On Safe Schools

There’s a lot that can be said about the Safe Schools program. I know that, because there’s a lot being said about it. A lot of things that are warm and encouraging, at all levels of our social and political lives, and of course the things that are as far away from warm and encouraging as you can get.

It’s very easy to react emotionally on these things. It’s tempting, and it’s almost effortless, because your gut reaction can speak loudly and clearly when you feel passionately; but despite the ease with which you can do this, it very rarely does more than adds your voice to the howl of other voices doing the same thing, whatever side of the argument that may fall on. You’ll find others who share your opinion, and you’ll be dismayed at the voices arguing against you.

And while it’s often the case that the loudest and most noticeable voices go the furthest – the politicians, the high-profile campaigners, the decision makers and so on – there’s still a common area where either side of the argument falls down, and that’s in the case of the information on which said voices base their opinion.

My emotional reaction is simple: I’m 100% behind the Safe Schools program and stand for everything it supports. I’d happily howl that into the wind if I thought enough people were blindly adhering to my opinions and it would make a change, but I know that’s not the case.

Instead, I want to address the thing that I think is playing a big part of the debate on Safe Schools that doesn’t get addressed much.

That thing is the notion of heteronormativity.

Break down the word, and its definition is clear – the idea that “heterosexuality” is “normal”. Most academic views consider that heteronormativity is a structure of beliefs that are held to view the world in, and that attitudes such as sexism, transphobia and homophobia stem from heteronormativity.

I’d pare it back a little and say that in general, we function in a heteronormative society. I hate to use a term as potentially loaded as “normal” in that context, but if you were to state that heterosexuality is the assumed default status of most people you meet, it’d be hard to argue against that.

A simple way to highlight this – when you meet someone new, you might wonder if they’re gay/bi/asexual – you’d rarely wonder if someone was straight. This happens because the characteristics or mannerisms or the way they dress or something else raises a question (could they be gay/bi/asexual?) and what you’re questioning is how much does this person deviate from the “norm” or the societal default.

Now what you then do with your assessment of that person speaks to your character.

“Could they be gay? Either way, their glass is empty and I’m going to buy them a beer” probably indicates you’re a cool individual.

“Could they be gay? I’d best douse the kids in holy water and move to another state” – probably not so cool.

But the simple fact that the question came into your mind at all is what highlights the idea of heteronormativity.

Heteronormativity pervades our society in a lot of ways, to varying degrees of intent and reason, from people actively reinforcing it, to those who simply operate from within it or because of it. A social construct does not need to be actively participated in for it to still exist, but it certainly doesn’t stop people from actively participating in it.

When it comes to something like the Safe Schools program, it becomes an issue because people define what’s acceptable material for schoolkids based on what they perceive to be in line with the norm, or in this case the heteronorm. The conservative view is that the material is unsuitable for children because of how it might sway their thinking or warp their minds. The progressive view is that this material is essential for kids who have questions and need guidance.

If you take Tony Abbott’s reprehensible statement that the Safe Schools program was a “social engineering” program, you might counter with the fact that all children are socially engineered while they grow up in a heteronormative society. The values we see promoted on a wide-scale, the marriages between men and women, the stories we see on TV, in movies, in books, the notion of distinct categories of entertainment, colours and activities for boys and girls – they all contribute to a heteronormative world view.

Does that make them bad? No, of course not. No one is a monster because they’re straight, or because they identify as a girl and like girly things or because they identify as a boy and like boyish things. Is a cutesy-romance movie bad because it’s straight? Knowing romance movies, it’s probably bad, but not because of the makeup of the relationship. But do these things have visibility in a way that reinforces the idea of heterosexuality being normal? Yes. They might not actively be setting out to do that, but it does.

And it doesn’t seem like too big a deal at all, until you see what happens to people who deviate from that norm, who don’t function in the default setting. Let’s consider something very high-level and return to the romance movie. If its two leads are a man and a woman, it’s a “romance” or “romantic comedy” or a “romantic drama”. If its two leads are the same sex, it can be any of those things, but it also becomes a “queer film”. There’s a point of deviation, and it’s highlighted as such.

In school, you can be an athlete, an academic, the class-clown, the drama kid or any other number of identities. The second that you’re identified as “the queer kid”, it’s hard to overcome that being the main thing people assess you with. There’s a point of deviation. And how that’s highlighted can vary drastically and dangerously.

One of the things that kept me firmly closeted in high school (I’ve known I’m bi for as long as I can remember, but only talked openly about it within recent years) was the fear of what might happen if I were to say anything. It was the fear of not knowing if it was acceptance or torment that laid ahead that caused me anxiety. It is the fear of knowing how people have reacted in the past in different settings that makes it easier – not comfortable – but easier to stay silent.

