Part time critic

Six weeks at home (recovering from surgery) in the middle of a Kiwi summer (which at any minute could be winter) I’ve been trying to manage having a foggy brain with pain management and keeping myself occupied (hence the sudden splurge of ranty blogs). Now it is 99% humidity and I am missing my air-conditioned office at work – but not the work yet.

So after finally reading Brave New World so that I could actually say ‘I had read it’ (was glad I had read under a cloud of opiates – amazing but seriously depressing) I returned to Netflix to catch up on some sci-fi. Lying at home, trying to ‘be good’ (the idea of not being able to ride my single speed for nearly 3months is torture) I’m going to entertain you with my amateur attempt at being a critic.

Yet again – a disclaimer. I do not see myself as an expert, or even someone who has read and seen everything in the sci-fi genre. I’m a bit fussy and hard to please and I have a tendency to change my mind after viewing or reading things multiple times. I will limit myself to those shows/movies where I have some clarity about my position. I also do not want to be negative, as I think all writers and producers have a particular vision they are bringing to life and my lack of connection with something does not detract from this.

First up – Star Trek Discovery

I am first and foremost NOT a Trekkie. That should immediately disqualify me from commenting. But I love this series. Some fans lament the detour from what they see as they heart of the ST stories. I see it as a refreshing ‘posthumanism’ exploration of deeper philosophical concepts. I like the break from traditional scientific models of life, where quantum physics and biology are not separate entities. STD (unfortunate acronym) pushes scientific concepts to the edge rather than reproducing the ‘same old’. There are the familiar players – Clingons, Vulcans, Humans and The Federation. So much is familiar and also different. Leading women, gay characters and cultural diversity are not there for cannon fodder (red shirt syndrome). And if it’s ‘too PC’ for some – just load up on the original series and JJ Abrams reboots.

Second – Altered Carbon

Initially, I was swept away by this series. But once the honeymoon was over (probably after the 4th episode) it started to feel a bit like a Marvel series; Man has traumatic past – loses parents and sister – loves a woman – loses woman – tortured man has new identity – has a mission. It’s sexy, slick, and again pushes posthuman ideas (an area I am particularly interested in). The key concept of AC centers on technology (‘stack’) that enables consciousness to be moved to another body with ease means there can be a lot of room to ‘play’ with concepts of identity, connection, love, intimacy. To be ‘spun up’ into the body of the opposite sex is seen through mainly through the experience of women becoming men, it’s pretty phallocentric. There is a lot of nudity, violence and sexual violence in AC. So whilst I appreciate some of the ideas I’m left with an uneasy sense of misogyny masquerading as equality. There is no genuine shift in gendered relationships in AC – but it is still a great ride.

Third – The Cloverfield Movies

Confession – I HATED the first Cloverfield movie. The shaky camera work (yes I know it was intentional) and the ending had me wanting a refund on my time. So I was really hesitant to see 10Cloverfield Lane and The Cloverfield Paradox. I gave Paradox a go first and because it was more about quantum physics I got excited. It worked well and there was enough humour in it to smooth out some of the familiar sci-fi limits. Bit of a spoiler – but I loved the amputation scene and the hand continuing to live as a separate entity trying to send a message. This movie makes the original plausible by opening up the idea that rips in dimensions and space/time could occur. 10Cloverfield Lane therefore sits somewhere in the middle of all this more as a psychological thriller. And here comes the ‘BUT’ – why the monsters. It’s like kids telling a scary story but they get lost on how to finish it so they say ‘and then A MONSTER’. I guess I am wondering how that adds to the tension, for me it was a huge deflation.

Next up – Legion

If you were to smash The Twighlight Zone, XMen, and Inception together you have Legion. It is full on, like a darker, creepier XMen. In fact it is part of the XMen universe. Definitely do not let your kids see this – it is more horror than sci-fi and while I’m looking forward to season 2 I hope they can dial back on some of the surges between layers of reality. If you like Twilight Zone and mutant stuff – this is great. Just sleep with the light on after.

Finally – Dark

Not all sci-fi needs a space backdrop. Actually, I struggle to classify some series (The OA in a similar vein). Dark has been a shining light for me and is more a time travel, esoteric drama than sci-fi. Comparisons to Stranger Things seem inevitable but it is nothing like ST except for some of the story settings (small town and young people with mysterious things going on). Brilliant acting is undone by terrible dubbing into English and at times it’s like watching English dubbing of Kungfu movies. I did watch it a second time in German with subtitles. If you can focus on the eyes rather than the mouths it works – but I hope they can rectify it before season 2.

Dark is an aesthetic series. It is beautifully shot and the sound track creates right tone throughout – you feel Dark as it spans three timelines (with a 4th being touched on – no spoilers). The characters are not over cooked, there is a lovely balance of diversity and a genuine sense that these characters are there not just to ‘fill the diversity quotient’ as many others feel. This is a good vrs evil story as well but it is much more subtle and mysterious, the simplicity of the story does not do justice to the complexity of the plot. There is so much going on you need a second go at it as some characters span 3-4 timelines and there is an economy of dialogue that means every line potentially hides a clue. Another way to think about it is to see Stranger Things as a ‘half-strength soy latte’ compared to Dark – an espresso (short black), it’s possible to like both flavours but most people will have a preference.

I’m also really excited about Annihilation. This isn’t being released in on the big screen in NZ, the studio was concerned it was ‘too intellectual’ for the masses. Netflix scored it and I don’t think they’ll regret it.

Well – that was fun, I don’t envy people who do this for a living, knowing regardless of your opinion people will shred you. There are a bunch of other shows I could comment on…save it for another rainy day, there seem to be enough of them at the moment.

 

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Census or Censor Us

(Disclaimer: second blog in as many days – still possibly a bit rusty/ranty)

I can time the census by the time it takes me to get around to clearing out my wardrobe. Five years already since the last one? But I’m unclear about being ‘counted’ because statistics is a strange process of deciding what matters, in other words it has the power to shape what is counted as real, important, ‘true’ representation of households in 2018. Here is the official blurb from stats NZ:

“Every five years, we run the census – the official count of how many people and dwellings there are in New Zealand. By asking everyone to complete a set of questions about themselves and their household, we can capture a snapshot of who is living in, and visiting, New Zealand.”

Sounds simple enough until you get to the kinds of questions being asked or in this case NOT being asked. This snapshot is going to be taken in …well…black and white and I’m not referring to ethnicity. This year they have decided to drop options around gender diversity and sexuality. Important information about people’s identities, something so fundamentally intrinsic to being human that in some countries you can be killed (legally…and not), is not being collected. This begs the question of the legality of the census. Everyone has to fill out the census accurately and it’s illegal not to complete. Not including gender identity and sexuality for me contradicts the purpose of a census – to collect an accurate picture.

The irony is how many other people seem invested in the existence of rainbow communities. The daily onslaught of abuse, violence, invisibility and persecution of queer people all around the world should make it plainly obvious that it matters! It’s weird to live in a country with marriage equality then not have that counted. Stats New Zealand have explained their position which basically boils down to ‘too hard basket’ and ‘it’s a bit personal for some people’. They won’t get ‘high quality data’ – yes we are a bit of a messy bunch and that is my point. When statistical modelling is privileged over representation the picture is ‘straightened’ out, focus sharpened, cropped neatly (painlessly – because we don’t want to cause offense) there is a cost – further marginalisation as the margins become exclusive rather than inclusive.

It’s good to know they are ‘working on it’ but FFS – it’s not like it’s a new phenomenon. Religion is a bit messy as well but that is still included, so is ethnicity. Perhaps to keep it more in line with the heteronormative stance, they should just have ‘Christian and non-Christian’ – and how Christian do you have to be, to be counted as Christian – what is the criteria – church attendance, bible verses able to be recited? God knows. Why is someones faith or beliefs put ahead of the material being and reality of LGBTQIA+. Funny how LGBTQIA+ are over represented in other stats, suicide, hate crimes, mental health, lack of housing, but are somehow too difficult to count.

The really sad thing is enabling people to make a meaningful decision to identify. Imagine being a young person and this is your first census – You’ve just come out or you have become aware you are intersex – yes – someone who is statistically just as common as red heads – and you only get M or F as your sex (apparently they will let you tick both…how accommodating of them). How does that help a young person feel their identity is meaningful and valued, real and their existence matters? Or anyone for that matter finally having language to put their identity.

In light of it being Auckland Pride Festival, and all things rainbow are being covered, show me actual change, real life shit – not words, publicity stunts (rainbow police cars), platitudes, hand wringing angst about diversity.  Sam Orchard  points out the problem (probably more succinctly than I am) of how can services, support and funding be legitimately advocated for if diversity is not represented? Perhaps what this demonstrates is society has outgrown it’s comfortable containers (not that some of us ever really fitted – we had to be squeezed in).

Finally – the only legit way to avoid the census is to be out of the country. I’m thinking a cruise ship out in international waters on the 6th March, shit I could have hitched a sweet ride to Mars yesterday – riding a big rocket, playing David Bowie…pretty gay

Spaced out – a blog rant because it’s been a while and I’m a bit rusty

(Disclaimer: This is my first blog in a few months, I have dropped/sprinkled some f-bombs but I’m hoping they fit the ranty style)

I love all things to do with space; fact, fiction and everything that has yet to be classified. So I was there watching the live stream of SpaceX fist true payload test flight yesterday. Let’s just say it was more exciting than the cyro test for the James Webb telescope.

In years to come it will be interesting to see what people recall of Elon Musks – SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch, more significantly the ‘dummy payload’. I used to be a bit meh about Musks plans of getting to Mars, I felt there were things we should tend to here first (like a lot of people I suspect). However I think once humanity gets to Mars and realises what a shit hole it is (sorry Mars, you lost your magnetic field, had your atmosphere stripped, your oceans boiled away and more than likely the only life is bacterial) it will hopefully be the wake-up call needed to stop shitting where we eat.

But back to that payload – the cherry red Tesla Roadster with Starman at the wheel, blasting out David Bowie I have to say ‘classy dude…nice choice’. For everyone wringing hands about ‘space junk’ (here comes the rant) CHECK THE FUCKING TRAJECTORY! It is metaphorically the same as me going to a river picking up a stick and chucking it in a stream to see where it might end up out at sea, then people screaming about polluting the river. It is (was!) headed for Mars, not orbiting earth, but overshot (too much power Elon – I feel myself channelling Scotty from Star Trek ‘I’ve given it all I’ve got captain’) and is going to make it to the asteroid belt – yes a massive collection of debris. They had to put a payload on the end to test it. Picking a car as others have said is a better representation of actual payloads – not the usual block of concrete or steel. Why not test and have a bit of fun? The Starman suit is also a genuine suit soon to be used so – yeah – it also serves a purpose…and it’s FUN! It should not have to be an ‘either/or’ choice when it comes to science and technology pushing ideas or the environment. Tesla has invested research into alternative energy – again – how about checking with other big companies about their commitment to sustainability.

Speaking of sustainable, the rockets – reusable. So to all those complaining about pollution, space-junk etc, how’s your recycling going? Sure Tesla might get some marketing out of it – and why the fuck not! He took a huge gamble.

No – of course the car is fucking next to useless in space, orbiting Mars – wherever – so is a massive piece of steel and concrete. Oh and let’s not forget there are meteors bigger than The Roadster hurtling toward daily, so please (to those concerned hand wringers) STFU about shit from space – space is full of stuff, all sorts of stuff and who knows some of that stuff might have come from previous Mars civilisation wondering if it could send someone to Earth….ponder that.

Next stop – the Flat Earthers…not sure when I will get ‘round’ to that. I sphere I may go round in circles.

 

Image difference

The longer I work in a secondary school, the more I realise how much the public image of a school matters. I’m really fascinated at how diversity fits with a schools image. Many schools report they ‘value diversity’ or ‘celebrate diversity’. More often than not they mean cultural diversity, actually I would say almost exclusively (thanks to the New Zealand Curriculum statement) diversity really just means ethnicity. But this is where things get interesting and a little perplexing.

