Stranger Things: More normal than you’d think.

I’ve been trying to write some kind of review on Stranger Things for a while now, but every time I sit down to do it, I find I just don’t have the energy.

So here goes. Really gonna try this time. Definitely gonna contain plot spoilers. This is probably best read after you’ve seen all eight episodes.

There’s about a million reviews on Stranger Things out there, the vast majority of them are full of positive hype, much of which the show deserves. If you like a nostalgic retro-feel 1980s homage, this is your jam. It’s Super 8 meets Stand by Me meets ET meets The Goonies, complete with an awesome soundtrack, solid casting, and an engaging (albeit not terribly original) plot. And it’s creepy. I’ve been craving a creepy show, and it’s been hard to find one that isn’t one rung down from torture porn (Hemlock Grove, what a crushing disappointment).

However.

Stranger Things has some major shortcomings that made it cringingly hard to watch at times. As happens with most things I watch/read, at one point I said aloud, “If they kill Barb, I’m gonna stop watching this.” Obviously I didn’t. :P But that I found myself saying that at all points to ST‘s first major weakness: predictability.

ST is at its heart a reverential throwback, playing on all manner of (especially Spielberg-esque) 1980s movie tropes, which as The Atlantic‘s Lenika Cruz points out, is both good and bad. The nostalgic ambience makes for an immersive environment, on the one hand. But on the other, the temptation to fall back on, er, other historically relevant tropes certainly makes the show less relatable for some of us.

I wasn’t upset that they killed Barb because I believe characters should never be expendable. Rather because from the moment she appeared on screen, she is immediately recognizable as precisely the kind of character deemed expendable in 80s cinema, as well as the present: nerdy, not conventionally attractive, peripheral, marginal. All things that I (and many other people who don’t generally see themselves represented in media) can connect with. And all things that, in combination with being feminine, female-bodied, and/or a woman, can be lethal for a character. The giveaway for me was the short hair. “This girl’s a goner,” I thought. Man, I hate being right.

It isn’t merely that characters like Barb are pathetic tagalongs, tripping up the much more glamorous adventures of their more conventionally attractive (in all its senses) counterparts– in this case, Nancy. And it isn’t that they rarely-if-ever are the hero protagonists. It’s that they have to die. In Barb’s case, a gruesome on-screen death. “Unnecessary” doesn’t begin to describe it. The creators, the Duffer Brothers, felt the need to dismember Barb and then later show us her rotting body to reinforce this violence.

“But but but,” I can hear the refutations of the DnD ST fandom begin, “the four heroes of the story are nerdy, not conventionally attractive, marginalized characters. They’re always getting beat up by bullies, their only ally at school is the science teacher.” That’s wonderful. I’m glad the nerds/misfits/outcasts get to be heroes for once (except that this is arguably another 80s trope– à la Goonies, Weird Science, Bill & Ted). But all those heroes have something in common: they’re (cis)boys. Barb can’t be a hero, or even a hero tagalong, and in fact it’s okay to disembowel her– ’cause she’s a girl. It’s pretty straightforward misogyny, really.

“But but but,” another refutation may start, “what do you call Eleven, if not a hero? And she’s a girl.” Sadly, the most interesting character in the story becomes a martyr for the boy-heroes, but not before they play out their heteronormative fantasies playing dress-up doll with her. Cruz’s review is a very solid description of ST‘s failures when it comes to El’s plotline, so I won’t reiterate them here.

I suppose some might try to raise Nancy as a girl-hero, but whatever character growth she accomplishes is certainly dampened by her choice to stick with her abusive boyfriend. To be fair, her alternate love interest is also her stalker at one point, so…

At the end of the day, it’s the Duffer Brothers who mold the girl/feminine/female-bodied characters on the show and choose their fate. The Duffer Brothers play out their fantasies (and the fantasies of countless [especially nerd] boys) in ST, through boy and girl characters alike– oh, and it is really that binary. Friendships, adventures, romances, and heroism all revolve around the boy characters.

I had other issues with ST, including the treatment of madness, single motherhood, and the show’s overwhelming whiteness. It’s not perfect, but Stranger Things is entertaining, and a wonderful fantasy, especially if you’re a cishet boy. Who knows, maybe Season Two will have something for the rest of us.

Review: The True Cost

The True Cost: A Review.

Industrialized clothing production has always been problematic, but those problems have become intensified and have much more far-reaching consequences in recent decades. This is due in large part to a phenomenon known as “fast fashion.” In the not-so-distant past, the fashion world had two, at most three “seasons” of new clothing. However, global capitalist markets and industrialization have sped up production, shipping, and other processes that bring new styles to market, so much so that new fashions can hit shelves practically weekly. Hence, “fast fashion,” which encourages consumers to treat clothing as disposable.

The True Cost (2015) is an exploration of the causes and consequences of fast fashion in particular, and global capitalism in general. The film’s creators journeyed from Texas to the UK, from Bangladesh to Cambodia, from China to Haiti, and other places around the world. The film features interviews with experts from a multitude of fields, including ecofeminist Vandana Shiva, Free Market Institute director Benjamin Powell, physician Pritpal Singh, and animal rights activist and fashion designer Stella McCartney.

Perhaps most importantly, the film prominently features individuals struggling against the systemic problems associated with global capitalism in their own niches. Though they may be less famous in Western contexts, their stories are no less important. They help to shed light on the day-to-day consequences of the capitalist system, the ways in which seemingly disparate sectors are intrinsically connected within this system, and what individuals can do about it. Bangladeshi union leader Shima Akhter, American organic cotton farmer LaRhea Pepper, and Cambodian parliamentarian Mu Sochua are among these voices.

The True Cost takes a wide-lens view of the garment industry and the various economic pockets tied to it. I’ll discuss a few of the major themes that are the focus of this film here.

Agriculture

The huge growth seen in the fashion industry would not be possible without accompanying intensive industrialization of agriculture. As infrequently as we ponder the impact on garment workers as we shop for clothes, much less frequently do we think about farmers, who are one more step ‘removed’ from the final product. These industries appear disconnected to most of us, yet our constant consumption of “disposable clothing” would not be possible without industrialized agriculture. The industrialization of agriculture includes the mass use of herbicides, pesticides, and other agrochemicals that are not only dangerous for the natural world but also to human beings.

