My kind of magic.
[I wrote this on Facebook three years ago, thought I should conserve it here too.]
So if facts don’t change minds – if explaining the dangers of President Trump, Brexit, climate change, etc, doesn’t help – what else works? What can anyone do to pull communities back from the brink?
Sadly, the answer is “not much”. But here’s my top three starting points.
SOCIAL NORMS: We are a social species, and we are constantly checking that our sense of the world is calibrated right by looking to our neighbours and our family and our friends. People adopt attitudes because they believe everyone around them has the same attitude.
If we can find ways to show how people are already connected to others who think differently, that can have an impact. This only works if the “other” is seen as a peer – if they’re higher- or -lower- class, different race, different education, whatever, then the effect won’t be as powerful or will even work in the opposite direction. Celebrities in particular don’t convince anyone of anything, although they are great at reinforcing the views of those who already agree with them.
(And yes, some people do live in social networks where they don’t have peers who think differently. You can’t start with them – you have to start on the edges of those networks and propagate your effect inwards.)
STORIES: Our brains are wired to understand stories; stories, in their simplest form, tell of people who want something, who take some kind of risk to get it, and who experience the consequences of their efforts. Stories encourage us to judge the characters, particularly in terms of their morality. Stories are always personal, about individuals in a particular moment – and we are endlessly interested in people and in their choices and fates. If we can find ways to express things through story, people will engage more readily.
SELF-PROTECTION: People don’t like being wrong. To change a community, we need to provide a pathway for that community where every step towards change allows the community to say, “see? We are good people with good judgement, and *we have been all along*.” It’s a bitter truth for activists – part of winning is biting your tongue while your long-hated opponent is given credit for your efforts.
All these things take time. It took time to get us here, and it will take time to get us out again. That’s the project, I guess. That’s what we have to do.
Excellent! But please don’t overlook Count Robula. He’s one of NZ’s eight most important vampires (and not just because he was PM)
— Sofageddon (@sofageddon) September 19, 2018
Eight most important vampires. Let’s do this.
8. Sam Pyar
This is a children’s book about a kid who is probably a vampire? I have never read it but I know the author a tiny bit (hey Shalesh) and I was having trouble getting this list to eight. I think number 9 on this list is probably that girl with the piercings who was in that Vampire larp in your city in the 90s, you know the one. Anyway. Sam Pyar looks cool. Here’s the Amazon Kindle link.
7. Those randos in Wellington
Uh, this: vampire attack in Wellington
6. The vampires in Perfect Creature
Did you see this film? I didn’t see this film.
Al Lewis: the most unusual typecasting in Hollywood history? “They only cast me as vampire grandfathers.” I never saw this film either. Al Lewis, though.
4. Nailini Singh’s vampires
I have never read her books. If they were films I wouldn’t have seen them either based on the last couple entries in this list. Anyway she’s NZ’s biggest selling novelist and should be a bigger deal than she is. Would be ranked higher except her series about vampire killing angels is set in New York, not Taihape or wherever. (Here’s the info page for the first book in that series.)
3. Count Robula
New Zealand is a ridiculous country, and this is one of the high watermarks of ridiculousness, the nation’s recently-deposed Prime Minister Robert Muldoon moonlighting as a late-night horror movie host. I just found out he was still in parliament at the time. Under no circumstances take this country seriously. (Also, fuck that guy.)
2. What We Do In The Shadows vampires
Known all over the world. One of the best vampire films ever made. Indelible comic creations. Pretty important Kiwi vampires, these ones. But still overshadowed by…
1. Count Homogenised
IT IS I
NZ television used to put a horror movie on late on Sunday night: the Sunday Horrors. We’re bringing it back by picking a horror movie that’s available on youtube or somewhere else accessible, and watching it on Sunday evening. Join us!
Facebook: Sunday Horrors group
Doctor Who has always been about patrician intervention to break unjust systems; a dream of Empire, embodied in male social freedoms.
A female Doctor is a deep break from this; so was the working class 9th Doctor. I am excited to see what DW will become.
