excerpt from Jass Richards’ “The Road Trip Dialogues”

So a couple hours later, they pulled into the main entrance of the university campus. There was no sign of the demonstration. There were no signs to the demonstration.

“Gee, this is a really good way to get the media’s attention,” Rev said. “Don’t tell them where you are.”

“Well, let’s just drive around. The campus can’t be that big. Or the demonstration that small.”

So they drove around and eventually saw something going on at the end of the sports field. They drove toward it and parked in a spot not far away. Dylan grabbed his camera and a notebook from out of his knapsack.

As they approached, they heard music blaring out over a sound system. Several tables were set up with what Rev assumed was literature, petitions, and so forth, and there were a couple large striped circus tents. More tables inside? Rainy day back-up? About a hundred students seemed to be in attendance. Most were standing around in clusters, some were throwing a football back and forth, and a few were rather despondently walking in a circle, carrying signs that said simply ‘NO MORE DEBT!!’

“Well, that’ll make the world a better place,” Rev said dryly.

Dylan took a few pictures, then they walked up to one of the tables.

“Hi there. I’m doing a piece for That Magazine. Can you tell me—” he had his pen poised, “what debt you’re protesting?”

She just looked at him.

“The national debt?” He tried again. “Corporate debt?”

“Student debt.”

Rev was stunned. “Student debt? You’re protesting your own debt?”

“Yeah.”

“But—why?”

“We have a right to be debt-free!” One of them said with gusto.

“On what basis?”

That stopped them.

“What?”

“On what grounds do you claim the right to be debt-free?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, did you inherit the debt—is it a debt you bear through no fault of your own?”

“It’s our student debt,” she said, as if talking to a child.

“I understand that,” Rev replied. As if talking to a child. “But debt is typically incurred when you buy something and choose to defer payment. That deferred payment is your debt. So when you say you have the right to be debt-free, are you suggesting you have a right to get things without paying for them?”

“What?”

“This is hopeless,” Rev said to Dylan. “Let’s go before I shoot her.”

“University should be free!” the other student called out as they turned away. Rev turned back.

“Okay, well that’s something else altogether. Some countries do have state-paid university. Much like we have state-paid elementary and high school. But in those countries,” she couldn’t help adding, “I think you have to have a certain grade point average to get in. Or stay in.” She paused. And saw she needed to say it. “Do you have a—grade point average?”

“What?”

“Let’s mingle,” Dylan suggested. “Maybe—”

A burst of chanting suddenly came from one of the tents. They looked at each other in confusion. Shouldn’t the chanting come from those carrying the signs? As they approached the tent, they heard it more clearly.

“Chugga hugga chugga hugga…”

“I thought that sounded like ‘Hell no, we won’t go,’” Rev said. “It’s a beer tent. They’ve got a beer tent. At a demonstration. This is like a fucking picnic,” she said as they walked toward the tent.

“Do you think they’ve got food?” Dylan asked hopefully. Rev glared at him.

“What? I’m hungry. We buy food and it goes to the cause. Of no more debt,” he added lamely. “That’s what the Americans do, isn’t it?” he resumed cheerfully. “In the middle of every recession, or depression—you know I’ve never really understood the difference—whenever they don’t have any money, they go shopping. The President urges them to do just that. You’ve lost your job? You can’t pay your rent? Go buy stuff. It’s the American way.”

They’d arrived at the tent, and once inside, they saw that yes indeed, there was food. One table was full of extra large pizza boxes, most already opened, and another was full of beverages. They went up to buy a slice of pizza.

“How much is the pizza,” Dylan asked. To no one in particular, since there wasn’t anyone standing behind the table.

A student walked up to the table at that moment, helped himself to a couple slices, then walked away.

“It’s free?” Rev asked. Of no one in particular. “How can they provide free pizza if they’re all in so much debt they’re protesting about it?”

“Maybe it’s coming out of their student union fees or something?”

“I’d be pissed about that. I think.”

“Ah.” Dylan pointed then to the bright banner hanging across the table. “Courtesy of their sponsors.” He took a few steps back to take a picture.

“What? Sponsors? Demonstrations have sponsors now?”

He shrugged. They each grabbed a slice, and a bottle of beer, what the hell, and sat down at one of the tables.