It certainly didn’t help that my school was surprisingly apathetic towards bullying despite having quite a strongly written anti-harassment policy. Girls in my sisters’ grades were felt up in the locker rooms against their will, and “boys will be boys” was offered as an explanation. A girl in my grade was humiliated in one of the most vindictive ways high school is capable of (and ten years later is too late to say it, but if you’re reading this, I’m sorry (and still sorry) that I didn’t have your back when it happened) and the teachers by and large donated 0% of their fucks about it.

But that’s school. Made up of flawed individuals, going about their days and surviving, in a system that’s chaotic beneath its exterior, and harder to control when it breaks loose. Something like Safe Schools wouldn’t eradicate the fear, and being realistic it wouldn’t have stopped any bullying if I’d said anything, but I would’ve had some comfort knowing that I wasn’t isolated by it.

If it’s still a hard concept to grasp, and I understand that living it is a very different beast from observing it, than this music video may go someway to conceptualising what the fear is like (it’s exaggerated/explicit but gets the emotive punches right):

And for the kids at school these days, they get the mired joy of going to school under those same conditions but with the growing pervasiveness of the internet in their lives, where they have so much more access to the wide and public debates about issues that affect them directly, and get to hear moral grandstanding about what is right and appropriate and, most damagingly, what is considered normal, even if its not termed as such.

It’s a damaging debate, because the morals and opinions of the program’s detractors are founded in their heteronormativity, and without them realising this as such, turns their argument not into a case of “appropriate” and “inappropriate” but “right and wrong”.

More to the point, the braying and outcrying from a bunch of Straight White Men™ in parliament is so far removed from the actual lived experience of the kids who are having to go through the torment of highschool with the added fear/anxiety/pressure of not fitting into the heteronormative model that it’s completely pointless to have such vicious conjecture about something that does not affect them.

The Safe Schools program is not a miracle cure for bullying. It would not eradicate bullying, it would not stop kids being awful to each other, and it most certainly does not “socially engineer” impressionable kids into a way of life. It promotes acceptance and tolerance and understanding. It doesn’t guarantee them. It helps well-intentioned-but-clueless school administrations have a starting point to relate to these kids whose lived experiences are so different from their own. It helps to bridge the gap between the known and unknown.

But if the George Christensens, Cory Bernardies, Tony Abbotts have their way and the program is eradicated entirely, it’s not going to stop queer kids existing, or going to school and being tormented, or (hopefully) going to school and finding groups of friends who love them and accept them however they are. The biggest opportunity for the Straight White Men™ opposing Safe Schools is that they need to learn that the people and effective school initiatives that don’t fit the heteronormative mold are simply different from their view – not dangerous.

Kids, Queers, and Adventure Time

Adventure Time

Adventure Time is a great many things to a great many people. It’s a bright and colourful cartoon series that operates with the prime directive of being great fun and full of adventures, and has amassed a huge following in both kids and older audiences alike.

It’s ostensibly the exploits of Jake the Dog and Finn the Human as they travel around the land of Ooo, a hyperactive fantasy land built on the tropes of pretty much all fantasy and adventure stories, combined with modern influences of geek culture and playful surrealism. It’s weird as hell but not in a way to alienate its audience.

Although it’s largely targeted as a kids show, it’s not patronising or condescending to its viewers like so many shows that use the “it’s just for kids” excuse to phone in some colour and movement. This has allowed it to find a place with many older audiences who can enjoy the show for its surprising amount of thematic depth as well as its playful, wacky characters and incredibly fun storylines.

As an example, many of the storylines take place in the Candy Kingdom, which, as the name suggests, is a kingdom made entirely of candy, and inhabited by anthropomorphic sweets and lollies. Sounds cute and playful? It’s built on top of the post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland that came about as a result of a devastating war – there’s a reason that Finn is (possibly) the last human on earth.

In another, one of the shows recurring villains, the Ice King, whose main activities revolve around kidnapping as many princesses as possible so that someday he’ll marry one, is revealed to be a tragic figure who’s been driven completely insane by his crown, which has robbed him of all his former personality but leaves behind echoes of his past self that he can’t communicate properly in his crazed state.

This isn’t to say that the show is a bait-and-switch exercise in drawing people in with fun and adventure before depressing the hell out of them, just that there’s a lot more to the show than its happy visuals and hyperactive style.

