Posts Tagged ‘perception’

Good Night

1 July 2010

Dear J-

If I had to headline it, I’d call it something like Shyamalan Speaks or Breaks Silence; there’s an interview where he defends his casting choices for The Last Airbender as being racially blind. Being ignorant of the whole movie-making process, I can’t say that the director of a film has that much power over the casting process (I have seen credits for Casting Director, but what that means is beyond my knowledge), so I’m not going to speculate on whether he’s being used as a mouthpiece or not. But the director is like the coach, and gets the most responsibility, so the buck stops at Night, I suppose.

My reasons for not wanting to see the movie are complex but can generally be reduced to simplest terms: Lady in the Water and the violation of the Tarantino Rule — Thou Shalt Not Insert Thyself into Thy Movie Unnecessarily. At least there’s not going to be much reason to put himself into the movie, but the real hardship I have with his response is its glib scattershot approach; he gives reasons that are individually defensible, but when taken as a whole, fall apart. For example, characters were cast, according to the interview, because of their racial ambiguity — which is a little like the tampon commercial where the spokesmodel says that she was chosen because everyone can identify with her. He goes on to state that anime itself and its influence lends itself to racial ambiguity, which betrays a deep misunderstanding of anime in general: it’s well-understood that characters drawn with classical anime/manga features are meant to be the same as the author.

In that case, then, it’s perfectly fine to fill the cast the way they have. It’s not the point, though; taken as a whole, The Last Airbender represents another missed opportunity to redress the portrayal of races. I’m tired of seeing and reading Asian men who are (1) misogynistic (2) asexual (3) powerless and/or villainous along with Asian women who are (1) waiting to be rescued (2) sexually submissive or (3) tortuous Dragon Ladies (by the way, thank you David Guterson for hitting nearly all the stereotypes in Snow Falling on Cedars; may we all turn the clock back forty years so easily). The movie was a chance to challenge assumptions and perceptions, but now we’re stuck with what’s been filmed, canned, and printed.

Mike

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Nervous Tic

30 June 2010

Dear J-

I’m not going to say that being the boss — even for a week like this — is all sunshine and roses, but I get some insight on what the day goes like. It’s busy. I don’t remember the last time I had more to do — got in early, left late, and it still wasn’t enough to have ten hours rooted to my chair. There’s been a few interesting wrinkles along the way, though; they take this you-are-the-supervisor stuff pretty seriously, and I’m invited to meetings with peers way past my shallow depth. At the moment my ambition has little to do with getting ahead and more to do with staying afloat.

There’s an old saying that engineers make lousy managers; I can feel it taking hold at times — I want to micromanage and delegate work to people I know will do things the way I would do them. The truth is that everyone has a slightly different style and the journey, unfortunately, is not as important as the destination. You do need some technical expertise to know what you’re looking for, but I think the actual amount required is almost always overstated; if you trust your folks to do the right thing, then you’ve got to demonstrate that with actions.

I’m reminded of the World Cup; we’ve ascribed too much importance, I think, to the coaching — how can you explain the success of the Argentines under Diego Maradona (a great player, sure, but not one who exhibited amazing leadership). And yet there’s no denying that they’ve been carving up the competition without any real difficulty. If nothing else being more aware of leadership has introduced all kinds of difficulties in my life; when all I knew was the shadows on the cave wall, that was enough. The bit of vision for the long haul just makes me more and more nervous.

Mike

9066 Today

21 February 2010

Dear J-

I am a couple of days late this year — sixty-eight years and two days since FDR signed Executive Order 9066 into being — and it’s more relevant than ever. Lessons of the past mean that we can avoid mistakes of the future, ranging from the small (subheadline from this morning’s Union-Tribune: “Asian emersion: Kim Yu-na of South Korea leads a crop of skaters trying to keep the U.S. without a medal”) to the large (the current flap over the UCSD fraternity party with a “Compton Cookout” theme).

The actual article about the rise of Asian figure skaters was pretty good, actually (there are cultural and physical reasons, even if those were based on dated assumptions), but (1) I’m not even sure that “emersion” is a word and (2) if any country is kept off the medal podium, the fault can be traced directly to that country and not some other country’s nefarious machinations. Blaming other folks for things within your control seems to be the lesson passed down lately; if you can’t pass the buck, then you’ve failed your mission. It’s the little things that lead to bigger misunderstandings, though; you start with a small assumption that acts as a key to unlock a whole world of ugly.

And speaking of ugly, folks are quick to flock behind the UCSD students as youthful hijinks and to wrap themselves up in the First Amendment: yes, you are as free to be as offensive as you want, and I’ll defend your right to do so. Yet you can’t have both: the silence of the fraternity and television programs are telling — you’re willing to claim the right of satire, yet unwilling or unable to claim the responsibility for your words. Part of maturity is learning consequence; if we understood what we might set into motion sixty-eight years ago, perhaps we wouldn’t be rushing into satire so quickly.

