Archives for category: Art

Conform, conform you brave souls; have the courage to be normal.
The mold is warm, comfortable
Do not get up; don’t even roll over.
Celebrate your similarities, relish your indistinction
Sit on the assembly line of easy familiarity; paint over your every feature.
Imagine your popularity when your personality blurs with all others
Everyone accepting you because there is nothing to reject
No choices separating you from custom.
Forget the walls imprisoning you, forcing you into desperate adequacy
You are a hero, one among millions.

A young boy dashes through the park, trampling through the flower beds. He stops to admire his handiwork, trying to memorize the patterns of dislocated petals and frantic insects. Weary of play for the moment, he collapses onto a bench.

He sees a group of children come up with rules to a new game, devoid of any reason. They scream and run about, tagging one another then arguing over new sets of rules to replace the old ones which allowed them to be tagged. Their laughter rings across the park, the frivolity creating an ambiance of innocence.

He witnesses a young man let his dog off the leash. The young man throws a ball down the field, and the dog bounds after it. With the ball retrieved, the dog jubilantly takes off across the park. The young man yells out after the dog, and begins a slow lope to chase it down.

A couple walks past the bench, hand in hand, talking quietly among themselves. The words are meaningless, but the conversation between their eyes and the dialogue of their bodies express a mute intimacy.

He looks further across the park, and sees a man with a stroller. The stroller is surrounded by a cooing group of women, while the man sheepishly stands by, feeling awkward with the attention. The group of women carry on their way, waving their high-pitched goodbyes to the infant, while one waves only to the man, who waves back with a grin.

Hearing a commotion, he turns to see that the couple, further down the path, have erupted into an argument. They remain mostly hushed to avoid public embarrassment, though passion elevates the occasional phrase before a scrutinizing stare quiets it down again. The words maintain their meaninglessness, however, while tone conveys everything they didn’t intend to communicate.

He sits back in the bench and observes the environment surrounding him. The lives of so many blur together to create a primordial vision of human existence. A flurry of sound and colour wash over him, engulfing him in their emotions. The world spins around him while he sits in the centre, calm and unmoving.

An old man struggles to his feet, and walks slowly toward the gate. As he reaches the old iron bars, he pauses. He pats at his pockets, and turns slightly, as if to look back. Shrugging his shoulders, the old man raises the collar of his jacket against the bitter cold and crosses the threshold, certain he’s forgotten something.

#OscarsSoWhite is something that I am as usual addressing much later than most, in no small part due to my unrelenting contempt for Twitter-based social justice trends. However, as the trend does accurately point out, there are a substantial number of white people in Hollywood movies, to the point where characters who are canonically non-white are often portrayed as white people. Scarlett Johansson in the American remake of the Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell is one contemporary example. This generates immense online backlash in the form of the electronic version of rolling one’s eyes. On the flip side, there is backlash when canonically white characters are portrayed as non-whites. A black James Bond and a black Spider-man were both vehemently opposed and neither made it to production. As common as the themes of these arguments are, it’s not the same people arguing both sides. One group is demanding respect for the sacredness of an entirely fictional canon (Spider-man isn’t real), and the other is arguing against the forced monochromatic nature of films (black people are real).

Let’s talk about diversity in films. To be clear, there isn’t much. Black James Bond and black Spider-man never got made, remember, yet Ghost in the Shell, Pan, Gods of Egypt, and Dr. Strange did (or are, for those that aren’t released yet). Is this a huge problem? America is predominantly white, so why not pander to the largest demographic? Bollywood films are pretty much exclusively Indian, and Korean films all star Korean actors. Somewhat ironically, the original Ghost in the Shell anime has a white character voiced by a Japanese man. The film industries of these countries make films depicting their dominant group because that is their audience. It makes sense. Nobody complains about the lack of diversity of language in Hollywood films, because America is an English speaking nation.

It seems logical then that movies should depict the demographics of their host countries. America is 63% white, 16% Hispanic, 12% black, and 5% Asian, so why not aim for that? This is where it becomes complicated. For example, a Hollywood movie would need 20 characters before one of them was Asian, or another solution might be that every 20th movie would need to be casted entirely as Asian. Neither of these are feasible options. Most movies only have one or two protagonists. Or if the film was entirely Asian, it would ignore the largest demographic and would therefore have less of a chance to be a box office success. This is something no movie mogul will abide in our wealth-driven movie industry. Now we’re left wondering: should the film industry ignore 14.5 million Americans just because it would be complicated to incorporate them?

Failing to depict Asians in film does not only a disservice to Asian-Americans who are looking for representation on the big screen, but to the entirety of the population. It is our myths that socialize us, and now that religion is dead, we’re left with the entertainment industry to teach us how to be human beings. Depressing, right? Well life is miserable, get over it. We idolize our fictional heroes and heroines, and so we relate to and emulate their personality and characteristics. Ignoring Asians in film not only denies role models to maturing Asian-American youth, but also prevents Asian faces from being a part of white socialization. If whites aren’t shown any images of another race, they won’t know how to respond to them in person. And we all know how well humans behave around people they don’t understand… It’s poorly. We behave poorly.

So diversity in racial depictions is necessary for social cohesion, demographics be damned. Great. We’re left with one more problem. How do we depict races on screen? I hope I don’t need to argue that racist stereotypes are bad. If all black people on screen are depicted as gangsters, then everyone will be socialized to think of black people as gangsters. It is fairly common to see people arguing for normalcy in racialized depictions in movies. Like a black Spider-man or James Bond who behaves identically to their already established white counterparts. These films have been indistinguishable remakes for years now, what difference would it make to simply have a different race portrayed as the protagonist? Characters with accents or who adhere to dramatic outside cultures might make racial minorities seem like exotic foreigners who do not belong, and portraying other races as identical to whites would foster racial equality within North American culture.

This has one glaring problem: defining normalcy as imitating established white culture makes other cultures abnormal. The First Nations in Canada are in the midst of fighting for cultural sovereignty and to depict one as fully assimilated into white culture, interchangeable with their white peers, would be wholly offensive (especially given the context of our Residential Schools whose barbaric practices aimed at establishing exactly this). Different is not a bad thing. Some people have accents, different styles of clothing, and different cultural practices. Should a Sikh not be shown in a turban because it makes him an exotic foreigner rather than a neighbour? Portraying the rich cultures that make up the diverse American population would allow respect to blossom for alternative ways of living that people have every right to live.

However, this portrayal forces people into their ethnic culture, however respectfully it is portrayed. Some people want to assimilate. It’s not intrinsically evil. Or even pick and choose their practices; it’s their right. How can this translate to film when one version will be offensive to one group, and the other will be offensive to the first? The answer is simpler than you might think.

Let people tell their own stories, define their own characters. Diversity starts in the writing room. It is the only way to authenticity.