Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Rewriting History

The Globe & Mail reports: "Fighting words rile historians: Museum's decision to adapt text sets dangerous precedent"

Might this actually be the most idiotic thing I've ever heard? Well no, of course not... but it is seriously obnoxious.

According to the article:

The fight over the 67-word panel, titled An Enduring Controversy, erupted shortly after the Canadian War Museum opened in May, 2005. A group of veterans objected to its saying that "the value and morality of the strategic bomber offensive against Germany remains bitterly contested," and to its contrasting 600,000 dead with the statement that "the raids resulted in only small reductions of German war production until late in the war."
So the museum is in negotiations with veterans to re-word the panel, to be "more respectful" to those who died during the campaign.

Nothing I've seen mentioned about the controversy claims personal responsibility on the part of the RAF pilots and crew who took part in the bombings. What is controversial is the Allies' decision to firebomb Dresden, resulting in 25,000 dead, and arguable claims of a war crime. The point was not to belittle those who served in WWII, but to demonstrate that the Allies were also guilty of the deaths of civilians, of misjudgment, of disregard for humanity. To simply add information pointing out the casualties on the side of the Allied bombers would be one thing, but to reword the whole exhibit to de-emphasize the controversial and historically significant slaughter is more than irresponsible, it is unacceptable.
The article adds that another controversy is brewing:

One, the National Association of Japanese Canadians, says that the war museum's version of the internment of Japanese Canadians underplays the racist and economic forces behind the internment; the NAJC also wants the museum to recognize that despite the treatment of Japanese Canadians, 150 volunteered to don uniforms and fight for Canada. NAJC president Grace Eiko Thomson met with Mr. Guerts four weeks before his departure.

Yesterday, Mr. Eaton said that the museum had been in touch with the Japanese Canadians (Not recently, according to Ms. Thomson). "Everyone's knocking on the door," Mr. Eaton said.

Frankly, I think this is a slightly different issue. As I said, I don't mind adding details; its when history gets edited out that my inner History major raises an eyebrow. Nevertheless, no museum should be constantly adjusting itself to political pressure.

On an unrelated note, the fact that I can't properly publish from GoogleDocs to Blogger is driving me crazy.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Long time no blog...300 spoiler alert

So last Saturday I watched 300, the much-hyped, much-criticized film version of Frank Miller's graphic novel (full disclosure, I ♥ Frank Miller). Wikipedia has a good summary of the criticisms, which were many, ranging from the political implications to the historical inaccuracies. I think people who expect historical perfection from action movies need a roundhouse kick to the head, but it's always nice when they make an effort.

One thing which did amuse me was the throw-away comment about Athenians being "boy lovers," since Sparta was, I believe, downright famous for pederasty. The Guardian featured an article quoting a historian, Paul Cartledge, stating:

Few cultures have celebrated the naked male body in the way the Greeks did. But the Spartan king Leonidas refers to the Greeks as "boy lovers", suggesting they are decadent. The irony is that the Spartans were literally boy lovers: they incorporated a form of pederasty into their educational system, as a way of turning a boy into a warrior.

Zephyrus and Hyacinthus, beloved of Apollo

was a patron hero of pederasty in Sparta.

Attic red-figure cup from Tarquinia,

c. 490-480 BCE.

Another comment often echoed:

But the most controversial aspect of the film is the portrayal of the Persians. They look a bit like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The real emperor Xerxes was not a 10ft-tall god-king with multiple piercings. I can understand why the Iranians are upset about this. However, I think they're wrong to assume that the film-makers are making a comment on the Middle East, simply because it takes a very long time to develop a movie.

This is exceptionally true. For one thing, the Greeks and the Persians? Arch enemies for centuries. And the story is a fairly central one to Western culture. So to link the current supposed "Clash of Civilizations" to the Battle of Thermopylae is pretty ridiculous. For one thing, the 4th century BCE Persians were extremely different from Middle Easterners in general and Iranians in particular today. For one thing, they wouldn't be Muslim for another millennium. Which sort of involved a paradigm shift. Also, the graphic design was done when Miller published the graphic novel in 1999, before the current conflict.

Xerxes version Frank Miller, left

version Zack Snyder, right

I suppose there might be a better argument to be made that the reaction to the film was influenced by the current "clash of civilizations," which is concerning. But that's a symptom of our time, not attributable to Miller or Snyder. In short, I can't agree with this comment from Slate reviewer Dana Stevens :

If 300, the new battle epic based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, had been made in Germany in the mid-1930s, it would be studied today alongside The Eternal Jew as a textbook example of how race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth can serve as an incitement to total war.

Stevens missed some key points of the film. For one, she says that the law is "whatever Leonidas wants", and "if Spartan law is defined by 'whatever Leonidas wants,' what are the 300 fighting for, anyway?" As evidence, she relates this tidbit:

When a messenger from Xerxes arrives bearing news Leonidas doesn't like, he hurls the man, against all protocol, down a convenient bottomless well in the center of town. "This is blasphemy! This is madness!" says the messenger, pleading for his life.

Which raises the question: did she watch the movie? Not that it's incredibly strong on plot, but there is more to the story. First of all, the set-up to throwing the messenger in the pit is a consequence of Leonidas's belief that one should not use the cloak of "messenger" to throw threats at his people and insult his wife. Was the pit an over-reaction? Well, duh. But Leonidas is clearly a Punisher-style whackjob-maverick. Over-reaction is his forte. And as for the "there's no law" thing...uhm, a major plot-point of the movie is the fact that Sparta's "law" (as interpreted by venal, pseudo-religious perverts who have been bribed) is that Leonidas cannot defend his land and people, and so he has to try fending off the Persians with a tiny group pf volunteers.

Look, the movie is visually stunning and ideologically suspect. But if your getting you ideologies from movies based on Frank Miller graphic novels...there's a bigger problem.

Monday, August 06, 2007

So, I realize that I am, in fact, not an American voter. However, out of interest...and a solid history of watching the Daily Show, which means I am ever-so-slightly familiar with the candidates, I decided to take this quiz (care of this post on BoingBoing ). My results:

Kucinich 63
(you have no disagreements with this candidate)

Gravel 49
(you have no disagreements with this candidate)

Richardson 35
Death Penalty, Assault Weapons Ban, Patriot Act, Same-Sex Marriage

Clinton 35
Death Penalty, Patriot Act, Border Fence, Same-Sex Marriage

Dodd 34
Death Penalty, Patriot Act, Border Fence

Edwards 32
Death Penalty, Patriot Act, Same-Sex Marriage

Obama 29
Patriot Act, Border Fence, Same-Sex Marriage

Biden 24
Death Penalty, Patriot Act, Border Fence, Same-Sex Marriage

Paul -10
McCain -18
Huckabee -28
Giuliani -29
Cox -31
Thompson -32
Brownback -44
Romney -50
Tancredo -54
Hunter -55

So, apparently if I were an American voter, both/either Dennis Kucinich and/or Mike Gravel would currently have my support. I'm pretty sure I'd be a Democrat, for the same reason I'm usually a Liberal in Canada--because they have a chance of winning. (Also, fringe parties that encourage vote-splitting on "principle" make me stabby.) VISUAL AID!

Smiley Kucinich

Serious Kucinich

(with bad hair)

While I've heard of Kucinich more than Gravel, I must say, this photo makes me want to vote for the guy...

...not for President, though. Maybe for like, "Best Coach" or "Favourite Career-Day Guest." Although I have no problem with leaders with teen-aged or University-aged kids, something about being a grandparent and a head of the executive seems odd to me. Grandparents are supposed to be relaxed, dang it, not having one finger on the nuke-launching button.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Suspension of disbelief

On Friday evening, D. came over and we watched Kate & Leopold, grâce au my parents' sweet sweet PVR. Totally non-spoiler-y synopsis: Liev Schreiber, a struggling, um...physicist goes back in time, and when he returns he accidentally brings forward Leopold, the Duke of Albany.

Liev Schreiber, a.k.a. Stuart

Of course, there's a week until the next portal opens up, and the Duke ends up meeting Stuart's ex-girlfriend (who lives in the apartment below him--how awkward yet convenient!), played by Meg Ryan, and yadda yadda, you can figure out the rest.

Hollywood Leopold, Duke of Albany

a.k.a. Hugh Jackman

Real, and much more tragic,

Leopold, Duke of Albany

Anyway, at one point in the movie, Leo makes Meg Ryan a formal meal. I blurted out: "Oh right, like a Duke from the 19th century could cook."
D. just looked at me and cracked up. I got the joke and continued to deadpan "Because that is where this movie diverges from reality."*
But it's true that we will suspend our disbelief to a certain--possibly quite distant--point, and then no farther. I think it has a lot to do with internal consistency.
Another perfect example: CSI. This Wikipedia article has a summary of some of the criticisms, including, hilariously, that it isn't realistic. This Australian article also takes it to task. The number one complaint I get from friends and acquaintances who don't like it is that it's illogical, because:
  • it's always dark
  • the criminalists seem to carry out the whole investigation, including interrogations
  • the science is improbably fast and perfect

But seriously, folks, it's a TV show. I enjoy CSI; that doesn't mean I think criminalistics works like that. They need to have the core characters doing everything because otherwise they'd have a cast of thousands. They need the visuals to be flashy and compelling 'cause otherwise their rating would tank. And, they need the science to work quickly because otherwise every episode would last hours if not days.

And let's be fair about that, too. They use the time-honoured TV traditional montage to show the passage of time (i.e., they make an effort to convey how long things like this take). They also include what I suspect are realistic flaws in the science: detectives harassing criminalists to prioritize their results, random unexpected effects from experiments, scientists mis-designing experiments because of their own assumptions, the tension between what the forensic evidence says and what everything else says. Mistakes are made. Hell, when the lab blew up (dramatic as that was), it was (a) really only one room, and (b) the result of human error and incomplete safety precautions.

The bottom line, however, is probably this: who looks for realism in RomComs or on Prime Time? No one--well, no one sane. Nevertheless, I think we all have a border to our imaginations where we will not cross.

* Actually, they went out of their way to establish that the Duke was eccentric in the period sequences. They could easily have dropped something in there about cooking...

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I refuse to believe there were six seasons...

I can't believe this referenced this.

And in case you don't remember it, here's a clip of the theme song.

Charles DAR-win
He's our HE-ro
Bagging those with an IQ of ZE-ro

Why don't kilts have zippers?

So I was browsing through the Queen of Wands archive over my morning coffee, and I found this delightful panel:

Queen of Wands - Monday, May 12, 2003

And laughed...and almost snorted coffee...and laughed some more...