Adventure TIme

One area this extends to is the treatment of two prominent supporting figures: Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire Queen. Bubblegum is the ruler of the Candy Kingdom who’s also a devoted scientist, and the object of Finn’s adolescent affections for much of the show’s run. Marceline on the other hand is a cool rock-chick who also happens to be a badass vampire (her royalty as the Vampire Queen has yet to be delved into, although her father is essentially Satan).

The first episode featuring the two characters sharing screentime shows them regarding each other with animosity, and they clearly enjoy bickering and getting under each other’s skin. The episode makes it clear that the two clearly knew each other well and experienced a lot of time together before Finn came along (he’s 12 at the start of the series, and the show makes it clear that the land of Ooo was just as wild and adventurous before he came along).

Their relationship was delved into further in the Season 3 episode What Was Missing, which features the monster-of-the-week stealing several items of sentimental value from the characters. Finn, Jake, Marceline, Princess Bubblegum and sentient-video-game-console BMO (“Beemo”) converge on the giant door behind which the door-lord has sealed himself, and attempt to get it open; the only thing that unlocks it is a “song from a genuine band.” (Jake helps the band by playing the role of the jerk in the band, because it’s a very important part).

Marceline first gives it a shot, singing a lyrically-dissonant song with lines about burying someone in the ground and drinking the red from someone’s face (Marceline doesn’t drink blood – just the colour red out of various items). Bubblegum objects to the song calling it distasteful, which spurns Marceline into singing an impassioned rock song about her own ability to measure up to Bubblegum’s high expectations, and questioning why she wants to – the realisation of her musical-honesty makes her falter, and the song fails to open the door.

Bubblegum attempts a song as well, but completely messes it up by trying to take too much of a scientific approach, which sounds disastrous, although the scene gives one of the episode’s best gags:

Bubblegum: Marceline, begin playing triplet quavers in the mixolydian mode.
Marceline: Alright, fine. [beat] Wait – what’s a quaver?

When Bubblegum’s song fails, she and Marceline start bickering again, this time Marceline calling out Bubblegum’s failure at being perfect, which Bubblegum balks at, demanding that she never asked Marceline to be perfect.

The scenes are, on the surface, examples of two rivals bickering at each other because they both annoy the other. Many viewers picked up on the fact that the scenes play out much more like two exes who can’t let their past history go. This is reinforced at the episode’s end when the characters unlock the door and retrieve their sentimental items, after Finn sings a pretty cute song about how much he values their friendship:

Finn lost his lock of Bubblegum’s hair, Jake his security blanket, and BMO gets a controller back. Jake then hands Marceline a rock-band t-shirt which she claims isn’t hers, only for Bubblegum to hastily grab it and sheepishly explain that it belongs to her instead. Marceline is taken aback and quietly asks, “you kept the shirt I gave you?” which Bubblegum describes as “meaning a lot to me.” This makes it clearer still that the two used to be friends (at the very least) some time ago, and when questioned as to why no one ever sees her wearing it, Bubblegum explains that she wears it “all the time – as pyjamas!” before happily donning it then and there.

They then realise that Marceline didn’t actually lose anything of sentimental value, she just wanted to hang out with everyone and have fun – an embarrassed Marceline tries to deny this before turning into a monster and chasing them away as they run laughing with her, and the episode ends on a typically random note that Adventure Time fans have come to expect.

The episode drew controversy from those who disagreed with the episode’s heavy suggestions that Marceline and Bubblegum were at some point romantically involved, and this wasn’t helped by the “MATHEMATICAL!” recap of the show, which directly asks fans the question of what they thought of the pairing and its potential. (Mathematical, by the way, is synonymous with “awesome!” in the same way that the show also utilises the term “Algebraic!”)

This is a recreated version of the recap video:

After drawing fire for alluding to alternative forms of sexuality in a kids’ show, the recap was pulled from the air, and executive producer Fred Seibert released the following statement:

“Well, I completely screwed up. There’s been chatter on the internet recently about our latest Adventure Time “Mathematical!” video recap that we created, posted, and removed here at Federator [sic]. I figure it’s time to clear up the matter.

In trying to get the show’s audience involved we got wrapped up by both fan conjecture and spicy fanart and went a little too far. Neither Cartoon Network nor the Adventure Time crew had anything to do with putting up or taking down our latest re-cap. The episode “What was Missing” remains a terrific short and will be shown again and again just like any other Adventure Time episode.

I let us goof in a staggering way and I’m deeply sorry it’s become such a distraction for so many people.”

The problem with this statement is that he’s apologising for something that shouldn’t be apologised for.

