Racism Everywhere…

With racism everywhere, it’s hard to say that the world has evolved. Not only do we have a president in the USA who actively puts down other races other than whites, but there are also tons of hate crimes that still exist in many areas. In Canada, I can comfortably say that I don’t often feel like the colour of my skin changes the perception people have of me. However, it was during my reading break when I travelled through Washington and Oregon, just like a few others in this class, that I started to feel that the colour of my skin mattered so much more than I thought it did. There were a few times at stores in the malls of Oregon where I realized a security guard was specifically following my cousin and I because we were the only coloured people in the store. Thankfully, there were other places that I visited during my trip that made me feel comfortable again in my own skin. There was a street specifically that I was amazed by in Oregon called Alberta Street. On almost every single store/restaurant’s front display and windows, there would be signs that said “Black Lives Matter”. There was also another sign that I absolutely loved that said, “We welcome ALL races, ALL religions, ALL countries of origin, ALL sexual orientations, ALL genders. We stand with you, you are safe here.” It was reassuring to me that just because the United States may have a misogynist and racist president, that doesn’t mean there aren’t good people around. It was along that street that I felt most safe knowing that whatever I may be is acceptable. Just like the dramatic racism displayed in Toni Morrison’s book Jazz, we can see that having a voice and individuality helps escape overcoming the struggles of stereotypes in racism that many people like myself have experienced.

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Morrison in REAL LIFE!

Racism in the world today. I felt like I was in a Toni Morrison novel just the other day as I travelled through the countryside of Oregon and Washington, on the way back to Vancouver. I was sitting on a bus going from one small town to another, and 4 other people were on board. A black man sitting at the back left, who looked rather put together and well dressed, almost too perfectly. The two at the front could have been absolute druggos, all pock marked and scarred by years of drug abuse, both white. Then, a teenage boy about my age sitting directly behind me.

 

Well, as I often do, I began to converse with the most likely target for interesting chats. I began describing to the man at the back of the bus my last few days. I told him about the dangerous rides I’d picked up on the Oregon coast, and my lack of places to sleep in the cold evenings, and other such exciting things. He listened, a look of growing concern on his face. He had the look of someone who had something to say. Then he said it. “But what’s the value of travelling for other people? You got God, kid?”. Oh, here we go. “No, I don’t really have god, but I mean, I think I learn a lot from this type of trav…”, “I don’t care what it does for you, where is the generosity, the love, where is God!”.

 

I really didn’t know how to respsond, so I sort of let him speak, until the lady at the front turned around, saying “Well, I think what you’re doing is very brave, and this guy can just shut it!”. Oh no oh no not racism please please please I can’t handle blatant racism oh my god why did I come to this country holy shit. Then the black guy responded in a completely shocking way. He says, “I see you, I see you being crazy. You a little crazy, I saw that about you, I did.” This guy just called a lady crazy on the bus! I couldn’t believe it.

 

Well from there things really kicked off, and I couldn’t help but think: are these white people (who all ended up berating the guy at the back, while he yelled back at them), just stupid racists, or are the defending me because this guy is preaching at me in a really obnoxious way. I sat in silence. Admittedly I was a little gleeful at the intensity which my purportedly boring bus ride had developed.

 

But all that being said, it’s just a little bit like a Morrison novel: racism, conflict, yelling, excitement. I was certainly shocked.

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Boy meets girl, boy loses girl. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl.

We see the film Vertigo through the lense in which Hitchcock sets up for us, now whether that lense is underlyingly sexist or not is obvious, but we still are unsure as to what sort of message he is sending. As Robert mentioned in his seminar, Hitchcock’s summary of the film is rather straightforward: “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy meets girl, boy loses girl”. This leaves us with two ways to view it: simply, or critically. The simple view is the literal romance story of a man, Scottie, who falls in love with a woman named Madeline. He tragically loses her and has no way to get over it except for recreating her through Judy. Scottie isn’t creepy, he just misses Madeline and is reminded of her through Judy.