“Chugga hugga chugga hugga!” came from the boisterous table in the corner. Dylan put his slice down for a moment and took another picture.

“No one’s here because they care about changing the world, making it a better place,” Rev complained. “Half the guys are here to pick up some chick and the other half are here just for the party.”

“What, you don’t think that was true during the 60s too?”

Rev’s pizza stopped half way to her mouth. Which was left hanging open. Oh my god, she thought. He was right. All those sit-ins were just parties. Music, drugs, sex. The issues were just an excuse, a cover.

“They didn’t change,” she murmured.

“What?”

“I’ve always wondered what made all those radical idealists change when they got into positions of power twenty years later,” she said. “That they did is what—I mean, if they couldn’t change the world—But they didn’t. Change. They weren’t idealists in the first place. They were just opportunists. All of them. Oh god,” she moaned. It was worse than she’d thought.

“All those ‘Make Love Not War’ signs,” she carried on, into hell. “It was personal. The political is always fucking personal! No one cares about anything beyond themselves!”

“I’ve got to sit down,” she said.

“You are sitting down,” Dylan pointed out.

“Did I just blow your mind?” Dylan asked then, as her pizza lay limp in her hand, forgotten. “You really hadn’t considered that possibility before?”

“‘Course not. I’m not a guy.”

“Oh are we back to that then?” He could get really angry about this, he thought. “You think women are so much better? They weren’t there to get laid too?”

 

excerpted with permission

The Road Trip Dialogues

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The Last Man on Earth explains everything.

The Last Man on Earth explains everything.  But he’s too stupid, too infantile, and too self-centered, to know it.  Which is exactly why he explains everything.

 

1. He enjoys knocking things over, breaking things, destroying things.

He rams his grocery cart into a pyramid of cans.  He rolls bowling balls into a row of aquariums. (1)  Apparently delighted to hear the smash.  His reaction to blowing up one car with another is orgasmic.  What does that tell us?  Destroying things gives men pleasure. 

 

2. He wantonly pollutes the water. That is to say, he does not use resources responsibly. And that is to say, he exhibits extremely short-sighted thinking.

He uses a swimming pool for a toilet. (2)  A metaphor if there ever was one.  In more ways than one.  (In addition to the despoiling of resources, it shows us how full of shit he is.)  (And that he is, quite literally, an asshole.)

He does this, perhaps, because he figures he can just move into a new house whenever he’s finished wrecking the one he’s in. (3)  Again, such a metaphor.  (We’ve used up our own water and oil, so let’s go to someone else’s country and use up theirs.)  (And when we’ve used up Earth, we’ll go live on the Moon.)

Is it that, like other infants, Phil doesn’t understand “All gone!”? (4)

Is it that he lacks the ability to imagine the long-term consequences of his behaviour?

And does he really think he’s the only one left?  What a special little snowflake he is.  Sure, he drove all over the country.  Calling out from an RV.  Real thorough.  Apparently, he didn’t consider the possibility that someone might be alive, but hurt or in other need of help that would require him to actually get out of the RV and walk around a bit.

But that’s Phil.  He thinks the world is all about him now.  (Actually, he’s probably thought that all along.)

 

3. He doesn’t really do much else.

Well, he eats a lot of junk food.  And drinks a lot of alcohol.  And

 

4. He thinks about himself.

He thinks about how lonely he is.  Which may seem paradoxical, given how incapable he is of thinking about other people.  But he’s incapable of thinking about what other people might need or want.  He’s lonely because of what he needs and wants.  (Which explains why, when he finds himself so utterly alone, his cry sounds more like the wail of an infant than an existential scream. [5])

No surprise, then, that

 

5. He considers half the human species merely as things to be fucked.

Almost the first words we hear him say are about how much he misses women.  Since that comes right after apologies to God for masturbating so much, we know he misses women because he uses them to masturbate.  (Not because they might know the cure for the virus.)

And just in case we missed this, we see him choosing porn over food in the grocery store (6), and we see his lingering gaze at the female-bodied mannequin.