& remember, Who was created by a young woman and a gay man of colour, guided by an old white man who suggested a female Doctor in 1986.
Their creation has always been a critique of its own sense of male power. Well past time to complete the circle and see what happens next.
How to get ready for the new series!
Join the hashtag #TwinPeaksRewatch
15 Jan: Pilot
22 Jan: Eps 1 and 2
27 Jan: Eps 3 & 4
5 Feb: Eps 5 & 6
12 Feb: Ep 7 *
19 Feb: Ep 8
26 Feb: Eps 9 & 10
5 Mar: Eps 11 & 12
12 Mar: Eps 13 & 14
19 Mar: Eps 15 & 16
26 Mar: Eps 17 & 18
2 Apr: Eps 19 & 20
9 Apr: Eps 21 & 22
16 Apr: Eps 23 & 24
23 Apr: Eps 25 & 26
30 Apr: Eps 27 & 28
7 May: Ep 29 **
14 May: Fire Walk With Me
21 May: NEW TWIN PEAKS!
* optional: The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and
The Autobiography of Dale Cooper books
** optional: The Secret History of Twin Peaks book
*** optional: The Missing Pieces
For a while now I’ve wondered when exactly we should start taking seriously what is going on in US politics around Donald Trump. How foolish of me. The time is now. Right now.
Let’s be clear: Trump is not going to be President of the United States of America. He has terrified more people than he’s won over, and the demographics in the US have shifted against anyone who cannot appeal across ethnic lines. I don’t know how great this disparity is – it might be scarily close – but barring some late-stage game changer, I can’t see any path to the Oval Office for Trump.
Let’s also be clear, the fact that I had to write the above paragraph is *fucking terrifying*. Because look where we’re at: Donald Trump is quids in to get the Republican nomination and run for President with the banner of the GOP fluttering over his head. This is a man who is holding a series of rallies where the main entertainment is shouting down and ejecting protestors, loudly booing enemies, and cheering wildly at the prospect of building a giant wall between the US and Mexico. A giant wall! This is the act of a carnival barker crossed with a demagogue. There has never been a major candidate so floridly unfit for political authority of any kind, yet somehow he is not only in the contest for a Presidential nomination, he is very likely to win it.
“Somehow” is the loaded word, there, suggesting Trump has popped up out of nowhere like a Jack-in-the-box with orange skin and a combover. He hasn’t, of course. Trump has been on the scene for a long time, and has spoken of running for President for a long time. He was never taken seriously by sensible people, but it turns out he had the measure of the game the whole time. Trump saw the control systems of US politics are fundamentally broken, and someone like him could walk right in through the shattered glass and start kicking levers. And that is exactly what he’s done.
He will fail to get elected. With any luck, he will shrug off the failure like has has so many others and turn his attention to other things, depriving his supporters of an aggrieved leader to whom they might pledge themselves. The Republican party as a whole will be shaken and weakened. It might, in fact, seem like a happy ending. This could even be true, as an ending to the story of Trump’s political gambit. The problem is, this is not an ending at all. The events of 2016 are much better understood as a beginning, because Trump’s toddler-level manhandling of the sparking, smoking US political control panel is tearing the whole machine to pieces.
“Somehow”. There will be books and books written, trying to explain how the US ended up here, but sitting on the distant moon that is NZ, staring through the telescope, the narrative seems to run like this:
After the second world war, times were good in America, at least if you were white and straight and male. Most folks were reading from the same book, if not always the same page, about how the economy should be managed, whether business needed to be reined in to prevent another depression, and how society should look after the less well-off. For some, this was unacceptable. Government intervention in the economy, progressive taxation and the welfare state were the enemy, and starting from a base in the media (Willam F. Buckley’s National Review), a new conservative movement grew, spawning think tanks and an energetic force of College Republicans.
Movement conservatism began in furious opposition to socialism (which it identified with communism), and before long it found this base of paranoia could easily extend to other fearsome boogeymen. The movement cynically co-opted anxiety over the civil rights movement to annex the sympathies of poor white voters in the south, and over growing secularism and immorality to secure the evangelical Christian vote. The racial politics harmonized with Nixon’s southern strategy, and Ronald Reagan came up through the movement’s institutions to become the first movement conservative President. His Presidency interwove the small-government aims of the movement with the paranoid identity politics that energised it. This frame has remained in place to the present day.
