My quadrennial election rant

I won’t be voting today. I didn’t vote in 2012, 2008 or 2004 either. I can’t vote, not being an American citizen. But I am perfectly fine with that. Sixteen years of not voting has had absolutely no impact on my life, and has helped convince me that it’s vastly over-rated. Indeed, from the sidelines, I’ve grown increasingly convinced that voting is much more the problem, rather than the solution. Or, at least, the problem is a system under which voting is a “right”, rather than a responsibility or a privilege. It’s an issue about which a number the founding fathers, particularly John Adams, were concerned. In 1776, he wrote:

Very few men, who have no property, have any judgment of their own. They talk and vote as they are directed by some man of property, who has attached their minds to his interest.

240 years later, that’s exactly what we see. In the 18th century, voting was limited largely to rich, white men. And it made sense. Not because they were rich, or white or men. But because they were, by far, likely to be the best educated and so best able to make informed decisions. Since then, the bar has been set ever lower, and now, you need little more than to be 18 with a pulse. And that’s a problem, because as Isaac Asimov once said, it leads to “the false notion democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” In the modern voting booth, it’s absolutely the case, and to quote Winston Churchill, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

It leads, inexorably, to the situation we have today, both parties ending up with the worst candidate available. Because when all votes count the same, it’s much easier to go for the bottom 51%, who can be easily manipulated through appeals to personal interest, fearmongering and tribalism [which we see equally from both sides]. The only way out is to end, or at least limit, the universal franchise. What I want is a quiz in the voting booth. Say, ten questions, nothing too taxing, basic stuff like “Locate Iraq on this world map,” [though in 2006, that was apparently too much for 63% of young Americans] If you don’t get 7/10, your vote is still recorded – just quietly ignored. You don’t deserve to have a say for, as I said, voting is a responsibility, not a right, and an uninformed electorate is worse than no electorate at all. Case in point: Hitler would likely be no more than a historical footnote, save for the power he gained through the universal franchise.

tl;dr? Can’t vote, have never voted, and it’s a terrible system, which has brought us to the awful choice we see today.

But if forced to choose, who would I pick? It’s not easy. In some areas, my views are Democratic; in others, Republican. I’m strongly pro-choice, for example; but I also favor enforcement of immigration law, that doesn’t effectively stop at the border. Even on the Clinton/Trump axis, both candidates have good ideas. I agree with Hillary that education is vital. But I also agree with Donald that the current foreign policy of nation-building and regime change has caused far more problems than it has solved. Voting for one side would inevitably mean compromising my beliefs in a significant number of areas. If I have any particular affiliation, I’d identify with the “Republican Party Reptile” group, described by writer P.J. O’Rourke as follows:

We are in favor of: guns, drugs, fast cars, free love (if our wives don’t find out), a sound dollar, and a strong military with spiffy uniforms. There are thousands of people in America who feel this way, especially after three or four drinks. If all of us would unite and work together, we could give this country. . . well, a real bad hangover.

Sadly, Mr. O’Rourke is not standing for election. Nor is anyone for whom I would actually want to vote. If Bernie Sanders had made it through, I’d have been more than happy with that, but the Democratic party machine appears to have done everything in their power to prevent this. Hell, right now, I (and I suspect the majority of the population) would likely be perfectly happy if President Obama said, “Look, people: it’s for the best” and passed an executive order, declaring himself Emperor for life. There is, literally, no good option in this election. They should install showers in the voting booths, because it’ll save you time afterward.

Donald Trump is an intemperate, arrogant blowhard, with a highly-dubious track record, in both his personal and business life. I wouldn’t accept a check from him, and wouldn’t recommend our daughter hang around Trump after dark.

However, he’s still preferable to Hillary Clinton.

Because Clinton is the epitome of everything I despise about the current system. A career politician, completely beholden to special interest groups and lobbyists (not least through the Clinton Foundation and its donors), who rode Bill’s coat-tails to the White House, then used it as a jumping-off point for her own political ambitions. She is absolutely entrenched with the political establishment, which brought us such joys as the bubble, the worst depression since the Great one, in which we lost our house, and has spent literally trillions of dollars on pointless foreign wars that benefit no-one save the military industrial complex. Make no mistake: a vote for Clinton is a vote for a continuation of this current, failed system.