So that’s three times in the first six minutes we get this message: women are sexual objects for his use. (7)

When he dreams about a woman eagerly kissing him, the woman is, of course, gorgeous.  Why is it that unattractive men always think women will find them attractive?  More incredibly, why is it that unattractive men think attractive women will find them attractive?  Seriously.  How deluded do you have to be about your own attractiveness?

And again, just in case we missed this, when Carol introduces herself as “the last woman on Earth,” we see from the look on his face that he’s thinking he may have to break the bro pledge, “I wouldn’t fuck her if she was the last woman on earth.”

 

Phil thinks he’s the last man on Earth because some virus wiped out everyone else.  That may have been the proximate cause.  (Or just bad writing.)  It’s likely that climate change, due to melting polar ice and the consequent change in the ocean currents, due to increased greenhouse gases, due to relentless fossil fuel use and meat consumption, changed disease vectors which, along with the consequent disruption in the supply of goods and services (food, water, drugs; medical care) created a perfect storm for the virus to become a global epidemic.

He’s the last man on Earth because he gets pleasure from destroying things, because he doesn’t live responsibly, because he thinks only of himself, his own (primarily physical) needs and wants HERE! and NOW!—in short, because he’s disgustingly infantile.

I don’t find that at all entertaining, let alone insightful, so I stopped watching. (9) (10)

 

 

(1) And of course, he won’t clean up the broken glass.  But, well, he’s the last man on Earth, and, hey, if he doesn’t bother him…  So if, when, he discovers he’s not the last person on Earth, if, when, he discovers there are other people in the world, other people who might want to walk there without getting cut up, will he go back then and clean up the mess he made?  Of course he will.  And pigs will fly.

(2) It brings to mind the patch of garbage floating around in the Pacific Ocean that’s twice the size of the United States.  And all the industrial waste — 70% of it — that men (most likely) pour directly into our fresh water.

(3) The truly disgusting shape of the house he’s living in after a mere five months brings to mind that thing about if the history of the Earth were a year, life wouldn’t appear until March, multi-cellular organisms not until November, we’d show up on December 31, by late evening, we’d have well-developed brains—and then it’d take us a mere forty seconds to thoroughly trash the place.

(4) He glories in there being no rules or, more specifically, in there being no rule-enforcer: like a child, he hasn’t developed any rules of his own.

(5) That he continues to believe there’s a God also indicates just how child-like Phil is.  He may as well be writing Dear Santa letters.

(6) That pornographic magazines, magazines in which women are for the most part humiliated and degraded, is openly for sale, even in grocery stores, without disapproval by the writers or Phil is clear evidence of the rampant misogyny I’m pointing out.

(7) It’s pretty much what the writers think about women.  In the very first episode, we see there’s also a woman alive.  But is the series titled, then, The Last Man and Woman on Earth?  Of course not.  Women are not worth mention.  (Well, except, as fuckholes.)

(8) He’s certainly not thinking that she might be thinking “I wouldn’t fuck him if he were the last man on Earth.”

(9) Who does find that entertaining?  And why?

(10)  And does anyone find it insightful?  I mean, really, is any of this news?

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Women Writing Science Fiction as Men — why bother?

I’ve just finished reading Mike Resnick’s collections Women Writing Science Fiction as Men and Men Writing Science Fiction as Women.  There were two rules for submissions to the anthologies: “First, each story had to be told in the first person of a man [woman]; and second, if changing the narrator from Victor to Victoria [or vice versa] didn’t invalidate the story we didn’t want it.”

So what he ended up with was a bunch of stories emphasizing the gender stereotypes we all know and hate so well.  The women wrote about men who were competitive and primarily interested in sex.  The men wrote about women who were nurturing and primarily mothers.  Ho hum.

What would have been far more interesting, and far more challenging (though a challenge sf writers, if anyone, are certainly up to), would have been stories in which changing the narrator from Victor to Victoria (or vice versa) would not have invalidated the story, would have made no difference whatsoever.

Those are the stories I want to read!  That’s a future (a fantasy?) I want to live in!

 

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Climate Change Disaster Movies

Have you noticed the increase in climate change disaster movies?

Right, yeah, let’s get everyone comfortable with the idea.

The idea that survival is possible.

And, after, if only heroism.

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The price of being a philosophically irresponsible idiot

[excerpt from The Blasphemy Tour, Jass Richards.  Reprinted with permission.]

 

“We hope you’re enjoying Texas?” the show’s host said, after he introduced Dylan and Rev as his first guests of the day.

“Well, we’re a little puzzled by all the American flags. Outside on people’s houses and their lawns—we’ve even been seeing them sticking up in the middle of the forest, at people’s cabins presumably. What an eyesore.”

She didn’t notice the intake of breath.

“Well,” the host replied, “many people fly the flag because they have a son or daughter serving overseas.”

Rev hadn’t thought about that. She did now. Then said, “And why would they want to advertise such stupidity?”

“Well, it’s not stupid,” the host was trying to be calm. “Wanting to serve your country—”

“Oh please. Most of the people who enlist wouldn’t give their fellow Americans the time of day. I’ll bet they never volunteered at a soup kitchen or even gave up their seat on the subway. Suddenly they’re willing to—”

“They’re fighting for our freedom,” the host interjected.

“Yeah? How? How exactly does killing someone in Afghanistan or wherever make that guy—” Rev pointed at random to the one of the techies, of which there were suddenly several, all paying rather close attention to what was going on—“free? He looks pretty free to me already.”

The host tried again. “They’re bringing democracy to a country—”

“—they know nothing about. Most of them couldn’t even point to it on a map. Every time I see coverage of American soldiers overseas, they’re shouting at its residents in English. And then they’re angry when the people they’re shouting at don’t do what they’re told. Apparently it doesn’t even occur to the soldiers that they speak a different language. What, they think the world speaks their language? How arrogant. Or just stupid.

“Which explains why they really go,” she continued. “They get suckered in by the ads, about courage, honor, glory. ‘I’ll do what my country asks me to do,’ they say with such self-righteousness. Oh please. Who asked? Name one person who came to you and said, ‘Hey, John, could you please go kill that person for me.’

“And then they come back all distraught and messed up because they did just that. Like it’s such a horrible surprise. The six weeks of being taught how to load and shoot a gun should’ve been a clue.”

“Well, they thought they’d just be killing—”

“The bad guys? What are they, twelve?”

“But—”

“I get, and admire, the desire to be a hero. It’s just that in the context of war, heroism is—” she paused, trying to find the right word, “—manufactured.”

No one seemed to understand what she was getting at, so she turned back.

“Look, you sign up to be a soldier, you kill people. At the very least, you hurt them. And they scream, and bleed, when their arms and legs are blown off. Especially the kids. Go figure. Did you think they’d get up and walk away after they’d been shot?” She spoke into the camera. As she’d been instructed.

“And now you want to kill yourself because you can’t live with what you did. Or, worse, because you can. You didn’t anticipate that? Why the hell not!”

Dylan noticed that a few people in suits had moved in among the growing crowd of techies. As had Tucker.

“How is it you have no idea what happens in war? Wilfrid Owen. 1916. All Quiet on the Western Front. 1929. M.A.S.H. 1970. Coming Home, Apocalypse Now. Late 70s. Born on the Fourth of July, Casualties of War. 80s. In the Valley of Elah! Every generation comes back and tells us. This is nothing new. Where have you been?

“I’ll tell you. With your head in the sand and your hands on your video games, dreaming little boy dreams of being a hero.

“Did you think it wouldn’t actually be you to pull the trigger? Zimbardo! Milgram! We have done the studies. We know what happens when people are put in that situation. And it’s not like these studies are hidden or censored. Anyone can go to a library and sign out a book on psychology, a book on group influence, peer pressure, indoctrination, brainwashing, there are lots of them. You can even get one on eBay. For ninety-nine cents.”

One of the suited men had started making throat-slitting gestures to the host, who was trying, unsuccessfully of course, to stop Rev. Tucker quietly moved to stand behind the man, ready in case—well, ready.

“And it’s not like you had to sign up. If you’d been forced to do it, that would be different. If someone had held a gun to your own kids’ heads, that would be different. But you chose to go. You chose to subject yourself to military conditioning and now you’re crying because it worked.

“So if you ask me,” she said, fully aware that no one had asked her, “you deserve every sleepless night, every nightmare, every flashback you’re now getting. You should have known. That you didn’t is your own fault.

No one jumped into the silence that followed.

“And you should have thought about it. Before you did it. But you didn’t, and now you’re a mess. Well good. You should be. That’s the price of being a philosophically irresponsible idiot. Not to have thought through the ethics of it—it’s a failure of personal responsibility.” She looked squarely into the camera again. “Again, what are you, twelve?”

“But if you question the morality,” the host pointed out, “you’re labelled a bleeding heart. A boyscout. A pussy.”

She looked at him. “Since when did ethics become a girl thing? And besides, so what? You ignore right and wrong just to avoid being called a pussy? When your loved ones tell you they’re enlisting, you don’t try to stop them? Because you don’t want to appear weak? You should tell them what fools they’re being! Tell them it’s a suicide mission no matter how it turns out!”

Dylan noticed then that many of the people, actually all of them except the one still slitting his throat, were nodding, silently applauding, or giving a thumbs up.

“And please, enough with the talk about ‘psychological injury’ and trouble ‘transitioning’. Since when is ‘transition’ a verb?

“And ‘post-traumatic-stress-disorder’—give me a break. It’s guilt. Nothing more, nothing less. Guilt for having done something monstrously wrong, something cruel, something barely justifiable. And since when is guilt a disorder?”

“So,” Dylan said in the heavy silence that followed, “You wanted to ask us something about our tour—of enlightenment?”

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How to Make a Man Grow Up

I was recently surprised to discover that in the U.S., men are required by law to register for the “selective service system”.

Only men. I thought women were allowed in their military now.

And required. I didn’t think they had ‘the draft’ anymore.

When I expressed my surprise, hoping to engage someone in conversation, the guy in line behind me (I was in a U.S. post office, where the brochures reminding men of their duty were prominently displayed) says he agrees that it should be mandatory to serve for two years: it makes ‘em ‘grow up’.

Hm. How does teaching someone how to kill make a person grow up? That is, what’s mature about learning how to kill? What’s mature about actually killing?

Of course, it’s not just that. But what’s mature about not thinking or yourself, about being pressured to conform, to obey?

Sure, the forced routine, of physical exercise and psychological effort, might become a habit. And that’s a good thing. A grown up thing. But there are other, far better, ways to achieve that same result.

And sure, the presumed altruism—you’re serving their country, life’s not all about you—is good, mature. But again, is killing someone for others really the best example of altruism we can put before young men? Young men who need to grow up?

It seems to me the selective service system is a bad way to fix a bunch of other bad ways.

The question we have to ask is how do boys get to eighteen without growing up?

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Men Need to Reclaim the Moral

Something I noticed when I taught Business Ethics, primarily to male students, is that men seem to think ethics is ‘a girl thing’. What? What?! (My god, that can explain everything!)

Men routinely insult other men who express concern about doing the right thing—“What are you, a fucking boy scout?” Note that boy scouts are children.

Worse, men who raise ethical questions are accused of going soft, being weak, being a bleeding heart. Note that these qualities are associated with being female. It’s thus emasculating to be concerned about right and wrong. What?!

Apparently, Mom is assigned the role of teaching the kids right from wrong. And, of course, anything Mom does is held in contempt as soon as a boy hits twelve, so this may partly explain why men eschew ethics.

Right and wrong is also the arena of priests and we all know priests aren’t real men. They’re celibate for god’s sake.

Ethics presumes caring, and real men don’t care. (They especially don’t cry, tears being evidence of caring about something.) They may protest that they can’t ‘afford’ to care; they have to make real decisions about profit and war, and feelings just get in the way. As if ethics is all, only, about feelings. (Where did they get their education? Oh, they didn’t. We don’t actually teach ethics. Except in a few university courses.)

The problem is men run the world. And it’s not going well.

Isn’t it about time men reclaim the moral? If rising above the gendered worldview is too much, then just redefine your terms a bit—and for gawdsake Man up! Consider (and then do) the right thing!

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Vote? WTF?

So I noticed the “Question of the Day” feature on the Weather Network website, which typically poses a question along with four response options, inviting site visitors to “Vote”. I haven’t done a survey, but I suspect this sort of thing is not unusual.

Which makes it all the more disturbing.

Why? Because often the question is a matter of fact. For example, on September 5, the question was “Which of these animals is Saskatchewan’s provincial animal?” And four options were provided: Caribou, White-tailed deer, Bison, Spirit bear, Big horn sheep.

(Other times, the question is something like “Did this summer feel longer, shorter, or the same as other summers?” And site visitors are invited to “view the results”. What self-respecting adult cares or is even curious about such a thing?)

To vote means to express your preference as part of a decision-making process. Voting on facts is an oxymoron. (What, if the majority believe the world is flat, it is?) The feature should be titled “Test your knowledge” and invite site visitors to indicate the correct answer.

It would be disturbing enough if it was just an incorrect use of our language. Or, if not evidence of ignorance, then evidence of sloppiness, of inattentiveness. Because this is not some obscure little site. This is The Weather Network.

But along with relentless requests for feedback at every second site and the ubiquitous “Like” feature, the effect of such “voting” is to make us feel engaged with the world when we are so not. It instils a false sense of self-worth in people who are, let’s be frank, pretty worthless.

(Only in part because they’re taking the time to express their opinions on such trivial matters.)

(And probably not taking the time to develop and express informed opinions on matters of importance.)

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Transgendered Courage

Transgendered people are often seen as courageous; they have the guts to take radical steps to become the people they really are. But I don’t see them as any different from people, mostly women, who get nip-and-tuck surgeries, botox, and breast enlargements. After all, they too take radical steps to become the people they feel they really are – youthful and sexually attractive.

I understand the mismatch between what’s inside and what’s outside. Really I do. I look like a middle-aged woman. But I don’t feel like a middle-aged woman. At all. I feel like a young gun, still burning at both ends. Mixed metaphor and all.

Transgendered people aren’t snubbing sex stereotypes; they’re reinforcing them. You’re in a woman’s body but you don’t feel like a woman? You don’t want to wear make-up, high heels, and a dress? You’re not into gossip and giggles? So don’t do any of that shit.  You’d rather play football and fix the car?  So do that shit instead.  You don’t need to get a male body.

You’re in a male body but you’d really like to wear lavender chiffon and spend the day baking cupcakes and arranging flowers? So do it.

If we had more people with the courage to just do what they wanted to do, regardless of what others think they should do based on their indefensible notion of a sexual dichotomy based, in turn, on physical appearance, if we had more people who were willing to stand up to the consequent taunts and ostracization, maybe eventually the taunts and ostracization would disappear.

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We Won!

“We won!” a neighbor crows to me. Apparently she’d watched a game of some kind on television the night before.

“What ‘we’?” I snort. Okay, scoff. “You had nothing to do with it.” She probably spent the whole game, and much of her life, eating potato chips and drinking beer.

The conversation ends. She can’t think about it.

She can’t see that her enthusiasm is manufactured. That her ‘support’ for her team isn’t support at all. That ‘her’ team isn’t her team at all. She can’t see that she’s been deluded into thinking that she’s somehow part of it, that she somehow has a stake in it.

Another neighbor, who’d been watching the Olympics, says the same thing. “We won!”

I point out to her as well that she had nothing to do with it.

“Well,” she makes a lame attempt to justify her feelings, “we’re Canadian.”

“I’m Canadian. But when I get a book published, you don’t cheer ‘We got published!'”

And if you did, I’d smack you upside the head.

How can she feel even a little bit of pride and achievement? She did nothing! Not one push-up, not one lap around the track.

“Well,” she tries again, “I support the team with my taxes.”

“And you support my writing with your taxes as well. Whenever I get a grant from the Arts Council,” I explain.

She still doesn’t see it. She doesn’t see that her emotions are being manipulated by the sports corporations, who want to deliver as many potential customers as possible to the companies who buy the advertisements that pay their salaries, because the more viewers, the more they can charge for those advertisements.

Quite apart from that, it’s no coincidence that sports are dominated by men. Or, rather, it’s no coincidence that it’s predominantly men’s sports that get television coverage. It’s just another way of making sure men are the center of the universe. My god, how many television stations are devoted to just sports? Why in god’s name does sport get a regular time slot in the daily news? As if men playing a game is as important as a war! And more important than the changing of our climate (which doesn’t get a regular time slot in the daily news)!

Which makes her ‘We won!’ just a little bit ironic.

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