While from the critical perspective, Vertigo is problematic on multiple levels, some far too deep for me to understand from viewing it only once. For starters, despite the common role of women during this time in America, the film is undeniably sexist. The film centers around Scottie’s obsession with the ‘ideal’ woman, and how he fetishizes the qualities that make her appear so beautiful him. Judy is objectified to the extent that she is forced to change the way she looks to please Scotty. He knows he is entitled to Judy and the worst part is that she does too. This film really is the epitome of patriarchy.

I read Mulvey’s article before I watched the film, so I was prepared for roughly two hours of cringe worthy sexism. While the article was quite dense, it did help me catch aspects of the film I would not have been able to grasp otherwise. Never would I have ever thought about Scotty’s obsession with ‘solving’ Madeline has anything to do with castration anxiety. There is no possible way to view “Vertigo” in from a simple perspective after reading what Mulvey has to say about it. Regardless of her feminist opinion, I was quivering while watching Scotty was with Judy forcing her to wear the same dress Madeline did. The story could not have been a love story like Hitchcock suggested, as the plot is everything but romantic; yet somehow Judy still falls in love with him. I’m not sure how anyone is able to enjoy this film when females are portrayed in this objectified manner. And the creepiest part is how realistic and normal seems…

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The Panopticon of Res Life

I’m not sure if this will turn out as more of a rant than a chill commentary, but hey. It has relevance to Foucault. I think.

Alright, so a key part of living in residence at all universities is that of having an RA whose job it is to look over the students in their charge and make sure that they don’t do anything stupid and abide by the rules. We know this. I respect this. We do need someone to look after us and ensure our good behavior. However, it just so happens that that person lives next to me.

Yep. I won the RA jackpot.

I promise you that I am a good, quiet, respective person who acknowledges and heeds the rules of my house. I try my absolute best to follow them and make sure my friends do too. And for the most part, I do. Except for the dreaded quiet hours.

Weekdays from 9pm – 7am and weekends from 1am – 7am we are expected to be so absolutely quiet that you can hear a pin drop on the carpeted halls. Over-exaggeration, sure. But that’s how it feels when you share a wall with an RA who enforces this rule like her life and the lives of everyone in this house depend on it. I’m sure you can imagine how having an RA is kind of panoptic, in the way that there is one entity in charge of many, and we all have our own rooms with our names on the doors and she knows all of us and can observe us easily enough.

Now, I am aware not everyone has this problem with their RAs, and for the most part my RA is cool. But I swear to god I’ve become paranoid at night.

Half of the time I don’t even know if she is in her room, yet as soon as the clock strikes 9:00pm, I am whispering. Now this may seem like unwarranted paranoia, but guys, here’s a small compilation of the times I’ve been told to be quiet.

  1. Watching Netflix at 1am when the volume is so low I can barely hear it, but apparently she can.
  2. Having a coughing fit in my room (yes, a coughing fit).
  3. Talking to my mom at night (because of a time difference that she is very aware of, yet ignores). I’ve even been told to be quiet when it wasn’t quiet hours. My mom can now barely hear me at night on Skype. Great.
  4. Having a normal, quiet conversation with my friend across the hall in her room (she threatened to write us up that time. We were talking about her Mandarin class).
  5. Walking to the bathroom and being falsely accused of talking when it wasn’t even me and in fact some neighbours who were talking. I tried to clear my name, but alas. Was still accused.

Apparently I am the loudest member in this house. You’d think so. But I think she has the ears of a bat.

I believe from this simple sample of the times I’ve been told to be quiet is enough justification of my paranoia, and the thing is that you can’t knock on her bedroom door to see if she’s there. I mean, you can, but here’s the thing; you knock once, she’s there. You make up an excuse for knocking and then say goodnight and report back to your friends that she is there so be quiet please dear God. Everything is fine. Next night, you knock again. No response. It’s safe enough to believe she isn’t there so you can actually talk at a normal volume. Night three, you knock and she answers. Honestly, at this point even though she’s only answered twice it’s a really weird coincidence that you’re knocking at 9 or later to ask some dumbly mundane question and she’s not dumb, she’ll start getting suspicious. You can’t risk that. So you always have to act like she’s in her room, unless you happen to know for sure otherwise.

