Opinion and Free Speech: Not a One Way Street

It’s been more than five years since I realized I couldn’t rely on sites like Rotten Tomatoes for all of my reviews. I would come across films where I disagreed with their rating, and like many people don’t seem to realize, the site is only an aggregate. It is a percentage of how many people give the film a favourable rating (good vs bad). 97% on Rotten Tomatoes does not mean it is 97/100. It means that 97% of critics decided the film falls on the good side of films, instead of the bad. It became necessary to pick specific reviewers I liked. Since I spent a lot of time on YouTube back then, I flocked to YouTube reviewers since they often provided concise reviews that focused on the aspects of a film that are most important to me; the performances and the story.

It was around this time I came across Jeremy Jahns. His videos were well-edited, his reviews were articulate and concise, and his sense of humour also helped to make me a repeat viewer. All of this to say that Jahns is one of the reviewers whose opinion I value most. I find that his thoughts generally don’t stray too far from mine. That might seem like a shallow observation, but since I am using him as a gauge of how good a film is, it makes sense that I pay attention to how often our views match.

Then again, there are times I disagree. It is inevitable. Jahns does dozens of movie reviews a year, it is very unlikely I’ll agree with every single one. Recently, Jahns reviewed Avengers: Infinity War. Jahns gave the film his second highest rating, “worth buying on Blu-ray”. One “fan” was irked by the fact that Jahns gave Suicide Squad the same rating, which led to this tweet.

Now. I do not agree with Jahns on Suicide Squad at all. I abhorred that film. However, I respect his opinion when it comes to this. He isn’t some bigoted politician, he is just a guy who had a different opinion about the artistic merit of a film. I recognize I don’t agree. I can also recognize that Lee Adams (the handle of @ItsLee_Bitches is a good indicator of his maturity) disagrees. I have no problem with disagreement itself. What actually bothers me is his excuse.

Of course, you are allowed to have an opinion. However, it makes no sense to criticize someone else’s opinion and then defend your argument by saying you have the right to have an opinion. Argue about the film itself, say that you thought the performances were weak etc. Don’t latch onto to the “it’s my right” excuse, like all the racists who latch onto the “free speech excuse”, thinking that it means everything they say is right and that everyone must agree with them. If you really cared about the right to an opinion so much then you wouldn’t care that Jahns has a different opinion than you.

This isn’t just about one idiot online. This is a widespread trend where people think that freedom of speech applies only to them. They have the freedom to insult and criticize others, but the second they get insulted, their freedom of speech is supposed to be a shield against the outside world.


The Walking Dead and “Forced” Diversity

I gave up on The Walking Dead TV show about a year ago. While I used to love the show for its post-apocalyptic plot, (some of the) performances and the zombie action, I lost interest once the show became bogged down with filler. Once Mad Men and Breaking Bad finished it seemed like AMC became more desperate to keep one guaranteed cash cow in live syndication. Plot lines from the comics were introduced and dragged out far longer than necessary, whether it was through the addition of unnecessary characters or entire episodes that focused on minor characters and exploits that could have been condensed to half the time. I was in denial about the filler until Negan’s introduction, when his dragged out intro was used for the sake of “suspense”.

Now, I am over the show but still continue to read the comic, which is currently on issue #178. This post will have spoilers for the comic so stop reading if you want to avoid those.

By this point, the comic is far beyond the Negan storyline. Rick is the leader of Alexandria and the latest arc, The New World Order, involves his people finding a new community, The Commonwealth. This discovery is mainly the result of Eugene’s radio conversations with Stephanie, a resident of the Commonwealth. Although it is against Commonwealth procedure she begins talking to Eugene and the two both speak to their respective communities to organize a meeting.

Eugene and a small group of Alexandria residents head to a designated meeting point, where they meet with The Commonwealth’s party and head back to the new community. Once in The Commonwealth, we see Stephanie for the first time, who almost looks like Velma from Scooby-Doo.

We see Stephanie again two issues later, and she is now a black woman. As expected, when I scrolled down to the comments ( I was reading this online) I came across one comment after another complaining about the usual, “political correctness” and of course, “forced diversity”.

Firstly, The Walking Dead does not have many black characters, especially main ones. Michonne and her newly introduced daughter are the main ones at the moment. The Commonwealth has one other member we’ve met so far, Father Gabriel is dead, we haven’t seen Heath in a while in the comics…

So to start, it’s not like minorities are already over-represented or “forced” on the reader. So, black characters are already underrepresented.

Next, if a white character got switched to a black one, would people complain about “forced whiteness”? I don’t think so. For many people, white is viewed as natural, universal, or a default. They then become more sensitive to any mention or inclusion of minorities e.g. this guy who complained about “heavy handed” homosexuality in Batman: Bad Blood. the heavyhanded homosexuality he complained about is a five minute scene of a female character (who is lesbian in the comics) flirting with another female. For some people, any minority inclusion becomes too much or “heavy handed”. Don’t let semantic maneuvers like “I only mind diversity when it’s forced” make you think they are being reasonable.

Next thing, the white Stephanie we saw first could possibly have been an artist mistake. That happens in comics. If not, maybe Kirkman decided that another black character couldn’t hurt. If we continue to take the mentality that consciously thinking of diversity is forcing it, we will continue to get artistic works that are mostly white. Most white creators write mostly white main characters. Also, white characters are still considered more marketable (although Black Panther is helping to combat that) so properties with white characters are more favourable to studios when they want to adapt something. So if there is no conscious effort to create characters of colour, we will continue to end up with characters who are mostly white, at a rate that far outstrips the percentage of whiteness in America. Like I mentioned in another article, this is the reason you might assume a character is white when you read a book, unless you get some explicit indication that they are not (e.g. nationality, description of skin colour) or if you know that the author typically writes about minorities. If you think that mostly white characters are fine as long as the story’s good, then you shouldn’t have an issue with one character being switched to black, as long as the story is good.

Stephanie’s race change does not impact the story in any negative way, or create any plot holes or inconsistencies. It doesn’t impact the story, and people with the “colour-blind” approach view this as an affront since the colour-blind approach just leads to white being viewed as a default.

Starbucks and Racism

This is yet another racist incident that I nearly avoided writing about. I read about the Starbucks incident that took place on April 12. Two black men had the police called on them by an employee. Once the police arrived, the black men were arrested for the crime of sitting in Starbucks without ordering anything.

The two men were waiting to meet another, and had the police called on them two minutes after arriving.

As always, any incident like this brings its fair share of outrage, but also the apologists. These are either the naive “colour-blind” people, who say they don’t see colour and think that no one else does. This naivete isn’t a harmless one, it is one that uses racist stereotypes and assumptions to defend pretty much any act of racism in today’s society etc. How were they dressed? If they just obeyed the law there’d be no issues…why is everybody so obsessed with race…

None of these excuses actually help to explain the incident, but they allow people who think they are enlightened to use the sweet crutch of denial to derail any conversation on lingering racism. If people can deny that the Unite the Right rally was racist, then they can definitely deny that this incident was due to racism.

Firstly, neither of the men were dressed in any threatening way. No gold teeth, low-hanging pants or hoodies.

So that’s one set of racist assumptions out of the way.

Next, people are pointing to the fact that the men didn’t pay anything. You can check this YouTube video for one comment after another saying that the men escalated the issue and brought it upon themselves for not paying for anything and asking to use the restroom. A company spokesperson said Starbucks doesn’t have a general policy of disallowing bathroom use if customers don’t pay, the company allows individual stores to set their rules on the matter. This can hopefully clear up the online debate from people like myself, who have been able to sit in a Starbucks for 30+ minutes reading and not buying anything without hassle, and the white people who say they have also been kicked out for not buying anything.

The specific store in question had a rule prohibiting bathroom use if you are not purchasing anything. Fair enough. If someone wants to use the bathroom and you say no, and then they advise they are waiting on someone, do you need to call the police? I heard a lot of people online saying the black men obviously escalated the situation, but if you watch the video you can’t hear much of the dialogue clearly and their body language doesn’t indicate they were trying to put up any serious fight with the police. It’s as if people tried to read lips or fill in the blanks with what they wanted to hear.

Also, the man that the two men were supposed to meet is present at the end of this video (another angle), so it’s not like they were lying about meeting someone.

This could have been avoided if the barista didn’t feel the need to call the cops 2 minutes into their entrance.

I notice that a fair amount of “black” (who knows with online comments) people are also jumping to defend Starbucks. This may be due to being Uncle Toms or just a less malicious desire not to be lumped with all the “libtards” or “race-baiters” getting bent out of shape. They want to be the cool black people, not the ones who get “offended by everything”. I can understand this desire. I had it before I went through quite a few racist experiences that slapped the naivete of out of me.

I don’t assume that because a particular racist incident didn’t happen to me, it can’t happen to anyone else. I used to think that being followed while I shop was something that couldn’t happen in Canada, until I went to SAQ in Hull. I have never been kicked out of a Starbucks for not buying anything, whether it was busy or not. Maybe my Starbucks’ locations had different rules, or maybe I was fortunate enough not to come across a racist barista.

In this day and age of people who defend racism and frame their hatred as an attack on “political correctness” it wouldn’t surprise me if people found a way to defend someone caught on video saying racist things to a person of colour. Then again, I don’t have to look far for proof.

What Racism Looks Like

Racism, unprovoked – but caught on camera.

Posted by AJ+ on Friday, January 1, 2016

Read the comments and see how far people go to deny, downplay or outright defend racism. One of the top ones at the moment is someone posting a link to a video asking “Why are we still talking about racism?” The answer: Because it is still alive and well. It is not as blatant as it once was. We have people like those who marched in the Unite the Right rally, but we also have people with “black friends” whose heads are filled with racist assumptions and stereotypes. These people become cops, teachers, jurors and employers.

Eli Roth and Inglorious Basterds

I watched Inglorious Basterds again last night. It was probably my third time seeing the film, while it was my friend’s first, and their first time seeing a Tarantino film. I figured I would get them started with the film that is still my favourite Tarantino epic.

Like the first viewing, Brad Pitt’s accent is almost campy but I am still able to tolerate it.

What I couldn’t tolerate was Eli Roth’s performance as Donny Donowitz a.k.a. “The Bear Jew”. Roth’s performance is just a object lesson on overacting. He doesn’t have that many lines but manages to make you cringe with most of them. There are literally two lines out of twelve that are actually delivered well. Roth doesn’t have the excuse of being hampered by an accent or any other affectation that makes his job harder.

Roth’s performance is even more of a conundrum since Tarantino has a reputation for getting good performances out of actors. Some of the few Samuel L. Jackson performances I have generally loved in a long time, came from Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. The Hateful Eight even made Channing Tatum a good actor for a minutes at a time. Why didn’t Tarantino rein in Roth? I have to think it has something to do with their creative partnership.

Tarantino was the executive producer of Roth’s Hostel (2005) and called Roth “the future of horror.” It seems like nepotism not only played a part in Roth’s casting, but also the direction he received from one of the greatest directors in Hollywood.

MLK Wasn’t Colour-Blind

Edit: Blogging might be slowed down this week due to some computer issues.

In The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Nassim Taleb veers from his analysis of financial systems to argue that the words of dead men can be manipulated to support any argument. When I read these words I couldn’t help but think of one of the favoured tactics for derailing any conversations about racism, “Martin Luther King Jr. fought for a man not being judged by the colour of his skin.” Yes, MLK said those words. The issue is what people interpret from those words.

Based on the context of MLK’s words, he probably meant that black people should be allowed to use the same bathrooms, sit anywhere on a bus, go to the same schools, live in the same neighbourhoods etc. Did he mean that we should never talk about racism and pretend like ignoring it makes it go away? Did MLK mean we should resent any excitement stirred up over a black-led blockbuster? That’s up for debate, but some people are already convinced this is the correct interpretation.

MLK’s words are an anthem for the new colour-blind racists, the ones who refuse to acknowledge racism’s persisting legacy and use “colour-blindness” to derail any conversation on racism. Unarmed black person gets shot- “Why do we have to bring up race? I’m colour-blind.” Black Panther becomes one of the highest-grossing films of all time, led by a mostly black cast- “Why do we have to bring up race? I’m colour-blind. You wouldn’t see me celebrating a film with a mostly white cast.” You get the point I’m making. The colour-blind approach ignores all the ways racism persists and pretends like gaps in things such as employment are all simply due to skill, which ignores evidence of lingering racial preferences.

Yet people who claim to be big fans of MLK and that whole equality thing tend to overlook this point. They also tend to assume MLK was colour-blind, but if they paid attention to any other lines in his speech they would know he wasn’t.

“I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.”

Notice that MLK says “black boys…white boys”. He doesn’t say colourless boys. A key part of equality, that a lot of people seem to have forgotten, is that equality requires us to acknowledge differences. A society can’t brag about its racial equality if everyone is of the same race. Equality comes from recognizing someone is different (different skin colour) but not thinking less of them. Noticing someone is black is not racist. Thinking someone is a criminal because they are black is racist.

It is also racist to use the excuse, “I’m colour-blind,” to derail all conversations about racism, whether it is about racist casting in Hollywood, racial profiling by store employees or a story of yet another unarmed black man getting gunned down by a cop who thought his skin colour made him more suspicious.

It is a fact that institutional racism and personal prejudice are still rampant in the world, and especially in the US. To say that we should ignore any black achievement or remove policies meant to help minorities, since it is what MLK would have wanted, is disingenuous at best and dangerous at worst. It’s what leads to people walking down the streets with swastika flags and white hoods, thinking that their pride in their whiteness is no different than a black person’s excitement about seeing a black superhero on screen.

Factinate Articles

As I previously mentioned I returned to writing articles for Factinate for a brief period, and have one of my latest ones posted below. I have done eight in total if I am not mistaken, but some of the ones submitted can take a bit of time to be posted. I am not sure if I will continue with the endeavour for that much longer, but I will share the pieces I do.

While I find some of the facts interesting and definitely like making some money on the side, the site does have an emphasis on humour in its articles, which is not my strong suit. I’ll be back to editing Alive: Part II soon, but I will likely start writing Hazard before then.

Factinate articles before (will add more in as they are published):

24 Precious Facts About Gollum

25 Sarcastic Facts About Ryan Reynolds


Debate Me

I was scrolling through Twitter the other day and decided to check in on Talib Kweli’s feed. I have previously discussed the racists who continuously flock to his feed to accuse him of “race-baiting”. Although Kweli has a busy touring schedule he engages racists in debate, shutting down the incorrect assumptions, or straight out incorrect data that they use to justify their views. Seeing all of the foolish things they say, such as “racism isn’t racist” can be infuriating, but I believe it is also a window into the souls of the new breed of racists. People always love to call these people “trolls”, which implies they aren’t actually racist and are just saying racist things for attention. However, this mindset is downright dangerous in this day and age. Steve Bannon, former chairman of far-right site, Breitbart, has even said that online hate “is an army” that politicians can mobilize.

So, when I look at all the hate directed to Kweli’s profile, I don’t disregard it all as unimportant trolling. I can see the thought process of the people who cling to the idea that the straight, Christian, white man is now the real persecuted minority. One thing that pops up time after time, is the “debate me” gimmick. Racists flock to Kweli’s profile, asking him to debate them on their world view. He cuts their arguments apart, and when he shows them statistics or arguments that they disagree with, they focus on more trivial things to avoid admitting they were wrong e.g. “You called me racist, you’re just a name caller…freedom of speech.”

Kweli has said it better than me, but there seems to be a collective misunderstanding of what freedom of speech means. Freedom of speech does not mean everything you say is right, or that everyone myst agree with what you say. In the simplest terms, it means you can’t get arrested for speaking out. If you say something racist, it is legal to do so in America. If someone decides to ridicule you for what you said, that is their freedom of speech, and it is not violating yours. Freedom of speech does not only apply to what you want to say or hear, so don’t use it as a crutch when people disagree with what you say.

Aside from the misunderstanding of free speech, is the desire to be spoon fed information. I can’t count the amount of times some Trump supporter on Twitter says, “Show me one example of Trump being racist.” If these people really wanted to find this information, they could just Google it. The fact that they are on Twitter means they have internet access for some portion of their day. The information is there if they wanted to search for it. Instead, they will likely use Google to search “Reasons Trump is not racist” and ignore all of the information to the contrary. We are all guilty of this selective exposure to some extent. However, the information I seek out can often contradict the information someone from the alt-right will seek out. One source will likely be more reputable, not because of the name, but because of how they collect their info e.g. Ben Shapiro can give stats about police shootings, and information I find can demonstrate that the stats are skewed because they don’t factor in nearly half the police agencies in the US. This is how the internet works. You can use it to find info.