Alongside this schools are charged with supporting young people to develop a strong sense of their identity. Again this seems on the surface to be just fine, except when other forms of diversity start to ‘contaminate’ the pristine, clean cultural definitions. This is the most popular image used in school advertising across the county, a picture of smiling faces of various ethnicities. For simplification, the rhetoric goes something like this:

  • We love diversity – so you need to all wear a uniform, and wear the correct one for your assigned sex, oh and no other outward signs of individuality like piercings or hair colour, style, length…but we want you to be yourself.
  • We celebrate diversity – but not pride week, no you can’t have an LGBTQ+ group – people might object and that would make the school look bad. But we will do pink shirt day because being anti-bullying looks good for our image.
  • We value diversity – but let’s make sure students with unique needs are siloed off so they don’t disrupt the learning of others.
  • We are inclusive of diversity – but our common room isn’t accessible.
  • We encourage diversity – so long as you’re not failing NCEA and making our stats look bad.
  • We welcome diversity – but we are a single sex school so you have to have the right body parts to attend.
  • We embrace diversity – so long as you manage your anger, fear, sadness and frustration and behave the same as everyone else.
  • We recognise diversity – but if you are bullied for being transgender this might not be the school for you, you’re asking for special treatment and it’s just too hard for us to adapt to the 21st Century, bathrooms have always been this way, actually we’d prefer not to know you exist at all.
  • We support diversity – only if you behave in ways that keep everyone comfortable, so don’t be too gay…
  • Basically – we accept diversity – so long as you’re not different.

None of this is ever blatant, it is a quiet dismissive attitude, an omission in policy, an intentional avoidance, an awkward silence, or a flustered defensiveness. Because schools are now brands with an image to uphold (sounds a bit like political parties). Diversity is messy and complex and while education is locked into the neo-liberal politics of advanced capitalism, a schools image will often be prioritised at the expense of a fuller definition and recognition of diversity.

WAMU – a new political force…farce

Weeks on from the Green Party leadership kerfuffle, I’m still reeling and wondering about the deeper philosophical implications for future politics. Naaah fuck it…time to take (hypothetical) action.

I’m keen to start a new political party, but I have some strong beliefs about what it will take for anyone to join me. The We’ve All Messed Up (WAMU) is not for the faint hearted. While other parties frantically bury their indiscretions, anyone wishing to represent WAMU will be expected to have fucked up in the past. In fact if your history shows a squeaky clean record from your late teens to early 30’s I’d be suspicious.

WAMU is focussed on playing the issues not the person (the equivalent of playing the ball not the player in football – it’s a dirty tactic). Our fuck ups will be the first thing the public will know about us. As its possible leader, I am proud to say my shenanigans did lead to be booked by police, protesting. We put up flyers before a big rugby game in Dunedin indicating the link between domestic violence, alcohol use and rugby. I was involved in numerus fees protests, in the early 90’s. I took out a student loan and spent some of it on a mountain bike! I gave people free hair-cuts with my clippers with absolutely no training. I smoked marijuana and yes I did bloody inhale and it was fantastic – just really bad for the food budget. One flat had a kids play house out the back and a friend stayed in it for a few months, and yeah the landlord found out and wasn’t happy. I also lied about my religion in the census one year, I said I was a jedi but I have to confess, I’m only a padawan – busted! So there – plenty of stuff that would tarnish my potential to run for any current political party.

WAMU understands that taking risks, pushing the rules and at times breaking them is healthy. Being afraid to get it wrong and always obeying authority is not freedom – it is totalitarianism. Much like all those people salivating over the demise of Meteria Turei calling for her to be tarred and feathered or hung drawn and quartered – well – maybe the 21st century version, it’s the same mentality – fear based politics.

WAMU is calling out to ordinary people and those up there on their high horses to climb down for a moment and get real about the messiness of life. I feel sorry for young politicians – trapped having to keep that squeaky clean image up, fear not – WAMU will be there when your rebellious phase finally hits, we will embrace you should your party turn its back. Our party mandate will be simple: The past present and future all matter but only two of these we have the ability to influence while the other serves as a platform to launch from. The best foundations for this platform are life experiences that push the normative codes of society.

WAMU – giving the middle finger to petty personal politics and promoting palm in face practices to prevent pathetic pompus pricks perpetuating pretentious policies.

(disclaimer…I needed to ‘p’).

