The Worst Filing System Known To Humans

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Reload the Canons!

This series of articles is an attempt to play through The Canon of videogames: your Metroids, your Marios, your Zeldas, your Pokemons, that kind of thing.

Except I'm not playing the original games. Instead, I'm playing only remakes, remixes, and weird fan projects. This is the canon of games as seen through the eyes of fans, and I'm going to treat fan games as what they are: legitimate works of art in their own right that deserve our analysis and respect.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Wendy Davis, DOMA, Political Will, and the Value of Art

Via. Note that this is strictly Biblically accurate.
If you haven't been following American politics lately (and honestly, why would you when there's so many exciting things happening elsewhere in the world?), over the past couple of days we've had a number of rather significant dustups between our conservative and progressive factions. Let me try to summarize everything that went on, and why it's a big deal:

  • The Supreme Court hamstringing legislation that forced historically racist (er... more than average, I mean) areas of the USA to jump through hoops before changing voter laws. Previously, this legislation protected people of color from rapid redistricting or the implementation of voter ID laws that systematically and disproportionately disenfranchised poor African Americans and Latin@s. Basically, the Supreme Court has said that Congress needs to reassess which areas require such legislation and edit the bill accordingly. The outlook for Congress functioning well enough to get that done is pretty bleak; hence: civil rights have been, at least with respect to voting, hamstrung. THANKS GUYS
  • A bill that would have dramatically restricted access to abortion in Texas was filibustered (i.e. someone got up and talked so long that the bill wasn't able to be passed before a time limit) to death by a senator named Wendy Davis, who stood without leaning, without food, without water, without breaks, without being able to deviate even slightly off topic, for 13 god damn hours. And then the conservatives who were pushing for the bill had the vote anyway, and doctored the timestamp on the website to make it look like they had voted within the time limit. Luckily, the fact that the Internet was watching (even though none of the major news channels were, heyo!) forced them effectively to admit they were trying to pull a fast one. So that was exciting.
  • And then that morning, right as people were ready to get good and furious over the Texas thing, the Supreme Court decided that the obnoxiously-named "Defense of Marriage Act"--which forced the federal government to ignore queer marriages that their home states (because some states allow queer marriage and others don't, because AMERICA!)--had to be struck down. Turns out it's unconstitutional. Shit, I could've told them that. Anyway, this is a pretty huge deal for us LGBT* folk, since it means that we have protections now federally that we didn't before.
As a recent migrant to Tumblr, I watched all this through the lens of that social platform and its particular oddities. Mainly, I watched it through the lens of the flippant one-liners that are Tumblr gifsets:


This actually got me thinking, as I do, about the role art has in discourse. Periodically someone will write an article about the uselessness of art. The basic gist seems to be, typically, that art has not made the world a better place, that it cannot serve such a progressive role in society, that, in fact, art is fundamentally useless. There was, I believe in the New Yorker, an editorial that contemplated President Barack Obama's seemingly contradictory support of the arts... and his support of drone warfare that kills astonishing numbers of civilians in countries where we have no place meddling. If I recall correctly (I tried to dig up the article but had no luck) he drew parallels to the high culture of the Nazis--great lovers of art; great killers of men. If art should have an effect of increasing empathy and understanding, surely these cases are proof that art is useless!

Well, leaving aside all the bad science inherent in such a leap (watch out, kids, for things like this that Sound Very Wise but don't stand up to scrutiny. I got sucked in initially, and even still found the argument kinda persuasive right up until the point that I started trying to explain it for this article) I'm not sure art needs to serve that particular purpose to serve a purpose at all, if that makes sense. The moral reformation of mass murderers is certainly noble and all that but that's hardly the goal of all or even most art. What's more, there's a whole bunch of other stuff art can do that's worth maybe breaking down and codifying a little bit, with the help of some of the stuff I found on Tumblr. So, this article is going to be basically The Best of Tumblr's Reactions to This Bullshit, Plus Academic Commentary. It's like if you combined Buzzfeed with an Art History degree or something.

Art Gives Us Touchstones To Discuss Ideas

I love the way our pop culture provides us with a gigantic Matrix-style arsenal of tools and weapons to say what we want to say. It's not always a complex conversation like you get with thousand word essays, but sometimes it gets surprisingly clever:

Could this commentary exist without relying on reference to Mad Men? Yeah, maybe, but it's one thing to say, "History is going to think people during this time period were wacked out morons, as history so often does," and quite another to say, "Hey, you know how you react on a weekly basis to this particular show? People in the future will feel the same way about shit that we just take as a matter of course." That's a powerful statement, because it links our emotional experience to ideas that otherwise would remain largely academic and abstract.