If Hillary wins, it will mean the last five Presidents have been Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Clinton (and I’m not betting against Jeb Bush making another run in 2016). Congratulations, America: 240 years after winning your freedom from Great Britain, you’ll have instituted your own hereditary monarchy. For this is disturbingly like the approach used to determine the throne of England in the mid-16th century, except with Republicans and Democrats instead of Protestants and Catholics. And, guess what? That didn’t do much to benefit the population as a whole either.

It is bizarre to see a billionaire businessman as “alternative”, but these are certainly bizarre times. Trump is the most radical candidate with an actual chance of winning in my lifetime [maybe since JFK in 1960?]. Term limits, ethics reform, against the TPP. It’s kinda astonishing to see a Republican candidate espouse these beliefs. Whether he’ll be able to put them into action if elected, I’m less sure: I remember the hope for change when Obama won. Whatever happened to that? It may depend on who wins the Senate, just as a Clinton victory with a Republican Senate would lead to further deadlock. But even if the Reps win, this was a party that never wanted Trump – it just couldn’t figure out who they did want. How much would they co-operate with him?

That’s an undeniable part of his popular appeal. To quote one supporter, “The fact that Wall Street hates Trump and love Hillary, the fact that the career politicians hate Trump, the fact that the media is almost entirely promoting Hillary and bashing Trump, should tell you everything.” He’s got a point. You’d think in an election where the two candidates are separated by a couple of percentage clicks, that would be reflected in the media. Not so: 243 daily newspapers have endorsed Hilary Clinton. Just 19, Donald Trump. A staggering 96% of campaign contributions made by journalists have been in favor of Clinton. If you believe they aren’t skewing their reporting similarly, I’ve a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.

I mean, you really think the release of an 11-year-old tape by a Comcast-owned NBC show was purely coincidental? Yet I find the Access Hollywood tape largely irrelevant to the matter at hand. John F. Kennedy (Democrat) pretty much banged everything that came through the White House, up to and including Marilyn Monroe, and is still regarded as among the greatest of all Presidents. And if the sexual escapades of Mr. Hillary Clinton (another Democrat) didn’t matter when he was actually the sitting President, why the hell should Trump’s? This is more a salutary lesson as to why Americans’ trust in the media is at an all-time low. Because, for so many, the storylines being pushed are utterly out of sync with what people feel matters.

If Trump wins, it certainly won’t be the same old world. In some ways it may well be worse. But it’s a risk I’ll take, because over the past 16 years since I moved out to Arizona, I certainly haven’t seen the country get better overall. The system as it stands isn’t working, and seems only to benefit the few at the top. Despite his undeniable and numerous flaws, Trump represents the best bet for the necessary radical overhaul of that system in a very long while; his opponent its insipid continuation. I suspect it won’t work out (though I think the margin will be less than predicted; people are keeping their Trump support quiet, after six months of relentlessly being told it makes you a racist hatemonger), but the mere fact someone so despised by the establishment can go into Election Day with even an outside shot, gives me hope for the future. #Sanders2020?

Against Democracy

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
— Winston Churchill

It’s Election Day in the United States. Watching this election unfold with all the intellect and decorum of a Jerry Springer episode [and not even one of the good ones, about homewrecking lesbian strippers], I’ve come to the inevitable conclusion that democracy – as it stands in 21st-century America, largely defined by this once every four years dog-and-pony show – is a failed institution.

“That’s positively un-American!” I hear you gasp. To which I respond… Well, duh – not American, remember? Because of that I won’t be voting, since I’m ineligible – which I guess counts as payback, a reversal on that whole “no taxation without representation” thing that triggered the Revolution. It will be the third Presidential election since I moved out here, meaning it has now been 15 years since I cast any kind of ballot. I feel absolutely no sense of loss at this, and heartily recommend this to others as a course of action. No matter who gets in, when they screw up – as they inevitably do – you get to roll your eyes and say, “Well, I didn’t vote for him.”