The implied relationship between Marceline and Bubblegum (or “Bubbline” as the fan nickname states) is just that – implied. Although it’s easily discernible, there’s nothing that officially states it as canonical, save for the recap, which even then, only draws attention to the possibility not stating that it was definite fact.

But it also begs the question, why should this be a problem, even if it was stated outright that the two had been in a previous relationship?

Let’s talk for a moment about “coded” characters. A coded character is one who is written in such a way that certain features or traits of the character are not specifically stated, but can be easily interpreted by a section of the audience. Coded characters also take the form of being written in such a way that their codes reflect back on their personality or actions. Queer representations in fiction have historically utilised coded characters in both good and bad ways.

The documentary The Celluloid Closet (which is fantastic, by the way) delves into this in great detail. Under the moralistic standards of the Hayes Code, Hollywood looked to alternative ways of appealing to different audiences, especially queer audiences, by writing characters in such a way that audiences would identify a character or characters as gay even if it were not stated in the movie itself. Or, on the opposite side of the coin, there were the tendencies to invoke a response from the audience or simply to write in subliminal suggestion about their motivations by suggesting that the character is gay This was a result of not being allowed to portray any character of “sexual aberrance” (read: no gays allowed).

While this means that there’s a long and unfortunate history of characters being portrayed as villainous because of their sexuality, a thematic tendency that continues to this day, it also means there’s the more positive spin of positive representations or efforts made in a spirit of inclusion for the queer audience.

This can extend simplistic offerings made to audiences just to be able to see something on screen, such as the ‘Ain’t there anyone here for love?’ number in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, to more intricate presentations woven into the screenplay itself

A good example of this is Ben Hur, which Gore Vidal wrote with the deliberate intention that Judah Ben-Hur and Messala were childhood friends on the surface, but former lovers to those looking for the cues. Fittingly, he told this to Stephen Boyd, but not Charlton Heston (for fear his ego wouldn’t be accommodating to the idea), which is why Messala looks super-keen to get things going again, while Judah appears to have moved on. Although Messala goes on to become the antagonist of the film, the subtextual relationship is still presented in the film and there for those who want to view the film as such.

As times and standards have changed, this has clearly allowed for more representations of LGBTQI characters in film and TV, and in a wider array of perspectives and narratives. Double standards still abound however, and it’s certainly not an even playing field (for those who want to know more, watch the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated, which addresses the significant disparity in classification of material featuring queer sex scenes in contrast with heterosexual ones).

Back on the topic of Adventure Time and Bubbline, it’s essential to understand that neither character’s sexuality is their defining trait, and the characters were well established before the introduction of this potential reading of their relationship. They’re not specifically written as coded characters, even if the codes are still there.

The reason I bring up this distinction is that there’s no merit towards the controversy. There’s no graphic sex scene between the two, there’s no anguished declaration of their inability to be “normal”, there’s nothing that could be misconstrued as anything other than innocent.

The What Was Missing episode merely codes their relationship to suggest they may have been romantically involved. This in and of itself should not be a controversial fact. The suggestion of their relationship is actually less confrontational than some of the aspects surrounding Finn.

In the same episode, Jake busts Finn cuddling up with his lock of Bubblegum’s hair and proceeds to make some jokes that can easily be interpreted as being about masturbation. The season 5 episode Frost & Fire deals with Finn, now a teenager embarking on his first proper relationship with the Flame Princess. When Flame Princess and Ice King get into a fight, Finn has a dream that night that is a very thinly veiled representation of a wet dream, including Flame Princess shooting beams of flame directly at his crotch. There’s nary a peep to be heard of people balking at these scenes, when the argument could be made that they’re inappropriate in a kids’ show due to their more sexually overt content.

"Frost & Fire"

“Frost & Fire”

The problem, it seems, is that the codes surrounding Bubbline were decoded a little too quickly, and despite the suggestion of their implied relationship being entirely chaste, the powder-keg of how we treat queer representation in mainstream media was on its way to igniting.

Fred Seibert’s response calls the recap’s addressing of the Bubbline relationship a mistake in which he “completely screwed up.” If the recap had been a sleazy representation of Marceline and Princess Bubblegum as sexual eye-candy, then yes, he would’ve. But it simply addressed the potential that there was a new way to appreciate two characters that the fans had already embrace.

And appreciate they did.