Does that make sense?

It’s like Schrodinger’s RA in a Panopticon.

Does that make sense?

Well, that’s about what I wanted to say. Took me like two weeks to come up with it. It was a lot harder to write out than I thought it would be!

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The implicit spectator in Vertigo

Mulvey describes Hitchcock in relation to “the investigative side of voyeurism” (14); Jason, in lecture, explained this as the way in which Hitchcock complicates the straightforward and unquestioned voyeurism that is featured in other Golden Era Hollywood films. This struck a chord for me, as watching Vertigo there were several instances where I found myself feeling uncomfortable and guilty, even, at the very apparent voyeurism in the film. This functions on the level of the plot: Scottie, while at first tasked with observing Madeleine, goes on to become obsessed with her; observing her from afar becomes his guilty pleasure, and the spectator who is given Scottie’s point of view takes a part in this. The same effect is produced through the film language in Vertigo. Rather than simply watching Madeleine, we watch her for so long and in such an obtrusive manner that we cannot help but become self-aware of the fact that we are watching her. A concrete example is the short clip shown in lecture when Scottie first sees Madeleine in the restaurant. As she is leaving, she passes Scottie sitting by the bar and the spectator is shown a close-up of her side profile, which is held for quite a long time. In my experience, we rarely see a person (in a film or real life) from so close-up and for such a long time unless we are engaged in dialogue with them; the shot therefore has the effect that the spectator is expecting or even yearning Madeleine to turn and make eye contact with the camera, while at the same time dreading this outcome because we understand that she is not meant to see Scottie. What results is that the voyeuristic pleasure becomes entwined with a sense of guilt.

Straightforward voyeurism, what Mulvey would describe as fetishistic scopophilia, is grounded in the fact that the person being watched is unawares of the fact. Within films, this functions in such a way that a spectator, by watching the film, is given ‘permission’ in their role as a voyeur. They are able to take part in the pleasure of looking in innocence and without the fear of repercussion. Yet Hitchcock does not allow his spectator to remove themselves from the responsibility of their voyeurism, in a manner that Mulvey attributes to directors like Sternberg. This works on several levels. For one, the fact that Scottie is in and of himself a voyeur in the film casts attention to the illicit nature of the act. As the film progresses, shots such as the one in the restaurant described above constantly remind a spectator of the fact that they are practicing voyeurism; Hitchcock does not allow the spectator to commit the act subconsciously or innocently. These constant reminders achieved through the film language also have the effect that the reader becomes implicit in Madeleine’s fate at the hands of Scottie. Jason also showed examples of when Madeleine breaks the fourth wall to look into the camera. Her expression as she does this is despairing and imploring, as if she is asking the spectator to help her, to save her from the fate that Scottie -and the spectator with him – is creating. These shots stand incongruous to the element of straightforward voyeurism whereby the person being watched is unaware; once again, the spectator is reminded that they are committing voyeurism, and being forced to take on responsibility.

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The Use of Discipline in the Education System

In his book Discipline and Punish, Michael Foucault discussed the relations of disciplinary mechanisms seen in educational institutions. Foucault brings up clear and reliable points seen in the education system that have intentions towards discipline. Although the institution of learning is an invisible disciplinary of power, teachers are the ones who express visible sovereign power. Teachers and other superiors to students are in control of a few main parts of the way in which control is possessed in the institutions; classroom settings, timetables, examination techniques, and hierarchical techniques. With all these variables combined, achieving power and control to create well-conducted students is easily achievable.