This ideology – use paranoia over blacks, gays and commies to drive a free market agenda – was in place just in time for an enormous infrastructural transition. Communications technology had been slowly changing for a century, but deregulation and new technology in the 80s brought about the era of cable news, and in the early 90s, Fox News was created as a propaganda arm for the movement in the same way many newspapers carried water for certain ideological positions. The power of 24 hour news to shape how its audience saw the world was unprecedented, far exceeding anything the newspapers could achieve. Radio developed along the same lines. The internet followed and in short order it developed intense demographic sorting; political battlegrounds were fierce but the majority of political content online was about reinforcing partisan messages for an audience of allies. In the space of a decade, the conservative-inclined found themselves encased in a bubble of TV, radio and internet that presented a unified picture of civilization under assault, increasingly disconnected from anything resembling reality.
This was the culmination of a political project. Political leadership could have countered these developments, and steered the polity back towards a town square of mutual comprehension, but instead it was welcomed and encouraged by those in power. Karl Rove, a Buckley acolyte who had come of age through the College Republicans, positioned himself as the architect of George W. Bush’s ascension, and his contempt for the very idea of real-world conditions came through in the famous quote (attributed to him) about the reality-based community: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.”
It did not take long for the movement’s representatives in power to strike the limits of their disregard for reality. Their Middle East adventures descended into a horrific quagmire, economic policy settings led directly to a series of shocks culminating in an economic collapse that wreaked havoc on the globe, and natural disaster in New Orleans showed the horrific consequences of running down civic infrastructure. As delegates attempted to navigate these checks on their ability to create their own reality, the movement’s popular base reacted in fury. Trained by two decades of media messaging within their bubble, they interpreted this hedging as moral weakness. The rise of Barack Obama – a black man with a middle name associated with Islam – only stoked this fury further. The Tea Party movement came into being, and immediately started influencing elections. The movement conservatives had created an electorate fuelled by paranoia, and now found themselves judged for insufficient purity. Things were by now utterly out of the control of any Rove-style planning committee, with the selection of the comically underqualified Sarah Palin as running mate for the Republican candidate in the 2008 election identifiable as the moment where the party’s elite officially lost their grip on the steering wheel.
The situation has essentially remained unchanged since 2008, although it has worsened, achieving even greater extremes of fearful division within the American polity. The movement conservatives spent decades encasing their supporters in a bubble of identity-based fear. They aimed to exploit these voters for economic ends, but lost control of them, and have no way of reining them in. The bubble is self-sustaining, cynically maintained by publishers and broadcasters who derive revenue from stoking the paranoia ever-higher. It is floating further and further away from ground.
And that brings us to 2016. Trump has come in speaking directly to the fears of those in the bubble, while ignoring entirely the economic policy settings that were initially the point of the exercise. Not only is he uninterested in connecting these voters back to real conditions in the world, he is propelling the bubble ever higher into the stratosphere. The many comparisons between Trump and fascism are appealing precisely because he is using fear as his fuel. And one of the consequences of fear is violence.
If Trump gets the nomination – and it seems unlikely he will fail to do so, now – he will not pivot. He has no other setting to pivot towards. He has no policy to discuss, no insight into social matters, no grasp of foreign policy, and no inclination to ever address these things. He will spend his time on the campaign trail perpetuating the same act he has been perfecting thus far, because it is the only one open to him. He will put on a show, and encourage fear and rage, and do everything short of openly inciting violence against his enemies.
He will lose, thankfully. But when he loses the election, what will follow him? Because, be certain, there are other demagogues eagerly preparing to harness the forces Trump is whipping into a frenzy. And those forces themselves will continue to swirl through the electorate, degrading any possibility of reconciliation between belief and fact, let alone between left and right prescriptions for solving the problems of society. Things seem like they are going to get worse, the kind of worse that reverberates out from the United States and affects everywhere else, because when the USA sneezes the entire rest of the world needs to wipe snot off their faces.
