Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lefty Battles and the Dark Side of the Force

Lefty's are a funny bunch, sometimes it seems like more time is spent arguing amongst each other than fighting the real enemy. This is especially so for social media, like Facebook, where the lack of 'in person' conversation brings a whole new set of problems. If we are going to finally have some true left wing solidarity then we need to re-examine our behaviour toward each other. What better way to do that than through the pop culture lens of Star Wars.

There are 6 stages you will encounter and each one can be identified with a different episode of Star Wars. The aim, of course, is to only engage in episodse IV, V and VI. It's when we lead ourselves to believe that there is anything to gain from the existence of episodes I, II and III that we are doomed.

I have chosen a recent Facebook lefty battle to illustrate the power of the force. Come with me now as we enter the dark side.

All episodes start the same. Text appears on the screen providing background for the upcoming struggle. In this case the text reads (cue music):

G: Watch the 3 News "undercover video" report for a true look at what happens when white, wealthy rural blokes come to town for the Wellington Sevens.
Young women are coerced out of their clothes and their self-respect, indigenous cultures are reduced to the butt of Pakeha jokes. It's homophobia on steroids, vomiting and urination.
"Organisers went on the record to congratulate the crowd for improved behaviour. It must have been pretty bad last year."
The great sense these Fortunate Sons deserve all of this, because of who their daddies are, makes me sick.
I want to destroy the colonial birthright which allows these people to disregard anyone brown, or queer, or dissident.

If we're lucky (and in this case we are), we kick straight off in to episode IV

Episode IV: A New Hope
This is where someone points out an issue they have with the text in a way that says "hey friend, not sure about that point. Can you clarify?" Or "Hey friend, I don't know if that's necessarily true, what about this point?". Basically working on the assumption that the person they are speaking too (being a lefty) is well intentioned until they prove you otherwise. In this case Episode 1 is neatly summed up as follows:

J: Hey G, is 'Young women are coerced out of their clothes and their self-respect,' a line from the video, or is that you? Unsure exactly what you're trying to get at there, but I think the concept of loss of self-respect is maybe not the most useful here, as it reinforces the kind of victim-blaming rhetoric that contributes to rape culture.

At this point we don't get to move straight on to Episode V because we've been immediately interrupted by Episode II.

Episode II: Attack of the Clones
The attack of the clones begins. Friends of the questioner see what their friend is posting and can't help but add a comment too, only in a much more unhelpful way and usually just a statement of their opinion:

A: His line (the video is actually a relatively decent piece about binge drinking as our national sport). It also assumes that all young women who this has happened to have lost their self-respect...some of them may feel fine afterwards, some who have been harassed or assaulted may feel angry rather than victim blaming. Whether one has a top or not doesn't form a barometer for self-respect, so that's kinda slut-shaming too. Er, hello there guy I don't know

Another clone appears.

Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Another clone, only this time more sinister, more opinionated and far more unhelpful. This person is often referred to as the phantom menace because they are often unknown to the person who is being questioned:

N: I interpret the tone here as suggesting that you think women being subject to acts of sexual coercion = a loss of respect (self respect and, as implied by how you speak about them, your respect). Gross.

Note that in many cases at this stage the person being questioned may not have even responded. If not, then this is what's called a Jar Jar Binks moment.

Now comes the response. This will go one of two ways. If we are lucky we move in to Episode V, a worthy rival to Episode IV. The person being questioned has taken on board the question or criticism and either re-clarified admitting error or re-stated their position with more detail in a non-confrontational way. If we are unlucky its Episode III and the person being questioned has become defensive and belligerent or confused and belligerent. In this case the response is a mix of the former and the latter.

Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

G: I know this is a topic you feel strongly about, J, and I am really not looking to get into any kind of argument with you.
The intention in my comments was the *opposite* of victim-blaming. I was trying to point out that young women featured in the video (and many more besides) were disrobing, apparently to make themselves an object of pleasure for male onlookers (rather than out of any personal desire to be free of clothing).
And they were doing this in response to social pressure from verbally aggressive and disrespectful men, with impaired judgement due to intoxication.
So yes, I think this did amount to coercion, to act in ways they would not normally act, and show themselves less self-respect.
I guess the acid test would be, how would these women feel watching the video of themselves afterwards, with their friends and family.

As you will see from the  post above, the person being questioned has not been overtly defensive at this stage, though there is some defensiveness already creeping in. The main problem is that the point of the original criticism has been missed, sending us in to the hellfire that is the prequel trilogy. A confused mess of statements that only serves to make everyone angry as they struggle to understand what the hell is going on and where everything went wrong. Usually at this stage the personal attacks will come thick and fast (He never could direct anyway, his ego got in the way, his writing has always been hopeless - Alec Guiness was ashamed of the lines he had to say, etc etc). Examples:

G: Ok, there has been some misinterpretation here. I will be generous, and accept that the misinterpretation has been inadvertent, rather than willful... if people continue to take an interpretation that I am blaming women for being sexually assaulted, or that women's bodies are something to be ashamed of and should be covered up, or whatever, then I will be increasingly left with the Impression of trolling. As a rule, I don't stay friends for long with repeat trolls

AC: Without reading the article or video, women who expose themselves like that have no self-respect - simple

S: Chris, cheerleading Grants sexism among othe things makes you look really pathetic

As you may have noticed, the introduction of any of the three prequels at any stage can be potentially disasterous, but all three is a death sentence. If we can avoid these pitfalls then it's possible to end up with a neat simple trilogy that everyone can enjoy. In this case I like to believe that this particular thread at least finally finished somewhere close to Episode VI.

Episode VI: Return of The Jedi
The finale. Both parties are victorious. The person being questioned, even if they have admitted being wrong, is awarded some redemption and can live in the comradely spirit world with the others. Its not everyones ideal and many will complain that it doesn't live up to its predecessors, but when the other option is the prequels...

G: Hey good people, I'm reflecting on all this material - even the hostile comments. My apologies to J for using the "troll" word. That was completely wrong and I am sorry.