Tag Archives: mcdonalds

When Patriots Inflate

Surprise!  There’s not going to be a lot of football in this post.  But I’ll work it in where I can.

I grew up within a thirty minute drive of one of the most deployed military bases in the U.S., so it’s safe to say that I’ve been exposed to just about every brand of hyper-patriotism in existence.  Every house on every street sported an American flag, and Memorial Day was actually more than just “Giant BBQ Day,” because everyone knew/loved somebody who was literally putting their life on the line for their country.  Because of this, there’s almost a sense of urgency to the way people there go about loving their country.  Basically, your friends and family may die for the USA at any point, so you need to love your country to pieces, because otherwise questions about the necessity of their sacrifice will eat you alive from the inside.

And you know what?  I get it.  I really do.  I know people who’ve lost parents, siblings, and spouses in the military.  It’s heartbreaking.  However, emotions only ever get in the way of rationality, and when you take all of that away, I can only reasonably come to the conclusion that patriotism–or at least, the inflated emphasis on it that I encounter daily–is straight up dumb.  I really could go on and on about this, but for now, I’ll sum up my problems with patriotism in a few points.

1. It’s Practically Nationalism.

In most cases I’ve encountered, the two are inseparable.  There’s a reason why synonyms of nationalism include both “flag-waving” and “jingoism.”  Sure, you can argue that the two are distinct; patriotism, at its core, is devoted love of your country, and doesn’t necessarily have to lead to all of the negative “us vs. them” bulls**t we so often see.  I’m not about to go the route of the “slippery slope” argument, but seriously, that’s a fine line to tread.

Most American patriots I know will throw around phrases like “the greatest country on earth” or “the city on a hill.”  It’s sickening, but we put up with it because, in our case, there either aren’t any major negative consequences (yet) or they’re so far removed from us as to be a non-issue (unless you happen to live in a country where we currently have boots on the ground).  It could be worse.  It could be ethnic nationalism, or religious nationalism. The fact is, inflated patriotism generates a pretty prime climate for that sort of nonsense to proliferate.  This would be forgivable if it actually did us any good otherwise, but… Continue reading

Can Video Games Make Thoughtful Social Critiques?

Just to be clear, I am not a gamer. The only video game I ever successfully completed was Jill of the Jungle, which we owned on floppy disk when I was a kid.

I’m pretty sure I only liked this game because Jane was a super cool tough girl,

In fact, up until this past year I would have argued that video games don’t really have any redeeming qualities. At worst, they are a hotbed of misogyny and xenophobia, as chronicled by female gamers on websites like Not in the Kitchen Anymore and Fat, Ugly or Slutty. At best, they are like a bottomless pit where the lives of children and adults disappear, never to resurface.

Although I suppose the same could be said about pretty well anything.

This year a good friend convinced me to try a Digital Humanities class at my University. For those of you who haven’t heard of the field before (I hadn’t either), Wikipedia defines it as the “intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities”.  If you want to see some examples of the kind of research being done in the field, you could check out two of my past posts describing DH scholar Lisa Nakamura’s guest lectures at my university.

While this class has challenged the way I see technology in general, it has particularly challenged my very negative perception of video games. In fact, Ian Bogost, one of the DH scholars we studied in the course, argues that games can form powerful arguments and unique social critiques. In his book, Persuasive GamesBogost describes arguments made by a game as “procedural rhetoric“, or, more simply as “the art of persuasion through rule-based representations and interactions, rather than the spoken word, writing, images, or moving pictures”.

Below, I’ve included four examples of persuasive games my DH professor shared with the class. Each of these games make relevant and thoughtful arguments that wouldn’t have been as effective if they didn’t appear in their procedural form.

The Parable of the Polygons

Vi Hart and Nicky Case preface their simple browser game by stating that “This is a story of how harmless choices can make a harmful world.” Hart and Case explain that the triangles and squares are “slightly shapist”. This means that the shapes prefer some level of diversity around them, but will become unhappy if they feel isolated in their community. Players are then asked to drag and drop the shapes until all of the squares and triangles are happy with the community of shapes around them.

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 1.28.02 PM

Click on the image to play the game

Once the player begins moving the shapes, it becomes apparent that even a slight bias will lead to large scale segregation. Continue reading

Shame Day: Treatment of the Poor

I work with a population the vast majority of whom live below the poverty line in one of tougher zip codes this side of the Rockies. I won’t say it’s the least stressful job I’ve had, but for all sweat shed and sleep lost, if nothing else you get an up close look at a part of life most people don’t want to even acknowledge exists.

Let’s talk about the poor of America, and how you’ve got a lousy attitude about them.

Now you might be thinking “Geez, stop the presses, a Commie is ranting about the treatment of the poor.”

Touché. Continue reading

Shame Day: Rebranding

In the latest batch of lectures offered through the ISO’s [International Socialist Organization] annual Socialism conference, there is a speech regarding the issue of post-modernist philosophy. While the title and speaker escape me, as does the majority of the lecture, one particular line stood out to me, and it went a little something like this:

How do you prove a post-modernist wrong? Drop him in the middle of the ocean and tell him that his petty and self-imposed definitions are the reasons he’s drowning.

Now that’s not exactly how the line went- but that’s pretty much the gist of it. The whole point of the speech was to point out the flaw in post-modernism, that while we do tend to make problems for ourselves with our adherence to self-imposed definitions (you can hear a lot of this reasoning used in the whole debate over sexual orientation), there are nevertheless certain inescapable truths regarding our situations that can’t be overcome by changing our attitudes. Your refusal to adhere to any preconceived notions of health doesn’t stop cancer from killing you. An oncoming train doesn’t care one way or the other if you choose to accept society’s standards.

All of that’s just to say: perspective isn’t everything; some facts are simply immutable; which brings us to the topic of this fine Shame Day.

Rebranding.

I recently came across this collection of shots taken from a Family Guy episode.

As much as you can rail on the show, you have to admit that every once in a while it manages to make some pretty clever points. Obviously the joke here is that we have a pretty twisted double-standard in this country. Simply paying for sex is prostitution, but add a camera and a few loose titles and you suddenly have a completely legal act. Pretty much nothing has actually changed, and as ridiculous as it is, this idiotic mentality is actually taking sway.

You may have heard of the rather clever bars in Minnesota (and England, though I can’t confirm the Brits) circumventing anti-smoking laws by declaring their patrons to be actors, and their cigarettes/cigarillos/pipes/cigars/etc. to be props. Obviously this isn’t actual theater, but because the law prohibits smoking in some situations but not in others, the bars can pretty easily get around the issue (which, by the way, I applaud them for). This isn’t meant to be an example of this mentality going wrong, just an example of it being used (even if somewhat sarcastically). But don’t worry, the uglier side of this is just ahead.

You may also have heard of cadmium, a toxic chemical sometimes used in paint, being used in the making of Shrek glasses sold by fast food empire McDonald’s (though other companies were complicit as well). Upon being discovered, many of these companies simply rebranded their products as being “adult collector’s items,” the FDA having separate standards for acceptable cadmium levels in products geared towards adults. Obviously these items are not “adult collector’s items” and would still wind up in the hands of kids, but hey, what do these guys care? They can get away with it by ducking through this little definitional loophole.

That even goes for the commander-and-chief, who drew fire (rightly so) from most every side of the political sphere when he, to reduce the embarrassment of collateral damage from drone-strikes, simply expanded the definition of militant to include anyone within the bast radius of the strike. There are inner-party members of IngSoc who would call that “a bit much.” I mean, think about it. The single most powerful individual on the planet has declared that the weapons of his country have something that resembles a cross between the logic of a four year old and the papal bull of inability. “We only kill terrorists, we killed that twelve-year old, therefore, we killed a terrorist. High-fives all around.”

My view of pretty much everything the president does

Look, rebranding can be sleazy, but this is simply insane. Naming a fish a bird will not result in different results when chucking it off of a roof. Some things simply are. A smoker is a smoker, cadmium is toxic, and a dead kid is only ever a dead kid.

And that’s just a shame.