Tag Archives: Anonymous

The 2017 Evan Yeong Literary Awards

As laid out in the first-ever Evan Yeong Literary Awards, the purpose of these blog posts has been to provide a retrospective of the books read in the past year. Typically these have been written and published in January, but here we are. Better late than never, as I always say.

2017

This is the first of these awards to be written during my relatively new career in publishing. While I wouldn’t say I have a strong understanding of the ins and outs of what’s hot in the industry, I certainly have a healthier grasp of things, especially compared to past years when I had none whatsoever.

The other notable difference is that the list of books read has been censored in part, due to a number of the books having been unsolicited manuscripts that I was asked to read during my time as an Editorial Intern at Penguin Random House Canada. A handful were also unpublished manuscripts or ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) and have been marked as such. You can check out a full list [with the exact dates of when I read each one] at this link.


zealot

ALMOST AS COMPLEX AS THEIR NAMESAKE

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
Published 2013

Those who aren’t as familiar with the works of C.S. Lewis should know that “Aslan” is the name of the Judeo-Christian-God-stand-in of that author’s Narnia series. The lion is a complex figure, embodying a dichotomy of a being that is “isn’t safe” while also “good”. Aslan himself is a likewise complicated man, having been raised Muslim, converted to Christianity in his teens, then back to Islam, a faith he continues to practice, and did during the writing of this book. A fascinating fact for both believers and nonbelievers alike is his statement that whether or not he was the son of God, the Nazarene definitively performed miracles.

brother

SHOULD HAVE WON THE 2017 GILLER PRIZE

Brother by David Chariandy
Published 2017

One of many short, powerful works of fiction that I read this year, Brother is as unpretentious and beautiful a novel as you’re likely to find, and a worthy contender for Canada’s loftiest and most coveted literary prize. Shining a spotlight on Scarborough in the 90s, an area that I have (recently) shamefully joked about only “technically being Toronto”, this book would have served as a reminder of the real life stories that are overlooked and underheard.

The actual winner of the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize was Michael Redhill’s Bellevue Square, which I read the ARC of. Brother was longlisted. Continue reading

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Does the Reaction to the Stanford Rapist Signal a Cultural Shift?

By now you’ve probably heard that Stanford student Brock Allen Turner was sentenced to only 6 months in prison for raping an unconscious woman at a party. You’ve probably also heard his father shamelessly attempt to downplay Turner’s actions as “20 minutes of action”.

Hopefully, you’ve also read the letter written by the rape survivor. In it, she breaks down many of the myths around rape, myths Turner’s defence used to attack her testimony and represent Turner as some kind of victim instead. Her heartbreaking personal account has broken down the defences of almost everyone who has read it (except Turner and his father, it would seem). According to Buzzfeed, one of the main sites to release her letter, her words have “gone viral” in a way few conversations about sexual assault ever do.

And as the word has spread, almost everyone has gotten behind this brave woman. Her story has brought light to the problem of systemic injustices, like light penalties for many cases of sexual assault and disproportionate penalties based on racial or economic background.

More than anything her story has prompted a united public outrage. Every comment I have read expresses distain and anger towards Turner and sympathy for his victim. Even internet trolls who would normally find a reason to challenge the victim’s story (i.e. some members of the Men’s Rights Reddit page) admit that “outrage over this issue is legitimate” (although their comments inevitably lead back to criticizing feminism).

In some ways it’s encouraging to witness the attack on Brock Turner. It seems like we’re experiencing a massive shift in the way we talk about rape and sexual violence. As this story has unfolded we’ve seen few if any attempts to slut shame or victim blame in the media or public conversation.

As glad as I am that this conversation has come out in favour of the victim, I can’t help but wonder if the public condemnation of Turner actually signals for a yearning for justice, or if perhaps other factors are at play. I’ve been struggling with two questions in particular. Continue reading

Shame Day: Internet Bullying Harassment

We have all heard the stories. Here in B.C. one of the most publicized internet harassment cases was regarding Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old who commited suicide not long after posting this video.

Continue reading

Free Information Culture

The last of my installments (for now) in looking at these rising alternative cultures is “Free Information Culture,”  which shares the same problem with “science” culture in that there’s really no good name for it yet. I’ve referred to it before as “internet culture,” only the problem with that is that, like “science culture,” it isn’t so much the culture of the thing itself as the culture of the fanbase. In simpler terms, it’s the difference between Hollywood culture and movie-lover culture- it’s the end product that’s valued.
So what’s the internet’s “end product”?

Besides porn and stuff like this…

Free Information.

Whether it’s the news, or Wikipedia, or TED Talks, or Imgur, or anything else imaginable, it’s on the internet for free and public use. It’s something of a great equalizer. No matter where you’re from, what language you speak, what class you hail from- you can create or say anything and then get called gay in the comment section.

And while that last bit is sort of a joke, it does play a role in developing the “free information culture.” Granted, general anonymity can make us vicious and vile people, but it also (to some extent) strips us of our egos. When you make something online, you really don’t get much, if any, credit, but that’s alright since it isn’t the point. It’s just about creating, nothing more or less. Who drew the first rage face? Who started up Bad Luck Brian? Who edited and sourced that one Wikipedia page you used to stitch your last minute term-paper together? Who puts together those monthly fail compilation videos? I don’t know and will probably never know, but I do know that they’ll keep coming because of the simple joy of creating them. I and every other person with a half-decent internet connection.

And all of this simply isn’t understood by some people.

Recall the massive outcry against the SOPA and PIPA bills? What prompted the creation of  these acts was that some people- certain corporations in particular- couldn’t quite wrap their heads around the idea of free and unlimited access. Now maybe you agree with them, and maintain that posting copyrighted material of any kind is piracy and immoral, however, what needs to be understood is that this was viewed as an act on the very nature of the internet and everything it had come to represent.

Again excluding porn and stuff like this…

Now more and more companies are catching on to the idea that it’s wiser to try to work with the faceless and vengeful cat-worshippers of the internet than against them- just look at video game companies that are starting to work in tandem with modders. The game Minecraft in particular is a good example of this, as many of the new aspects of each update to the game coming from the fan-forums themselves. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of people out there (I’m looking at you, Music Industry) who continue to struggle (vainly) against the dissemination of what they view to be the “information wants to be free” crowd.

Again, it all boils down the core of the culture that the internet has produced, gravitating around the concepts of freedom and egalitarianism. Look at Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange.

If he did his work back in the early 90s, we can be pretty sure he’d be viewed overwhelmingly as a candidate for a James Bond villain. But today we (for the most part) view him as being a heroic (or at least positive) figure in a world that’s become increasingly secretive and unequal. Why this dramatic shift in perception? Again, it’s the internet and it’s affect on us. In a time of economic crisis we might not be able to go to the movies, or eat out, or drive for miles to see a friend, but we can watch something online, or browse recipes, or video-chat with the same buddies that you’d otherwise not be able to see. Any threat to your full and unrestricted access to the internet is, by proxy, a threat to some of the last pleasures you have left.

Hence the formation of a culture obsessed with the values of free speech, free access to information, and freedom from censorship. And with every development of the internet or our access to it serving as another leap in the evolution of the culture, it’s safe to say that the howl of anger that the governments of the world met when trying to create such bills as ACTA is only going to intensify.

Culture, Not Criteria

Earlier today Evan sent me a link to a documentary on YouTube dealing with the subject of “hacktivists,” or more specifically, the rise of internet mischief and mayhem group “Anonymous.” For the most part, the movie was decent enough, though of course it wasn’t without its own agenda and a there are a few misconceptions resulting from that. But this post isn’t going to be a review. Rather, it’s going to launch off from an interesting phenomena I saw throughout the documentary- and that was the way people talked about Anonymous.

See, whenever people talk about the group, they usually have to veer off into a parenthetical speech where they try to explain just exactly who these guys are, and how at the same time they can be anybody, because anybody can be “Anonymous.” The end result is that they wind up sounding like a paranoid schizophrenic or conspiracy theorist, and the explanation itself doesn’t sound all that believable. After all, how can any individual or group take on the mantle and conduct whatever hacking or pranking or ranting they do against their enemies without some leadership? How do they do anything if they have no demands or agenda?

The problem here (and elsewhere, but we’ll get to that in a minute) is that a completely wrong lens is being used to look at the group. People are looking for structure or goals- the two things that usually define any collection of people, and that’s where it falls apart. Anonymous isn’t a group, it’s an idea. It’s a culture.

Now that sounds strange, but bear with me here.

What’s a conservative?

You probably have an image in your head right now. You can probably tell me what a conservative would think about a certain issue, or how he or she would act in a certain scenario, or the general value system one might have, but if I really pushed you for criteria, my guess is that you wouldn’t be able to give me one. After all- there are varying ideas of “conservatism,” and no real defined boundaries. You’ll find conservatives who state that the “religious extremists” have a skewed view of conservative values, and those same extremists offer the exact same criticism of those wimpy fiscal conservatives. Regardless of the specifics, once you stand back, both groups do fit neatly into the category of “conservative.”

Now apply the same general lens to Anonymous.

What’s “Anonymous”? It’s not a group with an ideology- it’s an ideology with a group, or rather, a whole bunch of groups. Consensus isn’t made through secretive discussion boards or by a clandestine collective of angry computer-geeks. Consensus isn’t made at all- actions simply stem from a general set of perspectives and ideas (the most major of which is freedom of speech and opposition to censorship) held by the adherents. Anonymous doesn’t exist as a coherent, structured group anymore than any culture or subculture exists as a coherent, structured group. Sure you’ve got your major players, and you’ve got various projects or movements within, but at the end of the day, there’s no list of demands, just a set of values.

The reason I bring this up is that this kind of organic organization is becoming more and more prevalent in our culture, the most notable example perhaps being the “Occupy Movement.” Critics of the movement, in its early days, continually parroted the protest of “But what do they want?“- the issue with that being that there was no, and never could be, any list of demands. Occupy wasn’t a structured or unified group- it was, like Anonymous is, a culture. A massive number of people sharing (and developing) certain common perspectives and values and then taking actions based on those views (those actions further developing those views, and so on ad infinitum). Trying to get demands out of Occupy protestors would’ve been about as fruitful as trying to get demands out of conservatives. You’re going to get conflicting specifics, even if there is a general set of guiding principles.

And of course, there are others out there. Though there’s no real term or name for it yet, there’s a rising “Manly” culture, comprised of elements of survivalists, masculinists, and guys who debate each other on-line about how to build porches and properly maintain classic muscle cars. Now I can’t claim to know the origin of this- perhaps it’s partly a reaction against our increasing dependence on technology, perhaps it stems from our powerlessness in a time of political and economic hardship- but either way, it is a growing culture based in principals of independence, self-sufficiency, self-control.

On the other side of the spectrum, there’s the general philosophies and ideas of the trans-humanists, futurists, utopians, geeks, nerds, and people who worship the ground Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson walk on. Those who view technology as being the solution to most, if not all, human ills, and eagerly await the day when you can get a free jet-pack when you go in for your cancer vaccine.

Now why bring any of this up?

Because it’s important.

We’re currently breaking away from the liberal/conservative paradigm, and we’re going to need to understand what else is out there. This isn’t to say that we’ve only had conservative and liberal cultures- that simply isn’t true. But we can’t deny that there has been, over the past decade, developments of new value-systems which are really neither here nor there. New and alternative views for what the world ought to be, and how you ought to be in it. Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be focusing on dissecting these various concepts, so be sure to stop by next Monday for my examination of “Manly” culture.

#OccupyWallStreet: Protesting with Hashtags

So there’s about a thousand people protesting on Wall Street (ish) right now and I don’t really know exactly for what. The movement is #OccupyWallStreet and it started on September 17 and consists of about 1,000 (mostly) student-aged people (My official estimate of the demographic: I’m picturing literary references and lots of beards) just kind of hanging around the Wall Street area. Sometimes there are marches. People are sleeping in the park. People online are ordering pizzas to be delivered to the protesters. One girl took off her shirt.

You might want to know what people are actually protesting – that’s where things get more vague. Some advertisements speak of the need for One Demand, but nobody has decided what that demand is or should be or could be. Interviews with the protesters range from the idiotic to the informed, revealing mostly a mixture of the two (along the “I don’t know who my house representative is but I can tell you the percentage of the population that holds 50% of the wealth” line). The attitudes seem to be predominately socialist, or at least anti-capitalist, with lots of complaints alluding to the Bush tax cuts, the 2008 bank bailouts (if you don’t really know what those are about either, a good explanation by my friend Chris here.), and a lot of derogatory use of the word “corporations”.

An #OccupyWallStreet protester with an Anonymous mask and a hijab.

The whole situation is a strange crossover between internet networking and the real world – the Twitter support and piles of enthusiastic comments and exclamation all over the web have only translated to about 1,000 protesters at any time, and not even in the street the protest was planned for (the NYPD blocked off the key sections of Wall Street before any protesters got there). Online, however, the results are impressive (it’s kind of like looking at the Ron Paul campaign) – Anonymous, the 4chan-based hacker group with frightening amounts of power, is credited for much of the protest’s popularity.

It’s fascinating and kind of beautiful to watch – this is the first generation that grew up with the internet, and you can tell. Twitter-based protests are just called “protests” now. We are the generation that will use hashtags in our protest signs. It’s like old protests, but improved: we still have unconstructive platitudes, but at least some of them are ironic, dangit.

The coming-of-age of the first generation raised on the internet looks like this.

The use of the word “Occupy” in the title seems inaccurate, as if the protesters knew what they would do if they actually got control of the place. I’m imagining collages made with cut-up quarterly reports.

The thing is that Wall Street is now just as nonphysical as the organization of the protests – there’s not really much actual money to burn, anymore, and there aren’t safes full of the hoarded wealth of the rich. Significant money never really physically goes to Wall Street, or really anywhere – money is numbers in a computer and property value and stock value; it’s kind of hard to figure out where it actually exists.

The physicality of the protest is less impressive than its internet following and even seems a little incongruous – it’s like the event is being swallowed by its own abstractness; an internet-developed protest trying to cross the line of physical reality and occur in front of a physically symbolic place just doesn’t work out in the digital age.