in the narratives: Game of Thrones is also about a cynical, bleak topic — the amorality of power — but succumbs to it, being relentlessly miserable.  A lot of that has to do with the difference in the characters.  In Game of Thrones, we have lords of here and there who lead armies.  In The Slip Lane, we have a sad clown who shouts into the void about the one thing that matters to him: traffic congestion.

The play struggles in two key aspects.  The first is in its delivery of key information that the audience needs to follow the plot.  As the protagonist’s struggle with the Big Other causes him to go to increasingly elaborate strategies of embodying and replicating its absurdity, the off-stage actions become increasingly detailed and difficult to follow.  Things that become major plot points are hidden within dialogue that lay false scents, conveying an entirely different outline of what eventually becomes the case.

The second is in its presentation of the key female character, and the lack of inertia in her world.  There appears to be some attempt to distinguish the two leads around the seriousness of their problems: she fears that there is some kind of beast presenting a physical threat to her, while he’s upset about waiting in traffic; she was starting out on a promising career in academia but had to flee a sexual predator, while he was happily married until his wife left him for a balloonist.  The problem is that her issues don’t seem to sustain throughout the play.  Details of her life are raised as one-shot issues to move the male character’s plot forward.  Why does he come into her life?  Because she fears for her safety.  Why is he unable to pursue a relationship with her?  Because she has A Past.  But when the male character needs rescuing from himself, she no longer has issues (or, it seems, children) and can appear as a deus ex machina to resolve the male character’s dilemma.

Neither of these issues is fatal to the play.  If you enjoy Peep Show or the first two seasons of Misfits (which you should), you will enjoy The Slip Lane.

Quick Post: Your intuitions about freedom of speech are bad

While recovering from a hospital visit last week, I found myself on the couch in front of an active television too far from the remote to change the channel.  There upon the screen was a panel of white people talking about Islam and what a massive threat it was.  What struck me was how offensively ignorant the panel was.  How little people wanted to engage in conflict and so didn’t challenge the most egregiously offensive of the panel.  How incapable of interrogating the intuitions they were.

Worse, it occurred to me that this was probably a source of political rhetoric for a large number of Australia’s poorly educated unemployed people.  While the rest of us were at work, we had abandoned huge numbers of voters to this swill where, day in and day out, they were internalising this garbage.

The Australian published an opinion piece defending this noise.  It argued that Australians were tired of political and media elites not expressing their views, suggesting that what we really want is our opinions echoed back to us.  But the dynamic is more complex than that: there are myriad ways of expressing the same intuition in language, but some of them will reinforce particular concepts and others will reinforce others.  The fear of global capitalism, for example, can draw upon intuitions about unregulated financial markets or upon intuitions about Asians buying up Australian farmland.  For what it’s worth, I think a large percentage of the ‘passive’ racists in Australia are racist due to lack of alternatives: they understand that migration flows are changing and bring new challenges, but are only given racist language to express those views.

Unfortunately, this has also kicked off a discussion about freedom of speech.  This is a subject which brings out all of the worst hot takers because people think that their bellyfeel spiels are worth airtime.

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