The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Posts Tagged ‘Corporate Bullshit’

Monster is just another name for life

Posted by Matt on October 2, 2011

It’s back to class, which means back to actually reading books on a regular basis. I like reading books, even if it’s for reasons other than my own curiosity or enjoyment. It’s good to be exposed to material that you might not have checked out otherwise, which is why I really do enjoy these English courses. I think I might take them for the rest of my life.

But here’s what I’m getting at:

One of my recent reads was Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. I had read Atwood’s most famous novel, The Handmaid’s Tale earlier this year, so I have material for comparison, I guess. Oryx is certainly more sci-fi, in that old-fashioned sense where morals are explicit and technology dooms us all. That’s not to simplify the book, it’s certainly not another wailing lament of what a mess we’ve made. Atwood’s way too smart for that. It’s running with far sillier concepts than Handmaid’s Tale (it’s hard not to chortle at least once with names like Pigoon, Rakunk, Wolvog, and the like being constantly tossed about), but that is certainly a side-effect of the subject matter. You get silly names when you’re dealing with gene-slicing and corporate culture, but not when you’re talking about theocracy, you know?

It also amazes me that an 80-year-old woman can write material that reminds me of…well, me, and other people like me. You know, the kids of today. She’s pretty up with the youth culture.

It’s the aforementioned genetic science stuff that makes me a bit…apprehensive. I find the satire of corporate culture funny and fascinating, and it is often grappling with the same ideas I have found very interesting (the segregation between the ‘corporate citizens’ and the people in the cities is an idea I’ve had before, and it’s an idea that looks increasingly plausible). In a way, I want to simply dismiss the problems with the science aspect of the novel by saying it’s a byproduct of the corporate stuff. Essentially, that this is not so much a screed against genetic engineering entirely, but against the possibilities of genetic engineering under the control of for-profit entities. The relationship between science and commerce is a tricky thing. For every new thing we discover, there’s a capitalist asshole who’ll exploit it for money. As the novel itself points out, the scientists under the illusion that these discoveries help people will often ignore how the byproducts of their work are used to bilk the desperate. As a primary example, we know of many cases where advances in agriculture are almost immediately co-opted by evil corporations like Monsanto (and while the ‘evil corporation’ pejorative is a cliche for aimlessly angry youth and aging hippies, if you do any reading about what Monsanto has done in the past, you’d agree with me that those guys are fucked up) and turned into copyright so they can drain farmers for upkeep and sue if their hybrid seeds accidentally land on another’s guy land, if that guy actually owns his own land instead of tending official Monsanto Land.

Yes, that’s what I’d like to believe, just to make my brain happy. But I can’t. I know I need to face these criticisms head on.

I don’t think Atwood is anti-science. And make no mistake: the irrational fear of what can come about from genetic engineering is anti-science, anti-knowledge, anti-discovery. The “Frankenfood” meme comes from people who seem to forget that all agriculture is based around altering plants and animals to our liking, with the only difference being that corn and dairy cows were bred into existence eons ago by simple farming folk, and the stuff today is being done by guys in lab coats, who they have been trained to dislike because they do…stuff. The creation of these animals are often based on real ideas being tossed around, but they are exaggerated. The thing is, things like man-animal hybrids aren’t real, and have no scientific reason to ever be real. Getting a skin graft from a pig is not the same thing.

A lot of people, including possibly Atwood, seem to have this invisible line between what is natural and what is artificial. Nature is sacred, even if you take spirituality out of the equation. You can learn and tinker with only so much in the ‘natural’ world before you’ve gone too far. Making life in a test tube is going too far.

Here’s the thing: those lines? They don’t exist. They’re made up. Because the brain we’ve evolved with lets us do stuff like that.

This is not to say that humans cannot fuck up with environment with their meddling. They most certainly can. But that shouldn’t be used against learning how the our biology and the biology of the things all around us works, and using that knowledge to benefit us. Nothing we do is entirely separate from the natural world, and testing out new ideas shouldn’t be seen in a negative light automatically. The same rational minds that genetically engineers corn will know that introducing a new species into the ecosystem can cause major damage if it’s not contained, and will attempt to connect it. We even see that in the novel, albeit it ends badly anyway.

I’m tired of the cliche of the cold, calculating scientist, screwing with shit in his or her lab, reveling in their god role. In the context of Oryx and Crake, this can be seen as a product of the corporate environment, where the goal in science is not for human advancement, but in creating products. This is an issue that we all have to deal with; but more often than not, it’s simply used as a justification for bludgeoning real science if it makes people uncomfortable. It switches the target, and let’s the real crooks get away. So while people hack away at the ethical/moral issues of genetic engineering, that issue of corporate control (which is brought up as an argument and subsequently dropped, or bundled into the case against the science itself, as if they will always be one and the same) gets away with minor cuts and bruises. Once again, one of the things I like about this novel is that it doesn’t immediately drop the criticisms of the corporate mindset just so we can gasp at how awful the very idea of genetically engineering animals is; both are targeted equally, each on their own terms.

But it doesn’t explain away all the attacks on genetic engineering. It seems to, what with the companies all mainly being about selling things like specially grown fried chicken (yes, that old urban legend), or creating vanity products and services. But as much as those are justly ridiculed, we are never presented with a positive alternative. The organ transplant pigs are not seen as any more beneficial, and the fact that they, as mentioned before, get out into the wild and wreck shit (alongside all the other silly names in the book), just seems to reinforce the idea that it’s all bad, even when it’s not immediately recognizable as a useless corporate product (even if it actually is, as it shows). I don’t think I should expect there to be a “well, that’s no good, but this is an okay application!” segment of the book, that would break up the narrative and muddy the point. But it brings that apprehensiveness back, because…well, I just don’t really think that genetically modifying plants and animals (human and non-human) is an inherently bad as this book seems to position it as.

The character of Crake interests me. Crake is, in my mind, a perfect example of a Aspergers supervillain. Now, “supervillain” may be a going a bit too far, even calling him a villain or antagonist in general is wrong, but the guy does kill everyone on earth except the protagonist, so we’re in the same ballpark at least. It’s a character type I myself have tried to work with, and both arise out of that previously mentioned scientist stereotype, but with less of the cold logic and Hollywood insanity, and more general social ineptitude and that very real kind of mania that this type of person can have. To a degree, both the protagonist and Crake share a lack of self-awareness that seem to come with the culture of the novel. They watch porn (including pedo stuff, which brings Oryx into the story) and what essentially amounts of to a combination of reality TV and shock sites, with little to no emotional impact, except at points where the mania seeps in. But the protagonist grows up to be rather petulant, idealistic in a sense but self-absorbed, Crake only goes further into the obsessiveness, eventually making his own race of humans, for no reason other than because he can. There are shines of other motivations in his character, an attempt to always be control being the main one, but it still seems to be simply part of that very specific, very modern-feeling kind of psychopathy. He’s not simply a mad scientist, he’s a guy who became a prodigy and can never stop doing what he’s good at. The urge to create overtakes everything else. It’s a condition that neatly fits into both scientific and corporate environments. I find it to be an interesting bit of characterization.

But that just leads back to the question of scientific ethics: if Crake is the best of the best in his field, what does that say about his field? As I said, I don’t think Atwood is trying to oversimplify things, “these guys are all bad!” or anything like that, but there’s not a whole lot of sympathy shown for them. All the geneticists are either entirely deluded and compromised (like the protagonist’s dad), scheming assholes, or genocidal nerds like Crake. The protagonist, who does not become a geneticist but is raised by them, ends up playing false prophet to a group of naive human spin-offs. In fact, about the only half-decent person in the book is Oryx, but she’s so fucked up mentally that you never really notice. All this seems to show that the view one could gleam from the book is a little more nuanced than simply “you guys are fucking with nature! stop it!”; there are people in the book, people whose actions and reactions are very human. It’s some musty old sensationalist story of science gone wrong. It does attempt to really get into these issues, not simply declare them off-limits.

But no matter how much I want to praise Atwood for her ideas, I just can’t shake the feeling that this delves into anti-science territory. I personally don’t think we should limit what we can learn about and how, even though we should be careful with it. So I have some trouble coming to terms with what this book might be trying to tell me. It’s one of those very difficult matters in art, where something seems to be on the razor’s edge between critical analysis and screeching propaganda. It’s definitely a good piece of dystopic fiction; but I still need to determine what people are taking from it, and whether or not that’s a good thing.