Despite the network response towards it, the Bubbline relationship is still very much alive in the fandom. This is readily apparent on forums and other places people voice their opinion, and it has of course lead to tonnes of fan-art being created of the pair. And while some of it is admittedly a bit “spicy” as Seibert would place it, the majority is as innocuous as you would expect of people embracing the potential for a sweet and loving relationship imagined between their favourite characters. The ones I’ve included here frame the relationship through a more mature lens, legitimising the appeal of the relationship more than mere suggestion:

'Bubbline: Closer' by TammyV

‘Bubbline: Closer’ by TammyV
http://tammyv.deviantart.com/

'Bubbline' by SakuraBlossom4

‘Bubbline’ by SakuraBlossom4
http://sakurablossom4.deviantart.com/

'bubbline sparkle kiss' by Mirrei

‘bubbline sparkle kiss’ by Mirrei
http://mirrei.deviantart.com/

Intertwined by SugarContent

‘Intertwined’ by SugarContent
http://sugarcontent.deviantart.com/

The unwritten cause of the controversy is the age-old “think of the children!” cry. Anyone who has seen the episode knows that there’s not really that much to cry foul at, unless they have an intrinsic problem with lesbianism or queer identity in and of itself. The “controversial” thing about the Bubbline relationship is that it’s in a kids’ show, and that despite growing social progress in how people accept homosexuality, there’s still a train of thought that says kids shouldn’t be exposed to it.

The knee-jerk reaction to sexuality that strays from the boy-girl norm is that it’s something that has to be understood rather than taken for granted. The mild version of this reaction is to say that it might confuse children, whereas the awful version is that it will corrupt them.

This assumption is based on the idea that heteronormativity is the default setting and that something that doesn’t fit into this needs to be addressed and explained, or rejected and vilified – that queer identity is something to hide from children and not something that should “put any ideas in their heads.”

I could make this argument for the act of sex itself, which young minds might not be able to comprehend until a certain age. But the idea of romantic relationships between people is not something that has ever been put under much scrutiny when those people have different genitals. A lot of media aimed at children contains portrayals of innocent romance, and it’s considered cute and innocent when toddlers give each other chaste kisses on the cheeks so much that the greeting card industry would probably collapse overnight if it weren’t.

20080324-young-love11

Given that this same innocence is the level of explicitness that the Bubbline relationship is presented with, there’s nothing that should be considered controversial or offensive, unless you’re of the mindset that a queer relationship is in and of itself something offensive.

For kids who are already a little bit confused as to why they don’t understand the big deal about the whole boy-girl thing, and might fancy kissing the other girls, or the other boys as it were, there’s an incredible dearth of anything to introduce them to the idea until they get to the age where they learn it’s not the social norm and that something is different.

Something as innocent as the Bubbline relationship might not even be interpreted as an actual relationship by these same young minds, but as they grow and become more aware of the world around them and how things work, I can’t see that it’s a bad thing that they got to watch something which might have thought the same way as them when they were younger.

Our TVs and movies are no longer ruled by the Hayes Code, and there’s no longer any need to keep queer identity hidden or coded. Perhaps ladling it on too thick would upset the status quo of Adventure Time; the attention given to Finn’s romance with Flame Princess or Princess Bubblegum has caused a divide in the fandom, especially with those who just want to see some wacky adventures. But the idea that an innocent relationship between two female characters has no place in a kids’ show is a damaging argument to anyone who ever needed to see themselves represented outside their own minds, even if it is in a place as strange as the land of Ooo.

Despite Fred Seibert’s “screw up”, the fan response has proved it’s got a strong following and this has continued on through the show – Season 5’s Sky Witch has Marceline and Bubbline join up on an adventure to defeat an evil witch, and much of it makes more logical sense if you consider that the two have a romantic history; the witch has stolen Marceline’s teddy bear Hambo due to it’s incredible source of sentimental value. This teddy bear plays a large part in Marceline’s backstory, and the viewers know how important it is to her – it’s literally been through the wars with her. Bubblegum gets it back for Marceline by trading in the t-shirt from What Was Missing – something the witch only excepts because it contains significantly more sentimental value than Hambo, and in a generous nod to the Bubbline fans, the last scene of them in the episode has them falling through the sky in an embrace. 

Adventure Time is a show that has succeeded due to the multitudinous ways in which it can be enjoyed. Due to its devotion to being a fun and (mostly) carefree show, and the exuberance and enthusiasm the characters have for every thing they do, it’s a show that makes you feel included in the fun. A lot of people have a lot of different things to appreciate about it, and they’re all very valid given how diverse the appealing elements of the show are. For many, that is the inclusion of the Bubbline relationship; it certainly has its place and its appreciation. And you’re damn right I ship it.