Of course, don’t ever make the mistake of confusing democracy and freedom. It’s quite possible to have one without the other, and the latter is much, much more important, obviously. The problem is not so much the concept of democracy, as when democracy gets ground down to the lowest common denominator through the mythical concept of universal suffrage – the idea that everyone, somehow, is equally capable of choosing a government, so their opinion deserves equal merit. It hardly needs saying that this is complete bollocks – and goes directly against the concepts American’s founding fathers had in mind as they set the whole thing up.

When George Washington was elected the first President in 1789, one estimate is that only 6% of the population could vote: men, over the age of 25, who owned sufficient property. This was not an accident. Founding father John Adams, one of the most revered men of his time, wrote to James Sullivan on the perils of universal suffrage:

Depend upon it, sir, it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and altercation, as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualifications of voters. There will be no end of it. New claims will arise. Women will demand a vote. Lads from 12 to 21 will think their rights not enough attended to, and every man, who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other in all acts of state. It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks, to one common level.

It was true then, and it’s even more true now, given the vastly more complex nature of the world in which we live. How many of us genuinely understand economics or foreign policy? I know I don’t. But somehow, I’m an oath of allegiance away from being given the right to help decide the country’s direction. Frankly, this scares me, and the mob rule which results would be unthinkable in almost any area requiring expertise: “I’m sorry, doc – I know you said our kid’s headaches are just the flu, but my wife and I both believe it’s a brain aneurysm, so we’ve scheduled the operation for Monday, ok?” Lunacy. Except in politics, where it’s called “democracy.”

The most important thing about the restrictions which were set in place initially for the United States was not that only men could vote, or those who owned property – but that these limitations, as a result, meant that the voters were almost always the best-educated members of society – the ones you probably want choosing the direction of the country. It remained that was for the first half of the 19th century, but the block of voters was gradually increased, until the requirements are now a) being 18, and b) having a pulse (with the latter optional in Chicago). Standards have declined to the point where we are today, which Adams pretty much nailed, writing two hundred years ago:

Such is the frailty of the human heart, that very few men, who have no property, have any judgment of their own. They talk and vote as they are directed by some man of property, who has attached their minds to his interest.

This is what we see. The dirty little secret of democracy is that very few people vote for the candidate who would be best for the country. It’s almost entirely done on the basis of pure self-interest: which candidate would be best for me? Who’ll put more money in my pocket? Who’ll let me marry who I want? Of course, people will deny this, but you try to find someone who can honestly say, “While Party X is better for me personally, I’m voting for Party Y, because they’ll do a better job running the United States.” I’ll be here. Not holding my breath.

Think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize that half of them are stupider than that.
— George Carlin

The way the system currently stands, parties play to those stupid people, because they are so much easier to influence. You can’t possibly hope to explain the subtleties of balancing the national debt in a 30-second TV commercial. But you can make outrageous claims that the opposing side’s candidates enjoys eating babies for breakfast, because he’s a Muslim who wants to legalize rape. That’ll do just as well, because it doesn’t matter whether the voter genuinely believes in your policies or has simply been scared into voting against “the other guy,” it still goes into your box. Parties don’t want an informed, well-educated electorate. That’s too much like hard work, because they are harder to influence. Smarter voters tend to be more suspicious, simply because it’s almost impossible to be aware of what’s going on, without becoming cynical.

Parties, indeed, are a large part of the problem. They remove the need for intelligent thought at the polls: just check the boxes corresponding to your chosen tribe, and you’re done with exercising your democratic rights for another four years. That’s the way it works for most people. Remove the labels, ban the political advertising and… Wait, what? You mean I have to find out what the candidates actually stand for? And think about the issues? You mean there’s more to it than blindly following the party line which I’ve been spoon-fed?

Personally, I’d strongly favor some kind of quick test at the polling station. Nothing too taxing, mind: just locate Afghanistan on a map, say. I mean, you invaded the fucking place, I presume we know where it is? Turns out 88% of young Americans don’t. Other tests have shown similar levels of ignorance: only 36% of adults could name the Russian Prime Minister, and a third couldn’t even name the governor of their own state. These are the ones who need to be weeded out of the voting population, with extreme prejudice. Because they’re not the solution, they’re part of the problem: a system that promotes and indeed almost demands, ignorance, fear and selfishness.

As noted above, I haven’t voted in 15 years, and in all likelihood, will never vote again. This doesn’t make me feel any less invested in the economy, world affairs or any other aspect of society. And I’d fully support a return to the level of enfranchisement seen in Washington’s days. Because I’d far rather the government which oversees our everyday life was decided by the six smartest percent of the population, rather than the 51 dumbest.

The Death Of Copyright

I foresee a marked deterioration in American music and musical taste, an interruption in the musical development of the country, and a host of other injuries to music in its artistic manifestations, by virtue – or rather by vice – of the multiplication of the various music-reproducing machines.
— John Philip Sousa, “The Menace of Mechanical Music,” 1906

The latest copyright discussion to break out on the Internet was the result of a post on the NPR radio blog by one of their interns, Emily White, entitled I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With, in which she says she has purchased about 15 CDs in her life. Here’s the crux of what she said:

As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to realize the gravity of what file-sharing means to the musicians I love. I can’t support them with concert tickets and T-shirts alone. But I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience. What I want is one massive Spotify-like catalog of music that will sync to my phone and various home entertainment devices. With this new universal database, everyone would have convenient access to everything that has ever been recorded, and performance royalties would be distributed based on play counts (hopefully with more money going back to the artist than the present model). All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?

Seems like it was for some peopIe.

In particular top-grade musician/whiner David Lowery, who wrote a stern rebuttal, basically blaming Emily and her pals for driving “two dear friends” to commit suicide because…something something illegal downloads. I’m not clear on the logic there either. But apparently disturbed artists never killed themselves before The Pirate Bay came along. Except for Ian Curtis. Who clearly saw what was coming and decide to hang himself, to save time waiting around for Napster to start up and ruin his life.

“A lot of artists feel they aren’t being adequately compensated,” said Lowery in another piece [also on the irritatingly moralistic Trichordist site, self-righteously titled “Artists for an ethical internet”]. Well, boo fucking hoo. I feel I am not being adequately compensated for writing this, so I’d like the world to ensure that I am. KTHXBAI. Oh and I’d like a pony that shits rainbows as well. But despite this appalling lack of response to my personal needs by the universe, I’m still writing it. Because it’s what artists do. They create, not for compensation, but because they feel an urge to do so.

[As an aside, that’s why I never gravitated towards writing as a career.  When you stop doing something for pleasure, and start doing it to pay the bills – it usually stops being pleasurable. To quote Hunter S. Thompson, “I’ve always considered writing the most hateful kind of work. I suspect it’s a bit like fucking — which is fun only for amateurs. Old whores don’t do much giggling. Nothing is fun when you have to do it — over and over, again and again — or else you’ll be evicted, and that gets old.” I can think of no way to lose the joy of personal expression faster than that.]

But if musicians aspire to go down that road, I’m fine with that. However, creating music and calling yourself an artist does not, in any way, entitle you to a living. Especially if you are stuck in a 1980’s paradigm [as Lowery apparently is, which makes sense, given that three decades ago is about the last time his band, Camper Van Beethoven, were vaguely relevant] where record labels would throw money at ten grunge bands from the Pacific NorthWest, in the hopes that one would become the next Nirvana. He simply doesn’t appreciate the massive shift which has occurred. Put bluntly, recorded music has been the centre of the large-scale music business model for about the past 100 years, but may well no longer be sustainable.

Not, I should point out, that it’s exactly on its last legs. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry said that global sales revenue in 2011 was down by… Well, guess how much from the year before? A whopping three percent. To $16.6 billion. Really, protestations of the damage done by illegal downloading to the music industry seem almost as overblown as the similar claims by Hollywood, while then turning round and report record box-office revenues.

This is a good part of why many really don’t care any more. People don’t respect copyright, because copyright owners don’t respect people. Witness, for example, YouTube’s automated takedown process, which tramples the concept of “fair use” for even the slightest fragment of content. Or the term extension bought and paid for by Disney and their ilk.  We’ve been lied to so often and for so long in the interest of greedy conglomerates, that it’s impossible to take their claims seriously, or those who defend copyright, almost regardless of whether their arguments have merits. Witness Rob Reid’s marvellous talk on his 8-billion dollar iPod:

YouTube video

All Lowery’s weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth is not going to put the digital genie back into the bottle. But this will not kill music, any more than home taping did in the 80’s. [Remember that over-wrought campaign?] Music existed for thousands of years before Thomas Edison’s phonograph cylinder in the 1870’s enabled the capturing and playback of sounds. While this small aspect of “music” may have led to much greater access worldwide – and certainly contributed to an awful lot of cocaine consumption, up the noses both of record company executives and musicians – the gravy train appears to be nearing the buffers.

It would not seem to be society’s place to restrict or limit innovation by all, or its results, because a small group of people “feel they aren’t being adequately compensated.” Lowery and co. are acting like medieval monks, raging in the face of the Gutenberg printing press, which radically altered the landscape and pretty much killed off the illuminated manuscript as a source of employment. I do agree that artists should be able to be compensated for their work, but the system as it exists is no longer workable. New methods will arise, and indeed, already are doing just that – such as along Kickstarter lines, where people pay in advance, funding the work ahead of its creation, rather than retrospectively.

The details aren’t important. But copyright, as it operated during the 20th century, is basically dead: an unenforceable concept that has been broken on the wheel of digital distribution. The sooner artists like Lowery realize it, and move towards alternative approaches, the better off they’ll be.

Hitman: Absolution, and The Boy Who Cried “Rape!”

Oh, boy. Here we go again. Another day, another moral guardian pops up to condemn a game. Except, here, we’re not even talking about an actual game – just a trailer for one. I heard about this through a Google News alert, which brought me to this article on Forbes.

The blogosphere has tried the Hitman: Absolution trailer and it has been found guilty. In it, a group of female assassin’s dressed as hyper-sexualized nuns are brutally murdered by the ultra-masculine 47. It’s juvenile, brutal, an affirmation of every problem that video games have with women and an affirmation of the worst aspects of our culture.

I’ve never played Hitman – I saw the movie, which largely sucked, and think I spent a post-Thanksgiving sloth watching our son try to get through a mission. I seem to recall falling asleep, though that may have been as much the turkey overdose  as the game.  But, ooh! “An affirmation of the worst aspects of our culture”! I wanna see! Oh, dammit: I’m on my lunch-break. Better wait till I get home.

But in the meantime, of what did “the blogosphere” find the trailer guilty? Let’s click on the link, shall we? Turns out “the blogosphere” is apparently a guy in Melbourne called Brendan Keogh. Not sure what his qualifications are. He’s “a Media and Communications PhD student”, which I personally read as “too lazy to get an actual job.” This conclusion is confirmed by the “Occupation” listed on his profile: “Writer. Gamer. Student. Barista.”  Maybe there wasn’t enough room for “Layabout.” Among his other blogs are Feathers, Cogs and Stars, where he “will be uploading original short stories and poetry roughly once a fortnight.” This lasted three entries before he gave up, though frankly, it’s no bad thing. If you can get through them, you’ve a better stomach for shitty writing than I.

I mention all this, so you know that blogosphere thing is clearly in great hands…

Keogh starts out a long explanation of how he wasn’t going to write about the trailer – is he paid for the word on his blog or something? -then, six paragraphs in, finally gets to the issue: “My problem with this trailer is precisely its sexuality, more specifically its conflation of sexuality with violence.” Okay, let’s talk about tha… Or not. For the writer then heads off into a long discussion of “rape culture” in the video game world, though the examples offered are mostly smack-talk from Gears of Warplayers, whose relevance to the specific case I thought he was discussing is dubious. Give teenage boys headsets and an Internet connection, and you’re somehow surprised they aren’t congratulating opponents on killing them?