Advertisements

Posted in Observations | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Legendary Hero is No More

Posted by Matt on August 23, 2011

Dear Mr. Morrison (or Grant, if you prefer),

I was a late bloomer, if you will, when it came to comics. I didn’t grow up with the modern mythos, the adventures of Marvel and DC’s line-up with costumed crime-fighters, like you and so many other people did. What I knew about them was gleaned from the licensed products: the television shows, the toys, and everything else. I didn’t know about all the things, great things, those comics contained.

I was given a huge load of comics in high school. Quite the variety, really. Classic Lee/Romita Spider-Man, Watchmen, Claremont/Byrne X-Men, Gaiman’s Sandman, at least one example of Kyle Baker…works both classic and modern. But none, none, affected me quite as much as your with Richard Case (and numerous other great artists!) on Doom Patrol.

When I first picked up Doom Patrol, I was taken in by the weirdness of the characters, the Scissormen, the Brotherhood of Dada, Danny the Street, et al. What delightful fun, I thought. My appreciation of your work only grew the more I read; it opened my imagination to all the possibilities comics had, the limitless number of images, the infusion of Burroughs, the rebellion against a world determined homogenize everything, and the way it can make you connect with its characters. Your characters were people I cared about, people whose adventures I wanted to read about. All of these things culminated in your last issue in that series, which is one the most sad, beautiful things I have ever read.

Doom Patrol, more than any other, has come to be my personal high-water mark for comics. It is the thing that inspires me the most. Part of my motivation for attempting a career as a writer is to give other people the kind of joy you gave me in those comics, and all the subsequent series of yours that I’ve read. I just want to thank you for that.

With that, I come to my main reason for writing this: I think we’re finished as artist and audience.

I haven’t read any of your recent Batman work (although I have read Arkham Asylum and Batman: Gothic, both of which I enjoyed), or Final Crisis for that matter; I’m simply not interested. I could gather in your early work that you really do love DC Comics and it’s characters; they seem to be as near and dear to you as your comics have been to me. You’ve probably dreamed for years of becoming the architect of some of the world’s best known fictional characters. I do not begrudge you for this; I simply skip that part of your output that does not interest me, and wait for the next Seaguy.

No, that’s not my problem. What my problem happens to be is the side of you that these last few years have brought out in you. This is has been especially troubling in the last few months, as you have been interviewed about your autobiography (which I have not yet read, and with all that has gone on, may never read now). To be honest, in a lot of these interviews, you’re come off as full of shit.

Let’s take your recent Rolling Stone interview, for example. Specifically, your controversial statement about Chris Ware. Now, I’m not a Ware reader (not out of indifference or antipathy, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet), and to be fair, I think you sort of have a point. I think the critical corners in the comics world have spent far too much time setting up the world as the superhero crowd-pleasers at Marvel/DC with versus the lonely white boy stories told by Ware and others, as if those are our only two choices. They’re not, and the sooner we exit that dichotomy, the better off we’ll be.

No, where I have a problem is your calling them out on being “privileged American college kids”, and that this comes from your “Scottish working class” background. Maybe that would actually have been true when you were writing Zenith, or Doom Patrol, or The Invisibles, or maybe even New X-Men. But not now. Not when you own a house in Hollywood, get preferential treatment from a large corporation to keep their multimillion dollar trademarks in circulation, and get paid god knows how much to write movies about aliens fighting dinosaurs. You have no fucking right to criticize anyone else for being “privileged”.

Then there’s your statements about Siegel & Shuster in your book. You know, the guys who created the character you seem to think is so important, and are going to be writing about starting next month. You apparently don’t think their side of the story is very important, and that the half-century struggle for proper recognition and compensation for creating one of the best known fictional characters of the 20th and 21st centuries is trivial. Despite your attempts to convince everyone that superheroes are the modern mythology, you can’t make us overlook that Superman, Batman, and the rest were created by very specific people, and are now the property of another group of people who see them simply as a brand for them to sell. You can’t make them go away. The creator rights battle is a major part of the history of the so-called supergods, and I think people are beginning to realize that they may be the most important part.