Sky Witch

NOTES:

  • “Queer” is not meant here in a derogatory sense. It refers to any expression of sexual identity that doesn’t follow the heterosexual pairing of boy/girl or man/woman.
  • A huge thank you to the DeviantArt deviants who’ve allowed me the usage of their art.
  • ‘The Celluloid Closet’ and ‘This Film is Not Yet Rated’ are both available on YouTube should you be interested; while I firmly believe you should try and give the creators your money for these films, I know they can be difficult to track down.
  • It’s also worth mentioning that the show has continued to take a look at gender and sexual identity issues through the framework of its cute characters. BMO isn’t specifically gendered as a character – although voiced by female Nikki Yang, characters have referred to BMO “she” and “it” in various settings, but most commonly referred to as “he”. Season 5’s BMO Lost explores the idea of BMO becoming involved in a relationship with a bubble of air named Bubble, voiced by Lavar Burton, who at one point offers his hand in marriage. Another episode, ‘Princess Cookie’ from Season 4, features a cookie trying to take revenge on Bubblegum for humiliating him in his youth by denying his wish to become a princess.

A Few Songs I’m Addicted To At The Moment

None of these are especially groundbreaking or new release, but just some of the songs I’ve been addicted to lately. Their vibrations are good on the ol’ ear drums.

Crystal Castles – Violent Youth

Won’t go into too much detail on my love of Crystal Castles – just know that it’s immense. The entirety of their third self-titled album (or Crystal Castles III or just III) is a hauntingly bleak construction. It’s a nihilistic mix of sorrow and lurking sinisterness.

Violent Youth succeeds by being one of the less-screechy songs, and Ethan Kath’s pitch-shifted vocals work wonders with the erratic staccato beat. The imagery created by the lyrics is tragic, and works as something of a sequel-song to the similarly desperate lyrics of Intimate from their second album (there actually are lyrics in Intimate – once you’ve heard them you’ll wonder how you missed them on the first listen)

itunes

BT – Flaming June (Laptop Symphony Rework)

BT: another artist I can’t express my love for. A musical genius (literally, if reports of his IQ are to be believed) he’s never been one to shy away from completely re-tooling his sounds, leading to completely different sounding albums in succession. Flaming June was one of his dancefloor mega-hits, originally released in 1997. It’s still a great song, but he’s revisited it with years of new equipment and technologies to completely rebuild the song.

It’s an astoundingly good remix of a song that doesn’t completely dismiss the original song, but perfects it and reinvents it for a new era of dance music. It drops different reworkings of its signature hook along the way, until an absolutely sublime culmination of all of them hitting at once (4:07 in the clip above). This is one of those songs that really captures the transcendental mood of good trance music, and it’s best listened to on GOOD headphones when no one can see you dancin’ crazy to it.

itunes

Hot Chip – And I Was A Boy From School

Hot Chip aren’t a band I’ve really gotten into all that much, although I like what I’ve heard. And I Was A Boy From School (or “The Boy From School” as the studio requested they shorten it to – original title is listed on iTunes for the curious) is a great example of how all electronic music doesn’t need to be designed purely for a dancefloor.

It’s a cool mix of melancholy harmonies and regretful lyrics with a funky beat guiding it along in the background. The bridges are segued in smoothly, not jarringly, makes it an all round pleasant (if not bittersweet) tune to get through the day with.

itunes

Azaelia Banks – 212

This one comes with a language warning! One of the most profane songs you’ll ever hear, but also one of the catchiest. It’s full of bravado and ego but most importantly confidence. There’s not a single line that sounds like Azaelia Banks doesn’t mean exactly what she’s rapping, and it’s a breathless rundown of the person she’s singing about. It’s a filthy four-lettered song (it seems appropriate that the video above features her mouth quite prominently) that gets in your head and doesn’t leave for days. Lazy Jay’s Float My Boat is also awesome on its own, but the addition of Banks’ lyrics and her furious delivery of them brings an effortless cool to the proceedings. And I want that Mickey Mouse jumper.

itunes

The Knife – A Tooth For An Eye

The Knife are another one of the bands I love very dearly – Silent Shout is still, in my eyes, a perfect album from start to finish. This year’s Shaking the Habitual wasn’t quite as solid an effort for me, but still a massively impressive album of which this is the standout. Those who aren’t used to Karen Dreijer-Andersson’s vocal style probably won’t be as easy to persuade into loving it, but this is an endlessly infectious song that I just love.

itunes

PNAU – Lover

Now for a band that’s quite often hit-and-miss for me. When PNAU hits, they hit well – Embrace, The Truth, Wild Strawberries – all great songs. Lover comes from their first album, and just has all the trademarks in a dance track I like – decent beat, good progression, slightly dark/sinister sounds. It also gets bonus points for sampling Laura Palmer’s love theme from Twin Peaks. Still waiting for the day when YouTube user takesomecrime decides to dance to this (if you’re unfamiliar with his work, check it out here)

*I’m not the Dave in the video linked above – much as I wish I had those skills. Just the best link I could find for the song.