So instead of Googling “Trump racist”, some people will just post on Twitter and wait for someone else to drudge up all of the information they actively ignore everyday. When someone actually presents the info, the Trump supporter will derail the conversation with straw man arguments, ad hominem or statements that have absolutely nothing to do with the facts. Who knows, the Trump supporter might not even read the info before calling the presenter the real racist for caring so much. This isn’t just a hypothetical scenario, this is something that is played out again and again on Talib Kweli’s feed and many others.

Alive: Part II Complete

For the past year I’ve been working on and off on completing my fourth book, Alive: Part II. I am proud to say that a rough draft is now complete at approximately 60,000 words. The book came out shorter than I intended but I’ll deal with issues of length later. The story ended how I wanted it to end and it feels like a good place for my characters’ lives to wrap up.

Now, I will be taking a break from the book for a few weeks before I go back to edit. In the meantime, I’ll start brainstorming and possibly start writing my fifth book, Hazard. This will be based on, or inspired by the poetry piece of the same name. While most of my books have dealt with issues of racial discrimination, this one will focus more on mental health and self-esteem. If you’ve read the poetry piece you might wonder how that ties in, but I will reveal that the resurrected protagonist took his own life.

Hazard is a work I have been waiting to flesh out for a while. The protagonist and the backstory was clearest in my mind, but I have numerous details to sort out with the world-building. The pursuit of publication is another issue, but it’s one I won’t worry about too much now. I will keep trying to get The Doctor published, but aside from that I want to focus on becoming a better writer and building a platform for myself.

Westworld Season 2 Trailer Thoughts

Note: Obvious spoilers for season one. I don’t underestimate people’s stupidity.

Jonathan Nolan might be another sibling who lives in the shadow of their older brother. However, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have his own impressive wealth of talent and achievements. Prior to adapting Westworld (based on the 1973 film). Jonathan created the short story that led to Memento. He also co-wrote most of Christopher Nolan’s films, including The Prestige, The Dark Knight trilogy and Interstellar. Alongside his wife, Lisa Joy, Jonathan also brought us one of the best series of 2016. The second season is set to premiere in less than a month and this trailer will make that month pass by slowly.

Side note, I always found it interesting that the author of Jurassic World, Michael Chrichton previously created another work about a theme park where the guests end up threatened by the attractions. Both Westworld and Jurassic Park analyze the hubris of humans and the consequences of meddling with technology beyond our understanding.

The music from Westworld’s first season was actually one of my highlights. The opening credits are one of the few ones I always watch. While the visuals are arresting, the music is what I remember better. Ramin Djawadi helps to bring the show to life, just like he did with his score for Game of Thrones. The music in this trailer ended up being the highlight for me as well, with Djawadi’s orchestral version of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box”.

Last season ended on what many people might call a cliffhanger, with the hosts apparently primed for war. This second trailer shows us that wasn’t a bait and switch. Most of the footage we see are the hosts fighting against military forces trying to threaten their sanctuary. Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) appears to have a key role in the revolution, along with Teddy (James Marsden). Meanwhile, Maeve (Thandie Newton) is still deadset on finding her daughter. Am I the only one that thought she should have just stayed on the train last season? Anyway, last season ended with her getting a map to other worlds hidden within the park, including Shogun world. It will be interesting to get some deviation from the Western-themed park that dominated the first season. Maeve’s story also brings back Hector, who was one of my favourite characters from the first season.

In this trailer, and some promotional pictures, we actually see a host-in-progress attacking someone. By host-in-progress I mean the hosts who have not yet had skin dye grafted on. They are just the white shells that all the extra features are molded over.

I am interested most in seeing where William a.k.a The Man in Black goes from this point on. He says he wants to burn the whole place down and I am curious to see exactly what he does to reach that point. There are promotional stills and shots in the trailer where we see the older version of William (Ed Harris) speaking with Dorothy. It looks like they may be allies for some point in the story, at least until they draw closer to their respective goals.

It looks like there is more world-building to be done, but the second season still looks like it will offer a more explosive season than the last. However, I am sure there will also be plenty to digest in terms of character development and the philosophical questions that always accompany shows that revolve around the idea of consciousness.