But, sitting here on Moon Zealand spying through my telescope, it seems to me there is hope, because that bubble, while becoming ever more vociferous, ever more divorced from reality, and ever more dangerous, is also becoming smaller. Steadily, slowly, surely smaller. The future is gay marriage. The future is Black Lives Matter. The future is Occupy. The future is interfaith understanding. The future is identity-based paranoia slipping away and a pendulum swing away from the extremes of economic liberalism.
It will take time. I like to talk about a “national conversation” when trying to make sense of events and how a society responds to them. The movement conservative paradigm deliberately disrupted this national conversation, which was already less than evenly-spread. The real world in the USA is heavily demographically sorted, and the communications world even moreso. But change is possible nonetheless. Witness the arc from Reagan Press Secretary cracking jokes when asked about AIDS, through to gay marriage becoming widely accepted. This change was never inevitable but the result of countless moments of work, first by activists, and finally by ordinary people who had come to know gay people as pretty much ordinary too. That’s the national conversation. Homosexuality defies demographic sorting, it can pop up like a glorious rainbow in any family, but even deprived of this benefit other identity barriers will also be ground down over time (if never overcome).
I see hope but that hope cannot be taken for granted. The bubble of fear created by Buckley and Rove and Trump and so many others will wreak havoc if it isn’t fought. Resistance is necessary. The fight has already begun, with massive protests against the hate-filled Trump rallies just a sign of what is ahead.
Those in the USA who have to step out into this bubble of fear: you’re doing the hard work. Respect.
Everyone else, around the world: our job is to watch, and to listen, and to support. For even though we are far away, the world is made of connections between people, and we can contribute to the communications environment around those stepping to the line against Trump.
So be reasonable, be considerate, be thoughtful, be kind. Listen. Celebrate difference. Refuse fear. Give. And go into the world with love.
Me: Would you like some stonefruit, Wee Beastie?
WB: Yes please, I am very fruitable today.
Wee Beastie, on grandparents’ bird bath: “Birds don’t like to have baths in it. I think it’s because they don’t have any toys in there to play with.”
WB knows what’s required for a good bath experience.
Wee Beastie awarded a yellow lollipop for entering a colouring competition. She is extremely excited.
WB: You know what this tastes like? It tastes like the inside of the sun.
Life with a Wee Beastie, middle-of-the-night wakeup edition:
Me: (wake up, stagger into WB’s room)
Me: Yes honey, I’m here?
WB: I want you to go away.
WB instantly falls fast asleep.
Daddy, there are four things!
(Holds out hand, starts count at her thumb)
One, two, three, four, five.
(Obvious double take, stares at unexpected fifth finger.)
(Comes to decision.)
The fifth one is for tomorrow.
I actually had no idea what she was counting, this was the entire conversation.
Wee Beastie: I wonder when i will get a cat.
Me: Well, there’s a bit of a problem with that, because cats make me sneeze.
WB: Oh that’s okay. You might disappear for a long time. That would solve the problem.
Me: Wouldn’t you be sad if I disappeared?
WB: I don’t think so, because mummy would be there, and I would have a cat.
Wee Beastie, riding in the car on the way home from running madly around the Mitre 10 play area with her friend Charley, pipes up suddenly:
WB: You know dad, we are all in a story.
WB: There is a story about a mummy and a daddy and a little daughter.
Me: What is the name of the daughter?
WB: It’s me!
Me: And what do they do in the story?
WB: Nothing, they just have adventures.
Me: Are you saying that we are in a story right now?
Me: Well… who’s telling the story?
WB: I don’t know! I wish I could find out.
Me: How could we find out?
WB: I think we need to jump.
WB: We’d jump really high. If we get lots of trampolines and put them on top of each other then we could jump up really high and see who is telling the story. And mummy would hear the sound of us jumping on the trampolines at her work and she would ask her friends at work “who is on those trampolines?” but it would be us!