Art also allows us to turn ideas into active entities, which is, I guess, a logical fallacy, but is also frankly a powerful way of understanding ideas:

I love the way some of the baddest asses of fiction in these posts are paralleled with Wendy Davis. This stuff isn't complex, for sure, it's just slapping a name on a character. (Or a character's head, as the case may be.) But the very presence in fiction of heroes that we admire and seek to emulate allows us to recognize when real people stand up and become heroes, as well. Even if we don't draw comparisons consciously to particular characters, art helps us reach a point where we can put them in a narrative framework.

And, honestly, this stuff is a hoot:

This woman is my Khaleesi.

Which leads me to my next point:

Art Helps Us Deal With Bullshit

Sometimes you just need a way to unwind your frayed nerves a bit and have a good laugh. I suspect that's actually quite important for psychological well being when you're in the trenches of the culture wars, yet I've seen very little analysis of the role of humor in resistance/rights movements. A lot of the posts here certainly count as humorous in one way or another, ranging from the simple amusement of seeing Dirk Strider recast as Wendy Davis, or a reference to a gag from Pirates of the Caribbean, to sardonic jabs, to... well... this:


Sometimes you just need out and out absurdity; sometimes it's the only way of responding to the world. This is why caricature artists are such a perennial part of our culture:

Honore Daumier, drawing a bunch of old fat white men who run the government. So many things have changed in a century and a half...
Politics isn't always funny. Often, it's deadly serious. Art's there to help us make that seriousness bearable. And really, mockery, satire, caricature, and laughter that has a bit of a bite is not a sign, as I've seen some claim, of us lowering ourselves to the levels of our opponents. First, embracing laughter as a way of staying sane against the constant barrage of ignorance and bigotry seems perfectly reasonable to me. And second... well, the only way humor could lower us to their level is if they actually used humor to begin with.

And does anyone really think Mallard Fillmore is funny?

Art Is The Will Of The People, Manifested

Laughing, or even nodding our heads, to a work of art in unison is, itself, an act of political organization. It shows a democratic will to join together under a single banner. In that sense, art allows political will to manifest itself. It is a tangible conclusion to a conversation about our beliefs and values, and by sharing, trading, and talking about art, we indicate where we stand.

Art is solidarity:

We can make use of pop culture--even pop culture that is problematic!--to express our beliefs and desires. Look at that first image: it's a statement made possible by the collision of pop culture (in the form of a LMFAO song) and emergent political language (Chapulling), which represents the same sentiment present in the slogan "Occupy Everything." It is the sentiment of solidarity, the sentiment that our struggles worldwide are the same. Just as occupation is a manifestation of shared will, just as the chanting protesters who demanded Wendy Davis be allowed to speak is a manifestation of shared will, so is this art.

Art can go a step further, though, to become more than simply an expression. It can also become a call to action.

Art Provides Us With A Rallying Cry

I think these posts pretty much speak for themselves:

These images are more than just expressions of will. They push art into an even more radical territory--the Call to Action, the demand for change. So, we're kind of back where we started with the whole question of art's utility. I'm not sure that these statements are going to change any minds, exactly, but I also think it's undeniable that they serve a different purpose than simply demonstrating agreement and unity with respect to a political cause. The statements by Leticia Van de Putte, in particular, work great as a symbol of the status of the wider women's rights movement right now and how feminism has been sort of shouted down and out of public discourse.

Will Rick Perry stop being a sexist, homophobic, racist fuck simply by standing in proximity to this set of minimalist posters?

Probably not. Art isn't pixie dust. (Except maybe Ke$ha's music, but that's another argument entirely).

But isn't that asking a bit much of art, considering all the other stuff art can do?

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  1. I'd say Bob Filner makes a better symbol of how much women's rights are respected right now. Filner apparently being completely unable to be trustyed to be alone in the same room as a women lest he fondle, grope, and force kisses on them, aaaaaand the Democrat party throwing as much support behind him as they can get away with, as well as coercing others (particularly women) into supporting him despite knowing what a perverted swine he is.

    What say you?


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