Friday, June 26, 2009
Like many Americans, I've been a bit wary of Aljazeera as a network, because well, for a while there I had the paranoid thought that if I logged into it big brother would think I'm a terrorist. Which was silly but it was like 2005 and paranoia was all the rage, then I just sort of forgot about it when I considered a news source though I would see it in google news results. Well, it was silly to let paranoia keep me from reading a news source and examining different sources.
Well, long story short, Aljazeera English is frickin' awesome. I read Mission Aljazeera by Josh Rushing (also awesome, and it definitely gave me some perspective on the goals and history and effects of aljazeera on journalism and media in the Arab world, and the non-western world. It made me reconsider my pretty narrow idea of what aljazeera might be, which was totally uninformed, and frankly, is right now based on a single book that was highly convincing and made me feel more than a little sheepish about my intellectual laziness, and general wimpiness.
AND www.aljazeera.net/english is the site if you want news, and www.aljazeera.com is actually not associated with the news network, and tends to carry stories that seem to be aimed at discrediting the news organization. Which had actually fooled me, I didn't realize they were different and they very much are.
So check out it's amazing coverage on Somalia, which is in active fighting right now in addition to being all piratey, and apparently the US backing the "government" with weapons which is just a bit ... well... I have no specific words but it makes my gut hurt a little. It just feels a little like throwing napalm into a swampy quagmire of alligators fighting pythons and komodo dragons and some giant spiders, Michael Bay should get the movie rights to make that, 'cause my analogy here is clearly directed by him.
Aljazeera has awesome coverage on Somalia by land and sea, and generally is a fascinating news source. My point, watch the video, read/watch Aljazeera.net (in English or your language of choice), and decide what you think of it for yourself.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Two serious cash cows for the entertainment industry. Why do they fit together like Peanut Butter and Jelly? Because they both embody an idealized noble savage, a man who is both wild, independent and rustic, but also, domesticatable and able to maintain hunkiness after months at sea being made leathery, amazingly gross and maintaining his heterosexuality in the face of well, months at sea, saving himself (in a lusty fashion) for an idealized woman who happens upon his path. While he may be a brute he secretly desires both feminine companionship, but also, feminine domination.
Now here's the rub,
Reality: Ok, so also fictional and from a movie, but don't try to google an image of "dirty pirate" it just doesn't find an image that helps my point.
The romance of the pirate in the romance novel is an abduction fantasy, where the brutish lustful pirate takes the noble lady (often in spirit and lineage) and then takes the noble lady. In the process, often revealing his inner turmoil and desire for a more meaningful relationship with her, in which she makes many decisions for him, he reads her mind and while still humping like amazingly endowed bunnies, build a life for themselves in an idealized future where they fill in the blanks of one another's lives. As fantasy, excellent, wish fulfilling and fulfilling all the way to the bank.
While historically questionable, and until holding one's escapist fantasies to strict standards of historical accuracy is en vogue, it's not going to change any time soon. But! that doesn't mean that there isn't much to be done with the formula to make it new again. While there are some classic governor's daughter romances with randy swashbucklers being remade, the true test of the genre is the megalithic Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Look at that! you have two heartthrobs one dirty and hunky, one clean and hunky! they have a seriously tempestuous love triangle with a Governor's Daughter who is obsessed with the romantic notion of pirates, who eventually becomes Pirate King herself. Nice. Covers every base, and plays with the genre, satirizing it at points without abandoning its conventions.
Why does Pirates of the Caribbean fit the romantic pirate fantasy and say... Cutthroat Island, fail so miserably? Well, aside from the cleverness of the writing in general, the problem in Cutthroat Island is primarily one of the power dynamic.
In Pirates of the Caribbean, the protagonist, Elizabeth Swann, is a real match for the men around her while being able to handily maneuver through social currents of polite society and impolite society. This factor is an important aspect of the modern lady's aspirations. She is an equal member of the pirate crews and the shifts in power did not make her too weak or put any male in a position over her that she had no hand in creating. This creates an air of choice and real validation of her as a character and a person, rather than a waif or a harpy.
