At what point should we stop saying certain words?

First things first, I want to say that whether or not I feel a word is offensive, I concede that if it’s hurting people we’re better off not using it. I think it’s a simple enough – if the word causes genuine emotional distress in another human then there’s little point in arguing for its continuance. I’m also not arguing for any particular point on whether or not these words are problematic or not, this is more of an open question into the matter.  I’m also not trying to tell people what they can and can’t say. Decide for yourself, but give reason to your choices, don’t give into indifference or spite.

What is and isn’t offensive is a very personal and hotly debated issue. It’s never-ending, I’m still trying to shake off the bad habits I picked up in my youth; there are all kinds of horrible things I thought were fine that make me mortified these days. And sometimes, people feel that it’s okay to use a word because it doesn’t offend them, in particular, even if it vilifies a group they identify with. Often, the word ‘faggot’ springs up with this sort of argument “oh but I have gay friends and they don’t care”.  Sure, it’s a logical argument, but it misses the point. For some the associations of this word run deeper than we can imagine, it can remind people of schoolyard bullies, suicide attempts and the genuine homophobic vitriol that spews from various hate groups. While there is still this horrible form of prejudice in the world, the world will always carry a certain weight, and for that reason alone we’re better off without it**.

Rather than discussing this in an abstract sense I thought I’d pick a few examples and compare them. The first of which, and the one which got me started on the topic is the word “douche”. It’s under some scrutiny these days, as people are starting to consider these things with a bit more gravity than we were a decade ago. For the uninformed, a douche is a product that women use to clean their vaginas – and some feel that its very existence is misogynistic at its core, but I couldn’t speculate. The word has become a strong favourite for the insulting of younger men, particularly white men who are prone to being flashy. I think the appeal is that it doesn’t tend to get censored on television, so it’s a bit of a household swearword, you know, a swear you can take to church on Sunday… that’s a thing right? Anyway, the point is that people are arguing that since the word derives from something specifically* feminine it’s misogynistic to use it as an insult – and they could be right.

So what’s the problem? See, I don’t really care if we continue to use it or not. I’m not attached to the word, and if people find it offensive then fuck it – kill it off. But, the question arises, that if the insult is bad because of its gender-centric origins, does it apply in all cases?  Is ‘cunt’ inherently misogynistic? It’s hard to say, and I’m not the person to say it, but if it is, then how about ‘cock’ or ‘dick’? Is a penis a bad thing?

And that’s where things start to get grey. If we were to say that ‘cunt’ was disparaging to women, then shouldn’t we then say that ‘cock’ and ‘dick’ are disparaging to men? It’s not a bad argument but are things really that simple? No, of course, they aren’t. There are groups of people who like to dichotomize things like this, like the hilariously inaccurate “either everything is okay or nothing is” argument.  The problem with this sort of simplistic view is that it ignores context. Context is everything. A drawing of Mohammed might be a light-hearted jab at organised religion to you, but for an Algerian Muslim in France in might be a reminder of the historical genocide and persistent subjugation of their people. So while people are screaming “free-speech” at the top of their lungs, others are shouting “racial epithet” at the top of theirs. And they can both be right. Fuck yes, you might have some birth-right to say whatever you want, regardless of who it offends, but it doesn’t diminish someone’s right to be offended, does it?

And you know what? I believe that no matter how much of a free-speech advocate you are, there is going to be something that is taboo, something that goes too far – I highly doubt people would be marching down the street chanting “Je Suis Rape Joke” – and yes, these sorts of analogies are somewhat pointless for actual critical thinking, but fuck it, isn’t it just easy to stop such smug fucking assholes about it all? Anyway, I’ve gotten off topic, my point was that context is the important factor in these things.

Often, the easiest way to work out if something is disparaging to a group is to first ask yourself “is this a group that has historically suffered from injustice, persecution or oppression?” If the answer is yes then you can safely assume that you need to adjust your phrasing (or just not speak at all). For example, is ‘slut’ offensive to women? Yes, it is. I’m not here to give you a history lesson, and I’m not interested in whatever nonsense, so-called ‘men’s rights activists’ have to say on the matter. Thing sucked for women for a really long time, and we’re still a pretty long way off true sexual equality. Yes, things have gotten better, but this shit is institutional – it is part of our doctrine – our societies oppression of women is historical, and for that reason, we need to do all that we can to avoid being part of that oppression. If it means giving up a word or two, then fuck it, I am onboard.

Free speech advocates would have you believe that these types of conversations seek to steal away their rights, but that’s not the intention. You can say these things if you want, you’re not going to be shot, no one is going to hang you,  but you might get fired, people might decide you’re an asshole and they’ll probably tell you off, that’s their fucking freedom. It’s a double-edged sword. Remember it might be your birth-right to say whatever you like, but what you do with those rights is on you.

I’m not trying to preach to anyone, I’m not saying that we can’t insult people, and I’m not trying to take a stand for any particular movement or anything like that. I just want people to be a little more compassionate, to remember that our personal freedoms shouldn’t come at the cost of our humanity. Take the time to think before you speak, try and remember that we’re all just people who have our own hopes, dreams and fears.

 

 

*I understand that trans-women use douches also, and I don’t wish to offend anyone by creating a dichotomy here, I am just being simplistic for the sake of the argument.

**I realise some people with to ‘reclaim’ the word, to twist it from being an insult to being a sort of badge of pride for your identity. I don’t wish to try and take that away from anyone, but for the purpose of this essay I’m side-lining that line of discussion.

Old writing: Scene Analysis from In Bruges (2008)

Note: This is something I wrote a number of years ago while studying. It was an assignment for one a communications unit. As such, I’ve left it as it was when I submitted it, any errors in grammar, spelling or otherwise are completely intact. 

The scene I am going to analyse is the scene starting 58:10 and finishing 100:00 in which Ken, whilst intending to kill Ray, interrupts his suicide attempt. There is more to this scene than a simple sequence of events, and to understand this we need to expose the interacting elements, and explain their meaning.

The first thing to consider is that there is more than one scene, this is an important point and I’ll return to it in a moment. Next we will look at how these scenes interact within the scene we are viewing. I’m going to refer to tangents of the storyline as “scenes” but it’s important to keep in mind that they are just grouped sequences of events, that alone mean very little, but have can cataclysmic ramifications for the characters. Here is a break-down of what scenes are being considered in this text. We have the scene we are viewing (scene A). This operates in two parts, the intersection between Ray’s (scene B) and Ken’s (scene C) and serves as a plot device to create the climax of the film, (namely Harry’s involvement in the story). Scene B is linked to Ray’s suicide attempt. We, the viewers, aren’t aware of this scene yet, but we know of the events that lead to it, being the child’s accidental death, and Ray’s acquisition of a firearm and ammunition. Ken’s scene, scene C is where Harry informs Ken that he is to kill Ray, after which he too obtains a gun. So to summarise this scene is the meeting and manifestation of scenes B and C.

To truly understand what is happening within any scene it is important to understand the aspects that are involved in creating it. There is narrative and technique. The narrative allows the story to carry forward. In this instance we have two scenes converging on each other, and in turn they create a device by which the narrative is continued. The scene we are viewing, Scene A can be seen is this device. The importance of the scene as a device is that it allows Harry to play a larger role in the story. His involvement leads us to not only the climax of the film, but also to Ken’s ultimate demise.

Interestingly there is another scene, or sub-plot running concurrently to these events that should be considered in the context of the entire film. This being the means by which Ray acquired his firearm. Ray not only assaulted Eirik, Chloe’s ex-boyfriend, but he insulted his pride, creating an enemy in him. This scene not only serves to provide Ray with a weapon, but we find later that in creating an enemy Ray sets off the events that will lead to Ken’s death (if you remember it is Eirik who informs Harry of Ray’s whereabouts). One could argue that the scene is a catalyst that leads to the demise of Harry, Ken and Jimmy.

The technique of the scene is one of great interest. We have two positions of interest within the scope of the screen. The first of which is a central point on the screen which gives some of Ken’s point of view, it helps give us a sense of direction, and feel the intensity as Ken would feel it. I’ve highlighted this area in the images below.

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(McDonagh, 2008) Ray sits at the bench alone.

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(McDonagh, 2008) Ken watches Ray from afar.

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(McDonagh, 2008) Ken draws his gun; notice how this grabs your attention.

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(McDonagh, 2008) This shot provides a sense of Ken coming towards Ray.

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(McDonagh, 2008) Ken’s aim is centred at Ray, we know this from previous shots, they have deliberately given us a location for the back of Ray’s head.

