PARING DOWN

Posted in Rants on December 8th, 2014 by Ed

Every year just before Halloween I give a mini "lecture" on costume decorum. Aside from knee-slappers like "Real nurse and police uniforms are actually quite baggy and unrevealing" I remind the young folks that despite what people did in the small town or all-white suburb from whence they came, racial and ethnic groups are not costumes. Moreso than any of the material I cover in my classes, I feel like this is important. I'm sure a lot of them roll their eyes and don their offensive costumes anyway. Getting through to one or two of them each semester, though, feels like a victory. If anybody thinks twice about doing something offensive on account of that brief reminder I consider it a win.

I rarely attend Halloween parties, but when I do I find that this rule is violated even among adults who should know better. In grad school I hosted the departmental party one year and, sure enough, a grad student showed up as an Illegal Immigrant. I'll let your imagination complete his costume. This year I attended the faculty Halloween party and another person showed up in similar Mexican Caricature garb. These are adults in their 30s and 40s. People with advanced degrees.

The reveler in question was a stranger to me, the new beau of one of the women I know through work. I asked her, "What is he supposed to be dressed as?" while he was elsewhere. Some sort of Mexican somethingorother, she replied. "Well that's kind of fucked up, isn't it?" said Drunk Ed. Six weeks later, this woman still has not spoken to me.

Now, I am a dick. I am used to having to apologize to people when I say things that I think are hilarious (They are.) but hurt someone else's feelings. I don't believe anyone should be afraid of apologizing. It's useful to humble yourself on occasion and admit that you aren't always right. So naturally, I felt like if this other person is angry then clearly I should apologize. Then a strange thing. I thought about it and I realized I wasn't sorry at all. The only thing worse than refusing to apologize is giving a fake apology. So, I decided, fuck it. If someone chooses to ostracize me because I pointed out that their friend's decision to wear a "Mexican" costume is not appropriate, then I can live with that.

After two weeks of reading and hearing everyone complain – with justification – about the things all of their Racist Friends say, I've been thinking hard about why anyone would want Racist Friends. This is an excellent time to listen to or read what people say, consider it along with what role if any this person plays in your life, and cut the cord. Ask yourself, "Why am I friends with this person?" and answer honestly. The way social networks work these days, people seem to have a vast network of "friends" who are actually near-strangers. People we knew in grade school. Some guy you met at a party once. That woman who worked at so and so with you back in 2004. And if these people are "real" friends or even relatives, what are you getting out of being friends with blatantly racist people?

I've heard the arguments. If we stop talking to each other over disagreements, our social circles become an echo chamber free of dissenting opinions! He's a good person, he's just really racist! These are not good points. At all. If you're not willing to say, "You know what, if you're going to insist on saying racist shit constantly I don't think I want to be friends," you may want to think about what is really important to you. If you're willing to tolerate people high-fiving over Thugs who Have it Coming getting gunned down because telling them to piss off would be inconvenient for you, that's telling.

Someone pointed out that black people, unlike white people, don't have the luxury of "unfriending" racism and having it go away. I disagree in the sense that it obviously doesn't go away. Everyone still has to live with it, with more consequences for some of us than for others. It won't be going away anytime soon, but we're not obligated to be pals with it and pretend like it's OK in the meantime.

ED-209

Posted in Rants on December 8th, 2014 by Ed

Looking back, one of the strangest experiences of my childhood was being taken by my dad to see Robocop in the theater on opening night. At the time I thought this was awesome; as an adult I wonder why anyone in their right mind would take a 9 year old child to see that movie. This is a movie that had to be re-cut several times and have several scenes of humor* added to get down to an R rating from NC-17. The movie includes, off the top of my head, a rape scene, a guy snorting coke off a prostitute's boobs, a man who explodes when hit by a speeding van, and about 700 grisly, dismembering deaths by firearm. When it comes to entertainment (and parenting, I suppose) my dad is just kind of a big kid, so I doubt he thought anything of it beyond "This is awesome!"

In hindsight, though, I'm glad I saw it when it came out. Being impressionable and imaginative, I couldn't stop wondering if the future was really going to be like that. For a tongue-in-cheek sci-fi movie, it turned out to predict a remarkably accurate vision of the future. That it was set in Detroit now looks like a stroke of brilliance, and that city's troubles have led to a revival of interest in the film (not to mention the obligatory, shitty remake). Despite being a patently silly film, it was also prescient in some ways.The basic functions of local government along with huge portions of its infrastructure are being sold off to private corporations. Violence and crime are rampant in some of the more sordid Rust Belt has-been cities. It wasn't a completely accurate vision, though. We don't have robot-police patrolling the cities.

So here's the thing, and bear with me: Should we? Is this an idea whose time has come?

robocop2

Recent events have cast in high relief the serious problems with law enforcement in this country. Since our social betters are constantly trying to replace the rest of us with technology – robots replacing factory workers, voice recognition software replacing the secretary, video screens replacing teachers – why not consider automating the police? Sure, they would make tons of mistakes, poorly investigate a lot of crimes, and kill innocent civilians more than a few times. It would hardly take any getting used to at all, in other words.

You think this is half-assed satire or sarcasm. But think about it: who would do a better job of taking a statement from a possible rape victim, a machine following a programmed script or a 55 year old guy who knows that all Bitches secretly Want It? And if we're going to live with cops using wildly excessive force, we should at least have "cops" who dole it out equally to all of us rather than treating certain groups (rich people, white people, rich white people) with kid gloves while brutalizing others.

This is a workable idea. It is so not because the technology of robotics and artificial intelligence are so advanced that we are close to creating perfect human analogues. It is workable because the police are so completely out of control right now that I can scarcely imagine an alternative that could be less effective at Serving and Protecting the public or following the law in their efforts to enforce it.

(*True story: Among the scenes added were the fake product commercials, the "I'd Buy That for a Dollar!" guy, and the person yelling "Someone call a paramedic!" after ED-209 malfunctions and shoots that guy about 100 times. The explicit purpose of these additions was to lighten the tone of the film and take the edge off of the grisly violence long enough to get it down to an R rating.)