Me: And if we jumped really high we might see…
WB: Yes. I’m sure he’s up there. I think it’s a really tall man up in the sky who is telling the story. I’m sure he is.
Me: And we’re in the story.
WB: We are a story.
This conversation was kind of amazing.
Wee Beastie has turned on Monsters Inc. DVD, arranged her cuddly toy friends on the floor to watch it, sat with them with words of comfort through the scary bit, and has now left them to keep watching while she plays in the other room.
Wee Beastie has taken to hollering “Stop, thief!” at me whenever she wants me to slow down. Wondering where she picked that up, I asked who else says “Stop, thief”. Answer: Mr Macgregor, shouting at Peter Rabbit.
I anticipate many happy visits to the mall with a small child shouting “Stop, thief!” at me as I progress through the shops and aisles.
Wee Beastie has been listening intently while adults do wedding planning around her. She has told me that tomorrow she will have a wedding. She is marrying Randall from Monsters Inc, and the guests will be characters from her other DVDs.
Wee Beastie singing to herself as she plays with her cardboard Maisy house:
“Maisy’s world! Maisy’s world! Maisy’s worldy world!
Maisy’s world is so much fun, umpy dumpy durld!”
Wee Beastie: Daaad come with me and play in my room
Me: But I was just about to sit down and have a cup of coffee
WB: You can do that in my room!
Me: It isn’t really the same. I can come and play with you now, but when will I be able to have my coffee? Soon?
WB: Yes, soon. You can come and play with me now and then we’ll both come in here and have drinks.
Me: How long will we play?
WB: *thinks* Four years.
Me: Four years?
WB: Yes, in four years you can come here and get your cup of coffee. Now let’s go!
Wee Beastie has started asking for stories about the giraffe pictured on the height chart on her wall. She has named this giraffe “Pickle Dumb Harry” which is basically the best name ever for anything.
Wee Beastie: “When I grow up I want to be a tooth fairy.” This is the first time she’s ever announced an ambition in life.
Cal: Wee Beastie, we might go on an adventure! What do you think of that?
Cal: What was that?
WB: *squints* Gnnnnnn! Nrrrrrr!
Cal: What are you saying?
WB: I WAS TRYING TO WINK BUT IT DIDN’T WORK!
Wee Beastie, looking at Auckland’s Sky Tower: “There should be a lookout on the top because a monster could break that into pieces very easily.”
Wee Beastie at music today – they do an activity using objects from the natural world.
Teacher: And this is called a wish-bone.
*children all stare in wonder*
WB, confidently: It’s from a wish dinosaur.
Teacher: From a wish dinosaur you think?
WB: Yes, those are its wish antlers.
Wee Beastie was a bit troubled when some other kids pretended to be chased by an imaginary monster.
WB: If only Randall was there to tell them the monster isn’t real!
Randall is an imaginary monster, so I guess he’d be well qualified for that job.
Wee Beastie eagerly playing “accountants” with her Lego. She says she heard about them on Play School. They go to schools and do lots of counting.
Cal shows Wee Beastie a parody version of “Let It Go”. She is perplexed by the different lyrics.
WB: I think he is still learning all the words.
*listens a bit longer*
WB: He’s really not very good at learning, is he?
Wee Beastie used to hate the noise of the lawnmower outside (and similar big noises) – not afraid exactly, but like it physically pained her. So we bought earmuffs. Which, of course, she absolutely refused to wear.
Now, two years later and no longer bothered by noise, she has discovered them and taken to wearing them around the house. She calls them her “eargloves”.
Yes the whole point of this story is “eargloves”.
Wee Beastie is babysitting her cousin. Time for a musical interlude.
[can’t embed the video, watch it here, 11 seconds]
Me: I love you to the moon and back!
Wee Beastie: I love you to the sun and back! Daddy, how do you get to the sun?
Me: You have to fly in a rocketship for a really long time.
WB: But by the time you get there, won’t it be nighttime?
I told her that was a great question and we’d talk about it tomorrow, because GO TO BED CHILD. But it is a great question!