Mike

Underlying Judgment

6 January 2009

Dear J-

I feel myself working in slow-motion at times; the more I get pushed the more I feel myself dragging my feet.  It’s not exactly a recalcitrance for being obstinate’s sake, rather think of it this way:  I know how slow my mind works, and pushing me any faster is just going to result in a whole lot of rework and misery.  Perhaps it’s this diffuse feeling again, like I’ve got too many irons in the fire lately.  If I could just get a few things done, then I’d be a bit more focussed.

It’s funny how much our perceptions are colored by expectations and our peers.  If there are universal concepts and definitions of beauty, then it’s because a fair number of people have gotten together to say that particular something is beautiful.  Yet everyone has their own ideas and ideals; the flavor comes slightly differently for everyone, and my colors may not be your colors, but that’s what makes life interesting.  Get beyond the obvious and there’s a world of motivations and reasons under every judgment.

There is the well-worn saw that opinions are like bellybuttons; everyone’s got one.  Moreover, everyone’s convinced they’re right, right?  How much righteousness has been waged in the right to assert you’re right?  It’s too easy to feed yourself the things you’re comfortable reading, the opinions you find unchallenging; the very nature of seeing things in print lends them an official air.  But just like too many potato chips, you start to rot inside without knowing it; your mind stagnates and the closed loop draws ever tighter.  I’m working on finding challenging assertions, but it’s not always easy.

Mike

Memory Man

27 December 2008

Dear J-

I had a dream this morning where we had to move for some reason, into a house that was oddly like our own, but much bluer inside (whether curtains, carpet, or walls — it was all some shade of blue; of course, it was much more soothing than the fuschia shag that had inexplicably replaced our existing carpet, which is a pleasantly inoffensive shade of beige save the spots where our desperate dogs have attempted a home dye job). I remember falling asleep — in the dream — with a simplified layout of the house filled with jumbled 2×2 LEGO blocks in my head; after waking up, the blocks had started to assemble themselves into recognizable shapes — tables, chairs, and sofas.

I look for patterns sometimes when they aren’t — or shouldn’t be — there. Sometimes I’m justified — there’s a neat sequence to the square of an integer (n^2) being equal to the square of the previous integer ([n-1]^2) plus an odd number [2n-1] — which means that if you sum any sequence of odd numbers, starting with 1, you’ll get the square of an integer (1+3 = 4 = 2^2, 1+3+5 = 9 = 3^2, etc.). Other times I find myself looking at floor tiles in order to align my feet with the grain, whether painted-on or real. I rely on patterns to compartmentalize and rationalize the days; it’s my mnemonic. The routine becomes the reason and any disruption is likely to send me spinning off into forgetfulness.

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The mind plays funny tricks with perception, and sometimes we don’t realize if we’re watching or being watched. I noted a crack in the back door jamb this afternoon — was it there before? Had I put it there? Or did someone try to force it? The inexplicable is chalked up to forgetfulness, and so also thus the long, slow decline.

Mike

China’s Games

8 August 2008

Dear J-

The Olympics start today — it’s now twenty-four years since I started watching the Olympics in earnest, as the Lake Placid games meant little to me besides collecting the Chiquita banana stickers, and the Moscow games later that year were boycotted.  Nope, LA was the first ones I can remember well, particularly the American heroes Mary Lou Retton and Carl Lewis.  Although there’s always a ton of events, our summer viewing always seems to revolve around gymnastics, track, swimming, and diving.

This summer seems to have brought a slightly abbreviated fill-in season of shows:  short runs, smaller build-up; folks know enough to get out of the way of watching the Olympics.  Much has been made of Chinese politics and atmosphere lately, too.  There are those who’ve called for a boycott of the games on the basis of high moral principles, but I believe those views are rooted in perceiving China through 19th century lenses.

Setting the stage, for roughly 100 years, 1840-1949, China descended into ever-growing chaos with the ending of the Qing dynasty and the rise of treaty ports and concessions.  The government was unable to exert any sort of force over the country; industrialization was a farce, and so the modern perception of China as a decadent backwards society was set.  Now, it seems as though the Western societies have promised much (“Look, if you just followed our example, you could be just as modern as us”) and delivered little (“Don’t copy us — and you can’t pollute like we did.”)  Small wonder that there’s frustration over the direction China may take; no one yet considers the momentum — consumer, intellectual, innovation — of a country with over four times the population of the United States.

I’m not going to defend China’s involvement in human rights violatons except to note that they are not the first, they are not the only, and they will not be the last.  We’ve laid down an example of how strong countries act, and we need to accept the consequences of that.  But it’s not to say that they’re blameless for following that precedent.  The Olympics are a chance for China to flex its muscles on the world’s stage and demonstrate that 2042 will be nothing like 1842.  There’s a sort of unintended patronizing tone here:  gee, China, you sure are doing great; at some point all kingdoms rise and fall.

Mike