Being a student for the last 15 years in a public school background, it is clear to me that the disciplinary mechanisms that Foucault writes about has definitely applied to my education. Firstly, classroom settings and timetables create spaces and time that allows for greater control. Teachers mainly, who have this control, understand that by using these techniques they have the best possible power. Foucault explains that discipline requires enclosure in a protected place and a school is definitely one of these places that can provide what it takes to maintain power. In my experience of being a chatty-outspoken adolescent, I understand that the purpose and use of classroom settings such as assigned seating to be useful. A talkative student like myself is specifically placed beside a shy, timid student in order to balance personalities out as well as allow control to be given to a teacher. Not only do teachers have the power to control your seating arrangements, but time is crucial in discipline as the division of time provides control of the body. One of the many reasons there are school monitors during break times at school is to ensure that at the end of the break students are back to where they must. Given too much freedom with availability of too much time and leisure to move around, control is unattainable. Considering school as an institution that enforces discipline, it is understandable why classroom settings and timetables are enforced as well to encourage proper learning.

Foucault also goes into depth when writing about hierarchical observation and examination techniques to explain the importance of power of visibility and the gaze. The use of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon is an example of making power visible. The panopticon is a building with a tower in the centre from which it is possible to easily see everyone surrounding the tower. This keeps people actively aware that they are being watched, giving power directly to the ones in control/in the tower. This can be seen in relatable examination periods where teachers or older students are forced to keep an eye on every move you make. Personally, I have never been caught for cheating. However, I have seen why it is important to keep a visual lookout during examination periods because cheating is not tolerated in the school system for many reasons. Constantly being watched at school is something that has become almost a norm for me. Being a student for most of my life, it is understood that being watched is a useful tool of power yet there are many downsides to all of these techniques of enforcing discipline.

School as an institution may enforce useful discipline that generates well-educated and respectful students, but there are many parts to the techniques that take away from individuality. Students often lack choice of expression due to identities that are predefined for them. The use of dress codes, timetables, lack of class selection, classroom-seating arrangements all restrict individuality in students from a very young age that give power away that could be used towards individual growth. There is definitely a line that should not be crossed when it comes to discipline in the education system, but Foucault makes it obvious that the reasons for doing so are intentionally beneficial. It has created self-discipline that is ultimately needed throughout life.

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Some thoughts on the criminal justice system: why it’s impossible to get right

When someone commits a crime, the question of punishment is the first to come to mind. One has to ask themselves: what do I want out of my response to this criminal? In my estimation, there are 4 answers to this question today. First, to punish. Retribution as an attempt to create some “justice” and to “right an imbalance” in the world. Second, to protect. Keeping society well clear of our most hardened and vicious offenders, so more people don’t suffer from their illegal and destructive actions. Third, to rehabilitate. Changing the psychology and social position of the criminal so when they are released, they can conform to societal structures that they previous failed to handle. Finally, to prevent. Invoke fear into the hearts and minds of criminals that they won’t commit a crime out of the possibility of personal suffering.

Well, the question becomes, which should we preference? To answer this, we must first determine the type of ethics or justice we are attempting to invoke, and then weigh them up against one another, working out what order we should priorities our 4 outcomes of the criminal justice system.

Punishment appeals to the principle of “Justice”, a notoriously difficult idea to exemplify or explicate. There is no “justice” we can point to in the real world, and, while Plato might refer to a Justice as a balance within the city and the soul, that doesn’t seem to be the reason we want criminals to suffer. Instead, it seems retributive, an attempt to placate the families and people who suffered at the hands of the crime. So instead of “justice”, we might understand the reason we punish as “vengefulness”. We fulfil some animalistic desire to “get back” at the people who didn’t follow the rules. This seems inherently problematic, but we’ll come back to the importance of punishment later.

