Wednesday, February 16, 2022

The Wheel of Time: Thoughts on Multicultural Casting in Fantasy

The Wheel of Time TV series begins in a little village in a fictional world. The villagers are (by real world standards) multicultural: Asian, Black, white, Hispanic, etc. 

This is because filmmakers are consciously trying to diversify casts, which is a good thing. 

However, by the standards of a "medieval" world, that sort of multiculturalism is pretty much impossible, since people generally spent their lives within 20 miles of their own home and intercontinental travel was impossible for everyone but the insanely rich. (Also, the village in question is not a center of trade, though, it is at the intersection of some crossroads, in the book -- it has an inn, for that reason. This would maybe explain multicultural visitors, I suppose -- but following the medieval formula, it ain't no London. And even medieval London would have been less multicultural than this town is depicted in the show.) 

You could argue: "Yeah, but Chris, it's fantasy..." However:

Coleridge is the inventor of the phrase "suspension of disbelief" -- in other words, we read fantasy and we suspend our disbelief when something happens that does not fit the rules of the real world. So, we could look at the incredibly diverse group of villagers and say, "Meh, it's a fantasy world. Maybe they just come out looking differently at birth."

Quite a while later, though, Tolkien came along and said that, for good fantasy, we should not have to suspend our disbelief. He called for the creation of a "secondary world" in which all that happens fits the rules of that world and feels like an organic part of it. Example: the Ents (essentially tree-people, if you are not a Tolkien reader) fit in to Tolkien's Middle-Earth. When we see them, we don't say: "There is no such thing as Ents, that's stupid" because, they fit the parameters Tolkien has created. However, the talking trees who throw apples at Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz movie would not fit in Middle-Earth. They would, if you will, break the spell of the secondary world and force us into suspension of disbelief, thereby diminishing the quality of the fantasy. 

For me, the secondary world of The Wheel of Time is flawed (TV version), because the diversity in the village does not make logical sense, and it is jarring. 

I want to be clear, even at the cost of repeating myself, as I am: I think multicultural casting is a good thing; I just think we should think hard about it when creating an artistic context, as in a TV show of this nature. Fantasy really depends on the "secondary world," I think. When that fails, the art suffers. 

A more logical choice would be to cast a non-white village, I think. Use only Hispanic actors or Black actors or Asian...etc. Robert Jordan never said (in the books) that the villagers were white. And since it is a fantasy world, I'd argue that non-white cast would be more effective in establishing other-wordliness: white people have been historically in charge in the real world. Why shouldn't non-white people be in charge in fiction? It just might help change things here in the real world.

I think is it superficial to say: let's just throw a bunch of nationalities together so we can say we contributed to the cause. It might be more effective (show to show) for kids of color to see people who look like them front and center.  This way we are not diminishing the quality of the storytelling AND we are sending kids a message: the world (a world) can look very different than ours. However, for a show done in the present, the cast should look like our world, which most often is an ethnically diverse place. 

In fact, maybe that should be the rule: to help the audience believe any TV show, the cast of any show should reflect the world is is trying to conjure. It would be foolish to cast Asians as victims of the African slave trade... but, if you make a movie about a suburban high school, chances are everyone is not white... And, make sure actors of all backgrounds have a shot. I think the talk about Ibris Elba being the next Bond is interesting in that regard. (Don't know if it is true that he will be, by the way.) Does Bond need to be a white guy? Why? Did Dr. Who need to be a man? Heck no. The Doctor regenerates. Who ever said he had to regenerate as a man?

I do recommend The Wheel of Time. If you like classic, epic fantasy and were not lured in by the tawdry meandering, amoral world of Game of Thrones, this show will do the trick. 

The Wheel of Time: Thoughts on Multicultural Casting in Fantasy

See above, please. Craziness happened when I upoaded this one!

Thursday, February 10, 2022

At Least : On Indifference to Abortion

heard this awhile ago on NPR: A woman named Kenya Martin, from the National Network of Abortion Funds, said this to an audience, and it turned my blood into ice chips:

"It's okay to have an abortions after some hot sex simply because you don't want to get pregnant. I just didn't want to be pregnant, and I want you to know that if that's your experience, that's ok, too."

Is it?

Let's travel back in time...

Once, women were locked away for getting pregnant out of wedlock. Once, women sought out unsafe terminations for unwanted pregnancies for fear of the shame they would have to endure. Once, women who got pregnant at what society or religion deemed "the wrong time" were made to feel dirty and low.