Cutthroat Island's protagonist, Morgan Adams, is a bit of a shrew. She's caustic and constantly coming at people from a position of inferiority because of her gender that undermines her aspirational qualities. Her crew doubts her and undermines her, but she's also a captain without having risen through the ranks, there is a sense that she hasn't earned the post. Where Elizabeth tends to defer to other people's knowledge but stand up for what she knows to be true and right, giving her a greater sense of legitimacy than Morgan, who tries to bulldoze her way through most problems.
What does this have to do with Romance Novels? a lot. Romance novels are all about the fantasy, who you want to be, who your idealized mate might be, and how that might come together in a volcano of fiery passion. They are a strong example of aspirational driving, the desire to be beautiful, desired, noble, and powerful in the face of other powerful people (even if that only manifests as making a man a slave to his lust), but also the desire for a man to be strong, a leader of others, to be passionate and to have something going on underneath his ruggedly handsome exterior.
So, what have we learned from Romance Novels and Pirates that can be applied to franchises for women in general? 1) Aspirational Fantasy Sells, 2) A man who can be hunky while caked in gross dirt is REALLY hot, 3) when considering power dynamics, gender equality trumps female supremacy.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
I know, I SHOULD have known this, but life is not always perfect, and I'm making up for it now.
I'm amazed the full episode is on google video, but there it is, linked for your enjoyment.
I'm glad that this show was on, because it truly faces the stereotype that pirates can't be organized, successful pirates are totally organized.
While pirate mom Tori is surprisingly judgemental and Organizer Lisa is flipped out about the fleas that everyone at the pirate house has caught from the dog (yeah, I'm with her, that's where commitment to a period and just plain no starts for me), lives are changed, lessons are learned and we're all a little better for having forced these two groups to intermingle.
The best comments came from the kids (don't they always?):
"Not many of my friends dads get to buy swords and write it off on their taxes... not many of my friends' dads buy swords"
"I'm only sassing you 'cause I hate you"
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Take this interview with a Somali Pirate, Mohamed Said:
Now, no one is going to argue that the excesses portrayed in the article, the sense of the swaggering gangster, and indeed, the attacks that put both his and the lives of others at risk are things to be lauded. But consider that Piracy is one of the only options for betterment in a globalized society in Somalia.
He and his colleagues have hijacked nearly 30 vessels this year, meaning 2009 is on course to be even worse than last year, when pirates from the Horn of Africa nation seized 42 ships.
But the crime wave has prompted a hurried deployment in the region by foreign navies, thwarting several attacks -- and now the weather is turning too, making the seas rougher and the pirates' prey harder to hunt.
"My biggest fear is that the piracy business will have to stop. The weather will be terrible in the coming days and the warships have increased in number," Said told Reuters in Eyl.
"I have experienced the bitter-sweetness of piracy," he added, pointing out that his car, satellite telephone and speedboat were all paid for with his cut from ransoms.
Those who have must enjoy their earnings, while the have-nots die of hunger and worry," Said added with a shrug...
...I wish this merry life would last forever. But I'm afraid that circumstances may force me to give up piracy completely."
Take a different interview with another pirate, Yassin Dheere from an article I mentioned in January:
"I was born in Eyl town and I used to be a fisherman.
I was forced to hijack foreign ships after the central government collapsed. No one was monitoring the sea, and we couldn't fish properly, because the ships which trawl the Somali coasts illegally would destroy our small boats and equipment. That is what forced us to become pirates.
The first time I was involved in hijacking a ship was 2003. It must have been Arabian, there were 18 Yemeni crew. It was a big fishing ship that destroyed our boats several times.
We surrounded it with our boats and seized it at gunpoint at night. We did not know these modern methods of using hooks and ladders, so we got near with our boats and climbed on.
We held it for two weeks, then some Somali and Arab mediators stepped in to negotiate. We were convinced to take $50,000 as compensation. Gosh! This was a huge amount for us. That inspired us and gave us an appetite for hunting ships.
At that time we had no idea what we were doing, we were very worried about what would happen. Two of my friends backed out because they were afraid.
In fact, my life has changed dramatically because I've received more money than I ever thought I would see. In one incident, I got $250,000, so my life has changed completely."
So, let's talk about what this says, in order to provide for themselves basically, by harvesting food from lands that they have real geographic relationships to, they are forced to either starve or pirate. It's not like they have much to trade in a globalized society, check out the CIA Factbook to see what their economy looks like, it is based on livestock, and at one time, fishing.
Take a major resource off the table, fish, and you have taken what was already an extremely tenuous group of resources and created a situation that isn't survivable. Desperate situations lead to desperate action, action that brings in more money than most Somalians had ever imagined.
Take that away suddenly, and what do you have? What is left for them after piracy?
Well, Tuvalu is feeling the pirate menace of Somalia. I know, I thought it would be news about "NOT Somalia" too, but c'est la vie.
The pirates are demanding a ransom of $US15 million - the kind of money a tiny island nation like Tuvalu does not have a hope of raising...
...About 40 per cent of Tuvaluan men work at sea, mainly for German shipping companies.
Reverend Iosefa says the entire population is now very scared.
"Eleven men in a population of around about 10,000 people is a lot," he said.
"And 11 men to us is one of the biggest resources for the family.
Tuvalu is not only a tiny country, it is also one of the world's poorest...
Tuvaluan community leaders have pleaded for more assistance from their neighbours, Australia and New Zealand...
...One rescue attempt has already failed. Last month the German Government sent in its elite combat force to storm the ship, but they abandoned the mission at the last moment after fears from America that it would all end in a bloodbath.
From MTV's John Constantine:
When you’re brought in to make an original game based on one of the most popular film franchises in history, your hands are usually tied to all kinds of characters, story elements and setting. Propaganda is taking the road less traveled with their action role-playing game “Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned”. No Jack Sparrow, no Orland Bloom Keira Knightley make-out sessions here. The game is all about you and you are the baddest ass pirate n the high seas.
That is, you will be. The game’s design and creative directors didn’t have anything to show us during our private session with them at E3. What they had was a solid looking concept trailer and many good ideas about what a great “Pirates” game should be. Set fifteen years before the movies, you play your own customized pirate and explore both Caribbean islands and the surrounding seas on your own ship, with unique combat and character growth in both.
While it seems like a must, multiplayer is still unconfirmed and they’ve yet to decide if you can play as a female character, “Fable 2” style. Disney? I want to be a lady pirate when the game ships for Xbox 360 and PS3 next year.
As you may remember from my review of Disney's first Pirates of the Caribbean MMORPG I will probably play but not go into much depth on this, but I agree with Mr. Constantine, I want to play a girl. Pirates has some great girls in it, not the least of which is the fantastic Anamaria, who was absent from the second and third films, but has proven herself a fantastic xenolinguist and a likely even more compelling alien-cat-lady.
Dear Mexican: My wife and I have an argument going on about pirates. And since you are the source for all things Mexican, I’d thought I’d ask: While I know there were Spanish and Portuguese pirates back in the early 1600s and 1700s, were there EVER any MEXICAN pirates? Not pirates from Spain who pirated in Mexico, but REAL HONEST-TO-HAY-SOOS MEXICAN PIRATES! Would be interesting to know!
Pirates Pat McGroin and the Right Reverend One-Eye
Dear Gabachos: It depends on what your definition of “pirate” is. If you’re looking for a famous swashbuckler from the days of Blackbeard, tough tamales: Historians never bothered to glorify the numerous buccaneers who prowled the Mexican coast for Spanish galleons laden with the gold and silver of Mexican mines. The most famous Mexican pirate was Fermin Mundaca, who operated a contraband empire from the island of Islas Mujeres off the coast of Quintana Roo during the mid-1800s—but Mundaca was a Spanish native. Why look back in the past, though, when so many Mexican pirates exist in the present? Piratería is as Mexican an industry as tortilla-making and immigrant-smuggling; the International Federation of Phonographic Industry, an international organization that fights music piracy worldwide, estimates Mexicans make more than $220 million off illegal CDs, most sold at the nearest swap meet, bodega or taco truck near you. And before some of you readers start insinuating that such a startlingly large amount is somehow indicative of the Mexican culture’s tendency to steal, what would you call file-sharing?
The pirates reportedly forced Phillips to take $30,000 in cash from the Maersk Alabama safe during the April siege. The sole surviving pirate suspect, Abduwali Muse, allegedly distributed the money to his three accomplices, according to the report.
After the rescue, during which three of the pirates were killed and Muse captured, the money was not among the items listed as having been recovered by Navy SEALs.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is now questioning military personnel who had a hand in the Alabama rescue operation in the Gulf of Aden to try and track down the money, the report quotes an unnamed Pentagon source.