Not another statistic

It’s been a sobering week. I love my job, but it is bloody hard sometimes. It’s one of those moments I dread  as a school counsellor, hearing that a young person you have supported has taken their own life. I’ve been through this before, thankfully not a lot but it never gets easier. I’m sad, angry and frustrated – sometimes things do not get better! Yet this is what we tend to tell people, it will get better…what if it doesn’t? I reflected all week, trying not to give in to despair. I think something left unanswered is just how much emphasis there is on the individual ‘getting help’. I’ve said it before – expecting people to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society is not the answer. Somehow – my grief is more a profound sense of inevitability, a hollow aching grief that ‘it didn’t get better’ – we were served notice, but will anyone take notice of the larger systemic and societal shifts that need to enable people to want to stay checked in to this life.

We live in a time where showing compassion, love and vulnerability are seen as weakness. Where harshness, hate, separation, fear and rejection are normal. It is especially sad when these ideas become part of systems meant to support our most vulnerable – in an election year, this seems even more evident and strangely indicative of a profoundly sick system, more intent on point scoring.

While it never gets easy hearing about young people checking out, I know that suffering and feeling in continual pain is no quality of life. The tragedy is we have yet to create an abundance of love, acceptance, inclusion, safety and respect for children and young people. This is a level of social and cultural poverty that I find deeply offensive and will continue to challenge.

Joining the dots

I’ve been following the NZ herald series on suicide, not closely, working as a school counsellor gives me some insight to the phenomenon but I am always cautious about my own understanding, even with close to 15yrs experience. But the Herald series is a bit like throwing out a series of dots from which people can join to form a picture. Here is where I’m a little unsure just which dots are standing out, how they are being joined and what picture/s are emerging. It’s tragic, compelling, emotive and unfortunately political. The dots could be seen as key ideas, some backed by research, others personal experiences, experts like (Sir) Peter Gluckman are mixed in with Mike King. Much like a join the dots activity I did as a kid, if there are just a few dots they have to be joined carefully and in the correct order to get the picture, more dots gives more detail. Sometimes you didn’t need to see the numbers to join them correctly – but at other times connecting the 2 with 8 really threw things off and you got a duck instead of a bunny. And this is where I think some of the discussion on suicide has gone – into duckbunny land.

I’ve read Gluckman’s report, it’s worth reading but how many people will actually bother to pick up his dots? He suggests the key work needs to be done much earlier than secondary schools, but also that adolescents is a vulnerable period regardless. There is a link between communities that have a low sense of worth, less hope for a future. I am saddened at the risk for Maori and other communities such as LGBTQI+ youth, this is where I think schools continue to ignore the dots and avoid responsibility for creating safe, genuinely inclusive (including bi-cultural values) environments. When principals deny queer young people safe places to meet (i.e. not allowing students to form gay-straight alliances), be valued members of the community– they increase risk. When schools fail to provide trained, qualified counsellors because pastoral care is not seen as valued – risk increases.

You see a couple of dots that people keep ignoring or leaving off the page, is the spike in suicide with the rolling out of ‘Tomorrows Schools’ when secondary schools could opt to not have counsellors in favour of the rather vague idea of ‘providing adequate guidance’ – and there are so many weird, vague interpretations of this. Key also is the gradual rising of the school leaving age, with university entrance now requiring completing level 3 (7th form for old school people). So if a young person is able to consent to their own medical treatment at 16, surely we should be enabling them to access mental health support as well, and schools that do not employ trained counsellors deny young people a potential lifeline.

Because every day, I talk to young people who have lost hope, who feel adults they have turned to have freaked out, got angry, dismissed, not believed them or blamed them for what is going on. They have thought about suicide, might be ready to die, but they somehow managed to get to my office. They aren’t making this shit up, they are survivors of bullying, sexual abuse, rape, family violence, they are from all cultures, they are LGBTQI+ and they had a free resource available, a fence at the top of the cliff – a trained, qualified, professionally affiliated counsellor.

It’s election year though, so I say this to all politicians – Stop ignoring these dots because they do not fit your convenient picture. Make a commitment to resourcing schools and agencies at the coal face of this work. Stop political point scoring around education, especially with vulnerable populations. No more dots are needed, just draw the lines FFS.