When her husband died of brain cancer, Texan LaRhea Pepper realized that organic farming isn’t just important, it is “imperative.” While she doesn’t have “a smoking gun” that directly connects the agrochemicals used on the farms surrounding her community to the many farmers she personally knows who have died from cancer, she has more than enough evidence to know that there is a dire need for organic farming techniques. She echoes ecofeminist Vandana Shiva’s sentiment that nature is the original economy, and when the land and waters suffers, humans suffer. Pepper says that we must “respect the life that’s in the land,” a lesson passed down to her in her farming family.

For farmers around the world, ‘modern’ agricultural products and techniques are tempting, despite the harm they can do to people and the environment. Yet it is a hard trap to escape from once signed onto, especially for farmers in “developing” countries, such as India. GMO cotton and other patented seeds have proven to be “ecological narcotics,” as Shiva calls them, because they require ever more chemicals (e.g. pesticides) to maintain their productivity. This in turn creates a dependency on GMO-patenting companies like Monsanto—which are the same companies producing agricultural chemicals. Even more disturbingly, Shiva asserts that the corporations selling carcinogenic farming chemicals are also investing in the development of cancer treatments and pharmaceuticals. In other words, these corporations benefit from causing, as well as treating, human ailments. It is easy to see that there is little incentive for this system to change itself, particularly when it prioritizes profit over human well-being.

Marketing

We think of propaganda “as a foreign thing,” says Mark Miller, professor of media studies at NYU, “but it’s actually as American as apple pie.” Advertising is essentially a form of propaganda that encourages us to buy stuff. Psychologist Tim Kasser has found that increases in materialistic values are associated with increases in anxiety and depression. After reviewing research on marketing, this is perhaps a predictable outcome of advertising that is designed to makes us feel insecure, incomplete, and incompetent—problems that can be ‘solved’ through the constant consumption of new products. Modern day marketing has become the art and science of what 19th century advertising copywriter Samuel Strausser called “consumptionism.” Miller explains that the logic of consumerism wants people “to treat the things we use as the things we use up.” This model is plainly unsustainable, but as economist Richard Wolff points out, American capitalism is treated as above criticism, regularly getting “a free pass” on its dysfunction.

Waste

Most of the waste we produce is non-biodegradable. In recent decades, a growing proportion of that waste is clothing. Increasingly, people think of fashion “as a disposable product,” according to journalist and True Cost producer Lucy Siegle. Many of us try to be more conscious of this, and believe we are doing good when we donate clothing to charity. But the “journey of a t-shirt donated to charity is unpalatable in itself,” says fashion designer Orsola de Castro. For example, almost 90% of the clothing we donate to local charities actually gets shipped to “developing” countries, such as Haiti. The unintended consequence of this is that it puts Haitian clothing manufacturers out of business, so there is less home-grown business and less local capital.

Consumer Capitalism as a Worldview

The True Cost creators interviewed Kate Ball-Young, a former sourcing manager for retail chain Joe Fresh, and in many ways her worldview neatly encapsulates the abstracted beliefs about globalization and capitalism held by most Americans today. Of garment factory workers, Ball-Young asserts that “they could be doing something much worse,” like coal-mining or something. She clearly has no idea just how hazardous garment manufacturing in countries like Cambodia, China, and Bangladesh truly is, both in the short and long-term. “There’s nothing intrinsically dangerous with selling clothes,” she says with a laugh. Perhaps that is true, but she appears to be disconnecting her own work from the very industry that provides her with a source of income in the first place. Ball-Young is emblematic of a Western mindset that as long as we can’t see where a thing came from, then we don’t need to ask hard ethical questions of ourselves, even when we sell or consume that thing.

For me, one of the most serious problems with this mindset is that we are not just cultivating an ignorance of where things come from, but indulging in a fantasy that real people did not create those things. Whether it is clothing or cars or food, we would much rather purchase and enjoy the end product guilt-free than contemplate the journey from field or mine to factory to storefront that a product must take. In doing so, we can overlook the human element of global capitalism—especially human suffering. Maybe we take it a step further by patting ourselves on the back for ‘supporting livelihoods’ overseas. Accompanying this belief is the attitude of TINA: “There Is No Alternative.” When we as consumers choose to believe that “there is no alternative” for the people producing our goods, we can excuse human rights violations, environmental devastation, and other associated problems because—well duh, what other choice do those people have? But what happens when we confront someone who believes this with, Well, aren’t we complicit in a system that has eliminated alternatives? We can’t abstract ourselves as individuals from these complex and interconnected systems in which we participate—and, frequently, which we benefit from. We must acknowledge that our choices as consumers has the power to perpetuate or alter these systems.

Some Criticism

As can be seen from this brief overview of a few of these major themes, the scope of the film is daunting. In its attempt to be accessible by not getting too deep with any one topic, The True Cost touches upon a variety of interconnected issues only superficially. This ends up becoming a core critique from film reviewers, such as Vanessa Friedman. In her New York Times review, she wrote of The True Cost’s director Andrew Morgan, “it’s hard not to feel in the end that he was overwhelmed by the scale of the problem. In trying to do everything, he skirted a lot of things, including acknowledging the shades of gray in this subject.”

Another shortcoming of this film is that it is not explicit enough in stating the disproportionate effect of exploitative industries like fast fashion on people of colour, most of all people of colour in the ‘Global South.’ To put it into perspective, (particularly white) Western consumers are exempt of accountability for their part in exploiting the time, health, and labor of people of colour in ‘distant lands.’ So while I commend the film for putting women of colour’s voices and experiences front and center, it cheats its own argument by shying away from the ways in which gender, race, and nationality play into global capitalism’s systemic violence. The film also does not in any way note how global capitalism is in part an expression of Western colonialism and imperialism, and how people of colour (especially women) continue to suffer the greatest burden of this legacy.

Finally, although there is some discussion of disability and mental health throughout the documentary, this is done without exploration of the experiences of people who are multiply marginalized. That is, the film’s creators do not flesh out the ramifications of living and working within an oppressive system that contributes to mental and physical disabilities disproportionately in communities of colour and in the ‘Global South.’ And where women of colour are place front and center to tell their own stories in their own voices, disabled people are not afforded this treatment. Rather, they are featured more as props backgrounding the ‘horrible’ stories of environmental contamination explicated by the director/narrator.

The Bottom Line

Nevertheless, for people who have never met a garment factory worker (let alone are friends with any), The True Cost may bring the human element of exploitative industries, like fast fashion, to the fore of their consciousness. Maybe they will start to pay more attention to workers’ struggles around the globe, including in places like Cambodia and Bangladesh. Maybe it will start to sink in how these systems do much for the West at the expense of the Global South, especially women of colour. Maybe they will start to see how our decision-making processes impact the direction industries take, and thus how we need to take responsibility for those decisions and their effects on our fellow Earthlings.

This documentary is best for people with limited knowledge of the themes it discusses, as it provides some solid, entry-level information. It’s a great starting point for getting a big-picture grasp of the abusive nature of global capitalism. From there, hopefully viewers will continue to more deeply educate themselves on these issues.

Here is some literature that might prove helpful for such continuing education on global capitalism, the interconnectedness of its systems, and how this impacts all of us:

And for those specifically interested in “buying better,” check out this page on the film’s site.

 

 

Eating Animals

C.J. Hunt, creator and host of the ‘documentary’ The Perfect Human Dietclaims to have “rediscovered” what human beings are intended to eat: meat. The documentary describes how he arrived at this conclusion after “a ten year global journey”, and the documentary website calls this conclusion the “solution to the number one killer in America”, meaning heart disease.

Hunt says that diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other nutritionally-derived health issues could be completely resolved by adopting a primarily meat-based diet. Before you protest that most Americans already have a meat-based diet, in fact we don’t: like most human beings around the world, we have a largely cereals-based diet. We get most of our calories from the carbohydrates in grains, be it bread in America or rice in Cambodia. I will agree with Hunt’s point that carbohydrates are bad for humans. We are simply not designed to efficiently process those kinds of nutrients. Aside from the health implications for individuals, further evidence for the detrimental impacts of agriculture can be found in abundance in Ishmael. But I digress…

According to Hunt, the “paleolithic diet” was composed primarily of meat. He calls humans huntinganatomically modern humans (AMH) “carnivorous”. While it is absolutely true that many hunter-gatherer societies ate primarily meat, it is certainly not a prerequisite for being AMH, and meat made up half (or less than half) of many other societies’ diets, who focused more on seed, nuts, etc. What they all had in common was that they were omnivorous; it is unlikely that humans would have survived long if they’d depended solely on meat (or solely on any one thing), and the diversity of the early human diet is confirmed even by one of the anthropologists whom Hunt interviews. This is another fact of our modern diet: it seriously lacks diversity.

Hunt takes as evidence for humans’ naturally carnivorous nature the hunter-gatherer humans and Neanderthals of Stone Age Europe. There appears to be good evidence* that these people consumed a lot of meat; for much of the year, vegetation would have been scarce, so their very survival would have probably meant a dependency on animals. (The Neanderthal diet of that time seems to be more understood than the AMH diet of that time. For instance, there is confusion about what other sources of food AMHs were getting during the cold winter months if they could not store food.) However, remember that data derived from isotopic analysis can’t tell us precisely how much of their diet was meat, just that most of their dietary protein was coming from animals: “Isotopic analysis provides information about the sources of dietary protein over a number of years, even though it does not measure the caloric contributions of different foods.”

Taking the diet of AMHs of Stone Age Europe as our baseline of what the “paleolithic diet” of hunter-gatherers was like is not only racist but probably inaccurate. Hunter-gatherer societies around the world vary greatly in terms of the types and quantity of animal protein they consume(d), but Hunt chooses to universalize these particular AMH and Neanderthal diets (which also were not identical, by any means) as “normal” paleolithic diets. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, given that Privileged White Man Claims to Embark on Global Journey, Goes Only to North America, Europe and Australia. *facepalm*

It might also be interesting to note that most early human ancestors ate almost nothing but plant matter. This is several millions of years, as opposed to the 1.5 million years that we have (we think) definitely been eating meat in any quantity.

One more issue with Hunt’s assumption that the European AMH diet is some kind of “gold standard” for paleolithic diets: Hunt takes the comments of various anthropologists and archaeologists out of context to support his image of the Perfect Human Diet as one centered primarily (or even entirely) around meat. Vegetation, fruits, and nuts are thrown in as an afterthought, and aren’t really discussed by Hunt, at all. Part of this seems to be a reaction to the “low-carb” fad of weight-loss diets. For Hunt, protein is what should replace carbohydrates. Why does “low-carb” equate to “high protein”? (I suspect there is an argument to be made here regarding animal protein consumption and masculinity, but I’m not going to go there.)

Despite some of the obvious holes and inconsistencies in Hunt’s argument, I tried to entertain the thought of everyone assuming such a diet. After all, many people think avoiding meat altogether is equally (or even more) wacky. However, it doesn’t take much consideration to decide that more humans eating more meat is a bad idea, if not for the individual then most definitely for humans as a species as well as for the planet.

As things stand, livestock-related emissions contribute 14.5% to GHG emissions each year, which is only going to continue to increase as countries like China (sorry China, you always get blamed– I’m not blaming you, you just have a lot of people, but we’re still friends!) continue to consume more meat. Consider this: per capita, only Luxembourg eats more meat than the United States (figures courtesy of The Economist). So even though China on the whole eats twice the amount of meat as the U.S., the average American citizen still eats more than twice the amount of meat as the average Chinese citizen.

Consider how things will change as China and the rest of the world eat ever more meat (for which we will have only ourselves to blame as we promote a capitalist American lifestyle throughout the world). Consider how things might look if Americans decided to focus their diet even more on meat, and if the rest of the world began to follow suit. I have a feeling that greenhouse gas emissions from livestock would suddenly come to the forefront of the discussion on climate change.

Finally, in response to the paleolithic diet fad, I appreciate this comment from Scientific American: “Ultimately—regardless of one’s intentions—the Paleo diet is founded more on privilege than on logic. Hunter–gatherers in the Paleolithic hunted and gathered because they had to. Paleo dieters attempt to eat like hunter–gatherers because they want to.” Given that this documentary was created by a man at the top his “foodchain”, it makes sense that privilege is a central factor in this “logic”.

Thoughts on this??

 

 

*This book is downloadable for free! Pretty cool! Also, one of the co-authors of this book appears to be the same Michael Richards interviewed by Hunt for his documentary. But, if you wanted to explore that source more deeply for yourself, here it is.

The End of Men = Patriarchy is Dead

It seems rather questionable when white people* say America is a post-racial society, when rich people claim that class is non-existent, or when a wealthy, educated and otherwise privileged person claims that “the patriarchy is dead”.

I was disappointed to read those very words on Hanna Rosin’s Slate column, though I’m not sure how surprised I should be. Rosin’s book The End of Men never insisted that the “end” of men equated to the end of patriarchy. In fact, she didn’t talk overmuch about patriarchy. This was an oversight, I think. Her case studies and statistics did not so much translate as a transition away from patriarchal worldview– not in the least. But actually women can and are adopting and exerting patriarchal values to a much greater degree than ever before. The end of men is hardly the end of patriarchy, when women are adapting to a new environment of greater freedoms and more opportunities. If this sounds like a good thing, let’s clarify that patriarchy functions on principles of inequality and oppression. The really new thing that Rosin’s book captures is women’s transition from mainly the Oppressed to now being Oppressors, themselves.

If inequality and oppression ceased to exist, then we could declare, “patriarchy is dead!” And we could throw a big party.

This pronouncement from Rosin would imply that she doesn’t know what patriarchy is. But wait! “I suppose the patriarchy was lurking somewhere in my subconscious, tricking me into believing that it was more my duty to stay home with our new baby than my husband’s,” she writes. Hmm, maybe she kind of gets it… “But I didn’t see it as a “duty.” I wanted to stay home with her, and I also wanted to work like a fiend. It was complicated and confusing, a combination of my personal choices, the realities of a deadline-driven newsroom, and the lack of a broader infrastructure to support working parents—certainly too complicated to pin on a single enemy.” Oh boy. Seems like she’s not ready to admit that she is not conscious of her acculturation into a patriarchal worldview, a lifelong process. This would include her apparent belief that careers cannot or should not accommodate women (or men?) who want children/want to spend time with their children. She seems unconscious of the effects of the inequality induced by patriarchal values even as she reports on them:

“…many of those women who pick up [my] trash yearn to bring back at least some aspects of the patriarchy. They generally appreciate their new economic independence and feel pride at holding their families together, at working and studying and doing things on their own, but sometimes they long to have a man around who would pay the bills and take care of them and make a life for them in which they could work less.” Would they still feel that way if they made a living wage, got paid maternity leave– Rosin’s idea!–, had reasonable working hours and paid vacation?

This was a deflective response Rosin gave to someone who questioned her about the choices of the “woman who picks up your trash after you leave at five.” Rosin scoffed this off as an “irrational attachment to the concept of unfair”.  She must have been asking herself the question, Isn’t this why some women desire the return of certain patriarchal values? when the question she should have asked was, Why doesn’t this woman have the opportunity to get a different, more self-fulfilling job? (Unless, by chance, that particular woman finds cleaning up the trash of others to be meaningful and fulfilling.) She could also have asked, Why is the woman’s husband out of work when he, too, could be picking up trash? Perhaps that job is beneath his perception of himself? But that couldn’t be possible, since patriarchy is dead…

And a word about this whole irrationally-attached-to-unfair bit: when the privileged, wealthy, highly “educated” career-mom with the supportive husband (who also happens to be her boss) tsk tsks someone for complaining that sociocultural realities that are so far removed from her own are unfair, is she really in a position to be like “Oh, stop obsessing already, would you?” (No. No she’s not.)

She also cites growing numbers of single mothers as evidence that women are less “beleaguered”. That seems quite simplistic, and she does say she isn’t sure if this should be taken as “feminist progress”. What does it say of a society that vast numbers of women would rather be on their own than attempt to negotiate a traditionally patriarchal institution like marriage? Could it imply that women are fed up with attempting to wrest control from husbands? This should not necessarily be seen as a step towards equality.

One could simply cite case studies and figures about women in government, gendered violence, the existence of practices like dieting to be ultra thin or getting cosmetic surgery done, double standards for women in academics, politics, the family, careers, and so on (and this is only with America in mind!). I have a feeling that Rosin would dismiss these, too, as “irrational”; are we just obsessed with the notion of our own oppression? Will feminists be out of a job if there is no oppression? Please, I invite you to put us out of a job.

What I think Rosin fails to understand is that the oppression doesn’t work unless the oppressed party believes, at least to some degree, in their own inferiority. Oppression is reinforced through education and socialization, and if that fails, social stigma, and if that fails, violence. Rinse, wash, repeat as needed. Over time, these practices become normalized.

Just because inequality, oppression, or violence are normalized does not make them right. This was Dickens’ argument against the Victorian idea that poor people were poor and rich people rich because God made them as such; poor people could not help their lazy, immoral, deviant nature. Similarly, just because the woman who picks up Rosin’s trash in her office at Slate has any job, at all, does not mean that she is fulfilled and satisfied as a human being, and doesn’t have the right to question or complain about the mechanisms that have landed her there.

Rosin seems to have discounted classism and racism in her assessment that Patriarchy is Dead. Er, sorry, “the Patriarchy.” She still seems to think that The Patriarchy is some identifiable, yet amorphous, entity, perhaps “the enemy” she mentioned before, whose sole goal is to Oppress Womyn. She detaches race and class dynamics by centering on gender. She doesn’t seem to understand that when she makes such remarks like u r so lame when u talk about unfair, she is patriarchy. And she benefits directly from it, even as she is a victim of it. Her oppression (such as having to choose between a fulfilling career and being close with her children) must be very normalized that she doesn’t see an alternative to it. Rather than believing societal norms could change to improve her life circumstances (providing daycare services at the workplace, for example, so she can spend extra time with them if she wants to), she seems to see as immutable truths some aspects of mainstream American [gendered] culture. On some level, perhaps she believes that she is undeserving, choosing not to confront what are for many American women questions of “conflicting” desires– which might serve as a basis for empathizing with all those she deems to be preoccupied with “unfair”.

I really want to like you, Hanna Rosin. Better be careful, before you go the way of Naomi Wolf.

 

*Really anybody, but especially the dominant ethnic group.

Beautiful [and Nauseating] Creatures

‘Tis true that good movies are hard to come by in Cambodian cinemas, but that doesn’t stop me from going most every Sunday. Now that I can (mostly) afford it, I will shell out to see films I would never have considered back home. I’d have probably preferred a sharp stick in the eye to Beautiful Creatures, for example. But these are desperate times I live in.

Having read an interview with the authors of the B.C. series some time ago, I was looking forward to seeing if their ambitions with an anti-Bella female protagonist would translate in the films. Well, shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up. I haven’t read the books, so maybe I’m giving the authors too much credit as it is, but the movie’s version of the protagonist Lena wasn’t exactly light years ahead of Twilight’s Bella.

It was sort of refreshing to see the female protagonist fanning her lover after he had swooned, and to see him in awe of her magical powers. (Sort of interesting, too, was that this witch story was set in a very Christian town in the South.) The pluses basically end there. The film (and books, presumably) focus on the boy’s perspective, which is all well and good except that Lena remains bland and personality-less. And for whatever reason, female witches, though not male ones, can’t control whether or not their “true nature” is ultimately good or evil. Unlike boy witches, their fate is predetermined and revealed on their 16th birthday when they become “a woman”. This is a form of ageism that I particularly despise, but I guess they can’t be blamed for using it, how else would this story have worked?