You know, I don’t like to armchair analyze other people’s motivations, I really don’t, but all these things: the dismissal of people like Ware who aren’t big fans of superheroes, the dismissal of critical circles like The Comics Journal, the dismissal of the creators of the characters you write for, the dismissal of Alan Moore because he realized what a raw deal the superhero industry is and makes sure everyone knows it…it really sounds like your are trying to protect yourself from all the people that make you feel guilty for wanting so bad to be where you are today, the guy who gets to direct a superhero universe (under the auspices of the money men at Warner Bros). You probably need to make sure Alan Moore and all those other voices never get to you, because if they ever do, you’ll realize that, not long ago, you were one of them. Fighting corporate tyranny and it’s sadistic enslavement of imagination. You were once the solution to the problem. Now, you’re the problem’s willing servant.

But again, good for you for getting to live out your dream. I hope you enjoy it. I know I will continue to read and enjoy Doom Patrol, Animal Man, We3, The Filth, and all the rest. But I just don’t think I can take anything you write from now on seriously. Not like I used to. You’ve been compromised by the allure of the corporate superhero.

Thank you so much for all you’ve given me.

Now take your Batman comics and go to hell, old man.

Additional reading:

Dan Nadel at The Comics Journal
David Brothers at 4thletter!
Abhay on the Siegel & Shuster Thing
Comics Commentary

Posted in Comix, Observations | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Posted by Matt on February 9, 2011

Might be taking a break from the novel posts for a little bit. I guarantee you that it will be finished by the end of the month, or your money back.

Let’s get back to other fun: AOL is buying the Huffington Post. What happens when a desperate corporation with nothing to give to society at large combines with a ‘news’ website known mostly for pushing psuedo-scientific garbage championed by rich cunts? Apparently, some sort of Shit Voltron, here to use its magical Sword of Low-Quality to smite anything resembling journalism. Whoddathunk.

Posted in Leinks, Observations | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Posted by Matt on February 27, 2010

Another new digital rights law that is more complicated than it’s actually worth.

Why is it that every time someone’s government tries to update their copyright/digital rights laws, they always end up inadvertently screwing over regular people rather than pirates? It’s like they’re all kneejerk reactions prompted by corporate whining, and not honest attempts to adapt laws to the Internet age.

To be fair, they at least sound like they might be interested in rethinking parts of the law so that small businesses, libraries, and universities won’t suddenly be denied Internet access because one guy among thousands likes Pirate Bay too much. But why would you ever draft a bill like this without a reasonable amount of consideration about how it applies to different sorts of people and organizations? Read the first paragraph in this post again.

It reminds me all too much of the last attempt to amend Canada’s digital rights law, which was filled with blatantly sneering provisions that, shockingly, hurt more normal people than law-breaking n’er-do-wells. Of course, that thing was nixed when our witless leader went for a mediocre power-grab, sweeping this unfortunate piece of bad legislature under the carpet before it could be torn apart in parliament and shifting its mastermind to a completely unrelated position in his cabinet.

So now we are still a hive of Internet scum and villainy, according to the people whose job is to determine such things. Somehow, I’m not entirely concerned about that.

Posted in Interesting Things, Leinks, Observations | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Gloves Are Off

Posted by Matt on October 2, 2009

So, they’re shutting down the local TV station. My dad and 38 other people worked there. 50 years of local news down the drain and dozens of lost jobs, all because the buyer got cold feet at the last minute over there (literally) $1 purchase. But, you know, I really don’t blame Bluepoint for this, or at least not as much. I blame CTV for dropping the station in the first place.

This is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been reading about for months and months now. The Canadian TV situation is an absolute disaster. You got the whole thing being run by these gigantic media conglomerates who have spent years crushing independent media, try their damndest to make as much money for as little work as possible, and now that we’re in a bad financial situation, they’re dropping local television like hot shit.

So yeah, fuck CTV. Fuck all the other big companies like it. And fuck the CRTC for letting these crooks get away with shit like this for so long.

Posted in In My Life, Observations | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »