Erotic Innocence – James R. Kincaid

Synchronicity strikes again. Jung would be so proud. After just finishing James R. Kincaid’s book Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting, what story happens to be dominating social media? The takedown of one of the most controversial and obnoxious conservative commentators, Milo Yiannopoulos, for comments made about pedophilia. Barely had the question formed in my mind about whether our society had got any better about this problem when I had my answer. If only the accusations about Trump and young girls had stuck, alas . . . 
Kincaid’s is a compelling argument, and one that it is impossible to fully agree with. Since the Romantic age, children have been seen as angels and innocent darlings who need to be protected from all the horrors of the world. If something terrible happens to them we are scandalized, we are outraged. But, on the other hand, they are monstrous little beings who we can be scared of. This is why they are abandoned and abused.  
We are horrified by the idea that there has been abuse – especially sexual abuse – of these poor innocent children and yet, Kincaid argues, we are fascinated by it. Movies purportedly for kids are filled with sexual innuendos (from Shirley Temple to Home Alone – Kincaid was writing in the late 1990s). In our media, he argues, parents are dismissive of the kids and it comes to an outsider from the family to rescue the kid, and then they develop a bond with that (often) older male who protects them from being abused again. For our job is to look but never touch. And, of course, childhood is sacrosanct. He quotes Stand by Me (king/Reiner) and the statement: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anybody?”
The answer to this question is a resounding no, and it does have to do with that thorny concept of innocence. When we are in our teens, or friendships can become bogged down in sex, sexuality, and more responsibility (work, school, family). I agree that we do see an attraction to the innocence of childhood, the lack of cynicism, the freedom of not having to worry about getting and keeping a job, budgeting enough for retirement, the mortgage, the car payment, that ever elusive work/life balance. I long for the days when summer vacation was two months long and I would take that trip to the local movie theatre with friends and cousins to go see the latest matinee – who the hell wouldn’t? But not everything is about sex.  
I disagree with his main argument, however, I do agree that when sex in relation to kids comes up it does have a tendency to be a hyper-maniacal spectacle. I am old enough to remember the tail end of Satanic Panic, and to have read Michelle Remembers, which freaked me out completely until I was in university and studying repressed memories. Now it seems like a load of bunk. But we as a society feed on this stuff. Television and print media (and I would suspect social media even more) thrive on ratings and clicks. Whatever it takes to get a story, the juicier the better, and what is more juicy than the lurid details of what happened to JonBenet Ramsey, or Amanda Berry (admittedly a little older). We are a society of voyeurs.  

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The Hypocrisy of Cussing

Aw shucks, this malarkey showed up in my Facebook feed today. For cryin’ out loud, why did this have to show up, with all of its accusations about the amount of profanity that I use? Does this make me a bad person because I am more apt to use the phrase ‘Shut the fuck up’ than ‘Shut the Front Door?’ If I go back to the words that my mother told me, I could answer this question in the affirmative. No, that is not entirely accurate. The conversation that I had with my mother pinpointed how it was uneducated people who tended to swear more often. While that is-probably true, I have evolved on the matter of profanity, not only because I am a frequent user of some of the more colourful of these words (and none of the ones that are on this list, to be honest), but also because I know some highly educated people who swear all the fucking time.   
George Carlin’s famous seven words that cannot be said on television are among my favorites. Some are profane, many relate to either sex or bathroom activities. Many of these are used as short hand by people who many not have the ability to express themselves more eloquently or poetically. This is the education piece. I do not doubt that some of the people who might be considered lower class or have less education frequently use these words in more inappropriate contexts than the more educated, which I argue is what tends to separate them from other people. Very few people can get by in their lives without using some forms of profanity. The difference is the context under which it is used.

Yes, context is key for so many things. By saying this I do not mean to imply that everyone would start taking the Lord’s name in vain, or telling people what they can do to themselves. Some will not use even the cleanest of curses, and while that seems unnatural to those of us who have partaken, there is nothing wrong with them. It is a personal choice. People are even entitled to their opinions on the subject. Some will not like cussing because it offends their sensibilities. 
  