A much bigger hitch, though, was that this movie is a carbon copy of almost all the “romantic” movies I’ve seen in the past couple years. Yes, I’m desperate, I’ll see just about anything in the Kingdom because I love the Big Screen experience, but if I have to watch one more moody, melodramatic, I’m-pushing-you-away-but-don’t-leave-me-I-can’t-live-without-you teenage love story I am going to punch out the nearest theater steward.

On the same note, I can no longer stand overly long make-out scenes, with which B.C. was rife. Sex scenes are always a bore, but I actually prefer them to make-out scenes now because they take up fewer minutes of my movie-viewing time.

I get it: these movies are made for teenagers. But cartoons like Toy Story and Up were supposedly made for children, and people of all ages can enjoy them. Is it impossible for Hollywood to make a movie about teenagers that isn’t just for teenagers? I am quite sure there are plenty of teenagers who are bored by that crap, too.

Are movies like this still being made because there is genuine demand for them, or are they made to perpetuate certain cliches upon which so many high-grossing films are made and about which books and movies are quickly and easily produced? Are we really interested in buying this crap, or is the movie (and book) industry just that good at convincing us we are?

(On a more personal note: is the fact that these movies make me nauseous a sign that I am maturing into a real, live adult? Maybe that’s a bit optimistic…)

The End of Men (…or not.)

A friend got me Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men a couple of months ago (thanks, E!); here (at last) is a review.

Rosin’s book has a rather pejorative title, no? But don’t fear, penis-bearers, she doesn’t intend it in as antagonistic a manner as it sounds. Rather, this book could serve as a warning for those stuck in antediluvian concepts of gender, family, and work. The most pitiful “characters” in TEoM are those guys who have lost– wives, jobs, hope for the furture– because they refused to adapt to a new and different kind of gendered environment.

Rosin suggests that there is a shift taking place in American society, one that finally puts ‘feminine’ concepts in a positive light, particularly in the workplace. It would behoove men, she says, to adopt more traditionally (and stereotypically)-feminine traits and qualities in order to move ahead in the workplace, as their traditionally-masculine traits and qualities are no longer so beneficial– and, indeed, may be hindering them.

She points to this shift as the reason for Women’s Rise, which presumably means more money-making and keeping capacity, and associated benefits: more power in family decision-making, higher status in the sociocultural realm. I enjoyed her in-depth analysis and interviews of women in managerial positions, as well as her observations of women on other up-and-coming career paths, like the pharmacy business.

The most important and provoking lesson that I took from this book, though, is that this may be the End of Men, but it is certainly not the End of Patriarchy: I was struck by how patriarchal the “successful” women featured in this book truly were. Their competitiveness, desire to achieve status and status-lending commodities, aggression and even violence– yes, women of the past were “kept down” by the Patriachy, but our liberation from It does not signal the demise of It. No, we have only obtained more power to participate in the system in a different way… And participate we do.

Nor does the End of Men free women from the oppression of Patriarchy, as the “career women” feature in Rosin’s book still very much adhere to culturally-dictated norms of sexuality and gender.

Nevertheless, TEoM provides hope, too– for women, and for men. It’s a fast read and inspires fun discussion; read it!

Prometheus (review)

I’ve had a long hiatus, I realize. Several reasons for that, but in the meantime I have been doing something. Perhaps not much of merit, but anyways… Here’s a brief critique of Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s latest film.

Plot spoilers follow.

via Rotten Tomatoes

A deep-space vessel millions of light years from Earth stops on an uncharted satellite to search for something of imminent value to humankind. Our protagonist is the leader of a crew of scientists, a spunky, strong-willed brunette, attractive, with a dazzling IQ to boot. If this sounds like a new spin on Alien, I’d have to agree. Just the first of many gripes I have about this film.

Aside from the distracting scientific improbabilities of this Ridley Scott film, there are a myriad other reasons why Prometheus leaves one feeling dissatisfied at the end. It plays on an all-too-familiar sci-fi trope of old rich white dude wants something fantastic (in this case, eternal life), hires a team of scientists to take him beyond the unknown to get it, and disaster strikes in predictable fashion.

In that sense, Prometheus has done nothing new. But like basically every Coldplay album, Ridley Scott films abide by a simple principle: if it’s a good trope, keep reusing it. I can live with that, except that he doesn’t bother to shake up the ingredients. It’s as if this movie were made in the same era as Alien: predominantly white cast, stereotyped female characters (apparently to counterbalance the protagonist?), and a plot based in the mythos of Patriarchy.

The only non-white characters are three crew members who hardly leave the ship. Only the captain (Idris Elba) has any amount of lines, and lucky him, he’s given the ones that reveal Scott has not much advanced his thinking on female characters. Charlize Theron is wasted as an increasingly disinteresting overseer, hypercompetitive and determined in a way that is quickly undermined by the captain. After trying to pick her up, he says she must be a robot for refusing him– which apparently gets under her skin enough that she obliges him: “My room. Ten minutes.” I didn’t watch this in the theater, but I’m guessing that part was supposed to elicit a laugh.

That is what it is; the truly bothersome part of this film is that the alien beings from whom we are supposedly descended (they having been to Earth many times over the past millenia, disseminating their advanced DNA) are all Caucasian and all male. Whaaaaaat? I was following until that point. Sometimes it just jumps out at you, how in love with itself the Patriarchy is… Mankind was born of the DNA of a superior, male-dominated (perhaps exclusively male) alien race whose individuals look like giant Klan members. So much for modern anthropology’s out-of-Africa theory…

I love sci-fi, and I am more than willing to entertain far-flung absurdities for the sake of a good story. But you can’t have both a tired trope and a unrealistic plot that doesn’t even have imaginative appeal. Good-night

Better Late Than Never

The media seems to have taken more of an interest (pinterest?) in women lately. And not in the usual fashion, so to speak, but quite a bit more seriously. You know, as if we’re…people. Maybe that’s because much of this media is being produced by women of consciousness, but it has to get through their mostly male bosses at the end of the day– but not at Foreign Policy magazine. I want to take a minute and applaud FP for their May/June issue, The Sex Issue. They are talking about pertinent issues which other media outlets seemed hellbent on ignoring, despite the fact that they impact half the world’s population.

The Sex Issue features 9 illuminating posts, many of them written or co-written by women journalists, covering issues from sex-selective abortion to the dire lack of women in politics to state (and state-sanctioned) violence against women.