This technique allows for the intensity of the scene to build, it allows us to be afraid for Ray, to feel the heat of the guns barrel bearing down upon him. The second position of interest we are given is from Ray’s perspective. We are constantly given reference points, from the first shot of him as the camera scans across the park till the end of the scene. It is for an entirely different purpose however. Once again I’ve highlighted the region you need to focus on.

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(McDonagh, 2008) Ray alone in the park, the camera holds this position until Ken is revealed.

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(McDonagh, 2008) A solemn Ray, who thinks he is alone. It’s interesting to note that the position revealed as Ken’s location from the shot above, is the same location as in this shot.

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(McDonagh, 2008) Ray draws his gun, surprise!

So why is this last shot so effective? It’s because we were drawn in. Once again we have a little reference point that has been provided. It was set up from the start so our eyes were looking there. We may have felt the gun on the back of Ray’s head, but we were looking to the right, exactly where the gun appears. If the shooting style of the scene was more direct, the gun may be noticed, but it couldn’t have the resounding effect that it ends up having.

The following shots have a similar style to the rest of the scene, however they are not as important, and were not completely, needed for the scene to work. They were more for the purpose of exposition and to leave no doubt for the viewers of each characters intention, including their own revelations about each other’s intentions.

The scene sets out to resolve the converging plot lines, and it succeeds. We feel empathy for both the characters and we are given some concrete evidence to support their relationship. Without the intervention of Ken, we may not have believed his actions later in the film, where he not only saves Ray’s life, but reveals that he is worth saving. This concept is intrinsic to the story in that for Ray to receive redemption, he must, like all of us, be given a chance at it.

Works Cited

McDonagh, M. (Director). (2008). In Bruges [Motion Picture].

Rhetoric Analysis of the speech from Braveheart

Mel Gibson’s speech, as William Wallace in the 1995 film Braveheart, became instant cinematic history. For whatever reason, it resonated with critics and viewers alike, cementing itself in the zeitgeist and has since has been imitated by countless films and T.V. shows, with varying success.

But how good a speech was it? Not from the perspective of someone watching the film, but as a genuine piece of persuasion, how well does it hold up? Let’s take a look.

Kairos: The timing of the speech is pretty straightforward, given that a battle is imminent. I find it strange that Wallace would not only introduce himself moments before the battle, but also leave it until the last minute to ensure his people were willing to fight. While you could argue that it comes down to a variety of things, it’s probably more of a strategic move, than anything else. This all may have been after the fact, not necessarily a conscious choice. Assuming that this was his first chance to talk to his men en masse, then we can only look at it in terms of preparing his men for battle, in which case it’s pretty solid timing, barring an early onslaught from the enemy, it seems pretty reasonable to try and get his men in the mood to fight at this time.

Ethos: He makes extensive use of ethos, he instantly introduces himself, making use of reputation his name carries. A man quickly calls him out, claiming that Wallace is actually “7 feet tall”, so, presumably implying he is not in fact Wallace.  He uses this opportunity to do something very useful, he downplays himself. Makes fun of the rumours – “Kills men by the hundreds, and if he were here he’d consume the English with fireballs from his eyes and bolts of lightning from his arse” not only does this give credibility to his claim, but he manages to humanise himself, which allows his men to realise that since he is just a man, they too can fight like he has.

Pathos: I would argue that he is mostly using pathos, which is understandable. He needs the men to be in a frenzy. He repeats words such as “free” and “freedom”, which is contextually very effective – it implies that the “enemy”, as he calls them, would seek to rob them of that freedom. He also mentions that men who did not fight would greatly regret it (borrowing heavily from Shakespeare’s Henry V). This seemingly appeals to pride, however, it has the duality of an accusation of cowardice directed at those not willing to fight. Either way, it’s a reasonably effective technique.

Logos: He makes very little use of logic in his argument, there’re hints of it in his sarcastic deflection near the start – poking holes in the rumours about William Wallace to help prove himself – and noting that people “may” die if they fight. However they are both fairly minor, and bi-products of other modes.

All in all the speech is very successful in the film, however he does very little to persuade the men of their need to fight, nor address their concerns about being outnumbered by the English – which, in part, is what causes him to launch into the speech in the first place. The question is whether he chose to ignore logic, as statistically they were likely to lose or if he was opposed to lying to his men – he was morally opposed to giving them false hope. I think the latter is more likely, given that he acknowledges that death is a possibility.

I think that while the modes of persuasion he uses are sound, but perhaps lacking in substance. I think that a greater reliance on (false) logic would have a greater effect although perhaps weakening his character slightly.

I give this speech a B –

I don’t buy that it would be successful in the real world. But it’s fairly endearing, and despite it’s shortcomings it’s reasonably well crafted

 

Check out the speech here:

The Future of Online Music

Does the past hold the key to the future of online music?

There is a lot of debate about the role of streaming services. On one hand, they provide instant gratification to consumers. All the music, TV and games you want -right at your fingertips. But then we all know the story – bands getting paid peanuts for millions of plays. Artists are at a sort of crucible – while music production costs are at an all-time low, so is the profitability of the music industry. The next decade will see a great change, just like the decade before it. The last 10-20 years has shown us a plethora of release platforms; DVD-Audio, digital, streaming e.t.c.  – it’s changed everything – and just like the formats themselves, the industry will evolve.  But a lot of what happened came down to piracy, I’m not here to point fingers at anyone, or make any kind of moral judgment, but this is just where our story begins. This isn’t a search for an answer, this is just a discussion about what has led us to this point.

The Age of the MP3

In the mid-’90s a new phenomena appeared. Your favorite songs (or albums) contained within easily downloadable files. Although the format is considered low-quality when compared to CD’s people weren’t so fussed. We were a generation who was making mix-tapes from songs on the radio. Quality wasn’t our concern, it was just about being able to hear the music we liked. Websites sprung up to deliver all the songs we liked, and for a brief moment, no one really notice. It wasn’t until Napster appeared that the world got its first taste of what was to be a game-changer. The ensuing legal battles over music piracy made Napster a household name, and maybe even helped inspire the next generation. But as quickly as it surged to the top, it was shut down. Although Mp3 players were floating around in the late ’90s, it wasn’t until the iPod surfaced that the Mp3 format really took hold. It seems as though their fates were somehow entwined. The Mp3 was the content, and the iPod was the platform. One without the other held no real power, but together they took over the world.

Streams Become Oceans

But all good things must come to an end. It’s not to say we are in sight of seeing everyone ditching their Mp3s, but the landscape, once again is changing. Although music streaming has been around for a while, it seems to still be in its infancy. The concept muddies the lines between internet radio and downloadable music. The idea is simple enough. Your entire music collection and everything you could ever want, plus everything you don’t only a click away. The platform comes in many flavours, be it the quasi-legal style of YouTube, which has become a firm favorite for ‘sharing’ music on social media, or the juggernauts like Spotify and Pandora. The technology is in place that someone can hear a band for the first time, and within minutes have free access to their entire catalog of music. And that’s the problem. We have gotten used to paying nothing for music, or at least ‘choosing’ if we pay for it or not. We crossed an ocean, and things can never be the same.

The Death of the Album

The negative connotations of the phrase thrown around by music industry types couldn’t be any clearer if they just straight up said “fuck you internet”. They’re pissed off, and with good reason. They aren’t making as much money as the used to. The term album has been around for a pretty long time, but it wasn’t always the be-all and end-all of releases. Until the ’60s the single reigned supreme, then the album took over. While some would argue that there are musical influences that made this happen, there were also financial benefits for labels – albums had higher profit margins. But this is no longer the case, or at least not for labels. Now, there is a lot of people pointing the finger at the record labels telling them that it’s their fault. For years, they forced artists to release sub-par albums with ‘only one good song’ – if at all. And there’s no denying it, there’s plenty of examples of bands recording shitty records just to satisfy a contract. People have long argued that this is why people started pirating music in the first place. It’s probably a stretch, but as far as justification goes it makes enough sense. So now we’re at the root of the issue. The rise of the streaming service has seen a return of the single. And despite hundreds of millions of plays per song, no one is particularly happy. They just aren’t pulling in the kind of money they desire.

The Next Big Thing

So while consumers are generally pretty happy with the current situation, there is discontent in the industry. Netflix, and it’s contemporaries have shown that people are willing to pay for streamable content, but the balance between what we’ll pay, and how much profit that will allow, continue to be an area of debate. History has shown that necessity breeds creativity. Piracy, torrents, media formats and an onslaught of technologies that are associated with them have all been born out of a need. Right now, there is a need for artists to make more money from their craft, and the answer is out there waiting to be discovered.