Second, protection of society appeals to simple utilitarianism. We don’t want more people to be hurt, so we don’t let the hurters hang out with the rest of the normal, un-abrasive individuals who aren’t in the clink. There are two problems with this theory: first, it might be problematic when we look at some crimes that are relatively victimless. Smoking marijuana grown from a plant in your back garden is a great example; no harms, yet unfortunately, in many societies across the world, marijuana is highly illegal and punishable by death (or imprisonment—the death of freedom). Second, when putting someone in prison actually makes them all the worse. It’s referred to as a “university of crime”, as if you go in with a diploma of car-jacking and come out with a PhD in rape and murder. While that might be a trope, it is entrenched in some reality- in you surround yourself with other violent people, you probably learn things through osmosis. Also, you might begin to resent the state which is keeping you here, making you even more likely to fight back and become angry, committing more crime when you are let free.

Third, rehabilitation. This is another utilitarian calculus: if we can stop these people committing crimes, we can make their life better, and the people around them are less likely to be attacked or suffer the effects of crimes. This one has the least problems with it, and should quite obviously be preference above the rest. There is no harm in attempting to rehabilitate, unless we give weight to the idea of punishment being “justice”, which requires much more argumentation than “we stop people physically suffering at the hands of criminals” (the hopeful effect of rehabilitation).

Finally, the one that causes the most issues- prevention. It also appeals to utility, attempting to stop people doing crime out of fear. Also seems VERY reasonable and legitimate…. But it contradicts everything we just discussed. If we want people not to want to come to prison, it can’t be wonderful. But if it’s not wonderful, then we are unlikely to be able to rehabilitate them, and we end up with worse prisoners. So we can’t rehabilitate and prevent at the same time, because they necessarily negate one another.

 

The outcome? I have no idea. I don’t think we should “punish” for the sake of punishment, but possibly a prisoner must suffer to prevent people wanting to come to back into the slammer. I’m certainly confused. Not sure about you? Does anyone read these? I’m not sure if this will ever get back to me. Hmm. Anyway, hopefully this gets me the participation marks I so slavishly grasp after. Cool, bye.

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What we should take away from Slave Song

When referring to colonialism and its effects on specific groups of people, it is tricky to find a clear answer without acknowledging them as a group rather than as individuals. This is highly problematic as it leads to stereotypes and assumptions about people. Dabydeen is critiquing this common Western tendency by doing this exact thing within the critical apparatus of Slave Songs. The different poems he claims “are largely concerned with an exploration of the erotic energies of the colonial experience” (10), a line which he contradicts on the next page by saying what “peasant women” and “men” do. This implies that all peasant women are the same and that all Guyanese men are the same. Thus, Dabydeen is revealing the way in which westerners freeze native culture.

By looking at the translation of the poem, “Men and Women”, it is apparent Dabydeen groups people under one stereotype, as he describes “the peasant, like so many Guyanese peasants under the influence of rum, beat his wife then later abandoned her with a hutch of children to support, a common fate for country women” (63). He is mocking the association of all Guyanese people with qualities of violence and alcoholism and reiterates it by adding that it is a common fate. The audience is not supposed to take this information literally, rather they are supposed to question the purpose of interpreting the poems this way.

Another example is present in the translation for “Brown Skin Girl” when Dabydeen says “some Guyanese women ‘willingly’ give themselves to the white men in a new kind of prostitution. They do so out of a deep feeling of inferiority” (68). Here, Dabydeen is critiquing the ways the colonial experience is described, as it is making assumptions about how Guyanese women feel. This text can be seen as a call to action of the way Westerners appropriate the cultures and experiences of other countries. It is important for us as Western academics to understand this notion and respect it.

Works Cited: Dabydeen, David. Slave Song. Leeds: Peepal Tree, 2005. Print.

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Sexuality and Violence in The Bloody Chamber

It is seen throughout all the stories within Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, but especially in the title story, that there is a connection between violence and sexuality that Carter is trying to emphasize about. Carter was influenced by Marquis de Sade and the term sadism which is defined as the tendency to derive pleasure, especially sexual pleasure from pain and suffering. It is seen that Carter’s reason for creating her fairytale stories with this use of sexuality and violence, is to show that there is a darker side to what humans desire.