Is that soldier about to stomp on that person…? Why, yes, I do believe he is.

The cover story is Mona Eltahawy’s “Why Do They Hate Us?”, which discusses in detail the “real” war on women taking place in the “Middle East”. I’m not one to belittle the plight of rape survivors in the “West” as not as serious as Saudi Arabian women’s inability to drive, or the rape of Egyptian women by security forces during Egypt’s revolutions (as Eltahawy was), but despite the overly simplistic subtitle, I very much appreciate Mona’s starkly honest article. No one can ignore the severely oppressive state to which many Arab women are subjected after she details examples of human rights abuses against women in Egypt, Saudi Arabi, Yemen, and other countries. But it is not so much the social, political, religious, and physical abuses that really got to me… Female oppression extends into, or more likely stems from, an all-pervasive psychological oppression.

“Saudi women far outnumber their male counterparts on university campuses but are reduced to watching men far less qualified control every aspect of their lives.”

That entire populations of women live in a virtual slave state, and that no one bothers to do anything about it, freaks me out. Revolution has brought freedom to Libya and Egypt…for individuals with testicles. We talk about the Muslim Brotherhood as if it is a legitimate political entity, and they conduct their human rights violations (such as female genital cutting as a means to maintain female piety) under the banner of Culture. For so long “Culture” has ruled. It’s time to tear the throne of Culture down, or as Mona sums,

“Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips.”

Articles, indeed entire magazine issues, of this nature are long overdue. I sort of involuntarily rolled my eyes when I saw this issue in a local bookstore, thinking, “Way to jump on the bandwagon, people…” But then I caught myself. There really isn’t a bandwagon. It’s still basically unfashionable to complain about the subhuman status of half the Earth’s humans in 2012. But this will not always be so, and so better late than never or not, I say to FP: thank you, and keep them coming.

The Means of Reproduction (a review)

This is a review of The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World by Michelle Goldberg (2009).

Reading The Means was a lesson in self-discipline. At times, I was filled with elation and I wanted to run around and jump up and down for the energy it gave me. At other times, I was so frustrated or angry that it was all I could do not to launch the book (which I’d borrowed) across the room at the far wall; “Just take a breath and set the book down…” I would tell this part of myself, and give myself a minute to do something detached. For as sharp and lucid as Goldberg’s writing was a certain parts that could induce such feelings, the overall message of her book put those parts into a deeper, broader, more meaningful context. To that end, she’s a great, readable writer and even if you’re not deeply invested in the “big ideas” of the book, I’d still recommend it if you’re into well-crafted non-fiction prose.

What are the big ideas of this book, anyhow? (From this point on, there will probably be some “plot spoilers”, just to warn you.) That somewhat anthropocentric part of the subtitle, “the Future of the World”, nicely sums one recurring theme: human population on Earth. Perhaps it would be better to say “the Future of the World as We Know It”, but the discussion of population and demography is one which Goldberg examines and dismantles from every angle, from the ironically “anti-imperialist” far right of religious and political America and their far left counterparts, to the Cold War-era voices of Malthusian pushers of the “population bomb” theory.

Another major focus of Goldberg’s admirably well-researched work is the history and development of women’s rights and feminism in the global scheme. I admit to being woefully ignorant of women’s movements in places outside of my immediate experience (i.e. “the West”); Goldberg’s deep research and firsthand accounts of conversations with the major players in the international women’s movement is a crash course in the evolution of perspectives and strategies within that movement.

Another crucial motif is Goldberg’s analysis of “culture versus human rights”. This is an issue with which I have struggled for some time, especially coming out of school with a degree in anthropology (cultural relativism lalala). How can one objectively view the contentious, often incompatible relationship between the relativity of cultural views/values and the fundamental rights of the individual? I felt betrayed when it at first appeared that Goldberg was lending credit to the notion of culture trumping human rights– but that is why one must read this book from beginning to end. The careful examination Goldberg gives to all sides of this argument is edifying and elucidating.

Perhaps the most important theme is that which sums the elements of the subtitle; many, many aspects of this book come down to control, particularly control of female bodies. When put that way, it may sound horrific (what are women– cattle for breeding? Indeed, perhaps…), but the implications go far beyond an individual’s choice to have children, to control of our own persons. The author slowly but clearly builds on this picture, awakening us to the very real and imminent connections between our persons and our collective sustainability within our environments. She manifests some realizations that are impossible to ignore, my favourite of which is this: empowering women (i.e. recognizing women’s rights as human rights) is good for everybody– is good for Earth. (I’m tempted to plot-spoil on this, because it’s such a fantastic point, but because the entirety of Goldberg’s research gradually unfolds this point, I won’t ruin the pleasure of discovering her profound conclusion– you will just have to read it for yourself!)

The struggle between the religious right and more secular liberals is one that overwhelms much of this book (indeed, I think at the loss of including other perspectives on women’s rights, including environmentalists’ thoughts on the matter). As they are the major shapers of rights and policies which directly impact people’s lives, it makes sense that she makes this conflict a central focus. In that sense, we get to see the very irritating, very hypocritical ideology of the religious right at work in international politics: their arguments against women’s reproductive rights often assert that the liberalists’ agenda is merely neocolonialism in disguise, motivated purely by the desire to control the “under-developed” world. They frequently voice their concerns that liberal international (human rights) policies disrespect and undermine a culture’s autonomy– which certainly looks like imperialism. What those same religious bodies never admit is that their colonialism has been attempting to alter and “purify” cultures for millennia (Christian missionaries, Islamic jihad, say what?). Is their denial of the neocolonialism within their own agenda willful ignorance, or do they simply define “culture” and “colonialism” in ways that best suit their own (patriarchal) interests?

Going all with this, something that makes The Means very difficult to digest is that Goldberg pulls no punches when analyzing all sides of an argument. That means we have to hear some hurtful, angering, at times shocking “logic” from some truly misogynist, racist, or nationalistic individuals and organizations. Whether you believe in hearing all sides of a debate because you believe in critical thinking or simply because you want to “know thy enemy”, this aspect of the book often clouds impartiality as it strikes powerful emotional nerves (not Goldberg’s fault, but the partiality of the reader). Take, for instance, the Uganda parliamentary representative who wanted to deny a spouse’s right to not have sex: “Refusing to have sex is the most violent thing a spouse can do” (p. 10). I still haven’t wrapped my head around that one. Or the fact that the world still takes seriously people like Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who supports spousal abuse and execution of sodomites, though as to the former, “men should beat their wives lightly, and only as a last resort” (p.164). Or take the blatant 1970s sexism of American employers: “You’ll just work with us for a year or two and then you’ll go and have babies” (p. 69)– for, as we all know, maternity and careers are mutually exclusive. Or, in examination of women’s rights in northern India, “To be frank, [a woman] is never consulted whether she will go to bed with [a] man. So there is no freedom of decision” (p. 191). The Means is full of perspectives that are difficult to digest, but they also give a pluralistic view of how humanity sees women– the “point” of women, especially.

That “purpose”, actually, does lend hope in the end. This aspect of Goldberg’s work is neatly summed in this, one of my favourite quotes: “Such religious rivalries, however, masked an equally important polarization, both inside of countries and among them, between secular, liberalizing cultures and traditional, patriarchal ones. One saw women as ends in themselves, human beings with dignity and autonomy. The other treated them as the means of group cohesion and identity whose primary value lay in their relation to men” (p. 169).

A hard-to-swallow issue that, unsurprisingly, surfaces constantly in this book is female participation in and acceptance and perpetuation of hierarchy in general and Patriarchy in specific. Whether it manifests as promotion of female genital cutting (or, as some prefer to call it, female genital mutilation) as initiation into matriarchy (which is only endowed with authority through its position in the larger system of Patriarchy), or the devaluation of female life as seen in many Hindu women’s choices to terminate female pregnancy (sex selective abortion). Why is it necessary to cut off one’s clitoris (or more) in order to gain respect and a measure of autonomy? Why should one accept condemnation because one cannot “produce” a son (which, it is the sperm, by the way, that determines “sex”)? But more generally, why do we acknowledge and abide by the authority of these automatons when they directly violate our rights as individuals? As individuals we function inside of a larger collective, that which most people label as “our culture”, but why does that equate to the forfeit of personal agency? Why should we not actively, consciously seek to transform culture in ways that reflect on, examine, recognize, promote, and celebrate human rights– holistically and collectively?

For me, this book comes down to two things, which are intrinsically connected: the dismantlement of hierarchy, and the prioritizing of human rights over culture. What is manifest again and again in The Means is that hierarchy hurts the vast majority of the world’s people, whether it comes in the form of Patriarchy, the caste system, or capitalist economic dominance (and truly they are all very much interconnected), true fulfillment of human rights is simply impossible within a hierarchical context (unless, of course, one rejects equality as a fundamental, indeed prerequisite, element of human rights).

The dawning realization is that “culture and tradition is not a monolith” (p. 195); culture, as anthropologists have long droned, is dynamic. It is forever changing, evolving moment to moment, sometimes subtly, sometimes drastically, at times subconsciously and at other times with human imperatives hugely present. This issue, in my opinion, is one that has been growing more and more salient on the world stage. Maybe the major question every human individual needs to decide is “when culture and human rights collide, which should prevail, and who gets to decide?” (p.104). Traditionalists often cite identity, autonomy, and sheer reverence as reasons for the reactionary approach to culture, but to do so is to maintain harmful systems of hierarchy. That is one reason why I so appreciate the perspective of Agnes Pareyio, whom Goldberg interviews at length: “[Pareyio] wants Masai culture to change to embrace strong, educated girls” (p. 147). Pareyio’s ideas can and should be debated by individuals and groups of people, and globalization has made this somewhat unavoidable anyhow. This is an idea which the themes in Goldberg’s book foreground not only through her analysis of worldwide trends, but also through the relation of individuals’ experiences. It is time for humanity to move out of the age of the Cultural Mandate, and for each of us as individuals to engage in the study, shaping, and reshaping of culture, beginning with a collective redefining of cultural values.

Emergency Sex (a guest review)

The following is a guest post from Ellen Ripley of photography fame which reviews the Cambodia-related sections of Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures: A True Story from Hell on Earth.

I was excited to see a book on Amazon about the shortcomings of development in Cambodia as told through the personal experiences of developers, only to be sorely disappointed by what I will refer to as U.N propaganda. This book has sections on countries besides Cambodia, but this review will focus solely on the accounts of the authors on their U.N work for Cambodia’s 1993 national elections.

This book starts out similar to a lot of stories: a bunch of 20-somethings trying to find their place after college or to start some kind of career where it seems like they’re stuck beating their heads against the wall. Anyway, with limited opportunities and intimate struggles, each of the people in this book apply to work for the U.N and end up in Cambodia.

Firstly, the way the authors immediately jump into what is missing in Cambodia bothers me; perhaps because of what’s missing they quickly seek to stay at the “IT” house in the capital of Phnom Penh. Why is it considered the “it” house, you’re wondering? Because that’s where all the cool expats and U.N workers party. Why does this mentality annoy me? Simple: they were put in this country to help the people but each one of them actually seeks out the chance to disassociate themselves from Cambodian people. I still see this today among NGO and U.N workers; it makes it hard to believe that they are here to help others and not themselves.

The other interesting thing about this “it” house is they are so proud of the “diversity” of its residents: people from many different backgrounds and ethnicities, etc. But guess what is strangely missing from the mix (which wouldn’t be hard to find): a Cambodian. This book clearly makes Cambodians into the outsiders, the Other.

I should specify that one author is different in this regards. Andrew, who built himself a house and lives on the outskirts of the city, has been here since war ceased as a doctor. He’s the only one who has attempted to pick up the language and has an interest in working to help this country.

Before I embark on the chapters of this book and how little I actually learned (other than that the world of development work has not changed) I will talk about the shortcomings of the U.N program for the election in Cambodia.

From the outset, this mission did not begin out of the goodness of the U.N’s heart. It did not want to spend $2 billion on making Cambodia into a democracy. But with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the declaration that the Cold War was over came the idea of a New World Order and how through this globalized society we will all be free, blah blah. Naturally, all the big wigs sat around and came up with their great plan to prove to the world how things were going to be different, but in order to do that they needed to pick a puppet to demonstrate that possibility. If they could make Cambodia into a democracy, they could help any country make the switch, right? Obviously, because becoming a democratic state is like some sort of math problem wherein there is a set formula. Never mind that Cambodia had just come out of a genocide where the ruling government had led that genocide and now they were supposed to count on said government to help Cambodians– that’s sort of an issue in itself. Then to not remotely understand how the previous dictator Pol Pot enforced lessons on the “right idea” behind politics though education…It may come as a big shock to you, but guess how the U.N went about teaching the Cambodian people about democracy? Through education at wats and schools, without a hint of irony.

Needless to say, the Cambodian people were greatly changed by the genocide, during which time they were forced to agree with whatever they were taught or else it would equal death.