I disagree with the whole “rape culture” thing. Those who accept it, see the world through rape-coloured glasses and the results of that vision are unsurprising: Keogh’s statement that, “Videogame culture reinforces rape culture when 99% of videogame protagonists are male.” That’s a statement so entirely filled with delicious wrong, I don’t even know where to start, not least that videogame protagonists are not real. They’re pixels on a screen, and ascribing gender to them in a meaningful way says more about Keogh’s confused view of reality than anything. That aside, 100% of, oh, NFL players are male too. Is that reinforcing rape culture too? Like I said: start seeing the world through rape-colored glasses, and suddenly, everything potentially becomes the “conflation of sexuality with violence” which he abhors.

Now, don’t forget, I still hadn’t actually seen the trailer. But by the time I’d finished Keogh’s piece, I was very keen to see this “rolling in the digital filth”, which left him “embarrassed and ashamed and disgusted to have any part in a videogame culture that produces work like this.” Man, it’s gotta be totally out there, filled with more sexual battery than an Abel Ferrara retrospective. So here you go.

YouTube video

Well. That was underwhelming, wasn’t it?  It reached the end, I looked outside and, yep, civilization appears to be going on about its business. Dodged a (slo-mo) bullet there. Of course, unlike Keogh, I didn’t take the trailer seriously. To me, it was pretty clear that doing so would be a dumb mistake, right from the moment the killer nuns discarded their habits. This is not something that happens in real life, and from that point on, the clip ceased to have the slightest relevance at all to the universe in which I live. Maybe Melbourne is different in this regard, with packs of twisted sisters roaming the streets, launching RPG’s at random motels?

Could be, because this was the impact on Keogh: “It really upset me. Not just infuriated me, but upset me. I lost sleep over this last night.” Really? REALLY? REALLY? If that is truly the case – and it feels more like carefully manufactured outrage than a genuine reaction –  then someone needs to beg, borrow or steal a huge fucking dose of perspective. I saw a hardcore battle in which one bad-ass assassin took on an entire platoon of bad-ass enemies, who were clearly not popping round for a discussion, and prevailed over them. Once battle commenced, that was what mattered. And in support of this, it has been estimated the trailer contains, “Fewer than four seconds with the vaguest of hints of sexualization.” Oh, and I should point out, absolutely no rape whatsoever.

For those four seconds, I’ll defer to Penny Arcade in their assessment:

The cinematic ambitions of the Hitman games have always been prominently displayed on (or very near to) its sleeve; I watched the video to see what the deal was, and they’re playing around with their subtitle in a pulpy, grindhouse vein.  Robert Rodriguez through and through.  It’s fight choreography, and it may set an “erotic” stage but it quickly – and I mean quickly – gives way to a gruesome, life or death, septum obliterating struggle that might be hot for somebody but I suspect that’s a very specific demographic.  Only a necrophile could be titillated by something like this; by the end, it literally defies the viewer to maintain an erection.  As spank material, it leaves something to be desired; specifically, spank material.

That demolished, let’s go back and address Keogh’s earlier argument, that the trailer was… Sorry, what was his argument again? It was so long ago I’ve just about forgo… Ah, here we go: “”My problem with this trailer is precisely its sexuality, more specifically its conflation of sexuality with violence.” I’m not sure what he’s studying, but he appears to have majored in Missing The Point. Because that’s exactly where the “edge” here comes from: the uncomfortable feeling to be found in the juxtaposition of arguably the best and worst things about being human. It’s been that way for ever: I’m no gaming expert, but in cinematic terms, basically the entire girls with guns genre is based on skating the razor-edge of this tension.

The real crux here is not the simple equation suggested by Keogh of “sex + violence”. Even as a non-expert, I can list off any number of video games which have female characters, in costumes you wouldn’t wear to the supermarket, inflicting copious quantities of violence on (largely male) opponents. Next to no controversy have greeted these. The big difference here? The sexual, violent women here lose. It’s an interesting double-standard. Society nods its head at sexual, aggressive even aggressively sexual women…as long as they get what they want. But meet their fire with fire, as the Hitman literally does, and it’s unacceptable.

