Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Anime Fandom Needs A Wake-Up Call

Anime fandom in the US has come a long way since the early 1980s when you'd be hard-pressed to find much available commercially outside of episode of Voltron or re-runs of Speed Racer and Astro Boy. From the anime boom of the 1990s to the mainstream success of the anime genre leading to over 2 billion dollars in US sales over the past decade, anime has sparked a cornucopia of fan activity along with it. Fan art, fan fiction, fan conventions.

 Many anime fans have been keen to point the rich tapestry of expression and artistry that goes into anime they like, which makes it really peculiar that anime fandom as a whole is so resistant to critique. Other forms of artistic media and media fandom have long had strenuous elements of critque, but when writers and critics attempt to look at anime with the same tool-set that has been successfully applied to books, music, and film for decades, the nerd rage is palpable. Anime Feminist which bills itself as a hub for "reviews, interviews and discussion on anime and manga through a feminist lens, run by a team of writers from academia, the industry and grassroots fandom" was online for five days before it received its first death threat.

It's not like the articles on that site rehash tired old debates like "subs vs dubs" either. The writing published is quality work from fans that know their stuff-- both media and academic-wise. For example, the site has a great interview with manga artist Minami Sakai as well as an essay by Peter Fobian that examines the difference in treatment of Black Lagoon's Revy and Gurren Lagann's Yoko:
Where Revy’s presentation sells a complex and volatile character, the choice of camera angles, exaggerated postures, and repeated compromising scenarios makes Yoko come off as a source of inappropriate humor at best or a pure source of visual titillation directed at the male audience at worst. Revy’s background and her relationship with Rock are able to be respectfully explored because she is presented as a serious character. Conversely, Yoko’s later development is undermined by her presentation as something less than a character, an ornament not to be taken seriously.
Anime Feminist's co-founder, Amanda Cook, gave an interview on Kotaku that touched on why she feels this matters, and how a stubborn refusal to examine anime can lead to shrinking of an art form AND its audience:
There are many, many women, queer people, non-binary people, people of color who can tell you quite clearly why it matters to them personally, and I think everyone should listen to their stories. If empathy isn’t enough to convince you, more objective reasons why sexualized or infantilized representation of women is a problem include the fact that it’s poor storytelling... [it's] common in anime and we accept it as the price of admission. Not everyone will care about storytelling quality in anime, or any media they consume, but high profile critics do, and most won’t waste their time reviewing—in other words, promoting—anything that they don’t expect to meet their basic standards for quality... I have a lot of friends who used to watch anime but don’t anymore, partly because, like me, it became too hard to seek out anime that treated women well. There are also lots of people who are enthusiastic about other geek properties but won’t touch anime because of its reputation of infantilizing women and sexualizing children. It makes it hard to recommend anime to people who aren’t already fans
This pervasive background radiation of out of place fan service and explosion of jacked-up sexualization has some collateral damage, too: other anime fans, especially cosplayers. In the article "How ‘Locker Room Talk’ And Casual Misogyny Are Making Conventions Intolerable For Cosplayers" Alyssa Fiske details how these attitudes can make conventions into an uncomfortable and sometimes even dangerous experience. 
Done well, cosplay can be one of the most joyous expressions of fandom, and a huge part of fandom is feeling like something special belongs to you, that a specific part of pop culture spoke to you so deeply that you wanted to wrap yourself up in it, mentally and physically. It’s a harmless bit of escapism, one that can inspire creative, emotional, and physical expression that many can take part in and enjoy. But it’s not without that dark side that Krose experienced at Dragon-Con, one that prompts those in the vicinity of cosplayers to gain a boldness that can make those in costume uncomfortable or unsafe. Oftentimes people forget that there is a human being beneath the costume, leading to inappropriate situations that add an unfortunate, even frightening, element to the convention experience.
In 2014, Bitch Media did a study on the percentages of people in the industry who had experienced verbal and physical harassment, and the numbers were staggering: 59% said they felt sexual harassment was a problem in comics, and 25% said they had been sexually harassed in the industry. As far as convention attendees themselves, 13% reported verbal harassment, while 8% had been physically assaulted, groped, or raped. In a society that still blames women for their own assaults or denies that they even happen, there is no guarantee that your distress will even be acknowledged. While it is great that the community takes care of its own, there are still steps that could be taken to ensure harassment numbers go down.
The US industry of anime and manga does some amazing things; it's possible to get official same-day release of subtitled episodes, digital releases of manga alongside print counterparts, more use of the visual novel style of games. But anime fandom's general insistence that its direction or demands or troubling attitudes and culture are sacrosanct-- especially when so much of it can be troubling and anti-women makes me sad. It also makes it super difficult for anime to reach a wider audience, because uncritical attitudes mean that anyone who just wants to dip their toe into the anime pool doesn't have good enough guidance to help them wade through a river of crap.

Monday, November 21, 2016

New Multimedia Short Story: Afrofuturist 419

Award-winning Author Nnedi Okafor and science fiction magazine Clarkesworld have teamed up to bring you "Afrofuturist 419". It's a story told in email forwards, a news report and a wonderfully voice-acted series of audio logs.

Afrofuturist refers to the Afrofuture movement that combined Afrocentrism, science fiction, magical realism, surrealism, black history and more into an artistic movement across sculpture, fiction, photography and music. The number "419" comes from Nigerian criminal law and refers to the number of an anti-fraud statute dealing with the advance fee scam emails that everyone with an email account EVER has gotten, and it is a similar email that starts off the story:
I am Dr. Bakare Tunde, the cousin of Nigerian Astronaut, Air Force Major Abacha Tunde. He was the first African in space when he made a secret flight to the Salyut 6 space station in 1979. He was on a later Soviet spaceflight, Soyuz T-16Z to the secret Soviet military space station Salyut 8T in 1989. He was stranded there in 1990 when the Soviet Union was dissolved. His other Soviet crewmembers returned to Earth on the Soyuz T-16Z, but his place was taken up by return cargo. There have been occasional Progrez supply flights to keep him going since that time. He is in good humor, but wants to come home.
As it turns out, all of these themes are specifically addressed in the story by the main character in audio logs. As for how it develops, well... you should really experience the whole thing for yourself.

Social Anxiety Guide To Calling Gov't Representatives

In the wake of the recent United States elections, calling your state and local representatives as a means of taking direct action and affecting change have become even more vital than ever. For those that struggle with chronic mental illness or anxiety, taking this sort of action can be even more difficult than it would be for a neurotypical person.  The artist Cordellia of echothroughthefog recently made a comic about how they pushed against anxiety, made those calls, and how you can do that, too! A transcript of the comic and more resources follow.

“How to call your reps when you have social anxiety”

There’s a LOT going on in the U.S. right now. Many people’s rights and safety are at risk. You’ve probably heard that one of the most effective ways to advocate for issues you care about, or stand up against dangerous policies and appointments, is to call your local representatives.
If you want to help but have social anxiety and find phone calls very intimidating, you may be thinking, “How do I do this?!” (An oversized telephone handset hovers ominously over the narrator with its cord spiraling around her body. She looks up at it with great concern.)
Here’s a step-by-step:
  1. Block off time on your calendar. Each call only takes a minute or so, but you might want to block off more time for your first call, so you can prepare your words & nerves. Don’t rush yourself! Scheduling is super important, otherwise you will perpetually delay calling.
  2. At the scheduled time, go sit somewhere quiet.
  3. Find out who represents you. Some places to look: House (http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/) and Senate (http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/).
  4. Write out exactly what you plan to say. It only needs to be a few lines, and there are lots of templates online that you can use. e.g. “Hello! I am constituent from city (zip code) and I am calling to urge Some Name to publicly…” If they have already released a statement, don’t use that as an excuse to avoid calling. I know it’s hard, but call anyway. Thank them and ask them to keep pushing.
  5. Take a deep breath. You can do this.
  6. Do this: dial. (This is the hardest part.)
  7. Read from your script. At this point, you’ll likely be sent to voicemail or to an actual person. The person will most likely be friendly and probably won’t have much time to talk, so you shouldn’t have to deviate much from your script. It’s a quick conversation.
  8. That’s it! Say “Thank you” and hang up.
You did it! If you’re thinking “Hey, that wasn’t so bad…”, call more people! And follow up with them next week, or even tomorrow, to make sure they keep these issues top of mind.
It is okay if your voice shakes. It is okay if you feel awkward.They get a lot of calls, so they don’t have time to judge you by how well you delivered your message.
Is is also okay if you can’t call.
This week, my best friend told me, “Do something that is uncomfortable but not harmful to your mental health.” For me, calling was enough outside my comfort zone to be stressful & scary, but not so far away as to use up all my energy. That might not be the case for you, and that’s okay. Do not beat yourself up about it. There are lots of ways to take action without picking up a phone:

  • Write to government officials
  • Create art that challenges and art that inspires
  • Donate, if you’re financially able, to organizations that fight injustice
  • Listen to immigrants, people of color, women, trans and non-binary people, people of all faiths and orientations, and people with disabilities. Support their work. Amplify their voices.
  • Keep it up.
And here are some resources:
  • Emily Ellsworth explains why calling is the most effective way to reach your congressperson.
  • Sharon Wong posted a great series of tweets that helped me manage my phone anxiety and make some calls.
  • Kelsey is tweeting pretty much daily with advice and reminders about calling representatives. I found this tweet an especially great reminder that calls aren’t nearly as big a deal as anxiety makes them out to be.
Informational resources:
There are a lot of these, as well! These three are good places to start:

    Saturday, November 19, 2016

    Lost 17th Century Music Lives Again With Musician & Historian Team

    This is so cool!

    Musical Passages is a collaborative endeavor by Laurent Dubois, David Garner, and Mary Caton Lingold to document, explain, and recreate examples of Jamaican music as it was played in the 1600s. As they explain:
    Enslaved Africans and their descendants revolutionized global music, but historical records tell us far too little about their earliest practices. In this site we offer a careful interpretation of a single rare artifact, from Hans Sloane’s 1707 Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica. Tucked away in this centuries-old book, are several pieces of music that make it possible to hear echoes of performances long past.

    The website functions as a minature interactive exhibit where you are invited to listen in on a musical gathering that took place in Jamaica in 1688. These three songs, 'Angola', 'Papa' and 'Koromanti', performed at a festival by enslaved African musicians and copied in musical notation by a Mr Baptiste, are the first transcription of African music in the Caribbean. Thanks to the preservation of this amazing work, the entire world can now listen to traces of music performed long ago and maybe even begin to imagine what it meant for the people who created it.

    Friday, November 18, 2016

    WLW Ask: Where Are Queer Butch Women In Video Games?

    In the media landscape of video games, there has been a noticeable rise in the amount of visible queer characters in everything from indie games to AAA big-budget titles. Queer men have a number of different types and portrayals, from Grand Theft Auto's Gay Tony and Dragon Age's Iron Bull, to Mortal Kombat's Kung Jin and Dremfall Chapter's Kian Alvane.

    But when it comes to queer women, Femme Hype's Aria argues that there is much less diversity of representation, and that that women who love women are the poorer for it. As Aria explains:

    As much as gamers should applaud the industry as a whole making those steady strides to create women who are not sexualized for men, one of the hard points of women that have yet to be presented in games at all is ardent female masculinity, especially within the context of butchness as a trait in women... we have very few characters in the gaming industry who would fit a description of “butch.”  
    Though their butch-ish coding may be recognizable to many players, these women are not in games that explore their characters’ stories or personalities, much less their sexualities, leaving any possible hope of butchness up to speculation and easily written off due to their environments and not their specific expression of their sexuality. Indeed, in may of the games in the FPS genre where some of these more “masculine” women exist, players can only speculate about the romantic and sexual modalities of these women—if their lives are explored at all—as the main men usually have their romantic lives explored.
    Some would argue (though it's an argument I've only seen put forward by men-- well-meaning or otherwise-- that explicitly coding a woman character as butch could be reinforcing stereotypes. As Aria points out, however, this argument is rather lacking:

    The absence of these types of women is not a testament to the gaming industry being uncharacteristically sensitive to queer stereotypes, it’s a testament to how female masculinity is rarely presented at all—and that, in fact, it must be overcompensated through clear heterosexuality. Not only does this prevent diverse representations of women, it upholds standards of women made for consumption by men. Having more butch bisexual or lesbian characters would subvert those standards and create a wider landscape of women for everyone to enjoy and admire.

    SO I turn this over to you, dear readers. DO you have any game recommendations, indie, AAA or in-between, that feature butch heroes?

    Leading Pinball Maker Still Crafts Cabinets By Hand

    Description: A row of pre-assembled pinball board for Stern Pinball's Ghostbusters cabinet await assembly. Photo courtesy of Brian Crecente & Polygon.
    Earlier this year, Stern Pinball celebrated its 30th anniversary of making pinball machines, and Brian Crecente of Polygon was given a rare, detailed behind the scenes look on all of the delicate assembly and intricate craft work that goes into making a pinball table. The most important ingredient for assembling a pinball machine, as it turns out-- is hand-crafted, human touch.

    Dankberg, Stern's director of marketing and licensing, comes by to walk me through the assembly process. [We] marvel at the process of turning reels of fine wires into the wiring harnesses that bring pinball machines to life.
    "We can't really automate this stuff," he said. "It has to be done by people.
    “Steve Ritchie is the king of flow,” Dankberg said. “He’s there with a ruler measuring angles, making sure everything fits. Some people like to build it out and see how it plays first.”
    The initial board designs are build on a white-wood, or an unpainted wood play field. We’ll cut a table, make some prototype parts,” Dankberg said. “Then they’ll test it. The white-wood stage could be really short or really iterative. If they hit a homer un at first, how great is that? But a lot of times they like to change things. It’s like a first draft.”

    The rest of the article features tons of behind the scenes assembly pictures and offers a fascinating look at how pinball machines are crafted by hand in 2016.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2016

    Patreon Stuff: Thanks, Sneak Peeks & Getting In On The Action

    See the picture to the left? That's going to a patron this month who is supporting my work at the "Surprise Mystery Care Package" level. I make a custom surprise care package every month and send it out.

    Speaking of patrons, here's this month's Thank Yous:

    • Cargo, who had nothing to link to, but is a great dude! Thanks, Cargo. 
    • Daphny Drucilla Delight David! Her Patreon is here and her blog is on the blogroll! 
    • Fluffy! Check out their stuff at beesbuzz.biz
    • Hillary Gross
    •  Gabriel Gentile

    The Code is helped by the patrons I just thanked. In addition to geek ephemera and the esoterically nerdy, I use this blog to focus on marginalized voices and perspectives and advocates for more inclusiveness in media fandoms and sub-cultures.

    I also create experimental electronic music and art prints & apparel under the name lowercase t and perform improvisational readings with the Overly Dramatic Readers.

    I also help people! 

    • I co-host several charity fundraisers with The Munchausen Society every year
    • Advocate for strong anti-harassment policies and safe spaces at conventions
    • Organize public relations, media outreach, recorded an audio book & designed the website for a disabled dad's panel on disability for Bronycon; it was so successful he was invited back 2 more times!
    • And More!

    I want to keep doing this work, and working with & helping people and also be compensated for my time and effort. My ultimate dream is to be able to offer a bi-monthly podcast along with a blog updated every day of the week. I know times are rough for a lot of people, so I've set this campaign to pay monthly-- no matter how much I do or produce, you'll only be charged the amount you chose once per month.

    I have rewards for every single support level I offer, too!

    $1 a month:
    TIP JAR 

    You'll get: 
    • My thanks & gratitude
    • Your name listed in a special "Thank You" post on The Code every month
    • Access to Patron-only posts and updates
    • One free Patron only exclusive download each month

    $3 a month

    You'll get:
    • Your name listed in a special Thank You post on The Code
    • Access to Patron-only updates
    • Free Patron only exclusive download every month
    • Monthly link/plug to whatever you want-- your website, aproject, your YouTube channel-- you name it!

    $5 a month

    You'll get:
    • All rewards for previous tiers (thank you post, Patron-only update access, free monthly Patron only download, free plug on The Code)
    • a free music download of a track of your choice from lowercase t every month!

    $10 a month

    You'll get:
    • All rewards for previous tiers 
    • A special Mystery Surprise Care Package made just for you mailed to you EVERY MONTH. It'll be a CARE package stuffed to the brim with fun stuff like novelties, toys, magazines, surprises and a hand-made postcard from my pal at Blue Boi Studios.

    $20 a month

     You'll get:
    • All previous tier rewards (including the Monthly Mystery Surprise Package)
    • Every month you can request a post on The Code on a topic of your choosing or get a free music track made just for you based on a title you make up!

    Facebook Employees Meeting In Secret In Hopes of Busting FB B.S.

    Description: A hand making a thumbs-down gesture next to the word hoax as a
    parody of Facebook's thumbs-up next to the word Like icon. 
    Facebook is used by over 150 million Americans. According to a Pew Research Center for Journalism & Media report, two thirds of Facebook's users get their news via that platform. Unfortunately it's been plagued with a flood of flat out hoax news articles. While late last year, Facebook announced it was rolling out new tools for users to report hoax news sites and articles, it's been unclear how effective it's been in action-- and management isn't releasing any details.

    Earlier this year amid accusations of Facebook's Trending Topics team in charge of the way the Facebook News Feed worked having a bias towards liberal sites, the entire trending topics team was fired and replaced with an algorithm. The trending topics news feed was then immediately flooded with hoaxes, parody articles presented as fact and puff-piece press releases.

    In the wake of an increasingly loud debate across the country over fake news online in general, and on social media in particular, top management have dismissed the idea of having any culpability in leading to the recent election of Donal Trump-- CEO Mark Zuckerberg calling the notion a "crazy idea". Not surprisingly, a number of outlets disagree with him-- including his own employees. Buzz feed reports that they have learned of a group of Facebook employees that are meeting in secret to try and figure out ways to combat the flood of fake news plaguing the social media platform:

    “One employee said “more than dozens” of employees were involved, and that they had met twice in the last six days. At the moment, they are meeting in secret, to allow members of the group to speak freely and without fear of condemnation from senior management... Another Facebook employee said while the task force remained small, “hundreds” of Facebook employees had expressed dissatisfaction with the company’s stance on fake news in private online chats, and wanted to support efforts to challenge that position...
    'If someone is right-wing, and all their friends are right-wing, and that is the news they share on Facebook, then that is the bubble they have created for themselves and that is their right,' said the longtime Facebook engineer. 'But to highlight fake news articles in the [news] feed, to promote them so they get millions of shares by people who think they are real, that’s not something we should allow to happen. Facebook is getting played by people using us to spread their bullshit.'”
    Those sentiments have been echoed by former Facebook designer Booby Goodlatte, who said in a November 8th post:
    "News Feed optimizes for engagement. As we've learned in this election, bullshit is highly engaging. These outlets, and Donald Trump, have no concern for the truth, and really only care for engagement. A bias towards truth isn't an impossible goal. Wikipedia, for instance, still bends towards the truth despite a massive audience. But it's now clear that democracy suffers if our news environment incentivizes bullshit."

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