Then, things changed. Intelligent and caring people developed sympathy, even when they thought the behavior of others was wrong (not unlike the example of Jesus with the prostitute in the Gospels: You guys don't get to judge her as a person, but, He does tell her: "go forth and sin no more."). In my own experience, even in my teaching in Catholic schools, girls who got pregnant were supported and encouraged to graduate and, yes, to have their babies. They were not shunned; they were supported. Sure, pregnancy outside of marriage is a no-no in the Church, but the sacredness of life wins out over flat rules: the baby needed to be taken care of. If this is a violation of what you see as a woman's rights, at least you have to admit that there is a morality guiding it, even if you don't agree with that morality. There is an attempt (at least) to do what is seen as right. 

In the litigious realm, one reason abortion was legalized is so that women do not endanger themselves with unsafe abortion providers. Of course, there was and is debate over the morality of this...but that is the nature of the beast. If you think abortion is an abomination, in any or all circumstances, at least you have to admit that the laws were decided upon with the intention of benefitting women "in trouble," as the old phrase goes. Sure, you might believe it is downright wrong, but, at least, there was an attempt at promoting what is deemed fair and just. 

Again, it is not about whether you agree or disagree with the policies. The bottom line is, that there is an attempt at fairness and morality. An attempt, if not a success.  At least. Because humans try to do what they believe is best for each other.  

Now, here we are in the present, and we get this souless statement, above -- a statement that dismisses much that makes us human, at all. 

Forgive me another digresson, but let me tell you how I feel about sex. (Maybe, also take a moment to evaluate how you feel about it.)

To me, sex should be a "big deal." It's not a diversion. I, personally, don't believe in "casual sex" and I do believe that sex is a major step in a couple's relationship: You had better be very sure about this person before you commit to that kind of ramping-up of the stakes. 

I realize that, in today's world, many disagree with me. They are welcome to do so. I'm not God. I just know what appears to me to be human Truth: sex is a high-level activity with major spiritual importance and to turn it into a mere form of amusement is to devalue it. 

You may not agree with me, but, at least I am trying to make sense of the world and to try to live a life in a way that seems right, to me. If you think I am wrong, that's okay. But at least I am trying. At least I care enough. 

What's missing from the statement of Kenya Martin? Nothing much. Just every element that makes humans humans. It is an inhuman statement of complete indifference to the subject that so many feel is one of the most important questions on morality. 

What it implies is that we ("we," as in the man and the woman, both) have absolutely no responsibility to even try to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. It says that the desire for momentary pleasure is justification for abortion -- or, as she says, "abortions" (plural, as if doing it over and over is okay) -- as a form of birth control. It doesn't even debate, as the abortion argument often does, when or whether or not the resulting conception is a life. Martin just doesn't care about any of this. No factor but the individual's desire, in the moment, is to be considered. 

I can process and understand the intentions of a person on either side of the abortion debate if that person is weighing in on what he or she thinks is right. But I doubt the vailidity of a person (as a person) who thinks abortion is no big deal. Ask women who have had abortions if they think it was "a big deal." What kind of a person wouldn't, at least, think it was a big decision? (I have known several woman who remember it as a life-altering experience.) 

Martin's attitude seems symptomatic of a loss of all boundries of human decorum. If she represents the evolution of the future of human's all over. Imagine if everyone pursued pleasure to the exclusion of all sense of responsibility. 

I prefer to (read: "must, for the sake of my sanity") think of her as an outlier. I don't think of those few women who have confided in me about having gotten abortions as inhuman or evil; I don't get to judge them. At least, it was a big deal to them. It changed them in some way. Because they have human empathy. Because, at least, they care about ideas outside of themselves and about the embryo who could have become a walking, talking person. A human considers that possibility, whether she decides to abort or not. 

One could argue that Martin's statement is not without the "at least" factor; that she is promoting this idea out of concern for women and that she wants to end the abortion stigma, and, therefore, that there is morality there; for me, though, it's an "any-means-possible" argument. I wouldn't tell my child to acquire happiness by disregarding responsibility, ignoring the vailidity of another life and pursuing completely hedonistic ideals. One could argue that any villain in history held to certain moralities: Hitler wanted to make things better for the Aryan Nation. 

Am I comparing this woman to Hitler? No. But I am comparing the idea that even villains and the un-empathetic think what they are doing is the right thing to do, so to argue that there was an at least in their thinking doesn't really stand up. There are no Dr. Evils in the world -- people who just delight in doing evil. They either think what they are doing is right or they simply can't control what they do. 

And if you are one of those people who believes men have no right to opinions on issues touching on abortion, I dismiss your position. It's stupid. I'm not, in any way, trying to make decisions for women. I am just saying that they (and men, as well)  should, at least,  care about their decisions

And, besides, I am not writing about abortion rights. I am writing about the slow loss of humanity in our culture. 

Elie Weisel once said that "indifference is what makes the human being inhuman." Indeed.