Is the trailer sexist? Quite probably. But it’s an advertisement for a series of games which, I’m pretty sure, are almost exclusively played by the male sex, from a male perspective, and can hardly be condemned for trying to appeal to the target audience. It’s not called Hitperson after all, and despite the trailer, is not likely to reach the nun demographic. There may be some hippy-dippy land where you can advertise a game about a serial killer character in a bland way, completely incapable of causing offensive in all possible interpretations, that will magically work. But in the real world, you have to grab the viewer’s attention, first and foremost, and on that scale, the trailer rates an absolute 10.

You may or may not buy the game. [By most accounts, it’s nothing like the trailer – which is a shame, I’d say] You may or may not like the trailer. You will remember it, and awareness of the product in question increases, the more the likes of Keogh whine about it. Mission accomplished, level completed. Brandon, you just got pwned like a n00b [as I believe the kids say], by the very people you’re complaining about

As usual, the moral guardians bleat about the wrong thing entirely. If there is a “problem” here – and I’m using quotes advisedly – it’s that the Hitman series encourages the player to identify with a mass murderer, and is far from alone in so doing. Never mind the “rape culture” bogeyman Keogh sees in video games, which requires the viewer to join the dots and make a picture of a penis, out of whatever might be on screen. If there’s an issue, it’s the “murder culture” far more all-pervasive in the genre (and in a pretty “ritualistic” or “fetishistic” way in this particular game) that should be of concern to those worried about such things. Which wouldn’t include me. But the implication of Keogh’s argument is that it would be ok to have the hero mow down dozens of women, as long as they were actual nuns, not sexy fake ones. Hmmm.

I did find interesting this statement, in the very article linked to by Keogh. “Rape culture is using the word “rape” to describe something that has been done to you other than a forced or coerced sex act.” Keogh uses the words “rape” or “raped” 46 times in his piece about an animated trailer for a video game. One which contains no actual sex acts of any kind done to anyone, let alone forced sex. Whoops.jpg. By this definition, the writer is actual part of the very “rape culture” problem he claims to be fighting.

One final irony: less than a week after his rant, Keogh wrote another piece, entitked Bite the bullet: videogames don’t make deadly shooters – however, in his universe, they apparently do make rapists. In that article he concludes, “Videogames are complicated things. No less than films. No less than novels. No less than any other form of media people engage with. It’s about time researchers acknowledged this instead of seeking easy, linear and lazy cause-and-effect models that insult the multitudes of people that play videogames.” Shame he was incapable of following his own advice on his own blog.

Tentacle Bento And The Futility of Censorship

It was 25 years ago that Urotsukidōji was released, and slowly seeped its way over to the West, on a variety of dodgy, Nth-generation bootleg copies whose resemblance to a snuff movie in terms of quality, only enhanced the feeling that what you were watching was extremely wrong. But, it appears, tentacles and schoolgirls remain a combination capable of creating controversy, as Soda Pop Miniatures found out.

This small, independent company decided, for their next project, to make a card game called Tentacle Bento, and get funding for it through Kickstarter, a favourite site for fundraising projects outside the normal scope of business. According to the official description,  “Each game puts you in the enviable position of being a horrid, tentacle flailing, slime oozing monster from outer space.  Cleverly disguised (of course) as an adorable, and newly enrolled student at Takoashi University, an all-girls school nestled in scenic Japan.”

Kickstarter didn’t object. The project rolled along merrily, raising funds and hitting its goals. And then, perhaps inevitably, the morality police got word and, for want of a better phrase, the shits hit the fans…

Leading the charge from their pulpit were the likes of Insert Credit, with po-faced proclamations like the following:

There are, to my mind, a lot of things wrong with this. For one thing, rape is not cute. Amnesty International states that 1 in 3 women is molested, sexually assaulted, or otherwise beaten in her lifetime. I’ve heard many advocates say this number is low, due to under-reporting. And it’s not cute, and should never be depicted with such saccharine sweetness as Tentacle Bento does. It is terribly damaging to anyone it happens to.