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Michael McCann – HungHua Brothel

Don’t let the name fool you – it’s actually from a classier place. This is one of the many excellent tracks from Michael McCann’s excellent score for Deus Ex: Human Revolution (an amazing game you should play if you haven’t). In the context of the game, it’s while you’re exploring a brothel in China, and it’s meant to be indicative of the sort of bad-life the workers therein are being subjected to.

Outside of that context, it’s a writhing, moaning, sexy song that pounds away in your ears with this great insistence. Again, dark and sinister sounding song, done well. I’ll admit it’s short, but I love every second of it.

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SOLO – A Runner

Now for the down-tempo song. SOLO is the pen name of Australian actress Sophie Lowe (Beautiful Kate, Blessed, The Slap) and I came across it on her soundcloud account. It’s a haunted lament for the guy who’s left her with barely a word, and it sees her utilising breathy Julia Stone-esque vocals, but not in a way that makes me want to send my speakers hurtling to the pavement like Julia Stone’s voice. It sounds best on a good set of headphones (the moment the drums kick in is great), and is one of those songs that works infinitely better when you listen to it at night.

(The image for this article on the frontpage comes from http://www.fullhdwpp.com/wp-content/uploads/Mouse-with-headphones.jpg)

Anita Sarkeesian and the difference of opinion

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By now most corners of the internet are aware of the hatred that’s been dealt to Anita Sarkeesian purely for voicing an opinion. Daring to breach the male-dominated world of video gaming has been met with disproportionate abuse, harassment and threats made to a woman purely for voicing issues she sees within a culture of games and gamers, and to call it a ridiculous response is to understate the matter to a huge degree.

Let’s set out the “problem” here:

A woman who has an interest in analysis and analytical thinking has pointed out the lack of equal representation of women in video games.

Apparently the only issue here is the inclusion of the second word of that sentence. As a middle-class white male aged 18-40, I’m not in any position to have felt the difference. As a male gamer, it doesn’t always jump out at me that the overwhelming number of games I’ve played have had male protagonists, and that the ratios of games I’ve played with strong female protagonists is skewed heavily on the side of the male majority. It’s not always been obvious to me, although I’ve personally never seen a problem with a female protagonist – I’m a long-term fan of the Tomb Raider series (even an apologist for the weaker games), I loved Mirror’s Edge and I’m eagerly looking forward to the sequel, and my love for the Portal games will probably never die.

The problem here is that of the games I’ve played since I bought my PS3 back in 2007, these are the only three I can think of that have a dedicated focus to female protagonists – and even then, the character of Chelle in Portal (or even GLaDOS) are not delved into with particular focus. Whether or not you’re a misogynist who don’t want no girl character to play, or a gamer who’s played the games they want regardless of main characters, it’s an undeniable fact that women are represented in a minority of starring video game roles. What you want to make of that is up to you, but Anita Sarkeesian has made it clear that it’s something she wants to discuss, and voicing an opinion is not necessarily an attack on the players.

I don’t always agree with Anita Sarkeesian’s point of view, although I’d be an outright liar if I said she hadn’t given me a lot to think about. And as with any analytical thinking, I think her discussions sometimes read a fair bit into something that might not have been intended that way (I’m monumentally guilty of this too in my film reviews).

But that’s not the issue.

I can’t see any reason why being a female gamer devalues her opinion in any way. I can’t for the life of me understand what would prompt masses of petty little fools to continually attack her, either on a level of mere trolling or some of the more serious abuse that would have justified her locking her doors and never setting foot outside again. I don’t understand how someone can feel it’s completely acceptable to say some of the reprehensible things I’ve read to anyone, let alone to be a part of a targeted attack on a specific individual.

However, I do think it’s a triumph that she’s still going. If nothing else, it’s good to see that the angry cries of idiots haven’t deterred her from her goal to discuss these issues. And at the end of the day, that’s all it is – a discussion. It’s not a war, it’s not an insult, it’s nothing more than an opinion that is pointing out some very real discrepancies in the gaming culture, and through her Tropes vs. Women series, pop culture at large.

I’m going to ask you to read or watch some of her articles and videos. I’m not going to ask you to agree with them, just to consider them. The link is HERE.

Then read THIS  and tell me if you think any of it’s deserved. (Here’s a hint: it’s absolutely not)

FunLand vs. AwesomeWorld

Imagine you’re at a theme park. It’s the best in the world, and for the purposes of this exercise, it’s the only one in the world. It’s got everything you could ever want – amazing rides, fantastic attractions, great restaurants, everything you could ever want to do, all in one place. We’ll call this FunLand.

Now, you get to go to FunLand only once, for one day. There’s so much to do – it can’t possibly all be done in one day – but you’ll still get to do a lot. Some things you’re not going to want to do. Others you will, and the people you go to the park with might want go alongside you, or they might not, but you’re all set to have a good day.

As you’re about to set out on your day at FunLand, someone tells you that, if you plan your day right, at the end of it, you’ll get a free pass into a different, secret theme park – this new theme park is bigger and better than the one you’re in, and it’s designed exactly for you – all the stuff that you’re going to skip or end up being disappointed with at FunLand won’t be there, and it’ll be filled with nothing but the things you want. What’s more – you get to spend the rest of your life here, and it won’t ever get boring, because you’ll be so happy to be there – everything will be right and you’ll never have to worry about anything again. We’ll call this new theme park AwesomeWorld.

So – you’re about to head into FunLand, and then you learn some more stuff about AwesomeWorld, and a lot of it doesn’t match up. Some people tell you that if you ride the rollercoaster before noon, you’ll lose your chance at AwesomeWorld. Some people tell you that you need to explore the zoo at FunLand, and only with other people who are only-exploring-the-zoo, or else you’ll be banned from AwesomeWorld.

Some people really love the waterslides, and when they hear that there are other people that only want to go through the Haunted House attraction, they decide that this isn’t right and try to get the Haunted House torn down. Then, there are the people who stick to the swimming pool – they don’t want to go to AwesomeWorld at all and will tell you it doesn’t exist. And in the middle of this, you start to wonder, “what should I do, what rides are safe to go on, where is it safe to visit?”

Now, to be fair, the majority of the people in FunLand really want to go to AwesomeWorld and have made up their mind to stick to one course of action to get there. Perhaps they don’t like the Haunted House, and just stick to the zoo – but if you decide to visit them, they’ll greet you and welcome you. Then there are the people who ride the rollercoaster before noon – chances are that when they rode it in the morning was when they felt they were ready for it – and it’s not going to take any of the enjoyment out of it if they decide to go on later. And the people by the pool – most of them are just having a good time, but there’s the few occasional people who will ridicule you if they find out you want to get into AwesomeWorld.

But the ones who stick out are the ones who really want to get into AwesomeWorld, or the ones who insist on telling you it doesn’t exist – and they won’t be happy until they’ve convinced every single person in FunLand that their view is right and that everyone else is wrong. And so everyone in FunLand starts to judge the people at the zoo because of a few people they’ve seen there, and it’s the same with the rollercoaster, the haunted house, the pool, the waterslides.

Soon, these groups are getting into arguments, and into fights. Some of them try to dismantle the Haunted House, but everyone ignores the time years ago when the Haunted House tried to expand onto the zoo.

And before you can even begin your day at FunLand, you’ve got a thousand different people telling you different things, saying you need to do things one way, or this way, and definitely not that way, and you stand at the entrance to this park, understanding why they think these things, because they all have their hopes on AwesomeWorld, or think that hoping for AwesomeWorld is pointless.

And so you decide that what you know for sure is that you’re at FunLand, and that you want to have a good day. You want to experience all the different things, and not rely on the certain rules that other people might have about them. You want to go down the waterslides, swim in the pool, ride the rollercoaster, visit the zoo and the Haunted House – and then do everything else that you want to do.

And yeah, if you can get into AwesomeWorld, if it exists, then you hope you do everything right. But it’s not going to stop you from saying “Hi” to the people who are at the zoo, it’s not going to make you tear down the Haunted House, and if someone you see at the pool thinks AwesomeWorld doesn’t exist, then you’ll agree to disagree before splashing around together.

You don’t know if AwesomeWorld exists – you’ve only heard people say it does, but then again, if FunLand is there, it seems reasonable there’d be something like it. What you know for certain, is that you only get one day at FunLand, and that hoping for an exclusive pass into AwesomeWorld isn’t going to stop you having the best day ever, and though people will disagree with you, you’ll just have to let them or otherwise you won’t get to experience everything you can.

And that, massive oversimplifications aside, is why I’m an agnostic.