The American Dream, courtesy of Marvel

Image Souce

also posted at

Kick-Ass the comic book was a douchefest celebration of violence, racism, homophobia and sexism.

In the uncensored graphic novel, Dave, the main character, is a loser slob who only attends school to jerk off to his biology teacher and to stalk his prettier classmates. He spends his nights watching porn and the money earned by his single, night-shift working dad on comic books. And somehow we’re supposed to accept his sudden declaration of wanting to fight crime as a sign of his higher principles.

But even more than this inconsistency, I was bothered by Dave’s conviction that the world had to be saved through violence. Dave does not demonstrate any understanding of societal ills, but he was nonetheless convinced that the best way to help people is by going on some type of destructive rampage. This is Dave’s understanding of citizen involvement.

And Kick Ass is not the exception. Virtually every show I watched as a kid – from Power Rangers to Sailor Moon – was written with similar themes. This narrative of “superhero beats up bad guys” has been hammered into our minds and sewn into our very social fabric. These are the stories that we are told and taught from a young age, and no doubt we’ve taken it to heart — I remember how my friends and I used to shoot up imaginary bad guys during recess.

This playacting is an innocent act in itself, but it indicates a larger societal pattern where violence is not just condoned, but celebrated. It dichotomizes the world into good and bad, instead of recognizing that good people are always doing bad things, and vice versa. Saving the world is easy when the enemy is always someone else.

The superhero narrative further suggests that only those with super powers will be able to mobilize the forces of social good. This is why my dad tells me that I can never make a difference. It doesn’t matter if I compost and refuse to ride planes, because every movie we’ve ever seen is conditioning us to think that real change can only be achieved by the super-elite, by Powerful People Out There. The world can go to shit – but you should sit back and chillax because someone more influential than you is probably doing something about it. The superhero narrative is ultimately undemocratic and dis-enabling.

To dismiss these cultural products as “just dumb stories” is to ignore the socializing impact of mass communication on politics and interpersonal relations. We use stories to express ourselves and to understand one another. They also provide insight into how we might relate to a new and changing world. So what does it mean when these stories and narratives are always violent and destructive?

Can we imagine any alternative? Can we have stories that reflect upon the active cultivation of peace, cooperation, and self-examination? That last bit doesn’t sound very fun, but we can’t collaborate with other people and cultures unless we try to understand both them and ourselves. I want narratives that complement and empower our real, lived experiences. Ordinary people can help by doing ordinary, citizenal things, like by not being a douchebag (Dave). That way, we can address issues like racism that happen on a pervasive, everyday level. The world is still in definite need of saving, but we are only adding to the problem when we resort to violence and when we label Other People as bad guys (see: War on Terror).

Such a story, if we can dream it, won’t come from the Big Screen because Hollywood doesn’t believe in social progress except for when it’s profitable. But that’s ok, because that’s where we step up to the plate. We can define our own lives and tell our own stories, because we don’t need no superheros.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Dear President Petter,

This article was published March 22, 2011 in The Peak

I must say, you are one stylin’ president. It helps that you’re media and camera-friendly – everyone seems to know that you drive hybrids and that you can outrun most of your students.

You’re an outspoken feminist and environmentalist, and you’ve literally rocked the school in terms of instilling progress in those areas. I am grateful to you for personally sponsoring feminist media conferences on International Women’s Day. Forcing Chartwells to compost was nothing short of ballsy. Thanks to you, our school admin is finally promising to partner with the good folks at Fair Trade SFU.

You obviously know how to stand up for what’s right, so why is it so easy for you to condone a murdering company’s offer to give us $10 million?

I saw you give a presentation at Sam Sullivan’s public forum and I get twitter updates about your SFU hallway talks. Every time I think of going to speak with you. But I remember seeing you walk past 200 Goldcorp protestors without attempting to hear their concerns (apparently the protesting babies, saxophonists, and wheelchair grandmas came across as too violent). I remember when SFU Students Against Goldcorp and Gentrification was permitted to present – not even to the Board of Governors, but to the BoG’s external relations committee, who basically let it out the other ear and then proceeded to do nothing.

When my friend, Kevin Harding, asked you on your Toronto visit to help think of alternative solutions, you responded by asking if SFU should just stop accepting corporate donations. You went so far as to say that it wasn’t possible to separate ‘good’ corporations from the ‘bad’.

In other words, moral questions are hard and it’s easier just to shut up and take the cash. Clearly, the school’s acceptance of the donation is preventing you from publicly denouncing Goldcorp’s crimes. This should be our most pressing duty and our most compelling obligation – even if we are grateful for the money. Never should the rich silence or dilute the concerns of the poor. I understand that SFU is in need of cash, but that is no reason for you to also personally sell out.

So I already know what your response is going to be, and I don’t want to hear it from a President who would otherwise be my environmentalism/feminist hero. I know the Party Line that you’ll give, which is to suspend our concern about poisoned waters and diseased babies when there is a cash grab to be had.

Why are you sending the message that it’s okay to cozy up to murderers when they have a lot of money? SFU has learnt from Egypt and Wisconsin, and we know that this isn’t what solidarity with the world’s poor and suffering looks like. Sam Reynolds wrote in The Peak last week about the London School of Economics’s acceptance of $2.3 million from the Gadhafi family. What if that had been SFU? Would we have welcomed Gadhafi’s money? If not, then why would we take it from Goldcorp?

Suddenly, I feel apathetic and and tired, like it’d be easier to just give up. Is that your plan? To ignore us until we feel too demoralized to continue? And then to launch a city-wide consultation process so you can pretend that SFU democracy exists because you’re supposedly open to differing opinions? Do you really want our input or is this your personal PR project?