This morning’s fashion advice from the Wee Beastie:
WB: What outfit are you going to wear today? You should wear the red stripey top with your jeans, I’ve never seen that outfit before. Well I have seen it one time and it was so smooky.
Me: It was smooky?
WB: It was so smooky I just laughed.
Wee Beastie: “Wearing two skirts at once makes me dance beautifuller!”
Wee Beastie is visiting her cousin’s music session. On being told some of the songs are in the Māori language:
WB: I speak Spanish, and Dog.
Wee Beastie asked if there would be a second Frozen movie. I asked her what the story would be if she made it, and she instantly began outlining. It goes like this:
* It’s Christmas but there is no snow!
* The people ask Elsa to use her magic powers to make it snow for Christmas.
* She agrees and uses her powers but then the magic turns everything to ice! (Again.)
* Elsa goes and builds an ice house on a pointy mountain! (Again.)
* Anna wasn’t there to help her sister because she had “done a marry” with Kristoff
* But then she comes back to help!
* Elsa locks the doors with ice so Anna can’t get in.
* Anna unlocks the doors with her keys.
* The snow monster throws Elsa outside!
* But Anna throws a big rock on the snow monster which smushes him into pieces.
* Elsa is saved!
* And then the winter stops because it isn’t Christmas any more.
WB also says that this time, it’s _Elsa_ who sings “First time in forever” and _Anna_ who sings “Let it go”.
Agents of Shield, the Whedon-crew TV series spun out of the Marvel superhero film universe has been picked up for series. Lots of people are very excited! I’m quite excited too actually. But take a look at this:
SKYE: This late-20s woman sounds like a dream: fun, smart, caring and confident – with an ability to get the upper hand by using her wit and charm.
AGENT GRANT WARD: Quite the physical specimen and “cool under fire,” he sometimes botches interpersonal relations. He’s a quiet one with a bit of a temper, but he’s the kind of guy that grows on you.
AGENT ALTHEA RICE: Also known as “The Calvary,” this hard-core soldier has crazy skills when it comes to weapons and being a pilot. But her experiences have left her very quiet and a little damaged.
AGENT LEO FITZ and AGENT JEMMA SIMMONS: These two came through training together and still choose to spend most of their time in each other’s company. Their sibling-like relationship is reinforced by their shared nerd tendencies – she deals with biology and chemistry, he’s a whiz at the technical side of weaponry.
About three weeks later, Ming-Na Wen was cast as Agent Melinda May:
Soulful and slightly damaged by her combat experiences, Melinda is an ace pilot, a weapons expert and a soldier who can – and has – gone beyond the call of duty… In the original casting call, Agent May was listed as Agent Althea Rice, aka The Calvary.
Then the announcement of the series pickup, as reproduced at Bleeding Cool included character descriptions:
Coulson’s team consists of Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), highly trained in combat and espionage, Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) expert pilot and martial artist, Agent Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker); brilliant engineer and Agent Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) genius bio-chemist. Joining them on their journey into mystery is new recruit and computer hacker Skye (Chloe Bennet).
So Althea Rice, a weapons expert and pilot, morphed into Melinda May, martial artist and pilot, somewhere around the time an Asian actress was cast in the part. Is this another instance of that All Asians Are Martial Artists trope? (No other characters appear to have changed names or basic descriptions.)
No point jumping to conclusions – this might be a PR flack writing a press release and making assumptions, for a start. But it’s a curious change nonetheless. File it away for now.
(Big nod to Mike Foster and Steve Hickey, who spotted the Asian martial artist trope in the announcement and talked about it, sparking my interest.)
With the second anniversary of the big Christchurch quake about to arrive, I decided to do something a bit more organised than last year’s “check your prep kits everyone” messages.
The idea is to use social media and a relevant anniversary to help people follow through on their good intentions. This is, of course, another development of the social psychology I did for my Masters research, like the small group action stuff.
It’d be great if this picked up some momentum, but it should work fine with the number of people it already has. Still, if you’re on FB or Twitter, please consider signing up & sharing with your own contacts.
My last day at work today, so no linky – lots to get sorted before the day is through!