For people who genuinely don’t like to hear profane words, I am sorry, and I beg you to bear with me a little longer. What many of us who speak in colorful vernacular do have a problem with is the hypocrisy that often comes along with someone’s delicate ears. Saying you do not like to hear swearing because it is an affront to your religion (for example) while performing acts that are the very essence of the profane makes you a hypocrite and someone who we should stop allowing to dictate our own actions. An anecdotal example: a former neighbour of ours was ‘a Christian.’ You know the type, I am sure: the sort that partake of the religion on Sunday and are secular the rest of the week. This was a person who acted all innocent and pure and was scandalized at the idea of someone using profanity. Scandalized at the use of the words fuck, bitch, or shit, but not at all scandalized by constantly playing on people’s sympathy to get things, taking things from charities at which they were volunteering, and doing tons of other dishonest and disingenuous shit. 
It it not my intention to disparage genuinely religious people, but far too often it has become a racket for the scammers, the selfish, those trying to escape trouble, and the self-righteous. They preach the Good Word and parade in front of everyone all the good deeds that they are doing, while completely ignoring the spirit of their own religion. As I wrote in another post, Jesus would be so proud.  
In closing, here’s a suggestion: rather than being so fucking worried about the appearance of goodness and charity, try actually being good and charitable. Worry less about what others are doing or not doing, and more about your own house. Go about using works like malarkey, phooey or caca instead of shit. That’s fine. That’s your right. We might laugh because it sounds silly and outdated, but we would never deny you your right. Don’t deny us ours, and don’t think you’r’e better than us cussers.  

The Effect of Othering in an ‘Alternative Facts’ World

Twenty five years ago when the Internet was in its infancy, it was deemed to be the information superhighway.  The entire world would be connected and we would be able to get more information than ever, and up to date information at that.  In just a few short years traditional Encyclopedias died out, replaced by online sites such as Wikipedia.   The internet is still useful for such purposes, but it has become a minefield for urban legends, misinformation, ‘alternative facts’, and above all, for propaganda.

 

Propaganda is nothing new, with recorded instances of it as far back as Ancient Greece and Rome.  What is new is the ability for this propaganda to be disseminated to millions of people within seconds, all without leaving the comfort of our desk, chair, or bed.  Combining this capability with the anti-intellectualism and racist streaks that have run through contemporary western society has created a powder keg, as evidenced by the atrocious attacks on a Quebec City mosque just a few days ago.

 

Left and right wing people have their own bubbles that they live in.  For instance, I recognize in myself a tendency to believe everything bad and shitty about Donald Trump, and doubt the same sort of stories told about former President Obama or current Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau.  Recognizing this. however, I do try to fact check as much of this stuff as I can (on both sides). Making allowances for individual differences, I think, on average, left-leaning people tend to be more fair and balanced and more likely to fact check, than conservative people, especially in the US.  Some of this might have to do with the fact that left-leaning people tend to be found in more urban areas, which also tend to be better educated and more diverse.  Diversity leads to more interactions with many types of people, and less chance of seeing different people as the dangerous “Other.” Again, I make allowances for individual differences, and am speaking of average tolerances.

 

This brings me to the point of my post today.  While scrolling through Facebook, that veritable minefield of ignorance and hate, I came across an article written by The Daily Wire, a conservative website which stated that it was unfair to claim that the current Muslim refugee crisis was similar to that of the Jews during the Third Reich.  The points the article made were as follows:

 

  1. There was no threat of Jewish terrorists infiltrating the United States.  The same cannot be said about Muslim Terrorists.
  2. Jewish Refugees of the Holocaust had nowhere else to go.  Muslim refugees do.
  3. The proliferation of Muslim refugees is a result of an intra-religious, Islamic civil war dating back to the founding of Islam in the 7th century.  Judaism’s theological disputes are solved with the pen, not the sword.
  4. Muslim refugees are far more religious (with many submitting to Qur’anic literalism) than Jewish refugees during WWII, an ethnographic-religious block that was predominantly secular, assimilated into Western society, and already integrated into the mainstream European social fabric
  5. Muslim immigrants have disproportionately contributed to racist attacks against other minority groups, notably Jews.  European Jews are still victims., rather than perpetrators or anti-Semitic, white and Islamo-Supremacists, acts of harassment, bulling and intimidation

 

Some of the points are, unfortunately true.  The Pew research poll quoted in the article does find that the favourability ratings of Jews among Muslims is low, but more so in predominately Muslim countries – Turkey, Jordan, Egyptian, and so on.  What this article fails to note, however, is that in Europe, Muslims are viewed more unfavourably than Jews, and both groups are disliked by conservative right-wingers, even among the more secular nations like France.