The fairytale genre was made to “reinforce essential gender differences – cultural double standard of desire, denies presence of personal, individual story to characters, and associates female ‘virtue’ with ‘being good’.” Fairytales are created with an abundance of imagination that people are attracted to because it can often times be an escape from reality although having somewhat realistic features that makes it relatable. Just like fairytales, pornography is also a type of expression that depicts human sexual desires that are full of imagination. This is why it has such a similar impact on lives as it shows off desires that most people want and long for.

Unlike Carter’s writing, most fairytales depict woman as the damsel in distress that needs a hero to save her, as well as a subject to the male. Carter challenged this in order to show that women should not be depicted as these social gendered norms that typical fairytales use and instead show the hidden desires that women are often afraid to show. With the use of sexuality and violence that is found within the text, it allows for readers, especially men to realize that women should not be trapped in their bodies. Using sexuality and violence shows that woman are not seemed as objects in the sense that some woman may desire certain pleasures that shouldn’t be seen as shameful or a wrong behaviour.

Carter encourages in most of her stories in The Bloody Chamber that her reading shouldn’t be unsettling, but something that makes people want to break against the stereotypes that censored fairytales and social ideologies deem woman as not being the imaginative and sexual souls that they may be.

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My concern with fairy tales:

 

When we tell stories to our children, they become normalized and expected as elements of their reality. In the same way that a four-year-old doesn’t quite grasp the sleight of hand required for a card trick, they also don’t recognize when they are presented with false representations of reality. So, we can pretend a coin can exist and then disappear, and they buy it, much in the same way that they will just accept the binaries we put in front of them.

When a four year old is a boy, and watches a film in which no man ever cries, has a certain body type that might not even be healthy, and is told he has to “get the girl” to be a success in life, why would we expect him not to aspire to those goals as he grows up? His parents – for the time being – are the moral arbiters of the universe, so when they sanction an ideology, it’s unsurprising that the child will take it as gospel. Where then, is the space for development of that child? If from the earliest age he is indoctrinated with the belief that man falls in love with woman, and then begins to have feelings which put into question that dogma, there will be psychological turmoil.

Why do we continue to read our children these stories then? Well- it’s because they are stuck. They are stuck in our collective consciousness—as a society – because we grew up with them too! It might not be our fault, but we are conditioned to believe that these stories are somehow wonderful moral tales which will indoctrinate the leaders of tomorrow with all the correct narratives they could possibly need. Only, there hasn’t been a lead character of questionable gender identity, or sexuality, or even someone who isn’t perfectly beautiful. So, we teach our kids not just that it’s the straight, good looking, monogamous individuals who succeed, and also, probably more importantly, that any other identity actually doesn’t exist. Never confronting a child with the reality of the multitudes of varying human experiences is tantamount to instilling ignorance, and should be avoided at all costs.

Not only do fairy tales instill regular norms regarding the way we “should” behave, but they trap us into believing that we can’t be happy without money. As Marx would love to remind us, modes of production are controlled by the few, and cinema is simply another mode of production for the self fulfilling capitalistic ideologies permeating its creative output. The simple binaries regarding gender, sexuality, relationship type etc. all work because we already are conditioned to believe it. We are literally being controlled by a corporate elite, told what to think and who to accept, because it brings more capital into their pockets and out of ours. Cinema, but more specifically fairy tales (and their production in film) reflect a firm ideological stance of the majority of our society, thus morally and financially bankrupting us from the inside.

Fairy tales, we might say, are four times removed from the truth. They don’t attack any real fundamental truth, they don’t even show us our physical reality, and then—extending Plato’s original concern – they don’t even represent the truth of human experience. We are beings of many levels, almost everything is on a bell curve, and we can’t be stuck in one or another binary. So, stop reading fairy tales, and start thinking more critically about our culture.

 

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