Miss the point, much? It’s pretty obvious that the satirical thrust of the game is largely based on its combination of two genres of anime that share a high-school setting, but are radically different in tone and theme. You have the tenticular horror of Urotsukidōji, but also have a million and one cutesy, soap operas that play out against the same background. [If I remain vague on the titles of these, it’s because I’d never watch one, and indeed, the increasing preponderance of these is one of the factors that led to my departure from anime fandom a decade or so ago]. It’s basically no different from Buffy the Vampire Slayer in this regard, which similarly merged genres.

Of course, in reality, rape is not cute. But we’re not discussing reality, or anything even fractionally connected to it. This is a work of fiction, and as such, fictional rape can be absolutely anything the creators want it to be, from horrific to erotic. The un-named author of the piece doesn’t quite get round to clarifying which of his (I’m assuming it’s a man, because members of the morality police usually are – with the noted exception of Mary Whitehouse) credentials allow him to dictate to an artist what they should or should not be doing with their art. I wonder what Mr. Insert Credit would make of this 1814 woodcut etching by Hokusai, one of the most renowned Japanese artists of the time:

As usual, we have an absolute failure to differentiate adequately between reality, and stuff that’s about as far from reality as can possibly be imagined. Even if the game is “about” tentacle rape – possible, but denied by the creator – and even if someone was of a weak enough mindset to be convinced by a card-game that such behaviour was okay (extremely dubious), they’d still be lacking several key factors – notably tentacles and a supply of Japanese schoolgirls. Tasteless? Probably. But posing any threat to society? Totally not. And that should be an absolute minimum requirement before you call for any kind of suppression. Not so, Mr. Credit, who is of the opinion that just because he doesn’t like something, It Must Be Stopped.

I’m not the morality police, but I’d like to make a citizen’s arrest. Do not support Tentacle Bento. Instead, write to Kickstarter (the link at the bottom), and complain about the content. Kickstarter is a big enough company that it should be filtering this sort of thing. The company should not help to facilitate the idea that rape is no big deal.

I see. So, you don’t want to censor, just yank the sole funding method out from under the project – which would, effectively, censor it. Great piece of double-think there, Mr. Credit. It’s an easy target to pick on, but the logic applied here needs also to be applied to just about every form of popular culture, from movies through TV series, comics, video games, music, and so on, which depict things in far more explicit detail than Bento, where whatever happens is almost entirely in the players’ minds. Murder “is not cute,” and is – by definition – “terribly damaging to anyone it happens to.” You wouldn’t know it by looking at, oh, the entire output of Hollywood. This isn’t even a slippery slope. By criticizing Bento, you’re already gone all the way at the bottom of the slope, and are looking up at all pop culture.

This wasn’t even the most fatuous criticisms of the game, which also included such amazing claims as “We’ve established in our culture that murder is bad. We haven’t done that for rape yet. Murder victims aren’t continually reminded of their attack through media.” Well, that’s alright then! Or even, “Because something is virtual does not mean it is fake. It exists and is real regardless of what form it is in.” Er… Reality check needed over there, stat.

Naturally, Kickstarter suddenly decided that the project which had been approved, running successfully (having raised over $30,000, more than double the amount needed) and even, by some accounts, been chosen as a “Staff Pick” for one day, was no longer acceptable. Well, no longer kinda acceptable. The project page is still up there, with the creators updating it post-suspension to let people know they’ve moved the drive back to their own site. Where a) it has already raised even more money – over $34,500 at the time of writing – and b) they won’t have to pay Kickstarter their hefty 5% “service fee”. Good to see a happy ending.

So, what, exactly have Mr. Credit and his fellow travellers actually achieved with their poorly-considered rants. They have brought a great deal of attention, funding and sales to a game that otherwise would largely have flown under the radar. A sizable number of people – including myself – won’t fund any more Kickstarter campaigns, because of them being a bunch of fucking cowards here. The resulting success of Tentacle Bento will undoubtedly lure other games creators in to the arena, thereby further “trivializing” rape, as the writers claim. And will their dubious campaign save even one woman from being raped, whether by tentacled slimebeasts from outer space or more prosaic methods? I think we all know the answer to that one.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to kick back with a nice bottle of Tentacle Grape and then go find some Japanese schoolgirls to molest, because not being offended by this clearly makes me a terrible, terrible person.