Never the less, when the U.N went on with their education plan, they could not figure out why the people always agreed with whatever they said (e.g. yes, they felt safe voting in the new elections) but then UN workers would find out through the grapevine that people actually didn’t trust the elections. In fact, some people believed satellites could watch them voting and thus the government would get even with them. Maybe this all seems extremely far-fetched to you or me, but to a person who has seen crazier things (and not to mention had a king who was always telling them that the CIA had been watching him and wanted to overthrow him) it’s pretty plausible. Let’s be honest, none of us know what Nixon did to level the war in Vietnam, anyway.

Next was the hiring of all these peacekeepers and UN workers who I’d have thought, to be given a mission like creating a new democracy, would have be pretty well-qualified right? Yeah, not the case. The main people in this book prove this by showing just how easy it was for them to sign up. Yet it gets worse than some lost souls in their 20s– to putting downright criminals in charge. Apparently once the Wall fell down, Bulgaria desperately needed U.N assistance. Nothing is free, of course, so in exchange they were supposed to give the UN some “peacekeepers”. The Bulgarians instead made their own version of the deal with their own people, which resulted in Bulgaria giving the UN people who were criminals or insane. If said “peacekeepers” served the UN well then they would be given a free pass when they got back. This was well-known by everyone at the time. It’s an ongoing joke in Cambodia that the only thing the UN gave this country was AIDs; these criminals were known for rape, buying prostitutes, etc. Shocker, I know, yet these people also had the peace and safety of Cambodia in their hands as well. So what about the 20-something UN workers?

Heidi, the sole female perspective in the book, is from New York, and starts off with how crappy her life is: being poor and not pretty enough. At first I found her relatable, which it is always egotistical of a reader to think that they could be that person, but hey, I’ll admit it, I did. With her experience in social work and understanding what it feels like to be hard-pressed for money, one would think she would understand how a Cambodian would feel and better relate to them. That’s not the case, however; she lets her new salary and the low cost of living in Cambodia go to her head and soon she becomes like the person she once worshipped walking down Madison Ave. She does not even try to make herself an equal in Cambodia; she talks about her trip to Kampong Salm, the beach, how she was able to order everything on the menu, and how the Khmer women came out to serve her friends and herself with out thinking about how that whole situation looked or how the Khmer women felt. She participates in this hierarchy which she helps to create, and in the process makes the people she’s there to help her slaves. As far as any insight on Cambodia, it’s all blocked out by her worrying constantly what people think of her and whether or not she is good enough to be around these lawyers and other UN workers. She views the UN system and its people as ideal; she does not once talk about the system in another way, as one might hope when talking about a “true story of hell on earth”. Instead she talks about her own personal growth, and worse yet views all their efforts as successful– meaning Cambodia’s elections were successful and now has a functioning democracy. This book was published in 2003, so there is no excuse: we’ve seen the results of the UN’s efforts to create a “democracy” here.

The reason I can’t finish this book is the blatant lie that the elections were a success. Back in ’93 people did die; there was political outrage in the streets because the winner was being denied the right to rule. Hun Sen, Cambodia’s ruler at the time, would not step down. Instead there had to be an agreement on shared power between him and the fairly-elected leader. To me that’s a fail. So now thanks to this book I do understand something about why Hun Sen will never be thrown out of power– to do so would show the world that nothing has actually changed since the end of the Cold War, and how the UN failed so they just let their pseudo-democratic system stay put rather than actually fixing it.

Another UN worker in the book was Ken, the misogynist asshole. Why he got under my skin with his sexist undertones is simple: he went to a poor country only prove his masculinity and to prove to the world that he is different from what he refers to as a polka-dot-tied lawyer. He objectifies women and flaunts his masculinity throughout most of the book. When he first gets to the party house, he has to go over the physical appearance of Chloe, the house owner. He is taken by her quick disinterest in him. After all, who would not be taken with him? It’s difficult to handle his type of personality in the sense that here is this guy who is hired to promote world peace and democracy but does not even see how his ideas behind what makes him awesome as a man and all females should recognize this does just the opposite of promoting peace and equality. Some excerpts from the book of things he talks about: someone living in the “it” house has a friend who dies, and he is crying. Ken’s reaction to this is to promise himself he will never cry like that because it isn’t masculine. In another instance, Andrew is someone all of them look up to as he has his shit together and does not put up with the corruption and things most people put up with, so in this regard Ken views him as an ideal and wants to impress him that he is just as good. So to gain some bro power he signs up to go out into the provinces, where upon he comes into contact with those pesky Belgian criminals– I mean, UN peacekeepers– who put him in danger and later that night they get ambushed by the Khmer Rouge guerrillas that are still living in the countryside. Needless to say he does not handle this in the masculine way he thought he would and ends up at some UN building for protection. This might explain why he never talks his masculine dominance again, because in fact he had to come to terms with his lack of dominance.

Now let’s move up to the roof of one of these famous parties where Ken has now decided he thinks Heidi is not what he had taken her for at first glance, but describes her as having “big green eyes with short hair, but not butchy-short, still feminine”. Just then he sees Andrew and wants to talk to him, but “Andrew would never take [him] seriously if [he] was seen standing next to Heidi.” Interestingly, Andrew only approaches them because he wants to talk to Heidi, not Ken. Nevertheless, because Ken has let her know what he thinks of her, Heidi seems to feel that Andrew wouldn’t want to associate with the likes of her, since she is of “below-average intelligence.”

On election day, Ken sees a 7 year old girl holding a naked baby, which prompts him to talk about how he wants a kid– but not just any kid, but one that holds a naked baby and never complains about it. He likes the fact he sees this poor 7 year old girl in a submissive role, being taught by society to keep quiet, and he, himself, yearns to have a submissive female of his own.

After the election, he proudly states for the reader that 90 percent of Cambodians voted, but of course doesn’t say how meaningless this is in the face of a leader who refuses to give up power. He leaves us with this advice that he feels he gained for the good Dr. Andrew: “The larger the threat, the more profound the doubts, the deeper you have to dig for faith and CONQUER fear”. Most of his words throughout the book are similar; it’s all about beating and defeating, and little talk is ever focused on the human involvement aspect. It makes me sad to think that he went on a did more “humanitarian work”, and gets to be somebody who is “solving” world problems and fighting for justice and equality. He also never admits that this hell on earth was really a rich paradise for him, and does not seem to see the issues with the job he was doing. Rather, he is bold enough to brag about the supposed success of a truly failed election.

Review by Ellen Ripley.