 

The article likewise is correct in saying that religion and governance are more intertwined in some Islamic counties then they are in the west.  I believe, as Reza Aslan does, that this is because there has not yet been a Muslim version of the Protestant Reformation.  Perhaps that is coming, perhaps not.  It is not for us in the west to judge whether another country, or group of countries changes to a more secular way of life.

 

As for radicals and terrorists there are two issues to consider.  On the first hand, we have to decide on a definition of terrorist.  If we take it to mean any act that causes terror in a civilian population, any number of things could be tagged as examples.  The ongoing drone strikes being conducted by the US military could be viewed as a form of terrorism..  One could make an argument that Donald Trump’s campaign threats to arrest women who had an abortion were a form of terrorism.  Dealing strictly with those acts that cause immediate injury or death, the numbers of domestic terrorists in the US, and here in Canada, far outweigh any number of foreign terror attacks.  It is the unknown that frightens people, more so than any individual person or group of people.  And if we step away from Cape Fear for a moment and think about things more rationally, is it really plausible that people who are fleeing countries in the middle of civil wars are really those that are the terrorists?  I would think not.

 

This speaks to the first point of the article.  Nowhere in evidence is the fact that most Muslims want to come to western countries to perpetrate acts of terror.  Are there some who do?  Of course.  But why would they come in droves for that purpose when ISIS is perfectly happy promoting home grown terrorists?  Another point: vetting potential immigrants is a time intensive process.  No one is saying to open the floodgates and let everyone in, but some common sense needs to be applied.

 

The second and third points of this article are the ones that make the least historical sense.  Was not the displacement of the Jews over and over again a result of religious wars and persecution?  Seriously! And, anyone who has studied their history in any depth will know that the circumstances around the Jewish people trying to flee Nazi persecution, and the Muslims trying to flee ISIS persecution are similar.  Boats of Jews coming to North America and to other western countries were turned back.  We all have to live with that on our collective national consciouses.  It feels to me that The Daily Wire is functioning as the same sort of propaganda machine that worked to such great and disastrous effect in Nazi Germany.
The same shit is happening with Muslims now, however, with the exception that many western European nations are taking refugees in where they can.  Yes, other Muslim nations should do their part.  No one is saying they shouldn’t, but that does not mean that other western countries should not help also.  Differences in religion and culture aside, we are all human beings.

 

Here in Canada we have accepted 25,000 Syrian refugees and to date the only act of terrorism was perpetrated by a white man in Quebec.  How is that for radicalism?

 

Stop “Othering” people and you’ll find it is the ideologies that need to be attacked not the people.  It isn’t lost on most of us who read, that it is the supposedly “Christian” people (usually right-wing, conservatives) who are the lest charitable and compassionate people.  Jesus would be so proud.

 

 

Remember that Time We Ran Out Of Fire Extinguishers?

Soooo . . . . The Americans decided to elect an arrogant, ignorant, uneducated, inexperienced racist, misogynistic lunatic to the highest office in the world, and they also brought along to accelerate the destruction of the world control of both congress and the senate.  It is also very likely (dare I say inevitable?) that they are also going to hand over the Supreme Court.  Goodbye Roe vs. Wade, goodbye any hope of overturning Citizens United.  Cross off the idea of getting any substance reinstated to the Voting Rights Bill.  The rest of the world looks on aghast this morning.  Hillary Clinton might not have shattered the glass ceiling, but it still feels as though we’ve been hit by shrapnel.

 

One question: why?

 

One answer:  Because Americans are nihilists.

 

It is not just the fact that Trump is inexperienced.  Arguments could (and have) been made that President Obama was inexperienced.  Here in Canada, Justin Trudeau was far from a career politician when we elected his Liberal party to power (another vote for change).  This is not just about inexperience, though.  President Obama was right when he questioned why they would want to elect someone with no public service experience to such a position of power.  Change merely for the sake of change is dangerous and naive – especially when the change is to someone who is violently unstable, vengeful, easily provoked and will have access to the most powerful military, and the largest nuclear arsenal in the world.  This was indeed a referendum on Obama’s legacy, on meritocracy and sadly it empowered the Republican base of angry, racist, misogynistic white men to get out and vote.