I don’t want to be cynical about this. But you’ve shown time and time again that you do not care to listen, so why should I bother? I won’t have a part in your envision unless I already agree with your beliefs.

I’m not so concerned anymore with rejecting the $10 million (I’m really good at lowering my standards for an indifferent administration). All I ask is that you promise not to make deals again with murdering corporations, and that you publicize how the $5 million Goldcorp Community Endowment is being spent to improve Downtown Eastside conditions. I don’t even dare ask for change, just transparency.

Because SFU students are thinking of the world, and our beliefs are not for sale. Is that more than I can say for you?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Too Asian for SFU?

This article was published January 2011 by The Peak.

When you applied for university, did you think, “Those damn Asians, always pushing up the admissions average.” Did you feel as if you were competing specifically against Asians, or that Asians were in the way of your enrollment? Of course not. You competed against the average, a collective standard, and you studied for a sense of self-worth and achievement (I hope).

But in the Maclean’s article, “Too Asian?” (the title has since been changed to “The enrollment controversy”), the InvAsian of Canadian universities is exactly what the white postsecondary applicants are afraid of. Maybe Asians are responsible for inflating admissions averages, maybe not. But when you fingerpoint and blame other ethnicities for hardships like (gasp!) having to study, then that’s racism.

A friend of mine said I shouldn’t be so offended because the journalists were only doing their job, which sometimes includes reporting on truths and facts that we may not like. But if the article can be taken as an accurate representation of Canadian issues, then why did they only interview white people who were clearly against having large numbers of Asians in universities? Maclean’s went so far as to include a quote about a white mother who said that Asians are “the reason her son didn’t get a space in university and that all the immigrants in the country are taking up university spots.” Unless the goal is to write an article about racist white people, it goes without saying that comments like these should not be seriously entertained in any national discussion, and putting this woman’s opinion in quotation marks (a technique used to indicate journalistic objectivity) does not change the fact that the writers made a conscious decision to publish and therefore to perpetuate her comment. Why did they not interview non-racist Caucasians, or report on stories of inter-racial, on-campus collaboration? Doesn’t this also stereotype and therefore harm white people when you portray them as anti-Asian? How can the article claim to be objective? If I wanted stereotypes I’d watch South Park, but I expect my national newsmakers to do better.

The same friend argued that the only racist part of the article was its title (“Too Asian?”), and now that it’s been changed, everything’s okay, right? Well what do you think the rest of the article is about? Sensationalism is okay when you’re hyping the next movie that Jake Gyllenhaal will be naked in, but it’s not acceptable to cast negative stereotypes on entire ethnicities in order to sell a few more magazines (it’s called yellow journalism, guys). Yes, there are threads of truth around every stereotype, but like good journalistic practices that are balanced and investigative, we have to look beyond these one-dimensional portrayals in order to get at the whole. And on the whole, my white friends don’t think of me as a socially phobic, robot student who works too disproportionately hard for grades that are too high (it’s not like we’re students in university or anything). And in return, I don’t think my white friends are all Aritzia shoppers who are concerned only about partying and alcohol. I’m sure my white friends don’t think that coloured people are out to take over the university whenever they’re ethnically outnumbered in a class. If that’s how my Caucasian friends and I thought of one another then we wouldn’t be getting along. In other words, ideas that cultivate an Us against Them mentality are anti-multicultural, and that is the inherent harm of the Maclean’s article, whose ideas serve to perpetuate an ethnic wedge.

So is SFU too Asian? Do you think it’d be a better school if you heard less Mandarin in the hallways? Did I “take the spot” of a Caucasian Canadian when I enrolled at SFU? ARE ASIANS TAKING OVER?? By all means, please do talk about race and multiculturalism. But next time let’s actually make progress by not asking such stupid questions.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I’m not a soldier, but I am in a war

This article was published November 29, 2010 by The Peak.

I’m always amazed by how heartfelt Remembrance day presentations are from secondary school students who have never personally experienced war. They feel more honest somehow, though they are just as routine as the ones from the municipal.But Remembrance ceremonies are too much about soldiers’ deaths and individual veterans. There is no question that we must honour their sacrifice, but wars involve more than just soldiers. It’s about politics and corruption, and the misunderstandings that cause people to die. Why are we so fixated on those who died that we never look at how and why they did? How many universities have official military ties? How does our reliance on oil affect the international warscape? How many assassinations have been paid for by Goldcorp? Remembrance ceremonies in their current format externalize war – as if war belonged only to soldiers and to the past – when in reality, war belongs to all of us in the here and now.

I already know they gave their lives for me. They gave their lives so that I could have healthy food, freedom of speech, clean air and democracy. But everything about the American Dream is being threatened once more, and if those valiant souls were here now they would rally us to fight for our lives. Instead we are content simply to reminisce – as if war were a thing of the past. It’s not.

How can we stand to simply remember the dead when more still are falling? How can I appreciate the life they fought for me to have when every moment it is slipping through our fingers? We are never so emotionally united as we are on Remembrance day, making it our biggest hope for education and action. They died for us. Don’t let it be for nothing.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Radical Idea of the Day

  1. We should have clean air and safe water for generations to come.
  2. Women should not be made into sex objects.
  3. Poor people are not poor because they’re lazy

I’ve been called extremist a couple of times and I agree with my critics. Many of my ideas do seem radical – within our present societal context. But unless we are perfectly happy with what we have now and we wish to be stuck in our present system forever, I think we need a little radicalism in our lives.

What are you afraid of – change?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment