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The Wasp Factory

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And so, somewhat unexpectedly, my fifth ever long(ish) form blogging project starts up a week before my fourth. The fourth even has a title and everything. Whereas this one... doesn't, because I hadn't been planning on starting it until mid-April at the earliest. And perhaps more to the point, this is very much an exploratory project. To date, the Iain (M) Banks novels I've read are this, Player of Games, and Use of Weapons. So I'm still very much drawing a critical bead on him. I'm not even entirely sure I can articulate why I want to write a ten-plus post blog series on the Culture novels yet.

Nevertheless, it begins here, with Banks's first published novel, in his literary, M-free identity, The Wasp Factory. It is worth noting that Banks's early career features a mildly complicated chronology. The Wasp Factory came out ...

Piece of Cake

Someone nice on tumblr just asked me:

Do you think that it's fair to criticize a work of art for the failings of the culture around it? This is a question I've been mulling over the past few days and I'm sure you have an interesting response.

My answer got a bit long, so I decided - opportunistically - to post it here.


I think the terms of the question are worth investigating.

What do we mean by 'failings'?

What do we mean by 'culture around it'?

Failure is, of course, subjectively judged.  Something I think is bad may be seen as good - or neutral, or normal, or inescapable - by others.

It is perfectly possible for something that is a 'failure' with regards to general human wellbeing to be a 'success' for a social system.  (The wellbeing of the working class, in any class society, always being more universal than that of the minority loafing class.)

Indeed, I think that if you look at the vast majority of mainstream media culture as it has existed in modern capitalist society - including and perhaps even especially with reference to narrative culture - then you see that it pretty unambiguously touts ...

Changing Times, Nice Guys and 'Strong Female Characters'

I've gone on the record saying I think Moffat's version of Doctor Who is sexist and heteronormative.  A challenge I often hear - and it's a serious point - is the idea that Moffat's Who is, at least, no worse than previous eras on issues like depictions of gay relationships, and is frequently better.  There are positive depictions of gay characters, quite unlike anything in, say, the Hartnell era.  Well, firstly, let me say that I don't want to claim that things are 'worse' now (in any absolute way) than in the Hartnell years, when homosexuality essentially didn't exist at all in-story in the Who universe. And sure, many old episodes have displayed all sorts of heteronormative stuff, and also outright homophobic stuff (albeit usually by implication).  Harrison Chase is, in many ways, implied to be an evil gay man (it's not that I think gay people are like him, but rather that he is constructed partly of tropes that connote gayness in pop culture).

It isn't that there's a scale that pertains to culture now just as it pertained in 1963 and 73 and 83 etc, with Who ...

Fall and Rise

There was a fair amount of media chin-scratching last year about a supposed glumness and seriousness creeping into popular movies.  The real trend, I think, is not towards the 'serious' but towards the reactionary.

For one thing, there's recently been a spate of popular, lauded films and TV shows re-inflating Islamophobia (again) in a 'nuanced' form acceptable to liberals as well as to outright bigots.  The much-lauded Argo depicts a heroic CIA rescue of American hostages in Iran.  Always handy, being able to demonise Iran.  (Modern Iran's origin is, of course, a long and complex story, and does not present 'the West' in a good light... which is why nobody balanced and objective ever mentions it.)  The much-lauded Zero Dark Thirty depicts torture as being both effective and morally conscionable, with the only negative consequence in sight being the discomfort of the torturers.  It misrepresents 'enhanced interrogation' as being a valuable technique leading directly to the location of Osama and, by means of ambivalence and ambiguity (disingenuously used as a defence by the director), it effectively sides with the torturers.  To be neutral about torture is to be effectively pro-torture.  ...

Turnabout is Fairplay

We get nowhere by pretending to ourselves that we can ever break out of culture and view it, as it were, from the outside.  We're in it.  And we're there to stay.  By loving something and criticising it too, you kind of efface the nature of the all-embracing grip.  But how can you not?  You shouldn't pretend you can.

The solution (for me anyway) lies in using and abusing what you love, forcing it - and your talk about it - to become a way of criticising the society that created it.  You don't break out of culture but you do turn an aspect of it into a weapon of sorts, even if you just use the weapon to recarve the inside of your own head.  This, of course, comes from my personal ideological perspective.

More.  For me, the approach to culture can always be both for itself, for its own sake, for the sheer hell of it, *and* as a way into social criticism.  You can love it because you love it and also because you hate it, because of what your hatred for aspects of it allows ...

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