 

Some say the election was about the economy – the loss of factory jobs that paid well, to Walmart jobs which do not.  We could scream ourselves hoarse how Americans (or their fathers before them) did this to themselves, but what good would that do?  Facts don’t penetrate that Fox News filled bubble.  The people protesting the establishment as represented by Hillary Clinton (and the 16 other Republican competitors to Trump) should have to be strapped to a chair and force fed a history lesson.   Factories were leaving the US before the 1980’s, but Reagan’s deregulation of Wall Street allowed them to accelerate their exodus to markets with cheaper labor.  This deregulation also led riskier behavior and a boom/bust bubble that brought on Black Monday and then even more frighteningly, led to the 2008 financial crisis.  With the wave that Obama rode in on, they were able to put some training wheels back on the economic bike, but now taking them off, they (the establishment Republicans) have allowed that bike to crash into a hate-fueled tree that is going to explode and engulf all of us In flames.

 

Some pundits say this was an election filled with fear, and they would be correct.  Fear begets hatred and there was plenty of that to go around.  Trump came out swinging – calling Mexicans rapists (takes one to know one, I guess?), that he would ban – and even deport – all Muslims, that it was a criminal offense to get an abortion, that he would ‘bomb the shit’ out of ISIS, that Senator John McCain, a prisoner of war, was not a war hero, that he would jail Hillary Clinton, riling up his base to potentially assassinate her, innumerable attacks on the media, and so forth.  And he’s always got the ‘greatest’ plan, or ‘the greatest temperament’.  No specifics ever, but he assures us that it will all be great.  Yeah, a great, steaming pile of –

 

I am afraid now, as I write this.  I am not an American, I don’t live in America.  I do, however, live less than 200 miles from an American border.  If the US gets attacked, either from within or outside of the country, that affects my country, too.  And even if Trump doesn’t decide to nuke some country in retaliation for some insulting tweet from Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, there are still vastly entangled international issues that he just doesn’t understand.  NATO, NAFTA, North Korea, Russia, ISIS, Al  Qaeda, these are all in play in a way that is neither good nor safe.

 

In a society where Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other social media sites have become people’s main source of news coverage, it is hardly surprising that so many Americans are dumber than a post about policy issues.  They don’t get TPP, or the intricacies of polling, or that immigration from Mexico is down, not up, OK, this lack of knowledge is in keeping with their character, so I should not be surprised.  The one thing that overshadows all other ignorance over policy, is the treatment of women.  And not just the rhetoric of calling them fat, or disgusting, or saying that they might be menstruating.  There have been a dozen or so women who have come forward saying that he groped them.  He is on tape in multiple places, verifying this behavior.  Who’s the rapist now, you misogynistic prick?  AND YET WOMEN STILL VOTED FOR HIM.  WHAT. THE. FUCK?  Hillary Clinton might be a little right of center for my taste, but she would not have blown up the world.

 

Each Republican president over the last thirty years has had their terrible military fault, and each has got worse and worse.  Reagan had Iran Contra.  Bush Sr. had the war in Iraq (though with allied support at least).  Bush Jr was led in total by Dick Cheney, and together they used a national tragedy, and false intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to enter Iraq, to destabilize the world and bring about ISIS.  Each successive incarnation of Republican has made the world less safe, more war-torn, and more prone to terrorism.  One can hope that Trump’s campaign was all rhetoric and a cooler head will prevail now, but past is not prologue here.  If we (that is the world) can make it out of this presidency  with some of our retirement savings, our limbs, and our sanity intact, it will be a damned miracle.

 

Elections have consequences, and we have not yet even seen the least disastrous of them.

 

So not only might this election bring us the consequence of a third world war, especially if the Republicans in the house and senate hand over a blank cheque to their Commander in Chief, but we’ve set back the women’s movement, and the Civil Rights movement by seventy years.  Nice going.

 

Bill Maher was right when he said that Hollywood’s obsession with dystopian stories was going to come back and bite us in the ass.  And I say us, because this Global Village is real and what affects one country absolutely affects its neighbors.

 

I have to disagree with Billy Joel here and say, you sure fucking did start the fire this time.

Brand Loyalty, Part 2: Marketing Run Rampant

A new series of movies based off J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them debuts in theaters in a little more than three weeks.  As part of the promotion for the film they have started releasing songs off the soundtrack on iTunes.  The very first of such was the Main Title and it sounds appropriately sinister for a potentially dark series of movies (having to do with Gellert Grindelwald, apparently).  Being the Potterhead that I am, I was of course excited for this release.  The song begins with those opening notes of Hedwig’s Theme, so well known to almost everyone, even those who are not obsessed with Harry Potter.  It is brilliant to tie in this first song, this first movie with the most successful franchise of recent years.  I would say it is marketing 101.  The filmmakers want to tap into that audience of people who loved Harry Potter, and of course they are right to do that.  Musicians, authors, filmmakers, and other artists might consider themselves above the dirty and corrupting influences of business, but it is almost always because of those business practices that they are successful (especially on a scale like J.K. Rowling).

 

Yet it is precisely those business practices that have had a corrupting influence on many aspects of our lives.  One needs only to browse any form of media to see this.  The aforementioned Harry Potter is a perfect example.  Everything to do with the Fantastic Beasts movie has from the start been branded as coming from J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding world.  Pottermore, the official online Harry Potter encyclopedia, is likewise branded.  This is not a phenomenon exclusive to Harry Potter, though.  It has become the exception to have a video game, or a successful movie that does not have at least half a dozen sequels.  What are they up to on the Fast and the Furious now? Seven, was it?  A quick perusal of Goodreads authors reveals the same: Outlander, Book 1 (terrible book, by the way). A Dream of Witches #1.  Terry Goodkind should probably have stopped writing the Sword of Truth series fifteen years ago.  Even Stephen King got in on this a little bit with both the Dark Tower series, and the Bill Hodges trilogy, though I think he is finished with both now.  How many Law & Order shows are there (and I should know this because I am trying to watch them all)? CSI? The Walking Dead, a truly terrible show, has an even worse spinoff called Fear the Walking Dead.  Bought any celebrity’s clothing line or fragrance lately?    It is endless.  Endless I tell you.

 

We live in a world where our media is like a bag of Cheetos: fluffy but without substance.  Why, oh why does Outlander have to be a series?  It could have been wrapped up in one book, no?  Why does Bookbub constantly sell boxed sets (funny phrase for a series of ebooks) of romance novels?  Have we become that bad at telling stories that we cannot wrap up the story in one novel?  No, it just pays better to stretch it out over successive books.  It must give a sense of job security for the author of the books, to know they have a loyal fan base who will keep buying their work, I understand that.  But not every single book published with any tiny degree of success needs to become a series.

 

With books in particular, this could be a throwback to the nineteenth century when many authors, Dickens springs to mind in particular, published novels in serial format, with a new part released at regular intervals.  People could not wait to read the next in the series.  And since authors of such media in Dickens’s time were paid by the word, we tended to get verbose narratives.  But Dickens and others at least understood when a story had to come to an end.  We don’t see Great Expectations 2: Miss Havisham’s untold story, or Jane Eyre: Mr Rochester Speaks.  Jane Austen did not release a story to tell us what happened after Darcy and Elizabeth married.  Dante didn’t feel the need to continue his Divine Comedy past the natural ending point.  We didn’t get the story of Dante’s climb from Beatrice as well, or from Lucifer (Paradise Lost is a different beast all together).  It isn’t just books though.  TV, movies, video games.  There are sequels, cross-overs, cross-marketing, tie-in editions, you name it.

 

If we’re not talking about the franchising of every aspect of our media, then we are talking about the proliferation of the ‘updated’ versions of technology.  I love all my iDevices, and am a fairly staunch brand loyalist to Apple (I’m writing this on my iMac, in fact) but even I recognize that many of Apple’s recent updates lack their previous innovation.  It might be that they haven’t made a giant leap forward in recent years like they did when they released the iPhone.  Perhaps their changes are smaller bits that ten years down the road will make us sit back and wonder why we didn’t notice this before.  If that is the case, I say now that I am sorry for jumping to cynical conclusions.  I happen to agree with a point Bill Maher made several weeks ago about how most of these updates are a way for corporations to pad their profits.  While not a business expert, I have some experience with the terminology: productivity, efficiency, cost effectiveness, year-over-year growth forecasts.  I would go on but I am putting myself to sleep.  Every one of these terms are part of the profit motive, that practice of eking out that little bit of extra earnings to placate shareholders.  As a shareholder myself, I like growth in my company, but as an employee I’m not always sure the layer upon layer of extra work is worth it.  Companies like Samsung pay for this overwork in having to recall whole series of phones so that they don’t catch fire.  Shouldn’t this have been worked out before the device was released?  Why do that when it is easier and cheaper to deal with the complaints after the fact? It is always easier to ask forgiveness than permission, right?  And as long as they’re on top of a problem fairly quickly, the marketing geniuses that brought us the phrase brand loyalty, can spin a problem, saying that the company is customer focused. We, sheeple that we are, often swallow it.

 

The world can be a dark place sometimes.  Just look at the presidential election in the U.S., a campaign dominated by racism, misogyny, hatred, vitriol, and easily disprovable lies, but yet Trump is still almost tied with Hillary Clinton.  It isn’t because the election is rigged.  It isn’t because his policies are as good or better than Hillary’s.  He doesn’t have experience in foreign affairs, or really any qualifications for the job.  He is in the position he is because he’s a celebrity.  He’s a brand.  He knows, if nothing else, how to make himself heard above the fray, and to get people to notice him.  In our scary, noisy, overcrowded world, this is what counts.  It is not substance, it is not character, it is the recognizable packaging.  It is the marketing geniuses that have brought us to the point we are at today, where style is the important ingredient in success.  Style, presence, and that ever important brand name.

 

Notes:

Brand Loyalty, Part 1

 

Outlander – Diana Gabaldon

Outlander – Diana Gabaldon

“It’s escapism” someone said in a comment online when speaking of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.  Escapism has become an excuse for bad writing, and it needs to stop.  All fiction is a form of escapism to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the story in question.  It does not do to use the same words to describe writers like Gabaldon, Stephenie Meyer or, even worse, E.L. James.  While Outlander is not to be placed on the lower shelves with Meyer and James, it is not much farther up.  The faults: Claire Fraser/Randall/Beauchamp, the persistence of rape, and the steer length of the thing.

 

Precisely because of writers like the aforementioned Meyer, James and Gabaldon, did I for a long time dislike the first person narrative point of view.  It was not until reading some Margaret Atwood, and my beloved Jane Eyre, that I came to realize that it was the writer and not the point of view that I had problems with.  And characterization, we cannot forget that.  James’s Ana has – as Stepehn King so succinctly said – two states: “Oh God” and “Oh My.”  Bella Swan is some desperate wannabe who latches onto Edward and then spend an entire series making anyone not a teenage girl want to strange her.  Gabaldon’s Claire is on the desperate, clingy girl that Bella is.  Her fault lies in flying off the handle at the slightest provocation.  She is a nurse and capable of more than Bella or Ana  but she, too, has two speeds: pissed off or recovering from being captured.  Picture: she’s just come through a magical time traveling rock, has almost been raped by her husband’s ancestor, and then she throws a fit because someone isn’t being treated correctly.  One would think she might be more shell shocked.

 

A great many pages are spent explaining how violent the Scots can be –with rape, murder and thievery being our prime examples.  Claire several times expects that some person is the culprit of some crime, while another ends up being the guilty party.  She should not have tried to dabble into politics as it did little to advance her main narrative.  Perhaps it has been explored further in later books, but I am not sure I’ll be sticking around to read those.

 

Captain Randall, Dougall, countless numbers of drunken men and road bandits, and arguably even Jamie, our supposed hero, are all counted among the men who tried, or did force themselves on Claire.  Rape is as old as the sexual act itself, so I am not disputing the existence of assault back in the day, but it would not be as prevalent as Gabaldon makes it out to be, at least not in peace times, and there is not a full fledged war on at this point.  That she turned the tables in the end and had Jamie as the one who was assaulted is the only part of the story that rang true (at least until the witchcraft scene).  And as with everything else, once this is overcome we are never to hear of it again.  This is a problem for the argument of escapism on two fronts.  In the first case, it tends to take the reader out of the story if we see that no one is dealing with the consequences of the things that happen to them.  Rape and murder – no big deal, they’ll be settled in just a few pages as she plows on and on and on.  On the wider context though, it speaks to the fundamental stupidity of romance novels (historical or otherwise), that a person can be personally violated and there are no long term consequences.  This book and Fifty Shades of Grey are taking escapism to a very dark corner of the world, even if their ability to transport us to another realm is full of holes and plot points that are thin from wear.

 

Margaret Atwood’s fantastic novel The handmaid’s Tale was a dystopian view of a world in which war has destroyed a continent and led to the suppression of women.  It is a dark tale, equally as dark as anything written by Gabaldon or James, but it stands far above these two for several reasons.  Atwood is a far better writer than James or Gabaldon, and her story is consistent.  She is able to write characters in difficult situations that are deep and meaningful, and don’t fly off the handle every other page.  The reader picking up The Handmaid’s Tale can experience true escapism.  Read good writing, you’ll have a much more pleasurable trip.

1984 – George Orwell

1984 – George Orwell


Excepting that the meme says instructions not instruction, the point is still well made. My first thought was that this was meant for those who still support Donald Trump, despite the fact that the guy is mentally unsound. Now, though, I can see it in a much more all encompassing light. Having read Jeremy Scahill’s brilliant and completely disturbing book Dirty Wars, a society like Oceania doesn’t seem that remote. Already in this day and age we let so many different companies into our business voluntarily. And we definitely have a Big Brother component to our society, when corporations and the government itself can take things said on social media as grounds for disciplinary action. Doesn’t the right of free speech count for anything these days? 
1984, King of the dystopian novels, focuses around Winston Smith and his willful defiance of ‘The Party.” Published in 1949, 1984 was written during the Cold War, when the Soviets were a perceived threat, as a nation, and Communism was an idealistic threat. By the year 1984, the English Socialist party (Ingsoc) had taken over and used its power to control all aspects of government and society. They created Ministries of Truth, Love, Peace and Plenty, all of which were responsible for the opposite of what their names implied. Every party member had to be on the lookout for the thought police, coworkers, colleagues and even their own family, who might sell them out in a second so they could improve their position, or protect themselves from being taken away.  
While the threat of Communism to western and westernized countries has faded to almost nothing in the twenty-first century, the fact of technology makes the threats of this novel all the more real. Sure we, normal citizens, are not at this point being taken away for mere thoughts. We are not carted off to room 101 if we decide to support the left-leaning parties versus the right-leaning ones. Not yet, but don’t think that this isn’t a possibility. Read Jeremy Scahill. How many people in the Middle East have been taken away for questioning or killed by drones without any legal ruling to do so. Sure, one can make the argument that the U.S. government’s actions are justified because they are engaged in a war, but it is a slippery slope and our footing is unsteady.
The thing about literature is that it stands the test of time, and 1984 is easily one such book. The title alone could suggest that the story is outdated, and the idea that Communism or socialism was a real threat has largely passed, but that has not made Orwell’s work suffer. In today’s age of social media and the Internet, we are not safe from predators or the government even behind our own locked doors. Walls do not keep us safe, therefore 1984 seems more relevant today than it might have been even twenty years ago. It does one well to read this book, though a work of fiction, and keep these things in mind when our governments that are supposed to represent us, start to overstep their bounds. In Canada we are even more susceptible to this because of the level of power wielded by Ottawa.  
Remember the mantra: War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is strength? If we are not careful, that could be our mantra. Right-wing propaganda on television and radio has already proved the last of these statements. If we look again to the Americans as an example, they are really trending towards the first two as well with their never ending wars in the Middle East, and their moves towards restricting voting rights, and many other rights for women. If that isn’t a scary taste of life imitating art, I can’t tell you what is. Again, 1984, not an instruction manual, but a destruction manual. We must act in the defense of our society. Your homework is to read it before you throw it into a memory hole. Aaaannnnddddd go.